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– by Brendan Hughes

It is easy to forget that there are comic publishers outside of DC, Image, and Marvel. One of these publishers, Action Lab, recently they published ABERRANT a series that takes comics in a different direction. I recently got the chance to discuss this comic and other aspects regarding the industry with Rylend Grant, the writer of ABERRANT, who discussed his passion for the comic book medium, among other things.

LRM: Usually, the process from idea to actualization takes a while. How long has Aberrant been an idea that you were looking to turn into a comic? 

Rylend Grant: I’m a screenwriter by trade. I’ve been paid handsomely to write poppy Hollywood action movies for about 12 years. I’ve penned scripts for folks like Ridley Scott, Justin Lin, F. Gary Gray, John Woo, and Luke Besson. It’s a good life. I wouldn’t trade it. It certainly beats working. But my real passion has always been comics.

I’ve wanted to cut my own book for a VERY long time. I flirted with doing it years back in college. I was even homed in on a version of the idea that eventually became ABERRANT back then, but it was a very different world… Finding collaborators was NOT easy. You used to have to actually know an artist… somebody that lived in your town… you’d be delivering physical boards/drawings to a printer. Thankfully, the whole business has changed dramatically in just the past few years with digital workflow and facebook groups. It’s so wildly easy to hook up with worthy artists now. I actually have 4 books in the pipe at this point and I have a penciler/inker in Hungary, two artists in Brazil, and artist in Mexico… my go-to colorist lives in Indonesia, my letterer is in the UK… I communicate with them almost exclusively via email. I pay them via PayPal. It’s a wild new world.

I organize/moderate a lot of GETTING YOUR FIRST COMIC PUBLISHED panels at cons (I’m actually doing a few this go round at SDCC) and the thing I try and preach to everyone is: It has never been easier/more possible to get your comic made/published. If you are out there and you are sitting on an idea, GO GET IT MADE! Hit me up on Twitter (@rylendgrant) if you need some help.

In terms on this incarnation of ABERRANT, it’s been about a two-year journey from the “I’m going to do this” stage to the “Holy crap, it’s in stores!” stage. I’m a guy who responds well to structure, to formal deadlines and the like… and so, when I decided to finally take the comic plunge, I actually enrolled in a MAKING COMICS class at Meltdown Comics (the longtime pulp culture bastion in Los Angeles, CA). It was taught by a guy named Jim Higgins who used to be an editor at DC comics. There I met this amazing group of creators like Jeff Leeds (Not Forgotten Anthology), Karla Nappi (Duplicant), and Steve Prince (Monster Matador) who became friends and confidants. Without that community of creators propping me up, I honestly don’t know if ABERRANT ever would have seen the light of day. With their help, getting it all done was easy. Even with Meltdown closed, Jim is still teaching classes around Los Angeles. I highly recommend them if you’re looking to get into the game.

LRM: What challenges do indie writers face when trying to publish their comics?

Rylend Grant: Wow… great question. Most indy writer/creators, unfortunately, end up being one man/one woman bands in terms of the production/promotion/marketing of their books. He or she has to be the “motor,” if I can mix my metaphors. Most indy (not all, but most) artists/colorists/letterers are fighting day and night just to pay bills and keep food on the table and so they necessarily take a mercenary approach to the projects they tackle. If they are good, they’re working on multiple titles at the same time. They finish your title and move on to the next.

You, the writer/creator, on the other hand, are in it for the long haul. You have to manage the workflow from contributor to contributor. You have to shop the title around to publishers. You have to work the cons, beg for press coverage. It can get a bit ugly.

The hardest part, really though, is kicking your way in, getting that first book published. It’s REALLY hard to get noticed. There is A TON of product out there right now and a lot of it is crap. The decision makers at any comic label are inundated with junk and they have precious little time to sort through it. If you want your book published, you need to, first and foremost, produce something of quality, but then you also have to find a way to stand out from the crowd. I was lucky in that I had a pretty solid film/TV pedigree before I veered into the comics lane. I could walk up to Matt Hawkins at a convention and say “Hey, we have mutual friends!” That’s really all you need in the end. Give the Matt Hawkins of the world a substantial reason to flip through your book instead of the next. If it’s good, they’ll print it… These are really smart people. They didn’t get hired on as an editor or EIC or whatever by luck.

LRM: One thing different from your book is your use of pop music as a way of transitioning between panels. Is this a challenging process regarding the logistics of obtaining songs?  

Rylend Grant: Ha! YES! One of the things that makes ABERRANT different and truly exciting is that it is chock full of popular music. In the first trade alone, we have tunes from Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Temptations, Bobby McFerrin, Wilson Phillips, and R. Kelly… I think those songs are incorporated in a really clever/interesting way. It’s something most haven’t seen in comics before. I absolutely LOVE it…

That said, I think that if I knew how hard it was going to be to clear songs for print (in the legal sense), I never would have attempted it. Most every song took MONTHS to clear. The major hurdle we hit? A few years back, when I started planning/writing ABERRANT, my creator friends were getting songs cleared for their publications for about $40-$50 a piece. Well, by the time I settled on my “playlist” and ABERRANT was in production, the major clearinghouse that handles all of these publishing rights decided that they were getting too many requests/that it was no longer profitable to wrestle with all of them. Short and sweet… by the time I submitted my paperwork on ABERRANT, they had increased the minimum cost per song to $300. Ugh… You can imagine how that all adds up.

