LUKE HERR, Pharaoh & Ibis - Author Interview

It’s Webcomics Wednesday, featuring the return of Luke Herr! Yaaaaayyyyy! (In my best “Hi Ho, Kermit The Frog here” Muppet Show introductory voice).

Muppet Luke as envisioned by Daniel Butler

Muppet Luke as envisioned by Daniel Butler

Luke Herr is “a Bachelor of Web Design-holding person who isn’t as thrilled about doing web work as he used to be. Former comic shop jockey and comic reviewer. He now does work on various nonpaying projects while looking for work that can pay the bills while living in Ohio. Favorite Comic Character: Moon Knight (the idea more the character)/ Jack Knight

ANTHONY: Welcome back to Rambling On, Luke. What have you been up to since the last time we chatted?

LUKE: Hey Anthony. Thanks for having me back on! Since we last talked a few months back life has changed a pretty good deal. I’ve graduated college and entered the job market since then. Of course I’ve yet to find a job that actually pays but I am still keeping myself busy by doing a bunch of side projects and comics.

I ended up starting a new project called Prison Spaceship which is an action pixel comic set in space. It is like Star Wars meets Con Air. A bunch of aliens in a spaceship who’ve been in prison and suddenly chaos breaks loose and it is up to Kat, the main character, to try and get off the ship and back to Earth.

Additionally I am working on a space series for an anthology with Allan Wood called The Future Universe and I have a story in that called The Last Confessions of a Living Bomb which is a diplomacy/religious/political piece with aliens. Two races are fighting over an asteroid and one of them leaves one person with a bomb capable of destroying the asteroid and the surrounding ships if they don’t get their way. It is up to a reporter to get the last thoughts of this living bomb. It is a lot more serious in tone but with some cool ideas.

ANTHONY: What’s the publication status of your webcomics SOCIALFIST and CHANGELING?

LUKE: Socialfist has entered a sort of publication limbo. Remus, the artist, ended up getting a deal to draw a book for James Asmus called The Life And End Times of Bram And Ben and since James is a professional comic writer who can pay money, Remus is working on that and some other jobs that can pay much better.

On the other hand though, I am working on getting the word about Socialfist out there so for a few weeks, I’ll be distributing a free CBZ file of the current Socialfist pages. After the free period though, I’ll be selling that for $2 and I’ll also be premiering the Special $5 edition. It comes with all of the pages of the series – including the two 9 page predecessor series back when it was still SFCRTSN (Super Feudal Communist Russia Team Squad Now). The money will be going to support the artist on those books and with some hopefully going towards the next version of the series.

I’ll be working with Max Y of Cracked on a new version. The plan is to do a series of shorter pieces before compiling them into a larger trade – that way if we lose an artist, the tonal shift will not be as intense. As to when that will begin, it will all be posted on the Socialfist blog and twitter.

As for Changeling we are working on finishing up Chapter 3, the Case of the Sound Demons which is our Doctor Who homage chapter. After that, if things work out, we will be having a fill in artist for a sort of crazy out there action chapter but I still need to nail down those details. Additionally we will be releasing the Changeling Volume 2 book soon in both print and digital formats which will include Chapter 2 and 3 along with a special book-only chapter and that should premiere at Heroes Con in June.



ANTHONY: Sounds like a lot on your plate! You’re also publishing a book online. What’s it about?

LUKE: I wrote and am currently reediting a book called Pharaoh and Ibis which is an all-ages adventure novel that takes a lot from mythology and comics and turns them into something fresh and fun.

The story is about Chris Cushing, an archaeologist, and Kevin Canyon, a young kid, getting thrown into this massive battle between the gods as they try to find an escaped deity who is out for revenge. There’s a lot of twists and turns and some really fun stuff.

That is located over at the Pharaoh and Ibis tumblr. I’ll be starting the second round of edits soon and additionally, if all goes well, I’ll be having an artist provide illustrations for it.

ANTHONY: Where did you draw your inspiration from for this particular story?

LUKE: I’ve always been a big fan of mythology and heroes and this was my chance to combine those two things together. I think we miss out on a lot of Egyptian mythology compared to Graeco-Roman partially due to the art and vandalism of the tombs but also the difficulty of translations but there are some interesting characters there and I do my best to round them out.

