Joanne Starer, Khary Randolph, and Their Glass Eye Studios Mission
We chat with the creative couple about Glass Eye Studios and what they want to see out of the comic book medium.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our new reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Joanne Starer and Khary Randolph about Glass Eye Studios. Listen to the unedited audio on our PATREON PAGE.
For obvious reasons, creative couples are our favorite. We're always delighted when a pair finds their way to Comic Book Couples Counseling, and we hope you get an extra special thrill as well. In this week's Creator Cranny conversation, Brad chats with Joanne Starer and Khary Randolph about their Glass Eye Studios. The discussion delves deep into their mission statement and how they enhance each other's creativity without falling into constant conflict.
In addition, the three delve into Starer's latest superhero mash-up comic, The Gimmick. The first issue just dropped from Ahoy Comics, and it's a brutally enjoyable celebration of spandex culture, both in the superhero realm and the wrestling arena. If you've been obsessing over Do a Powerbomb! and you're looking for a new story to place that energy, The Gimmick is the perfect comic for you.
After reading the convo, make sure you head on over to Glass Eye Studios' Substack page and browse around. You should also follow Joanne Starer on Twitter and Instagram and Khary Randolph on Twitter and Instagram.
Brad: What exactly separates Glass Eye Studios from other creative endeavors? Is there a mission statement?
Joanne: Yeah. I think, to be honest, we went into it saying, "We're not going to do what other old white men in comics are doing," and that may be a little controversial. We didn't exactly say that on the site, but it's what we said in our heads. Given who we are, we have very different perspectives on the kinds of stories we tell. It was, "At Glass Eye Comics we're looking at things differently, and we're telling different kinds of stories.' The first two books that we put out, one's about Abortion, and one's about the Holocaust.
Khary: Fun topics.
Joanne: But they are. They're fun. They're books that have comedy in them, which is not how you would normally think people would present those topics. I think it's not that we came out saying, "We want to give a message. We want to teach people something." It's just a reflection of how we view the world because of who we are. We're not out there to just do big, punchy, punchy superhero books. We have stories to tell and a certain sense of humor that is maybe a little twisted, maybe a little dark, and maybe a little shaped by our life experiences, and we're not afraid to say we're going to do something different, and we're going to take a chance with it, but I think it speaks to a different audience than maybe traditional comics.
Khary: Yeah. Honestly, I come from big, punchy-punchy comics. This is officially my 20th year in comics, and I've done work for all the companies, big and small. I felt like, when we started Glass Eye, it was just an opportunity to do something that was different than what Marvel or DC would put out, stuff that they may not even touch. These were things that were important to us, and we saw an opening in the market where it's like, no one else can tell these stories but me and Joanne, or no one's willing to, maybe, and we were just like, "Why not take a chance with it?"
Brad: And don't you think right now there's just this energy for activated storytelling that wasn't necessarily there a few years ago, let's say 2015. Something happened in 2016, maybe? A lot of new energy rushed into the medium where people wanted to say more than what the big two were traditionally giving us.
Joanne: And I think that that definitely coincides with the shift in the political scene, and that is exactly what happened to me. For a long time, I was just an editor. I grew up in comics. I had been an intern and then an editorial assistant in comics when I was very young at Marvel Knights, at Harris Comics. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a writer, but there was just not a place for someone like me to be able to tell the stories I wanted to tell. When the world shifted, suddenly in my mind, I was like, "I can't just sit back anymore. I can't be unhappy in my job. I just need to say what I got to say." I think that happened to a lot of people. Between the political shift, and then especially with the pandemic, a lot of people started really coming out of their shells and raising their voices, and it's amazing. It's great to see all the new work that's coming out, and I'm glad that we could be a part of that.
Khary: I mean, just real quick. When I came into comics, there was never a thought of trying to say anything politically or just even having a point of view as an artist. I just wanted to be an artist and draw comic books. That was all I ever cared about, and it kind of felt like, over the course of my career, just being a Black artist, you're almost forced into acknowledging the fact that your mere existence is a political statement. At some point, you just got to be like, "Well, I'm here. There's not a lot of people who are in this place that can do the things and say the things that I can do," and so it's almost like an obligation to use that platform to spread positivity, on some level.
Brad: Amen. Yeah.
Khary: It just happened that way over the course of my career, in saying, "Things are weird/they need to change. What can I do to change it?"
Brad: And obviously, there's a resistance out there, but I also feel like there is this massive community that is hungry for different perspectives right now in the field of comics, and there's just so much opportunity to tell new stories.
Joanne: Yes. The thing is that a lot of the opportunities that were coming to Khary were originally, I want to say, stories about Black suffering. And now what we're finding is we can change that narrative.
Brad: And you have to do it, right? That's why you have Glass Eye Studios.
Joanne: Yes, and I feel like those opportunities are changing, but we have to be the ones to do that. He has to step up and say, "No. This is how I see the world. These are the stories I want to tell. I'm not going to let people assign me these stories that you think need to be told. These are the stories that need to be told."
