17 Mar

The Hollywood Reporter: How ‘Kill a Man’ Writers Crafted an LGBTQ+ MMA Story

Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson unveil the project centering on two gay fighters of different generations.

Announced last year, AfterShock Comics’ upcoming graphic novel Kill a Man is a sports story with a difference, following the complicated relationship between two MMA fighters of different generations with a shared history. Ahead of the book’s June release, The Hollywood Reporter has a first look, as well as some words about the project from its writers.

“Yes, we’ve seen combat sports narratives before. Yes, we’ve seen coming out and LGBTQ+ struggle narratives before. But a gay lead has never been allowed to be the star of this type of underdog combat sports narrative before,” writer Steve Orlando said in a statement about the series. “Every time [Phillip Kennedy Johnson] and I work on the book, I’m inevitably texting him about how this moment or that moment is something that’s never been put to page before…. We want to give the Rocky-type narrative to the LGBTQ+ community and say, loudly and unflinching, that we toodeserve a hero that overcomes, goes the distance, and finds victory on their own terms.”

Kill a Man is definitely part of the Rocky/Creed tradition, but the dynamic between main characters James Bellyi and Xavier Mayne starts from a completely different place from anything we’ve seen in those other stories,” added co-writer Johnson. “Mayne represents the old guard of the MMA tradition, one of the original pioneers of the sport…a gay man whose career started to go wrong when he beat a bigot to death in the ring. Then, a generation later, the dead man’s son grows up to be James Bellyi, a legit MMA superstar who gets outed as gay leading up to his title shot. Bellyi begrudgingly turns to Xavier Mayne, the man he grew up hating, to train him, setting up one of the most complicated and fascinating relationships we’ve seen in a coming-of-age story, one I’m honored to have a part in telling.”

“There just aren’t many books about MMA on the comic shelves right now, which continues to mystify me. It’s the most dynamic and exciting sport on Earth, practiced by some of the most driven, dedicated, and gifted athletes in history, and Kill a Man reflects that,” Johnson continued. “Of course, it’s crucial that every LGBTQ+ reader who picks up the story recognizes that it comes from a true perspective, but it was also hugely important to me that every MMA fan recognizes the fights as being written and illustrated by creators who know the fight game.”

Orlando added, “It’s vital to us to not just present a gripping, groundbreaking story but also provide an unflinching and authentic look at the MMA world for all its ups and downs. This isn’t sugarcoated; it’s every bit as triumphant and toxic, petty and perilous, exciting and eccentric as the modern fight world is outside our window.”

The 128-page graphic novel, illustrated by Al Morgan with letters from Jim Campbell, will be released June 3. Some of Morgan’s artwork from the book is below.

03 Mar

The Hollywood Reporter: Modern Cold War Comic ‘Red Atlantis’ Launching in June

AfterShock unveils a look at the supernatural political espionage thriller.

In 2020, the state of politics is far more confusing — and far less obvious — than it may appear on first glance, and that’s even before anyone gets to the mind control. Welcome to the paranoid world of AfterShock Comics’ new espionage series Red Atlantis.

The series, by Stephanie Phillips (Artemis and the Assassin, Butcher of Paris) and Robert Carey (James Bond), couldn’t be more timely, focusing on what happens when a series of investigations into violent crimes during a U.S. election leads authorities to Russian terrorists and a U.S. journalism student who might have uncovered far more than she ever bargained for.

Red Atlantis was actually created by Jan Neumann, a former intelligence officer in Russia’s Federal Security Service,” Phillips tells The Hollywood Reporter about the new series. “After defecting to the U.S. with his wife in 2008, Jan worked with the FBI to find and apprehend European mobsters. Red Atlantis is Jan’s brainchild and born from a lot of his own experiences, as well as the history of the U.S. and Russia’s tense relationship.”

The series, she adds, is filled with “a lot of familiar themes — espionage, politics, Russia/US tension — but the story brings a supernatural element that is actually steeped in history. Add to that Jan Neumann bringing his life experiences and expertise to this story, and I think our creative team was able to accomplish something really unique.”

The first issue of Red Atlantis will debut June 10 in comic stores and digitally, with covers from Robert Hack (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and Tim Bradstreet (The Punisher). Look below for both covers, as well as previews of Carey’s interior artwork from the issue.


18 Feb

The Hollywood Reporter: Horror Breakup Comic ‘Lonely Receiver’ to Launch in May

The near-future tale comes from writer Zac Thompson and artist Jen Hickman.

