C2E2 2022: AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW LEAMON
Fresh from C2E2, Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen corresponded on the convention floor with Andrew Leamon, writer of the short stories Final Round and Fourth Meal for Taco Bell Quarterly, to discuss shonen manga's influence on his storytelling along with how he wrote a comic for Taco Bell.
NOTE: This interview was conducted with Andrew during last year's C2E2 on 8/05/22.
COMIC BOOK YETI: I am joined here by Andrew Leamon, writer of Final Round. Andrew, thank you for joining me.
ANDREW LEAMON: Yeah. Thank you so much.
CBY: So, my first question is, can you tell us your comic book origin story as a writer?
AL: Ooh, okay. Back when I was in college, I read a couple of comics as a kid, but by the time I got to college I had a deep curiosity to read comic books. And this one day I knocked on a buddy's door and he let me in. I remember he was just working on something at his computer and he was like, "Hey man. Well, I got to finish what I'm working on, but while I'm working on this, if you want to read some comics that I got, here." And that comic was All-Star Superman.
So, I started flipping through it and I'm still not entirely sure how to describe it. It was something like a nirvana that hit me as I was reading this book and I was flipping through these pages with Frank Quitely's gorgeous art and Jamie Grant's beautiful colors and Morrison's just like… “holy crap” writing. And I remember thinking to myself, if I could make someone feel as good as I felt reading that, that would make everything for me.
I had already been a published poet at this point, but I was now like, "Hey, maybe comics are this thing that I really want to do." And one of my good buddies was a comic book writer and he was also kind of encouraging me like, "You should totally get into this. I think you would be good at it." And so I had dabbled in it a little bit back in 2016. I worked with the awesome Steven Charles Rosia on this adaptation of a poem I wrote called Hope Valley, which was really great. And then I was working on this other project that took me many years to work on. I'm still technically working on it now. But then back in 2020, I decided I need to get more comics out there. I ended up reaching out to a buddy of mine, Christopher Peterson, and we ended up pitching to the Taco Bell Quarterly to do this story called Fourth Meal. And yeah, that got in. It's a space quest comic about two janitors in outer space seeking some Taco Bell and chasing after that hunger. And there's a Crunch Wrap Supreme UFO in case you're wondering. So it's just very goofy. I don't take it too seriously. Then I worked with Ben Humeniuk on the "We the Dreamers" one-page comic. That's my love letter to the Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.
CBY: Well, first, I actually interviewed Ben at Heroes. It hasn't come out yet.
AL: Oh, no kidding. What a good dude.
"...when you're writing a comic...you're really thinking about each word. Every word has to have a purpose. Every panel has to have a purpose, and it's all to support the story."
CBY: Yeah. So it's funny you bring him up. But now I'm really curious, you mentioned poetry, so what's it like writing poetry versus writing comics?
AL: So I like to take more of a free verse approach to poetry where a lot of people like to do rhymes. With poetry, you have meter, language and voice. There's this beautiful, almost prose, quality you can practice in poetry that you can also bring to comics.
The original concept I had in my head for the poem Hope Valley was it was a reunion story between two lovers 50 years later. And they're kind of looking back on their past relationship and being like, we've had the ups and downs in our relationship, but let's just focus on the beautiful parts, too. And so going into writing the adaptation for it, I could have just done a straight adaptation, but I kind of wanted to explore more how comics plays with juxtaposition.
For that comic specifically, I made it so the story that I wrote is different than the poem's story. I tried to play with the visuals differently, which created a really interesting juxtaposition for me. But yeah, I feel like there are tons of differences... It's like music. I feel like music and comics, poetry and comics, they all beautifully pair together and they have these nice interwoven meshes. I don't even know if I could really put that relationship into words.
CBY: I think if I'm going to take a stab at it, the only thing, because I've talked to someone at Heroes who was doing music, and I think music and poetry and comics share a common rhythm when you feel the structure and you're going through the pages, when everything coalesces, it's just right. That's at least the one thing that I would say is a lovely similarity between each.
AL: Absolutely! And I think, too, when you're writing a comic, similar to poetry, you're really thinking about each word. Every word has to have a purpose. Every panel has to have a purpose, and it's all to support the story. You don't want to put too many words on a page. You don't want your poem to feel too bloated. You don't want to put too many panels on a page. You want to have a good cliffhanger in a comic. You don't necessarily need that for a poem, but you do want to keep people holding their breath while they're reading the poem that you would also want to do with the comic.
