Although he's likely best known by modern readers for his work at Marvel Comics, writer/artist Frank Cho arrived in the comics scene in the late '90s with "Liberty Meadows," released in a myriad of formats including a syndicated newspaper strip, a webcomic and monthly print issues from Image Comics. Considering Cho's distinctive artistic style and "good girl" art, it's understandable that his latest work is an art instruction book: "Drawing Beautiful Women," released this week by Flesk Publications. However, it's not the only project on Cho's plate. "World of Payne," a "cool amalgam of graphic novel and novel" collaboration with prolific writer Tom Sniegoski, arrives in the spring.
CBR News spoke with both Cho and Sniegoski about their upcoming Flesk projects, including a detailed explanation of exactly how "World of Payne" will offer a unique reading experience. Plus, Cho discusses wrapping up his major assignments at Marvel so he can get back to his creator-owned roots and gestating projects, including "Guns and Dinos" and his long-awaited return to "Liberty Meadows."
CBR News: What is "World of Payne," and how did the two of you come together to create it?
Tom Sniegoski: Frank and I had met a couple of time at various conventions and had really hit it off. I really liked him and, of course, his artwork is amazing. At some convention, I said, if you ever have any ideas that you want to work on, let me know. The next time we saw each other at a convention he said, I've got this germ of an idea called "World of Payne" -- do you want to take a look at it? He sent it to me. It was the basic concepts and the characters and he gave me free rein to expand on it. Frank, when you originally gave that to me, that was a comic book idea, right?
Frank Cho: Yeah, it was originally a comic book idea. It was something that I'd been playing around with for several years. I knew something was missing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
Sniegoski: You know what was missing, Frank? Tom Sniegoski was missing!
Cho: [Laughs] Exactly. Tom is a great writer. Tom's been a friend of mine for a while, and I realized I should just give it to Tom and see if he can flesh it out and make it a lot better than what I can do alone. I told him to run with it and, being the great writer he is, he took off running. He made it a lot better than I envisioned, and filled in the gaps that I felt were missing.
Sniegoski: I approached it from the standpoint of a novel. We started talking, and what we ended up with is that "World of Payne" is going to be this cool amalgam of graphic novel and novel. You'll have pages of text that will suddenly blend into artwork, and artwork that will blend into comic book story pages and then back into being a novel again. That will happen throughout the story. It's this cool mixture of the two.
Say, for example, you have a fight scene. The main character of Lockwood Payne, who is an up and coming sorcerer, realizes he's up against some horrible demonic force. I would write it up to a point, and you might have some spot illustration taking the reader with Payne into the moment. Suddenly, you flip the page and you have pages of this epic fight scene. It would have captions and word balloons also, but that visual punch will be there and then we'll casually blend out of that fight scene and back into prose.
Cho: There's a sequence towards the end where Payne is walking down this dark hallway and then he opens the door to find his foe. It's going to be this beautiful double-page spread where we're looking over Payne's shoulder as he opens the door, and in the far side of the room is his foe, the villain of the story. That's where the comic book portion starts, and they have a big battle. It's very cool. Before that, it's prose with spot illustrations, almost like bread crumbs that lead to this big visual sequence.
When you were writing it, did you think, this scene should be illustrated or this is just going to prose? How did that work?
Sniegoski: When I first sat down to write it, I said, I'm just going to write the thing first as a novella, the way I know how to write. Then I went back and said, okay, what stuff if I was a reader, would I find exciting? I handed it over to Frank and said, here's a broad picture of what I can see us doing visually -- what works for you?
Cho: He wrote the whole thing as a novel, and then he went back and wrote some of the more visual sequences in a comic book script. It was a very smooth transition. He sent me the novel, and then the second script that he sent me was prose mixed with comic book script. It's like building a house. Tom sent me the blueprint and built the foundation. Once the house is built, we're going back in and figuring out what color the wall is and that stuff.
You envision "World of Payne" as a series?
Cho: Oh, yes.
Sniegoski: Definitely. We look at this as the prequel, to whet people's appetites. What we would do as a followup would be even bigger.
Cho: This is book zero, and book one is pretty much outlined. Tom and I were discussing up to book five.
Sniegoski: We could very easily go to book five, and maybe even beyond that if we wanted to.
Cho: The more Tom and I talk about this, the richer the world is.
"World of Payne" ended up at Flesk because of your relationship with John Fleskes. He's also publishing a new book from you, "Drawing Beautiful Women" which is out this month.
Cho: John and I have been talking about doing a book for about ten years. Over the years, every time I go to conventions, I always get approached by amateur artists, up and coming artists, and people in general asking for advice on how to draw certain things. I would show people, "This is what I would do." Eventually, I had enough of this "how to draw" advice and information that I decided to turn it into a book. I called John and said, I've got an idea. We just took off from there.
