Jimmy Gaspero welcomes John Sollitto into the Yeti Cave to talk about the current Zoop campaign for Veritas, superheroes comics that are grounded but not gritty, making classroom scenes interesting, and why editor extraordinaire Christa Harader makes us cry.
COMIC BOOK YETI: John, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave to talk about Veritas, which CBY readers can support on Zoop. How have you been doing?
JOHN SOLLITTO: Thanks so much for having me! I’m doing alright, obviously a ton of nerves for my first crowdfunding campaign. The folks at Zoop have been really helpful setting things up, but that doesn’t stop me from fighting the urge to refresh the page every second of the day.
CBY: What is your origin story as a comics creator? Have comics always been a part of your life and what made you want to write comics?
JS: I think some of my earliest memories of reading were comics and Scholastic Book Fair books, so comics have always been a part of my life. I don’t think I really got into them until I started getting comics in the mail or going to my LCS.
I kept in the loop with Flash and Superman comics the most, dabbling in some other things from time to time or getting volumes of the Ultimate universe for Marvel at book stores. But I got really serious with comics in college when the New 52 came around and I could finally start from the beginning of some DC runs. I think I’ve been reading as much as I can ever since then. I’ve started to branch out much more now and I’m enjoying all sorts of comics outside of the superhero genre.
"When the powers are mundane, the people are what shine, and that was what we were going for."
As for my comics creator origin (which sounds far more dramatic than it really is), I began writing comics as an exercise. While I fumbled around with some sci-fi writing, I realized I needed to practice finishing something before tackling a book, so comics issues seemed like a good idea at the time. Why I didn’t just try for short stories, I’ll never remember.
There’s something about the marriage of visuals and words that really speaks to me and, when I look back on some of the stories that really move me, I think of comics. In the end, I wanted to give other people the feeling I got from them. The sense of wonder, and being caught up in a story for hours and wondering where the time went as the issues pile up next to you. The thing that gives me the most satisfaction in the world is entertaining someone with a story. That and getting new pages in the mail from my teams!
CBY: When not creating comics, what else do you do? Do you have a “day job”?
JS: For the last 10 years, I’ve worked in the video game industry. I’ve been a QA tester that whole time, which is its own can of worms when trying to define. Effectively, my job is to help a whole team of people make the best product they can to entertain other people. I think that level of collaboration has helped a lot when working on projects like Veritas, and it’s made the process a lot easier.
I’m a forever DM for Dungeons and Dragons games as well, which might show some unhealthy obsession to keep working even when I’m relaxing.
CBY: I love D&D! That's awesome. You and the rest of the creative team, which we’ll get to, have been making Veritas as a webcomic for a little while. Can you give me the elevator pitch for Veritas for anyone unfamiliar with it? Is the current Zoop campaign the first print run? Why decide to crowdfund for a print run now, and why Zoop?
JS: Veritas is, first and foremost, a superhero comic. But it is less of a Michael Bay bonanza of tights and fights, and more centered on the humanity of the people who are underneath the mask. The world they live in is real, their feelings are real, they just happen to be able to stop bullets with their bodies or fly. Think Invincible meets Law & Order.
The Zoop campaign is for the first print run of Issues 1 and 2. While the entire comic can be read online at our website, I wanted to start printing these issues for folks who want to skip the Internet and have them in their hands. These issues, and the volumes we’re also going to crowdfund, are going to have more in them than what the website has. More art, information about the characters, even some behind-the-scenes stuff for fans of the series to see concepts and process.
As for why Zoop, I wanted to work with a group of people focused on crowdfunding comics rather than a platform that has and can be used for anything. Kickstarter’s recent shift towards crypto ideas has not been reassuring, so I decided to put my project where my mouth was and take it somewhere that was made with indie comics in mind. I reached out to some other creators who had good things to say about the team and platform, so I pulled the trigger, and here we are!
CBY: I read issues #1 and #2 and my biggest initial takeaway and what I appreciated the most is that Veritas is grounded, without being gritty. I think sometimes those two words are used interchangeably and they are different things. Over the years, there are so many different superhero books to choose from, whether it’s Big Two or even some of the indie titles. What do you believe you and the creative team bring to the superhero genre that makes Veritas stand out?
