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Taking the Reins and Saving the Day – An Interview with BRENTT HARSHMAN about OFF INTO THE SUNSET

COMIC BOOK YETI: Brentt, thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave to talk about Off Into The Sunset, the western-inspired anthology you successfully Kickstarted, as well as all the other exciting things you have coming up.

With Off Into The Sunset, was this the first time you had ever curated an anthology, and if so, what made you want to take on, what seems like from the outside, a lot of work?

Off Into the Sunset Anthology, "I Think I'm Done", Diener/Lelay/Marques/Hopkins

BRENTT HARSHMAN: I had this itch to see more comics set in the old west. A lot of stories borrow from the Western genre, but you don’t see too many Westerns. I had never curated an anthology and knew it would be a lot of work, but it seemed like the best way to let a bunch of creators tell dope western stories.

CBY: You asked for open submissions for the anthology on Twitter and you had 130 submissions. Were you expecting that kind of response to this? Did you have set criteria you used for selecting the stories or creators that you did for inclusion in the book?

BH: I knew I’d get a lot of responses because writers are a hungry lot looking for any opportunity. I didn’t know there would be THAT many submissions for a genre book, though, especially with how many GOOD submissions there were.

CBY: Why a Western-themed anthology? Was there something in particular that sparked that idea? It does feel like Westerns might be due for a resurgence – did you have a sense that that was the case?

BH: I love Westerns. From true blue Westerns to spaghetti Westerns to Tarantino flicks that pay homage/steal from genres like Westerns, I love them...but you don’t see that many in the comics world. I think I had been playing Red Dead Redemption 2 again and the idea for this Western anthology hit me.

Off Into the Sunset Anthology, "Cops and Robbers", Candelaria/Haldeman/Myers

CBY: The successful Kickstarter campaign had 593 backers, of which I am one, but I recall watching it reach its goal was a bit tense. Were you concerned at all, and how did you feel seeing all the support from the comics community?

BH: I wasn’t too worried, honestly. I knew going in that $20k was a steep mountain to climb, and I had never had any success on Kickstarter...though I gave it many attempts. While I was dying to make this book, I also wasn’t too stressed about it. Like you stated earlier, anthologies are a lot of work so, worst come to worst, that would have been a lot of hard work that I just wouldn’t have to do. Luckily, though, the comics community is amazing and people really rallied behind the project. From friends and peers to actual heroes of mine, it was incredible seeing everybody support this passion project.

CBY: Where do things stand on the completion of the anthology and, once completed and sent to backers, will it be offered for sale in some capacity?

BH: I completely underestimated the work that would go into making this book. While planning, I thought we could get this book done within two months. I was WRONG. We have been hard at work on this book since it was funded and we still have a little ways to go, but we’re almost there. We have two stories that are nearing the finish line and then all of the files will be sent to our book’s designer to be prepped for print. After that, off to the printers and then off to the backers. We are hoping to get this into your hands by mid-November, but that all depends on printing and shipping times.

Once the book is completed and sent to backers, it will be available to purchase digitally and physically, working out the details on all of that now.

Off Into the Sunset Anthology, "Burn the Breeze", Matter/Hickman/Esposito

CBY: You have a story in the anthology, with art by Andy Michael. What was your inspiration for it?

BH: My story with Andy is a neo-Western/post-cyberpunk story about an Earth that was abandoned by the megarich and one woman’s quest for revenge. I don’t think I need to spell out the inspiration for that...

CBY: Speaking of Andy Michael, the two of you, along with letterer Justin (AKA “Lettersquids”), are working on a comic that will be headed to Kickstarter soon. There is a preview available on your website. What can you share with me about sLAsher?

BH: sLAsher is a project all three of us hold dear. We’ve been working on it since 2019 and, while there have been a few roadblocks along the way, I am excited to announce that we are working on the third issue (of five) as we speak.

sLAsher is a neon-drenched, character-driven ensemble slasher that deals with modern world issues like tech addiction. It’s campy and fast-paced, some of the most fun I’ve had as a writer, and seeing Andy and Justin "LetterSquids" bring the script to life has been a blast.

The plan is to release the issues individually on a digital site like Gumroad and then, when the story is complete, Kickstart a trade paperback. We are fleshing out the details there still.

Off Into the Sunset Anthology, "Left", Harshman/Michael

CBY: You also have The Price, a comic headed to Dauntless Stories in late October 2021, recently teased by Dauntless on Twitter and their website during Free Comic Book Day. The Price tells the story of two bank robbers that hide out in an abandoned cabin on top of a snow-capped mountain and discover their actions have consequences. It sounds intense! It is drawn by Kevin Castaniero (the artist for Scout Comics’ Grit) with colors by Fabi Marques. There’s more than a few elements set out for this comic (bank robbers and a cabin and a mountain) and I’m interested if this story always looked like this, or did you develop it over time?

