Michael Derrick’s “Grayskale” has seen into your soul and found it wanting! (Interview)
As always, the answers below are represented “as written.”
The Splintering: Why did you go with Grayskale with an “A” rather than Greyskale with an “E”? Don’t you know that spelling it with an “E” is objectively cooler, and is also a proven way to attract female readership?
Michael Derrick: And here I thought people would bust my chops for using a “K” instead of a “C”! (Remember, kids, the K stands for KARMA!) Gotta love comics. To your point, here’s hoping I didn’t lose potential ground with the goth girl demographic by going with the American spelling…
TS: The title character Grayskale is a superhero with “karma-based” powers. Are these powers mystical in origin? How does this give him a leg-up on evil?
Michael: Grayskale can “see” people’s karma in the form of a black and white (or in some cases gray, as his name might suggest) aura that tells him exactly who the bad guys are, at which point he deals with them accordingly (i.e. smashing their face in with his trusty truncheon). The mystery of Grayskale’s karma powers is something that will be explored and hinted at in the book, and rest assured we’ll get to see our hero find new and creative ways to utilize karma.
TS: If you had Grayskale’s karma powers, on what real-world person would you most want to use them and why?
Michael: This is the part where I’m supposed to be a good little comic book pro and go with something along the lines of “orange man bad,” isn’t it? Ever the contrarian, I’ll instead use my newfound abilities on whichever executive keeps greenlighting all those Netflix anime adaptations. Because if that guy doesn’t have bad karma, who does?
TS: Given the hero’s karma abilities, would you say that there are themes of irony in the book, similar to The Crow, for example?
Michael: Only in so much as The Universe itself finds irony in the goings on of us mere mortals. Because while Grayskale can “cash in” people’s karma to cause them instant misfortune, the nature of that misfortune is based on a number of factors that are not entirely under his control. In other words, it won’t be a case of “pyromaniac gets burned alive!” or anything that cliche.
TS: The artwork on the Grayskale Indiegogo page shows off a number of supporting characters, several of whom I assume are villains. Is there anything you can tell us about them?
Michael: The great thing about writing an unapologetic superhero book is the chance to create a whole host of outrageous and deadly villains. While our hero Grayskale is still operating in the early days of his crimefighting career, he’s already starting to amass his very own rogues’ gallery, three of whom–Reapo, the Grim Gargantuan; Phantasmagoria, the Psychedelic Psychopath; Brassring, the Man of a Million Volts–are indeed featured on the cover art and will play major roles in the Welcome to Glitter City storyline.
TS: Is Grayskale a stand-alone story, or is it the first chapter of a larger series?
Michael: Both! My intention with Grayskale is to make a character that stands the test of time and provides storytelling potential for years to come, so while Welcome to Glitter City will have a satisfying conclusion, I’ll be planting plenty of seeds for epic, overarching storyline dubbed “The Red Hand Saga,” which is meant to be told over several volumes.
TS: With Grayskale, you’re working with the artist known only as P.K. How would you characterize your working relationship? How much influence did P.K. have on the character’s design?
Michael: In a lot of ways, our working relationship is the complete opposite of the one I had with my previous collaborator (The Abductables‘ own Ibai Canales). Whereas with Canales we tended to be on the same page for most ideas, with P.K. there’s a lot more back and forth. And while that might sound like a bad thing, that sort of creative tension has actually produced some great ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. For instance, my original idea for the aforementioned Psychedelic Psychopath (a femme fatale who can create thoughtforms out of her hallucinations) was to have her be a him! P.K. kindly pointed out that our roster of bad guys had a painfully apparent lack of sex appeal, and thus “The Phantasmagorian” became…Phantasmagoria! (Seriously, what was I thinking?) As for the design of the main character, the final product looks pretty similar to what I’d envisioned, though P.K. did come up with that iconic eye symbol on Grayskale’s chest.
TS: The Grayskale Indiegogo campaign page also has an ashcan-sized, sci-fi book titled Dark Ages, which is available as an add-on purchase for those who back Grayskale, correct? What can you tell us about the Dark Ages project? Sell me on it!
Michael: Dark Ages is a 24 page cyberpunk action comic written and drawn by Grayskale‘s own P.K.! It’s a project he’d initially serialized as a successful webcomic, but the art and storytelling were so good that we wanted to find it a home in print. So, to give you more bang for your buck, backers can add this dark sci-fi epic about the shady happenings taking place on a dystopian Mars colony for just 10 bucks, shipping included!
