"Be Happy if it Thrives Somewhere" – An Interview with CHARLIE STICKNEY

Comic Book Yeti contributor Andrew Irvin welcomes Charlie Stickney into the Yeti Cave for a fun and informative instalment of CRYPTID-BITS to learn all about Charlie's current Kickstarter campaign for GLARIEN. Andrew and Charlie get deep into the weeds about Glarien and White Ash, working with other creators, Scout Comics, crowdfunding comics. It's ALWAYS a great time when Charlie stops by!

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Thanks for joining us today, Charlie. I hope things are well in your corner of the world?


CHARLIE STICKNEY: Thanks for having me, these are fabulous questions.


CBY: On the note of locale, I was intrigued by the setting of White Ash in Western Pennsylvania. As soon as I learned about your title and its location, the mine fires of Centralia, Pennsylvania immediately came to mind (albeit Centralia is in the eastern half of the state). Can you tell us more about how you decided upon this setting, and what it enables, both tonally and narratively, that you might not be able to explore as well in a different locale?


CS: In terms of the locale, I think, especially when you’re looking to do an ongoing series, you need to be very purposeful about where you set a book. Ideally, the setting becomes a character in its own right. I grew up in a small town of under seven thousand people. And I think as anyone from a small town will tell you, there are two types of people in small towns — the ones who don’t understand why you would ever want to leave, and those who can’t wait to get the hell out. Small towns also often have this vibe which is a weird balance between incestuously familial, where everyone seemingly knows everyone, and yet underneath that there are secrets that go generations back, affecting how the town was formed. All of that was something I wanted to infuse into the setting of White Ash. On top of that, coal-mining was an integral part of the narrative. That had me looking at both Pennsylvania and West Virginia as my final choices for the setting. Ultimately, the fact that the white ash tree was more prevalent in PA, helped tipped the scales.


"White Ash is arguably a Top Ten Brand on Kickstarter. We are (very) fortunate to have huge campaigns there. And yet, in the direct market, it does… okay. I think different types of people who are looking for different types of content flock to different sources to get it. So my note to creators is don’t think your book will be a success everywhere. Be happy if it thrives somewhere. And honor those fans and cherish that interaction."

CBY: Given the grounded setting of White Ash, which references Supernatural, Twin Peaks, and Lord of the Rings, and the exploration of different tales in Glarien, which cites Deja Thoris and Red Sonja in promo material, can you elaborate on how you reckon with elements of High- and Low- fantasy in your worldbuilding, what specific aspects of other fantasy or magical realism you use as anchor points for your narrative, and how you may enmesh normally unrelated themes with each other in the context of this narrative world?


CS: I grew up on Tolkien, Brooks and Burroughs. They all created these sprawling, epic worlds that were formative during my adolescence. And I truly adore high fantasy. But it’s so easy to get lost in trying to replicate that sense of scale that writers can slide down an endless rabbit hole of race naming, political linage building and world mapping that they forget to actually write a compelling story. So I think as long as the characters are defined, their arcs are clear and the narrative you’re telling is properly motivated, you could likely transpose that story to any setting from a Western to Science Fiction. The genre becomes a trapping that influences direction, but it doesn’t make or break the story you want to convey.


White Ash, in particular, is more urban fantasy, or fantasy creep as I like to call it, where the world feels like it could be ours and then these fantasy elements start creeping in. But I never want those elements to overwhelm that sense of White Ash being set just beyond the next bend… or in a town if you knew the right directions, you could visit. For me that makes the narrative much more relatable.


With Glarien, I am giving in a bit to that itch to write some high fantasy, but again by intertwining it with a narrative set in the 1970s, it gives readers who don’t normally love that genre a more grounded onboarding point so they can get lost in the world and yet still have some familiar territory to cling to if it gets overwhelming.


