Andra Walt chats with 2 All Stars within the Comic Book Community. Cosmic Times boys and more, Meet Zach Bassett and James Whynot.
Andra Walt: What first got you interested in working in comics?
Zach Bassett: The art and superheroes, I wanted to inspire young artists like myself just as my influences had inspired me.
James Whynot: Ever since I can remember, I was always drawing. I was brought up on late eighties, early nineties cartoons. So I was always drawing the characters. It wasn’t until I was five when I received the Jim Lee run on X-men, that I really become interested in comics. But I was always interested in making my own characters. Don’t get me wrong, I could probably write some wicked good X-men or team type books for Marvel or DC.
AW: How did you first meet each other?
ZB: I met James in college – a time where you’d think I’d be surrounded by like minded people I felt totally out of place.
JW: It was my second quarter at SCAD, and Zach’s first quarter. We met through a mutual friend. And back in the day Zach and I looked very similar. Through this friend we went to a concert with a girl I was dating at the time. We had similar music tastes, but I don’t think we ever talked about comics then. It wasn’t until a year later that we realized we were both in the same major and the same class. And from there its history, we have been best friends ever since in our going on 6 year friendship.
ZB: Just about anybody that meets both of us would say we’re not that similar, we had the most in common of all the people I met there, including my wife – ha!
AW: Tell me about your time at SCAD?
JW: It was pretty awesome. It’s a really wonderful thing when something like college can work in so many different ways. For example, you are there to learn a skill and take to where you could work in the professional environment. Through college, I treated the classes as every man for himself (just a figure of speech, this there were girls in the class). I would look at the best person in class and try to be better than they were. But towards the end of my time at SCAD, I built up a lot of working relationships with people in my classes, and with some of them they have lead to working on projects with them.
ZB: It was a very inspiring and idealistic time, I really did a lot of work and really got the creative juices flowing that have basically kept me going ever since. I got the confidence behind my own, really improved on my strengths and grew to identify and address my weaknesses. I developed a philosophy about my art that has defined my work ever since – for better or worse. And it really seemed like I was firing on all cylinders – when my personal and artistic life was really taking off.
JW: My wallet is hurting a little bit from paying tuition but it’s a great experience. Highly recommended.
AW: Tell me what From Blood is about?
JW: Now my views on this book are totally different from really what the book is about. Anybody that knows me knows that I am an extremely excitable guy. So when I tell people about the book I only mention the violence. But it’s really so much more than that. Its got great character moments and development.
ZB: My original blurb was this: A psychiatrist (Dr. Reese) takes a personal interest in trying to help a particularly violent patient to overcome his mysterious past. When things escalate to the point that a SWAT team opens fire on the two of them, as the patient is trying to break out, he protects the Doctor, who in turn helps him escape. Has the Doctor risked her career on a hopeless muscle-bound psychopath, or can he transcend a past born “from blood?”
AW: So, how did From Blood come to be?
JW: I was taking a “writing for comics” class in college. And one of the stories I turned in was “From Blood” at the time it was titled “One” then “27” but I’m happy with the title now. Since Image has a book called 27. But “From Blood” is a great title and really explains so much about the character and his past.
ZB: I had just graduated college, gotten married and moved to Texas where I was working part time and trying to get my first few gigs in comics. Those ran dry pretty quick, so while walking my dog one day I had time to read James’ final script for a writing class at SCAD (complete with the teacher’s notes and all) and something about it caught my eye. Not for what it was necessarily, but for its potential. I gave James a call and asked for his blessing to add to the script, while preserving what he had written. He wasn’t even sure he still had a copy to refer back to, but agreed and off I went. I wrote as much more than he originally had, tying together plot points that James understood as connected but hadn’t shown in the script and adding some scenes that made the book mean something to me. Anyway, long story short, in about a week I had effectively doubled the length of the book to around 60 pages and gotten it to the point I was happy with it too.
AW: How do you approach writing with Zach?
JW: We work so well together and we bounce ideas on each other. If I could explain it to people it’s kind of like how Craig Kyle and Chris Yost work. They’ll take a book and either split it page per page, or one takes a plot and then the other writes it out the issue. But for anything Zach and I have worked on, we take the same sort of process. I’m more of the high concept guy and Zach adds great character stuff.
AW: How and where did you meet Martin Pierro?
ZB: At Megacon ’09, I think, I grabbed a free promo card for the first Arthur book Martin had done, trying to make contacts and find some paying work. I emailed him a link to my portfolio and we went on from there.
