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Steven Saunders Presents:








 

WHAT’S THE FUSS?

VOLUME ONE: “Steve Goes to Brendan McGinley

Howdy folks, and welcome to the first installment of WHAT’S THE FUSS?. The whole idea of this feature is to talk to creative minds from the comics or gaming industries who have something to say. Or maybe they don’t and just want to babble about the migration patterns of geese. The thing is, each time around, WTF? should prove interesting or entertaining in some manner. I hope, anyway.

Plus it allows for me to use that column name. I think I’ve been sitting on it for about a year.

To kick this all off, I’m going to be talking to the excessively talented comics scribe Brendan McGinley, who’s current claim to fame is the comic HANNIBAL GOES TO ROME, which you can read over at Shadowline Webcomics. I won’t lie: I love this comic. It combines two of my favourite things, History and Humour. The best part is that the humour doesn’t interfere with the historical facts presented. But enough about what I think… We’ll get to all the details in the interview.

I should note that this was all done pretty much off the cuff and with as little preparation as possible. That’s how we’re going to roll with these things. It’s not that I don’t care-- for I do very much-- I just wanted this to be as honest and spontaneous as it can be.

Right. On with the show!
 

Steve Saunders (SGS): Hey Brendan, thanks for being here! I've recently read your comic over at Shadowline's webcomics site and I have to say that I'm rather impressed. Tell me, is Hannibal Goes to Rome your first foray into comics? Or is there some sort of nefarious past we should know about?

Brendan McGinley (Brendan): That depends, Steven, on how nefarious you consider Wizard Magazine to be. Personally, I had a good, if impoverished time there, and met some great people.

I also interned at the Big Two, but as far as publishing goes, my only prior entry into the market is the intermittent humor anthology DOSE. And thank you for the kind impression!

SGS: Well, Wizard is pretty nefarious*, and it sounds like you have a good background there. How did Hannibal Goes to Rome come about? Most comics out there usually have more interesting origins stories than the characters they portray… (*Note: I’m just kidding. Please call off the attack dogs, Wizard!)

Brendan: It came about in a very winding fashion from a sort of horatian satire of superhero comics I was working on in college called ICONOGRAPHY. There was going to be a minor character who'd come from an alternate Earth where the Confederacy had won the American Civil War, and found himself stuck here where everyone hated him and all he stood for. He didn't really fit in the story, but I liked the idea of a morally upright person in a society that is implicitly immoral. So I farmed him out to his own field, so to speak, which was going to be a world where the Roman Empire had evolved into this global state and sort of existed only in this state that was 2/3 business and 1/3 politics.

*Brendan pauses for air*

Brendan: But you know, that and saving Marilyn Monroe are about the two most overused ideas in speculative fiction, so I discovered in tinkering with it that I really liked the idea of Carthage, this pervasive empire wiped not only off the map, but the history scroll. So CITIZEN X became a world war Carthage won, and how they'd do the imperial conquest thing differently, and I discovered the awful thing about speculative fiction ...you have to not only research every detail of actual history, you have to research the likelihood of it unfolding the way you'd like it to. You can't just hand the Carthaginians saddles and gunpowder as soon as they beat Rome. Anyway, I guess I became a history nerd by accident there. There's no Carthage without Hannibal, and he struck me as a really interesting person. A warrior, but a noble one. So, there you go. Hannibal: coming to you across three or four universes.


SGS: You could have the Carthaginians ending up running west and integrating with the Toltecs... but that's something else entirely.... But anyway, we're barely into this interview and I have to say that's one of the best answers I've seen to a question.

Brendan: Oh, it's in there. There's Phoenician coinage that seems to depict North and South America. But first I send them to Ireland for a western called THE MISSION.

SGS: Ha! Very nice! To the average history degree toting freak, how much are you concerned with accuracy are you? There's only 10 pages up over at Shadowline, and so far you seem to hit the facts and overall historical narrative nicely, albeit with great humour. So, yeah, will Hannibal be more accurate than fantasy? Or should we expect a crazy turn...?

