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HEROES CON 2022: AN INTERVIEW WITH BEN HUMENIUK AND TRAVIS B. HILL

Fresh from Heroes Con, Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen corresponded on the convention floor with Ben Humeniuk, writer/artist of Bro-D Can't Be Broken and Travis B. Hill writer of A Last Goodbye, Thorn & Black Gun to discuss their approach to creating short stories in comics along with a look inside their collaborative process.

 

NOTE: Since the time of this interview, artist Quinn McGowan has replaced Richard Kemp as the artist on Black Gun.


COMIC BOOK YETI: Okay. I'm joined by Travis B. Hill and Ben Humeniuk. Thank you guys for joining Comic Book Yeti.


BEN HUMENIUK: Thank you for having us.


TRAVIS B. HILL: Yeah, man. Thanks.


CBY: So, first things first, is this your first time tabling at Heroes Con?


TBH: Yeah. It's my first time at Heroes. I was very excited. I've heard great things and so far, we're at the tail end of Day 2 and it's been a great show. Been enjoying it a lot.


BH: Yeah, absolutely. Same with me. I think Travis and I have both been lucky enough to do some Texas shows, but to travel out of state and do this, it's an adventure, man. We really like the city. Charlotte's a good spot.


CBY: So in general with comic cons, what's your favorite part about going to them, both as a fan and a creator?


"...You do the same stuff that you do in a longer story but just in a tighter space and you really have to hit the notes a little bit quicker and might not be the best place for long pages of dialogue."

TBH: So this is going to be embarrassing, I've never gone to a comic con as a fan. I've only been on the creator side of the table but my favorite thing would be getting to meet other creators that you've wanted to get to know but haven't met in real life and all being in one place. And so, making those connections, making those friendships has been awesome. And then, also having really good conversations with the attendees. I don't want to say fans because I don't think I have fans yet.


CBY: You're getting there.

TBH: Yeah. Getting there. But definitely with the attendees who want to talk stories, want to talk about your stories and talk about their stories, it's always good. One great thing has always been getting questions from people about like, "Oh, how does this work? How have you done this?" and getting to give some feedback on that for people who might want to be in the industry themselves, getting to have those conversations has always been great.


BH: Yeah. I'd echo what Travis says. I think comics is a business but it's also a community. People get into this field because they're passionate about the medium and the characters. And so, to be in a place where you can essentially find your people, whichever side of the table they're on, is really rewarding. I mean, for Travis and I, the way we first connected was we were going to table at an independent show in the same space and Travis was interested in connecting with a publisher that I'd already been connected with so he struck up a conversation and we developed a really good friendship, got to hang out at the show, and then we've tabled together twice since then and worked on projects together. So again, you just find your community and it's really fun.


CBY: That's fantastic. So you guys gave me a PDF of A Last Goodbye and thank you, once again, for doing that.


One of the things that stood out to me while I was reading it, amongst a couple of things, but what I appreciate was that for a short comic, it didn't feel constrained by being a short comic. Sometimes through restriction, that's just the page count you have and you try and cram as much story as you can into it but that felt like it was exactly the page count that the story needed. So can you talk a little about the advantages of working on a short story versus a standard issue?


TBH: The way I like to do it is if I have a bigger idea, I like to boil down the concept into a short 8-page standalone story first that I can take to cons and show to publishers. So working in short form, you have to think about the beginning, middle, and end in a tighter space and so you have to really hit those marks well and quick, but you also have to give life to the characters in between.


Whereas in the longer form, you're going to be able to introduce more characters. In shorter form, you need to stick to maybe making it about one specific person and what a problem they're solving and that can be a longer form too but it works a little bit better in a short space. A Last Goodbye is about a guy trying to get home, right? And so, we had two pages that are kind of journey sequences so they can pass time really well.


