From Comic Reader to Comic Creator

Contributed by Kevin “Grivante” Penelerick

I started reading comics around ten years old and had access to a lot of different ones. I started with things like Richie Rich and Archie. From there I graduated into silver age Superman, Spiderman, Captain America and other super-hero titles, but mostly Marvel, oh and the original Star Wars comics series.

My access to so many comics came from the fact that at a young age I helped my grandparents out running their stall at a flea market in Everett, WA. Being the kid, I ran the kids section which included everything from barbie dolls to baseball cards, comics and toys. When it was slow I would sit there and read and I would read everything!

First and foremost I had a huge love for Spiderman. The way he bantered with his villains while fighting and also how he was quiet and kind and just trying to do good in the world. I loved the world of superheroes in general. How they struggled against impossible odds but always overcame them and saved the day. The young boy in me really identified with them.

At some point in my flea market business days I met an older kid by the name of Scott. Scott was the one who introduced me to alternative comics and zombies. It’s there that my particular tastes started to shift. He introduced me to one of the coolest and first zombie comics, Deadworld. Deadworld had incredibly gruesome artwork by Vince Locke and blew my mind that comics weren’t just superheroes in tights or silly kids things.

The story of Deadworld revolved around the outbreak of zombies who were let into our world by a spell book which opened some sort of rift between our world and that of the dead. Amongst them was this badass motorcycle riding zombie named King Zombie, who spent most of the series chasing and trying to destroy our small band of dysfunctional survivors.

From there I fell in love with a whole host of independent comics including the early dark and gritty Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Elfquest, which was where my love of deep fantasy narratives began and later, the comic Poison Elves by the late Drew Hayes.

By the time I discovered Poison Elves I was in my late teens and had graduated from selling comics at the flea market with my grandparents to having my own business online during the early days of the internet. I had a huge love for all things alternative, especially the indy comics market where I learned that you didn’t have to be attached to a big company to create and put your work out there.

The fact that anyone could create something and put it out into the world had a strong impact on my world view and how one could achieve success or at least satisfaction from creating. As I’ve gone through life and headed down the path of being an indie author, seeing the successes of those indy comic creators in my younger days has really inspired me to know that anything is possible.

I’ve wanted to write since I was able to read and when I finally got serious about writing ten years ago, I knew comics would somehow be in my future. When I completed my first zombie story, I wanted to try and make it a comic book. I spent several months learning about scripting for comics and then took the story and broke it down panel by panel. I was excited. I spent several more months interviewing and trying out artists before finally choosing one. Unfortunately, after twelve pages the artist abruptly quit. I debated continuing on, but after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to get to that point, I couldn’t imagine starting over. I went back and released the story as a novella and from there began The Zee Brothers series.

I released the twelve pages that were completed as a mini comic, which you can grab for free here. I’ve also recently completed a new mini comic that tells a story from within The Zee Brothers universe, called Zombie Buffet, it can be found on Amazon, Comixology and my own website www.grivantepress.com. It explores one of the characters in my series as well as answers the question, what would happen if a zombie was allowed to eat all it could eat.

I recognize I was supposed to be answering the question of what comic impacted me the most and why would I recommend it, however for me, it was really all of the comics I read as a kid. There are so many great stories contained in them and I read and was influenced by so many it was impossible to really name just one.


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The Age of Apocalypse: The Best of the Worst Possible Futures

Contributed by Max Bowen

I recall a time at a comic shop when I dared utter the phrase “I really liked the Age of Apocalypse” storyline. The owner, as close to a living personification of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy as you’re ever likely to find, immediately launches into a tirade about how it’s actually the worst series ever, snatches one of the trades off the shelf, and then dares me to read it.

Keep in mind I own all the trades, so making me read this really isn’t that big a punishment.

“Well, OK, I will, I say.” Because it’s awesome—but not just because it’s a good look at a bleak future.

