Tag Archives: Rachel Helie

Simon Sanchez

Some Q, Some A: Trauma Comics founder Simon Sanchez

One of our favorite Crossroaders, Rachel Helie, recently started writing a column for The Comics Cube called ‘Double Helix’ and she’s agreed to share some of that goodness with us. In this installment, she interviews Simon Sanchez, the founder and force behind Trauma Comics. Sanchez is also the writer of Trauma’s grindhouse revival comic ‘Nazi Werewolves from Outer Space.’
Catch the rest of their conversation (including the story behind this photo) on Double Helix at the Comics Cube!

Simon Sanchez aka “Trauma Comics”

by Rachel Helie, Double Helix

 

Rachel: When did you first think “Hey, I can write a comic”? What was your inspiration? Are you a fan and if so what specific kinds of comic books do you prefer?

Simon: A few of my friends and I were kicking around ideas one day at lunch and we started talking about werewolves and then one thing led to another. Before I knew it I was talking about ‘Nazi Werewolves from Outer Space.’ I contacted Don Marquez through an Ebay cover auction and told him my idea. He sent back his sketch. I sat down and wrote 8 pages of text and the rest, as they say, is history. That Marquez painting became the cover art for issue #1.

I’ve been a fan since I was a boy. That was a while back and I loved horror movies too. My dad took me to see ‘The Excorcist’ when I was seven and it scared the hell outta me but I loved it and grew to love it more as I became an adult. Some of the best times I can remember being a kid was getting my comics and hiding in my room for half an hour, totally disappearing into those stories. It was the hey-day of the Kirby and Lee collaboration. Neither of those guys, in my opinion, have had the kind of raw story-telling power since Kirby left Marvel to join DC. I’m a HUGE fan of EC Comics, which was founded by William Gaines with Al Feldstein doing the art. Feldstein is still around and producing pieces. I had him paint a cover for me and it was just beautiful. So yeah, I’m definitely a fan!

 

R: A lot of people would hesitate to jump out on their own and invest in an idea the way that you have. What do you think inspired your courage to make your ideas a reality?

S: I didn’t want to look back on my life and say to myself, “Well, why didn’t I ever write a comic book?” I only get one life and loving something as much as I love comic books…it would be a shame to not try. The way I see it, it’s better to try and fail than not try at all. I don’t want to live with that regret. Everyone needs a passion and I love doing this. It gives me a reason to keep moving along every day.

 

Robert Venditti

X-O Manoawesome: interview with Robert Venditti

Rachel: How does working in digital, something you did for the first time in The Surrogates: Case Files, change the collaboration of a writer and artist? Is it essentially the same process or are there some aspects that alter? How does it improve upon the traditional methods?

ROBERT VENDITTI: Brett Weldele and I have a done two graphic novels with each other, so our process is pretty established.  It also helps that Brett handles all of the art himself—even the lettering—so it’s really just the two of us working with Chris Staros at Top Shelf (publisher of The Surrogates).  I will say that the content of The Surrogates: Case Files lends itself well to the digital format, and Brett’s style, particularly his unique color palette, really shines on a screen.  There’s this one page in the first issue where he draws a dusting of fall leaves, and the colors really pop.  It’s one of my favorite moments.

 

Robert with his colleagues Gail Simone and Nathan Edmondson at Crossroads 2011 (Photo: GR Lucas)

Rachel:  You recently began publishing your first month by month, working on X-O Manowar.  How does this sort of quick production and historical sci-fi/fantasy aspect change your style of writing? How does it determine your research process?

VENDITTI: Writing for a monthly book is a big change from the graphic novel writing I’m accustomed to doing.  There are always multiple issues in various stages of production, which took getting used to, since I tend to be a linear writer.  With a monthly book, there’s also a need to reorient the reader every issue—without making it read like you’re reorienting them—and I’m still learning how to do that as effectively as I can.  On the plus side, you have a new book on the shelf every month instead of a graphic novel every other year, so that’s nice.

On the research side, since X-O Manowar has a heavy historical element, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to get the details right, particularly in the opening half of the first issue, where we see the main character as a Visigoth in the 5th Century.  I won’t claim that everything is accurate, but if I got something wrong, it wasn’t for lack of effort.  I spent almost a whole day trying to find out whether or not Visigoth saddles would’ve had stirrups at the Battle of Pollentia.  Historians seem to differ on that point, so I went with no stirrups, since that would look different than every other saddle that’s been drawn in a comic.

 

Rachel: You have, like a lot of comic writers, a handful of projects going simultaneously.  How do you keep your feet on the ground functioning as a writer in so many worlds?  What is something that you do to keep yourself present for the stories as individual worlds?