Brad: And how do you, as a partnership, navigate the creation process? With Lisa and myself, we find ourselves obviously aligned a lot of the time, also maybe just as much of that time not aligned, and we have to find our way to something manageable or slightly more agreeable than before.
Joanne: It's actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. He's laughing, because he doesn't think it's as easy.
Khary: No, not that -
Joanne: Usually I have these story ideas, and he has sort of these visual concepts, right? So I'm a plot and a character person, and he's a vibe person, and so we're able to bring those things together, and he fills in the gaps that I don't have, right? I don't know how to visually fill in. When we were doing Sirens of the City, he was the one who said, "Let's do it based in New York and do it in a dystopian thing." Then, I said, "Well, everybody does dystopian stories," so I brought up the sort of story aspect of, we need a better hook than dystopian, and I said, "Well, 1980s was basically dystopia."
Khary: It was basically the apocalypse.
Joanne: Right. So we can use that, and then he started bringing up the idea of, because he wanted visually, he liked the idea of a lot of different factions, these different groups. Then, I was able to create character bases for the idea that we would have Sirens and we would have an incubus faction, and what the personalities of each of those would be, and so all those elements come together from both of us throwing things out there. Then, he'll come up with a character design, and I'll say, "All right, but it needs to have this thing for the character too," I don't know if I'm describing this well.
Khary: You got this. You got it. I'm sitting back. This is great.
Joanne: So one of the supporting characters in Sirens, for example, and he had drawn her with spots on her face that would glow, which was a very interesting design, but I said, "An important aspect of this character, she needs to be able to blend in with other humans," so that's where I come in to bring in the story aspects, but I also will nudge in a design direction. Then, he will add in design elements. The characters, obviously, because he's the artist, to characters that I have no idea what I want them to look like. Then, I look at that character, and I go, "Oh. Now I know what to do with this character, because I had no visual idea of what that person even looked like," and because we're sitting next to each other all day long, it just is a natural flow as the book goes on, as opposed to, I'm writing half a script and then I see that happen.
Khary: Me and Joanne are diametrically opposite people in many different ways. I listen to hip hop all day. She listens to They Might Be Giants. You know what I'm saying? I'm pretty laid back, some would say too laid back at times. She's very analytical, and she's very driven, and she's got schedules. We're so different, and I think the magic of that, you can actually see that on the page, because we both come from two different worlds, but it works very well together as far as a relationship and as far as creators go, because I feel like I have certain things in my brain, and she'll come up with stuff that I never would've thought of in a million years. I come from a very straight, male point of view on a lot of topics.
She's like, "Well, actually, if you think about this." I'll be like, "Huh. I never put it together that way." I compare it like this. My last book, which was Excellence for Image Comics. It was me and Brandon Thomas, and me and Brandon are like, we have a lot of stuff in common, and so we could complete each other's sentences half the time on the book, which made for a great book. Excellence, I'm so proud of what we did on that book. This book is a complete 180 into where you can see parts of it like, "Oh. That's so Joanne," and then there's parts of it that are like, "That's so Khary," and I feel like the merging of the two worlds is what makes this a different book than, honestly, anything that I've ever worked on, and I don't see many books existing like this on the market, period.
Brad: Joanne, you've got a new comic coming out from Ahoy Comics, The Gimmick. I just finished reading it this morning. It's pro wrestling meets superhero comics. I would encourage folks to just pick the book up. Don't even read the plot synopsis, because I didn't read the plot synopsis, and I got to a page-turn early on in the comic, and I hollered. It was such a good page-turn, because it had not been spoiled for me. I would love to know where this comic came from. I understand you have an interesting relationship with professional wrestling.
Joanne: Yeah, so a long time ago, I worked in professional wrestling. I started as a valet, like a manager, sort of Miss Elizabeth with less clothing, walking wrestlers out to the ring, and quickly realized that being ring-side was not for me, and that sort of developed into running my own women's wrestling promotion, which was short-lived, because back then, we're talking 20 years ago, people were not ready for serious women's wrestling. Even now, there's still a struggle to get women's wrestling its equal time and respect, but I still have that in my heart. It had a big impact on me.
It was actually a conversation with Khary that I had, as I started writing comics, that he was like, "You really need to write about the wrestling stuff." I was like, "Ugh. Wrestling comics. No," I was like, "Why would you want to read a wrestling comic when you can watch wrestling?"
But I realized if I was going to write a wrestling comic, it's not about the action in the ring. It's about what happens outside of the ring, and these relationships between these kinds of, maybe a little, messed up people. The thing about people in wrestling is they get in the ring, and they act like superheroes, and they act like, "I'm the good guy. I'm Superman," and outside of the ring, they're not, right? A lot of them are kind of messed up. If you really did give one of them superpowers, what happens? And that's kind of what The Gimmick is.
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