Comic Book Yeti first learned about Anthony Cleveland back in November, when we reviewed the strange and singular SHOW'S END, published by Mad Cave Studios. When we heard Cleveland would be returning to write the upcoming comic, STARGAZER, for the same publisher, we knew we'd have to set up a Creator2Creator interview – especially when our interviewer, Jarred Luján, has his own comic being released by the same publisher.
JARRED LUJÁN: Anthony! Thanks so much for joining us today. For our friends in the audience who may not recognize you, would you mind introducing yourself? Who are you? What do you do? What did you contribute on this project?
ANTHONY CLEVELAND: Sure! I’m Anthony Cleveland and I write comics. I was in the indie self-publishing grind until about 2 years ago. I split from my part-time job as Corner Deputy to focus on comic book writing...which got a good laugh at the office. But! I was fortunate enough to be selected in Mad Cave’s talent search, and I’m now onto my second book for them: Stargazer.
JL: That's right! Stargazer's your second book with Mad Cave Studios, your first being Show’s End. And, as you mentioned, you started working with Mad Cave as a result of their first talent search – how does it feel to roll that opportunity into more work with them?
AC: I’m gracious for all of it. It was a ton of hard work to get here, and I’m always grateful for Mad Cave to welcome me aboard for more projects. I love getting to work with the editorial staff again. I’ve been on so many collaborations in the past, and I can’t think of one where each member was as honest and welcoming as Mad Cave’s. Show’s End was a great experience, and this time was even better.
JL: Speaking of Show’s End, I feel like these two are so far apart from each other in a lot of ways. How did you approach writing Stargazer compared to Show’s End?
AC: Show’s End came from a lot of stuff I loved: classic horror stories, carnival lore, and 1930s monster films. Stargazer, on the other hand, came from mostly personal experiences, which was something I was terrified to do. I had a rule not to put too much of my past into my writing, unless I ran out of ideas. So, I thought, “Shit, I’m here already?” But once I made the connection to Silver Skin, the story unfolded quickly.
JL: Silver Skin is another comic you wrote a few years back, and you’ve talked pretty openly about how Stargazer is kind of the spiritual successor to it. Could you go into more detail about that?
AC: Silver Skin was my first comic. It’s about two brothers, the youngest is special needs and was bitten by a werewolf. The series was about the oldest trying to keep his brother safe while they searched for a cure. Stargazer has a similar dynamic between Shae and Kenny. A lot of what I wanted to do with Silver Skin is in Stargazer. They’re similar, but Stargazer confronts some more difficult truths than Silver Skin was planned to do.
"Silver Skin and Stargazer both come from the experiences my brother and I shared. He’s special needs, and there were a lot of tough times for us to get through together. I was a bit too overprotective as a brother, and Stargazer is me confronting myself on that."
JL: One of the things I love about this book is how it feels so much like doubt is the real frightening part. You feel like Kenny is telling the truth, but you can’t help but doubt what he’s saying, which is pretty much what Shae is dealing with as well. Was that the plan all along or did you kind of organically develop that in scripting?
AC: I think that became more obvious to me later. It was always a planned internal conflict for Shae, but it goes a lot deeper in the next two issues. Uncertainty, regret, and guilt are all explored with her character, while doubt continues to loom in the distance.
JL: Parts of this feel kind of personal. Was there something in particular in your own life that inspired this story?
AC: Absolutely. Silver Skin and Stargazer both come from the experiences my brother and I shared. He’s special needs, and there were a lot of tough times for us to get through together. I was a bit too overprotective as a brother, and Stargazer is me confronting myself on that.
JL: When it comes to Stargazer, who would you say is the audience that would enjoy this?
AC: It's for anyone that likes grounded family dramas mixed with genres like sci-fi or horror – and a heap of mystery. But I think it will really connect with anyone from the '90s. Not necessarily because of nostalgia, but how this series looks back at the decade's obsession with UFOs/aliens and the dread towards the future, especially at the end of the century. Most of the book takes place in the present, but you can recognize an X-Files or Unsolved Mysteries vibe throughout.
JL: So far, what’s been your favorite experience while working on the book?
AC: Pulling it off! I wrote a ton of checks with this series and I was unsure if I’d cash them. I’m happy to say everything pays off and we have a fantastic series. Antonio Fuso (art), Stafano Simeone (color), Justin Birch (lettering), and Chris Fernandez (editor) elevated this story higher than anything I could envision on the page and I can’t wait to share it with readers.
JL: Thanks so much for chatting with us about Stargazer, Anthony. When should people expect it to hit stores? And where can people find you online and out in the convention scene?
AC: Stargazer releases May 6th and the cut-off for preorders is coming soon (previews code MAR201974). I’m not much of a convention guy yet, but I plan on changing that next year – follow me on IG or Twitter @Ant_Cleveland for updates!