I’ve also been a big fan of pulpy superhero characters. When DC recently did their relaunch they did a lot of stuff that I didn’t care for. They turned Shazam into a gritty hero – and this is a book about a kid with superpowers. It shouldn’t be dark and gritty – if I were a kid like that I’d go into R rated movies and drive cars. I’d have fun. It wouldn’t necessarily be smart fun but there is no reason that a kid with all of that power should be so moody. That weird darkening was part of the impetus and the story partially stemmed from the stories I’d like to tell with these archetypal characters.

ANTHONY: I haven’t seen the new Shazam revamp but it sounds like I wouldn’t really like it at all. How does your creative process for your novel differ from your process for the webcomics?

LUKE: I’ve recently been changing how I write webcomics, especially after learning how to not tell shorter stories and luckily my brother had given me some books on novel writing. I ended up using those to go about the story more intelligently. The pacing is a lot better because I thought of the story as a trip with stops along the way instead of being a straight shot, so to speak. I like to think it shows up and I’m using that line of thinking to make even better comics now.

ANTHONY: What challenges have you noticed while writing the novel that you weren’t expecting to encounter?

LUKE: The biggest challenge is creating the world. One of the weaknesses I am still working with is understanding how to describe the world that the characters are in and figuring out how long to keep things going. Comics are a very visual medium and I’ll admit that most of the time I write the comics, unless I am telling something very actiony I think more about the dialogue than the setting. To sort of counteract this I’ve been reading more narrative fiction which after my kick of fake information books and histories of comics and galactic comic writing saviors, it is a valuable thing to do.

ANTHONY: Many writers have a group of first readers, or “beta readers,” to help vet the story, notice plot holes, catch typos, etc. I think this is especially important for self-published authors who don’t have an editor assigned to us by a publishing house. Have you worked with anyone before posting? If so, what has that process been like?

LUKE: I’ve had a few friends look at the book and part of my reason for posting the book to tumblr is to help people get a first crack at it. Most of the people like what I’ve written but my grammar can be a little funky at parts and because I normally worked on the book before going to bed, I commonly got sidetracked and delirious while writing.

I am also going back through the book myself though part of my reason for bringing on an artist is to reward myself for getting editing done – if I finish editing a chapter, I get to share some awesome art.

ANTHONY: Where do you going with the novel when it’s done? Any plans to publish in e-book format or seek other avenues to share the story?

LUKE: I really don’t know what my plan for the book is. I have the sequel planned out and the basic ideas for a third but I think it will all come down to whatever happens. I mean, I am not entirely sure about hunting for a publisher but I am happy sharing the book for free now. If a publisher were to come by offering me money or if someone wanted to do an e-book version, I’d not be opposed.

ANTHONY: You’ve already answered my usual closing question about favorite books. So: favorite comics, and what would you say to convince someone to read it who hasn’t already?

LUKE: Actually speaking of books I recently finished Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw and that was a fantastic read. It is a sort of Douglas Adams take on conscious non-player characters in an MMO and it deals with a lot of big ideas while also being incredibly funny and well written.

For comics I haven’t been read too many recently but I’ll give my big throw of support to Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge with Chris Samnee doing the art. The book is a fantastic re-imagining of the origin of Thor in a more all ages setting but it is more than that. The series redefines a lot of the characters and makes them actually live and makes them human, so to speak. It’s not as much of an action piece and instead focuses on relationships and characters. Unfortunately the book sold poorly so it was cancelled quickly but it is collected in two trade paperbacks that are well worth buying or most of it is on the Marvel Digital Comics.

ANTHONY: Thanks again, Luke!

Luke can be found all over the internet. His novel PHARAOH AND IBIS is on Tumblr. He is the chief editor and blogger on Nerdcenaries. His webcomics are Socialfist and Changeling. And of course he’s on Twitter as @koltreg.

LUKE HERR, Webcomics - Interview

For this, our first interview on the new Tuesday night schedule, we ramble on with Luke Herr.