AfterShock Comics’ newest series combines two things that everyone will understand all too well: A bad breakup and spending too much time on your phone. Put them together, and what have you got? The answer, it seems, is near-future tech dystopia story Lonely Receiver.

According to writer Zac Thompson, the series is “a horrific breakup story. Except it’s a breakup story about a person and their phone.”

The breakup in question takes place between video producer Cairin Vander and Rhion, the AI that’s lived within Cairin’s phone for a decade — and suddenly disappears after disconnecting without warning after a particularly intense fight.

“I’m excited for this book to be released because it’s channeling my love for psychological thrillers and looking at horror with a neon soaked lens,” Thompson explained. “We’re asking tough questions about how we define ourselves in relationships and how we lose parts of ourselves to others. We’re also framing the horror around something incredibly relatable — a horrifying breakup. The type of super ugly breakup that makes you confront the disorienting disparity between the person you thought you were in the relationship and the person you are when you’re alone.”

The series is illustrated by Jen Hickman (Test), who hopes that readers are “disturbed, a little grossed out” by the series, adding, “There’s a lot to chew on, and a lot of moments where as much as the reader might loathe what Catrin is up to, they can’t deny that they’ve done or thought the exact same thing. I hope that complexity and vulnerable familiarity stays with readers just as much as all the weird, upsetting horror does. They’re really one and the same, anyway.”

Citing J.G. Ballard’s Crash, the little-known Sam Neill movie Possession and filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn’s work as inspirations, Thompson called the series “a book about losing yourself to heartbreak and descending into technological depravity. You’ll confront the fetishization of voyeurism, violence and manipulation. We’ll lay bare the psychology behind how far we’re willing to go to please ourselves in a space where nothing is off limits.”

Lonely Receiver debuts with a first issue released May 6, featuring a cover by Hickman and a variant cover from Elizabeth Torque. Both can be seen below, as well as previews of interior work by Hickman.


04 Feb

The Hollywood Reporter: How ‘Sympathy for No Devils’ Combines the Crime and Monster Genres

Comic book writer Brandon Thomas notes he was drawing from projects such as ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ and ‘Bad Boys.’

For most homicide detectives, mention of being surrounded by monsters is just a metaphor. When it comes to the protagonist of AfterShock Comics’ latest title, Sympathy for No Devils, things are meant just a little bit more literally, as it turns out.

The series, launching in May, centers around a cop named Winston Wallis — a cop who just so happens to be the last human alive in a world filled with supernatural monsters and threats. But this is far from a straightforward mashup between police procedural and horror, according to writer Brandon Thomas.

“This book is five different genres beautifully smashed together to create a world that never plays it safe, and always keeps the characters — and hopefully readers — off-guard, with no idea what’ll happen next, or which trope is next to be subverted,” Thomas explained in a statement. “The things on my mood board for this were Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Devil in a Blue Dress, Cool World and Bad Boys. I’m always interested in injecting new black and brown characters into genres where they typically haven’t appeared, and I’d never seen a book with this particular mix of characters, environments, and storytelling styles.”

He continued, “It’s an exciting world to tell stories in, and a big part of that is because of the people making it, with a mix of old friends (Lee Ferguson, Mike Marts, Simon Bowland) and new ones (José Villarrubia, Christina Harrington). When the first pages came back, it was like being hit with little bolts of lightning — everything just looked and felt right, and you always have that feeling, but until it transforms from words on a page into an actual, living thing, you never know. That first sequence felt welcoming and off-putting in the perfect way, and we’re having a blast building out and exploring this new world around a character like Winston.”

The book reteams Thomas with artist Lee Ferguson more than a decade after their last collaboration, the indie title The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, and the writer is ready to revisit the pairing. “[That title] changed our lives and careers, so it was only a matter of time before we got back together to make some more cool comics, and Sympathy is definitely in the same vein,” he teased. “Impossible odds, amazing character and creature design, and a responsibility to push boundaries.”

In case Ferguson’s pages below — colored by series colorist Villarrubia — aren’t convincing enough, Thomas has one more tease for the series to win over potential readers…and it’s a big one. (Literally.)

“It’s a murder mystery where Godzilla is killed by a laser gun, and the only person that can solve it is the last man alive in a world of monsters, and the victim of a magical curse that guarantees impossible escapes.”

Sympathy for No Devils debuts May 20 in comic book stores and digitally.




14 Jan

The Hollywood Reporter: How ‘Dead Day’ Brings High Concept Twist to a Holiday

Writer Ryan Parrot explains the origins of the new comic book series, in which the dead rise for one day each year.

