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Jordan Hart & David Ebeltoft open up about THE CABINET

COMIC BOOK YETI: Jordan and David, thanks for stopping by the Yeti Cave to talk about The Cabinet. How’s everything going in your respective locales?

JORDAN HART: Thank you for having us! It’s winter in SoCal, which is my favorite time of year – warm during the day but cold enough for a jacket at night. I grew up in Wisconsin, so said jacket is a mere windbreaker thanks to the countless polar vortexes that steeled my adolescent skin.  

DAVID EBELTOFT: Just dandy, thank you! I reside in a small town in Western New York, so we’re oscillating between hopes of spring and still lingering bouts of frigid winter. So this interview, and chatting about our colorful book, is a welcome respite from dreary and gray days. I owe y’all one.

CBY: That's what we're here for - finding an inner world where we can seek respite. So I’ve seen Lisa Frank’s name pop up in the promo material for this title, and to date myself, I grew up in the early 90’s, and Trapper Keepers were a foundational part of my elementary school experience; home to all my notes, and more importantly, all my drawings and story ideas. I had one with some early 3D geometric art on it which I recall vividly. Can you both share some memories from your early experiences with your own Trapper Keepers, and perhaps explain why they were such a touchstone for delivering the aesthetic you’ve created in The Cabinet?

DE:  Yes! I remember the geometric-centric ones! And if you rolled into my 4th grade classroom with one of those — half the class would go green-eyed with envy for sure. My Trapper Keeper of yore had a pair of Ray-Ban-ish sunglasses laying crown down against an almost traffic-cone-orange background. And contained in the lenses' reflection is the silhouette of a Lamborghini framed in by palm trees. It was pure SoCal tropical style with, as you mentioned, whiffs of Lisa Frank. 

But I love that Trapper Keepers were a foundational part of your experience, because they were with Jordan and me as well. And they were important to us because they were our portable safes and linchpin for our youthful organization. They were our Gmail drive but in paper and folder form, holding everything from homework to our crude and disproportionate sketches of Wolverine or Macho Man Randy Savage. 

And that’s what our main character, Avani, uses it for as well. But instead of holding her fan art, she organizes the things that are important to her — all of the information she has gleaned from her parents about The Cabinet, its magical properties, and all of the relics (which she calls doodads) she needs to collect. It’s akin to how Indiana and his father Henry utilized Henry’s meticulous journal to locate the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Where the answers are all there in the journal, they just need to be applied and interpreted. But we’ve all seen that dusty and gorgeously patinated leather bound to me before. So when Jordan and I were cooking up our aesthetic, we decided to lean into our colorful time frame and make Avani’s grimoire, or magical guidebook, specific to her and what she’d rock, which is a Trapper Keeper!

CBY: Diving further into the art of this book, I absolutely adore Chiara Raimondi’s coloring and linework throughout this issue. It’s incredibly vivid, and adds an engrossing layer to the imagery that certainly helps it stand apart from less idiosyncratic, saturated work out there. How did you find Chiara, and what was the collaboration like throughout the production process? What sort of guidance did you provide to elicit the imagery you wanted for The Cabinet, both for the various characters and settings, and what sort of revision and refinement process took place in development?

JH: Believe it or not, we found Chiara through a hashtag search on Instagram. We saw some of her medieval character work and were blown away – she was the perfect match for our vision. We knew her pencil work was a great fit but wanted to see how she would push the colors into the neons of the early 90s. So, we sent her pictures of Lisa Frank folders, old Trapper Keepers, and episodes of Clarissa Explains It All for color and style reference. She immediately understood our vision and delivered test pages beyond our expectations. At that point, David and I knew we had to pivot as writers with someone as special as her. We started creating and editing panels to showcase her unbelievable talent. As for characters and settings, we provided extensive visual reference PDFs to help guide her work. The great thing about Chiara is her ability to immediately grasp, and elevate, our ideas. 

CBY: On the note of collaboration, how did the two of you meet, and where did the initial inspiration for The Cabinet arise? It’s a genre mash-up with a number of nods to various other stories across the media landscape, so what ingredients went into the mix when you were putting together the story, and how long has the project been in development?

DE: Jordan and I met online, basically. A mutual friend of mine connected us over email one day, asking if I would mind giving notes on a screenplay Jordan and a buddy wrote. I was starting to emerge in the indie-film world at that time as a screenwriter, so I guess they thought my notes might hold weight (which was kind). But I read the script, laughed my ass off, and gave notes as best as I could. And honestly, I thought that would be the end of it — because it usually is. 