Brendan: No, it's straight up. I'm paying 100% tribute here to Larry Gonick's CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, that really laid out the Earth for me as a kid, and is still a fantastic vista of what happened and how it's connected. If we ever get speculative or crazy, it'll be in some kind of hypercomic clickthrough system, but the linear narrative stays factual. It's pretty easy to stay consistent, because the sources are so few. If Livy disagrees with Polybius, there's enough scholarly analysis out there to figure it out. But I've made mistakes already.

SGS: How so?

Brendan: Originally, I listed Hanno as the fourth Barca brother, but the more I read, that just seems to be a repeated , fairly recent fiction. I have to read the more obscure sources, but unless I missed it, the antiquity scholars just list Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago as the sons of Hamilcar Barca. Also, it turns out there were no ninjas in the Second Punic War. Sorry!

SGS: Seriously?! No wonder that prof failed me. I was certain there were ninjas... What about the Third Punic War? There had to be ninjas then right?

*crickets*

It sounds like you've done quite a bit of research, which is refreshing to see. And how did you come by artist Mauro Vargas to bring the epic tale of Hannibal to life?

 

Brendan: He was referred to me by some other terrific collaborators. His obvious talents were recruited for DOSE, but when I decided to go ahead and get HANNIBAL out there, he was the best choice. He does great caricature, and his facial expressions are tops. Every other panel of mine is just someone's delivery or reaction, so I really like the artists who can make the characters into actors and express a thought. I think it's an underrated value in comics, where figurework is emphasized, but faces tend to stay within happy/sad/angry/brooding range. In fact, the guys who recommended him, German Erramouspe and Andres Ponce, they're both skilled at that as well. So, when I want gritty, back-alley brawling, I can go to German. Superheroes slugging in space? There's Andres. And when I need a guy to make bloody battles somehow funny, I'm blessed with Mauro. They're all quite deft at making a scene work, and I'm lucky indeed to have 'em.

SGS: Mauro certainly seems to be channelling some Asterix in his work-- which is a great thing.

Brendan: So he tells me. He's pleased people notice. I am woefully underexposed to the Gaul, but I'll have to give it a read once Hannibal's behind me. The French and Belgian guys put out such a great style with that clean-line stuff.

SGS: Oh, yeah. Agreed.

Brendan: I was in Brussels this year, surprising my girlfriend on Valentine's Day, and I hadn't fully landed but I come across a comic store called LITTLE NEMO. It's a full library inside. Glorious, glorious comics under the banner of my absolute favorite comic artist. And everywhere you go: COMICS! Comic murals, comic museum. They use watercolors and gouache a lot now-- or I guess for a long time now -- did Moebius start that? But if you ever get to go to the comic and cartoon museum there, just stand in the middle of all these fantastically precise, detailed styles, look at what's going on in the art of the Smurfs...you'll gush. ...like I'm doing now.


SGS: I don't know off-hand if Moebius started it, but it was him that brought those styles to my attention when I was younger. And it's okay to gush. I'd be gushing, too. It sounds like an amazing experience, and I'm now kicking myself for never having gone there when I've been to Brussels. It's at the top of my list now. How did Hannibal Goes to Rome and you get involved with Shadowline?

Brendan: One of my contemporaries at Wizard was Mike Dolce, who's put out this nifty superhero book called THE SIRE. I like it because it doesn't go where you expect it to at all. I think that's how he heard about Shadowline, but at any rate, he thought it'd be a good fit, so he put me in touch with Kristen Simon and Jim Valentino. They liked what they saw, and I think we'd already decided on color by that point; Hannibal was going ahead when we got the invitation, so it was, like a lot in Hannibal's own march, a bit of lucky timing. Certainly, it's a great place to be. They format the comic beyond my pitiful web-fu abilities, give us some free space and promotion, a message board, and a bit of respectability. I mean that's the independent creator's grail, isn't it? To catch someone's eye at Image? Yeah, I'm a big fan of those two and how they treat talent.

SGS: It's always fantastic to get involved with those folks. ‘Nice bunch and incredibly supportive.