CBY: Plus they both have that common issue of you're agonizing over, okay, does this "the" need to be in this line versus somewhere else. It's sometimes just the singular word or where you place it that just makes so much of a difference and-
AL: It really does. And I really felt that, especially with writing Final Round where the characters, for me, I was really trying to get the character voices right. I did that a little bit when I did Fourth Meal where I got to play with character voices, but with Final Round especially, I wanted to make sure that I got their particular rhythm right.
CBY: Well, thank you for giving me the perfect transition into Final Round.
AL: Happy to do so.
CBY: Yeah. So for Final Round, obviously that's the focal point of what we're going to be talking about here. So can you give readers the premise of your comic?
AL: Absolutely. So up until this very point that the comic starts, our hero, the young teenager Kid, has fought and bled his way to the finals of this martial arts tournament called the Freshman Exams at God's Head. If there is something that sounds more Shonen manga than that, please tell me. Our main character Kid is minutes into this fight. He is beaten, he is tired, he is mentally anguished. Everything he's done to try to take down his opponent, Vera, has just been for naught. His arm is broken, his other one isn't working. He has a powerful demon arm, but he doesn't seem to have the strength to beat them. He thinks he might have to give up, but his opponent might not give him the chance. Vera has a life-changing secret up their sleeve. So that's where I'll leave it for that.
"...It's all about passion, too. If you do not have passion for the thing you've written, then why did you write it?"
CBY: Can you tell us some of your major inspirations behind Final Round? Obviously, I venture to guess Shonen is a big factor.
AL: Absolutely. Yeah. So I would say this story was written specifically for me when I was 12 years old. I remember one day back then I was standing in front of my TV crying and screaming at the end of Dragon Ball Z's Cell Games. I was thinking about one of my other favorite anime, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, where you have this big brother character who is this huge influence on the protagonist of the series.
Before I wrote this story, I also wanted to make sure I finally finished watching Yu Yu Hakusho's Dark Tournament saga. For anyone that hasn't read or watched it, that's what many consider to be the godfather of Shonen manga battle tournament arcs. My Hero Academia's sports academy tournament was also a huge inspiration for this story, especially Midoriya's fight against Todoroki, with similar heart and action.
CBY: Awesome. And can you give a little bit more details about what your script writing process is both for Final Round and I guess if it differed at all from your previous projects?
AL: Somewhat. How I like to write comics so far is I come up with an idea, I build a list of notes that I kind of then craft into a single paragraph. I blow that paragraph out into an outline. So each page of the outline has its own one or two-sentence description from that paragraph that I pulled, and then I kind of just blow it up from there. The outline eventually becomes the page of the script. I had actually, originally built Final Round for an anthology that I was pitching to, but the comic wasn't really the right fit for it. I was so in love with this story that I was like, "I have to make this happen." I don't typically have the artist on board at the early stages, but at this point, because it was a pitch stage, I knew I had to invite the one man who has been my brother in arms for Shonen manga and anime, Fabian Lelay.
And so I reached out to him and I was like, "Would you be interested?" And he was like, "Yes, absolutely." And so then we did a little bit of back and forth figuring out the story together, which was an awesome experience. And then from there, I hired on my letterer, the awesome Lucas Gattoni and then the also awesome Claire Napier, my editor. And Claire was somebody who I had been dying to work with anyway, so this was just wonderful. And so I kind of crafted this perfect team for this comic. Then I just started working on the script. We went on a couple of rounds of notes and nothing too major. It was such a great experience.
CBY: Yeah, I’ve got to give you credit. You read my mind on my next two questions.
AL: Oh, good.
CBY: I had Fabian in mind for collaboration and I had Claire in mind. So, regarding Claire, was that the first time you went to an editor for your books?
AL: Yeah, it's been something I'd been wanting to do. Technically Fourth Meal was pitched as a finished project to an editor, but they accepted it whole. So I didn't really have that type of experience that you typically have with a lot of editors. I had already started working with an editor on a different project a couple years ago. But this project was the first editor that I worked with from start to finish, where we really dove into the mechanics, the characters, the story, the plot, the beats and all the beautiful things. She lifted that story up so much higher than it already was going to be.
