Here's to Plain Speaking and Clear Understanding with ERIC PALICKI
Ringo-nominated editor, Eric Palicki, is here to discuss punk rock and werewolves with his newest series Black's Myth from AHOY Comics with artist Wendell Cavalcanti. Eric talks about his approach to writing characters and his inspiration for this series.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Hello, Eric, thank you so much for hanging out in the Comic Book Yeti cave for this interview. As we (hopefully) approach the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, how have you been the past 16 months?
ERIC PALICKI: Thanks for having me! The past year and change have been…fraught. I never stopped going into my day job (I work in medical research, so I’ve been considered essential all along), but the stress of the past year, between the pandemic and the election, it initially sapped my creativity. Besides Black’s Myth, I barely produced any new work for the first six months of quarantine.
At some point, thankfully, I snapped out of it, and I’ve been firing on all cylinders, so to speak, since the beginning of the year. In addition to Black’s Myth, I’ve got a Kickstarter launching for a graphic novella, and I’m several issues into an unannounced series with a publisher I’ve never worked with before, so I’m keeping busy. I guess I’m finally waking up along with the rest of the world.
CBY: Black’s Myth (issue #1 premiered July 7th) is your newest series from AHOY Comics, described as a punk rock horror series about a werewolf private investigator. What was the inspiration for this story, especially the punk rock elements? There are at least 2 references to The Clash in issue #1 with the main character being named Janie Jones “Strummer” Mercado and she listens to “Rudie Can’t Fail” off their London Calling album.
EP: Well, I love The Clash, as anyone who’s spent more than two seconds reading through my Twitter timeline could guess, but the theme of the whole book comes from a particular quote from Joe Strummer: “Without people, you’re nothing,” and what this story is really about, once you dig past the mythology and the mystery, is the main characters, Janie Jones “Strummer” Mercado and Ben Si’lat, finding their people.
"My approach to character was stolen years ago from Mark Waid: find something about the character you relate to and write your way into their head from that perspective."
CBY: What can you tell me about the title Black’s Myth, or is that giving away plot details?
EP: The first issue does a lot of heavy lifting to introduce private investigators Strummer and Ben, and the world they inhabit before introducing their client Rainsford Black, a man of indeterminate wealth who wants to hire them to find a peculiar stolen artifact. The title references Black and the artifact, but to tell you more might spoil the surprise.
CBY: I’m assuming you’re a fan of punk rock, but what are your musical influences? Do you listen to music as you write?
EP: I do! I build a playlist for each project--a mix of familiar songs and instrumental pieces so the lyrics aren’t too distracting--and it tends toward punk and folk music (and music where those two genres intersect). Lately, it’s been lots of The Clash, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Springsteen, Brian Fallon solo or with Gaslight Anthem, and so on.
CBY: There’s been more than a few punk rock-influenced comic books over the years and currently Black’s Myth is joining the likes of Home Sick Pilots. Do you think that says something about the individual creators of those books or about the medium itself that lends itself to a punk rock sensibility?
EP: Well, a little of both. Regardless of what some would have you believe, comics have always been a medium for deeply political messaging, much like punk rock. I mean, The Clash were basically singing about the same political and economic conditions that Alan Moore critiqued in V for Vendetta.
Punk and comics also share a DIY sensibility, especially speaking about comics outside the Big Two. There are not a lot of hands touching the work beyond those of the original creators. As a result, you’re able to consume and experience the art--and its messages--in a pure form unobscured by slick production values and studio interference.
CBY: Are there any connections between Black’s Myth and Atlantis Wasn’t Built for Tourists, your recent series from Scout Comics with artist Wendell Cavalcanti? Is this the start of the Palickiverse?
EP: Eagle-eyed readers might notice an Atlantis Wasn’t Built for Tourists Easter Egg hidden in Black’s Myth #2. It’s nothing official, but I hope Wendell and I can go on making comics together for a long time.
CBY: Vampires have been the prevailing pop culture creature for years with so many books, comics, tv shows, and movies. Is it finally the Werewolf’s turn?
EP: Hope springs eternal! Perhaps werewolves will finally get their due or perhaps they’ll just get fleas.
CBY: Do you have a favorite werewolf story? Mine is Teen Wolf. Michael J. Fox, forever!
EP: For me, it’s Cycle of The Werewolf, by Stephen King and illustrated by the great Bernie Wrightson. The movie adaptation, Silver Bullet, ain’t half bad, either.
CBY: You’ve been working off and on with artist Wendell Cavalcanti for quite some time. How did you first meet and decide to collaborate and what is it that makes your collaboration so successful?
EP: The first script I ever hired an artist to turn into a comic was a four-page short called “The Undertaker’s Daughter,” about a teenaged hitwoman. This was in…2006 or thereabouts. That artist was an unknown from Brazil named Wendell Cavalcanti.
That puts us at 15 years ago now, and between "The Undertaker’s Daughter," Atlantis Wasn’t Built for Tourists, and Black’s Myth, along with so many pitch pages that never went anywhere, I think our secret is time. We finally understand our individual sensibilities and what we’re hoping to get out of a collaboration, and the result is magic. There’s a reason why Brubaker and Phillips do their best work together, you know?
CBY: What was your approach to writing the characters of Strummer and Ben? Do you draw on real-life influences when creating characters for your stories?
