Teutonic Might!

A chat with the creators behind Big Sexy Comics.

Words by Leo Graziani

Fred and Adam at Fan Expo 2013

Writer Fred Kennedy (L) and artist Adam Gorham (R). Click for a larger photo.

When you think of comics, what comes to mind? Probably Superman, Spider-Man, Archie or those largely unfunny newspaper dailies? All valid, but there’s more to comics than just that.

The indie comics scene in the GTA is thriving, and there are lots of local creators producing some very interesting work. I had a chance to sit down with writer Fred Kennedy (a.k.a. Fearless Fred from 102.1 FM and Teletoon at Night) and artist Adam Gorham to talk about their company, Big Sexy Comics, and their three-volume story, Teuton. Teuton tells the story of Andrus Tamm, a Teutonic knight in the Northern Crusade who gets roped into a clash between factions of gods in the Lithuanian pantheon.

Leo Graziani: How did you two come to work together?
Adam Gorham:
In 2009, I did a graphic novel called The Vampire Conspiracy, and I wrote Fred an e-mail asking him to promote this book. He was only on The Edge for a few months at this time, and I heard him saying that he really loved comics, so I thought, “Maybe this stranger on the air will promote my comic book to the masses.” He got back to me, saying, “Would you rather just make a comic with me instead?” And I was blown away. That’s pretty much how we got everything cooking.
Fred Kennedy: I had the storyline for Teuton in my head, and it was originally a two-piece story, with the potential to go on. It was the first thing we’d ever written, and we were learning about storytelling as we went.

LG: How has fan reaction been?
FK:
It’s gotten a lot better. We knew we had something good because we were getting a lot of feedback and constructive criticism from people at Fan Expo 2010, our first show. We were amazed by how well we sold at Fan Expo this year.

The feedback/criticism encouraged us to make something better, but also to keep going. As soon as that show was over, we signed up to go back the next year—and we also made the decision to do a full-on trade paperback. Doing that was a huge accomplishment.

LG: So Teuton came out as a single issue first?
FK:
Yeah, a really bad single issue [laughs].
AG: It was a 26-page floppy. Not long after we’d initially e-mailed each other, I got working on the first draft of the story. I wasn’t even excited to draw a knight story, because I hate drawing horses; they’re horrible.

Teuton art page LR horses

Adam, your horses look good to me, if a little, er… undead. Click for a larger photo.

LG: Horses?
AG: Horses are really difficult to draw. So Fred gave me this first page, and it had the main character sitting atop a horse, and I tried to draw it in a way where the horse is really small, or you just saw a fraction it.
FK: I was super-nervous because I was working with other people at the time, and their art was good—infinitely better than what I could do—but Adam’s roughs were better than their final product!

LG: I’ve read through all three volumes of Teuton, and you can see a clear progression in both the writing and the art.
FK:
Thanks. When we came to Fan Expo with the third volume, we had people coming up saying, “I bought volume two last year, and it was way better. I can’t wait to see volume three.” That was great to hear.

I think volume three ends really strongly. If we could go back and do it again, we could probably add another 50–60 pages. We kept it as tight as we could for the sake of storytelling and also for the sake of money and time, but there are a lot of areas we’d like to explore in greater depth.

LG: For volume one, did you go back and re-do any of the pages?
AG:
Oh yeah. We changed the first 15 pages. They’re completely rewritten and redrawn. The story starts differently as well—we wanted to introduce the characters with the proper motivations to do what they do later on.

LG: This was mentioned in the introduction to volume one, but it came to me as well while I was reading: Who even knew there was a Lithuanian pantheon? Now I want to learn more about them.
FK:
They’re really violent and gory. They just hate each other.
LG: That’s the vibe I got. No one is friends; everyone has a lot of pride.
FK:
Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s what makes it cool from a character standpoint. We didn’t have to develop these characters—they all came with their personalities and stories from the mythology. For example, Bangpūtys, the sea god, has a story about one of his sons who disobeys him, and so to amuse himself, he continually tries to drown him. Like, that’s what he does. And I love the way Adam drew him; he looks like Tom Hiddleston’s Loki but with short hair.
AG: And this was before Loki made his appearance in the movies.
FK: They’re ripping us off! [laughs]

Loki

Like this guy, but with short hair. Click for a larger photo.

LG: Ziburnis—what’s he a god of?
AG:
He’s not, actually. He’s a demon assassin, and the gods fear him. In the Lithuanian pantheon, he was in love with one of the goddesses of death. That’s one of the things we’d like to elaborate on, if we ever added more pages to Teuton.