Ben and I talked that out so you use 2 pages out of the 11 to show the passing of time on this journey. And so, you're not having to waste a lot of time on that. That way, in the middle you can give more of the action and the conflict. And so, yeah, that's it. So you do the same stuff that you do in a longer story but just in a tighter space and you really have to hit the notes a little bit quicker and might not be the best place for long pages of dialogue.


BH: The way we came about this one was that Travis had written it as a prose short first and we knew we were going to table together at Fan Expo in Dallas last fall and started talking about what would it look like to make something special for the table like a mini comic that attendees could pick up. And so, we started with something really solid because Travis had already done a draft in prose. And so, we knew what description was key for the story, what dialogue was going to matter. The question was how to sequence it by page. And so, through discussions about how to break it down, we really understood how to keep that pacing as consistent and to make it fly along. I think we even were initially planning 12 pages but we actually shrunk it down by one in the end just because that seemed to work better for the cadence of the story.


CBY: Well, that was actually going to be one of my questions anyway, Travis. So about the side B and the prose side, I think it's actually a really cool idea to throw into a mini-comic. So Obviously, the prose side came first but is this something you're considering adding to other mini-comics in the future?


TBH: No, probably not. I wrote some prose stories back in the day for a now defunct comic book company. So, I had some of those lying around and I wrote Thorn and Black Gun originally as a short prose for this defunct company and I wrote A Last Goodbye as prose and I actually have a story coming up in an anthology, a 10-page sequential story. It's a space pirate that I originally wrote as prose. They were 750 words, it was the space we were given and so, they were always stories that I liked, characters that I wanted to play around with, and genres I had been thinking about in my mind and I wrote little short stories for them. Since then, it's been turning them into sequential pieces of 8 to 10 pages.


And from there, thinking about these characters and the life they have outside of those short stories and developing them into longer form. So Ben, actually, was the one that said, "Hey, let's throw the prose into the back. It would be a nice little touch," and I said, "Man, I trust you if it looks nice," and he was the one that formatted it and he sent it over to me in a PDF. I said, "Man, this is great." So yeah, no. I'm not a prose writer by trade. I really do like the comic book scripting aspect and writing for an artist so I probably won't go back to that. It was a fun challenge at the beginning of my comic writing career but probably something I've gone away from now.


CBY: Fair enough. So can you describe how your collaboration works between the two of you?


TBH: So for A Last Goodbye, that's the only one we worked on. I sent Ben the prose story and I suggested page breaks in the story and that was really it. And then I said, "Hey, man, I just trust you with this to provide the visuals," and that's something I've been talking about a lot actually at the show about the way people work with collaborators. My thing is, usually the way that I approach it is I know that my... I would say this. I'm fortunate to work with artists who are better storytellers than me. I'm hitching my wagon to real talent. And so, I trust them to take the words and create the space. I don't think that I need control over all the panels and the images.


Now, if somebody requests that style of panel by panel description, I'm more than happy to do it. I do it for Sequential Potential comics that I write for. But for the most part, what I like to do with my collaborators is write a series of we see statements on a page like, "We need to see this. We need to see this. We need to see this," and then I let them interpret that however they want based on... Should it be three panels or a splash or five panels or whatever? I trust them to break it up accordingly and it's been great and Ben really came through big time. Usually, what that does is I get the pages back and it's always better than what I could have imagined. And so, that's been good. I don't know if, Ben, you want to talk about the collaborative process a little bit?


BH: I think this one was unique for us because, really, we had Travis's prose story, we story conferenced on it, Travis suggested some breakdowns, the montage parts, which were some of my favorites, came directly from Travis like, "Here's what I think they should look like." And then, what I did is I broke the prose story down into a script to send back to Travis for edits. Once he approved that, then we did breakdowns, he gave feedback on that, then we did full passes.


