David Liss is an Edgar Award winning novelist who broke into comics in 2011 with the release of Mystery Men, a five issue Marvel minieseries. Liss also wrote a well-received run of Black Panther: The Man without Fear, a reboot of The Spider for Dynamite and a Sherlock Holmes miniseries for the same company. In 2012, Liss and 215 Ink announced that he would be releasing his first creator owned comic, Angelica Tomorrow. The first issue of that series was released last Wednesday. I spoke with Liss about the book, its protagonists and its distribution challenges.
Christian Hoffer: Angelica Tomorrow is, I believe, your first creator-owned comic book, which was originally announced back in 2012. I guess the first question I should ask is how does it feel to finally be able to share the comic with readers?
David Liss: I'm thrilled that it is finally out there. There were some production slow-downs along the way, but this is a story I loved writing, and Allen's art brilliantly brought it to life. It's not my first original project, of course, since I've been writing novels longer than I've been writing comics, but this is something I've been working on and toward for long time.
Hoffer: What's the basic "elevator pitch" for Angelica Tomorrow? What was your inspiration for Angelica Tomorrow, and what sort of research did you do while writing the comic?
Liss: I've got a couple of elevator pitches. The shortest is Ghost World meets The Terminator. The cheekiest is alcoholic, teenage paraplegic meets amnesiac cyborg assassin. I love science fiction, and I love slice of life comics, so I wanted to write something that would combine the two.
As far as research goes, I did not do a whole lot. I do plenty of research for a lot of the prose fiction I write, so I wanted this project to be about stuff I could make up. That said, there were some technical details I had to research along the way, especially dealing with government operations and security procedures. but nothing too heavy.
Hoffer: While cybernetics and warfare aren't exactly a new trope in literature, I think recent controversies in drone warfare really add a bit of additional relevance to the series. Is there any themes or messages that you hope readers take away from Angelica Tomorrow?
Liss: Absolutely none! This is a story about characters and relationships. There's no broader message about technology, except maybe that people should not be defined by it. Both the main characters in this book start out as people who are defined by their limitations, but they end up forging new paths for themselves.
Hoffer: It's not often that you see a book tackle alcoholism, depression, physical disability, the ethics of artificial intelligence, teenage romance and broken families all in one issue. Are there any heady issues that you don't plan on covering in Angelica Tomorrow? More seriously, why did you want a series that focuses on a protagonist that's so....well, broken?
Hoffer: Angelica Tomorrow is being released digitally first, with a trade collection coming after the completion of the miniseries. Did this change how you approach writing or promoting the series at all?
Liss: Not really. Either way, we have to do a fair amount of work to draw attention to a book that is coming out with an indie imprint, and which doesn't fit neatly into established genres. It's an uphill battle, but it's a series I really believe in, and I hope the readers who check it out will like it and spread the word.
Hoffer: I understand that 215 Ink's decision to release Angelica Tomorrow digitally was due to a distribution issue with Diamond. Could you elaborate on what sort of challenges you faced in getting the book published?
Liss: Other than not being able to get physical distribution for the monthly issues, there really haven't been too many challenges. This was a side project for both me and Allen, so neither of us rushed to get it done, but we ended up with something we were both pleased with.
Hoffer: Has releasing Angelica Tomorrow digitally changed how you viewed digital comics? What sort of future do you think digital platforms have in the comic industry?
Liss: I've never been a collector, and I've always been drawn to comics because I like the stories, not because I care about the physical object. I actually prefer reading comics on my iPad to reading the physical books, and the only reason I haven't gone over completely is because I also believe in supporting retailers. So, going digital hasn't really changed my feelings in any way.
As far as the future goes, I don't know I'm in a position to make any predictions, but I think the decline of the secondary market for comics suggests that digital will only become a bigger part of the market.
Hoffer: What are the differences between writing a creator-owned book like Angelica Tomorrow and licensed series like The Spider or Mystery Men? Was the creative process for Angelica Tomorrow similar to working on one of your novels?
Liss: This is the first comic I've written that didn't work with someone else's property. Even Mystery Men, which featured all original characters, was set firmly within the Marvel universe. I love working on those established properties and with those established continuities, but I also love creating my own. So, yes, this was much more like working on a novel. I didn't have to move characters or situations in any direction other than what I thought was best for the story.
Hoffer: Allen Byrns' art in Angelica Tomorrow gives the series a very dark and distinctive look, and it's a noticeable difference from the art style in other comics you've written. How did you meet Allen and decide that his style of art was right for the book?
Liss: When I first started talking to 215 Ink about doing an original project, they offered to put me in touch with artists who might be willing to work on the series. I looked at several artists' work, and I loved Allen's style immediately. I thought it was perfect for the story, and he was willing to come on board, so it was really and easy and smooth process.
Hoffer: What's the creative process been like between you and Allen in working on the series? Has it been different than your work on artists with creator-owned books?
Liss: I suspect this kind of relationship can be difficult, but I've found him very easy to work with, and hopefully he will say the same. It's been very straight forward. I send him scripts. He does art that looks great. I tell him I love it. Pretty straight forward.
Hoffer: Do you have any plans to revisit the world of Angelica Tomorrow after this miniseries is completed? Do you have any more plans for any other creator-owned series?
Liss: Allen and I are talking about getting another story started. As far as a sequel goes, I wrote the story so that it could accommodate one, but it still tells a complete story. We'll see if there's a demand, and, if so, I'd love to go back to that world and those characters.