JW: I met Martin at Florida Super Show. Zach told me that he had been working with Martin and maybe I should go check out his company and see what they had to offer. Since meeting Martin, he has become my mentor, and second father. I come to him for advice for comic purchases, work questions, and really anything. Cosmic Times is really such a great place to work on comics. We have a real tight bond. Everyone involved in the books being published always talk.
AW: How did Cosmic Times become involved in this project?
JW: One of the companies that wanted From Blood had to pass because of financial problems they were having. So they passed. A couple months later at one of the conventions, I pitched Martin the story, but he wasn’t in love with the idea initially. I made the book sound like an ultra violent gore fest.
ZB: About 8 months later James had been inking Souled, for Cosmic Times, which I was penciling, and Martin and I were going back and forth on literally hundreds of properties and ideas for 2012, after he explained he was wanting to get as many books out this year as possible. I got him to read our script and showing him all the pencils and partial inks after re-pitching him the story through email or a phone call.
AW: Did Martin contribute to the writing process?
ZB: He initially rewrote almost all of the dialog for the first issue, using the finished art as a guide and we batted it back and forth on probably more than 15 color-coded drafts between the two of us to get everything just right and set everything up to tie back together for the conclusion in issue two. He also asked that we change two or three panels, one to tone down the gore and the others to make the page make sense.
AW: Where would you most like to focus, writing or drawing?
ZB: Well later this year my wife and I will be having our first child and I doubt I’ll have as much free time as I did before. So I will probably be trying to focus more on writing, and possibly doing layouts but my days of detailed penciling are probably starting to move behind me.
AW: Did you read comics in your youth? If so what titles were you into back then?
ZB: I’ve started to find comics I used to have and repurchase them for the nostalgia. I didn’t have other friends that were into it as heavy as I was and none that were artists. I got into reading comics right after the crash, so I was caught between collector and reader, which caused me to get a subscription to Wizard magazine to keep me up to date on what was new, while I bought about $30 of discounted 10-cent-bin comics from my LCS a few times a year.
JW: I think for anyone that knows me and has seen my comic collection. It’s massive. I’ve been reading and buying comics since I was a child. I had an uncle that worked in comics so every time I would see him he would give me a couple long boxes of stuff to read. A lot of X-books, so Avengers, pretty much anything that had come out. I would see him a lot so there was always a ton of comics. I can’t really remember all of them. When I was a child, I was a Marvel kid all the way. I had a DC book here and there but for the most part, just Marvel books because that was what my uncle was into.
ZB: I remember at one point I cut all my favorite panels out of my collection, made a few scrap books for inspiration and maybe kept a handful or issues or so and tossed the rest – which I now totally regret. Thankfully most of the issues I had aren’t worth that much more now – ha!
JW: Being a child of the late 80’s and early 90’s I was a huge fan of Image books. I loved Spawn, and anything that Greg Capullo was working on. Back then I loved the artwork more than the stories; I have since gone back and read all the comics I had from when I was a child.
ZB: I really liked Scott McDaniel’s Nightwing and remember buying Malibu comics’ Mortal Kombat: Blood Thunder #6 as a kid and my mom throwing it away after she told me not to buy “violent” comics. I got a lot of Classic Star-Wars with Al Williamson after seeing the Dave Doorman covers for Dark Empire that was coming out at the time, and I remember liking Darkhawk for some reason.
AW: Do you remember the first comic book you bought?
JW: I remember buying with my own money the first issue and variants of Ultimate Spiderman. Little did I know at the time that those white variant covers were worth money.
ZB: For me it was definitely at the grocery store – back when they used to still carry them in with the magazines – and it was probably one of a few that I can remember: Superman #59, Back to the Future #4, 6, 7, Wild West Cowboys of Moo Mesa #1, or an issue of Ultraman.
AW: Do you currently read comics? If so what titles interests you now?
ZB: I think my mentality of cheap comics from my childhood buying habits still has a strong hold on me. So I don’t buy nearly anything at anywhere near cover price unless I really love the creators. My library is my best friend as far as indie stuff and big events but on a issue to issue basis it’s really spotty – usually I’m just following an artist or an obscure character, then I get into the story. Buying the whole run of Elementals on ebay for $50 has probably been the most rewarding thing I’ve read in the last few years.
JW: I currently read too many comics. I have a stack of about 50 plus comics I have not got the chance to read yet. A lot of the new DC 52 books. Which I’m enjoying. Swamp Thing and Animal Man are two of my favorites right now. And the Green Lantern books. I can’t give enough praise to Green Lantern- new guardians. I seriously love that book. I recommend it highly to fans of GL books.