Glarien is about loss and the growth that comes from it. Rachel in the 1970s, has just survived a fire at the hospital she worked at but the stress caused a miscarriage. Glarien’s lover is killed by a demon. The mini-series shows how each of them grow and their grief is connected. While you can do this in a high-fantasy setting, I think having a piece of the narrative grounded in the real world helps those themes and storylines resonate more.


CBY: As the writer, it’s your responsibility to communicate those narrative elements on the page, but can you tell us a bit about Conor Hughes and Fin Cramb, and what their visual influences bring to bear on the story? It looks like you’ve built a successful collaborative relationship across titles, so how did everyone meet and end up coming together to successfully bring out these interrelated titles? What touches and idiosyncrasies they’ve added to your writing are you happiest about seeing them bring to these books?


CS: I’m incredibly lucky with the teams I’ve assembled for the series I’m writing. I think the one common denominator is that all the artists really enjoy working on the material and that shines through in what they do. For my part, I basically try to stay the heck out of the way and let them each bring their own bit of inspiration and creativity to the work.


To answer the first part of the question, I’ve met everyone online. Conor and I actually never met in person until SDCC 2017, when he flew out to San Diego to help run our booth. But we live in a wonderful age where through Twitter, FB, Reddit, Artstation, etc you can find amazing collaborators. And for me, that’s the key to making a great book — find collaborators, don’t hire an artist(s). That’s not to say don’t pay an artist, pay them as much as you can possibly afford. But make sure that everyone knows they’re part of the team and not just a hired gun to draw your vision.

"In terms of the similarities though, they’re mostly thematic. A lot of my work involves seemingly unlikely heroes who find they’re part of something bigger that has them reflect with a new perspective on who they are and their place in the world. While that’s a trope that a lot of writers play with, I’d like to think I bring my own unique spin to it. Something that I believe is supported by the way these books are connecting with fans."

As for what they bring… it’s really impossible to break down besides basically everything. Conor and Romina have taken the reins and made Aleck, Lillian and Glarien their characters. They know how they stand, how they emote, how they kiss… etc. They are the masters who breathe life into the clay. I also give them carte blanche to alter the paneling or layouts of a scene if they have an idea for how it could be better. The books are filled with beats where they thought another panel was needed… or not needed. Having spent time in the film world, there are basically three times a movie is written, when the screen writer puts ink to page, when the director translates that into shots, and then finally when the editor looks at what they’ve been given and tries to figure out what’s the best story I can make from all of this.

With Conor and Romina, they’re the directors AND the editors combined. They look at the script and basically say, how can I make this great. And then they do, visually writing a new pass of the narrative. Finally, having Fin coloring so much of the White Ash Universe helps tie it all together. Seeing his color work in the 1970’s portion of Glarien really makes it feel like it’s White Ash 50 years ago. Fin has a beautiful pallet that brings so much emotion to the work, I’m honored that he is part of everything we do.


CBY: With the breakdown into “seasons” for the White Ash structure, does this terminology reflect any designs upon adapting this story to other media? I know you’ve got experience screenwriting for animation and live-action projects, so perhaps you can share some reflections upon the different demands of writing for comics compared with the demands of writing for moving pictures - how does your process and approach differ for each medium, and what would you expect to change if adapting White Ash or Glarien for animation or live-action?



CS: To start with, “Seasons” was more an invention/ nomenclature that Scout Comics was trying out. On Kickstarter, I’ve always used Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. And going forward on Kickstarter I plan to keep that the norm. But to your broader question, there are a lot of variables you need to consider in adapting something from one medium to another. And even within a particular medium there are many different permutations. The White Ash TV Series on HBO would be different from the Netflix version and again different than the CW version. How you plot and pace a series needs to fit the home that it’s living at.


I think one of the biggest differences is that with live action, you have actors to carry the beats in a book. This allows you a bit more liberty with the dialogue as a great actor delivering a monologue can do it with more impact than a character drawn on a page surrounded by word balloons. So that’s where I’d start if I was adapting White Ash to animation or live action — what moments would benefit from some expansion. A great comic is pared down to just the essential beats that you need to tell that story. Live action should be the same way, but often you have a minute quota you need to fill for each episode, so there are practical production concerns you need to take into account as well. Ultimately, a great story works in every medium, but it’s important to take advantage of what each does well.