JS: I think you hit it right there with “grounded, without being gritty.” A lot of the commentary I read, and honestly agree with, regarding Big Two books is their over-the-top nature and larger-than-life plots. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some New Genesis or Galactus stories, but sometimes when the stakes get so high, they’re hard to see.
Veritas was initially born out of a silly idea my friend and I had when discussing Marvel’s original Civil War story. We believed, drunk as we were, that we could have done it better. Instead, we ended up focusing on a world that had more concrete limitations, which I think lends itself to that grounded feel. There is believability to these heroes. There’s bureaucracy to overcome, shades of gray with ideals, fear in their hearts, and doubt in their minds. This doesn’t make them any less super, but it does humanize them in a way that I think has been missing from comics.
What we’ve sought to do is create something not tied to existing IPs, that has the trappings of the reader’s world. Superpowers aren’t astonishing, they’re mundane. When the powers are mundane, the people are what shine, and that was what we were going for.
"The thing that gives me the most satisfaction in the world is entertaining someone with a story. That and getting new pages in the mail from my teams!"
CBY: Speaking of the rest of the creative team, there is artist Deivis Domingues, colorist Valerie St. Gelais, flatter Nyleshia St. Gelais, and editor Christa Harader. How did everyone come together for Veritas and what about each of them makes this collaboration work well?
JS: I was fortunate to find Deivis through his portfolio online. My girlfriend at the time saw his art and just said “This is the guy you need.” She was 100% right. Deivis is an incredible artist, and a true sport when it comes to putting up with some of the ridiculous things I write. His art is full of emotion and power and the series would not be what it is right now without his visuals.
Valerie and Nyleshia are a stellar team. I found Valerie on Twitter and asked her about her interest in coming onto the project and she was gracious enough to say yes. Nyleshia is her partner in crime when it comes to coloring, so working with the pair of them is so smooth, as they’re a well-oiled machine and produce some really beautiful pages. I think the first page of Issue 1 and the fourth page are some of my favorites that they’ve done. The emotion they put into those colors are stellar.
With Christa, it was a bit of a different story. I had seen a lot of praise for their work, read a few of their articles, and felt confident that they were the right person for the job. I was getting far enough into this project that I began to realize I needed an editor’s help, so I crossed my fingers and sent out an email. Christa is the series editor now, having come on with some of the later issues, but still regularly helps me get control of any wild hairs that might make the plot run awry. There’s a professionalism and honesty to their work that is exactly what I needed when it came to shaping the series and future issues. Christa gets what I want to do, and helps me find the best route to that.
CBY: Does Christa make you cry too, or am I special? Just kidding, Christa makes sure I know I’m not special.
JS: Absolutely, Christa makes me cry on purpose and because I am doing this interview without their supervision there is no way they can prevent me from saying th–
CBY: Actually, I'm contractually obligated to stop you from saying anything else. You've probably already said too much. Related to the above question, generally speaking, what are your thoughts about puns?
JS: If anyone follows my TikTok (which is such a silly thing to type) they would know I enjoy making videos about filling scripts full of puns to torment Christa. In actuality, I am a very nice person and do not do that. However, I do enjoy quality puns.
"...sometimes when the stakes get so high, they’re hard to see."
CBY: I was once asked this question in a job interview for a job I really wanted and I gave the worst answer ever. I did not get the job. I think about it often. If you could have the powers of any comic book superhero, whose powers would you want and why?
JS: Okay, so if we’re going completely utilitarian usage I would go for the Flash’s speed-control, -manipulation, and -running. I do a lot of things, and having that speed would just be the best to get everything done but also c’mon…the Flash is awesome.
But if you want the pie-in-the-sky answer, it’s the Shazam power-set. I think the ability to be a superhero and live my life out, have what I want out of that, and then turn into Shazam to help people for the rest of my unnatural born days would be the way to go. Shazam’s powers are so cool, and combine that with no Kryptonite weakness and you’re just magic Superman. You still have that human connection though when you’re not Shazam so you can maintain that perspective.
CBY: That was a great answer. You probably would have gotten that job I wanted.
You’ve said Veritas has a more procedural and noir feel to it than traditional superhero comics. Are there particular noir films that influenced the writing of Veritas? How do you approach scripting the visual elements of noir?