But Jordan and I started sharing project updates, sending ideas and scripts, him for his comics, me for my films. And over the years a professional relationship was mashed with a fun and nerdy fanboy friendship, all over email and calls and Zoom. And in 2018, we thought a collaboration would be a swell idea as we worked so well together and had so many similar influences and loves. So we batted a few ideas back and forth, and they all had good legs, but one day Jordan visited the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and saw, in its wooden glory, a Dutch curio-cabinet from the 1600’s called a Kabinettshrank. And the moment he shared, it was so cool and old-fangled and necromantic-looking that we knew we had to form a story around this beautiful and visually loaded piece of furniture. 

From that point on, we started injecting all the things we shared a love for, which was also the basis for our friendship, into the tale. Our influences and as you say, mash-ups and nods, became a great base and broth to our narrative stew. It started out as us doing so to laugh, have fun, and just be fanboys, but then began to find unique ways to contribute to, and weave into, our story. Our character-driven tale and arc never becomes subservient to our inspirations, but are only enhanced, especially visually, once those inspirations hit our amazing artist, Chiara’s, Bristol board. 

So counting backwards, we started our collaboration on The Cabinet six whole years ago with Chiara coming on as an artist to ink and color our pitch pages (which eventually landed us with Syzygy Publishing and Image comics) in 2022. Yeesh. Time flies when you’re having fun, which luckily, we are!

CBY: Nice! The Getty Museum is definitely full of some wild, inspiring exhibits. Okay, I don’t want to delve into spoiler territory, but the press for The Cabinet mentioned “villainous foot soldiers who wear medieval tunics with Reebok Pumps.” You open on page one in 1984, and there’s a discussion around anachronisms between the main characters. Reebok Pumps didn’t come out until 1989, so I’m guessing we’re in for some serious time travel-related hijinks over the run of the story? What are you able to share around the space-time constructs of The Cabinet without revealing too much?

DE:  Well, we’re caught red-handed for sure!  We knew that Reeboks made a later appearance in real life, but definitely fudged it to fit our time frame and world cause c’mon, placing some sweet kicks on nefarious characters that look like they sprung from a Johannes Vermeer painting from the 17th century? Can’t pass that up. So we sacrificed reality for visual sweetness within those first few pages… hopefully you can forgive us? 

But you bring up a great point with your question that’s hinged on one word — “hijinks”. There’s no time-travel related hijinks, but we do have… mystically enhanced teleportation hijinks!  A great second place, or first place depending on how you butter your time travel vs. teleportation bread. And to talk a little about those constructs, The Cabinet is magical, but doesn’t have the easiest of operations. To start, you need a specific relic, which is a Victorian good luck charm called a fumsup doll that Avani wears on a necklace. That’s the magical activator, like a car key to spark the ignition. But the fumsup won’t turn over the cabinet’s engine alone, you need the blood of one whose “bound” to the cabinet --  which was Avani’s parents, but when they passed, it was bound to her. And oh yeah, each time she and her sidekick Trent use the cabinet to teleport, they have to wait four hours for it to recharge. So while it’s a teleportation device, it has limitations, ones that make Avani’s and Trent’s adventure troublesome. And that trouble is where all the fun, and hijinks, comes from in this first arc!

CBY: Uh oh - I guess I've just outed myself as an insufferable continuity nerd! I love magical artifacts as plot devices, and the amount of thought that's gone into the fumsup mechanics is a delight. Taking a break from the narrative, can you both tell us a bit about the new Syzygy imprint from Image, and how The Cabinet came to find a home there? You mentioned Chiara’s art catching Syzygy publisher Chris Ryall’s attention. What was the pitch process like, and what did the agreement entail in terms of editorial oversight and publishing support?

JH: Chris Ryall is a fixture in the SoCal comics community. I was involved with a few pitches while he was the Editor in Chief at IDW and got to know him and his taste. When he started Syzygy, an imprint from Image, I hoped it would be our chance to finally work on something together… but I knew it needed to be the right book for his slate. David and I created a comprehensive pitch packet for The Cabinet, including six sample pages from Chiara. At WonderCon 2022, I walked him through it and he was beyond impressed with Chiara’s work and the energy of the story. He didn’t have any adventure comics on the docket and said he’d love it to be a Syzygy book. Chris let us determine the timeline to give us the freedom to create the best comic possible without deadline pressure, which says everything you need to know about his editorial style. He’s thoughtful, intelligent, knowledgeable, AND the nicest guy in the world. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you the same thing. On The Cabinet, he’s equal parts head coach and biggest fan, only offering a note or suggestion when he knows it’ll elevate the story. 

CBY: It always helps having someone get behind a project to that degree. So The Cabinet is slated as a five issue limited series. Is the central story arc meant to conclude in this stretch, or do you expect to pick up the threads in later issues? What sort of world extends beyond what you’ve revealed thus far that you’re looking forward to sharing with readers? 