EP: My approach to character was stolen years ago from Mark Waid: find something about the character you relate to and write your way into their head from that perspective. For these characters, I leaned heavily on their sense of belonging, or lack thereof, and used my experiences becoming a part of the comics community for inspiration. As I said, this is very much a book about finding your people.
CBY: Are there any real-life moments that have influenced or made their way into Black’s Myth?
EP: Not that I can say, no. (I’m not prone to using emojis, but if I was, I might drop a winky face here.)
CBY: I love the character designs for Strummer and Ben, as well. They both just look so cool. What were those conversations like between you and Wendell in developing that aesthetic?
EP: In the case of both characters, I cast the hypothetical movie, with Aisha Tyler playing Strummer and Riz Ahmed playing Ben. Wendell didn’t put perfect likenesses on paper, but those were our starting points. Amazingly, our astounding cover artist Liana Kangas picked up on those inspirations without being privy to the conversations beforehand.
CBY: Black’s Myth has a good mix of noir elements and comedic moments in the dialogue. The fact that it’s black & white really lends itself to noir. Were you influenced by any particular noir films when creating this story?
EP: Oh yes! Black’s Myth is a supernatural riff on The Maltese Falcon, right down to everyone questioning the authenticity of our MacGuffin. I think I gave Strummer just enough of a Bogart-like edge. And while their relationship isn’t romantic, Ben and Strummer have, I hope, a certain Nick and Nora Charles vibe in their banter.
CBY: The comedic moments, many of which come through in the dialogue between Strummer and Ben, rely on pacing and timing. Do you read out loud/act out the dialogue to make sure it works?
EP: I do! And I always give the dialogue a final pass after the art comes in but before we send the script off to Rob Steen, AHOY’s resident letterer extraordinaire, for Rob to put words on the page.
CBY: What is your process like when writing a new series? Do you outline the series first or at least the first arc if it’s going to be an ongoing series? Do you start with characters or theme or story first when you have a new idea?
EP: Okay, so this is where things get complicated. I don’t write outlines, but if I can be said to have one superpower, it’s the ability to keep a lot of information in my head, so the outlines exist, just not literally. I’m not operating completely by the seat of my pants.
In terms of starting a story I need to know who the characters are, what’s compelling them into the story, and the ending. From there, the rest of the jigsaw pieces are fairly easy to fit into place.
For Black’s Myth, I knew that Strummer was a reluctant werewolf and a P.I., I knew the case, and I knew what the last scene needed to be. Other stuff--Ben, her dog Grim, the people she’ll meet in issues two and three, all of that came to light during the writing.
CBY: Black’s Myth has a great cover from Liana Kangas. Have you worked with Liana before and how did she become involved? What’s the process from your perspective when you have a different artist come in to create a cover? Do you take a hands-on approach to make sure the cover matches the tone of the story?
EP: I love Liana! She is the kindest, most genuine person I’ve ever met in comics. We worked together on a 6-page story “The Interview” in the original Dead Beats, and she’s coming back as a writer in Dead Beats 2!
As for Liana’s participation on Black’s Myth, however, Sarah Litt suggested her, and I was immediately all in. Sarah’s direction was, and I’m paraphrasing, to look at classic noir paperback book covers for inspiration, but to add the signature Liana Kangas color palette. I think the result really leaps off the shelf, and every successive cover is even better than the last.
CBY: What has your experience been like working with AHOY Comics?
EP: It’s been a dream. Sarah Litt, who’s been with me on the book since the pitch, has been a great creative partner, with just enough hand-holding to make sure the book is the best version of itself.
I must say, it’s a little intimidating to be working alongside industry luminaries like Tom Peyer and Stuart Moore and award winners like Mark Russell, but every one of them has been fantastically kind and supportive. I hope I can come back and do it again, either with a new title or for another round of Black’s Myth.
CBY: You’re editing, along with Joe Corallo, Dead Beats 2: London Calling, which just successfully funded on Kickstarter. Congratulations, by the way! Is The Clash reference just a coincidence or was that your influence? For anyone that missed the Kickstarter are there plans for that to be made available for sale?
EP: The retail version of Dead Beats 2 is now available for pre-order through your local comics shop! Dozens of great creators participated in our second volume, including Jody Houser, William Messner-Loebs, Lilah Sturges, Adam Gorham, Nancy A Collins, and more!
The timing of the title is coincidence, but if I recall correctly, I did suggest it. We needed a subtitle to reference that our Shoppe Keeper would be opening a new location for the eponymous Dead Beats record store in England, and well, “London Calling” was the obvious choice.
CBY: What do you think is the biggest challenge to editing/co-editing an anthology like Dead Beats/Dead Beats 2?
EP: The sheer volume of creators involved means there’s a certain “herding cats” aspect to it, inevitably. However, the biggest challenge comes from not [feeling] inferior when other creators’ amazing work starts rolling in.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
EP: Why I Hate Saturn, We3, V for Vendetta
CBY: Are there other projects you are currently working on or have coming out soon that Comic Book Yeti reads should check out?
EP: I hope everyone will check out the MANTICORE Kickstarter [which launched] on July 13th from myself and Christopher Peterson! It’s the story of a directionless 20-something who inherits her grandmother’s pet monster.
Beyond that, I’m hoping to have more announcements coming soon.
CBY: Where can our readers find you online?
CBY: Eric, thank you again, and good luck with Black’s Myth, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
EP: Thank you! I’ll always make time to chat with the Yeti!