Brendan: You look at the Superheroine contest Kristen organized, or Image's major shift under Jim to the outlet for some really cool, original stuff beyond the superheroes, you get pretty happy to be part of the parade. I think it was under his tenure that I began reading Image comics years ago. That's where I want to be: with the people trying to do something new.

SGS: I hear you there. And it's always nice to see new things do well, yeah?

Brendan: Usually, yeah. Unless you invented a homicidal blender. That would be ghastly!

SGS: Homicidal blender? Hmmmm… *takes notes*

Where does Hannibal go from here? After he conquers the online realm of sequential art, I mean. Will your take on his story ever see print?

 

Brendan: Well that's up to the readers. We're going to be on the web till the poor guy dies at his estate. But our deal with Shadowline is a nice one and it says we can print anywhere online we like, but they have right of first refusal to print for a year or so. Which means if you like Hannibal and want to see it on paper and make us moderately wealthier so Mauro can move out of his dad's and I can stop ALT-TABbing the script to the background when my boss is yelling...tell your friends to put some page views on Shadowline. The more hits we get, the more talk you generate, the more discernible buzz is on the book, the more likely we are to get collected. And if you don't like it...Action, Ohio. That's a great strip. ( Read ACTION, OHIO here.)

SGS: What you’re saying is "Ceterum autem censeo, Internets esse delendam". And yes, Action, Ohio is damn good.

Brendan: I quite like the internet for distribution, actually, and I think there are ways to pull a living from it. But comics...it's big but it's small. It's like jazz.

SGS: Oh, yeah, I guess “destroyed” should be construed as "conquered".

Brendan: Certain watermarks must be made to establish a presence. For example, I've got two issues of DOSE in, and I think it's an alright book. It's got Evan Dorkin, it's got Michael Netzer, it's got random stabbings. But man, have you ever tried to call every retailer in America, explain who you are and why they should take a risk on your thick brick of black and white humor? So yeah, I'd like to see Hannibal in print in part to get momentum. It makes it easier to move other projects.


SGS: It can be a daunting and depressing task, some say.

Brendan: Daunting, aye. Depressing...I dunno. Again, it's a cool market because it's big but it's little. Most retailers are cool and enthusiastic even if they can't take the book on. We're very blessed that we're still a humble medium even though comics are currently on the rise. We're like the geeky kid in high school who turns out to be an incredible guitarist.

SGS: I'll agree with you there. And it's encouraging to see a positive attitude about it.

Brendan: Suddenly we've got pop cred and all the people who take THE HILLS seriously have to look up to the nerds and ask what WATCHMEN is in order to be hip. And we'll look down, and whisper, "No." Ha! No, it's definitely the geek decade. Emo, hipsters-- all that. Suddenly scrawny wimps are the new jocks. Which is kind of what I was getting at with the back cover of DOSE #1, "The Insult That Made a Wimp Out of Mac!"

SGS: The new cool-kid heroes.

Brendan: Yeah, exactly. We've shed the polarized '80s jock/nerd dynamic. Now HEROES is sexy, and the kids on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS read comics. That's more interesting, isn't it? We're merging.

SGS: I'm waiting for when the characters of Law & Order start taking up D&D as a hobby, myself.

Brendan: Oh man. that'd make both of them more bearable.

SGS: HA! But yeah, the merge is on.

Brendan: You'd have an entire quest "BANG-BONGED" into 45 minutes of cuts.

SGS: Just think of the tense moments of dice throwing. "BANG BONG-- Holy crap! Natural 20! You're going down street pimp lich!"

Brendan: You know what's funny? I can't get my mom to read WATCHMEN. She hates the brutality. Ok, fair enough. What are you doing tonight, Ma? "Watching LAW & ORDER: SVU." Ma, that show is just one little girl after another raped and folded into a suitcase.

Maybe I'll have to do the "Trial of Rorschach" for DOSE and figure out a Jerry Orbach caricature so she'll read the thing.


