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Interview with Josh Howard creator of Dead@17
May 2, 2006

I only recently found out about Josh Howard & his comic book Dead@17.  It is a story of teen angst & fighting demons.  So of course we love it.  It is published by Viper Comics & has become so popular that it has a spin-off series of other creators telling stories within the Dead@17 mythos.

QRD – Why are the trade paperback collections in a different size than the original comics? 

Josh – Simply because that is what I prefer.  It’s nice and compact and easy to carry around. 

QRD – You do the writing, penciling, inking, & coloring of most of your work.  Why do you have someone else do the lettering? 

Josh – Because I would like to see my wife every once and a while ;)

QRD – Where do the characters/letters for the angelic language come from? 

Josh – They’re not based on anything, I just made them up. 

QRD – Where did the name Bolabogg come from? 

Josh – No idea.  It just came to me when I was drawing.  Same with Nara and Hazy… the characters seem to name themselves.

QRD – What kinds of pens & brushes do you use for inking? 

Josh – I use Micron pens, usually an 02 for regular line work and 05s or 1s for heavy line work.

QRD – I know you do most of your coloring in Photoshop.  Do you think you’d ever color something predominantly by hand? 

Josh – Probably not.  The closest I get is when I use gray tone markers.  If it wasn’t for Photoshop, I would never color anything.  I’m just not good at it, which is why I never became a painter.

QRD – I saw something with your production notes, do you usually right a full script prior to starting the comic?  How many issues would you script ahead when doing a four-issue story arc? 

Josh – I do write a full script first, but I leave plenty of room for inspiration, because often the best ideas will come after I start drawing.  Because of that, I don’t write all 4 issues first.  If I change one thing, it would effect everything else. 

QRD – Why were the first three story arcs of Dead@17 done in mini-series formats instead of a continuing series? 

Josh – The main reason is because we had no idea how it was going to do.  It would have been foolish to start with an ongoing series without any idea of how it would be received.  In fact, I was already planning to start a whole new different series following the first D17.  I thought it would take me several failures before I managed to carve a niche for myself.  Luckily, that didn’t happen, and it did well enough to warrant a 2nd and then a 3rd series.

QRD – With Nara gone, who will be the stars of the ongoing series? 

Josh – The main star will be a girl named Asia Black.  She’s a lost soul, a troublemaker – someone you definitely don’t want to cross.  The other lead character is a guy named Zachary Pitch, whose name might ring a bell to fans. 

QRD – Are you ever upset by the color shifts between final product & what you see on your computer screen? 

Josh – Luckily, I haven’t had much of that happen.  The only problems I had recently are issues of Black Harvest printing too dark.  I got a new computer halfway through and trying to find the exact monitor settings I was used to has been a pain.

QRD – The original Dead@17 was printed at Kinko’s right?  What was it’s size & how many did you do?  Were you satisfied with it at the time? 

Josh – It was roughly the trade format size.  I made less than 50.  It took me about a year to complete from start to finish.  I was working full time and it was hard to find the momentum to keep going.  So my technique changed a lot and as a result was really uneven.  But I was still enormously proud that I was able to finish it and hold it in my hands.  That moment was really a milestone for me.  I was sick of the submission process and I didn’t want to have to draw someone else’s characters to get a job.  I had basically decided that if I wanted this career, I was going to have to make it happen myself.  No one was going to do it for me.  Of course, then Viper came along.  But they were nobodies at the time, too.  We were both in the same spot really, which is what I think made it all work. 

QRD – Is there any significance to Nara’s birthday being on July 5, 1986? 

Josh – July 5 is my wife’s birthday.  1986 because Nara had to be 17 in 2003 when the book came out. 

QRD – How many books do you think you could do a month if you got yourself really disciplined? 

Josh – I basically have been doing 2 at a time for a while now.  In addition to Black Harvest and the miscellaneous D17 and other projects, I’ve been working on an original graphic novel for DC for several months.  I really looking forward to taking it easy with only 1 book a month again.

QRD – I find your juxtapositioning of youthful cartoon art with adult themes really brilliant.  Do you see yourself as intentionally following some kind of tradition or is it just how things end up coming out? 