BH: The Price is an interesting beast. I wrote it around the same time I started coming up with the idea of Off Into The Sunset. In fact, I was replaying the opening missions of Red Dead Redemption 2 where you’re all stuck up on a mountain during a blizzard when the initial nugget of inspiration hit. I believe I wrote the first draft of the twenty-two-page script in two hours.

I love this story so much. It blends my love of Westerns with my love for psychological thrillers. It’s equal parts Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Shining. And Kevin’s linework and Fabi’s colors just make it SING.

CBY: How did this creative team come together, and what is it that makes this collaboration work?

BH: I had been a fan of both Kevin and Fabi for a while. Kevin’s work on Grit is some of the most fun comics art I’ve seen in quite some time. Fabi is such a genius colorist and her Twitter presence is fun as hell. Getting to know both of them and getting to work with them has been a real treat. I truly feel like we are all on the same page and I think that shows in the final product.

The Price, Dauntless Stories, Harshman/Castaniero/Marques

CBY: Dauntless Stories is a new publisher. How did this story end up at Dauntless Stories and what’s your experience so far with them?

BH: I’ve been friends with Marcus Jimenez for a while. We had collaborated on a few things in the past (I have lettered some pages for him, we did a one-page story together) and I really trust him, so when I had the script for The Price at a point where I was comfortable sharing it (I knew it wasn’t total poop anymore) I sent it his way and he fell in love with the story. Every time I had an update on it (new draft, bringing Kevin on board, getting pages from Kevin, getting the pages colored) Marcus fell more in love with the, he offered for the story to be picked up by Dauntless.

Marcus truly understands the comics world and truly wants to carve out a better place for creators to create. He gets the visions of each creator he brings on and helps them tell their story to the best of their ability. Dauntless is doing dope stuff, and I’d tell you that even if I wasn’t biased.

CBY: You have had unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns, which I’m sure is disappointing. I’ve backed a few campaigns that ultimately didn’t meet their funding goals and heard from those creators thereafter, but it isn’t something that is broadly discussed, but I think is important. Making comics can be an expensive, time-consuming, frustrating endeavor. Have you found healthy ways to deal with the disappointment and stress of an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, and what happens to those stories? Is something like Two Swords 'Til Mercy a project you may return to one day?

Off Into the Sunset Anthology, "Tales from Mercy", Harshman/Schiek/Lettersquids

BH: It’s funny that you mention Two Swords here, as J. Paul Schiek and I have a short Tale From Mercy in Off Into The Sunset that I think people are really gonna dig. We’d both love to tell that story one day, so I’m sure we’ll give it another shot. Kickstarters are hard. I think I had five or six failed campaigns before Off Into The Sunset. It’s tough. Being a creator is a very ego-driven choice, so getting rejections can be difficult. It used to CRUSH me, but I’ve learned quite a bit between Kickstarter failures and publisher rejections. The main thing is this -- I allow myself one or two days to be sad. To feel like a failure. But that’s it. After that, you have to pull yourself back up and try again. Surround yourself with like-minded creators, friends, who truly want to see you succeed. Watch them succeed. Cheer them on. You have no idea how motivating that can be.

CBY: To turn away from comics briefly, your website has a spec script for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I think you really captured the voice of all of the characters. Before you even started to write that script, what work did you have to do to get all of those voices right?

BH: Thank you so much! I am so proud of that spec. The work I had to do was hard and grueling...I had to watch Always Sunny religiously for fifteen years and then open up my scripting software.

Really, though, I come from a background in improv comedy. I spent nearly a decade taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in NYC and performing pretty much every day. I never got that good, but I learned a lot. I also surrounded myself with writers and performers and that helped a lot.

I also have always dreamed of writing for TV and film so I am always working in those formats as well.

CBY: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

Off Into the Sunset Anthology, "The Last Canteen", Humeniuk

BH: My biggest influences would probably be Ed Brubaker, Kelly Thompson, Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Michael Moreci, Tze Chun, Gail Simone, Brian K. Vaughan, Rob McElhenney, Rian Johnson, Quentin Tarantino, Donald Glover, Gerard Way, and Bruce Springsteen.

CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?

BH: The correct (but boring) answer here would be like Watchmen, These Savage Shores, and The Walking Dead but MY answer would be Kill or be Killed, God Country, and Batman: Creature of the Night.

CBY: I don't think These Savage Shores would be part of the correct but boring category, just correct. I love that book. Your answers are great though. I love all 3 of those, especially God Country. Is there anything else you have coming up in the future that CBY readers should be on the lookout for?

BH: Aside from the release of Off Into The Sunset and the launches of both The Price and sLAsher, things are fairly easygoing on this side. I’ve got a few pots and pans on various burners, but nothing in the IMMEDIATE future.

CBY: Where can you be found online?

BH: Far too many places and far too frequently!

Twitter and Instagram are both @brenttharshman

CBY: Brentt, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I look forward to reading Off Into The Sunset once it’s complete and good luck with sLAsher, The Price, and everything that comes next.


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