ZB: Recently I liked the Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger three-issue series – the art was phenomenal, and there has been a lot of cool stuff in Spider-man: the gauntlet, David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp has such a different style then his earlier Batman: Year One type of work, it is an amazing accomplishment to see him do as an artist. But most of the stuff I’m actually interested in the story for is from two-decades or more back: The shadow, the question, dr. fate, Peter David’s Aquaman, The Spectere, and Daredevil just to name a few.
JW: There is so much I read every month. I would have to say I’m enjoying all of it. And of course The Strange Talents of Luther Strode. Since it’s a great book, and my buddies Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore work on it.
AW: What do you think of the DC reboot?
JW: I think the DC reboot is great, like I said I was never a big DC guy but since the launch its been the only books I’m really getting now. So I would say its worked on me, even though I do read a Marvel book here and there. But I love the new books that have come out of the relaunch.
AW: Who is your comic hero and why?
JW: If we are talking who do I take a lot of influence from, it would have to be Greg Capullo, even as a child I tried to draw like him. But now I try to incorporate aspects and techniques of people I like into my own work and still keep it my own. But there are a lot of people I take influence from. If we are talking Comic book super heroes. Martian Manhunter is my favorite character ever. He is a great combination of brains and brawn. Great origin and he’s got so many powers. And could go toe to toe with Superman and probably beat him.
ZB: As far as creators go it’s a toss-up. There are so many, but right now I’m really trying to get my work to look as effortless and instinctual as guys like Walt Simonson and Rick Leonardi seem to. For a character I would say Grifter from Wildcats, because I’ve always seen him as a mix of three of my other favorite characters, Gambit, Punisher, and Batman.
AW: Zach, it seems that you have become the house penciler for Cosmic Times, how is it working with Martin?
ZB: Honestly, if it weren’t for my positive experiences with Cosmic Times I might have quit by now. The worst people I’ve ever met are people I’ve met in the comics industry, just in the few years I’ve been in it. That may sound pretty depressing but such an immense amount of time goes into making these comics, time away from our families, friends, other hobbies or time we’ll tell ourselves the next day that we should have spent sleeping, all for relatively nothing besides the satisfaction of seeing our work in print. All that unintentionally gets tied up into our work on these books, so that when a project goes south and you get that horrible feeling when you realize you know a project will never see the light of day, it can get very personal very quickly. You have to grow kind of a thick skin to be your own rep and with the anonymity of working with others over the internet, I’ve been saved by James’ cynical perspective more than a few times while being roped along by someone promising untold fortunes only to have it all fall apart after I’ve done my part, but it’s earnest guys like Martin that keep me moving forward to the next project, trying not to get hung up on the snags along the way and believing that there are others like him out there just as eager to find me, just as I am them.
AW: James, you are also inking Souled for Cosmic Times, how is it like working with Martin and Chris?
JW: I don’t come into play really with what happens in the story, Chris and I talk sometimes about stories and ideas, and Martin will get my input on the story here and there. I do like the group mentality that we have with Souled. For example when all of us are at conventions, we normally have a meeting about the books and ideas for books. So that is the perfect time to give your two cents about the current books we work on and maybe any improvements. Four brains is always better than one.
AW: Zach, you also worked with Martin on a book for Bluewater what can you tell me about that project?
ZB: I had planned to do three issues with Bluewater, after Martin had told me about them when we met at Super Show ’10 while he was working on Ariana Huffington So as I finished my first book with them and he wrapped up writing Huffington, we both talked to the editor and asked to work together. We’re both unabashed Star-fans, be it Trek or Wars, so Martin set the story of Bill Gates’ life against a futuristic pair of robots looking back at the history of the computers that allowed them to be built so I could draw some futuristic cities and environments. There are a bunch of nerdy references on billboards and so on that I had fun thinking up, and a few familiar faces in the crowd to round it out. Lastly, there are some double-page-spreads (which is something I’ve only gotten to do a handful of times) in there, that I am especially proud of.
AW: What other projects have you worked on for Bluewater?
ZB: My first book for Bluewater was Female Force: Cher, which I spent as much time penciling as it would have to just ink so on my second book I chose to do both. The result was Steven Hawking’s biography comic, which I am very proud of because so much of that book is actual drawing and creating because there aren’t that many images of Hawking not in a wheelchair, at least not doing the things the script called for. But there’s not a page in that book I didn’t like and the writer was able to fit in similar nerdy Easter-eggs that made it fun to draw, and there’s lots of cosmic stuff that was great fun too.