SGS: That would be a nice mix. I've had a similar discussion with some friends who thought Conan and Warhammer were too brutal, but are hardcore CSI, SVU and 24 viewers.

Brendan: Well, those all systematize brutality. 24 tries to vindicate torture, the other two analyze it into science. They want your gasp, but then it's all vengeance.

SGS: Yup. Shock, awe, and closure.

Brendan: I think comics, and certainly this is something you can challenge about an industry where Hawkman and his mace outsell a lot of indie sensitivity...I think there's more of a need to feel the pathos. If your jaw's coming off, dammit, at least we're getting into it. I just read a comic where Wolverine stabbed a naked Native American boy in the throat and brain. But you know what? It was GOOOOOOD. Because it cost him. It was a superhero/natural noir tale That's what we have in comics, I think. We have a better ratio of Chandler to Spillane violence than TV does.

SGS: Well said. And I'm not just saying that because you’re the interview subject, either.

Brendan: That said: The Spirit: Woooooo! Countdown to crazy! Well, I should hope you'd challenge the many stupid things I'm prone to say on a given day. That's another great thing about comics. There's just so much...frontierism. I think the next brick in the wall, as we get more and more thoughtful...and this will probably slip in there right before comics get so permanently etched into pop culture that we become susceptible to the personalities that have stayed away in favor of more lucrative music and movies...the next brick is sexism in comics will get better. Superheroes sustain a lot of that, but as their market majority becomes a plurality, you're going to see more work where women as both creators and characters get a better deal.

SGS: Oh, yeah. It's almost like the Wild West in that everyone has a say and an opinion. It's both good and bad, fascinating and frightening. It has been homogenised as a whole. Even Big Two superhero comics delve into territory that other popular media shies away from. And everyone seems to have a thought about it one way or another, mainly thanks to the Internet. I remember what things were like before the Internet. It was a more remote place, the comics industry. At least to "outsiders."

Brendan: Exactly! The great thing about the internet and its effects is the demolition of the lowest common denominator. Now we get the lowest current denominator, and it polarizes everyone, who has more market choice, into stuff they might not seek out if they were given something more acceptable. Things have gotten so stupid they've gotten awesome. Just this week I watched two short video clips One was a James Gunn short called "PG Porn" and the other was someone on YouTube doing a literal description of the "Take On Me" video in karaoke. Both were hilarious. And neither one would ever end up on TV. Internet and comics are outlaw media -- internet more naturally, comics thanks to Wertham, who made comics implicitly weird for decades. We were made for each other.


SGS: Hey, I saw those clips too, and you are totally right. Comics have kinda come full circle; because they used to be a form of outlaw media, whether it was political messages on the walls of Rome, or the underground comics movement of the 60s and 70s.

Brendan: Heck, they're outlaw from before there WAS law. Cave drawings preceded written language, and many tell a specific narrative.

SGS: Totally. Then the new wave of comics started in the 80s and has melded with the internet and mass communication (including film and TV) in a way I don't think anyone predicted. You know, we could talk all day on this!

Brendan: Also, both cave drawings and comics deal heavily in adolescent boys' ideas of violent glory and sexualized women, so maybe we're just wired for this stuff.

SGS: Probably. It's a need to visually communicate stories. And communicate visually. Comics allow for the exposition of novels (but with less of it of course) and the visuals of TV and movie media (but with less... of course). It's a nice medium, er, medium. It appeals to a broad range of tastes, and it can be put down and picked back up at will.

Brendan: We need to get Marshall McLuhan in here, stat.

SGS: HAH! Then you would doom us both, because this discussion would never end.

*there is even more diverging and tangents… then…*

Hey, I have two more quick questions in regards to Hannibal Goes to Rome, if you don't mind.

 

Brendan: Sure.

SGS: 1) Will you ever provide a translation for the Latin phrases that pop up in the comic. Or are readers on their own? And 2) can you give us history dorks an off-the-cuff bibliography of what you used to bring Hannibal to life?

