Truckus Maximus: the interview!

Chris Barton, who's not only a wonderful children's book author but also one of the only human beings who might just have better musical taste than I, interviewed me and Truckus Maximus illustrator José García (one of the only human beings who might just be more prolific than Chris Barton) about Truckus.

Being interviewed together was a delight, as I discovered yet again that José and I are like peas in a pod, except for the ways in which we have absolutely nothing in common. I like to think that strange combination is what makes us so simpatico as collaborators.

Here's the interview—and if you move fast, you might even win a free copy of Truckus Maximus! Oh, sure, I know, you've probably already bought a copy of Truckus for yourself, as well as several more copies to give to loved ones this holiday season, but if you win Chris's giveaway, you'll also have one to give to strangers, and what could be better than winning—nay, earning—the eternal love and gratitude of a complete stranger? Exactly: nothing!

So what are you waiting for? Go now—operator is sitting by.

“I was drawn toward tales of underdogs — especially when they banded together to achieve something none of them could ever do on their own.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for December 2019

"I AM Batman."

So partner-in-crime(fighting stories) Tim Levins posted this page earlier today:
And great as his storytelling is—as always—this page never doesn't make me laugh, because of the middle panel.

I was so sure everyone was going to pick up on my blatant Seinfeld reference.

Truckus Maximus: an alt-world action movie

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books weighs in on Truckus Maximus!
With its action-packed visuals, tricked-out cars, and edge-of-your-seat racing stunts, this sci-fi graphic novel holds plenty of tween and teen appeal. The plot reads like an alt-world action movie, complete with training montages and climactic race to the finish, but the story never loses its heart or its humor. Readers will be drawn to Axl, stubborn Piston, and the rest of Team Apollo’s crew. Give this broadly likable novel to fans of Camper’s Lowriders in Space, NASCAR, racing video games, and The Fast and the Furious franchise.
My daughters love the Fast and the Furious films so from their point-of-view, that's some high praise indeed.

Truckus Maximus: boisterous fun

Booklist weighs in on Truckus Maximus!
With nearly 300 pages to work with, author Peterson is not afraid to pump the brakes in order to develop his characters and flesh out his bizarre world, helpfully sandwiching such scenes between daredevil races and huge car pile ups. 
In artwork resembling a mash-up of Speed Racer and Mad Max: Fury Road, [artist] García compellingly pairs anime-inspired character designs, complete with over-the-top expressions, with heavily detailed cars and in-depth racing action, bringing lively, dynamic motion to the scenes. He also makes clever use of space, switching nimbly between full-page spreads and short runs of panels.  
Boisterous fun for manga or racing fans. 

Truckus Maximus: high-octane adventure

The School Library Journal reviews Truckus Maximus! An excerpt:
Welcome to a futuristic world that never saw the collapse of the Roman Empire. There are enormous disparities among social classes, with the rich cloistered away in temples with plenty to consume and the poor working themselves to death for a meager existence. One of the few things that unites everyone is watching Truckus Maximus, the ultimate car race.

[José] García’s art owes much to traditional manga—characters have large, expressive eyes and artfully spiked hair. Creative paneling and great use of fumes, fire, and smoke capture the frenetic action. Peterson effectively conveys Piston’s journey as an underdog and Team Apollo banding together when facing obstacles.

VERDICT ...this high-octane adventure will appeal to fans of manga or racing.
They could not be more right about José's amazing ability to capture frenetic action via  creative paneling, great use of fumes, fire, and smoke and pretty much every other tool in the kit, as well as a few I think he invented.

Oh yes

Truckus Maximus: tribute to underdogs

A pretty spiffy review from Kirkus:
Thanks to the incisive probing of the crushing power of spectacle via a focus on the game and its toll on the drivers, the story evokes oppressive regimes. The gritty artwork overflows with frenetic action, using colors that evoke a dystopian world. Ample use of close-ups, irregular panel layouts, and other techniques sharpen the story’s emotional resonance and stakes.

A truly marvelous tribute to underdogs.

Batman: König der Angst!

Today I Learned: that the German edition of Batman: Kings of Fear is titled Batman - König der Angst and I couldn't possibly love that more. And to discover it on Halloween yet!

It's available from Panini as well as the German and Austrian Amazons, with the translation courtesy Josef Rother.