CBY: As someone who isn’t pigeonholing themselves within one medium or genre, what kind of similarities and differences do you recognize between the various titles you’ve worked on? Are there nods and connections you nest within your stories to connect them to each other (i.e. - items/events/characters turning up or garnering mention in The Game or The Adept from White Ash, etc.) or do you avoid those sorts of Easter eggs and personal touches and allow them to be bounded, separate narrative worlds?


CS: So far I haven’t done any crossovers. There’s always a possibility that may happen at some point down the road, but for the moment I’m more interested in fleshing out each universe as its own. And with White Ash and Glarien, I already have two series that are interconnected because they’re part of the same big story. There are more White Ash spin offs to come. I think rather than say crossing over into The Game, I’d be more likely to give that series its own spin off and start fleshing out that universe as well.


In terms of the similarities though, they’re mostly thematic. A lot of my work involves seemingly unlikely heroes who find they’re part of something bigger that has them reflect with a new perspective on who they are and their place in the world. While that’s a trope that a lot of writers play with, I’d like to think I bring my own unique spin to it. Something that I believe is supported by the way these books are connecting with fans.

"As for what they bring… it’s really impossible to break down besides basically everything. Conor and Romina have taken the reins and made Aleck, Lillian and Glarien their characters. They know how they stand, how they emote, how they kiss… etc. They are the masters who breathe life into the clay."

CBY: To explore the idea of adaptation a bit further in the context of your formative creative influences, if you could pick a few pieces from any media to adapt, what format would you like to see them adapted to? What changes do you think would be required, and what would it allow in its new form that would build upon the original in positive ways? (Conversely, what losses would need to be considered and otherwise compensated for in the new format?)


CS: I mean, this is a VERY big question. In general, I don’t actually think too much about adapting other people’s work. I’m more fixated on the things I’m currently writing. That said, if I was to pick a piece of formative literature from my childhood that I’d consider, it might be something from Piers Anthony. He was a master at building story concepts with Xanth, The Incarnations of Immortality and the Apprentice Adept series all being pieces of IP that would make most studios drool. That said, they were written in a time when rampant sexism and misogyny were part and parcel with the works of the era. So finding a way to keep what was great about those books, while bringing them into a more culturally sensitive time would be the first thing I would do.


CBY: It’s clear narrative reveals and the measured dissemination of information to the reader is an important part of your approach to storytelling. With Glarien, you’ve given us a glimpse into the wide world in which White Ash takes place, but without giving anything away, are you able to speak about the overall arc of White Ash and how far along the readership is on the path to its conclusion (i.e. - how many seasons do you envision being able to raise the stakes in a cohesive, connected manner for the characters you’ve introduced)?


Rio Burton Variant Cover

CS: So if we use the “seasons” terminology, the White Ash Deluxe Edition Kickstarter basically brought us about forty percent through the first season of the “White Ash Show”. This first grand arc/ season will roughly be three HC trades worth of material that will be in the neighborhood of 800 pages worth of comics. I’d like to do at least three of those arcs, so roughly 2500 pages worth of story. But I have plans beyond that if the enthusiasm continues for what we’re building. That said, I’m also not blind to the fact that it’s an ambitious goal. So I have satisfactory endpoints structured into the greater narrative just in case we need to end earlier. I’m a big fan of plotting everything out so it’s cohesive. And I have pages and pages scripted of that roadmap. So if you’re enjoying what we’re doing, buckle up. The ride has just begun.


CBY: Turning from creative influence to other considerations, both White Ash and Glarien titles are published through Scout Comics - can you tell us a bit about how your role with Scout and how your involvement with the publisher began? We’ve talked a bit about the creative team, so perhaps you can tell us a bit more about the publishing team and their ability to deliver the books as you’ve envisioned - any stories you’d like to share about the process of getting these titles ready for the public?


