A TRVE KVLT OF PERSONALITIES (In a good way) - An Interview with Scott Bryan Wilson and Liana Kangas
Scott Bryan Wilson and Liana Kangas spoke to Jimmy Gaspero and Comic Book Yeti on the eve of the release of Trve Kvlt #3 to discuss self-publishing their comic, their collaborative process, and what's in store for Marty, Alison, and Bernice in Issue #3. If you missed out on the Kickstarter, Trve Kvlt #3 will be available on Gumroad on June 10th (today!) and you can get it by clicking HERE.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Scott and Liana, thank you for taking the time for this interview halfway through Trve Kvlt’s 4 issue run. I know Issue #3 is set to be released June 10th, though. How have you been doing?
SCOTT BRYAN WILSON: Like a former coworker of mine used to say, “Life is lovely.” His fucking house could be burning down while he succumbed to a flesh-eating virus and he would still tell you life is lovely.
LIANA KANGAS: Can’t complain! (I am the coworker Scott is talking about.)
CBY: I backed the successful Kickstarter and am enjoying the series, so was excited to have this opportunity. How did the idea for a fast-food/small-time heist/Satanic Panic comic come about?
SBW: Thanks for backing it, first of all. We can’t thank you and the rest of our 600+ backers enough. I don’t remember where the idea came from, but I always wanted to write a book that had a big heist as a centerpiece. In my original outline, before Liana was involved, the heist didn’t happen until issue 3. She and I were talking one day when she mentioned she always wanted to draw a heist story, like Ocean’s 11, and I was like, “Oh, yeah?” and told her the basic plot. I think the first thing we figured out was that we wanted the heist to happen right away and the rest of the book would deal with the fallout from it. Now it happens on pages 4 & 5 of the first issue.
LK: I’m so glad the heist happens immediately now, getting that out of the way, and then the real stuff starts happening RIGHT AFTER.
CBY: Was it always the plan to take Trve Kvlt to Kickstarter, or did you think to pitch it to publishers? Having worked with publishers previously, and for new creators reading this, what did you find were the advantages/disadvantages to Kickstarter?
SBW: We had interest from three publishers...the week before COVID hit the US. So when the bottom fell out of the comics industry, we just said fuck it and decided to do a Kickstarter, and figured we could always go with a publisher once we were finished with it and hopefully things would be back to normal.
LK: I think things happened the way they were supposed to, otherwise I’d never get to know Kickstarter like I do, and it was a killer learning experience I’ve kinda wanted to try for a while. I love direct market issues, so I miss that a lot, but it was really cool to gain this whole group of fans from Kickstarter comics that we’d have never met if we didn’t crowdfund the first issue.
"Literally designing an entire fast food branding was not something I thought I would do in my entire life, but here we are."
CBY: I know [you both] worked together before Trve Kvlt as part of an anthology, had you known each other before then? When was it that you realized you worked well together and wanted to collaborate on your own comic?
SBW: We met at a convention in New Jersey, and we both had stories in the Where We Live anthology from Image, so we hung out at a few signings for that book, too.
LK: What year is it? I totally forgot we did an anthology before this! Scott and I became fast friends, so it feels like it’s been a decade and a few weeks at the same time.
CBY: Did any other members of the team know each other prior to Trve Kvlt? And how did Gab Contreras and DC Hopkins become involved?
LK: I knew both Jamez, Gab, and Jazzlyn (in that order) before the book started. Jamez was my roommate from college and we actually met at a comics shop so he has always supported my comics career. He’d even write me scripts to draw when I started pursuing comics. Gab was an old Twitter mutual of mine that Jamez and I had asked to collaborate with us on a short years and years back, and we really haven’t stopped collaborating since…and Jazzlyn I met at my very first San Diego Comic Con, where I was invited to a really rad dinner by Jen Vaughn and I thought Jazzlyn’s sunglasses were super cool and we became fast friends, and I suppose the rest is history.
I never knew DC before this, but I’m glad Scott introduced us, much to his chagrin, because we never let up on making fun of Scott’s aggressive use of em-dashes.
