Wednesday, June 09, 2010

12-GAUGE 2010 plans revealed at CBR

In 2004, comic shop owner and former Valiant Comics direct sales manager Keven Gardner collaborated with comic book professionals Doug Wagner, Jason Pearson, Brian Stelfreeze and Cully Hammer to launch their very own publishing company. Looking to make an impact in the industry, the group named the company 12 Gauge Comics, and this fall, they look to blow readers away with a veritable buckshot of new titles.

Featuring gritty, realistic stories typically based in a Southern setting, 12 Gauge first made its mark in comics with the black-and-white series "The Ride." The company since went on to produce such titles as Jason Pearson's "Body Bags," "The O.C.T" with actress Rosario Dawson and, most recently, a tie-in to the "Boondocks Saints" films by writer/director Troy Duffy. The company expands its line this fall with four new titles: "Magus," "Loose Ends," "25 to Life" by actor Eriq La Salle and "R.P.M." by wrestler and New York Times Bestselling author Mick Foley.

Gardner spoke with CBR News about the new limited series, the difference between modern fantasy and traditional and future plans for 12 Gauge Comics.

CBR News: Keven, we already have interviews on the site with both Mick and Eriq, but I wanted to get some perspective on your end about these two accomplished professionals and bringing them into 12 Gauge. Starting with Mick, what do you think he brings to the table for 12 Gauge both in terms of him personally and his storytelling style?

Rebekah Isaacs ilustrates "Magus"

Keven Gardner: For me, it's always what feels right. We worked with Rosario Dawson and that was really successful for us, but she was also a good fit. There are a lot of celebrities who want to get into comics just to get their name out there, and that doesn't really fit with what we do. Mick, that's a guy that when it comes to the 12 Gauge audience, there's a little bit of crossover there. He's like the everyman of wrestling. He's got the hardcore persona, but he's not the Hulk Hogan, super-strength guy. He's just a guy that the fans love and appreciate because he works really hard at his craft. He is the best at his style of wrestling and 12 Gauge, in a lot of ways, that's what we strive to be: we want to be the guys who get recognized for their hard work and dedication to the medium. We're not ever going to be Marvel or DC because that's just not our business model. We just want to put out really good, quality books that when you read it you feel that you spent your three or four dollars wisely. I think Mick really just fits that same feel. And he's a great writer and the story was great. It was a completely like a 12 Gauge book - high on action, fun story, it doesn't take itself too seriously. Just really good all around.

Eriq is working on "25 to Life," and he's done a number of things in the entertainment industry, including acting in such films like "Coming to America" and starring in "ER." You often hear about how quite a few actors are actually comic fans, but how did Eriq get involved with 12 Gauge?

A couple years ago, he actually moved out of being a full-time actor and started getting into directing and producing. He had contacted us about another property, just expressing some interest in possibly developing it as a film. We opened a dialogue, and Eriq had this idea called "25 to Life" that he told me about, and I just fell in love with it. I thought it was just a fantastic idea for a series - the gritty crime with a neat little twist as far as the setup. It's another kind of thing like Mick Foley, where we're not trying to put Eriq in a book for a vanity thing. This was just a really good story and when I heard it, I just had to do it. He had this story worked out, and Doug Wagner, who has been with me since the start, brought him in to adapt it into a comic book form. That's really what we look for. It's just a cool project.

Looking at some of the other projects you guys have coming out, there's the upcoming "Magus," by Jon Price and David Norton with art by Rebekah Isaacs. This comic focuses on the idea of magic returning to humanity after being cut off for centuries, and we see the ramifications of this happening. What else can you say about the story?

Initially this was a little bit of a stretch for my comfort zone, but I'm a big fan of Rebekah Isaacs and had been trying to find a project for her. She was a student at SCAD, and 12 Gauge has always had a good relationship with SCAD. We've done a special project book with them where their students created an issue of "The Ride." They actually had a class called Ride 101. But about two years ago, I saw her portfolio and I've been trying to find a project to work on together since. It was about the time she took off when we started talking, and she went on to do "Ms. Marvel" and she did some work for Devil's Due and is now working on the "DV8" series with Brian Wood. She came to me, she and Jon, with the idea, and I thought it was a really intriguing story. Even though magic has been done in many different ways, this seemed really fresh to me. It's very much team oriented. They've got a really big story and have thought it out. Again, it's just a quality book and even though it didn't quite fit us completely, it was just too good not to do.