Closure isn’t quite what people might expect. In AfterShock Comics’ upcoming series Dead Day, the dead rise for one day each year, but their return doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will be able to come to peace with their dearly departed. Especially when some of the departed use their 24 hours to seek revenge.

“I’ve always been a fan of big event-based world building. Ones where a single moment can create a legion of individual stories, and this premise seemed to do that,” writer Ryan Parrott tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I think the inspiration came from the fact that getting older means you start to lose the people you love. I never got a chance to say goodbye to my grandparents before they passed and, I remember for months after their deaths, I would have these insanely vivid dreams were I simply got to talk with them for a few minutes, and then I’d wake up and they were gone. So I thought, what if that actually happened… but worldwide?”

Dead Day marks the third time Parrot has worked with AfterShock Comics. “They’ve always brought a balance of providing creative freedom but keeping you in tune with the commercial sensibilities of the market. They take so many chances in an effort to simply tell a great story. I mean, I’ve done a futuristic robot murder mystery, an evil fairy Shakespearian road trip and now… a psychological horror series about a holiday where the dead rise. AfterShock has shown tremendous faith and commitment to their creators and I will be eternally grateful.”

Illustrating the series will be You Are Obsolete artist Evgeniy Bornyakov and colorist Juancho Velez, with the first issue featuring covers from Andy Clarke with Jose Villarrubia, and Francesco Francavilla. Dead Day No. 1 will be available from comic stores and digitally April 15.

07 Jan

The Hollywood Reporter: ‘Disaster Inc.’ Comic Will Pit Ghost Samurai Against Tourists

Writer Joe Harris reveals the origins of the upcoming AfterShock Comics title.

There are some places no one in the world should visit — even as part of an expensive guided tour. The scary truth behind that idea is at the heart of Disaster, Inc., a new AfterShock Comics title set to launch this spring.

The series was inspired by writer Joe Harris’ love of “Akira Kurosawa movies, Toshiro Mifune and stories of the Samurai,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter, but there’s another story behind the story — one that’s arguably more surprising. ”I’ve also been interested in the concept of underground tourism for a while,” Harris explains. “It probably started with stories of people bungeeing off the Brooklyn Bridge at night, or massive raves deep inside the New York City subway tunnels, or the guys who climbed the World Trade Center Freedom Tower before it opened to the public and filmed their BASE jump from the very top.”

Disaster, Inc., however, takes that idea one step further by focusing on a group of extreme “disaster tourists” venturing to a place where they really, really shouldn’t be.

“The story follows a group of disaster tourists who charter this underground organization to guide them inside the Japanese no-man’s land known as the ‘Exclusion Zone’ surrounding the site of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown,” Harris says. “They quickly learn there’s more to worry about than radioactive fallout, or just getting busted, when they find themselves both hunted and haunted by the ghosts of those same warriors who protected this land from invaders for almost a thousand years: the Samurai.”

Illustrating the series is Sebastián Piriz (Headspace, Caped), with covers from Andy Clarke (with Jose Villarrubia on colors) and Cully Hamner.

“Piriz is wonderful artist who’s killing it on both the line art and colors,” Harris shared, adding one final pitch for the book: “It features some pretty creepy supernatural horror and grisly, bloody battles. Also: Samurai swords.”

Disaster, Inc. No. 1 is set to be released digitally and in comic book stores April 1. Before then, look below for some of Piriz’s art from the issue, as well as Clarke and Villarrubia’s main cover.



13 Dec

The Hollywood Reporter: How ‘Join the Future’ Puts Sci-Fi Twist on Western Genre

Writer Zack Kaplan says of the new AfterShock Comics title: “It’s a story about the ever-changing landscape of America.”

In the future, everything will come together under the watchful eye of one of a small handful of mega-corporations that just wants the best for their customers. Well… almost everything. There’s one small town that’s not playing ball, it turns out, and the mayor’s daughter is causing a lot of problems all by herself. What she does forms the basis of AfterShock Comics’ upcoming series, Join the Future.

According to writer Zack Kaplan, the series “captures the classic spirit of the Western, gunslinging excitement and grandiose adventure but with a sci-fi, futuristic twist, as technologically advanced cities reigning supreme in the dying whispers of the all-American small town. I’m excited because it’s more than a story of the city versus the country; it’s a story about the ever changing landscape of America.”

He continued, “At the heart of the series is a girl, strong-willed and hopeful, on a coming-of-age journey to defend her values and define herself against power, technology, corruption and the future itself. How should you or any of us define ourselves in the future, you ask? Well, we invite you to abandon your small-town values, embrace a tomorrow of constant engagement and accept the care of complete technological immersion. Come with us!”