Man. The only thing that makes the Batman even more the Batman is when he's German. (I think that's the answer to one the Riddler's riddles. But probably not really.)

José García: modern gladiator

It wasn't easy finding the right artist for Truckus Maximus. See, most artists have a thing or two they especially like to draw...or hate to draw. Some love drawing tech, others hate it. Some love to draw animals, others hate it. Some love superheroes, some hate 'em. Some love fantasy or sci-fi, others get the idea. So finding the right creative team for a project is always a challenge, but a vital part of the process. A brilliant artist on the wrong book just isn't likely to catch creative fire.

Truckus was especially challenging. Because a lot of the book is people talking.

And the rest of the book is insane car races.

Finding someone who loves drawing either one of those isn't too hard. Finding someone great who loves drawing either of those, however, is. And finding someone great who loves drawing both? That's nearly impossible.

What's more, for logistical reasons, I needed to write the entire script before locking an artist down—the first time in a long time I'd done a major project without knowing in advance who the artist is. That's a key bit of information for a comics writer to know. Because if you know who your artist is, you can write to his or her strengths and avoid the things he or she doesn't like. Your artist loves cityscapes? Set your story in the urban jungle. Your artist loves drawing horses? Write a western. Your artist loves tech? Set it in a futurish factory. Whatever. The more your artist likes what he or she needs to draw, the better your story is likely to look and the better it's going to therefore seem—and the better a writer you're going to therefore appear. Genius!

So. We had a monster script that called for two specific skills sets which are themselves a bit on the rare side in comics and which are even more rarely to be found in the same person. We know this because we looked for an artist for a long, long time. But although we considered a fair number who could do one thing well or the other thing, no one was quite able to nail both aspects perfectly.

And then one day editor Calista Brill said, hey, I think I found the guy.

Enter José García.

She'd seen his stuff at San Diego Comic-Con and was really impressed. She sent me his samples and I was really impressed. So we pulled together some material for him to try out on.

And a few days later, this stuff came in:

I believe Calista put it quite well when she said, "HOLY CATS."

That was my first look at what José could do when unleashed upon the stuff I'd written. These characters who'd lived in my head and in my script for so long were suddenly real. And they were spectacular.

So. Okay. Sure. He could design characters like no one's business. And invent one seriously badass automobile. But how was his storytelling?

A few days later, these came in:

I believe my reaction was something along the lines of "homina homina homina."

So. There was no doubt: we had our artist. And I was a very happy boy. A very happy boy indeed.

But it was many, many months later, after José was able to really start on the project in earnest, that I fully realized just how much I'd lucked out. It was the day this double-page spread arrived.

Everything about it was just right. It showed that he not only totally understood who these characters were, but was also able to convey that in just a few images, and without even the benefit of (almost) any words. The characterization is so deft. The storytelling is impeccable. The drawing is perfect. And it's simply gorgeous. 

And, improbably, somehow José actually kept not only matching that amazing page, but even topping it. And, somehow, even 250 pages later, he was still talking to me. (That's how you can tell he's a keeper.)

Truckus Maximus: Bread, Circuses, and Gladiator Monster Trucks!

I'm stealing this review's title wholesale because it pretty much sums up Truckus Maximus perfectly:
If you have manga fans, give them this one! The artwork is very manga-inspired, and the storyline is fast-paced, with car aerodynamics and explosions aplenty. There’s good world-building – I like the idea of the Roman Empire’s enduring and not moving past this whole entertainment-or-death business. It’s a popular dystopian theme, from The Running Man to The Hunger Games, and fits where we are as a media-obsessed, “if it bleeds, it leads” society. Axl is an interesting character, with his stoicism and the big moral choice ahead of him. In a society where everyone is corrupt, the good guy becomes the outlaw – and the team owner and the emperor himself are all in, trying to sway Axl. Piston is Axl’s foil, made of passion where Axl represses everything. Her bad decisions get her tossed off one team, and leave her future with Team Apollo pretty tenuous until she starts to harness her own power and channel it in more positive ways. But having a bit of that wild streak also means pulling out some big risks, and that may be what Team Apollo needs.  
Truckus Maximus is a fun read, and should be popular with tweens and young teens. I’d like to see this as an animation.
Hey, me too!   

