Joe Pruett and the Return of "Negative Burn"

"Negative Burn," the anthology series born in the indie comic environment of the 1990s, returns once again in June as an annual trade paperback, courtesy of Desperado Publishing and IDW. Edited by Joe Pruett, who co-founded the series back in 1993 at Caliber Comics, the first volume of the new "Negative Burn" will features the work of Michel Fiffe, Phil Hester, Peter Krause, Jeff Limke, John McCrea, Patric Reynolds and more. CBR News spoke with Pruett about the title's history and its latest incarnation.

Despite the fact that anthology series are a notoriously difficult sell, "Negative Burn" established itself as a respected entity with its initial run from 1993-1997, as well as its first resurgence at Image/Desperado from 2006-2008. "[Anthologies] are a hard sell, but I love them and there must be enough fans of the format out there that also love them or you wouldn't see so many anthologies being offered," Pruett told CBR. "'Negative Burn' is a bit different from the usual anthology in that it doesn't have a 'theme' or 'direction.' It's a hodge-podge of different genres and styles, allowing the creator to explore whatever creative avenue they wish. It's a very freeing and liberating experience for both the creators and myself and it guarantees that there's something for everyone in each volume or issue.

"When 'Negative Burn' was started (with the help of co-founders Charles Moore and James Pruett) it was merely a vessel to allow the three of us to work with various friends and colleagues of ours at the time (Mike Wieringo, Randy Green, Tim Bradstreet, etc.), but it quickly turned into a wonderful outlet for not only newcomers to the industry, but also the day's top professionals to do something a little bit different," Pruett continued. "Not having a 'set' format for the title allowed me to publish poems and art by Neil Gaiman, songs by Alan Moore, sketchbooks by David Mazzucchelli and P. Craig Russell, one-pagers by Brian Bolland, original short story intros to new independent titles like Terry Moore's 'Strangers In Paradise,' Gary Spencer Milledge's 'Strangehaven' and Nabiel Kanan's 'Exit' and behind-the-scene looks at Jeff Smith's 'Bone.' 'Negative Burn' had early work from such now-greats like Paul Pope, David Mack, Brian Bendis, Paul Jenkins, Phil Hester, etc. It was truly just an energetic time. The landscape's changed a bit, but there's still a need for an outlet like 'Negative Burn,' which is why I continue to do it. It's surely not for the cash rewards and long hours of work putting this series together."

With the list of "Negative Burn" contributors including some of these top names in comics, the series has naturally enjoyed some watershed stories throughout its history. "'The Alan Moore Songbook' was a definite highlight of the first 'Negative Burn' series," Pruett said "It featured a lot of great artists listening to a song not only written by Alan Moore, but sung by him as well and then doing a visual adaptation of the song. 'Madame October,' beautifully illustrated by Terry Moore, is probably my favorite, but reuniting Alan and Dave Gibbons on 'Chiaroscuro' for what I believe was their first collaboration since 'Watchmen' and having Neil Gaiman illustrate 'The Murders of the Rue Morgue' stand out as two of my favorite highlights of the era. How many people have gotten Neil to illustrate anything? I also had a Neil Gaiman sketchbook in one issue as well. Having Brian Bolland's 'Mr. Mamoulian' in every issue of the original run (and a number of the secondary run as well), having an original story written by comedian and actor Patton Oswalt and given the opportunity to run a number of covers by Moebius were other thrills."

In its latest incarnation, "Negative Burn" is an annual trade paperback, a format change that Pruett said was the product of "time and reality." "I simply don't have the time required to produce 'Negative Burn' on a regular schedule like I did back in the Caliber days. I tried to do it with the second 'Negative Burn' series through Desperado and Image, but I found that since I couldn't devote the needed time to recruit the talent like I used to that the book suffered from quality and detail," he told CBR. "There were a couple of embarrassing mistakes on my part that made me realize that I just couldn't do it any longer. The yearly trade format offers up a solution to my problem. I can take a year to organize and prepare a volume, which allows me the opportunity to make sure that each volume I put out is exactly how I want it to be. I don't have to settle for filler material and I don't have to rush an issue out to meet a deadline. Also, I can give the reader a bigger chunk of stories in a pretty nice package."

This will also be the first 'Negative Burn' published since Desperado began its partnership with IDW.  "I'm very excited about our new relationship with IDW," Pruett said. "They're aggressive and smart. They know what they're doing and know how to get product in front of the right people. It just so happens that my timing was pretty good as I didn't know about the move to the front of the catalog when I signed on."

Regarding the stories that will see print in the new "Negative Burn" vol. 1, Pruett said, "as always, it's all over the place." "The process is the same as it's ever been; grab some new talent, sprinkle in some of the 'old guard,' make sure you get a nice collection of stories, stir well and cook until done. We have some fable-type stories, horror stories, an adaptation of a song by Stan Ridgway (former lead singer of Wall of Voodoo, best known for 'Mexican Radio' in the early '80s), some 'Twilight Zone'-type tales, a couple of sketchbook sections, humor, crime noir, alternative, slice-of-life, etc.," he said. "You name it. This volume has it. We've got some great 'established' talent in guys like John McCrea, Phil Hester and Dave Dorman and we've got some great and exciting new talent in the likes of Patric Reynolds (doing a lot of stuff at Dark Horse right now), Dalibor Talajic (likewise at Marvel) and writer Jody LeHeup. It's a great mix of old and new, like always."

The new edition also includes a tale by its editor. "It's the first short story I've written since the one that saw print in Vertigo's 'Weird Western Tales' and the first time that I've worked with my original 'Kilroy Is Here' art partner Ken Meyer Jr. in over a decade, so it was a lot of fun," Pruett told CBR. "It's a sort of urban legend that my grandmother used to tell me when I was a kid.

"I'll be honest, I miss writing. Haven't really done much since I left the X-titles eight years ago, so I think I'll be exploring that path a bit more in the future," he continued. "Already have a couple of things in the works, both with Desperado and elsewhere. More on that later."

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