CBY: I know from the backmatter in issues #1 and #2 that Scott definitely has prior experience working in fast food, but anyone else?
LK: I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I worked in a mall food court for almost the entirety of my teens and I have endless horror stories we plan on filling you in on.
CBY: I think my favorite character is Bernice and I think she’s essential as a friend and somewhat of a foil to Marty. Can you tell me what went into creating her character?
SBW: She’s loosely based on a woman I worked for back in my fast food days, who was also named Bernice. Even in the face of apocalyptic racism in Georgia in the ’90s, she was just the nicest woman in the world, saw through everyone’s bullshit, and didn’t take shit from anyone. She always had a smile on her face and was funny as hell. So the real Bernice and the comics Bernice share all those traits.
LK: One of my best friends growing up in high school who was my ride-or-die before I left for college reminded me a lot of the real Bernice when Scott described her to me. It’s just nice to think about. Bernice in the comic is her own character though, because, wow...who would actually tolerate Marty????? A saint, that’s who.
SBW: Yeah, that’s a good point.
CBY: Gab’s colors are really something special, establishing the color palette of Burger Lord with purples, pinks, oranges, yellows. What was the process to come up with Burger Lord’s aesthetic?
LK: Literally designing an entire fast food branding was not something I thought I would do in my entire life, but here we are. We had a few iterations of the colors before Gab came along and we felt like something was missing, so some of the major branding colors are I’d say a huge decision on Gab’s part that we got to mold into even the branding shirt line that we actually wear today. It was fun to work with her on that and also deciding “Okay, so what’s Burger Lord’s branding ten years ago that Alison sports…. What’s the competitor's branding like for this other thing?” and we just go down this rabbit hole of easter eggs of weird fast food branding and she knocks it out of the park every time. I think Burger Lord’s branding you’ll find make more sense as the series progresses.
"If you’re making a comic book in 2021, you’re not only competing against every other comic on the stand, you’re competing with every comic that’s ever been created. And you’re competing with every TV show, movie, and book from all time."
CBY: In issue #1, I found Marty’s crime spree to be one of the funniest sequences in a comic book. Scott, what were your influences when writing those panels?
SBW: I didn’t set out to make Trve Kvlt a comedy, or at least have so much comedy in it—I originally envisioned it as a straight-faced crime book—but I realized pretty quickly that you can’t do a book about a fast food heist and not embrace the natural hilarity that would follow. Especially because Marty is not a seasoned criminal—he’s a nerd who can barely function in society, so of course when he decides to pull off a massive robbery, it was going to have to be entertaining. I realized that the setting didn’t lend itself to striking visuals a la Ocean’s 11, so Marty’s dialogue and narration in those sections would have to keep the momentum going as he pulled off the feat of robbing eight consecutive stores in a strip mall.
LK: Scott is great, we had so many more ideas with the heist that it would have been ridiculous but also, never say never, am I right?
CBY: The character of Alison is introduced late in issue #1 and serves as a walking, talking Burger Lord employee manual. It’s such a smart and funny way to bring context to the life of a Burger Lord employee and interject these great work anecdotes. I know from the backmatter in issue #2 some of Alison’s anecdotes are based on Scott’s real-life experience, but is Alison, either in character or design, based on anyone in particular?
LK: Alison is a lot more complex than when we started. The original character design I had drawn [was] based off of her lowest potential of what she was even envisioned for and that somehow just works for her character as a whole. I imagined the extreme try-hard personality of a kid fresh outta high school. So I, of course, drew her off an amalgamation of all of my gorgeous friends in high school who were in my anime club and in my AP English classes. Ha.
SBW: Character-wise, she has the traits of some people I knew, combined into one. That line in issue 3 about wearing her “Drive-Thru Crew” t-shirt to school? I wish I could make up something that good.
CBY: Issue #1 contained amazing pin-ups by several different artists, including a variant cover by Sweeney Boo. How did the creative team approach getting other artists on board for the variant cover and the pin-ups? When approaching artists were you looking for a particular style that complemented the interior or more so looking for artists that would bring something unique to the material?