Luke Herr (aka Koltreg)

Luke Herr (aka Koltreg)

Born in Ohio and currently abandoned in Pittsburgh, PA, Luke Herr alias Koltreg is a web designer, writer, and amateur impressario along with anything else that you need. He currently writes the online comics Changeling and Socialfist as well as articles for the comics blog DC Versus Marvel and occasional extra comic pieces for Socialfist.

ANTHONY: Thanks for sitting down to chat with us, Luke.

LUKE: No problem Anthony. I’m always happy to talk about myself and my work.

A: So, you’ve currently got two webcomics running, on different publication schedules and with different artists. Let’s talk about Socialfist first, since that one’s been around a bit longer. Give us a summary of what Socialfist is about and what kind of audience you’re intending to reach.



Zendorsky leaves his mark on Socialfist

L: Socialfist is about some really confused communist superheroes trying to bring communism back. In the world though, communism has been outlawed and it is seen as a form of rebellion more than actual communism. The force they (the Russians who get branded Socialfist) are fighting is the American Justice Squad (because every American team needs America, Justice and something saying they are a group in the title). The AJS isn’t much better than Socialfist but they are a lot bigger and so this struggle and the inner group struggles are the crux of the story.

A: What inspired Socialfist?

L: Way back about 5 years ago in high school I wanted to make a parody of American superhero teams with the opposites so I thought “Who is the classic stereotyped American enemy – the Russians.” Back then it was SFCRTSN or Super Feudal Communist Russia Team Squad Now! and it was a bunch of horrible characters and a good deal of scatological humor.

As time passed though I decided a guy whose power was vomiting from his butt was probably too juvenile so I removed the superfluous characters and rounded the casts down while making the story about this incredibly partisan world and people trying to cope with living in it. Those people just happen to be superheroes.

A: What kind of working relationship do you have with the Socialfist artist? Do you send a full script with detailed notes, or do you work more in the “this is what should happen on this page” mode and let the artist fill in the details?

L: I’m currently working with Remus Brezeanu who lives in Romania and is a wonderful illustrator. We mostly communicate via email or sometimes via Skype or IM if something needs more immediate notice though I am an internet addict so I am rarely away from my laptop for too long. Usually when I write I have at least loose notes on each script since we reached this understanding of how we were doing the comic. The first chapter was really heavily annotated but that was because I wanted something very cinematic and planned. I didn’t write page long notes like Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison but enough that I could slip things in. Now for the other chapters where there is dialogue, I usually just do loose notes on the scripts.

A: Does Socialfist have a limited storyline? An “end-date,” so to speak? Is it fully plotted out or is there room for character growth to impact how the story will play out?

L: Socialfist, at least for the meantime, has an end date all planned out but this universe and the major changes and movements are planned though I’ve changed ideas before just by sitting on them. With all of that said though, the first person who I told the whole Socialfist outline to pretty much said he really wants to know what goes on after Socialfist is done. If I am up to do that will depend where I am at the time.

To answer the second question, this is one comic where I am happy to tell origins and other stories of the characters. Socialfist is sort of like only reading an event comic like Crisis on Infinite Earths. There is still so much going on in the world and books of interesting stuff that went on in the past that can change things like how you might see a character. One of the ways I am actually going about showing this backstory is that once the current chapter is finished, I’ll be having a guest artist do a background story, both to flesh out a more popular character and to get some more time for Remus to build a buffer.

A: Any creative type knows that sometimes you start a project, and you realize it’s not working, and you go back the drawing board. For writers that often is a hidden road-bump, meaning our larger public (outside of our circles of first-readers) doesn’t see the false start. But webcomics sometimes face that hurdle right in the public eye. You restarted Socialfist with a new artist and a refocused storyline. Talk a bit about how you came to the decision to relaunch, and whether you feel you’ve addressed the problems you’d identified.

L: The last version of Socialfist, when it was SFCRTSN, wasn’t working for me and so when the artist had to leave for better paying work, I was stuck. We’d signed a loose agreement where he got to keep character design privileges and I actually started to think more about the aesthetic and what wasn’t working for me.
When we rebooted, Remus and I got inspiration from the DC Animated Universe shows like Justice League that also helped to set my mind in place for how to show action. I do believe that now we have addressed a lot of the problems that I had concerning me about the original series at the time but sitting with the comic for so long, you start to think of ways you could improve it and there are some ways that are obvious now that were not before.