This isn't just an art book collecting work you've done over the years. It has a few pieces, but this is mostly something you wrote and drew from scratch.
Cho: A portion of it is a step by step of how I draw certain things from a loose thumbnail to the finished product, but there are chapters on anatomy, different body parts, anatomical landmarks that you should be aware of, measurements. I talk about color theory, warm colors and cool colors and what is the best way to make the figure pop using color schemes. It's not really an art book, it's an art instruction book. People are going to be very surprised by it.
Was there a model for the kind of book you wanted it to be?
Cho: I guess the genesis came from "How To Draw the Marvel Way" by John Buscema and Stan Lee. That was like the Bible to me, growing up. I guess that would be the inspiration that I started this book from. It's a very informal, very casual art instruction book with a lot of tips
There was a kickstarter for "Drawing Beautiful Women" which was huge. That must have been nice.
Cho: It was. I think our goal was $30-40,000 and we raised 153,000. I got scared to be honest. When people are pledging all that money, once you go over one hundred thousand, you're like oh crap this is serious.
Sniegoski: That just went into making the book a better book, though.
Cho: Exactly. All the money went into the production of the book. John does fantastic work. That's why we got John to do "World of Payne." John is a very hands-on publisher -- he actually is the third wheel of our team because he puts in his passion and blood and sweat into every project that he does.
Sniegoski: I just met him for the first time at San Diego this year, and he's just super-meticulous. He's thinking of all the stuff that's going to slip through the cracks -- in my mind anyway. like that and admire that about him. He's the perfect choice to handle "Payne."
Frank, you're finishing up some work for Marvel, but you've made it clear that you want to focus on creator-owned projects going forward.
Cho: I'm still with Marvel. I have to finish a few issues for them, but I'm not leaving Marvel. I'm pulling back and transitioning to more personal projects, all of these creator-owned projects that I've been writing for years. They've been gestating and I never had the time to devote any attention to them. I decided, I'm 42 years old, and I've got to pull the trigger on these. "World of Payne" is the first one out of the gate, and thanks to Tom the story is completely written and that's coming out in the spring.
The second project is "Skybourne" which is another project that I've been sitting on for years, and that's going to go through BOOM! [Studios]. The entire story is outlined, and I've started drawing issue one. The third project is "Guns and Dinos" -- the first issue is completely finished. It's going to come out through Image Comics, and overseas it's going to come out through Delcourt. The reason why "Guns and Dinos" never came out a few years ago is, the first issue was done, but I basically painted myself into a corner. I changed the middle part of the story, and what was originally a four-issue miniseries became this ten-issue series. I decided to hold off on it, and then I got hit with a major Marvel project. I didn't want to put out issue #1 and then have #2 come out five years later. I wanted to have the entire story finished before I launched it.
How many issues will "Guns and Dinos" be, then?
Cho: Four. I managed to condense it, but the first issue is 32 pages, and I think the second issue is going to be 32 pages as well.
Sniegoski: They'll probably all end up being 32 pages.
Cho: It's basically a six-issue miniseries, but in four issues.
You got your start with "Liberty Meadows," and I was just wondering if you've thought about doing a humor series again.
Cho: Everything I do has a lot of humor in it. "World of Payne" is chock full of humor. I've thought about it. There are a couple ideas I've had, but nothing that grabs me. Who knows? Never say never. I am coming back to "Liberty Meadows." My goal is, after "Guns and Dinos," to finish that. I need to draw 4-5 more issues and wrap the entire story up and tie up "Liberty Meadows."
Have you given much thought to when the next "World of Payne" book might come out?
Cho: We were hoping to have one a year.
Sniegoski: I don't know if one a year is realistic, just because sometimes it can take five months to write a book. Maybe a year and a half.
Cho: That sounds about right. I'll be coming up with ideas and throwing ideas at Tom. Tom has other projects of his own.
Sniegoski: I do the Remy Chandler books for Penguin. I have a new series coming out from Penguin called "The Demonists," and that starts next year. I've got a new horror thriller I'm going to be writing for Simon and Schuster. Also, there's a couple other secret projects floating around.
Cho: Tom is very busy, so we're trying to figure out the right point for us to work on this.
Sniegoski: It's something we really want to do. If need be, we can sit down with both of our schedules and say, where do we fit it in?
"Drawing Beautiful Women" comes out this month from Flesk. What more should folks know about "World of Payne?"
Cho: We're doing a one-off, super-limited, deluxe run on "Book 0: Ghost Dog" which introduces all the "World of Payne" characters and its world through Flesk Publications. We're going to use this "Ghost Dog" book as a pitch book to shop it around to other mainstream book publishers to continue the series. So we're going to actively look for a publisher soon.