With a wonderful cadre of artists and a very passionate writer, this summer’s Johnny Repeat from Citizen Press is set to explode onto the comics scene at the San Diego Comicon. We spoke with the comic industry’s newest über-couple — the writer, Jason James, and his publisher and wife, Elizabeth James — about their journey thus far and the road ahead.
Not only did they answer our questions, but they also provided us with several copies of Johnny Repeat, which we’ll give away in a contest that starts tomorrow. Check back then, and be sure to read the interview for clues that might help you win the contest …
Blog@Newsarama: Tell us a little bit about Citizen Press and how it came to be.
Jason: It’s all Lizzie’s fault!
Elizabeth: Citizen Press was born on Valentine’s Day 2005. We were having dinner with Richard Bruning, senior VP-creative director, DC Comics, and Karen Berger, VP-executive editor, Vertigo, who were friends of ours from Jason’s Warner Bros. days. Jason had produced and co-wrote Gotham Girls and worked with Richard on the DC Comics website.
We were talking comics at one point during the dinner when Richard suggested the idea of self-publishing. Richard has always been a strong supporter of Jason’s writing and felt he should really consider getting something out there. And me? I instantly fell in love with the idea. Poor Richard and Karen! I must have grilled them for what was about an hour so, learning the ins and outs of comic book publishing.
Jason: I knew I was really in trouble on the drive home when Elizabeth nonchalantly said, “You know, we should do that.” Citizen Press. Entertainment for the People. Johnny Repeat. These were ideas that had been swirling in my head for years, but it wasn’t until Elizabeth nudged me that I was really able to start chasing my dream.
Blog@Newsarama: What’s it like working with your spouse? Who does what?
Jason: Scarily efficient. There’s very little talking and we definitely got the hive mind thing going on.
As the publisher, Elizabeth is the voice of the company. Talking deals, ideals and two languages a mile a minute, she’s a natural and the position definitely plays to her strengths.
Me? I’m just the writer who throws out lofty ideas every now and then. I think my official Citizen Press title is “lackey.”
Blog@Newsarama: Tell us a little bit about Johnny Repeat, your first project. What’s it about?
Jason: At its core, Johnny Repeat is about second chances, posing the question: “If you woke up one day in your past remembering everything leading up to the present, would you make a new future?” Harboring a dark secret, an overflow of strange knowledge, and a mind blowing agenda, Johnny Repeat is a mysterious could-be prophet out to kill the future. And the clock is ticking.
Taking full advantage of this second chance, Johnny recruits an ensemble of broken souls that includes:
- Nathaniel, a sexaholic with a grudge chasing two mysterious figures who murdered his wife;
- The Woman with No Name, an immortal femme fatale with a death wish; and
- Jeronimus Stormcrow, a cowardly bum who may have played a game of Dungeons & Dragons too many.
The first of a seven-book epic, Johnny Repeat is a sprawling puzzle of strange characters, non-linear narratives, and intertwining destinies and ideas all wrapped into one book. Clocking in at 104 pages, it’s like Lost, Dune, and 100 Bullets had a lovechild with Sergio Leone all signed up to be the godfather.
It’s what I’m calling “cosmic noir.” And things are never what they seem.
Blog@Newsarama: You’re working with a stellar group of artists. Who is doing what, and how did they get involved? What’s it like working with veterans like Geof Isherwood and Tim Sale?
Elizabeth: Knowing that our wish list was pretty lofty and already busy working on other projects, Jason wrote Johnny Repeat in distinct chapters so high-caliber artists could contribute without having to make a 100-page commitment. With the exception of Tim Sale and Mark Dos Santos, who we already knew, it was simply a matter of tracking these guys down and giving them a peak at Jason’s script.
Jason: Tim Sale and Dave Stewart (Batman: Dark Victory) provide Johnny Repeat with a beautiful wraparound cover. It’s a story unto itself and actually provides more story clues than I care to count.
Paul Azaceta (Grounded, Talent) illustrates the bookends to the story, quickly introducing readers to Johnny Repeat’s world and leaving them with a cliffhanger they won’t soon be forgiving either of us for.
Hailing from Brazil, Fabio Cobiaco’s (Gunned Down) chapters focus on Nathaniel, taking readers on a whirlwind tour of Sexaholics Anonymous meetings, Gentlemen’s Clubs, and a gunfight or two.
Next up, Mark Dos Santos (Western Tales of Terror) takes us to a forgotten island in the South Pacific (sans the Dharma Corporation), where Johnny and readers discover the enigmatic Woman with No Name.
In the back alleys of New York, Bruno D’Angelo (Prey) draws the nightmarish and possibly schizophrenic world of self-proclaimed dragonslayer, Jeronimus Stormcrow.
Noel Tuazon (Elk’s Run) takes readers from a private school classroom to the edge of our solar system and shows readers where Johnny Repeat’s motives really lie.
Finally, Geof Isherwood (Conan) illustrates a series of interstitial chapters, taking us on a rollercoaster chase with Nate, No Name and Jeronimus that ties the story all together.
As for working with veterans like Tim Sale and Geof Isherwood, it’s been a rare and amazing experience.