It was a lot of stages of back and forth and that led to iteration for us. I think part of the reason Travis trusted me with that is because I also script my own stuff independently so I think we came at it very much as peers. I knew the story was his baby. I wanted to do justice to it, but he also gave me some opportunities to use the skills I had accumulated to shape stages of it which he could then help form. But also, it didn't hurt that on previous projects Travis has also edited me. So we've got an editor-artist-writer relationship too so I trust his story feedback and the way he can see things on the page that I don't necessarily see.


CBY: Oh, excellent.

"I was also probably keeping EC comics in my heart and mind a little bit just sort of the sinewy, scary texture that you would find from a Jack Kamen or someone like that. But yeah, it was fun to try to bring that into the scene."

TBH: That's another thing about all of my long-form collaborations with Mark Pate, Marcus Jimenez, Richard Kemp and Ben, all three of those guys have their own stories that they've scripted and drawn themselves so I'm not just working with artists, I'm working with storytellers who've written their own stuff as well. So they're also writers so it's like I don't need to be the writer that has full control over everything and is demanding about panel breakdown and camera angle look or whatever because these guys know what they're doing from story to script to art to layouts, all that.


But it is a lot of conversation. I mean, Ben and I are good friends. Richard is actually... we're doing this interview and he is walking by the table right now and pretending like he doesn't know me. Richard is the artist of Black Gun. And so, if there's a problem on a page and we can't figure it out, we just get on the phone and we talk it out or shoot a couple of texts back and forth and then we're right where we want to be so that's good.


CBY: Yeah. That's a sign of an excellent collaboration to be completely honest with you.


TBH: Absolutely.


CBY: So Ben, this next one's for you. So this might be me reading a little into the visual influence of this so feel free to correct me on this. But for some reason, as I'm reading through it, I got some 2000 AD vibes on the art.


BH: I'm really pleased. Well, yeah, because that anthology is carried by black and white art and you'd think about some of the great ones who've done it, Dave Gibbons being probably one of your most standouts, you'd think about Garry Leach being part of that. And so, yeah, I think I went a little crazy with the Chiaroscuro side. I typically leave a little bit more light and openness in my lines but I think, especially, once the character and the story got into the forest where he met the religious, zealot cannibals, it called for a lot of darkness there. And so, yeah, I think it skewed that direction. I was also probably keeping EC comics in my heart and mind a little bit just sort of the sinewy, scary texture that you would find from a Jack Kamen or someone like that. But yeah, it was fun to try to bring that into the scene.


CBY: Awesome. I'm glad I wasn't just completely off base with that.


BH: Oh no, not a bit. It's a flattering comparison and I'll receive it all day. Travis and I need to try our hands at some Tharg's Future Shocks after this. That'll be what it is.


CBY: There we go. So in general, what are a few of your favorite comics you guys have had a chance to read this year? Doesn't necessarily have to be released this year but just whatever you've been able to get a hold of.


TBH: Oh gosh, I've got to think. I read the end of American Vampire. I'm not a big sucker for vampire stories. I usually get them and kind of roll my eyes a little bit because you see 10 on the shelf a month but I think Scott Snyder really told a good one. I'm a PhD historian so he kind of walked you through some American history which I nerd out over so I like that and I thought it stuck the landing. So American Vampire 1976 was really good. I'm also enjoying Deadly Class. I just recently read the next to last volume that came out a month ago and things that walk you through big swaths of history and American culture are always fun. I think Remender is tying that together really well. So yeah, I think those are two good ones.


BH: Yeah. I tend to go for stuff that's been out for a little bit. I'm not as current on my Wednesday reading. I will say I enjoyed picking up the first issue of Neverender by our friend David Kraft. He's been working on that story for a while and he's doing that through Behemoth now. He's got eight issues left to go with that story. I found a collection of old Marvel John Carter comics. I love that character and that collection got you some stuff from early Frank Miller, right? It had Marv Wolfman followed by Chris Claremont on the writing side, there was some great Ernie Chan art, amazing Gil Kane, inked by Rudy Nebres. So just the visual approach was really fun and fit in with the long term interest I've got for bronze age work and honestly, I have become a little bit of an annoying stan for Bad Idea's Comics.


