Sean Murphy has been known as a talented artist for quite a while, a reputation further cemented over the past several years by his work on “Joe the Barbarian” and “American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest.” “Punk Rock Jesus,” a black and white miniseries written and drawn by Murphy and published by Vertigo, was not the first comic that Murphy wrote, but it was arguably his best work to date, firmly establishing him as a major creator who is as thoughtful, ambitious and powerful a writer as he is an artist.
In April, Vertigo will release a collection of “Punk Rock Jesus,” featuring all six issues, plus ten new pages and various other extras. May sees the release of Murphy’s latest project, “The Wake,” another Vertigo miniseries, this one written by Scott Snyder. Murphy spoke with CBR News about his recent and current projects, as well as what lies in store for him once he puts “The Wake” to rest.
CBR News: When last we spoke, you were just about to launch “Punk Rock Jesus.” Now we’re on the eve of the release of the collection, and I’m curious — from where you stand, what has the response been like and what are your thoughts about what it’s meant.
Sean Murphy: I’m stunned that it was received so well, so quickly. Unless you’re “The Walking Dead,” that just doesn’t seem to happen anymore. The content of “Punk Rock Jesus” obviously spoke a lot to me, but I didn’t think the themes would necessarily appeal to as many people as it did. I expected the book to build a slow cult following over time, but it seemed to strike a chord with readers and reviewers right from issue #1. The sales were higher than DC expected, and it made a lot of “recommended lists” on blogs and websites.
To be honest, I’m afraid to ever try writing again because I doubt I can come up with anything as provocative as “Punk Rock Jesus.”
You described the amount of work involved in to being a one man band. Now that “Punk Rock Jesus” is behind you and you’re no doubt thinking about your next solo project –your previous comments about being afraid aside — I’m curious about your thoughts on the effort and the benefits of all that and if you feel it really was worthwhile.
In my opinion, the most worthwhile thing you can ever do in comics is write and draw your own book. While it might not pay as much as a company book (at least not right away), there’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down at a show where other artists are drawing characters they don’t own, while everyone in your line wants drawings of characters you created from scratch. And being an artist/writer, you get more respect, a stronger connection to your readers and a lot more paid invites to far away conventions.
What will the collection look like? What kind of work did you do on the design and what extras are included in it?
The collection will be a softcover trade with ten extra pages of story. “Punk Rock Jesus” was a too big a story for 6 issues, and there’s a lot of condensing I wasn’t happy with. So while I added a few images for the EXTRAS section, mostly I wanted to use the extra pages to help decompress some of the plot. For example, there’s a small scene that develops Thomas and Gwen a bit more, and another that gives Chris and the Flak Jackets a bit more face time. I also added a couple of spreads to help balance out some of the crowded 7-panel pages.
You’ve mentioned you have a “Punk Rock Jesus” sequel in mind. Have you given further thought to it or had conversations about doing it?
I have a specific story in mind for a sequel. And as provocative as “Punk Rock Jesus” was, the second one goes even further. My wife is actually trying to convince me not to do it, because she’s worried about me poking the bear too much.
After “The Wake,” I’m going to see how much time is left before I need to start my 2014 project. If there’s time, I’m going to pitch a 5-issue mini or something to DC. Fingers crossed.
“The Wake” is your your second collaboration with Scott Snyder after teaming with him on “American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest.” What do you like about working with Snyder and what makes him a good collaborator?
I like working with Scott because he’s on time, his scripts are complete and very clear and he adds notes and attaches jpegs for me to look at. Plus, he’s a great writer at the top of his game. If anyone ever gets a Snyder script and drops the ball, then they don’t deserve a career in comics. He makes it hard for an artist not to produce his/her best work.
Moving forward, do you have thoughts/plans/ideas for what you want to do moving forward in your career?
I’ve agreed to collaborate with another big writer in summer 2014 that I’m also excited about. Afterward, I’m considering either moving into European comics or perhaps taking a break and getting into video games and concept art for a while. I’m also considering writing scripts for other artists, but we’ll see.
Is it fair to say that making “Punk Rock Jesus” has changed how you think of what you can do and changed others’ sense of what you’re capable of? It sounds like the series has presented to you new possibilities and the ability to tackle them on your own terms. That seems to be the culmination of something you’ve been talking about and working towards for a few years now.
Yes, I think that’s fair to say. I knew I could pull off “Punk Rock Jesus” — at least to my own satisfaction — but everyone else was skeptical, and the scope of the story gave them even more doubt. If it was a simple, linear plot, then maybe it would have been easier to get off the ground. But “Punk Rock Jesus” dealt with two interwoven timelines while also showing fifteen years of the clone’s life while also dealing with big topics like religion. So when I encountered skepticism, I completely understood where it was coming from. I wanted to grab people by the shoulders and yell at them, “Trust me, it’ll make sense when you read it!” but I couldn’t do that.
To answer the second part of your question, yes, “Punk Rock Jesus” was deliberately set up to prove that I could write. That I had ideas and that I’m capable of writing for other people as well. Everything is much better for me today than it was during my “Hellblazer” days. Now, nothing I draw gets put on the backburner, editors want to get on the phone more, they write back more, I’m included in meetings and my ideas are given more consideration. I have leverage now, whereas before, I was a cog.
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