CS: I blame/ credit all my time at Scout on Kevin Joseph who writes the series Tart. Kevin had been in discussions with Scout about picking up his book for direct market distribution and casually mentioned, if you like Tart, I think you’d like this series White Ash from my friend Charlie. From there, everything snowballed. After we accepted an offer from Scout to distribute, I started helping out behind the scenes. And when Jim Pruett stepped down, they offered me the position of Co-Publisher.


In general, my job at Scout has been helping new creators understand what the ins and outs are of the direct market and try to put them in the best place to succeed. As all books at Scout are creator owned, what the publishing team does for each title varies depending on how fully formed the books are when they’re brought to Scout and how experienced the creators are.


But in terms of White Ash, Glarien and Scout, it’s really been a learning process. Kickstarter and the Direct Market are SUCH different beasts. White Ash is arguably a Top Ten Brand on Kickstarter. We are (very) fortunate to have huge campaigns there. And yet, in the direct market, it does… okay. I think different types of people who are looking for different types of content flock to different sources to get it. So my note to creators is don’t think your book will be a success everywhere. Be happy if it thrives somewhere. And honor those fans and cherish that interaction.


CBY: On another business-related note which may be of interest to our readers, as a writer for various media, can you speak a bit to the process of representation, how you ended up with a manager (and not an agent, for instance), and how the process of working together to secure contracts for projects differs in obligations and expectations between writing for comics and film/television media?


CS: I’ve been writing professionally for over twenty years. I’ve had several managers and a couple of agents. The biggest difference between the two is that an agent is basically just there to solicit and try to find jobs for you. A manager is a partner in crime, a sounding board, someone who is invested in you and your career vs just the 10% fee they’d commission if you worked. As someone who is fortunate enough not to be looking for jobs, a manager is a much better fit for me at this point in my career. That’s not to say my manager isn’t always out there looking for opportunities for me. But it’s more long term vs short term career guidance.


That said, my manager is just there to help with the multimedia side of things. That’s much more his wheelhouse than the comic industry. And if you’re lucky enough to be in talks to adapt an IP you’ve written into another medium, you need to have someone on your team with experience there. Otherwise, you’re likely setting yourself up to be taken advantage of.


CBY: We’re grateful to have you with us to explore these aspects of your creative process and the resultant work. If you're able to share all the relevant links for accessing White Ash/Glarien, as well as links for you and your team’s social media as desired, we’ll include the details below for our readers to learn more.


CS: Here's a custom link for you to use for the Kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thegamecomic/glarien-of-white-ash-1-2-a-fantasy-series-for-mature-readers?ref=as76ea

Aside from that, the best place to find myself and the team are as follows.

If they want to Join the White Ash mailing list, they can do so here: bit.ly/WhiteAshMail


Socials:

Charlie Stickney https://twitter.com/CharlesStickney

https://www.instagram.com/whiteashcomic/


Romina Moranelli

https://twitter.com/amatoxine

https://www.instagram.com/rominamoranelli/


Conor Hughes

https://www.instagram.com/cnrhus/

https://twitter.com/conorhughes


Fin Cramb

https://twitter.com/Finsomniac

CBY: Before we wrap up, are there any other comics or other creators you’ve been inspired by lately that you’d like to make mention of here?


CS: I love what’s happening on Kickstarter (and crowdfunding in general), it’s such an incredibly supportive community. The Skies of Fire team is making incredible books again, Pat Shand has been killing it lately and Jimmy Palmiotti continues to make it his new home. Kickstarter has (and continues to) break new creators like Fell Hound, Caleb Palmquist and push voices like Kat Calamia into the discussion as the next wave of talent to watch. I’m just excited that I get to be part of helping support that wave.


CBY: Charlie, thanks for joining Comic Book Yeti today, and we look forward to seeing the world of White Ash grow with these new titles. Please keep us up-to-date on new work you’re bringing to the public!



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