Most comic fans probably know Rich Johnston from his weekly Lying in the Gutters column over at Comic Book Resources, but when he’s not searching for gossip and rumors on the comic industry, he also writes comics. This week sees the release of a new color edition of his graphic novel The Flying Friar, which he did with Thomas Nachlik, Thomas Mauer and now colorist Ian Sharman. It’s kind of a mash-up of the Superman legend with a real 17th century Italian saint, Joseph of Copertino. Originally published by the now-defunct Speakeasy Comics, this new version comes from Markosia Comics.
I emailed Rich a few questions about the new book, potential distribution channels for it and a note he left on Newsarama’s Talk@ section.
JK Parkin: A color edition of Flying Friar hit stores this week. What was the reason for going back and doing a new edition?
Rich Johnston: Markosia offered. That simple. Speakeasy would have done a second print based on demand the year before, but they closed shop first. And Markosia also wanted a colour book – something I could never consider before. Ian Sharman’s work is sensational on this book and becomes a storytelling tool in and of itself. Rather than being merely functional, the initial brownish wash and highlights gives the book a certain age, and the spot colours bring out certain aspects of the story, increasing as the book continues.
JK: Is there anything else added to the new version, besides color?
Rich: It’s been entirely relettered and there’s a stack of extra pages, featuring original script pages with lots and lots of doodles and commentary by me commenting on the creative process involved from concept to colour…
JK: How were sales on the B&W edition?
Rich: A couple of thousand I think. Markosia has plans working with a Christian book distributor to move a lot more of the book next year.
JK: So will we soon see a Rich Johnston Christian bookstore signing tour?
Rich: If they fly me out, sure!
JK: The Christian bookseller info is interesting, because it’s a fairly atypical avenue for getting your work in front of people. When you were writing the book, did you see it as something that would appeal to the Christian demographic? Did that change how you approached the book at all?
Rich: No not at all. I was talking about religion, about the dogma or both organised faith and that which opposes it. But remember, certain Christian bookshops also sell titles such as “The God Delusion,” something I don’t think Richard Dawkins would have planned for.
JK: The book seemed to get a lot of media attention when it first came out, and I understand you received at least one interesting invitation because of it. Can you give us some details?
Rich: Ah yes, I was invited to the town the book is set in, Copertino, in Southern Italy, by the mayor to be, well, feted. For three days, the good lady wife and myself were treated like absolute royalty. A-list Hollywood celebrity. We couldn’t go anywhere without signing autographs, having photographs taken or people buying us drinks. We really must go back again.
JK: And why do you think the story resonated so well with folks outside of comics?
Rich: Because it touches on big modern themes. Religion versus science for one. Also the arc of a fraternal bond turning sour is still such a strong one. And I could touch on certain, familiar aspects of the Superman myth which everyone knows, without having or needing to go into any detail.
JK: How has the attention changed things for you? Have you gotten more offers for comic work as a result?
Rich: Not from anything anyone would consider mainstream, although my enthusiasm for promotion may see a couple of projects come to light. But the week the Flying Friar came out in the UK, I received emails and phone calls from established book publishers asking what my next project was. That was exciting.
JK: Have you seen any interest in the property from other media? Has Hollywood come calling yet?
Rich: There has been some talk of a movie, indeed I understand some known names have been approached, but nothing I’m allowed to talk about just yet.
Who knows what will happen? Probably nothing, this may well be my finest hour. I don’t think I could ever see comic books as a career, but it does make for a stimulating sideline.
JK: Are you planning a follow-up to the book?
Rich: Well, not to Flying Friar. It has a beginning, a middle and a very final end. But certainly books with the potential to reach a larger audience, yet still appealing to the traditional one, yes, I have a few ideas.
JK: Over on the Talk@ forum, you asked folks to request the book from their retailer and to send you whatever response they get. Then you added, “The results of this experiment will form a Lying In the Gutters vodcast in the future. It may well change the comics industry. For the better as well, which is nice.” So what kind of industry-level changes are you talking about here?
Rich: Basically tracking how a comic, a non-Premier comic specifically, gets distributed through the system. It’s the kind of thing that, if more people actually saw it, might prompt a streamlining of the process. Because right now, there are so many complications…
For more information on the book, as well as preview pages, check out the Flying Friar website.