I really enjoy the production values in the books. The fact that they're meant to be found in a local comic shop. I was really struck by Matt Kent's Whale's Town which was a one shot that they put out. It's just a really heartwarming story about a community of cast of misfit creatures inside of a whale who find a young boy who's been swallowed by the creature and try to help him find home while he tries to protect theirs. It was beautiful stuff and it showed me there's a lot of range that you can do with comics even to the point of being all ages in an unexpected fashion.


CBY: Thank you. So are there any upcoming projects you can tease for us whether it's together or on your own?


TBH: Sure. So I've got a couple. Well, one, A Last Goodbye that you've read and we've talked about a little bit that Ben and I have done together. Band of Bards asked if we wouldn't mind expanding it and turning it into a longer one shot so from 11 pages to about 40. And so, the beginning and the end is set in place but they want to add some conflict to the middle, maybe a bigger story, a play in the world a little bit more of this kind of post-apocalyptic future. So yeah, and if you don't know or whoever's listening to this or reading this, A Last Goodbye is set 70 years into the future when a lot of climate disaster has happened and it's a man who is making a last journey back home with his dog and he falls into some trouble with some religious zealots.


And so, we're going to be adding to that trouble that he falls into, really dive into this world a little bit, and see what it's about. So A Last Goodbye will be out with Band of Bards. It'll be in shops sometime in 2023, we're just not really sure yet. Ben's got some deadlines he's got to meet first and then we'll get started on the rest of the pages at the turn of the calendar year so that's that.


I'm working on a vigilante story called Thorn. Thorn is kind of a Batman, Spider-Man, Daredevil-esque type character who looks at how do you defend your neighborhood against the system when everything that is being done and the evil being done to it is all legal and is part of the legal system. So, the police become the enemy in the story, the corporate system becomes the enemy, the judicial system, judges, all those types of things. And so, it looks at how you defend your neighborhood when it's being squeezed by corporations, policing, and just the judicial system in general. And so, that's Thorn. It's with Advent Comics. It's a 12-issue series that will drop... Issue 1 will drop next July, so July 2023.


Then it'll come out every other month for 23 months. And then finally, Black Gun is a story that will come out with Band of Bards. By the way, I'm doing Thorn with Mark Pate who's a fantastic artist. Black Gun I'm doing with Richard Kemp and it's a Western set in the 1880s in the Oklahoma Indian territory and it's about a US Marshall who was raised by Cherokee Indians and he catches wind of a plot by the United States to take sovereign land and expand west. And so, he has to choose between his two adoptive families, the Cherokee or the Marshalls.


And so, it's a Western, it's a shoot 'em up, and that will be out with... It's three oversized issues like three 72-page issues and Issue 1 will be out September 2023 in shops with Band of Bards. And then, we'll release one issue a year for the next three years, 2023, 2024, 2025. So yeah, so those are the three stories, those are the quick synopsis, and those are the things I've got coming up in shops over the next two or three years.


CBY: Sounds like you're in for a loaded 2023.


TBH: That's when I'm making my local comic bookshop debut so I'm very excited and then hopefully, it'll just keep the ball rolling and I can quit my day job. No, we'll see though. And then, I know Ben's got some projects that he's really diligently working on, so I'll let you talk about those Ben.


BH: Yeah. We basically should have gotten Bards to sponsor this interview because we're doing A Last Goodbye together as Travis said, he's doing Black Gun with them, and I'm working on a graphic novella for Band of Bards called Bro-D Can't Be Broken. It's a 64-page fight comic about an invincible teen who has to defend a city from an angry demigod but in the process, protect the girl that he's got some feelings for. And so, I'm writing and drawing that and that will be ready to go in November, either for a late 2022 or early 2023 release from Band of Bards.


