Call Larry Young the little comic book magnate that could. While his company, AiT/Planet Lar doesn’t have the resources of a Dark Horse Comics or Oni Press, Young announced this weekend plans to publish books either company would jump at, including new graphic novels by Warren Ellis, Brian Wood and Steven Grant.
Like Young, Ellis has been talking for a while about the importance of moving to an Original Graphic Novel format for new comic books, as opposed to releasing individual issues. This winter, Ellis and Brandon McKinney will be the brains behind “Switchblade Honey,” a 72 page black and white graphic novel with a cover by Brian Wood.
“This is one of those things that starts out as a joke and gets serious very quickly,” Ellis said in Young’s release this weekend. “I was talking with friends about ‘Star Trek’ — since I know Patrick Stewart and Trek producer Wendy Neuss slightly, this comes up from time to time. And I was saying how the antiseptic nature of the series, and the pomposity it’s developed in recent years, just annoys the hell out of me. I mean, every now and then I want to watch some genre SF with spaceships (I’m a space fiend from way back) that has some actual people in it, who aren’t convinced that they’re bloody perfect. And I came up with the idea of Gary Oldman, or, better, Ray Winstone as captain of the Enterprise, somehow. I wanted to see him there, in the center chair, in a suit (bollocks to uniforms and leotards), with a cigarette, with some annoying Trek ensign giving it ‘Course laid in, Captain. Ready to go to warp.’ And Ray Winstone saying, ‘Well, fucking go on then. I haven’t got all bleeding day. Cunt.’
“And the idea stuck.
“It just kept bugging me. And details kept filling themselves in around the original idea; pompous, procedure-crazed martinet starship captains. Wars that cannot in fact be won by saying lots of gibberish really fast. The antiseptic gloss torn off the notion of humans exploring, and making war, in space.
“The idea that, in that kind of future, the people actually worth watching — the people actually doing it right — would be the people who knew that having guts and basic ethics were more useful than a dementedly-defended rulebook. And that, in fact, in that society — they would be the monsters.
“‘Switchblade Honey’ is a book about the necessary monsters.
“It is, if you like, the anti-‘Star Trek.’
“It’s a book where a war in space is being fought against an unsettling, arrogant and vengeful alien race by a human Starfleet-cum-US Army. And we’re losing. We’re losing because we are corrupt and rule bound and overcompensating and stupid. And if the race is going to survive, then someone, somewhere has to make the decision that acting like the US military in Viet Nam is just not working.
“So an admiral goes to a military prison. To a captain imprisoned for refusing to fire on a sister ship. And to a first officer imprisoned for castrating a superior officer in the act of rape. They’re to be given the last shot at saving the human race. They can’t be the US military. They have to be the Viet Cong. They are given a single small spaceship and a hand-picked crew of fellow court-martialed officers and are told to fight a guerrilla war against the oncoming aggressors — who will have Earth surrounded in 30 days.”
“It has apparently gotten to the point where I’m creating books by accident,” Ellis said of the book.
“I have a website called Strange Machine, which is basically just something I play with in my free time. I have recently obtained my first digital cameras, and decided to put shots taken with them up on the site, just for the hell of it. I particularly enjoy playing with the Eyemodule. The Eyemodule is a small digital camera that attaches to the Handspring Visor. The Handspring Visor is a computer about the size of a tape cassette, that’s more powerful than the processors that ran the Apollo missions. The Eyemodule has no flash, no zoom, and is decidedly low-fi. It produces strange, grainy, almost impressionistic black-and-white images, using nothing but a very basic technology and available light.
“Larry Young and [AiT/Planet Lar editor] Mimi Rosenheim saw some of these, and came to me with a proposition. And that’s why you’re reading this.
“‘Available Light’ is a collection of my photography, all taken with the Eyemodule, accompanied by original prose, also written on the Handspring Visor. The book is created entirely on the move, sent back to my home computer via the Visor’s wireless modem.”
Brian Wood’s cover for “Switchblade Honey” is just the tip of the iceberg as far as his works published by AiT/Planet Lar in the coming months. In October, the company is releasing “Couscous Express,” an 80 page black and white original graphic novel by Wood and Brett Weldele.