Brendan: 1) I'm sure classic languages professors would howl if they ever saw my crow's Latin. I was the only one who signed up for Latin in high school so they cancelled the class (hooray for Catholic school!), and it's just word play. Thus far, I think the Latin mangled is....let's take a look here. On page 3, the governor is saying to the Mametines, "Let the thief beware," like, "What did you expect?" but he gives in to the threat of the Carthaginians to Roman expansion. Then on page 5, the boarding soldiers are playing with a Latin proverb, "Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas" which is something like "That which glorifies crows shames eagles." But that's a broken joke because the original script had them boarding on a corvis -- this device they affixed to the mast that dropped down when they got close to the Phoenicians. Romans weren't good sailors, so they'd pretty much charge a vessel, yoke it with the corvis (so-named because it looked and pecked like a crow) smashing through the deck, and then run across it. By the time I noticed we didn't actually have a corvis in there, we were published. This is why you don't letter comics at 3 a.m., kids. But if it was in there, the act of boarding the ship would have testified to the virtue of the corvis device, while shaming the Phoenicians (Punici).

As for 2) I really like Leonard Cottrell and John Prevas' books, because they both scoffed at the accepted route over the Alps, went there themselves, and worked out what Hannibal could have done in the time frames given, what he WOULD have done given a choice, and shook out almost the exact same route. Now that's dedication! Livy's great because he broke everything into panel beats for me already. And he's the original source.

Yeah, basically when I can, the limited histories: Livy, Polybius, a few others (some are hard to find) because everything since is speculation or urban legend. The fiction I'm trying not to read till I've done my own versions.

SGS: An excellent list of sources, sir. Livy and Ploybius are a must. Good to see John Prevas, too.

Brendan: I did like "Pride of Carthage" but David Anthony Durham himself says "Listen, this is nothing like a history book." He merges a lot of people. That was why I decided to stop reading the fiction. Because I introduced Monomachus in chapter 2, and I really agreed with his take of this terrifying worshipper of Mot. I was thinking of Vorbis from Terry Pratchett's SMALL GODS, too. Someone big and bald and terrifying in their absolutely reasonable suggestion to do something atrocious. So I told Mauro "Give me Sagat from Street Fighter" and as soon as he did an ace job on that, I realized it would have been far, far creepier to make him the opposite: a reedy, short bean-counter with bad eyesight. And you wonder who let the shrimp in, and he's the one suggesting they commit all these unthinkable acts because they're simply utilitarian, and he'd be putting it out there that they ought to be spreading terror when they get to Rome. That would have been so much scarier from someone unintimidating physically because they have nothing to back it up. You'd read it and think "What is going on IN YOUR HEAD?!?!"

*pause*

Ah, well.


SGS: It still turned out nicely, so don't worry. So, Brendan, where do you go from here? What's after Hannibal? What other irons do you have in the fire?

Brendan: Well, DOSE rattles along for now. I'd like to get at least six out there before I accept the web's superior distribution; because, dammit, that's how we got the B&W comics of our treasured teenage years when I was a rudeboy. But then, I'd like to get the two I'm holding actually OUT there before I get six "out" there. You can read big chunks of that at http://www.indeliblecomics.com

And HEIST is a story with Josh Elder, Andres Ponce and colorist Rocio Zucchi about the world's greatest supervillain. The heroes have no idea he even exists until he breaks into their headquarters to steal the most powerful object on Earth. That's fun. It's the Aladdin story, basically.

INVISIBLE, INC. is about a reporter who discovers supervillains don't try to take over the world anymore because they pulled it off in the '60s. It's X-FILES if the omni-conspiracy behind the paranormal were all the work of superhumans. But it's really about how power perpetuates power. I've got that one all plotted from "Yellow Journalism" to "Black Ops" to politics and religion. I like it. Hopefully someone else will. Tomas Aira draws that with an obsession to detail that makes me cry tears of sweet joy.

And then you'll see at least one of these three from me in early 2009: BLACK AMBULANCES, SHE'S FAMOUS NOW and REAPING PROFIT… Which are an EMT pursuing abductions, an earnest young man's second shot at love, and a salesman taking over Death's duties, respectively.