SBW: We just wanted to make issue #1 really thick, and a really satisfying reading experience. Liana and I both went into our contacts and tried to find some amazing artists to give a different visual interpretation for these characters. Elizabeth Beals? Ken Knudtsen? Kat Fox? Just incredible artists.
LK: I feel like I’ve never pulled the friend card so many times in my life…but what’s a great creator-owned book if you can’t ask all of your friends to be in it? Seriously they’re all so talented, the book wouldn’t be what it was without them.
CBY: You worked with Jazzlyn Stone for this and she’s listed in the credits for Marketing, which is something I haven’t seen much in comics. How did Jazzlyn become involved in the project and do you think as creators turn to Kickstarter we will see more freelance marketers involved as part of the creative team?
SBW: You’ll definitely see more of it. We knew that this Kickstarter might be the only money we’d ever make off the book, so it was worth it to us to bring Jazzlyn on board to use her powerhouse marketing skills. It paid off for us. Look at it this way: if you’re making a comic book in 2021, you’re not only competing against every other comic on the stand, you’re competing with every comic that’s ever been created. And you’re competing with every TV show, movie, and book from all time. So having someone who can use their powers to make your books rise above the surface long enough to find some readers is crucial.
LK: There was no way we could have done this book without her. Creator-owned comics are a lot of work. Jazzlyn believed in the book, so it was a great fit. Her voice sometimes eerily seems MADE for marketing a satanic fast food heist book.
"I give full credit to Hagai Palevsky..."
CBY: I wanted to discuss issue #2 and, in particular, Marty and Alison in the van. For a visual medium, I found the choice to have those panels black except for Marty’s inner monologue, Alison’s talking, and the SFX to be a bold choice. DC Hopkins’s sound effects are extremely effective and work well to string the panels together. Scott, what was your approach to scripting those panels? Liana, did you have any concerns that there were 3 pages of 9-panel grids with no artwork?
SBW: Issue #1 was a real grind for us, and took forever. First issues are always a grind, but this one in particular, because it had such a long gestation period, and we did five pages for a pitch, and then when COVID happened, we decided to just do the book ourselves. In that time, Liana had leveled up so much as an artist that she had to go back and redo a lot of those first five pages. Anyway, when I was writing issue #2, she was juggling some other books and I wanted to give her a bit of a break, so I thought it would be funny to tell three different stories over a black background — Marty’s narration, Alison continuing to interview for the job, and the sound effects of the car. That way Liana would only have to draw 17 pages rather than 20. (Plus I knew by that point that issues #3 and #4 were both going to be oversized — 28 and 30 pages, respectively — so I hoped by giving her a break she wouldn’t kill me when she found out.)
LK: When Scott said “Hey, you might not have to draw a couple pages for this one scene in this robust issue,” I said, in my best Bill Hader voice, “Sign me the fuck up.” (Also I truly appreciate Scott’s vision and participation for heavy lifting for executing storytelling in this series.)
CBY: I had the opportunity to read Issue #3 (Jazzlyn was kind enough to send it to me for this interview) and it’s my favorite issue thus far. I appreciate the “Previously:” section, for starters, but I was hoping to touch on a few things that aren’t too spoilery. The cover by Liana and Gab was shocking. How did that cover design come about?
LK: I really love homage covers. But I give full credit to Hagai Palevsky, who when I finalized my issue two cover and was racking my brain on what to do for three, said, “Have you given any thought to the Coen brothers yet?” Anyways he’s always ready to give you unlimited Jesus or Pagliacci joke material at all times; I was extremely lucky to bounce ideas off him, especially for a cover.
I am trying my best to layer so many inside jokes in this series that it will take you ten reads to truly dissect every inch of what I put in it.
CBY: What is the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Combo?
SBW: Maybe you’ll find out in issue #4?
LK: I am now having full-on McDonald's flashbacks.
