Welcome to a special edition of Webcomics Wednesday. Today, I only have one webcomic to talk about instead of my usual two. In exchange for the second review, I have an interview with the creators to share with you. If this more in-depth approach to my reviews is to your liking, please let me know and I’ll work on lining up more interviews for future posts.
I’ll start off with what my initial take on the comic was, and then get right into the interview.
Birth of Venus
Birth of Venus is a full-color webcomic by Andrew “MAK” Makishima (Story/Script/Lettering), Matthew “JLD” Rice (Story/Illustrations/Colors) and Rory Walsh (Colors on issues 1 and 2). So far there have been two issues and a 12-page prequel story, and the third issue has begun online. There will be nine issues total.
The story starts with a costumed super-heroine falling to the street from the skyscrapers above. She ends up broken and bloody and we are left to wonder: Did her powers fail her? Was she defeated and cast down to earth by a super-villain? The answer is that the story is not that simple, of course. The story takes place in Vanguard City, which is a sort of sci-fi Metropolis, replete with super-powered bad guys and a lone super-hero, Guardian.
Madison Mercury is a blond-haired, dedicated reporter who believes that the city is overlooking the threat posed by a suspected terrorist group known as the Rebirth. When her twin sister Mara comes to town, she is caught up in events that prove Madison is right. Meanwhile, Guardian seems strangely reactive to threats rather than proactive. Is he kind of a doofy superhero or is there a more sinister reason he is always late to the party?
It should be noted that this is a pretty violent webcomic. At a guess, I would say the creators are fans of classic Paul Verhoeven movies like RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers, where the violence is a bit over the top and there is much dark humor. It is also reminiscent of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, both in art style and in the gritty approach to a world full of superheroes.
After catching up with the Birth of Venus archives, I felt compelled to talk to the creators about their webcomic, and they were kind enough to answer a series of e-mailed interview questions.
What’s the elevator pitch for Birth of Venus?
Andrew “MAK” Makishima: Birth of Venus is about a young woman named Mara Mercer who becomes the victim of rape at the hands of a super villain. The trauma leaves her scarred…and pregnant. But this is no ordinary pregnancy and Mara soon discovers that she has been imbued with amazing powers by the child growing inside of her. She faces the dilemma of wanting to use these powers to get revenge on her attacker but also trying to live with the fact that she has this child growing inside of her now and whether she can ever love it. Its a dark subject matter but ultimately I see it as a story of this woman finding strength she never knew she had and rebuilding herself into a new identity.
You had issues 1 and 2 of Birth of Venus for sale at Wondercon. Which comes first, the physical comic book or the webcomic, or are they concurrent?
MAK: The webcomic comes out first. We’ve been printing the comics out after the issue wraps up online and have just started bringing those to conventions and comic shops. We’ve only printed a very limited run of the comic books due to cost. If we see a demand for it, we’ll print more and probably offer them for purchase on the website as well.
Matthew “JLD” Rice: We both grew up reading traditional printed comics and intended “Birth of Venus” to be done that way. (We actually did our first printing of the first issue as a pitch device… which was an expensive lesson. Ouch!) After re-evaluating our game-plan, we realized that we could release BoV one page at a time as a weekly web-comic but still stick to the traditional comic book format for printing purposes. The story has been tailored to work for BOTH purposes, having each page pack as much punch as possible and stand somewhat on its own while delivering the proper page-turn reveals needed to serve a printed book.
What is your expected timeline for completing all nine issues?
JLD: Whoo-boy! That’s a tough question and it really all depends on how this thing takes off. If we don’t hit any brick walls along the way, I hope that we can keep doing our weekly page-a-week frequency until we’re done… We should be done with Issue #3 by the end of the year and get about an issue and a half in the can each year after that…
What are your plans, if any, for a graphic novel for Birth of Venus?
JLD: We have the story broken into 3 distinct arcs, (or Trimesters if you will) and the plan is to finish the third issue and figure out a way to get some collected editions printed either by an interested publisher or possibly through a Kickstarter campaign. Each Trimester of BoV is meant to work strongly on their own while functioning as three major acts of a larger story.
MAK: So that’s potentially 3 graphic novels of roughly 90-100 pages. An omnibus of the whole series would be cool but at the rate we’re going, that’s a ways off from now.
What are your backgrounds, in education and work, that brought you to the point of making Birth of Venus?
JLD: Graphic storytelling has been in my blood since I made my first comic book in 4th grade and I’ve been honing my craft ever since, now as a freelance illustrator and storyboard artist. After my first published comic work on “Helen Killer“, I knew that a follow-up would have to be something that I was passionate about. (These things eat up a good chunk of your life!) From the impetus of BoV we both knew that we really had something quite unique.