Age of Apocalypse (AOA), was a four-month spinoff series launched in 1995 that asked the question “What if Charles Xavier never founded the X-Men?” The answer is pretty damn dark, as the immortal, Darwin-obsessed mutant Apocalypse is able to rise to power and conquer much of the known world. Humans are reduced to a minority, hunted down, and placed on the short end of the stick. All told, they’re looking down the barrel of extinction, and Apocalypse is all too happy to pull that trigger. Only one man, the time-displaced Bishop, remembers the world as it should be, and he’s on a quest to make things right. From the company known for putting out alternative storylines, this one stands out to me as one of the best.

I won’t spoil all of it for those that haven’t checked it out, but the series is rife with ironic twists. The biggest of these is that Magneto, one of Xavier’s greatest foes, ends up leading the X-Men, now a resistance group dedicated to bringing down the big man. The entire familiar X-cast is there, all in unexpected new roles, or with major shifts to their personalities and it’s a great read, if for no other reason than to see what changes have been made to your favorite mutants.

OK, sales pitch aside, the message of the series as I see it is that one life touches many. Xavier dying before his time radically alters the Marvel Universe as we know it, showing us that without his influence, the worst of us are given the chance to show some good, and those with the purest souls can easily stray to the dark side.

But what about the rest of us? Most of those reading may not rise to his level of fame, but what we do still makes a difference, even if it’s a small one. What kind of impact do we have on the people we know, and what would their lives be like if we had never entered the picture? Yeah, I know, it’s the same message in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but it resonates, even today.

Think back to those you spend a lot of time with: have you ever influenced them, either for good or for ill? Did they take your cue in planning their own lives, or making their own decisions? It’s not a bad thing—A lot of us will ask “what would so-and-so do?” I often thing of my mom and what advice she would have when I’m in a tough spot, and I think we all have someone whom we’ve changed their lives.

Consider that, and maybe you’ll see that you have made a difference for the better, and maybe you can do it again for someone else. Or maybe you’re actually the villain. Maybe you gave some bad advice that leads the listener to really screw up their lives. I suppose the lesson to take is to consider your own words and deeds, and if there’s someone out there that uses them as a blueprint for their own decisions.

Yes, you may not be the one to change the world, but you may change a life. And honestly, that’s a pretty big deal.


Max Bowen is the host of the Citywide Blackout Radio Show.

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My Knight in Tarnished Armor

Contributed by Christopher J. Valin

It was the end of the summer of ’86, and my eighteenth year on this earth was drawing to a close. I was shedding the cocoon of adolescence and getting my adult wings—at least according to conventional wisdom. That’s how it works, right? Once you’re eighteen, you’re suddenly an adult.

I’d just moved to Colorado to join my parents and brothers, who’d moved there a year earlier from Albuquerque. The reason I had stayed behind was that I had a full ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. It was the greatest year of my life, socially. And by far the worst academically. With no more free ride, it was time to move back with my family and attend school close by.

In the middle of high school, I had abandoned my lifelong obsession with comic books for a life of playing in heavy metal bands, partying, and—of course—girls. But now I was in a new place where I didn’t know anyone yet. I was feeling somewhat lost and searching for something familiar. One day, after my mom had gone with me to help deal with the final details of my transfer to the Colorado Springs campus of the University of Colorado, she said she needed to stop at the mall for a few things. I went inside with her, and the first place I noticed was a comic book store. “I’ll hang out here until you’re done,” I said.

All it took was walking into that place to re-ignite the spark. I bought a few issues of some of my favorite series that I’d missed, as well as some new ones. It was a couple of weeks before I made it to another comic book store, but I could tell that my old obsession had returned. With a vengeance.

I started checking out a few other comic shops in town, and on my third or fourth visit to a shop, I started a conversation with the guy behind the counter. I told him I’d been away from comics for a few years, and asked him for recommendations.

“You like Batman?” he asked.

“I love Batman. He was my favorite character growing up.”

