ALMIGHTY is a 140-page self-published comic book created by Mr. Ed Laroche (with lettering by Jaymes Reed) that I purchased on a whim off the internet, based on the recommendation of a blog entry by comedian Patton Oswalt. It’s a straightforward post-apocalyptic action comic. Here is the back cover text in its entirety: “A girl has been abducted and a killer hired to find her and bring her home.”
For a self-published comic by an unknown that I purchased off the internet, it exceeded my (low) expectations. I don’t think the main character’s arc is entirely earned, but I thought the action scenes were surprisingly accomplished. The book’s best action set piece is a 20 page sequence involving the main characters’ escape from a group of soldiers: the action reflects a sense of geography; characters seem to occupy a physical space; bullets feel like they might have consequences. I don’t know how excited I am by post-apocalyptic action thrillers, but ALMIGHTY at least succeeded for me as a showcase for Laroche’s art & storytelling skills.
You know: it looks like a real comic book. I think Ed Laroche could have gotten a job drawing someone else’s comic if he’d wanted one. Instead, I had a 140 page self-published action thriller sitting in my lap. I approached Mr. Laroche for an interview to discuss that and his book ALMIGHTY.
1. What lead up to your decision to self-publish the comic? I found the fact it was self-published surprising since it seemed like fairly commercial material, at least as I thought I understood the marketplace; you know: it’s an action comic. I was under the impression comic publishers knew how to sell those. Did publishers ask for creative changes you were unwilling to make? Or I get the impression with a lot of publishers-- I'm not sure I'm their audience anymore because I’m not Ashton Kutcher’s agent. Were people asking you to give up rights or what have you that you weren’t comfortable with giving up?
I couldn’t get any publishers to read it. My idea was to create a story that was built on certain principles of what I think a comic should be. One of those principles is the long form comic story, an all-in-one, a comic that is designed simply and laid out clearly, a book that is timed out differently because it’s not a bunch of 22 page issues glued together, but also a story that didn’t depend on a lot of exposition. When I shopped it around I found out that most publishers don’t look at unsolicited work, and the few publishers that did never got back to me. But I guess what’s mostly true is that I didn’t know the right people that would get me past the gatekeepers.
2. What have been the consequences of self-publishing the book? I don’t know how many self-publishing success stories there have been in comics lately. Have retailers been supportive? Los Angeles stores are good about supporting local creators; I know a week after I bought your comic online, I saw it in the window of Skylight Books, over in Los Feliz. You’ve had favorable reviews-- the Patton Oswalt reference got me to buy it. Is it finding an audience? How has it gone for you?
The consequences are still playing out. All I can say for sure is that before I self-published, I was a frustrated artist that had ideas about how comics should be approached. As of now, it’s great to see that my execution of those ideas are being well received. It validates my efforts and gives me the confidence to continue.
As far as retailers are concerned the stores that currently stock my book (this is before being listed in Diamond) are places that I frequented. Not only were they Indy friendly, but because they knew my face they were more willing to seriously consider the book. But by the same token, I found that stores where I didn’t have that relationship were resistant to take on something like ALMIGHTY. I understand why-- they have more to lose. They want a sure bet, a guarantee of a return on their investment. But there are no guarantees-- all you can do is minimize your liability. Unfortunately, this is one of many factors that have nothing to do with whether a comic is good enough to be offered to a retailer’s customer base.
3. ALMIGHTY ends with a teaser page for what looks like a prequel entitled REMEMBER AMPHION (honestly, not as good a title as ALMIGHTY). Based upon your experiences with ALMIGHTY, do you expect to self-publish that as well?
Yes, I plan on self publishing all the titles that I’ve been developing for the past several years (at least their first initial runs). The next book that I’m working on is not the sequel to ALMIGHTY -- it’s called WAVEFORMS. WAVEFORMS will allow me to implement another aspect of my ideas on what comics should be, which is authorial. I want the emphasis to be on the creator and not the creation.
4. Did you ever think about releasing ALMIGHTY as a webcomic?
5. Okay, enough business questions—let’s talk about ALMIGHTY. The part of the book that stood out the most for me was the 20 page gunfight in Chapter 4. A lot of American action comics don’t spend that many pages on an action sequence; long action sequences to me seem like they’re more the domain of manga. Was that a part of the book you knew early on that you wanted to create?