JS: For Veritas, it is heavily influenced by a lot of contemporary noir and neo-noir films. Things like Hell or High Water, No Country for Old Men, Logan, and John Wick get a lot of credit, for sure. With comic influences, I think Image’s C.O.W.L. series is a huge inspiration, as well.
The trickiest bit, for me at least, is thinking about how the use of superpowers, which are inherently bombastic and fantastic in nature, can be boiled down to visual nuance. Sometimes that’s making light of how strong Veritas or his mother really is, like in Issue 2, to illustrate that this kind of strength is the language of their household. Other times, it is ignoring the fact Veritas is getting showered with a hail of bullets in a later issue and focusing on what’s going on inside of his head.
Obviously, this is a superhero book, so there’s going to be powerplay; it’s fairly unavoidable with this style of story. However, the blocking of fights, the visual language with powers sprinkled in, and the tension that comes from the story’s stakes are really what drive home the visual feel. I tend to shy away from writing grand set-piece conflicts, and focus more on things that are contained. When they explode outside those bounds, I want that to be a visual cue for the reader that we have gone somewhere scary and dangerous.
CBY: Since I am a lawyer and a nerd, I have thought a lot, more than is probably healthy, about if superheroes existed in the real world how they would work within the actual U.S. criminal justice system, so I appreciated seeing the C.D.I. training classes. What’s the biggest challenge to making the classroom or training scenes both interesting and realistic?
JS: The biggest challenge is avoiding making those bits boring. You can write a whole comic about people going to school, learning things, and questioning what’s gone on. It’s totally doable, but that can absolutely kill the flow of the story. I’ve tried to utilize those scenes as an expedient way to catch the reader up on this world while also introducing some of the themes. Each time we see the classroom or headquarters, I’ve attempted to use that as visual code. They’re the epicenter of the red tape and morality that these characters confront.
We see so many characters circumvent the judicial system for the sake of justice, like Batman and Daredevil, that we forget there are genuine consequences for doing things wrong when catching a bad guy. Making the law, for lack of a better term, Hard Mode for superheroes felt…right? I think it adds a layer of believability and legitimacy to the stories when we sometimes handwave it for the sake of seeing the good guys winning.
And making the law the antagonist is also a very real problem we face in our own society. What is often legal is not always moral, and those conversations are not ones we should ignore.
CBY: Do you put any of yourself into your characters or draw on personal experience to write about their relationships, in particular Jack’s relationship with his mentor, or friends, or his parents?
JS: There is a lot of influence in Jack and Sheryl’s relationship that stems from my personal life. I think I tend to write older-femme-mentor-younger-masc-student narratives because of my close relationship with my older sister. And those kinds of stories are not ones we see too often in this genre, so it just felt right to have it be at the forefront.
Jack is a bit of a superhero history nerd for his world and I will absolutely cop to that being a trait of my own as well.
I think we can all relate to having relationships in our life where someone who wants to help us goes about it in a way that actually does the opposite. But, I think Jack’s closeness with his parents comes from my own. His desire to talk to them about what happened to him is definitely a thing I would do because deep down he is comforted by them, no matter their relationship’s ups and downs.
CBY: Are there any comic creators working today whose work inspires/influences you?
JS: Tom Taylor, Gail Simone, Brian Clevinger, and Kyle Higgins are all probably at the top of the list. There is so much to love about all their work but I definitely look to them all for story, dialogue, and pacing.
Simone and Clevinger for the ability to have fun while also telling a story that has depth and heart.
Taylor and Higgins for their plots that have nuance and humanity to them.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
JS: The Question: Zen and Violence for sure, but I’m biased because I just love that run and Dennis O’Neil’s writing in general. Gotta have Bone in there because kids deserve amazing comics too. And, because I read it recently and can’t stop thinking about it, Superman Smashes the Klan. It is just so so good.
CBY: Any other projects CBY readers should check out?
JS: I read Archival Quality from Oni Press a little while ago and cannot recommend that enough. Such a wonderful story. There’s also a collection that’s been coming out for a bit now, they’re on their third volume, called Project Big Hype. It’s a great way to see some indie creators.
CBY: Where can you be found online?
JS: On Twitter, I’m @JohnSollitto, and on Instagram I’m @JohnSollitto. Both of those will have tons and tons of links to all the projects I work on like Veritas and Certifiable Investigations.
CBY: Thank you so much, John.
JS: No, thank you!