And then, I've also got two anthology stories coming up soon. One in a romance sci-fi comic anthology called Amongst The Stars, Travis and Matt Gaudio also have a story in that anthology. And then, I'll also be in Big Hype Volume 2 which is on Kickstarter this summer and I'll have a story in Big Hype Volume 3 which will come out in 2023 as well.


CBY: I appreciate it. Okay. Well, last couple of questions. So will either of you be attending any other shows this year?


TBH: Yeah. So I will be at World City Con in Oklahoma City on July 30th. It's a one-day Saturday show. I'm excited to have a table at that. And then, I will be at Memphis Comic Expo in September, the weekend of the 24th and 25th, I believe. So those are my only other two shows this year and then, I'm trying to figure out the 2023 slates after that.


BH: Yeah. Shout out to my wife for hanging with my family without me for five days while I'm on the road. Heroes Con is it for me this year. I'm really grateful for this opportunity to come. I will probably darken the doors of Comicpalooza in Houston later this summer just to walk the floor and see what's going on. But for now, this is the big one so I'm making it count.


CBY: So, Travis, you're going to have lots of in-comic shops and Ben, your thing isn't available yet so for other projects that people can check out, what would be the best place for people to check out your content?


TBH: I mean, if you're trying to check stuff out right now, just reach out to me on Twitter @travisbhill5 and we can swap PDFs if that's what you want. I don't have a portfolio online yet. I do send out my portfolio, it's like a Google Drive or Google Docs or whatever. But yeah, so I am more than willing to send some stuff for people to see and check out. Otherwise, just again, keying on my Twitter and I'm posting work all the time that I'm getting done. I will say this, you can also pay attention... I write for a company called Sequential Potential comics and we write comics for academics when they want to pair a comic with their research either as an abstract or in a book.


And so, we then get permission to release some of those comics online. And so, I'll put up free short comics on a regular basis. I've got one that's in production right now that I just wrapped the script on for the International Affairs Journal in London. It's a 6-page comic to match up with their six articles in an issue they've got coming out on how not to do foreign policy. And so, as soon as I get permission from them, I will post that 6-page comic on Twitter and I'm sure that they will do the same. And so, a lot of that stuff is going to be kind of I'll be tweeting out pages and then if you want a PDF of some preview stuff, you could just hit me up.


BH: Yeah. My previous work is available, Waking Life. The first two volumes of the book are available digitally on Kindle. Waking Life Volume 1 is available in print from wherever you would find your books. And then, my four book series, Magnificent Makers is available from Rosen Publishing. You can access it through their website. It's also available on Amazon or you can find it on used book sites as well.


TBH: Waking Life's incredible. And so, go read it, okay? Go get it. If you're getting any book that's been mentioned on this interview right now, anything you can find right now, go find Waking Life. It's so good.


CBY: Well, thank you. I guess, final thing, it's tied into that as well but where can we find you on social media?


TBH: Yeah. So I just have Twitter, it's @travisbhill5. So I do a lot of interaction there, I like to make comic book friends. If you want to talk comics, NBA basketball, or I'm usually kind of being angry about political things so that can be a little annoying, I get it. But if you like to talk comics, theology, NBA basketball, then give me a follow and if I see that those are three things that you're involved in, I usually follow back. That's the stuff I'm keying in on there. I'm a trained theologian. I played college and professional basketball so that's the only sport I care about, that I love, and now, I'm a budding comic book professional, I guess. So those are the three things that my world gravitates around.


BH: Yeah. Travis is super pro, man. I think you get a lot of credit for what you're doing and the world's going to see a lot of it next year in a big wave if they're not looking enough to be at shows. For me, I'm on Twitter @BenHumeniuk. I'm on Instagram @Ben.Humeniuk just because there's a British guy who beat me to it and he's posting photos of his best life.


CBY: Sweet. Well, Ben, Travis, thank you so much for your time.


TH: Yeah. Thank you, Alex. This has been really fun. Thanks for doing this.


BH: Thanks, Alex. I appreciate you, man.

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