That girl, Clementine Libbey, Kaplan said, is “dynamic, mature, engaging and unrelenting — Mattie Ross from True Grit meets Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. She’s the best of all of us, and her story is harsh and dramatic and moving. And I hope readers will be inspired by her, because some ideals are worth fighting for.”

Kaplan joins the art team of Piotr Kowalski, Brad Simpson and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou for the book.

“When you create an epic Western in the future, simultaneously grounded and grand, that explores futuristic designs and classic Western vistas and atmospheres, you need the perfect team,” Kaplan said, noting that Kowalski and Simpson “have become a powerful duo in the comics industry, working on titles such as Sex, Bloodbourne and The Witcher, known for imaginative world building, impeccably detailed landscapes and inspiring vivid colors. The artwork is majestic, heartfelt and jaw-droppingly gorgeous.”

Readers will have a chance to see for themselves when Join the Futurelaunches March 4 digitally and in comic book stores. But for those who can’t wait that long, look below for an exclusive preview of art from the first issue.

06 Dec

The Hollywood Reporter: How ‘Artemis and the Assassin’ Combines Time Travel With Spy Genre

The pulp adventure from AfterShock Comics begins in March.

An important figure from World War II is under threat from a time-traveling assassin tasked with her murder. And that’s just the beginning of the story of AfterShock Comics’ new pulp comic Artemis and the Assassin.

“The story is about an international group of time-traveling assassins willing to interfere in watershed moments throughout history for a price,” writer Stephanie Phillips explained. “One such assassin, Maya, is tasked with killing the most notorious female spy of WWII, Virginia Hall. When the mission goes awry, Maya’s and Virginia’s lives are changed forever as both women are pitched headlong through time.”

The roots of the series lie in Phillips’ love of old pulps. “I was initially inspired by unexpected team-ups, like Doc Savage and the Shadow,” she said. “There is definitely a lot of pulpy action throughout this story, but I also wanted to take that a step further and add my own mythology to the world of Artemis and the Assassin.”

In the series, Meghan Hetrick and Francesca Fantini provide artwork, with Lauren Affe coloring both artists’ work. “Creating these characters and this world has been a super collaborative process with both artists,” Phillips said. “Writers always have a vision in their mind’s eye for what everything will look like, but both Francesca and Meghan exceeded my expectations. They really made everything come to life, and I’m really proud of what we’ve created.”

Artemis and the Assassin debuts March 18, 2020, digitally and in comic book stores, and Phillips has one final pitch to accompany the preview artwork from Hetrick, Affe and Fantini below. (Also below are covers by Phil Hester and Mark Englert and Dave Johnson.)

“I love writing two very distinct, unique and kick-butt women traveling through time,” Phillips said. “Obviously, there is a lot of tension since Maya’s goal was initially to kill Virginia. I also love the opportunity to place these characters in bizarre situations. With time-traveling on the table, the obstacles and settings are endlessly fun.”

19 Nov

The Hollywood Reporter: How ‘Undone by Blood’ Comic Puts a Twist on the Revenge Western

The meta-textual project hits stores Feb. 12.

What seems, at first, like a simple quest for revenge in an Arizona town turns out to be something far more complex — and, as the title of AfterShock’s new Western comic book series hints, Undone by Blood or the Shadow of a Wanted Man tells more than just one story as it builds.“The book is about Ethel Grady Lane, a young woman who’s on a quest for revenge,” explained writer Zac Thompson. “A year before the book begins, her entire family was murdered while passing through the town of Sweetheart, Arizona. After feeling like the police have done nothing, Ethel returns to Sweetheart with a revolver in her hand to make things right. She has no idea who she’s looking for, but she’s determined to find the man who killed her family. Her quest for revenge is fueled by the novel she’s reading, Shadow of a Wanted Man — an old-school pulp Western about famed gunslinger Solomon Eaton. Sol is the second lead of the book as we follow his own personal quest for revenge alongside Ethel’s.”Added Thompson’s co-writer on the series, Lonnie Nadler, “I’d always been a fan of meta-textual storytelling, which stems from my love of postmodern literature by the likes of Paul Auster and Italo Calvino, and so I’d been wanting to try my hand at telling a story within a story for quite some time. However, it took Zac and I both seeing Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals to realize how we could do this in comics. We both adore that movie, and it really inspired us to challenge ourselves, not only to write something we’ve never tried before but to write something nobody in comics has tried before, to our knowledge. We thought it might be interesting to couple this dual narrative idea with our desire to explore and demythologize the Western.”

