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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:


MM: You got a Xeric grant for your first book, NINETY CANDLES. What was that process like for you?

NK: Details, man. It was all about sitting down and making sure all my papers were in order, like a Jew in Eastern Europe. Making the comic was easy - for those unfamiliar, NINETY CANDLES is a graphic novella that follows the life of a cartoonist, from birth to death, one panel per year. I did one panel a day, really exploring how to sum up a year and tell a story with a single panel to sum up one year. The thing that took me awhile was filling out the Xeric papers - applications, essays and finances - and then doing the publisher end. After self-publishing my own book, I can honestly say I'd rather not repeat the process... but it truly made me understand how the industry works - from soup to distribution to nuts. Basically, when I had about 60 percent of the book done, I submitted it and then waited until I finally heard back four months later. Once I got the word, I had to finish the book, publish it and get it out there... but the Xeric folks were great and had plenty of suggestions.

MM: NINETY CANDLES was also sort of interesting in that your first comic really wasn't a love letter to the industry- somewhat quite the opposite. Throw in its risky, unusual format, and I wonder if you felt any sort of pressure about how the book would be received.

NK: Much! I had this very "indie" book with a less than standard cartooning style that shows the risks of the comics industry, painting it with the real horrors that can come along rather than washing it with triumphs and golden rings. I was also concerned that, as an experiment, it didn't live up to what I set out to do. I wanted to show how important timing, pacing and the space between panels is to a comic... and I got fairly mixed reviews; people love it or hate it. Apparently women love it, though. I've had tons of women come over to me at cons to tell me that it made them cry... in a good way!

MM: From there, your career took off in a number of different directions. You did BROWNSVILLE, a graphic novel on the Jewish mob. Talk a bit about the research process you went through on the book, and why you felt it was important to tell that story.

NK: I'm a mafia fanatic, Marc. I'm also a big lover of history, most importantly history I don't know about. When my Dad made me watch ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and then I picked up Rich Cohen's book 'Tough Jews', I realized that while I could follow Luciano to Gotti in twelve steps, there were tons of fellow Jews in the Families I couldn't name. So I studied. I learned about everyone from big shots like Bugsy and Lansky and Legs and Lepke to small fries like Blue Jaw Magoon, Pretty Levine and Gangy Cohen. I was fascinated - here were Jews to who the words 'oppression' and 'victim' were used on the offensive, not the defensive. Here were, as Cohen said, TOUGH JEWS. And I felt the world - especially a comic book world that was eating up AGE OF BRONZE, BERLIN and the like - would be fascinated to discover the same. I wanted to open the doors on this little known piece of history, and the world seems interested by the response we got.

The research was insane - one year of books and movies and internet sites... and even a little bit of talking to family members and people who lived in the area. Jake trawled libraries, websites and book stores gathering the RIGHT reference... and I think we did pretty well for ourselves, no?

MM: You also dived in to a superhero book, writing THE INTIMIDATORS for Image. Was it easier or more difficult to shift gears and do that type of material?

NK: Heh. It was different. Let's get this out right now; I LOVED WRITING THE INTIMIDATORS. It was me, Jim Valentino and Kris Simon trying to get as no holds barred as we could and still tell a fun, 21st century superhero comic that made you laugh, made you think and made you want more. If I could, I'd write it again tomorrow. It was different because it was the first time I really had someone over my shoulder, co-plotting and offering story ideas. I learned a great deal working with Jim and understanding how a 22-page superhero story works, versus a graphic novel in which I can spread the story out over 200 or so pages. I learned about action versus quiet moments, how to play with a large cast, and most importantly, that you should never open a brand new series with a six-issue arc.

MM: One of your next big projects was URSA MINORS, an odd book about 20-somethings in high-tech bear suits. Where did that idea come from? And how was it shifting more towards comedy?

NK: Well, there's always been a part of me that writes comedy - I do a bi-weekly humor column called TAKE THAT at the Newsarama blog and have been writing local sketch comedy for community theatre for a while now. That being said, URSA MINORS is a particular type of comedy that's well, I call it "IM Comics" - the kind of idea you come up with instant messaging your pal while drunk at 1AM. Which, by the way, is how Paul Cote and myself came up with it in the Warren Ellis Forum one fateful winter night. We wrote the first issue as a lark, never thinking anyone would pick it up, and a year after we sent out proposals, SLG showed up in my inbox asking if it was still available. The general idea came to us from a mix of the at-the-time wise cracking anthropomorphic action heroes like Sky Ape, Rex Mantooth and the Ninja Turtle resurgence combined with the sense of slacker fanatic media we were into such as Kevin Smith movies, Evan Dorkin comics and a mutual love for Quantum Leap. We did four issues in '06 and they, along with a new story and some extras, will be collected by Slave Labor Graphics this Fall.

MM: Showing another level of versatility, you have also adapted Jack London's CALL OF THE WILD into a graphic novel. Talk for a minute about the adaptation process and how you went about creating a a cohesive book from someone else's work, please.

NK: It wasn't easy - I was contacted by iBooks right around the time BROWNSVILLE came out, by the late, great Byron Priess, who wanted me to adapt THE CALL OF THE WILD. He handed me a paperback book and asked me to condense the epic classic to 144 pages, keeping in mind I need to go no more than 4 panels per page. Now... if you've read CALL, the biggest hurdle is that it's about a dog. A dog that doesn't talk. So, you're either working with thought balloons or working in narrative captions, which is the route we chose. The second great hurdle was choosing the bits and parts from the novel that we'd place in the adaptation, editing out enough to streamline but not enough that we lost the story. It's, essentially, the Cliff Notes edition with pictures and with steady editorial hands, we cut and nipped out what we didn't need and I got very conservative on how I said things while keeping to the London text, not wanting to piss off purists which is never easy. With someone else's work - whether it's London or a D&D book - there will always be a fanbase, someone who will ask why you cut this or added that and you need a ride that fine line of telling the story the way you need to for a particular medium while allaying the fears of the fanbase.