LG: What about Perkūnas?
AG:
There’s an all-father, whose name is Deivas. He’s kind of like the Lithuanian Odin. The Lithuanian pantheon and the Norse pantheon—they’re basically different translations of the same belief systems.
LG: Like the Greeks and the Romans?
AG: Exactly. They’re very similar figures, but just a little different depending on which side of the mountain range you’re on. So Deivas would be the Odin, and Perkūnas would be the Thor. He’s the god of lightning, mountains and trees.

LG: Switching back to the real world for a sec: Have you found any local support from comic stores? How is your relationship with them?
AG:
Our biggest source of support is Stadium Comics in Brampton. They’re terrific businessmen, but they also have a genuine love of comics, indie comics, and supporting local talent. They always carry our stuff, and they get us to come out to the store for events as often as possible.
FK: Worlds Collide, out in Durham, also has our books. They’ve been really good. Same with the Silver Snail in downtown Toronto. Both the Snail and Stadium have given us honest critiques, too.
AG: We’ve made key decisions about the book based on what these guys have said. For instance, I had a really cool idea for the cover to our first trade paperback: the title of the book would look like the painted cover for Ben-Hur, where the letters were carved from huge, mountainous rocks. I didn’t illustrate it well enough, so people thought the name of the book was Big Sexy Comics Presents—they missed the whole title in the background! So Rob at Stadium told me what customers were saying, and when we reprinted volume one, we gave our book an actual logo. That helped a lot.

"Conan! What is best in life?" "To watch my movie a zillion times."

“Conan! What is best in life?” Click for a larger photo.

LG: What inspired you to create Teuton? The first thing I thought was Conan the Barbarian. I imagine you’re both big Conan fans.
AG:
I looked at at Max Von Sydow in The Seventh Seal for Andrus’s character design and Prince Valiant for clothing. [Legendary comics artist] Bernie Wrightson was a big influence on my inking. I loved [Wrightson’s] Batman: The Cult growing up.
FK: For dialogue, Conan is pretty much spot-on. I was really into the Kurt Busiek/Cary Nord relaunch, but once Tim Truman took over, I found his dialogue to be a lot stronger. I liked Brian Wood’s story structure in Northlanders, so I used some of that. Movies were also an influence: I must’ve watched the original Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger a zillion times. People complain about it, but I still love it.
AG: Who complains about the original Conan? I want names!
FK: Well, that’s a whole other discussion. [laughs]
LG: We’ll go off the record if you want to start naming people.
FK:
I find I can learn a lot about writing comics from watching movies. I’ll watch for the way they execute things, how they transition from shot to shot. Or watching shows like The Wire and how they unfold, with plotlines that you as a viewer should’ve seen coming, but didn’t. I had influences like that, but I’d also like to think that I did something with my own voice.

LG: Are you reading anything now? Brian Wood’s current Conan the Barbarian series, maybe?
FK:
I started reading the stuff he did with [artist] Becky Cloonan, but then I got into the Marvel space stories, like War of Kings and Guardians of the Galaxy; I also re-read Annihilation Wave. And then I caught up on Invincible, because I love Invincible. Our buddy Phil recommended Preacher, so that’s coming up.
AG: Right now, I’m enjoying Scott Snyder’s Batman.
FK: Hawkeye.
LG: Oh, Hawkeye’s fantastic!
FK:
I can’t wait to meet [writer] Matt Fraction at the next convention, so I can throw the book down in front of him and say “How did you script this?!” And Hawkeye was an Adam recommendation, and he totally called it because he’s a brilliant man.
LG: I’m really tempted to cosplay as one of the tracksuit mafia next year.
FK:
[imitating tracksuit mafia goon] Bro, bro!
LG: [also imitating] Seriously, bro!
FK:
You gotta find a Kangol hat, that’s what you need!
AG: It’s been harder for me to keep track of single issues, so I’ve been trying to find self-contained graphic novels to enjoy. I’ve really been blown away this year by Paul Pope’s Battling Boy. I wasn’t a big Paul Pope fan, and I can’t believe that I love this book as much as I do. And then there’s Siegfried by Alex Alice. Head Lopper is another good one, but I can’t find my copy. I’m convinced Fred has it.
FK: You’re welcome to look for it.

tracksuit mafia

Bro, click for larger photo, bro.