“Then you should check this out.” He handed me a copy of the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller. The one with the silhouette of Batman against a dark sky, a giant bolt of lightning behind him. It blew my mind.

So did the price.

“It looks really cool, but I don’t think I can afford it.”

He pulled out the trade paperback. The first edition, released by Warner Books, with Batman standing over Gotham City. Not as cool as the lightning cover, but still pretty awesome. He told me it contained all four issues, and it was reasonably priced. I bought it.

When I got home, I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting and couldn’t believe how good it was. It had so much to love. The only time I’d seen a version of Batman even close to this was the old Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams books, but this went way beyond that. Miller brought back the

old, oval-less bat-symbol, while still explaining why Batman would go around with a target on his chest. It had Batman fighting Superman. It even had my favorite late-night TV host, whose show I watched every night: David Letterman! This was incredible.

I had always been a Batman and comic book fan, but now it was ON. Not only did it reignite my love for comics, it brought back my desire to create comics. I had always been a good artist, and had created my own comics from when I was very young. The Dark Knight Returns brought back that impulse to create, as well as my obsession with Batman. In the years since, I’ve worked professionally as a comic book inker and writer, a screenwriter, and a novelist.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done some or all of those things if it hadn’t been for The Dark Knight Returns. Something else may have kindled that old fire…Watchmen, perhaps, or something by Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. But the fact is that Frank Miller’s series did kick off a creative streak in me that still hasn’t ended thirty years later. And, for that, I’m forever grateful.


Christopher J. Valin is a writer, artist, and teacher living in the Los Angeles area. His first published book was Fortune’s Favorite: Sir Charles Douglas and the Breaking of the Line, about his 5x great-grandfather. He now writes science fiction and superhero stories and books.

All of his superhero stories take place in the same universe (called the “Raptorverse” after its central character, Red Raptor), including Sidekick: The Red Raptor Files – Part 1 and Superteam: The Red Raptor Files – Part 2, and stories in the anthologies It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!, World Domination, and Ha! Ha! Ha! You can also find his other books and short stories at his Amazon author’s page and more at his website, ChristopherValin.com. Finally, if you’d like to keep up with new releases, as well as giveaways and other fun stuff, please subscribe to the newsletter.

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Batman: Year One

Contributed By David Neth

Okay, so call me simple, but the comic that most inspired me for the Fuse series was Batman: Year One. Especially when I was writing Fuse’s origin story in (you guessed it), Origin.

Batman is such an iconic character in not only the DC Comics universe, but in the world of all comic books. And the coolest thing about him? He doesn’t have any supernatural powers! He’s just that badass to be able to fight (and win) against people who do.

Batman: Year One shows Batman at the beginning of his vigilante career, meaning it shows him messing up and making mistakes that would never happen to the seasoned Batman we all know and love. It’s what inspired me to give my character Fuse flaws, especially in the beginning. Just because someone suddenly becomes a superhero doesn’t mean they have it all together.

As authors, we’re supposed to be challenging our characters. In the beginning, these heroes are basically just like us: inexperienced in the world of combat. And therein lies the conflict necessary for the story: how will a new superhero survive when he’s just starting out? When their enemy has the upper hand physically? The origin story is a part of a superhero’s career that doesn’t always take prominence (unless you’re Spider-Man and they keep remaking the same movie over and over again).

What’s funny is, I didn’t read comics growing up. (Gasp!) However, I did watch the superhero animated series, like Batman and Spider-Man. I haven’t read any Spider-Man comics (Gasp!), but the Batman comics and the animated series are pretty much identical. I guess, in a way, I was getting my superhero education without even realizing it.

After reading Batman: Year One, I followed the story arc with Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory. All three of these comics inspired my Fuse series, especially the mafia’s influence over the grim city of Gotham. I love it how they tell Bruce Wayne’s story in the real world and then Batman’s influence in it. That balance is what I tried to create throughout the Fuse series because I didn’t want to get too caught up in the “super” part of “superhero.”

