Welcome to another Small Press Saturday! This week I (John Jack) caught up with all around awesome guy David Pepose! He currently has a book tearing up the charts at Kickstarter called The Oz, back it here: THE O.Z. #1 – A Fantasy Classic Reimagined for Comics, via @Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theozcomic/the-oz-1?ref=android_project_share
Q: Tell me about yourself
A: My name’s David Pepose — I wrote Spencer & Locke and Going to the Chapel over at Action Lab, and I just launched my Kickstarter for The O.Z., which is a fantasy war series from me and artist Ruben Rojas that follows Dorothy Gale’s disillusioned Army veteran granddaughter into the war-torn land of Oz.
I’ve got kind of a zig-zag trajectory in the comics industry — I got my start as a DC Comics intern, working on Batman RIP and Final Crisis. I then wound up working as a newspaper reporter, covering crime and state politics, while moonlighting as the reviews editor at Newsarama for over a decade. After that, I worked for CBS in their publicity department for awhile, all while slowly realizing that maybe I wanted to try actually writing comics.
That’s really where everything started to snowball. Since my first book Spencer & Locke was released, I’ve now become a full-time freelancer in Los Angeles, just working on a few different projects simultaneously while juggling a partner, pets, and the craziness of life.
Q: What can you tell me about The Oz? What inspired you to write it?
A: The O.Z. is like what if The Hurt Locker and Mad Max took place in The Wizard of Oz — our story recasts Dorothy killing the Wicked Witch of the West as a botched regime change, plunging Oz into brutal civil war. A generation later, Dorothy’s granddaughter and namesake is a disillusioned Iraq war veteran who is dropped in the battle-scarred land of Oz. Forced to navigate her grandmother’s former friends, this new Dorothy will have to confront her past if she hopes to survive the Occupied Zone… or as the locals call it, The O.Z.
After the release of Spencer & Locke, one of my next to-do items was to try to tackle a bigger scale of story — either science fiction or fantasy. The thing I like most about fantasy versus sci-fi, however, is that there’s so much characterization and metaphor that can be explored. I wound up stumbling across the premise of The O.Z. by writing down all the fantasy inspirations I could think of — Lord of the Rings, Lloyd Alexander, Piers Anthony… and the Wizard of Oz.
When I saw the word “Oz” on my screen, I realized it could be an acronym for something, like DMZ — or in this case, the Occupied Zone. That really was the lightning bolt that energized the entire thing — I realized it wasn’t just a fantasy book, but a war story. The image of Dorothy as a haunted Army soldier and the Tin Man as a hulking steampunk war machine is something you can’t escape — you just have to write it until it’s done.
Q: Please tell me about the art team
A: I’m working with a truly incredible creative team on this series. Ruben Rojas is like what if Sean Murphy and Dan Mora had a baby — he’s such a talented draftsman who is able to wring out so much action, emotion and drama out of every scene. Ruben is also one of the most gifted designers I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with — he adds so much depth and detail to every setting and every character. When I saw his take on the Tin Soldier, for example, I immediately told Ruben to keep moving ahead on the book — that come hell or high water, I promised him I would get The O.Z. made.
Whitney Cogar, meanwhile, is an actual wizard with her colors — we talked a lot about what the Mad Max version of Star Wars would look like, capturing the grit and intensity while still keeping the bold colors of far-flung locations like the Emerald City, the Deadly Dessert, the Mountaintops of Ix, or the Wicked Witch’s castle. I’ve been taught from the beginning that in comics, art makes or breaks your book — and in turn, colors make or break your art.
Our letterer DC Hopkins is the glue that holds it all together — he’s the ultimate team player, the final safety rail to making sure our story sticks the landing in one piece. He’s incredibly deliberate in the way his lettering interacts with Ruben and Whitney’s art, sneaking up on readers with quick jabs of incredibly fun effects. He’s the center of calm for our whole operation, and an incredible asset to our team.
Q: Your campaign seems to be going great, what is some advice you might give someone looking to start a kickstarter or other crowdfunded book of their own
A: Leave no stone unturned — you’ll sleep when you’re dead. I probably reached out to dozens of comics sites and podcasts, and did so with personal messages to the journalists I’ve gotten to know over the years. I also reached out to creators I knew to ask them to share the word, and I think that signal-boosted our reach exponentially.
But I think the important thing to recognize is that while this is my first Kickstarter, this wasn’t my first book. I had built my relationships with comics creators and comics press over the course of a decade, between Spencer & Locke, Going to the Chapel and spending time as a reviewer for Newsarama. If this is your first campaign, you’re going to want to keep your numbers as low as is feasible for you, and band together with people who are running campaigns simultaneously, so you can each signal-boost each other’s work.
Q: Tell me about your past projects
A: Sure! My breakout book was Spencer & Locke, which was like what if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City. The story followed Detective Locke, who was investigating the brutal murder of his childhood sweetheart with the help of his unlikely partner — a seven-foot-tall imaginary blue panther named Spencer. We actually released a sequel last year called Spencer & Locke 2, which pit Locke against Roach Riley, our homicidal riff on Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey — we evoked a lot of The Dark Knight and Empire Strikes Back in that one.
My most recent series was called Going to the Chapel — it was like Die Hard meets Wedding Crashers, about a wealthy bride with cold feet getting her wedding crashed by a gang of Elvis-themed bank robbers on the prowl for a priceless jewel necklace on loan for the event. But when the heist is blown and police swarm the chapel, this bride becomes the unlikely ringleader of her own hostage situation to escape the bonds of holy matrimony.
Q: What is your favorite part of making comics?
A: Hitting the big emotional moments. That’s what makes these characters transcend just being words on a page to me — that gives me a lot of investment in their journeys and their struggles, and is what keeps me going when the writing becomes a marathon.
Also, getting artwork. That’s insane. That’s like Christmas in my inbox. As someone who loves art but never had formal training in it — I feel like my life might have taken a very different trajectory if someone had told me about the concept of using reference as a kid — seeing artists like Ruben and Jorge Santiago, Jr. and Gavin Guidry reinterpret my work is always a thrilled.
And finally, just interacting with our readers. You work long and hard hours in isolation on this stuff, and you never know if people will respond to your work — so getting that face-to-face time (or in the age of covid, interacting via social media and Kickstarter) really recharges my batteries, and lets me know there is a growing readership that feels strongly about our work.
Q: What is your dream character or characters you want to work on?
A: Captain Planet. (Laughs) He’s my white whale. I’ve got a pitch that will make your toes curl and your heart sing. Talk about a property that was ahead of its time — it’s politically conscious, inherently diverse, loads of fun characters just waiting to be fleshed-out.
For the Big Two, though, I’d love to write Shazam! or Doctor Strange. They’re great characters with a ton of potential, and the thing about writing magic and fantasy is there’s so much room to explore characterization through metaphor. I could write their adventures for years, if someone let me. Fingers crossed…
Thanks to David for chatting, thanks to you for reading! Check back next week formore small press love. Here’s that link again BACK THE OZ I know i did!!! THE O.Z. #1 – A Fantasy Classic Reimagined for Comics, via @Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theozcomic/the-oz-1?ref=android_project_share
Small Press Saturday with David Pepose and The Oz!
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