Thee Comic Column #59: Guns A’ Blazin’!

image courtesy of the examiner

I’m way behind on this one, but when Mike Wellman and Rafael Navarro’s Guns A’ Blazin’! #1 came out at the end of the summer it made a big impression on me and promised to be the first issue in a seriously intriguing story. This book has it all – we start with cowboys, dinosaurs, monsters, and then at some point transition into what appears to be Kirby-esque space epic concepts, but all in a very inoccuous and slow burn kind of set-up that had me seriously asking “What the hell is going on around here?” and if there’s one thing I dig in comics, it’s that feeling – when it’s balanced on the edge of a massive story undertaking like I believe Guns A’ Blazin’! is. But don’t take my word for it – writer Mike Wellman also happens to be co-owner of my favorite Southern California comic shop, The Comic Bug, and recently he allowed me to pick his grey matter about all things blazin’!

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SCB: First, you are co-owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan beach. How long has The Comic Bug been in business?

Mike Wellman: The Comic Bug will have been in business for 10 years this June.  I was brought along as a partner in The Comic Bug by Jun Goeku after we worked together for several years at another comic store.  He found an amazing opportunity and asked me to come along with him and help run things.  It’s been an amazing experience!  2013 has been our best year yet, both profit-wise and growth-wise.  You always worry that you’ll cap off at some point, especially in today’s economy, but things get better and better!

SCB: Does Guns A’ Blazin’! pre-date that? As a long-time comic book fan I’m sure you’ve had it in your head to do a book for some time. Did the store help make that possible, whether by establishing connections within the industry or by introducing you to how the business side of Comics?

Mike Wellman: The idea for Guns A’ Blazin’! hit around 2007.  Rafael Navarro and I had been sharing booths at conventions for a few years together before that.  My first comic was Mac Afro, back in 2001 and Rafael started the ball rolling by asking to do a one shot which was released in 2006.  Other than that, we’d share these big tables and booths, but we’d each be pimping seperate projects.  Sonambulo for Rafael and Gone South, Mac Afro and whatever other crazy freelance projects I was involved in at the time.  We all went out to lunch one day at Comic-Con and were venting about various things and decided we were going to “go out GUNS A’BLAZIN’!”  At the time, we had no idea what that actually meant, but it became a creed.

The store TOTALLY made it possible on the financial end.  I’m very vocal about getting by on your own dime, as you might have seen on my facebook page.  Creating stories and having people read (and hopefully ENJOY) them is a total privilege. It’s earned with blood, sweat and tears.  Otherwise, you’re just calling it in on wistful “wish I could do this, won’t you help me” bullshit.  We’ve got skin in the game.  In fact, ALL our skin is in the game.  And it’s so much more rewarding that way when we have a good show or when we get a good review. It’s financed by a portion of my profits from The Comic Bug and we are 100% independent of any influence but Raf and myself.  It’s amazing!

SCB: Other than at The Comic Bug, how can interested parties acquire this book? Website? Mail order?

Mike Wellman: There aren’t that many copies of the first issue available anymore.  We’re looking into several options.  From getting picked up by a bigger publisher to making more and self distributing to stores directly or, as in previous Atomic Basement books, by going through Diamond.  I want to get more content under our belts before we make a concrete decision.

SCB: How did you meet your artist (who is awesome btw) Rafael Navarro? 

Mike Wellman: I met Raf on the con circuit.  He was doing his book SONAMBULO and I had just entered the game with MAC AFRO.  I always thought he was so much cooler than me!  So when he approached me about doing a pin-up for MAC, my jaw dropped.  We were discussing the direction of the pin-up when he started having all these story ideas and eventually just sorta said “Maybe what I’m trying to get at Chief is that I’d like to draw a Mac Afro comic someday maybe” which was very sweet but still too vague for me. So I said “well, brother, if you wanna draw a Mac Afro comic, say “I wanna draw a Mac Afro comic”… and the rest is history!

SCB: Every story starts with something, whether it’s a setting, a character or a scenario. What was the first step into this story for you?

Mike Wellman: The first step for Raf and I was the title itself.  It was more than a title, it was a credo.  In fact, our esteemed and highly respected editor, Richard Starkings, HATED the title and really wanted us to change it.  He gave us very good and sound reasoning so we floated under a different moniker for a few years. It’s weird because we didn’t have the same zing for the project under that other name.  Once we ALL decided to go back to the title, that zest came back and now, even Richard yells out the title like a cowboy when we discuss the project.

image courtesy of the creators’ facebook

After we settled on a title, then I sat down with Raf and we talked about all the things we wanted to see and wanted to say with the project.  We both have extremely short attention spans, so we built a framework that would enable us to shift gears seamlessly from dinosaurs to space battles and it all sorta makes sense!

SCB: The first issue begins with the ominous narration: “…Yet when you rip every fiber of existence asunder you’re left with… total chaos!” which then segues beautifully into the action. Perhaps you won’t be able to reveal this yet, but I have to ask, what or who has ripped every fiber of existence asunder? That’s a pretty big story set-up sir!