"Magus" modern day setting allowed it to fit in with the 12 Gauge line of titles

I wanted to ask about that. 12 Gauge definitely sticks to the grittier, realistic stuff and magic encompasses a whole different territory, but this is magic in a more modern setting as opposed to the more traditional fantasy setting. Was that part of the reason it was able to fit with 12 Gauge?

Yeah, exactly. If it had been a traditional superhero team in costumes, I think there are other publishers that are better. I don't want to say we're never going to do that, but we'll first look at how good the story is and how good the artist is. If those two things get the big check mark, then we'd like to figure out a way to make it work. But, yeah, this was definitely an easier decision because the magic was just part of the story and the characters are what's important. I guess it's kind of along the line of "Heroes," where you take these extreme events but everything is based in reality. More like the first season of "Heroes," when it was still pretty good.

Do you think it makes it more accepting to a wider audience as well? You see elves and dwarves and it caters to a specific group while cutting off another area of the market. Meanwhile, if it's magic but in a modern day setting, more people are willing to give it a go.

Yeah. Fantasy especially, there's a big audience, but you're limiting yourself a lot if you go after pure fantasy books. There are a lot of people who definitely wouldn't touch it if they saw an elf on the cover. We try to be more accessible to the guys who don't gravitate more toward the superhero and traditional fantasy book. We try to be a more real-world universe.

Shifting gears, the other book you guys have coming out fits more obviously within the 12 Gauge model. You've described "Loose Ends" as a "southern crime romance." What does that mean for what we'll be seeing in this book?

Chris Brunner is the artist, and he did a story for me in "The Ride" a couple years back and is probably the one today that people always notice. It was just really perfectly executed. It was just the most amazing art I had seen. Jason Latour had written this story and talked to Chris about drawing it, and they came to me almost two years ago and wanted to have 12 Gauge publish it. I think it's going to be a book that people will be picking up for years, and when they find it, they'll have to get the whole collection. The story is definitely really gritty. There's going to be a lot of brutality in it and a lot of realism. It's a really great story and Chris' pages are just absolutely stunning.

Chris Brunner illustrates "Loose Ends"

What would you say is the appeal about these stories featuring these characters that you just feel like you could know or even hear about in everyday life?

The thing with "Loose Ends" is that, sure the story has been turned up a couple notches - it's about a guy running drugs from Carolina down to Miami - but the real story is that he's running from his problems. He's on the run and he's got a lot of guys after him. It's a story about how you can hide from your problems and you can try to run away from them, but everything always catches up to you in the end. That's what this story is about. It's kind of our "True Romance"-style story. I just can't rave about it enough. I think that crime and action, you can never get enough of them because it is always based in reality. There is crime all around us, and it's interesting to explore that dynamic of what makes people do the things that they do, bad or good or whatever. It's great to get into that and see stories about these characters and their motivation behind their crime sprees. "Loose Ends" is a really good example of that.

Closing out, 12 Gauge will obviously continue to publish these realistic, gritty titles, but will you be looking to bring in more celebrity creators to work on projects?

You'll never see 12 Gauge publish a book that is strictly because it's a way to make money. The story has got to be there first. Any way we can offset some of the cost and work with somebody like Mick Foley, that helps, but it's all about the story. I don't go out looking for those things. Sometimes they come to me through relationships. I won't say that we won't continue to do those, but that's not the focus of our company. It's a small company, so every book that we do gets a lot of love, but that means we can't do a full line of books. We just want to do our stuff and do it well and make our mark by quality over quantity.

Monday, June 07, 2010

NEW BOOK! 25 TO LIFE launches in December

As an actor, Eriq La Salle went from playing Eddie Murphy's jheri-curled adversary in the comedy "Coming to America" to starring in the award winning television drama "ER" to directing episodes of such shows as "CSI: NY" and "Law & Order: SVU." Now, he's heading to prison - figuratively speaking, of course - with his new miniseries from 12 Gauge Comics, "25 to Life."

The three-issue series will explore the idea of an experimental FBI division that partners elite agents with 25-to-life sentenced criminals in "Silence of the Lambs"-esque fashion in order to solve high profile cases. In this particular instance, the gruesome murder of three African American police officers force Special Agent Gabriel Santana to team with the racist white supremacist Pratt, currently serving a life sentence for his terrible crimes. As expected, tensions raise rather quickly as neither men find themselves none too fond of the other. Written by La Salle and Doug Wagner, the title features art by Tony Shasteen and heads to comic shops in September.