JH: This first arc is five issues and has a resolution in Issue 5. As for which part of the narrative is resolved….no spoilers! But, I will say, we created a satisfying ending to this first arc while opening countless doors that lead to what might happen next. This world is massive. David and I have tomes filled with the mechanics and history of this world - we’re just scratching the surface. We’re working on arc two as we speak and Chiara has committed to returning. We couldn’t be more thrilled to continue this story.

CBY: I'm glad to know this is merely a first chapter in what is hopefully a broad exploration of your new magical world. Continuing on the topic of the story, I don’t want to give away too much about the plot or characters, but I’m curious - you’ve laid out the background for Avani in the afterword of issue #1 and her inspirations from your own personal lives - what sort of figures inspired Trent, and what friendships and relationships from both fiction and your lived experience inspired their dynamic?

DE: We’re both convalescing Midwestern jocks. I rocked a tolerable slap-shot in North Dakota and Jordan dominated as a tight-end on the Wisconsin gridiron. But underneath our jerseys, we were dorks. Jordan devoured comics while headbanging to Megadeth and I played D&D and binged Asimov. And that was, basically, the inspiration for Trent. Underneath his letterman’s jacket, he’s a metalhead, a nerd, and reflected the double lives Jordan and I led (the untrue: jocks can’t read comics and excel in art classes!). 

But Trent is also a fierce sidekick to the bravest gal he knows, which is Avani. And that is also drawn from our own lives in several ways. I’ll call out two draws at the moment, starting with the fact that both Jordan and I are lucky enough to be husbands to strong, smart women who are badasses within their fields (Shout out Teresa and Payal!). Sure, they’re not dabbling in necromancy and gallivanting the globe to find doodads, but both Jordan and myself love to be their cheerleaders within their respective fields and within our lives. 

And the second inspiration is the fact that in the Midwest, there are a lot of tall chaps, Jordan himself being one of them, and sometimes the height of those around you can be supremely beneficial. And not just a “reach that top shelf for me” way. Myself, being an average height fella (5ft 10in), I was lucky enough to have a buddy who was a good foot taller, minimum. In the late 90’s, we decided to rock an Insane Clown Posse/Biohazard double bill in Minneapolis. And man, in a mosh pit that would usually churn me out and chip my teeth, I was never touched. It was like a bubble of protection, extending from him, and spread over myself, purely because of his stature. So when we were cooking up Trent, we wanted to lean into that for Avani, how, sometimes, a stalwart protector can benefit you by just who he or she is. Much like Chewbacca and Han, and how Chewie’s got Han’s back no matter what, but also, being an imposing and furry figure helps immensely! And for the record, my head-banging buddy (shout out, Jaden!) was clean shaven and far from furry…

CBY: Ah yes. As a Midwesterner (from Ohio), somehow I ended up the only non-hockey player in my family, but even the soccer team got ahold of me, so I can relate. Again, I don’t want to veer into spoiler territory, but you detailed the Kabinettschrank (display cabinet) at the Getty as the centerpiece of your narrative (or steakhouse entree, to stick with your analogy). The doodads that accompany it seem to have involved a lot of specific thought, so what went into the process of picking out these items to include in the narrative as objectives for Avani and Trent? In a story infused with personal meaning, can you lay bare the inspiration and rationale behind some of the doodads that make appearances?

DE:  Our doodads have a rich history within the world of The Cabinet, so rich that we’d love to keep this tale going so that more and more layers can be exposed! But for our first arc, I’ll try to give you the nutshell version: There’s 30 doodads that need to match up to 30 drawers in the CORRECT combination in order to activate certain magical powers the cabinet possesses. Get that order wrong, and, well, that’s when you accidentally do things like unleash a demon from its dimensional prison and kill your parents (like our heroine, Avani). But get it right, and you can do things like fix past mistakes, which is what Avani is trying to do. Each doodad is a descendant of an original silver relic that was imbued with power when the cabinet was created (by a bunch of baroque dudes known as The Makers). 

But, over the centuries and misuse of the Cabinet, some of those doodads have changed and morphed, but their magical properties still attach themselves to the original metallurgic properties. So what might’ve started as a silver brooch from the 1500’s, well, that was melted down at one point and eventually ended up as a 100 Yen piece in Japan. Or one doodad might’ve started out as currency, such as a denarius - a Roman republic coin - but through a knotty history, finally ended up being a silver tooth filling for an Irish fishmonger. 

So our selection process for the doodads was really built on our love for art and art history (we both attended art school) and was basically an excuse to let us dive down wonderful rabbit-research-holes. 