Josh – It was never anything I really thought about, so wouldn’t say it was an intentional juxtaposition.  Having said that, I think the Batman cartoon from the 90’s had a big impact on me because it was a lot more mature and a lot more cartoony than what was popular at the time.

QRD – What's the graphic novel you're working on about?

Josh – The book I'm working on at DC is written by Andi Watson and I'm handling all the art. I don't know that I'm allowed to say too much about it yet, but it involves a goth girl and a mystery, so I don't think my fans will be disappointed. 

QRD – Since you kinda have a little in at DC, what characters of theirs would you like to work with?

Josh – If I had my choice of their characters, I would definitely like a shot at Supergirl. I already have a mini-series plotted out in my head.

QRD – Having a family, how do you deal with the relative financial insecurity of using art to support them? 

Josh – It hasn’t been easy, and there are times in the past where it’s looked pretty dire, but I try not to focus on that.  I take on a lot of extra freelance work and commissions and sell original art to help make ends meet.  It takes a lot of extra effort to be able to do this full time, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.  I’m also very lucky to have a wife who is a very talented and successful hair stylist which helps even things out. 

QRD – How did you initially get in touch with Viper Comics? 

Josh – I think it was late 2001, early 2002, and I was broke and jobless and desperate to find work.  Any kind of work.  I was doing a job search online and decided to search for comic book jobs for the heck of it.  Couldn’t hurt right?  Well, I came across an ad for a local company that wanted local creators to get in on the ground floor with them.  And best of all, they were offering money.  They had a little submission test, which ended up being some of my worst work ever, but I sent along a copy of my D17 mini-comic, which probably sealed the deal for me. 

QRD – I know there’s some talk of Dead@17 being optioned for a cartoon of some sort.  Would you like it to stay with the comic book feeling the way The Maxx cartoon did or more of a standard cartoon style? 

Josh – My feeling is, and I hope this doesn’t rub people the wrong way, is that I don’t care.  Whatever happens, happens.  If the right offer is made, they can make it look like Powerpuff Girls for all I care.  I made peace long ago with the fact that Hollywood for the most part doesn’t care about artistic vision and is going to do what it’s going to do anyway.  So it seems like a waste of my time and energy to worry about how D17 might end up being portrayed.  I will always have my comics, and they will remain unchanged.

QRD – Is it hard to deal with others writing from your ideas or are you happy to see stories told that you never would’ve gotten around to telling?  What about the art differences in these situations? 

Josh – It makes me thrilled actually.  It’s an amazing feeling to see other people contribute their own talents and ideas to something I created.  And I love being able to give opportunities to undiscovered talent.  A lot of the guys I’ve worked with have moved on to do books of their own. 

QRD – You have a big religious element to your work.  Most secular comics with religious elements seem to be attacking organized religions; do you get flak from the mainstream for having religious elements without being sacrilegious? 

Josh – I knew going in that I would stand out from the crowd to some degree because of it.  Besides a couple of snide comments, I have really yet to receive any real flak.  In fact, I tend to get the opposite reaction.  I do try to portray those things differently.  It seems like the only cliché or stereotype that it’s acceptable to perpetuate is the evil/corrupt Christian.  Does it offend me personally?  No.  Not much does.  I’m pretty confident in what I believe and nothing can shake that.  What bothers me is that Islam and Mohammed are considered sacred and untouchable, but it’s okay to portray Jesus as a degenerate pervert. 

QRD – Do you think your interest in the apocalypse is related to being a kid in the early 1980’s when major nuclear war seemed presented as a real possibility? 

Josh – Well, I wouldn’t say I have an “interest” in the apocalypse.  Can it make for interesting stories?  Sure.  But it’s been a bit overdone, and I wish I could’ve avoided some of that in D17.  But when you’re dealing with good versus evil on a cosmic scale, it’s a little hard to avoid.  But whatever notion of impending apocalypse there was in D17 was mostly implied by the characters, and they turned out to be wrong.  Bolabogg/Alcasan wasn’t the Antichrist, he failed.  He had to be stopped, but he wasn’t what they thought he was. 

QRD – How do you feel about the current price point of comics? 

Josh – Not high enough!  I won’t rest until being a comic artist is as lucrative as being a rock star ;)