MAK: Echoing Matt, I grew up reading and collecting comics and wanted to be a comic artist/writer. In high school, my interests drifted towards animation and filmmaking and I ended up getting a film degree at Cal State Long Beach. I still loved comics though and wanted to write something in that format.
How do you know each other?
JLD: We first crossed paths at the introductory video production course at OCC Community College. After each completing our first solo projects we both saw the potential in one another’s work and we’ve been close friends ever since and creative partners as often as possible.
MAK: I’ve known Matt for over 10 years now and he’s one of my best friends. Once he finished his run on Helen Killer, I pitched him the idea for BOV and luckily he was game for it.
Is this your first project together?
MAK: This is our first comic book collaboration. Prior to that we made student films together.
JLD: And hopefully we’ll get around to putting all of them up on YouTube soon.
I guessed at some of your influences (see above) . Am I on the right track? What other films/comics/books/artists/authors influence your work?
JLD: The Verhoeven nod is quite apt, yet unintentional. We are both fans of his films as they tend to intermingle thought-provoking concepts, engaging characters and a good dose of ultra-violence! Good call! “Invincible” is a HUGE influence, as is “Savage Dragon”, “Powers” and even “Ultra” by the Luna Brothers. My art-style has also been greatly influenced by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s “Invincible” work, as well as the energy and organic line of Paul Pope’s ink-brush techniques. I am also a huge fan of Frank Cho, Walt Simonson, Will Eisner and Mike Mignola so I’d like to think that those influences might show up in my work from time to time… if I’m lucky!
Birth of Venus revolves around the results of a brutal assault and rape; was this difficult to write? Did you have any concerns that someone who picks up this book might stop reading at that point?
MAK: It was difficult because there is a very different tone evoked when that is introduced into the story. It has, and still is the most concerning thing for me that the subject matter be treated responsibly and in a non-gratuitous way. It is dark so there is a certain level of discomfort that is unavoidable I’m afraid. All I can say is that I hope by the end of the story, if people stick around they will feel that this was earned and necessary to the story we set out to tell.
I enjoyed the Mercury and Clay prequel story about McCoy and Madge’s first date. Are there more prequels planned for between later issues?
JLD: I would definitely love to do some more Clay McCoy short stories! What pulpy fun!
MAK: Hey, if you want to add more drawing duties to your plate, I can write some more! The prequel comic was actually something we created to pitch the comic with initially so we had it in the can ready to go when issue #2 ended and Matt needed the buffer for issue #3. There are some ideas for other prequel stories but nothing for sure yet.
What webcomics do you enjoy reading?
JLD: Probably my favorite long-form web-comic stories that are currently running are “The Meek” by Der-shing Helmer, “Sin Titulo” by Cameron Stewart, “Bearmageddon” by Ethan Nicolle and “Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether” by Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett. “PVP“, “Battlepug“, “Hark! A Vagrant“, “Hunter Black” and “Escape From Planet Nowhere” are also good, fun reads.
MAK: Don’t forget Ratfist!
What does success look like for you with Birth of Venus? I.e., you can quit your day jobs, this leads to more projects, etc?
JLD: If Venus can find a steady foothold out there with a growing fan-base to support it, then I would love to keep one foot permanently in that world while toggling between other projects. There is much fodder for potential sequel ideas to BoV.
MAK: I would love to see BOV completed and out in the world for people to enjoy. After that, more comic work would be great. I don’t know exactly what it looks like but creating a sustainable model for creating content, whether it’s online or in print would be a dream come true.
Where can interested fans pick up copies of Birth of Venus? Stores? Conventions?
JLD: We just exhibited for the first time at Wonder Con in Anaheim and we plan to possibly get a table at APE in October and the Long Beach Con in November. We’re keeping things pretty local for the time being. We also currently have copies of the first two issues for sale at Meltdown Comics and Golden Apple in Hollywood, The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Comics Unlimited in Westminster and Nuclear Comics in Laguna Niguel. We’re also planning on selling printed copies through the BoV website soon.
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Well, there you have it, my first big interview here at Lithicbee and I hope you enjoyed it. I would like to thank MAK and JLD for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly and for pointing me to some more cool webcomics, to boot. I wish them the best of success with Birth of Venus.
If you haven’t checked out Birth of Venus yet, please do so and tell them you heard about it from Lithicbee.
Next Up on Lithicbee
Friday: The third installment in my series on SF/F/H Webzines, for readers looking for stories and writers looking for markets.
Sunday: Part 11 of The Only City Left. This is the continuing story of Allin Arcady, a young man who is lost amidst the ruins of a planet-sized city called Earth. Think Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies, and you have some idea of the setting. I am having fun writing and sharing this story and would love for you to give Part One a chance and let me know what you think, if you haven’t already.