Chaneling's main character

A: Okay, now, on to your other comic, Changeling. Tell us what Changeling is about and what audience you’re intending to reach.

L: Changeling is my attempt to condense a lot of the comic ideas I had back in high school about these weird paranormal worlds similar to ours into one story and ultimately to make it about something bigger. Less abstractly though, it is about a paranormal detective named Jeff Seibert. The first chapter deals with him being called in for an insurance claim and the second chapter, well, that will be interesting when it happens. We are currently finishing it up early for SPX to bring some prints of the first chapter along so we can get some early opinions.

A: Changeling has a very different feel to it compared to Socialfist: very much in the style of the daily three-panel newspaper comics, with a punchline of some sort at the end of each “day” but also a building storyline. How is plotting Changeling different from plotting Socialfist?

L: With Changeling I wanted to exercise my mind a bit more as far as writing goes. Remus had commented that I wrote a lot of panels on each page of Socialfist so I wanted to make myself learn to do more with less (though I wouldn’t be surprised if some people thing I am worse at that based on Changeling’s pacing). Changeling was also a test to see if I could make jokes easier or at least anti-jokes in some weird attempt to try and create the biggest unfunny thing I could (nut tots) and see if people would start saying it. I’ve heard it purposefully said it twice but luckily the phrase wont show up for another two years of story at least.
Really though Changeling isn’t all that different in plotting though from Socialfist minus the fact that most stories will be able to stand on their own chapter to chapter. For both of the comics I follow this pattern of writing out the dialogue and notes with an idea in my mind. When I reach the end or when I need a break I end up counting pages to see how many I got and then adding in additional notes. Currently I have about 9 or so chapters of Changeling dialogued out and at least 20 other story ideas.

A: Your artist on Changeling, Joe Hunter, has other webcomics running as well. Did his schedule have any influence on the way you’re plotting/telling the story?

L: Haha. Ironically it was my perception of his lack of a schedule on his journal comic Ghostbucket that got me to say “Hey, we should do a biweekly comic.” Keeping him on a schedule and all while fueling my ego with another comic.

A: Does Changeling have a finite storyline?

L: Oooh, that is an interesting question. Last week I couldn’t sleep and so I wrote the end point for the first arc of Changeling that could be the end of the series. It ends with something set up and hinted at and reading through I got shivers which I take as a good sign. Luckily the whole story is in flux but I figure when the characters reach that point I’ll see how Joe and I feel about continuing or not. If we do continue, it will, well… it will be fun.

A: Is Changeling a more collaborative effort than Socialfist, or vice-versa?

L: Socialfist is the more collaborative of the two comics I am currently doing, Remus frequently checks in on his ideas and substitutions. With Changeling it is more of Joe and I sending work to each other and only meeting up after everything is done for the commentary. We do frequently chat about other things though, more so that I talk to Remus, partially due to the time difference.

A: Now for my usual last question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who hasn’t read it yet?

L: Oh, well my favorite book of all time is How To Become King by Jan Terlouw though it is really hard to find, at least online, since it is out of print. I remember reading that book at least 7 times in elementary school, if not more. It is this story about a teenager trying to become king but he has to deal with these codgery old politicians who give him these impossible tasks like stopping a dragon and a wizard, figuring out why houses are moving. There are these great political twists though like the dragon has polluted the countryside which causes all of the people in the town to become the most efficient workers and the wizard is actually a good guy at heart. He ultimately succeeds but it is done in such a creative and fun way it stuck in my mind over all of these years.

I’d recommend you pick up How To Become King if not for the fact that the only copy on Amazon is ridiculously expensive. As that is the case, read Grant Morrison’s Supergods which is what I blame if I come off as pretentious in the interview because that book is literary wizard drugs and comic history rolled into one.

A: Thanks, Luke!

L: No problem Anthony. Pax.

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In addition to the links in his bio, you can also find Luke Tweeting away as Koltreg and occasionally on the official SocialfistTwitter as well.