And I think that's it for now.

SGS: That's an impressive list of cool stuff to be working on, man.

Brendan: Thanks. I hope it makes its way out there pretty quickly. I've been kicking a lot of this stuff around for years!

SGS: It's always both a relief and a rush to bring ideas to fruition. And I have to ask, any aspirations for the larger comics market. What I mean is: would you ever do something like Batman or Spider-Man one day?

Brendan: Oh, you know, I like money and benefits, same as everyone else. I keep a list of ideas for those companies, I think it would be a lot of fun, but it's more of a cool thing to do than the ultimate career goal it was when I was 14. I like change over soap opera, drama over melodrama. The funny thing is INVISIBLE, INC. was first a DC pitch then a Marvel pitch, because it really profits from existing in a decades-old universe. You try to do that independently and it loses its mass, its reality. I had sliced the Gordian knot of newbie pitching a limited series: it must change everything, yet change nothing.

SGS: I see where you're coming from, yeah.

Brendan: It was going to merely suggest all kinds of atrocious things, so that if you were of a mind to believe conspiracy theory...the whole history changed. Otherwise, carry on. Ha ha...and I had devised a silent NSA counterpart to S.H.I.EL.D.'s CIA called S.W.O.R.D. Oh well...

SGS: Kind of like a subversive, sub-history, that can only been seen or known if one is aware of it.

Brendan: Yeah. Gnosis.

SGS: Exactly. I love that S.W.O.R.D. idea, too.

Brendan: But it's fun, because I get to take it to a much bigger scope now, the changes are more meaningful, and I think if you keep your eyes open, you can see counterparts to character types.

(On the SWORD idea) Yeah, Joss Whedon did it better and first though. You were going to see Nixon at Camp David with two Visions in colors you'd never seen. Stuff like that.

Anyway, all that said, I'd kidney-punch my own sister to write Deadpool or Green Lantern, especially Guy Gardner.

SGS: I can see you on Deadpool. I'm a huge Deadpool fan... Yeah, you on that book would be killer.

Brendan: But if I did anything for those companies right now, I'd like to play with their losers and leftovers. That's the real fertile earth.

SGS: Ah, like Kirkman with Marvel Team-Up?

Brendan: Nah, more like a chance to shine off a concept and tinker it so it hums. That's how you get SWAMP THING or ANIMAL MAN. Someone hands a new guy some heretofore useless property and says "See if you can sail this bucket."

SGS: I was about to mention Moore and Morrison. Those are the kind of projects that keep me reading mainstream comics, should they be around. Those sorts of projects always end up being "classics" or "catastrophic failures", but rarely forgotten. Thus is the nature of experimenting and sailing buckets.

Brendan: Sure. I already figure comics will never make me rich. Why not have fun?

SGS: Completely. That's part of the allure.

So Brendan, I really, really appreciate you taking the time out to do this interview thing. The last word is yours, the mike swings in your direction, or whatever else sayings apply. What say you, good sir?

Brendan: Hmmm. Love never gets old, and my favorite heroes try to save their enemies. That's what I think I write about. Thank you, and good night.

SHOW NOTES:
Shadowline Webcomics
Indelible Comics

Please visit those sites to check out Brendan and his co-creator’s neat stuff!

I would like to thank Brendan again for joining us here and I’d also like to thank you, the reader, for stopping by and, well, you know, reading. It is my hope you had a good time while you were here.

In a fortnight I should be talking to someone else, perhaps even a couple of people, about life, love and the comics industry. I’ll see you then!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line: steve@orcusville.com

Appendix. The Important Self-Important Stuff

- Email me!: Steven Saunders

- The TPK “support blog” where I try to pump out material every day. Lots of comic reviews, too: Diary of a Grognerd

- The daily gamer-centric webcomic Josh Wagner and I slave over for Lord Orcus: ORCUSVILLE

- A comic book set in the 14th century we’re working on: SALVUS

- Can’t get enough of me? Even my wife would say you are mad: My Livejournal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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