One of the advantages of creating a long-form comic is that if you need an action sequence to play out for as long as it needs to, you’re not restricted to the 22-page limitation of most comics and trade paperbacks.
I found that most comics would spend a lot of time on exposition, establishing motive and resolution (because these are the domain of the writer, not the artist), but virtually no time on the way things resolve themselves visually. This is a byproduct of having the writer be the lead creative on the project. In the best case scenario, you would be able to have these two creative elements complement each other, but most of the time, what you have is this weird disconnect between what you’re reading and what you’re seeing.
With Chapter 4, I had an idea of what needed to happen, but how it unfolded was very organic. The story told me ultimately-- it resolved itself.
6. I felt a strong James Cameron influence throughout the book. ALMIGHTY sort of shares Cameron’s interest in strong women fighting back horrors that are both physical and philosophical. How important were those themes to you when you were preparing the book, as opposed to just giving yourself interesting things to draw? The book is very straightforward in premise, but there’s a swerve late in the book—the final confrontation between the protagonists and antagonists swerves in a way I didn’t expect (and I’m not honestly sure not sure if it succeeds), but that suggested to me that you had something very particular in mind that you were trying to communicate thematically.
James Cameron’s handling of Ripley and Vasquez in Aliens was the first and last time we’ve seen authentic portrayals of the type of woman that could really pull off the action hero thing.
Fale (my main protagonist) isn’t some super-deadly, mid-drift baring model in high heels. That kind of super-female archetype doesn’t work for me. It’s inauthentic.
The “swerve” that you mention and the way that it plays out in the story will have a richer impact when the sequel REMEMBER AMPHION is released.
7. I’m pretty shitty at comparing artists to other artists. I think I see an influence of the early Gaijin Studios guys—Jason Pearson, Brian Stelfreeze, that crowd, but I’m not sure about that. I’ve seen comparisons in other reviews to Eduardo Risso and Dave Lapham-- I personally don’t see that, like, at all; you don’t shy away from a heavy use of black, but that’s as much as I can understand those comparisons. I guess my suspicion, based on the quality of the action choreography, is that you have some experience storyboarding, but—well, that would be a guess.
All those guys are great artist, and they have inspired me in a lot of different ways. ALMIGHTY is my first published work. I’ve made my own comics for a very long time for my own personal use. I make a “living” storyboarding animation and live action.
8. The lead character Fale is sort of in the mysterious anti-hero mold that American action comics tend to feature. In rereading ALMIGHTY for this interview, the first third of the book is especially quiet and opaque; ALMIGHTY only features three splash pages and two of those are in that first third, and are quiet landscape images. Most of the characterization is done through how Fale behaves in the later action sequences. Why did you keep that character at arm’s length?
I have reason for the way Fale comes off in the book but getting into the why of it doesn’t give an opportunity for the reader to form their own ideas. I can say this: you will never know what Fale is thinking; her actions will define her.
9. I was wondering if you could talk about how ALMIGHTY was made. After work? On weekends? And I guess I believe every interview with an artist should include some tool/technique talk, so: what did you ink with? Do you do loose pencils and draw more at the inking stage, or are you particularly precise with your pencils? Did you thumbnail the entire comic before drawing the first page, or did you thumbnail and draw it chapter by chapter? For a book you drew yourself, you didn’t really go easy on yourself. Those three splash pages aside, most of the book clocks in at somewhere between 5-7 panels per page. A lot of those panels are atmospheric panels—the drawings of crows in Chapter 6, say.
I pulled a Kerouac. I saved up enough money to move to Prague where all I did was work on the book and party on the weekends. I plan on replicating the process. Work hard, play hard.
I pretty much just started at the beginning and penciled all the pages. I drew pretty tight pages on 8-1/2 by 11 printer paper, then light tabled them onto Bristol board. Then, I inked them on my next pass -- it was easier for me to take it in sections.
It took my whole life to get to ALMIGHTY. I’m planning on picking up the pace.
10. Do you have goals for the future with respect to comics?
Thanks to Ed Laroche for the interview. For more viewpoints on the book-- it has been enthusiastically reviewed by the Broken Frontier website here; positively reviewed by Mr. Steven Grant here. You can find a short preview of ALMIGHTY on the internet.