LG: Do you guys have other projects coming up together?
FK:
We’re pitching stuff right now, some ideas that have been percolating for a while: a coming-of-age story, a sex-trafficking story, and a First World War story. The visuals for the coming-of-age story are amazing—Adam blew it out of the water with his art for it. We sent it out to a bunch of people, and [established artist] Phil Jiminez responded, saying “This is beautiful.” That was really cool.
AG: Fred and I are doing a story in the next True Patriot anthology. We did one in their first volume which was four pages; this new one is eight pages and will feature the villainess from that first story. We should also be collaborating on another short story for the Monstrosity anthology.

LG: Did you know there’s an exhibit for True Patriot at PAMA?
AG:
Yeah—my art will be on display up there with everyone else’s from the book!

LG: Do you have any comics that will be coming out under the Big Sexy Comics banner?
FK:
Not this year. We’ve talked about it, but it’s a big commitment and time is finite. It’s funny though, because this is the first time in four years where we’re not working on something together. I’m always griping about it.
AG: I get texts from him regularly about that.
FK: I’m writing a lot of prose/short stories right now, just to keep writing and improving. One of them is “The Veiled Blade,” which you can read on our site. I also posted it on Kindle and Kobo. Hopefully it gets some reviews, because nobody’s reviewed it yet.
AG: I’ll review it.
FK: Thanks, brah.

Teuton art page LR crop

Detail from a Teuton art spread. Click for a larger photo.

LG: Adam, are you working on anything right now?
AG: I’m inking an X-Files/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover for [comic publisher] IDW.
LG: That sounds awesome.
AG:
It’s actually really cool, though when I mention it to friends, they can’t see the connection. It’s written by Ed Brisson—
FK: Who’s awesome; a great dude.
AG: And it’s illustrated by Michael Walsh. They did Comeback together. But they’re not treating it like a team-up in which Mulder helps the Turtles stop Shredder, but more like an X-Files case, investigating these “man-phibians.” It’s an unofficial sequel to an X-Files episode called “Bad Blood.” That should be out in the new year.

LG: Have you guys given any thought to doing stuff in colour? I know that adds a lot in the way of costs.
FK:
If someone else is paying to print it, we’d be fine. [laughs]
AG: Our future things projects will try to be in colour. People just respond a lot better to it. It’s weird that we had a bit of a hard time selling Teuton because it was black and white. Readers who were familiar with the old-school Conan kinda got it, though.
FK: [Established artist] Mike McKone gushed about it, which I thought was pretty cool.
AG: It was very flattering. But your average punter comes in and says, “Oh, it’s in black and white—it’s not a real comic, is it?” They think we only made half the book.

LG: But a lot of that can be alleviated with the right inking.
AG:
Sure. Black and white works, depending on the artist. Sean Murphy uses a lot of heavy blacks, and his stuff almost doesn’t need to be coloured because he conveys so much information with his inking. And then there’s other people who draw very sparsely, like Frank Quitely, who is probably my favourite comic book artist. But his linework is so meticulous and thin, that if it isn’t coloured, it loses a lot of its power. With Teuton, you don’t see a whole lot of white negative space, so you don’t feel like you’re losing a lot by not having it in colour.

[Below are examples of Sean Murphy’s art and Frank Quitely’s art, respectively.]

sean murphy joe the barbarian

frank quitely - all star supermanLG: Are you guys appearing at any comic conventions in 2014?
AG:
I’m on the wait list for TCAF [the Toronto Comics Arts Festival].
LG: Wait list? It’s gotten that big now?
AG:
Yeah. But I also think they don’t quite know what to make of us. Our material is weird in that it’s not quite authentic enough to be mainstream, but it’s too mainstream to be seen as indie.

I plan on being in Emerald City Comicon in Seattle at the end of March. We might be in Vancouver in April, maybe Boston around the first week of August. And then Fan Expo at the end of August. I just did CincyCon in Cincinnati this past September. It’s a fantastic show put on by great people, so I’d like to return to that.

LG: So for readers who want to find out more about you or get updates, what’s the best venue? Twitter?
FK:
Yup. @Fearless_Fred and @AdamTGorham.
AG: That’s right.
FK: I love that I know yours by heart. I feel like a real man now.

You can pick up your copy of Teuton at bigsexycomicshop.bigcartel.com.

 

One Response to Teutonic Might!

  1. Pingback: My Fan Expo Experience | Mississauga Life - Spirit of the City

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