“The first of many graphic novellas showcasing New York City culture, ‘Couscous Express’ is the story of a spoiled brat scooter girl named Olive who delivers food for her parent’s famous restaurant,” Wood said in the release. “When a bizarre and stylish branch of organized crime move in to take over the business, Olive and her courier-mercenary boyfriend step up to wage a good old fashioned turf war.
“This is a slight departure from the subject matter people are used to seeing me deal with in ‘Channel Zero,’ but it’s fun and fast and smart and pretty to look at. Fans of my ‘Generation X’ run should be sure to check this out. It’s an entry-level book into my world.
“Art on ‘Couscous Express’ is handled by Brett Weldele, whose past credits include the comics series ‘Wanderlust,’ movie storyboards, and a 10-page story in ‘Confessions of a Cereal Eater.'”
For fans of Wood who are more interested in his “Channel Zero” work, a barrage of new works set in that universe are on the way.
February sees the arrival of “Jennie One,” a 72 page black and white graphic novel by Wood and Becky Cloonan.
“This original graphic novel is about the protagonist of ‘Channel Zero’ before she became Jennie 2.5, before the Clean Act turned America into a right wing Christian police state, and Jennie was an art student just starting out,” Wood said. “I never really dealt with her as a character, as an individual, and I certainly never explained how she got to the point she was at in the beginning of ‘Channel Zero.’ I felt it needed to be told.
“It’s the summer of the Clean Act. The city is in chaos. There are daily protests and riots. The police are corrupt and ineffectual, and City Hall is a whorehouse. It’s reached the breaking point, literally, and Jennie sees an opportunity in all the madness …
“‘Jennie One’ is written by myself and drawn by NYC indie artist Becky Cloonan. Cloonan’s work includes the self-published comics ‘Social Unrest’ and ‘Something Perfect,’ as well as a slew of ‘zines and other punk rock artifacts.”
“Set in the same Clean Act-infested city as the first ‘Channel Zero’ story, ‘The Walk’ follows a suicide bomber as he marches though the city towards the completion of his mission, and the end of his life.
“Creatively, I am pulling out all the stops here. The basic concept and the slow pace of the story (walking across the city) allow for a lot of freedom and complexity in the art, and introspection in the writing. What goes through his head as he is walking? Does the fact that his life is falling apart anyway make it easy for him to complete his mission, or harder? All the people on the street around him — is he really prepared to take them all with him? Is his ideology THAT sound, that secure, to justify this mission?”
And, finally, for those who still want more “Channel Zero” beyond that, Wood is releasing some older “Channel Zero” material that’s never been seen by the public before now. “Public Domain: The Channel Zero Designbook” is an 88 page black and white graphic novel and is slated for release in January 2002.
“This collects an entire body of comics work I did in my last year of art school, stories and concepts that directly lead into ‘Channel Zero.’ All the concepts, the Clean Act, street artists, hacking, The Cleaners … they all show up in these stories, 90 percent of which have never seen the light of day.
“The designbook also features script excerpts, sketches, unused design pieces and pages, and various other outtakes that for whatever reason didn’t make it into the final cut. I will also be providing some DVD-style commentary to some of the stories, to put them into the proper context and to help readers see how and why ‘Channel Zero’ turned out the way it did.”
Other projects include:
- A new Sky Ape graphic novel this November. The 56 page “Sky Ape: Waiting for the Crime” tells the story of Sky Ape’s decision to hang up his jetpack to become a certified public accountant. That is until the villainous O’Donnely’s Roofing poses a threat to the world that requires him to return to action.
- “White Death” by Rob Morrison and Charlie Adlard is a 96 page graphic novel set to be release in December. The graphic novel tells the story of a World War I Italian soldier returning to his home in the Trentino mountains where both sides use the mountains and the elements as weapons.
- “Whisper: Day X,” by Steven Grant and Aman Chaudhary is a 72 page black and white original graphic novel available next spring. Grant brings his signature character forward from the 1980s into the shadows of the 21st century.
- The first five issues of Jeff Nicholson’s “Colonia” are collected into a black and white trade paperback this winter. The distinctly American fantasy gets a new wrap-around cover, behind the scenes and sketchbook pages.