If you’re dealing with one of the major clearinghouses, it’s not that much legwork. The problem comes when you’re dealing with a lesser known song or a song that is controlled by multiple entities. Said major clearinghouse might control 75% of the stake in the song. They have lawyers, an entire department that deals with requests like this. BUT… that other 25%? You’re dealing with some random guy in Montana. He’d rather be watching Jeopardy than fielding your $60 offer to use lyrics from the tune be partially controls. We hit a lot of bumps like these along the way. There were songs we, unfortunately, had to cut – think Frank Sinatra – and songs that we literally didn’t clear until minutes before our publishing deadlines.

Again, I LOVE how the music plays here, but for all the reasons outlined above, I would really think twice about using music in another publication.

LRM: While Aberrant uses costumed heroes to set up the world it appears to not be the main focus. Do you believe there is a market in the comic community outside of the top two publishers (Marvel and DC) and their genre of superheroes?

Rylend Grant: Here’s the thing… and you’re kind of already saying this… in my experience, no one wants to read your off-brand superhero comic… and publishers will rarely get behind them. Honestly, if you’re in a store and it comes down to buying the next Batman or Captain America comic or the new “Random Man” comic, it just isn’t a choice, right?

I LOVE superhero comics. I came upon Batman and Captain America and Jobu-willing, maybe somebody will let me write on those titles someday (Shout out to Rickey Purdin over at Marvel!!!). Until, then, I’m just trying to find my different/clever place in this whole wicked dance.

ABERRANT takes place in a world where those Batman/Cap-types exists… but we’ve seen that book a million times… THIS ONE is really about how the regular people then have to get out of Cap/Batman’s way and adjust their lives. More specifically, it’s about how the U.S. Military/Geopolitical agenda would necessarily change if superpower individuals did, in fact, exist. There is some weighty political discourse here. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty damn cool.

LRM: Having a background in film do you notice similarities between the mediums of film and comics?

Rylend Grant: 100%. Again, I’m a screenwriter by trade. I have an undergraduate degree in film history and I have a Masters degree in film directing from the American Film Institute Conservatory. So, I tend to approach crafting comics exactly like I would approach directing a film. In fact, I went so far as to give myself a writer/director credit in ABERRANT. There will probably be a few comic-types out there that’ll want to kick my ass over that, but screw them, I think it suits the book.

In crafting ABERRANT, I went out of my way to channel the spirit of some of my favorite paranoid spy/action thrillers from the ‘70s like THE CONVERSATION and MARATHON MAN. In fact, my go-to elevator pitch is always something along the lines of: “ABERRANT is a military-slanted THREE DAYS OF A CONDOR (the 1975 Sydney Pollock Mindbender). You know… if there was a snarling superpowered badass waiting around every corner, hell-bent on stomping a mudhole in Robert Redford.” Tell me that doesn’t sound fun?

My hope is that when you read ABERRANT, you experience the same euphoric intellectual adrenaline rush I experienced watching modern CONDOR-inspired Hollywood thrillers like Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON or Tony Scott’s ENEMY OF THE STATE.

LRM: What can we expect going forward in the Aberrant and what do you want this comic to accomplish?

Rylend Grant: More than anything, we’re looking to defy expectation/give the reader something they haven’t seen before. Too often, art offers us simple black and white answers to terribly complex questions. This guy is bad. This other guy is good. This is right. This is wrong. But we all know that real life isn’t like that. In politics, and with social & economic engineering – strong focuses in ABERRANT – the truth always lies in some unsatisfying, ugly shade of grey. No one ever completely wins. Ultimately, EVERYONE ends up a little dissatisfied in the end. That was a guiding principle in crafting this book. Every character should be a little wrong. Every character should be a little right. Your enemy is much, much scarier when you can understand where he or she is coming from. I remember being about halfway through the recent BLACK PANTHER movie and thinking, “You know what? This Killmonger guy is really making some interesting points.” That’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Great character. Excellent villain. Great ride. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but at the heart of ABERRANT is a really likable, noble villain whom is absolutely doing the right thing for the right reasons…he’s just going about it in the worst way imaginable. We don’t see enough drama like that.

The other thing is comics too often move in a straight line these days. They follow predictable patterns. I’ve been writing scripts in Hollywood for 12+ years now. I know story backwards and forwards. Very little surprises me anymore. My wife gets miffed because five minutes into a Top Chef episode (great show, by the way) I already know who’s winning and who’s going home. But I’m not special. Audiences are CRAZY smart these days. They are always two steps ahead of the game. With that in mind, I’m trying very hard to actually surprise people with every issue of ABERRANT. The series is packed with meaty twists and wicked turns. You’re sure you know somebody, that you have them pegged, and then they take a violent left turn. The world of this book is populated with politicians, spies, and all-star military types…uber smart, wildly dynamic, and sometimes very manipulative people. It’s been fun to create and hopefully, it’s just as much fun to read.

LRM: Wow, those are really insightful answers, congrats on ABBERRANT!

Rylend Grant: Thanks Again.

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Source: LRM Online Exclusive