AW: How much research is involved in working on a Bluewater biographical comic?
ZB: Usually it’s a bunch of research to find reference images, which I usually don’t do as much of, and then finding out as much as I can for the panels where I don’t have any specific reference, so that I can create it as accurately as possible. So with those constrictions I try and have fun with it, like a page in Cher that goes over her history as an actress, I have a reel of film swirling through the page to divide the panels and on Bill Gates we have something even cooler planned.
AW: James, you seem to be Zach’s go to inker, how does that process work for you two?
JW: Zach I know each other styles so well, that it’s easy to work with him. I know what he is looking for when I ink or do finishes over him. And when he is drawing he’ll leave me some stuff to do that plays to my strengths. I would say it’s hard for him, just because my style is always improving and changing. It’s really a good surprise for him when he sees what I have done. We really just help each other grow as artists. We have great chemistry when we work together and the final product always comes out better than we thought at first.
AW: What other comics have you worked on?
ZB: Well, right now, I’m finishing up my third and final issue of a western called No West to Cross that I’m also doing covers on. I’ve done a few stories either penciling, inking, doing both, writing or coloring for various anthologies – usually working with James. A few other small projects here and there but nothing as consistent as with Cosmic Times, with which I’ve now done five issues.
JW: To name a few, Zach and I both worked on a book called Kord and Harley for Arcana comics. I’ve done some issues for Bluewater productions, some anthology work. I just finished up TS-101 for Creature Entertainment.
AW: What comic book conventions are you planning on attending in 2012?
JW: I always try to hit up the big cons. San Diego and New York. 2011 was my con year. I loved Heroes Con. so I might try to do that one. C2E2 maybe. Supercon. Its tough to make a choice of which con to go to. I’ll be gone for most of the summer this year, since I will be in Paris and then Israel. So hopefully I can hit up a few before I leave.
ZB: Living in the midwest it costs a lot to travel and since I’m starting this year, I’ve had to cut back to just Megacon and Denver Comics Fest.
AW: Do you have any interesting or humorous convention stories that you would like to share?
ZB: Well I met Larry Watts (who did the Megacon edition cover for From Blood for Cosmic Times) at Megacon ’09 – my first convention. I was getting a portfolio review at a booth and Larry was in line behind me. While the guy was talking to me, Larry kept bugging me to see my portfolio after he was done. So after it was over we took a look at each other’s stuff and traded numbers. We met back up that night in the hotel lobby where we were both staying and ended up hanging out at the bar for about two hours with Darwyn Cooke and Jimmy Palmiotti. Me and Darwyn started talking about his work on Batman Beyond and the Richard Starking Parker novels, which we both loved. So it’s kind of ironic that just in the last year or two he’s been doing the comic book adaptations, which are great.
JW: I’m not going to go into specifics but any time Martin, Zach, and myself attend cons it’s always a good time. We are like teenage boys that pull pranks on people.
AW: Where will you be located at Megacon?
ZB: I’ll be at the Cosmic Times booth, last year we had two separate booths on opposite sides of the convention center, but this year we will all be together.
JW: You can find me at the Cosmic Times booth and the Creature Entertainment booth. I’ll have to keep people posted on the times for the Creature Entertainment booth though. You can also find Martin and I at the Nerd Nation panel after the con on Saturday I think. Not sure. But go to the two booths, you’ll find me. And if not just look for Greg Capullo’s table, I’ll be standing there being a fanboy – just kidding.
AW: Will you be selling any art at Megacon?
ZB: James and I will be doing sketch covers for Souled #1, and will have the original art for sale from From Blood #1 and Souled #1-2. I may have the pages from Decisions #1-2, but since I penciled and inked them and my wife hand-lettered them they are particularly special to me. But we’ll see.
JW: I will always have my portfolio with me. And everything in that is for sale. I’m not sure if I will have any prints with me this year. Only because it’s more about the books we were doing.
AW: Can you tell me about any of your upcoming projects that you are currently working on?
ZB: I’m collaborating with Martin and James on the concluding issue of From Blood (#2), writing and maybe drawing issue 3 of Decisions and working with Martin on a new title, but I’ll let him talk about that if he decides to. I’m also writing James’ comic mini-series and drawing and working on the plot with Chris Faulkner (of Souled) on an original horror comic mini-series called Undercurrent, which we think Larry Watts will be inking.