Tim and I were already friends, but had never worked together on anything. Very much alike, Elizabeth would be convinced we were separated at birth, were it not for the 17 years separating us. I told Tim about Johnny Repeat over a cheeseburger one afternoon and he volunteered to do the cover pretty much on the spot. From start to finish, he was extremely patient with me. And to watch him instinctively breakdown an idea to its bare bones, figure out what makes it tick, and then build it back up into something greater than the sum of its parts was a truly educational experience. It spelled out for me just how much I still have to learn.
Geof is a consummate professional. Constantly asking questions and challenging the story, he made it better. He made me better. These days, Geof does a lot of movie storyboarding north of the border and it really comes across. He taps into a different type of sensibility than I’m used to. He knew exactly when the story needed more in the way of storytelling and when it needed to quicken the pace and open up. He and I would talk long distance for hours about it. Again, a real learning experience.
Blog@Newsarama: Johnny Repeat debuts in San Diego, in the middle of the summer convention season, which is a pretty hot time for new projects. What makes Johnny Repeat stand out from the crowd?
Jason: Johnny Repeat is everything I would want to read in a comic. It’s got could-be prophets, assassins guilds, little girls able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and champagne. It’s a mystery so jammed with information and clues, you really have to pay attention and stay on your toes when you read it. Friends and colleagues who have already taken a look use terms like “claustrophobic” and “mind-boggling” to describe the experience. Catherine Garnier, who edited the book, said the final product was such an uncomfortable read, because you never had a moment to catch your breath. I like that.
Elizabeth: And from the moment you start, you’re wondering how it’s going to end. I don’t know about you, but I rarely have that kind of reaction to a story and I think that’s a huge testimony to Jason’s ability as a writer and the sustained mood the Johnny Repeat artists maintain throughout the book as a whole. Bringing all of this together has truly been a team effort.
Blog@Newsarama: Speaking of convention season, what are your plans? Where can people meet you? And how do you plan to stand out in San Diego?
Elizabeth: Right now, we’re concentrating all of our energy on San Diego. Remember, Johnny Repeat hits stores in September, but will debut at the San Diego Comicon in July with a special and extremely limited edition of the book. We’re talking about a print run of a few hundred to help get the word out.
Our plan is to be nowhere and everywhere at the same time in true guerrilla fashion. To that end, Citizen Press and members of the Johnny Repeat creative team will be making guest appearances in various locations throughout the convention. Larry Young, head guru of AiT/PlanetLar and guardian angel of Citizen Press, will be having us at some point. Tim Sale will have copies on-hand during his signings at Richard Starking’s Active Images booth. And it looks like Fabio Cobiaco, Bruno D’Angelo, Mark Dos Santos, Noel Tuazon and hopefully Paul Azaceta will all be on-hand to sign books in various locations as well.
Any exhibitors interested in having us stop by their booths should drop us an email at email@example.com.
A final list of times, people and places will be screamed from the rooftops prior to the show to let everyone know when and where we’ll be.
Jason: And in true guerrilla fashion, convention attendees should be on the lookout for Elizabeth lurking the showroom aisles in a Citizen Press T-shirt passing out postcards, fliers and other goodies.
Blog@Newsarama: What’s the difference between the special “limited” con edition and the regular edition?
Elizabeth: The “limited” con edition will be an extremely limited print run, have a SDCC variant cover, and be signed by the entire Johnny Repeat creative team attending the show (which at the moment is everyone, with the exception of Mr. Geof Isherwood).
Blog@Newsarama: Did you ever consider pitching Johnny Repeat to another company, like Image or Dark Horse?
Jason: Never. With companies like Marvel and DC, I was pitching stories utilizing their catalog of characters, just like everyone else. Aquaman. Hourman. JSA. The Crime Syndicate of Amerika. Iron Man. The Inhumans. I have a drawer full of that stuff. As an unpublished writer, the Big Two just never seemed like a viable option when it came to pitching a new concept with an original cast of characters.
With companies like Image and Dark Horse, they do an excellent job of catering to a specific niche and Johnny Repeat just never seemed like a proper fit. Johnny’s a quirky pain in the ass. He’s an outsider out to shake up things. And with any hope and a little luck, that’ll be exactly what he does.
Blog@Newsarama: What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
Jason: Well, I’m already working on the second volume of Johnny Repeat, which we hope to release at next year’s SDCC. It doesn’t let up on the pace and tension, but definitely lets readers delve a lot more into Johnny’s secret agenda and motivations.
I’ve also got this other idea I’ve been toying with. Retooled from a pitch I was originally putting together for DC, it’s about the Second American Revolution. The working title is “Mobile Empire” and that’s all I’m going to say at the moment.
For more information …
- Citizen Press website
- It appears Johnny Repeat has created a profile on MySpace.com and can be found at www.myspace.com/johnnyrepeat. He’s spouting weird prophecies and story spoilers as we speak.
- You can also find more about Jason James at his MySpace.com profile
Be sure to check back with us tomorrow morning for your chance to win a copy of Johnny Repeat and see a lot more art from the book!