Black Ship Books: Tell us about your history as a creator, Curtis. When was your first published work?
Curtis Lawson: I began making comics in 2007. My first book was a non-costumed, super power story called Kincaid. After getting a very kind rejection letter from Erik Larsen at Image, I decided to self publish. Under the banner of Broken Soul Press, I published two issues of Kincaid before scrapping the title. An issue three was created, with a new artist, but the original pages were lost on the subway and only bad scans of it exist. That kind of killed the project.
After Kincaid, I did a few mini-comics and anthology pieces before coming in fifth place in the 2008 Platinum Studios Comic Book Challenge. Aside from my collaborators in that contest, I also made some valuable friends and contacts. Alex Chong, who I would go on to co-created Mastema with, was one of the competitors I was up against that year.
Since then, I have done bigger projects including Diabolicus and the as of yet unpublished Blackstone mini-series for QEW Publishing, and I have recently scripted two biography comics for Bluewater. With Broken Soul Press I have continued to self publish stuff like Tarnished and The Wrong House, which has been optioned for film. I also made a digital push with Broken Soul Press, doing several webcomics, including Curse of The Black Terror.
After The Wrong House and an anthology comic I wrote called The Essex were optioned for film, I was able to meet the requirements for joining the Horror Writer’s Association, which has been a big help to me.
My biggest title so far is Mastema, published by Arcana. Mastema a dark fantasy graphic novel following a former crusader who has been merged with the essence of a demon. While it is an adventure comic, it also focuses heavily on the bizarre and complex relationship between the main character and the sorceress who stole his humanity. Visually, I think it is the best looking comic I have done to date. I’m also very proud of the storytelling.
For things on the horizon, I have a few short comics featuring a team called the B.R.A.S.S. Lions which will be featured in Steampunk Originals volumes V and VI. This is property that Rick Marcks and I are developing and I hope to turn into something bigger down the road. I’m also developing a secret project with Mastema penciler Nico Leon, as well as a crime OGN with Mariano Laclaustra, who is the colorist on the Dark Horse title S.H.O.O.T. First.
BSB: S.H.O.O.T. First is a great book! I’m looking forward to that graphic novel, definitely. Moving on… What was your experience of “breaking in” to the industry like? Do you think it’s harder for writers than for artists?
CL: Well, I don’t know if it is entirely fair to say that I’ve broken in. I have had a lot more luck than most aspiring writers, and I’m building a decent body of work. Looking at things by the numbers, I’m still in the red though. I get a lot of offers to write for free, but not so many offers to write for pay. I’m in this odd in between stage of my career. I have artists who want to collaborate on submissions with me, I have editors who want me to write stuff for back end deals, and I have people saying nice things about my books. At the same I haven’t yet managed to get my foot in the door at the bigger companies I’d like to do business with.
And as a writer, yes, it is harder. An editor can tell at a glance if someone can draw or color. With writers though, they have to invest some real time in reading your stuff. It’s tough to grab their attention. It’s all about time and persistence though. I’m a firm believer that if you keep putting out quality work, keep shaking hands, and keeping sending out your work then someone will notice you. In the meantime, I’m happy to work with the great independent folks I’ve been doing business with and making comics just for the sake of making comics.
BSB: You’ve published a pretty diverse set of stories since getting started in comics. Do you feel that there are any unifying themes or attitudes toward life or creativity that run through all of them? Is that a weird question?
CL: That’s a pretty great question actually. I have done a lot of genre bouncing and I greatly enjoy trying new things. If any themes or world view, I think my older stuff could be loosely connected by a cynicism at the personal level, balanced by an optimism for the world as a whole.
More recently I have been consciously developing continuing themes in some of my work. My horror and fantasy stuff is depicting an extreme distrust of the divine, pitting humanity and reason against ethereal chaos and subservience to alien influences. My super powered stories, whether urban fantasy or super hero, focus a lot on the factors that separate humanity and super-humanity. I’m very intrigued with the Nietzschean idea of man mentally evolving into something more, and the trans-humanist concepts like the singularity.