Nadler also talked about the art team for the series. “Sami [Kivela] is truly a dream artist for Zac and I, as we approach comics with very similar storytelling sensibilities. Sami has an incredible mind for inventive page layouts, but he’s also so adept at knowing when to slow down and let the quiet moments breathe and speak for themselves. Working on a neo-Western, those two elements were very important to us, because the genre is so meditative at its core. You need to be able to communicate a sense of emotion, whether you’re looking at a landscape or at a person’s face, and Sami is one of the few artists who can accomplish both with ease.”

“We’ve also got the incredible Jason Wordie on colors, which together he and Sami are a dream team,” said Thompson. “They have a real shorthand with one another’s styles that elevates every page. They’ve worked together before, so the collaboration is only getting better here.”

Overall, Thompson said, the writers are excited about the series “because I feel like it’s been ages since we’ve had a proper Western in comics. We’ve gone full Coen brothers, full Sergio Leone, and the town of Sweetheart feels lived in and chewed up. It’s very cinematic and beautiful, with long stretches of silence and a meta-narrative at its heart. I don’t think comic book readers have experienced anything like it.”

The first issue of Undone by Blood or the Shadow of a Wanted Man will be released digitally and in comic book stores Feb. 12, 2020.

12 Nov

The Hollywood Reporter: ‘Godkillers’ Comic Mixes Special Forces and Mythological Warfare

“What if the gods of the people we are fighting wars against are just as powerful as ours — maybe more so?” asks writer Mark Sable. “What if our enemies were using them against us?”

War, the famous saying goes, is hell. But in AfterShock Comics’ upcoming series Godkillers, it’s also a number of different spiritual and supernatural concepts and creatures.

The series, created by Mark Sable (Graveyard of Empires, Grounded), Maan House (Spencer & Locke) and Hernan Cabrera (Fashion Beast, Heavy Metal) centers around a U.S. special forces unit tasked with dealing with foes with an unexpected choice of weapon: mythological creatures that the rest of the world doesn’t really believe actually exist.

“I was inspired by a quote attributed to General William J. Boykin, who hunted Pablo Escobar and the Somali warlords responsible for the Blackhawk Down incident,” Sable told The Hollywood Reporter. “When one of the warlords boasted he wouldn’t be caught, Boykin said ‘I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.’ He got in trouble for saying that, and rightly so — it’s offensive. But I thought, what if he was wrong? What if the gods of the people we are fighting wars against are just as powerful as ours — maybe more so? What if our enemies were using them against us? What are the ramifications of that, not just militarily but spiritually?”

At the series’ heart, Sable continued, is Philip Alhazred. “He’s an Arab-American Army Reservist and folklore expert newly assigned to the unit. He struggles with his faith. In part because the War on Terror is largely targeting Islamic insurgents — he feels his loyalty and patriotism being questioned. And on a deeper level, despite the religion he was born into and his expertise in mythology, he doesn’t really believe in the supernatural. When he’s confronted with proof that it exists in the form of monsters, Alhazred is forced to question everything he though he believed in.”

The concept behind the series, he explained, originated from Sable’s other career. “In addition to my comics writing, I work as a futurist, primarily with The Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project,” Sable said. “There, members of the arts and entertainment community like myself are put together with members of the military, intelligence, scientific and policy-making communities to help envision the future of conflict. And in my case, I hope to prevent it.”

“In talking with military and intelligence personnel, conflict journalists etc., I was shocked just how many countries the U.S. is operating that the media doesn’t give much coverage to,” he went on. “I wanted to explore how our military and intel organizations are not just engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Philippines, Syria and Ukraine, to name just a few of the places we visit in Godkillers.”

Sable is effusive in his praise for the book’s art team. “Maan House is the illustrator, and he has the ability to simultaneously portray the most complex weapons and vehicles and design the most unsettling monsters while doing some incredibly storytelling,” he enthused. “He’s joined by colorist Hernan Cabrera, who adds a sense of grittiness to battlefields across the world and help keep Maan’s monsters feeling grounded, [and] letterer Thomas Mauer is the unsung hero of the book.”

Main covers for the series come from Jeremy Haun, [with] Nick Filardi on colors. (Tim Bradstreet provides an alternate cover for the first issue.) “Jeremy and I worked together on Two-Face: Year One, which is the DC book I’m most proud of,” Sable said. “That’s also where I met editor Mike Marts. He brought me to Aftershock, and together with Christina Harrington, they constantly make me up my writing game. Nick Filardi is one of the best colorists working today, and has colored more of my creator-owned work than anyone else. This truly is a dream team.”

Godkillers launches Feb. 19, digitally and in comic book stores.

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