CBY: The panel layouts for issue #3 are spectacular, in particular when Marty is going through the Actualization Process™ as well as Alison and Marty on the stairwell. I have to add the colors by Gab Contreras and letters by DC Hopkins are outstanding, as well. How were the panels for those scenes developed? Was everything drawn as scripted or was it more of a collaborative effort?
LK: I wasn’t kidding when I said Scott was a great visual storyteller. The stairs were actually his idea, and I arranged the shading and negative space for Gab and DC to really do their thing. The Actualization Process™ is a nod to one of my favorite music videos. I did that on my own, because I’ve sat on the inspiration for it for years and never realized I’d ever get to find a way to draw something for it until now.
CBY: Speaking of the Actualization Process™, I noticed a few fun nods to things in the room Marty was in. I have to think there could be a tendency to get carried away to put something in every panel. Was there anything you wanted to include that you thought would be too distracting and had to cut out?
LK: Hehehehee, I may or may not have spent extra long on those pages just to send a nod to all of my closest creator friends and collaborators for tolerating me this past year.
SBW: The thing is, I knew from the beginning that that scene was going to be five pages, and very (intentionally) repetitive, and told Liana that I was going to make it easy for her: “Cut out this one panel from issue 1 and then just paste it in about 30 times and we’ll do all the storytelling in the lettering.” I figured with such a long issue she’d be stoked on those easy pages, but of course when she starts sending me the pages it was clear that she spent a lot of time and thought on them, and the book is better for it. She’s a great collaborator who won’t take the shortcut even when I’m flashing a neon sign and saying TAKE THE SHORTCUT.
CBY: Alison’s backstory as revealed in issue #3, like all of the wonderful tidbits about Alison’s life, is subtly and casually told to Marty, then leads to probably the most poignant lines of dialogue in the entire series. At what point in creating Trve Kvlt did you know that was going to be Alison’s backstory?
SBW: I knew from the beginning that there was going to be a lot more to her than readers thought, but I just wasn’t sure when it was going to come out. I really wanted a lot of mystery with Alison.
LK: I love every time Scott thinks up some new weird personality trait about all of the characters, but specifically Alison because she is a fan favorite, and weird as hell.
CBY: Scott, is Alison’s dialogue after that reveal you looking back and romanticizing working at a fast food restaurant?
SBW: You’re referring to the pep talk Alison gives Marty? I don’t know that I could romanticize working in fast food — it’s a hard, thankless job and you have to put up with a lot of bullshit — but if anyone can see the bright side of fast food, it’s Alison and Marty. As with anything, people who are super enthusiastic about something — whether it’s molecular gastronomy or technical progressive death metal — can talk about it for hours and talk about it in a way that will make outsiders excited about it. Alison is smart — she knew what Marty needed to hear in that moment to snap him out of his funk.
LK: I just want to tell the entire world that we don’t deserve any fast food workers right now — they are too good to us.
CBY: Without spoiling anything, what can you share about issue #4?
SBW: More horror than we’ve seen so far, and the return of some characters who didn’t show up in issue #3. It’s the longest issue yet. And we’ve got at least one more killer pinup.
LK: It’s the best issue, in my opinion.
"[Liana's] a great collaborator who won’t take the shortcut even when I’m flashing a neon sign and saying TAKE THE SHORTCUT."
CBY: For anyone that missed out on the Kickstarter, issues #1 and #2 are available on Gumroad. Are there any plans to produce additional print copies of the issues or a collected edition of the entire series once it’s done?
SBW: Let’s just say that, without saying anything, or committing to anything, or promising anything, or making a verbal contract, or tipping our hand, or implying anything, or doing anything legally binding, or potentially disappointing anyone, that there’s a decent chance that the individual issues and a collected edition are going to see print sooner rather than later.
LK: What Scott said.
CBY: Along with the comic, you produced additional merchandise including pins, hats, shirts, and have had a limited pop-up shop. Will the pop-up return as issues #3 and #4 come out?
SBW: Not for issue #3. Maybe #4?