Of course themes take a back seat to story and character. At the end of the day I’m not interested in pushing a world-view or agenda. I just want to weave a fun yarn.
BSB: What creators, past or present, do you draw inspiration from in your work?
CL: Oh man, so many! As for comic writers, my biggest influences are probably Frank Miller, Mike Carey, Brian Bendis, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Millar, and Grant Morrison. I also draw inspiration from a lot of comic artists. I dig the work of a lot of guys out there, there is just so much talent these days in the big leagues and the indies. But the ones who put out visual storytelling and imagery that really inspire my imagination include Mark Texeira, Humberto Ramos, amongst the big names.
If I had to pick one name more than any other though, I would have to say Sam Keith. He is just a creativity machine. I don’t think my work really resembles his in any noticeable way, but when I’m trying to add in some psychological undertones or justify the eldritch next to the mundane, I look to Keith’s work.
CL: Diabolicus was a fun book, and my first long form story which wasn’t self-published. It’s a four issue mini-series, and can be purchased through QEW Publishing either as individual issues or in a collected trade.
BSB: What’s your approach to the creative process, as a writer? Do you prefer Marvel-style or a full script? How much leeway do you like to give the artists you work with?
CL: The process varies from project to project. I always work in the full script style, but those scripts may vary in rigidity depending on the artist I am working with. If I am writing a script for an artist who I have no experience with I tend to be a bit more longwinded. I’ll often dictate camera angles, panel layout and choreograph any fight scenes.
If I have a comfort level with the artist, I tend to be relaxed in my scripting. I try to learn the strengths and tastes of the artist and tailor the script to work best for them. In scripts I have done with a few artists who I know well I have left things as simple as “Give me a two page fight scene, with ten panels, and end it with The Black Terror standing over a pile of bodies.”
As a comic writer, you are writing for the artist as much as for the reader. I think that is an important thing to keep in mind.
BSB: What are some independent books that you are currently into?
CL: Comixtribe is doing some great stuff. I just backed the kickstarter for their Red Ten hardcover. The First Law of Mad Science is another smaller book that I dig currently. I’m really enjoying Top Cow’s Think Tank, though I’m not sure if I’d call them indie. The Steampunk Originals anthologies from Arcana are a lot of fun too. My son and I have been reading Rex Zombie Killer together.
CL: Tarnished is a short anthology comic featuring stories which re-imagine golden age superheroes from the public domain, and paint them in a darker, modern light. The idea was spawned by my “Curse of The Black Terror” comic. I had turned Bob Benton’s mythology into something new and fresh, so I thought it would be cool to see what could be done with some of those other forgotten characters.
Initially I had a lot of interested parties, but when things were all said and done there were only handful of usable comics. As such, it ended up shorter than I had hoped. Still, it is a quality book with some fun stories. Characters re-imagined include The Black Terror, The Green Ghost, Agent 99, Black Cat, and Doc Plasma.
BSB: Do you have any writing aspirations outside the world of comics?
CL: Comics are my first love, but I have been doing more and more prose as well. I recently sold my first short story to a British Horror magazine called Beware the Dark. I’m also nearly finished with the rough draft of my first novel. It’s a totally different kind of storytelling, and I enjoy it quite a bit. There is something satisfying about creating something all by yourself.
That being said, I have no plans to abandon comics. I think each story speaks to how it should be told, if the teller listens. When I have a story in my mind, I weigh out the elements of the narrative against the strengths and limitations of different mediums. I’ll continue to write stories in whichever form I think best serves them.
BSB: What’s coming up next for Broken Soul Press?
CL: I’ve been busy writing stuff for other companies, so I have no immediate plans for BSP. I am considering putting out a mini-series of horror comics sometime late this year. We’ll have to see how things line up with my other writing commitments, my real world obligations, and schedules for the artists I have in mind.