In an exclusive first interview, La Salle spoke with CBR News about his journey into the comic book world, the terrifying similarities between those who defend the law and those who break it and how his experience in acting gave him an insight into the criminal mind.

CBR News: Eriq, before we get into the details of the title, I've got to ask, how did you get involved with this project? You've done acting, directing; what made you decide to come into comics?

Eriq La Salle: At my company, Humble Journey Films, we were always trying to push the envelope, [asking] "What's the best ways to get stories told." We just want to tell stories. That's why I became an actor - because I love telling stories. The longer I've been in the business, the various avenues I started exploring - directing, producing, writing - this just became another great avenue, particularly for this genre of story that we had. Once that idea came out, we ran with it.

"25 to Life" starts in September

I'm always into new challenges and [comics] is a world that's relatively new to me. Keven Gardner has actually taught me really 85 percent of what I know about the world. It's been this really cool thing of, along with working on this project, learning about the world. Because it's really about respecting the world. A lot of times, people come from different worlds and they think it's supposed to work their way, the way it used to work. I really want to know, what are the sensibilities of the comic world and how are things done and what is the most effective way, because there are subtle differences and overt differences between the film world and the comic world. At the end of the day, everybody wants to tell a good story, so there are certain things that definitely translate and hold true, but the way you go about doing it is either slightly different or vastly different. So, it's a challenge, but I'm having a ball with it. I think it's the perfect fit for this particular project and I'm really into it.

As we know, the story focuses on a special crimes division that teams agents with convicted criminals to solve cases similar in nature to the crime they committed. What about this idea appeals to you?

Some of the best things about telling stories, it's really about what is the theme, what are the subtleties, what are the things you're really trying to get across. In this world, we are able to explore the often-uncomfortable parallel between criminals and law enforcement. A lot of times, the cops that can think most like criminals are the most successful. Here, we have criminals coming into contact and participating with law enforcement, and we see how that affects them. It keeps raising the stakes of the story, and I find those types of stories most compelling - not when you're dealing with one element, but [when] you're dealing with a myriad of things. There's a big crime scene they're investigating, but there is also the subtle relationship that these guys have to endure with each other, which is a lot times problematic, a lot of times contentious, a lot of times humorous. Those are the things I think contribute to compelling storytelling.

It's interesting you say that, because there is that idea that while everyone has dark thoughts, the difference between a normal person and a criminal is that the criminal acts on it. It's kind of scary to think how close we all are to being a criminal.

Pages from "25 to Life"

Exactly. Who crosses that line and who walks that line? I think law enforcement, a lot of times walks that line, because violence is a part of their world. You're always supposed to be contained and restrained. Whereas criminals a lot of times are sociopaths and do what they want to do. It just adds a lot of interesting elements, and I like that dangerous element of it. We all basically have criminals within our beings, and most people, most healthy people, have found a way to suppress those urges and impulses and actions. This is a world where everybody is doing what they want to do and the cops are trying to solve a high stakes crime by working with people they not only detest, but that they helped put behind bars. There's a dilemma, because you're almost making a deal with the devil. This person is thinking, "I put him in jail and now I'm going to help him get out of jail earlier so that he can help me put someone else in jail." It's a vicious cycle, but necessary.

What can you say about the main character in this title?

Without giving away too much, he is the perfect agent for this new experimental wing of the FBI, not just because of his prowess and success as an agent, but personally, he is a tortured soul. This guy is literally to the point of becoming a criminal himself. He is the closest thing to a criminal that is legal. He does things his way. He understands consequences and all that, but he always puts the case above everything. He's one of those guys where the ends justifies the means. He has got some really dark things based on his relationship with his father, who actually is a criminal. So, he is really tortured in the sense that he has this really dysfunctional relationship with a father who used to be a great law enforcement guy who cracked. So, he's also dealing with a ticking clock of, "Will I have that same gene? Will I one day crack?" He's like a Bruce Banner type character. He knows he has this beast in him and it's a ticking clock. There's a fear that one day it's going to come out, but in the meantime, he's using everything he has for good and righteousness. It's a really fascinating character because of those elements.

What about the criminal side of the equation?