Truckus Maximus: Stellar Graphic Novel!

Well, this was a heck of a nice thing to read today:
Stellar graphic novel alert! TRUCKUS MAXIMUS is the perfect comic for a younger reader looking to branch out with comics. Full of manga inspiration, I think this comic has its pulse on the graphic sensibilities of today and provides a non stop action story even when the characters are doing nothing but talking. Every drawing is a treat. Come get it!
Stellar. I'll take it!

Batman: Kings of Fear — a Coming of Age story?

Yet another list of overrated books came out a while back and to the surprise of absolutely no one who's ever paid attention to any of these things, J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye was on it because of course it was. Catcher in the Rye is the Comics Sans of literature these days: it's the easiest of targets. Think it's overrated? Think it should be replaced by something written by someone who's not a dead white male? I won't necessarily object to the former and will almost certainly cheer the latter.

But even if those things are true, I find most of the criticisms of Catcher (and Comics Sans, for that matter) to be easy, obvious and trite. Now, admittedly, I'm not sure I've read the novel in its entirety this century. But when people complain about poor spoiled rich Holden Caufield, it gives me pause. Because while I bow to few in my kneejerk dislike of those born with a silver spoon in mouth, when I think of Catcher in the Rye, I think of its protagonist who, over and over, literally from the very first page, is begging for help...and no one will listen to him or take him seriously. And it's not like it's hidden: Holden calls himself a madman in the first paragraph of the first chapter. And then again and again throughout the novel, he's trying to tell people he's losing it:
I’m crazy. I swear to God I am.
I swear to God I’m crazy. I admit it.
I’m crazy. I swear to God I am.
I swear to God I’m a madman.
Those second and third examples? They're on the same page.

And no one takes him seriously. Child of privilege or not, you have to feel for the kid.

It reminds me of what John Lennon later said about the title song for their second film:
When “Help!” came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help.
I mean, how much more obvious could it be? And yet no one listened. 

Which brings me to this review of Batman: Kings of Fear, and why I'm so pleased by it:
Batman: Kings of Fear is a series of 6 mini-issues focusing on The Dark Knight’s innermost fears and motivations… An almost Catcher in the Rye mission split with several references to A Christmas Carol: The Scarecrow takes Batman on a tour through what has happened and what might have been.  
[I]t’s a simple premise, but things get complicated when Batman has to reflect upon his life as a crime fighter. The dialogue hums nicely as does the flow from issue to issue. (I always worry about that when reading these types of mini-comics.)  
A seriously fun ride that may be a bit deeper view of Scarecrow and Batman than I’ve ever seen. One I’ll be recommending to many.
I mean. Salinger and Dickens? I'll take it.

Happy Birthday, Truckus Maximus!

So. At long last, it's here: Truckus Maximus is officially official.

8 years I pitched Calista Brill at First Second Books a graphic novel about a world where the Roman Empire never fell, but where panem et circenses is still the name of the game—only here the gladiators are enslaved teenagers racing monster trucks on reality TV. A few weeks later (after Calista had emailed with the second-greatest sentence an editor can send a writer: "what happens next?!") they made me an offer.

6 years ago, I sent the first draft of the script off for notes.

5 years ago, Calista told me about this amazing young artist she'd found named José García.

A year and a half ago, José sent in the final art files to First Second. Truckus was done.

But unlike the world of mainstream comic books—where it's often only a matter of weeks from when the artist is done to when the comics are on the shelves—book publishing works at a whole different speed.

So it's only now, 18 months later, that the 280-page behemoth that José and I worked on so closely for so long has really entered the world. José and I got our copies a month or so back, and that was an incredible thrill. But it's only now, when we can walk into any local bookstore or comic book shop or go to a massive internet store and find a copy that it's really real.

So. Here's hoping you pick up a copy via your favorite online or brick-and-mortal store and here's hoping you love it. José and I certainly loved (almost) every minute of making it.


Artistic Collaboration, or, Shirking Responsibility

So Tim Levins has been absolutely rocking the Instagram recently. And a few days ago, he started posting some pages from Gotham Adventures #24, showing both his pencils and the final colored and lettered page.