The only reason I picked up a Batman comic was to do research to write the Fuse series. I thought it’d be better to start with the basics, and I’m so glad I did.


David Neth is the author of the Fuse series, the Small Town Christmas series, and the Under the Moon series. He lives in Batavia, NY, where he dreams of a successful publishing career and opening his own bookstore.

Website |  Fuse: OriginFacebook | Twitter | Instagram

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The Importance of Kingdom Come

Contributed by Joshua Guess

A lot of comics influenced me and the way I look at stories. Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, all the usual suspects. To have been a reader of comics within the last thirty years means a certain vein of highly acclaimed books will be at the forefront of your thoughts when someone asks which comics had the biggest impact on you.

And while I will remain a faithful acolyte of the works of Alan Moore until I draw my last breath, no comic impacted me as deeply or powerfully as Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.

On a purely surface level, look at the visuals. Ross is a painter of staggering talent, able to render heroes into believable figures while capturing the smallest nuances of body language. His ability goes beyond human form. His battles look as if they could spring into motion. His layouts are dynamic. The visual language of his art is consistently brilliant.

Kingdom Come wouldn’t work without Mark Waid, whatever claims Ross now makes about the division of labor. The writing carries Waid’s touch heavier in some places more than others, but it’s the unique alchemy between the two men that gives the story its heft and power.

This story asks the question: How do our greatest heroes cope with a world moving past them? Whether it’s Superman quitting after a hero with less strict morals kills The Joker after he murdered Lois Lane or a Batman with the veneer of Bruce Wayne finally ripped away, now free to assert control over Gotham, Kingdom Come does what few stories are brave enough to.

It opens up our heroes and makes them truly examine the consequences of their actions. Not just on the small scale, in the daily repercussions of fighting crime, but over the course of decades. What do we become when the next generation rises up, so certain that right is automatically conferred upon them by virtue of might? It asks us how far we will go—must go—in order to maintain peace, and whether peace is worth oppression.

The central thread tying every theme in this book together is one more question: where does the blame lie when everything spins toward Armageddon?

The brilliance of the story’s structure can be found in its main character, Norman McCay, a human man given apocalyptic visions by The Spectre. God’s spirit of vengeance is itself out of touch with humanity, as are many heroes of its generation. McCay is old enough to remember being inspired by the Golden Age heroes, giving him the perspective needed to judge. Or perhaps that deserves to be capitalized—Norman is to Judge.

The power of life and death, of punishment for the sins of all heroes young and old, is given over to a single human being. Norman is us—the reader. We are being asked as we read to question the ultimate morality of even the most noble heroes. Norman is our proxy, horrified and yearning to be inspired simultaneously, all while being confronted by the horror of the brave new world growing darker around him.

Kingdom Come is a deconstruction of the superhero genre that demands we look harder at the trend toward darker, grittier heroes that began with Moore and Miller. It forces us to shine a light on why this new strain of storytelling appeals to us. It holds us accountable for its popularity.

And while Kingdom Come does all that, layering questions and themes together, it also manages to beautifully tell two stories at once. Threads of classic Golden Age heroics are woven together with the better angels of Modern Age characters and stories instead of only presenting them as the villains. It doesn’t paint a picture of pure right and wrong as so many other stories might. It instead lays out the many shades of gray and begs us to pause and consider them.

Kingdom Come is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated piece of fiction. That it can be enjoyed on many levels is a powerful endorsement on its own, but that it challenges us to question the larger shifts in storytelling in comics without explicitly condemning and pointing fingers is easily the most overlooked aspect of its impact.

The story came at a time when I needed something to remind me what made me fall in love with superheroes to begin with. In a world where the trend spiraled toward anti-heroes, Kingdom Come not only rekindled that wonder about watching a man fly, but made me appreciate the complexity of the more gritty and violent modern heroes who didn’t fall into the stereotype of being nothing but ruthless killers.

I read the trade paperback at least once a year. Anyone who loves heroes should do the same.

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