Sean Fahey: Like most creators, I’ve been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember. Sgt. Rock, Green Arrow, Batman, Conan and (of course) Jonah Hex were some early favorites; the guys that had to rely on their discipline, training, wit and character in order to survive. The self-made men. I find those kinds characters and their stories compelling.
With respect to making comics, my history is pretty simple. I have stories I want to tell, and the fastest way for me to tell them is to put pen to paper and publish them myself. So, about four years ago I started Black Jack Press and have been putting out books ever since. Not as fast as I’d like, but we’re getting our stuff out there. We started with Tall Tales from the Badlands, our Weird West anthology (now three issues deep) and will be branching out shortly with the first issue of our Vikings anthology as well as our first mini-series, The River of Blood.
SF: First off, thanks for the kind words on Tall Tales. I’m thrilled you like the book and I appreciate the support you’ve given the series over the years.
Why Westerns? You gravitate toward what you love. What attracts you. I don’t see how you can get anything done as a self-publisher unless you’re working in a genre that you absolutely love. I love Westerns. The stories that have always appealed to me are stories about rebirth, redemption and revenge. There’s no better genre to explore those themes than the Western. I’m fascinated by the struggle between individual human values and ideals against “progress” and “civilization” (and what follows in its wake) that epitomize so many classic Westerns. Until the west was “tamed” and “civilized” it was (for the most part) a true meritocracy. You could become anyone you wanted with enough hard work…and a little bit of luck. That appeals to me as a storyteller.
There’s a good reason the genre is picking up steam again in the industry — it’s fertile soil for writers. East of West. Pretty Deadly. The Sixth Gun. Copperhead. It’s not an accident that some on the industry’s top writers are flocking to the genre. The themes of the Western are timeless. Natural justice. Individual codes of honor. The conflict between ideals and institutions. The conflict between the natural world and those compelled to tame it. Who wouldn’t want to write (or read) about those things? To be honest, I think most people love Westerns and they want to see more of them.
SF: TV Westerns definitely spark ideas. I’m a huge fan of Hell on Wheels and Deadwood, but am just as excited by the old Disney Davy Crockett shows as well. Truth be told, my influences come from all over the place, even for my Westerns. There’s as much Jim Thompson and John Le Carre in my characters and stories as there is John Ford and Sam Peckinpah. Even if you’re going to work primarily in one particular genre, I think it’s critical that you draw as much as you can from outside that genre for inspiration. Otherwise, you’re just repackaging what’s been done before. Matt Ryder, the Sheriff from “A Nation of Laws” in issue two of Tall Tales, is based in part on Alec Lemas from LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, a man who comes to see the institutions he’s spent his whole life defending as a cruel joke. A game without winners. So, he ultimately chooses not to play the game anymore, despite what that decision ultimately costs him. Matt wouldn’t have come to me from watching High Noon and My Darlin’ Clementine or reading Riders of the Purple Sage.
SF: Putting together creative teams is one of my favorite things about working in comics. I love looking for artists and writers and developing relationships with them — that’s the creative process. Collaboration. Finding new voices and new styles. I would say to any aspiring editor or comic creator that you better love looking for talent, because until you establish yourself you’re going to spend a lot of time doing it.
In terms of the right artist for the right story… a lot of that is just the editor doing the research. Getting deep into the artist’s portfolio. A lot of the guys I’ve worked with had never done a Western before “Tall Tales,” but if you get into their portfolios you can tell how strong they are at telling stories visually and how committed they are to research. The rest is trust. Trusting talented people to bring it.
Over time, you start developing relationships, friendships even. You develop your own shorthand with an artist. When it truly works, the artist sees exactly what’s in your head…and makes it better by enhancing the spirit of what you’re trying to do. There’s a reason I’ve worked with Borch Pena on eight different projects for four different publishers, and I’m lucky enough to have that kind of relationship with a few artists.
SF: I like “The Great Wall” from issue two of Tall Tales. It’s a story about a former Chinese railroad worker living in San Francisco sharing with his grandson the history of their family through a series of pictures on the wall of his restaurant. It’s one of the first times I felt that I developed the tiniest shred of maturity as a writer (I still have a long way to go). Most of what I’d written up to that point was extremely violent stuff, and the use of violence became a crutch. With “The Great Wall” I felt I was doing exactly what I was trying to do thematically in some of my earlier stories — tell a story about justice and redemption — without relying on shock value or narrative crutches, namely violence and explicit language. “Thicker than Water” from issue one will always hold a special place with me because it was the first comic script I ever completed. I poured my heart into that thing.
SF: It’s going to be very awesome. I couldn’t be more excited about this project. It’s coming along beautifully. It’s going to be seven stories and pin-ups. Great crew of talented writers. Our old friend Mark Wheaton is joining us again; he turned in an amazing script about the infamous raid on Lindisfarne called “Satan’s Hordes” (how’s that for a title!) Mark is going to be joined by Derek Fridolfs (Batman Beyond, Adventures of Superman, Adventure Time), Tom Pinchuk (Hybrid Bastards, Max Steel, Cartoon Network) Ken Jones (Legends of the Dark Knight) and my wife Susan Wallis (GrayHaven Comics, To End All Wars). The scripts cover a wide variety of subject matter from Leif Erikson’s journey to North America, to the Icelandic justice system, the Battle of Clontarf, the Viking funeral ritual, and more. Each of the stories has a perfect balance of history and conflict, with a focus on strong characterizations. I lucked out with our writers. Each one of them just killed, and don’t get me started on the artists…this is going to be a gorgeous looking book.
SF: How did it line up? In a word, nepotism. My brother is a television writer. At the time, he was living in New York and DC was recruiting new faces. They asked him if he would be interested in sending them some pitches for their Holiday Special and he asked me if I was interested in working on something. I sent him an Enemy Ace pitch that he forwarded on to DC, and they liked it. He basically turned the reins over to me and told me to run with it. When I saw Howard Chaykin’s pencils come in I nearly had a heart attack. It’s all been downhill from there! In all seriousness though, it was a real honor. To write one of my favorite characters and have Chaykin do the art… yeah.
SF: Vikings will be the next release, probably late fall/early winter of this year. That will be followed by the fourth issue of Tall Tales from the Badlands early next year as well as the first issue of “Ruprecht,” a kind of “Dennis the Menace” by way of Charles Addams kids comic. By the middle of next year, we’re hoping to release the first two issues of “The River of Blood,” a Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft inspired pulp-horror mini-series. The story is about a group of exiled Varangian Guard Vikings trying to return North from Constantinople up the Volga River. Suffice it to say that their journey home is interrupted, but this presents a chance for redemption… if they can survive it. Thematically, it’s about the contrasts between ideals and institutions, and barbarism and “civilization.” Carlos Trigo is finishing up the art for issue #1 right now, and it looks incredible.
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