A question followed about the shot description for one of those pages. I've kept most of my scripts over the years, so I was able to pull up that particular page and was very surprised by what I found. Since the first comic book scripts I ever read were by Alan Moore, I just assumed his way of writing shot descriptions was the norm. To put it mildly, it is not. Most writers give far less detail in their shot descriptions and many excellent writers are nearly spartan when it comes to what they request.

So I was interested and pleased to discover just how quickly in our working relationship I started simply turning things over to Tim, trusting in his artistic vision.

Here's the sequence:

And here's my script for this sequence:


Page Seventeen
Panel One
Upshot from behind and below Batman. He’s in the EFG on the rear of the truck looking up at the buildings overlooking the truck where he can see Catwoman’s silhouette running away in EBG.

Panel Two
Reverse angle, so we’re looking down past Catwoman in the EFG. Behind and below her we can see Batman swinging on his line, on his way up to us.

Panel Three
And the chase is on. Okay, Tim, you said you’d like lots and lots of rooftops and whatnot, so that’s what you’ve got here. In fact, if you have no objections, I’m going to let you take it away. Here’s where we end up: She’s on the edge of a building that’s at least five or six stories high (you can go higher if you want), that has only taller buildings nearby, and her building can’t have any fire escapes or other ways down. She’s got her back to the street and is facing Batman, who’s about five feet away and is holding his batarang/line. I have no idea how they get there.
            Have I ever told you my philosophy on the Adventures books? I could go on for hours, but you can boil it down to a few points. One of the things that sets them apart is this: they are a comic based on an animated show based on a comic. They are not simply kiddie versions of the regular books, though it is absolutely integral that they be accessible to children.

Panel Four(?)


Page Eighteen
Panel One
To that end, the storytelling must always be crystal clear and interesting and exciting. Now, animation has the obvious benefits of being able to move the camera and add sound effects and music and voices and all that. We can’t do that, so we have to rely on clear stories (which, hopefully, have an interesting twist and/or plenty of heart and some humour) with excellent and arresting art.

Panel Two
In order to simulate the pace at which the animated show goes--one of its strong points--we restrict ourselves to no more than four panels per page (making the rare exception for effect), and sometimes fewer, we always open on a splash and so on. Big exciting images. Although it would seem to be the opposite, it actually makes the book much more challenging and difficult, a fact which escapes many (though never you, Tim).

Panel Three
So, with that in mind...have fun. If you’d rather I paced it out, I’d be happy to, but since you wanted to draw Catwoman in the first place, I give you freedom. Fly, be free.
Panel Four(?)


Page Nineteen
Panel One

Panel Two

Panel Three

Panel Four(?)
And she’s seemingly trapped.
            CATWOMAN: You certainly know how to make a girl feel wanted.

            BATMAN: What’s this all about, Catwoman?


First off, I'd like to express admiration for how great the final version of this entire sequence is, but especially how clever and effective the layout of that middle page is. I'd like to, but I'm not a good enough writer.

But it's that last page that really struck me. Because it's not only one of my favorites, but a storytelling concept I've used several other times—where the character does a hesitant stutter-step, trying to decide which way to go, while the camera's locked off all the while for maximum clarity and humorous effect. And I am astonished to discover that I apparently stole it all from Tim. Oh, well: as they say, steal from the best.

Batman: Kings of Fear video review

Well, now, isn't this a nice way to kick off the weekend? (A: it is if you're me or Kelley Jones.)

Probably goes without saying, but just in case: lots of spoilers in there. (Including one for Spider-Man: Far from Home.) 

The Storytelling Genius of Genius Artist Tim Levins

You know what I love? Besides genius artist Tim Levins and genius artist Tim Levins's artwork? I love when other people recognize the genius of genius artist Tim Levins and his genius artwork. I love that a lot.
If there is one Batman run that doesn’t get enough praise, it’s the strand of highly entertaining stories published in Gotham Adventures #15-60, from 1999 to 2003, written by Scott Peterson, mostly with pencils by Tim Levins, inks by Terry Beatty, and colors by Lee Loughridge. Adapting the characters and visuals of The New Batman Adventures animated show, these were action-packed comics that steadily delivered exciting standalone tales without talking down to their audience. The ultra-compressed narratives – effectively carried by taut dialogue as well as by an art style of crisp lines and low average of panels per page – were a lesson in minimalistic storytelling, spinning twist-filled yarns that were rich in characterization yet never felt overloaded.  
Of the many outstanding features of this run worth pointing out, today I want to focus on Tim Levins’ ability to bring to life ‘silent’ (i.e. wordless, without even sound effects) sequences that go on for pages. Scott Peterson clearly trusted his artists to convey all the necessary information and knew that readers enjoyed visually-driven set pieces, so his scripts provided Levins (and the rest of the creative team) with plenty of chances to shine.  
Levins rose up to the challenge.
Damn right he did.