MM: Early on in your career, you made a name for yourself in minicomics, then made graphic novels and floppies. Now you've moved on to webcomics. Was this just the natural progression for you?

NK: Not necessarily - I tell people that I'm working through comics the stupid way; by actually going through the levels. Minis, self-publishing, anthologies, webcomics, low paying work for hire, creator owned, high paying work for hire... which is on my horizon. I feel like webcomics are minicomics with bandwidth and hosting fees - anyone can make them. It's just another great avenue to get the medium out. You can do unique things with minis you can't with webcomix and vice versa. Do I love one more than the other or thing one led me to the next? Not really. I think telling stories is what I do - and I'll use whichever palette is available, be it physical or digital.

MM: Tell us a bit about the origins of ACTION, OHIO.

NK: Back when I wore short pants, in the summer of Ought-Four, I was knee deep in a handful of comic books that deconstructed superhero continuity, taking characters we know and love and turning them upside down, shaking them like a martini and dropping them into a cocktail glass of fictionalized wonder. Watchmen. The Authority. Planetary. I admire writers that were able to spin new worlds, new dilemmas using history and mythology, like James Robinson's Starman, and wanted to try it myself.

When I first wrote Action, Ohio, I'll readily admit that it was a cut and dried pitch for Marvel Comics. Entitled “Marvel, Ohio,” it gathered the Stan-Jack oeuvre and dropped them in a real world situation where their powers weren't necessarily a gift, forcing them to face their responsibilities when the veneer Stan and Jack created to hide them from the world was slowly shattered by the rude awakening of a group of rebels and misfits. Over the years, I struggled with the story - even going so far as to recruit a co-writer - and the themes and motivations changed, the character went through dramatic transformations but there was always the fascination of the mythological Silver Age comic books. What I finally understood was that I was pigeonholing myself - rather than focus on Stan and Jack's contributions, I would use them as a door to open the Pandora's Box of the entire Silver Age of comic books.

It was artist Paul Salvi who helped me understand what the story was about and how to frame it - it's a murder mystery, yes, but it's also a soul searching exploration for heroism, courage and the truth. It's about sacrificing what you want for what's right. And who among us can't relate to that?

MM: For those unfamiliar with Zuda, what happens after your month is up? What happens if you get the most votes? What happens if you don't?

NK: Well, should we get the most votes, Paul and I will continue ACTION, OHIO at Zuda for the next year (roughly 50 screens) with hopes to go on. I will also be able to pay off a credit card. If we don't win, I will cry. And then we'll see about another form of medium in which to a) resurrect ACTION, OHIO or b) begin something new. Either way, I'm having fun and looking forward to a long, hard month.

MM: You keep pretty busy. Your next big project looks to be MIGDAL DAVID. Tell us about that one.

NK: MIGDAL DAVID is my most personal upcoming work - it's a story of brotherhood, specifically between myself and my brother David who struggles with developmental disability in an Orthodox Jewish community. This book is the hardest thing I'm ever going to write. And it's funny, because it shouldn't be. My brother's story should leap from my fingertips onto the page. It should be the easiest, most natural thing in the world to tell his tale, his life and how it's affected mine. Because his story is so much a part of my story and completely intertwined in what I'm all about. Pretty egotistical, no? Well, that's what you get when you listen to an autobiographical cartoonist. It's not like my other Judeo-centric work: Brownsville, my upcoming graphic novel about the Jewish mob, and The Big Kahn, a future book about rabbis and con artists. It's about two Jewish boys - one living with an uncommon disability, struggling to find his place in community and religion; the other given all the advantages in life, frustrated and seeking ways out of both. It's a story about the strength of family and struggle in the face of adversity. It's a story about religion and beliefs, or lack thereof. It's a story about brotherhood. There are sample pages up for folks to look at.

MM: Certainly, looking at your output, you're a hard guy to pin down. Is that by design?

NK: I just like telling stories. Sometimes I want to write a comedy, sometimes I want to write about tabloid murder. It really depends on what's singing through me and whether a publisher wants to play that song on his comic book iPod.

MM: What does the future hold for Neil Kleid? Is there something you've yet to accomplish that's still burning at you right now?

NK: Right now I'd like to try SLG Publisher Dan Vado's recipe for beer can chicken and, um, win this month's Zuda competition. Vote for me!

Beyond that? The future holds a ton of new work - from a story in Image Comics' upcoming COMIC BOOK TATTOO anthology to a second webcomic called STARSTRUCK with co-writer Marc (HIGHWAYMEN) Bernardin and illustrator Carla Speed (FINDER) McNeil. This fall I'll have a miniseries about Hollywood celebutantes coming out from IDW with Dan Taylor and Chris Moreno, a second graphic novel from NBM entitled THE BIG KAHN with Nico Cinquegrani and the aforementioned URSA MINORS! trade paperback from SLG. I've got some big boy proposals in at Vertigo and Wildstorm and yeah, I wouldn't mind having an ongoing series playing out from one of those houses.

Of course, my wife and I have my biggest creator owned project debuting this Fall. Send diapers!

Marc Mason


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