CBY: That's wonderful. So obviously we've been interacting a bunch on Twitter and previously, partially because you've been relentlessly promoting Final Round, which you should as an independent creator, and I very much admire your tenacity with that. So can you share some of your experiences in promoting Final Round and I guess any tips for fellow indie creators looking to get their brand out a little bit more?
AL: This is going to be one of those, "do as I say not as I do" situations because some of the times that I chose to promote were times where I had the most energy to do so, which were like 10:00 at night. The conventional wisdom is you want to typically post in the afternoon anytime between 11:00 and 3:00. I think they say Tuesdays are the sweet spot. But I think another tip is to not be afraid of silence and keep putting it out there. Just keep reminding people because some people, they might see it one time and think like, "Oh, I want to read that, but I'm going to wait until next time to read it." And then they just forget, which is totally understandable.
Put the good word out. People love comics. Before I released Final Round, I threw out, "Who likes free comics?" as a way to capture interest. And people were enthusiastic about it. People want to read comics, so put them out there.
CBY: I think what helps in your situation, this isn't even a question, I'm just going to add on top of what you're saying is maybe it helps that I know you a little bit more, but when you talk about the comic, it feels genuinely like, "Hey, I want to talk about this really cool comic." I think people know when they're clearly being cynically marketed to-
CBY: And I think if you keep it a genuine semi-personal kind of vibe, I think that can go a long way when you're promoting your thing, especially if you're relentlessly like tweeting about it, retweeting it and asking all these different types of questions. I think that is maybe the secret sauce to actual good marketing.
AL: Absolutely. I think it's all about passion, too. If you do not have passion for the thing you've written, then why did you write it? Why would anyone else care about it if you don't care about it? And so what I try to remember as I'm writing tweets about it or whatever, is I'm trying to find those angles of what excites me about the story. The description I've used for Final Round is that it is an "all-out knockout battle of hearts and fists in 12 pages."
And I really wanted to make that clear with Fabian, who knew this type of manga, who knew this type of storytelling better than anyone I knew. And so it was something that I knew I had to show as much of his art. I knew I had to show as much of Lucas' just gorgeous, fantastic letters and just really make people know, "This is why I love this story." It's the art, it's the exciting storyline and the twists and turns and just the heart and the feeling of empowerment and strength that you get in these kinds of stories.
And I know that if I felt that way about something, so will somebody else. So emphasize that when you're promoting this thing, emphasize the things that you love about your project and you will find somebody who agrees with you.
CBY: Excellent. So this is something that I'm asking everyone in one way or another, but if you could give one piece of advice to an up-and-coming writer, what would you say to them?
AL: I think when you are an up-and-coming writer like I am, you are going to constantly feel demotivated. Whether you're looking at your follower count or you're comparing yourself to other people, or you are writing something and you're just not feeling that it's initially working like you intended. Just keep fighting. Just keep moving forward. Just keep trying to learn from every experience and make some friends along the way.
There are tons of people who are just like you. Meet them, make friends, and you are not going to be alone in this. Comic book writing can be very isolating, but you don't have to do it alone. You can work with your artists, you can work with your editors, you can work with your friends. You can make comics fun. Make comics that you want to read and that you want your friends to read.
CBY: Thank you, Andrew. Are there any other projects you can tease for us?
AL: Yeah, so there's one project that I will not be able to talk about yet. I'm hoping that I'll be able to speak to the world about it as soon as it comes out. But it's a very special project in really one of my favorite ongoing series right now. And then I have two stories that I'm in the process of working on pitches for and I'm going to be hunting down artists on. One is my take on romantic comedy, and then another project is my take on a heavy metal epic. And so I don't like to define myself by just one genre. I love to just do as many things as possible that excite me. And so just please be on the lookout for all the wild things I'm going to be writing.
CBY: Absolutely. And where can people find Final Round and support your other comics?
AL: Absolutely. So, I made it easy. If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @aleams, my pinned tweet has all of my comics where you can find them. Also on my Twitter page, I have a Linktree that links out to where you can read Final Round as well as Fourth Meal. If you have not read the Taco Bell Quarterly at tacobellquarterly.org, please do. It is so wild and perfect, especially if you love Taco Bell like I do. It is so radical.
CBY: Awesome. Andrew, thank you so much for your time.
AL: Thank you so much for this. This was awesome.