Smith & Kirkbride Fire Off "Popgun" Vol. 3

After the release of two very successful volumes, editors Mark Andrew Smith and D.J. Kirkbride are bringing a third edition of "Popgun" to the stands this month from Image Comics. Smith brings his experience as a prolific writer of such comics as "New Brighton Archeological Society" and "The Amazing Joy Buzzards" to bear in an editorial capacity. Joining him is D.J. Kirkbride, a writer who has worked behind the scenes in both comics and television. Kirkbride and Smith spoke to CBR news about the latest "Popgun," the process behind it and the future of the anthology series.

"Joe Keatinge and Mark created 'Popgun' as a "graphic mixtape,' and that's pretty much how we do it," Kirkbride told CBR News. "We compile cool stories from creators established and brand new with no specific story guidelines. The result is a whole lot of creativity with a heaping helping of variety."

"'Popgun' is a collection of work by artists that we're really thrilled about and that we felt were going to have a huge impact on comics in the future," Smith added. "It's a collection of creators' creators who we wanted to showcase in front of a much larger audience than they've had previously and bring a new level of exposure to their work."

Smith continued, "'Popgun' is excitement, enthusiasm, and creative energy bursting off of every page. It's a new generation of artists crafting their best work. Popgun is a movement and a zeitgeist of where American Comics are right now and where they're going in the future."

The origins of "Popgun" as well as Smith's involvement owe more to happenstance than design. "This role of an editor was a complete accident. I didn't go into it saying 'I'm going to start an anthology, and it's going to be AWESOME!'" Smith explained. Editing 'Popgun' was something I fell into after inheriting another anthology that had previously come out through Image that I was involved with after the original editor had grown tired. Once I was given that role, I set out to do it the best I knew how. I fell into it with fervor. There were many people I knew whose work wasn't as exposed as it should have been, and I wanted to help get their work to readers. It's been an interesting detour in my career being an editor and a very fortunate accident.

"Joe Keatinge became involved as the co-creator of 'Popgun,' and he had also come up with the name of the book that we as a group voted on and approved. The size of 'Popgun' also grew with Joe coming aboard as the co-creator because we had so many people involved creatively."

Kirkbride's involvement in the series also goes back to the beginning. "During the course of volume one, I was helping Mark out with some of his stories, mainly proofing them, and he asked me if I wanted to join up with Team Popgun to do the same type of work," he said. "I became their assistant editor and, along with esteemed production editors Thomas Mauer and S.A. Finch, we did the first two volumes. As we started volume three, Joe was getting too busy with his Image day job and other projects, so he needed to bow out of the 'Popgun' day-to-day. They decided to give me a lil' promotion, and we brought in the powerful Adam P. Knave to fill the assistant editor slot. It's been an interesting transition, but we've ended up with a great book and a terrific team."

After three volumes of "Popgun," the curation of the book still remains an organic, rather than systematic, process. "It's a combination of just shooting for the stars in terms of the established creators and keeping our fingers crossed," said Kirkbride. "For the newer folks, that's where a lot of the fun comes in, feverishly searching the internet, looking at various art sites and just contacting folks. You never know what to expect, and we've been really pleasantly surprised. We've met some really talented creators that are goin' places!"

"It's about finding work that speaks to you," Smith added, "and then being social and inviting the creators to contribute. Then being very friendly and encouraging. The best is when you can bring in people from art fields outside of comics when they do exciting work and steer them from comics from a fields like video games, concept artists, animation, or film."

The "Popgun" editors have found their set of anthologies very well received, both critically and popularly. Said Kirkbride, "Volume One won the 2008 Harvey for Best Anthology, so we were all really happy about that. Sales were beyond our expectations, and the second printing just came out, so that was cool. Volume Two is selling similarly, which is so great! Both books have gotten some nice reviews, too. People seem to dig the amount and variety of content we're putting into these big ol' beasts."

"We couldn't have asked for a better reaction," said Smith. "Here we are doing a book that all the eyes of the entire comic book industry are on. 'Popgun' brings in new and exciting creators each time around and raises the bar to new levels. We have our eyes on the horizon, and we're driving towards the future. 'Popgun' is an institution, and it will be very long lasting. Again, we couldn't have wished for a better reaction to "Popgun.'"

The very nature of the "Popgun" anthology sets a wide sight in terms of audience. "Originally, our goal for 'Popgun' was to create a book that would be an ambassador to people who didn't read comics to get them into comics. A gateway, if you will," Smith explained. "With short stories, it's very easy to do that and I think the material loans itself to it. We don't really set ourselves for a target audience."

"And while we have many all-ages stories in the books, there are some PG-13 to R-rated stories, too," Kirkbride said. "Overall, I'd say 13 or so and up could read the book."

"Bottom line is that the audience for 'Popgun' is a smart audience," Smith continued, "a very broad audience, and a very arts orientated audience that reads 'Popgun.' It has many different styles of art and creators that appeal to many different types of people including those who aren't normally into comics or that don't read comics. Combine that with fans from different people who have work in 'Popgun' and with artists who do the covers for 'Popgun,' and there you have it: an explosion and an expansion."

What can a new reader to the "Popgun" books expect to find, specifically? "They're all so good," Kirkbride said, "so I won't even think about it and just blurt stuff out. An artist by the name of Ulises Farinas has a story called 'Twig & Cassius' that is beautiful and weird and totally unique. Not to kiss ass, but I also dug Mark and Johann 'Ullcer' Leroux's epic 'Japanese Wasp' story -- it's a full on thirty pages of superhero versus giant monster action. Dan Brereton contributed this awesome two-page spread that we're using as an 'intermission' near the middle of the book, and it is super cool. Ron Turner's 'Nudging Buddy' is a really cool and stylish crime caper, and so much more. Everyone did a great job."

"I really like 'Carjacking' by Guillaume Singelin," Smith said. "There's also a 'Food Trilogy' that happened by chance with three stories about food that we put together. Those stories came out as some of my favorites in Volume Three. Brian Winkeler and Dave Curd's latest 'Bastard Road' story is also a favorite of mine."

With the continuing success of the "Popgun" books, a fourth volume would appear to be a given. And it is. "We're working on it now," confirmed Kirkbride. "We already have a really good head start. I'm editing that one with a talented artist/writer named Anthony Wu along with Adam P. Knave back on assistant 'editsticks' and Thomas Mauer being joined by Jeff Powell for the production editorial side -- and, don't fret, Mark and Joe will remain as evil overlords, watching our every move. It's going well so far. I don't want to speak too soon, but we have this cool story by the super talented Salgood Sam as well as some other really cool stuff that is finished and ready to print plus new work coming in from the likes of Jeffery Brown and ... oh, I just can't spill too many beans yet! Good times, though. Good times."

"Popgun" Vol. 3 goes on sale April 8 from Image Comics.

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