Tim Levins’ deft pencils inject this sequence with peerless vitality through tilted angles and, in the second page, tilted borders (as the layout smoothly establishes the scene’s rhythm). Notice how Levins uses a small number of panels, letting the pages breathe, yet suddenly multiplies the images of the Caped Crusader, which gives the impression of a quick (yet clear) succession of graceful movements. Besides creating a loop for the readers’ gaze as it follows the action across the page (thus further increasing the dynamism of the reading experience), this neat trick efficiently illustrates an incredible acrobatic feat, underlining how athletic and cool Batman is.
Spot on. I'd add that in addition to all that, Tim notably refrained from having any elements breaking the panel borders, a technique which can be extremely effective in adding excitement to a layout, but which would have completely unnecessary here. Moreover, it's frequently used incorrectly even by some very good artists, because if not done just right, it can easily lead the reader's eye away from where it's supposed to go and into an area it's not. Such common gaffes are not for the likes of Monsieur Levins, however.

Without exception*, Tim took whatever I asked for and made it ever so much better than I ever could have imagined. After working together on just a handful of issues, I started paring my shot descriptions back further and further because there just kinda was no point—I could describe in the minutest detail what I was looking for and he would deliver it perfectly and it would look spectacular...or I could write "Batman and the bad guy fight" and he would deliver something even better than merely spectacular.

Tim's going to hate this post, incidentally. That's another reason I'm so happy about it.

[*there is actually one exception. Tim knows what he did.]

Batman: Kings of Fear review

Look, since I wrote Batman: Kings of Fear, I'm not going to say this guy's right about all this...I'm just going to say he makes a highly persuasive case, which has the added benefit of not being wrong at all

[A] consequence of having so many Batman books flooding the market is that potential readers are not aware of which of those comics are worth investing their time and money. An excess of merchandise by the same brand can lead to some good stories being lost in the mix and that approach is counterproductive.  
Let’s take this 2018-2019 miniseries, Kings of Fear, written by Scott Peterson and drawn by Kelley Jones: it flew under the radar while it was published and it has not gained any major hindsight from critics in the last couple of months, which is a shame given that this book provides us with some very fascinating insight on Batman as a character and delivers a conclusion that is actually quite refreshing for those of us that perhaps are not very thrilled with the direction the character over the last few years. 
What sets Scott Peterson apart from the rest of the current Batman writers (with a notorious exception being Peter J. Tomasi and his exceptional Detective Comics run) is the fact that he acknowledges these criticisms of Bruce’s war on crime, but he also offers us the chance of viewing the other side of the coin, as if this were a debate of sorts. This results in great scenes like Batman helping a little girl and her showing that his motivation is to prevent kids from going through what he went through, that his villains don’t keep coming back because he creates them or prompts them but rather that they are just insane and a scene with a professional in Arkham that tells him that his husband actually did time in jail and never committed another crime again because he was still terrified of the Batman, becoming a family man and a honest worker.  
You also get Gordon’s take on the matter, which seemed like a callback to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, in my view, and, most importantly, Alfred’s take, which to me defines the whole argument: that Batman might not be the most pleasant solution, but is one that has given a lot of possibilities and help to Gotham as a whole, often hidden beneath Bruce’s obsession to do more and never-ending quest to push himself even further.  
This is what I find the most appealing about Kings of Fear: it tackles a topic that has been discussed for years among comic book fans and it delivers an answer that is actually counter-cultural in these modern times, showing Batman as a force that has provided good to the city that he has sworn to protect. All through the Scarecrow’s classic psychedelic lens 
In a market that is filled with Batman titles, Kings of Fear is short and yet entertaining book that also offers a major insight into the Dark Knight’s motivation and place as a hero.