Pages from "25 to Life"

We came up with a ton of crimes when we were mapping this thing out and asking what were the legs of the franchise. We came up with a ton of stories, but the one we wanted to start with was something that really put these two fascinating characters in proximity with each other. And they are so polarized on so many levels, not just the obvious law versus crime - ethnically, philosophically, a guy with white supremacist views and a guy who is African American. It's "Silence of the Lambs" meets "48 Hours" meets "The Defiant Ones." Those are all references that were very successful in their own right. With our criminal, we like elevating the intelligence of the criminal because that makes the protagonist that much smarter. A lot of people, when they tell stories, the criminals are so dumb. But Anthony Hopkins was an amazing criminal who elevated Jodie Foster's character, because she had to be smart in order to hang with that brilliant guy. If you look at it from that point of view, [the criminal in this story] isn't just some stupid hick that you just dismiss as being a racist. This guy is clever, he's cunning, he's a great adversary for our protagonist.

As an actor, you've inserted yourself into many different roles - some good guys, some bad guys. Does being an actor and portraying characters that vary on the moral scale help you write a story like this and delve into the mind of these characters?

Well, the first rule that you're taught in acting class is that you don't judge your character. You don't define your character as good or bad. What you do is you try and justify your character and try to justify your character's actions because there are a lot of people in this world that do some horrible things, but they don't see themselves as horrible people. They felt that what they were doing was necessary and justified. So, I don't create characters to say that he's a bad guy. I create a character who is trying to justify something that we may disagree with, but there is a logic. Even sometimes when there is a twisted logic, it has to be a logic nonetheless. So, we never say, "He's the bad guy." He certainly doesn't see himself as the bad guy, and that is a direct response to my training as an actor and everything that I know about storytelling. They make for much more multi-dimensional characters. Anthony Hopkins didn't see himself a depraved cannibal. He had purpose in his actions and he felt he was justified in doing those things. That's just been a point of view of storytelling that has serviced my company well and serviced me as an actor when I take on a role. When you have a supremacist versus an African American, the supremacist, from his point of view, sees thing a certain ways. Their logic makes sense on a certain level, it's just criminal. I see how this person came to that conclusion, it's a twisted conclusion, but there is a certain logic there. That to me, is the greatest challenge, when you can get the audience to admit that, even though they completely disagree.

As you've said, you've done a number of things in your profession - writing, directing, acting. What is it about the idea of visual storytelling, be it in comic book form or movies or television, appeals to you as a creator?

Whenever I read comics, the vast majority of them didn't feel like they needed to do all the homework because they had visuals, they were in a different world. The rules of storytelling, regardless of format or genre…I just think there has to be more consistency. Good storytelling is good storytelling. When we started off, it was with silent films and it was all about visuals. It was about visual communication. You didn't need the words back then, and you'd still have these amazing stories. One of the very first films that I did was a short with no dialogue whatsoever. Coming from that point on view, you rely heavily on visuals.

By the time you start dealing with comics, you see within one block so many things are being told. I love being able to tell a story just based on seeing an image and what that image does to you. I'm very committed to bringing everything I know about storytelling and saying just because I'm doing a comic… Some people have this attitude where, just because it's a comic you don't have to justify the character, or the character doesn't have to have complications and dilemmas. You get some great visuals, but you're like, "Man those great visuals would mean so much more if you have the audience truly involved." Every time you turn that page, you're hoping that nothing bad happens to them. You see a visual of a big brawny killer and you're like, "Wow. That's a badass, and I hope my hero can survive this." And that's all coming from the visuals.

You have obviously put a lot of thought into the medium and approaching it properly. What are your thoughts thus far? Would this be a world you'd like to have an extended stay in between acting and directing?

Once I've had my cherry pop…! I'm so into this world. The huge difference from after working with Keven is that when I get a story or a concept for a story, it goes through a different process. Before, I used to think, "This would be a great movie" or "This would be a great TV show." And now there is this third thing: "Would this be better starting off as a comic?" So, there's a third eye, now, that I've started developing. It's just giving me more options for storytelling, which is, again, the thing that I love most.

Break on out and head over the comic shop this September when "25 to Life" issue #1 hits shelves.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


It isn't too late to make it to one of the best comic conventions you'll ever attend! 12-GAUGE will be attending HEROES CON in full-force, so grab the nearest plane, train, or automobile (I don't recommend hitch-hiking these days) of your choice and join us in Charlotte, NC for lots of fun! Look for signings with MICK FOLEY, REBEKAH ISAACS, TONY SHASTEEN, JASON PEARSON, BRIAN STELFREEZE, CHRIS BRUNNER, JASON LATOUR, RICO RENZI & other bad-ass guests all weekend long.


Make sure to stop by and see us in Charlotte, NC this weekend to find out more about MAGUS!