With each iteration of a doodad, we wanted to make sure it was visually imbued so that Chiara, our awesome artist, would be able to have fun depicting it. For our first issue, you’ll see that only an ear made it from a ceremonial death mask that harkens from an ancient Chinese feudal dynasty. And we did this all because we wanted our main character, Avani, to hold an ear up in a dramatic way in a panel! And as the issues and hopeful second arc progress, you’ll get to see more of these doodads and learn more about their history and how they ended up in their current form that Avani and Trent are trying to find!

CBY: That's great, because unpacking the history you've crammed into each doodad is honestly one of the aspects of The Cabinet I'm most excited to see unfold. I konw you mentioned a second run in the works, but for now, The Cabinet only runs five brief issues (and I look forward to seeing the rest of the run!). Can you both share with our readers any other projects besides The Cabinet you’ve recently completed or have coming up in the pipeline that you’re willing to talk about?

DE: The pipeline is being greased to hopefully have issues #6-10 of The Cabinet launch so if you’re reading this, we humbly ask to give issues #1-5 some love! Toss' em on a pull list, ask your LCS to carry 'em on the shelves, rock a digital copy on the Omnibus app, etc! 

In addition to that, I have a gritty Neo-western flick (the opposite of our fun and adventurous comic) that I penned titled BLOOD FOR DUST releasing in theaters and streaming in April. It stars Kit Harrington, Scoot McNairy, Stephen Dorff, Josh Lucas, and Ethan Suplee and just came off its festival run where it was billed as “Breaking Bad meets Fargo” which… I totally endorse it.

JH: I echo David - I’d like to thank everyone for their support of The Cabinet, and I look forward to continuing this story with him and Chiara. My previous book, Ripple Effects published through Fanbase Press, was nominated for Eisner and Harvey awards last year, and won the Dwayne McDuffy Award for Diversity in Comics. That story centers around an invincible superhuman, George Gibson, who is afraid to become a superhero because of his type one diabetes. The Cabinet has been my focus for the past year, but after Issue 5 hits stores in June, I’m going to spend some time with my old friend George again. 

CBY: Awesome! Glad to know I have some new material for my watchlist and reading list to check out. So to conclude, I always make space for creators to talk about what other creations have been inspiring them. What comics, and other media (film, music, literature, etc.) have you been enjoying lately when not working on your own material?

JH: Comic-wise, being a Wisconsinite, I’ve been loving Local Man by Tim Seeley and Tony Fleecs. Andrew Krahnke’s Bloodrik was my favorite series of last year. I can’t recommend that book enough - the illustration style, colors and story pacing make me feel like I’m a kid in the 90s reading comics again. As for other mediums, I’m most excited for X-MEN ‘97 to hit Disney+ this March! I love the fact that it’s a continuation of the original show, not a reboot. 

DE: Oh man, this is always a tough one as I'm devouring (and loving) so much by so many talented voices right now. 

Within the floppy world, Zoe Thorogood’s Hack Slash: Back to School, Michael Dialynas’ Zawa + The Belly of the Beast, and Maria Llovet’s Crave are all feeding my brain and eyeballs with tasty narratives and rich panel puddings. 

In the book arena, I just finished House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland and while I was a little late to the party, dark and twisty ways about supernatural and flawed sisters have haunted me ever since I put the book down (in the best way possible). 

Finally, filmwise, I’ve been revisiting a slew of “New Hollywood” flicks from the late 60’s/early 70s with such stylistic gems as Klute, Bullitt, and Harry & Tonto. Their steady pace and visual prowess are like creative Zoloft to combat today’s films and series that, don’t get me wrong, I still love, but rapidly push us through special FX and gargantuan and world-ending dramatics. It’s been wonderful to breathe and realize that a road trip about an old man and his cat (Harry & Tonto) can be just as entertaining as saving the world from the tyrannical Kree. 

CBY: Yeah, I think 1966-75 might be my favorite era of film making. Jordan and David, thank you for giving us so much to digest. It's great to learn more about your perspective, and I look forward to seeing how The Cabinet shapes up over the coming issues. For our readers, please share any portfolio, publication, and social media links you’d like everyone to give a look, and we hope to have you back to the Yeti Cave soon!

DE: Thanks so much for the time, questions, and letting us lounge in the comfort of the Yeti Cave! I can be found on Instagram (@david.ebeltoft ) Twitter/X (@davidebeltoft ) and on my website at ! 

JH: Thank you for having us and asking such thoughtful questions… and for sharing such kind words about The Cabinet! You can find me in person at every West Coast comic con (look for the tall guy with flowing hair digging through long boxes). David and I will be at Emerald City Comic Con and WonderCon together this year, and I’ll be at C2E2. You can find me anytime on Instagram (@jordyjordith).

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