LK: We’ll have to consult our really rad marketing genius Jazzlyn Stone for that one!
CBY: Liana, you and Matt Emmons started a podcast “Comics, Inebriated” in February of this year. Is this your first foray into podcasting? Have you been enjoying it now that you and Matt are 12 episodes in?
LK: We’ve recorded more than 20 episodes so far! It’s wild. I podcasted over a decade ago with an old high school friend. Years later I was a permanent guest on one of my best friend’s podcasts, but nothing that I ever thought about producing or doing on my own. Without Matt and our amazing producer, Rebecca, this project wouldn’t have happened. I apparently enjoy this too much, because Skylar Patridge and I have had plans since around when Comics, Inebriated was created to start a horror podcast as well!
CBY: Other than Trve Kvlt, what else are you working on that our readers can look forward to checking out?
SBW: I have a Pennyworth series coming from DC that was just announced — it’s sort of a Pennyworth Year One thing with a lot of spy action. My Altered Carbon OGN with Max Fuchs is coming out from Dynamite in a month or two, and I have a few creator-owned things in the works, too.
LK: I’ll have Star Wars Adventures #7 out in July! And issue #8 shortly after that! I’m currently working on an unannounced graphic novel with two incredible peers of mine, so I can’t wait until that’s announced!
CBY: What have you been reading/watching/listening to recently?
SBW: I work absurd hours and sometimes I only have time in the day to listen to music, but that I do from the minute I wake up until I go to bed. Stuff that’s been on a lot in my studio lately is Thangorodrim’s Taur nu Fuin and Gil-Estel, Druadan Forest’s Dismal Spells from the Dragonrealm, Elffor’s Unholy Throne of Doom, and Prurient/Merzbow’s Black Crows Cyborg. Reading-wise, I’ve been slowly working my way through Tana French’s thrillers — she’s phenomenal.
LK: I’m currently reading a collection of short stories by Shirley Jackson called The Lottery, listening to a lot of my records lately, like my recent gifts the Evangelion Finally LP and the Cowboy Bebop Seatbelts collection. Otherwise, I’ve been listening to a ton of disco, metal, and funk to drum to. I’ve been watching less TV recently, so my only binge right now is M.O.D.O.K. (gotta support my girl Aimee Garcia!) and Good Girls.
CBY: Any recent comics you’d recommend checking out?
SBW: There’s so much good stuff coming out, holy shit. Hard to know where to start or how to limit it, but my buddy Pornsak Pichetshote’s The Good Asian is fantastic, and Shuzo Oshimi’s Blood on the Tracks is phenomenal, slow-burn psychological horror. Jared Muralt’s The Fall Volume One is really good, with jaw-dropping art. Fraction and Charretier’s November OGNs are superb, as are the Brubaker and Phillips Reckless OGN series. And Azzarello and Llovet’s Faithless series have been wild.
LK: I’ve been picking up a lot of my favorites recently: Witchblood, Helm Greycastle, Made in Korea, The Plot. I’ve finally finished The Pull and am now rereading Dead Legends to prepare myself for the second arc. Because I have an endless stack of stuff to read I’m looking forward to the release of and am planning on reading It Took Luke, Gardener, Deadliest Bouquet, Cannonball, Proctor Valley Road, Nice House on the Lake, I’m Not Starfire, Red Sonja stuff that all of my friends are writing and drawing.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
SBW: Koike and Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub, Moore and Campbell’s From Hell, everything written and drawn by Benjamin Marra.
LK: How much is general admission to this museum? I almost want to argue that the physical artwork and scripts by a culmination of creators would be a really killer way to archive the process and depth of the medium, but if I had to pick, it would be Trve Kvlt issue 1, Trve Kvlt issue 2, Trve Kvlt issue 3, and Trve Kvlt issue 4. Or Garfield.
CBY: Thank you very much, and best of luck with the rest of Trve Kvlt!
SBW: Thank YOU for the support. This was a fun interview.
LK: I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed! We really love this book and hope everyone else will as well.