Mike Wellman: Hah!  Well, like I said, this is a “go big or go home” sorta thing!  That first page is actually our third person narrator that will make him/her/itself more obvious as the story moves along.  Our narrator is sort of “The Watcher” as the story starts, simply reporting facts and filling in blanks at first.  But we’re going to inject more personality and opinions from this being as we spend more time with Eduardo and Kody.  It’s that “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” element that I think goes underused in storytelling nowadays.

SCB: The first issue of Guns A’Blazin’! is an interesting set-up for a story. You’ve literally put a lot of seemingly disparate genre elements to work in the book and although conventional wisdom says they should work against one another you do a great job of seamlessly blending together the old west/Victorian era, monsters, dinosaurs and even Kirby-esque space elements. Was the impetus to marry all of these different things simply the challenge of actually doing it (and if it was kudos because, again, it works quite well) or was there a different logic at work while laying the initial foundations of the story?

Mike Wellman: Raf and I are just trying to show our readers a good time first and foremost.  Taking comics to its ultimate potential, at least within our own abilities and tastes.  So often, comics are “movie pitches” on paper.  Talking heads and CSI espionage or wanna-be Tarantino stuff.  GUNS A’BLAZIN! is NOT designed to be turned into a movie or a video game or anything other than what it is, a literal shock to your retina, your libido and your funny bone!

Raf is the bastard son of Jack Kirby and Frank Robbins, so that’s where the Kirby-esque elements come from.  I’m highly influenced by silk-screen rock n’ roll poster art, euro-trash cinema, Burt Reynolds movies from the 70’s and groovin’ stoner rock.  Of course, I’m more the word-smith than the artist, so I’m just trying to come up with cool shit for Rafael to draw and then sew a tapestry between the panels so it looks like we know what we’re doing!  ; )

SCB: Is Guns A’Blazin’! a finite story you already envision a beginning and end for or is it something you see as being open-ended?

Mike Wellman: We have a beginning (of sorts) and we actually have sort of an ending.  We’re not going into this without a battle plan or without knowing what the deal with our characters actually is.  It’s not written in stone and that’s a good thing because new ideas are constantly presenting themselves and we’re not exactly locked into any ONE thing!  There was an email that I sent to Rafael and Richard way back before we broke ground on the first script to issue one that sorta holds the key to the whole thing, so don’t expect a “LOST” type ending.  As for how long this will run, I’d love to do a few arcs that would end us around issue 30, but we’re taking baby steps.  30 issues is more ambitious than anything I’ve ever attempted, so we have a few escape plans along the way that will leave the readers satisfied should we have to act on it.  I hate it when a story leaves you hanging!

SCB: You have mentioned to me previously that Rafael is already drawing issue number two. Obviously you have your hands full with the store and your family, but do you guys have a tentative schedule for releasing future issues of Guns A’Blazin’!?

image courtesy of examiner.com

Mike Wellman: I’m hoping by the end of the year.  Right now, Raf is dribbling the ball over on his end of the court and working on it inbetween his animation gigs.  It’s a work of passion for him too and he refuses to even let someone else come in and color it at this point.  But once this thing is in the can, it exists forever, so I’d rather he take his time and be happy with it.  I know I am!

SCB: You have also mentioned to me before that there is a bigger picture at work in Guns A’Blazin’!. What is the structure you have outlined for how you reveal this bigger picture? Six-issue arcs? Twelve-issue arcs? And how many of these smaller arcs have you planned?

Mike Wellman: That’s true!  There’s a large framework and it’s the kinda thing I’m excited to just spill the beans and tell you about!  I’m a TERRIBLE poker player.  In fact, there are outright clues in the first issue!  Once all is revealed, you’ll be able to go back to that issue and start pointing out all the Reese’s Pieces we started laying right then and there!  The first arc is six issues.  You’ll have some pretty good ideas about what’s going on by the end of that I think.  But not EVERYTHING!  Raf and I are constantly riffing on ideas and we might eventually do a one-shot here and there, but only if it fits into the fabric of everything else we have planned.

SCB: Okay, gotta ask even though I’m pretty sure this is spoiler territory and if it is I’d never dream of asking you to spoil. Still, you’ve made me super curious because when we meet Eduardo his friendship with Kody is already established and here’s what I’m wondering– where did they meet to begin with? Certainly the Victorian era (if I’m reading into his character correctly) and the Wild West overlap in chronology, but being that Eduardo has the baggage of the lady on the flying disc I’m guessing he and Kody are from different places/times. What – if anything – can you tell us about the logistics of these two time-traveling compatriots’ relationship?

Mike Wellman: Aggggh!  I wish I could tell you.  All I’ll say to this is “Good! You are a very astute reader!”  Haha!

SCB: Is there anything else you want to tell us about Guns A’Blazin’!?

Mike Wellman: Stick around!   Our website http://www.atomicbasemententertainment.com/ will be going live soon!  Until then, check out on Facebook HERE!!!

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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