TS: Last year, you crowdfunded and fulfilled a sci-fi comedy book titled The Abductables (we reviewed it here). What lessons did you take away from that campaign? Is there anything that you know now that you wish you knew back then?
Michael: All things considered, The Abductables campaign, from creation all the way to fulfillment, went… surprisingly smoothly. You hear so many horror stories from creators about the perils of crowdfunding, but, other than the nightmare of lettering the book myself (seriously, never doing that again–thank God for our professional letterer, Jaymes Reed!) I found the whole process rather enjoyable. The one thing I don’t have to worry about this time around is the fear of the unknown.
TS: Aside from the campaign itself, did the customer feedback from The Abductables influence Grayskale in a creative sense?
Michael: The reviews for The Abductables were encouragingly positive, with many saying it was their favorite book to come out the crowdfunding/ComicsGate scene of 2019! And that great reader response has only motivated me all the more to step up my game and deliver an even better book this time around, sophomore slump be damned. (Also, I’m trying to be less wordy.)
TS: The Abductables had quite a bit of raunchy, adult-themed humor throughout. Are you going with a similar tone with Grayskale, or are you approaching it differently?
Michael: While there will definitely be plenty of comedic and (hopefully) laugh-out-loud moments in Grayskale (due in no small part to Grayskale’s own sarcastic, irreverent personality) this time around I’m leaning a bit more into the dramatic side of things. I want the stakes to be as high as possible. While the protagonist of The Abductables had a relatively easy time making mince meat out of those poor little aliens, Grayskale will have a decidedly tougher time dealing with all the evil that lurks in the hearts of men (shout out to The Shadow).
TS: Do you find it kind of odd that The Abductables featured black-and-white art, but your book titled Grayskale is in full color? I’m not the boss of you or anything, but it kind of looks like you’re doing things backwards…
Michael: Story of my life! Though it does kinda give a nice bit of symmetry between the two projects, no?
TS: You’ve been a very open proponent of the “ComicsGate” movement, which we have loosely defined as “a group of comic creators and consumers disillusioned with plummeting comic shop sales and political/ideological encroachment into the professional practices of the comic book industry.” First, do you think ours is a fair definition of ComicsGate? And second, how would you assess the current state of the ComicsGate movement?
Michael: That’s as good a definition as any. People tie themselves into knots trying to pin “what is ComicsGate?” down to a simple, easy-to-digest answer, but the problem is that it means so many things to so many people. At its core, ComicsGate is the word for anyone saying “no” to the status quo of current mainstream comics and, in the case of creators, offering an alternative. As for the State of the (CG) Union, the massive success of the “Expendables Go to Hell” Indiegogo is undeniable proof that CG is alive and well. The fact that Richard C. Meyer now has multiple six figure campaigns and a licensed Hollywood property under his belt and the industry still treats him like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is case-in-point as to why ComicsGate isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
TS: Outside of ComicsGate, what other independent comic book creators do you consider to be inspirations?
Michael: Todd McFarlane has always been a hero of mine, but since I’m not a great artist and I don’t plan on starting a multi-million dollar toyline any time soon, I take more direct inspiration from guys like Robert Kirkman and Mark Millar–comic book writers who’ve managed to carve their own path and aren’t beholden to the whims of industry gatekeepers. Not to mention they’ve both made a sh*t-ton of money!
TS: Assuming everything goes according to plan with Grayskale, what’s next for Michael Derrick and Cauldron Comics?
Michael: I have a million stories I want to tell, so I hope to continue building my audience and creating quality comics that readers will enjoy. (Did I mention there’s an Abductables sequel in the works?)
TS: Last chance for the sales pitch: what’s the one best thing about Grayskale making it worth backing?
Michael: It’s become popular in recent years for writers and artists to look down their nose at the genre that has become synonymous with the very medium of comics–superheroes. And while I agree with the sentiment that sequential art can and should utilize any and every genre under the sun, I think it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I’ve always loved and respected the American artform that is cape comics, so if you’re like me and are sick of the self-referential, postmodern irony found in so many superhero stories of the modern era, and want to read something that pays tribute to what came before while carving out a path toward something new and exciting, well…do I have the book for you!