VENDITTI: I divide my days up into even chunks, working on a separate project for a couple of hours at a time, so I’m always moving ahead on everything at once.  At least that’s my plan.  Inevitably, something of the this-needs-to-be-done-right-now variety comes up, and the day gets blown apart.  The alternative method would be to not have a plan and let each day decide for itself what you’re going to work on, but of course when you do that, nothing happens and you end up wasting a day.  So I start each day with a plan, and even though I know going in the plan isn’t going to be followed, I allow myself to hope that it will.  I’m an eternal optimist.

 

Rachel: X-O Manowar has been described as “the cornerstone of the Valiant brand”(Simons, CBR).  With the challenge of producing a month by month for the first time while this precedent exists… how’s that pressure treating you?  What’s something you do to wind down in the midst of such a wild schedule?

VENDITTI: Honesty, I try not to think about things like that.  If I considered it my responsibility to make X-O Manowar the “cornerstone of the Valiant brand,” I’d probably freeze up at the keyboard.  I just try to write the best comics I can the way I write them, and hope the audience will respond positively.  Thankfully, things have gone well so far, but with a monthly book you’re only as good as the latest issue, so there’s no time to rest on your laurels.

As for winding down . . . I do anything that has nothing to do with writing.  But it all makes its way back to the page in one way or another.  All writing is autobiographical in the sense that it’s made from the writer’s influences and experiences, so on days—and there’s plenty of them—when the words just don’t seem to come, I go out and make some of those experiences.

 

Rachel:  It’s been said that The Surrogates “reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode for The Wire” (i09).  In my book, that is some damn fine praise!  How do you continue to push yourself to kick it up to the next level or is it a “slow and steady wins the race” game?  Do you pay much attention to your reviews (I mean other than when an interviewer forces you too) or do you find it distracting?

VENDITTI: I’d like to say I don’t read reviews, but it’s hard to ignore them.  Especially in the digital age, when reviews are posted online in advance of the book’s release, so for a week or so, they’re the only response that’s out there in the world.  I try not to get too wrapped up in them, though.  I just keep my head down and do what I think a story needs.  Whether I’m successful in the end is up to each individual reader to decide for themselves.

 

Rachel:  Your work seems to push toward the “new.” How do you find your challenges and adapt to a changing marketplace?  What would you say has been your most valuable learning experience over the years and what is one challenge you have on your mental list that remains unchecked?

VENDITTI: I make a conscious effort to do something different with each new project.  So far in my career, I’ve written cyberpunk sci-fi (The Surrogates), political/medical thriller (The Homeland Directive), middle-grade fantasy (the adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), young-adult vampire romance (the adaptation of the Blue Bloods novel), and now with X-O Manowar, mainstream superhero comics.  A lot of people will say you should brand yourself with a particular genre and build your career from there, but if I did that, I think I’d feel like I was in a rut.  Changing things up keeps me engaged with the story.

As for challenges I’d still like to tackle, writing a prose novel is definitely at the top of the list.

 

Rachel Helie, writer of things

Why I tried NaNoWriMo

Rachel Helie, writer of things

Some time last year before my first Crossroads Writers Conference, I happened upon National Novel Writing Month quite unexpectedly. I’m not sure exactly but I believe a west coast writer friend “liked” the Office of Letters and Lights on a social networking site, and sounding quite lovely, I endeavored to find out what exactly that was.

Part of it was restlessness; a restlessness that I am sure many writers feel when they are struggling to find their way with the written word. (I had my work as an alt-weekly journalist, although I was still somewhat intimidated by the process of interviewing others.) But first and foremost, I felt born to tell big stories using my own voice.

It’s a birds-eye view of a labyrinth, sitting down at one’s desk and sifting through the ball of string that will ultimately lead you out, safe from the monsters that haunt blind alleys and dead ends. Needless to say, that sensation is not a little daunting. Recharged by the creative inspiration from the conference, inspired and driven by a sense of competition, I dived into the NaNoWriMo experience with a hunger that kept me pushing forward.

Watching the little blue progress plotter was like running a marathon against myself. Knowing that others were staring down the same struggle with varying degrees of success and failure made me realize that though I was in my own world, we were part of a system of worlds. We saw each other from telescopic distances, in awe and comforted by possibility. Every day I wanted to be at twice the necessary word count, because if I could do that, I could literally finish a book in one month. A novel. Maybe not the magnum opus but still…something.

I didn’t finish but the strange thing is that, though I would have liked to, I glimpsed in myself that raw passion that can’t be taught in a class and that only comes with the hunt. Because telling a story is a solitary, predatory endeavor at times. You smell it on the wind, hear it rustle the branches, and your mouth waters in anticipation, the hair on your neck stands on end. You realize that though there is a goal, to make the kill and to satiate the hunger, when it comes down to it writing is thrilling and the chase is part of the fun.

Rachel Helie is a freelance writer and journalist, aspiring novelist, sometimes ghostwriter, and regular contributor to The 11th Hour. At eight years of age she stepped into the wardrobe and never quite made it back out.