JW: I’ve also worked on Bellringers which is waiting for a response from the publisher to move forward on that. Zach and I co-wrote another story called Counterparts which is in production right now. I’ll be working with the writer of Souled on a book that he created. I’m in talks right now to work on a children’s book with a writer right now. I’ve got a lot stuff going on for this year.
AW: Do you try to stay plugged in to the comic book world or follow any news sites or podcasts?
ZB: I used to listen to Comic Geek Speak but now Uncanny X-Cast gives me about all I can stomach of the state of the industry as seen through the eyes two average guys reading the X-universe, and I always get a few laughs. James spends more time in a comic shop per week then he does anywhere else and I talk to him for a few hours probably three times a week or more at night – so I hear it all through the grapevine.
JW: I try not to have upcoming stories ruined for be by going to comic sites, but I do listen to podcasts a lot including Nerd Nation & Uncanny X-Cast.
AW: Do you use social media networks? Why, or why not? If so how can people find you?
JW: I use face book and deviantart. You can find me by searching for James Michael Whynot on Facebook and JamesWhynotInks on deviantart. I think social networking is such a part of people’s lives now, I can’t think of what we did before it, to stay connected with people.
ZB: I see Facebook as a necessary evil for now, it’s reformed the way we interact and stay in touch with our friends – and not necessarily for the better if you ask me. But I have some people that I only keep in touch with through there, so it’s more of an address book of sorts, than anything else. I update xaqbazit.deviantart.com every few weeks or as soon as I finish a project, have some relevant news or images for one of my new my books that are coming out etc. Then I also keep a blog at xaqbazit.blogspot.com, but I’ve become more and more personal over the years and try to keep my nose to the grindstone, believing that if I keep at it I’ll end up where people are looking rather then getting them to look where I am.
AW: How do you think the digital world will affect the comic industry?
ZB: I’ve had some very heated discussions at length about this topic, drawing a very similar opinion to the Uncanny X-Cast podcast I mentioned earlier, but in short: The medium, or way that we interact with it, to experience music has stayed the same, no matter if the actual recording is digital or analog, but with comics the medium is will actually change which is a subtle difference but a paradigm shift in our experience as readers. And I think it will take a new generation of never knowing analog (paper) and a system for sorting through the now possibly infinite middle class of quality (the equivalent of iTunes for comics) for them to ever fully be embraced as anything but a substitute to long time readers like myself. And for digital, I think the price has to be right; if I’m paying more for a digital copy then I can find a physical one and they didn’t have to print, distribute, sort and shelf the issue, then that discount should be passed on to me the reader, I feel. Especially since file formats are so quickly ever changing and evolving, that if I buy a .cbz file now, there’s no guarantee that in five years I’ll be using a reader that even supports that file type and I may be out an issue that I paid for that I can no longer read, while in print I could have kept and read it till I died. But if we don’t find a way that they embrace comics could die with my generation. They’re no longer in grocery stores, barley in newspapers and rarely seen as anything more than a step in the path towards becoming the next intellectual property that TV, movie and toy companies can use to fill their pockets. At one point in time, Stan Lee left Marvel comics to get the cartoons running that introduced the generation before me into the comics wrote and pioneered, but now we’ve made it so easy to get into comic book characters in a post-literate world that you can do it without ever picking up a comic book. Though some have suggested a Netflix or sorts for comics, a flat rate to read anything and permanently own nothing. But that all depends on the mentality and demands of readers. For now I’ll buy what I want to keep and stick to my library card for the rest. But I’m not saying I bought my wife an e-reader for Christmas this last year just so she could read her books. Guess that wasn’t so short, but the transition could mean the difference between a new life or the end of the industry, so it’s on everyone’s minds on the inside of the field and if we’re lucky outside it as well.
JW: I’ll buy a digital comic here and there but I have not made the transition over to completely digital yet. But I don’t know if I will ever just stop buying issues from a comic store. I think it’s a great idea but it’s so young in the stages that it’s in now. I think with ever changing technology it will get better but as of now it’s not for me. I think maybe 10 years from now it will put the LCS out of business just like E-books are doing to book stores. But for now I still love going to the comic shop and picking up my books. I could give you a dissertation on digital verses traditional comics but it would take about a week.
Be sure to catch up with Zach and James at MegaCon! Be sure to check out and BUY From Blood from Cosmic Times at MegaCon! Also, stop by the Cosmic Times table and say hello to CEO Martin Pierro!