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"A Little Bit Dark Tower-y." Jordan Thomas on 'The Man From Maybe'

We chat with the writer about his weird Western sci-fi adventure and the strange path it took to publication.

Jordan Thomas The Man From Maybe Issue 3

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our 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 Jordan Thomas about The Man From Maybe. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.

 

A mysterious ship crashes upon a wasteland. Two dinosaur-headed astronauts approach the cargo and encounter a sinister response. The Man From Maybe, by Jordan Thomas and Shaky Kane, is a gorgeously strange Western shrouded in science fiction trappings. Or is it the other way around? Each page turn adds to the compelling tension between the various genres smashing into each other. As the series progresses (the third issue just dropped this week from Oni Press), the compulsion for more threatens to expose the reader's addiction. More, please. Now.


After devouring the first extra-large issue, we spoke with Jordan Thomas about his new series and his unique collaboration with artist Shaky Kane. We discuss the winding path they took to realize The Man From Maybe and why the first idea for the tale consumed so much time and energy but ultimately had to be trashed. What works for Stephen King might not work for Thomas, but a few shades of The Dark Tower can't help but leak into the current Man From Maybe concept.


Now, three issues of The Man From Maybe sit on the shelf at your local comic book shop. A quick flip through the first chapter will grab your attention immediately. Shaky Kane's style will not be denied, and Thomas's awe of what the artist can do initially compelled The Man From Maybe into reality. Our conversation begins with that admiration.

 

Jordan Thomas on The Man From Maybe


Brad: How did you get so lucky to have a routine collaboration with Shaky Kane?


Jordan Thomas: It's kind of a random story, really. At the beginning of Lockdown, I did a crowdfunded comic called Quarantine, where basically I'd seen on Twitter a lot of my friends in the small press world who were normally balancing a day job with their art responsibilities in the evenings, along with families and children. They don't always have a lot of time. They'd been furloughed from their jobs and were saying, "Oh, I've got some free time to do some work." So I decided to put together a project for us to kind all collaborate together, like an idea of having a single story, but every page was going to be drawn by a different artist. Then as it started to pick up speed, a few more famous artists got involved. We got Darick Robertson for the cover. Sean Phillips did a page, but also, one of my friends told me that they knew Shaky Kane from - actually, they dated his daughter when they were like 16.


Brad: Amazing.


Jordan Thomas: So he was like, "Oh, I know this guy worked a lot for 2000 AD, and Image, called Shaky Kane. I'm sure he'd be up for doing a page." So I emailed Shaky, and Shaky is not the best at responding to emails. So I messaged him quite early-ish on in the project, but I didn't hear back from him for three or four weeks. And by the time he came back to me, because we were doing this one artist per page of story, there were only some of the less exciting pages left at the beginning of the story before it all kind of goes crazy, which Shaky did a great job with his page, but it didn't really feel like I was taking advantage of his full talents.


So we got along well just doing this very small little bit of work together and decided to do something longer form, which is where Weird Work came from, which is the book me and Shaky had out at Image recently. Since then, we enjoyed working together. Hunter Gorinson at Oni Press was a big fan of Shaky's, and he was a fan of Weird Work. When he took over at Oni Press as the publisher, he got in touch with me asking if me and Shaky would come up with something for them as part of their rebirth. It was a new slate of books after having been quiet for a little while, and The Man from Maybe is the outcome.


Brad: The Man from Maybe is such a fun read. And for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons that I responded so positively towards it is that, as the writer, you also know when to just kick back and let Shaky do his thing. Can you talk a little bit about balancing the action with the dense information that this story has to provide in this first issue?


Jordan Thomas: I like to always know who the artist is going to be when I write a script, as artists have very different strengths and different ways of working. The first published comic that I had was Frank At Home On The Farm with Clark Bint, amazing younger artist. Clark is one of the only artists I've ever worked with, or know, who will add panels to a page. Normally artists are like, "Oh God, there's nine panels on this page. That's a disaster." Whereas Clark's like, you give him an 11 panel page and it comes back to you and it's 13 panels. So I know with Clark that that's kind of how he likes to work. He likes to throw in lots of small little panels for storytelling to show actions as they're happening, whereas Shaky is much more about big images, big character moments, bright colors.


As much as possible I try to get out the way of Shaky and give him as many big panels as possible to really take advantage of his full skill set. Like what I was saying about how the reason that I really wanted to do a series was Shaky originally, was that I didn't feel like we'd, the piece that we'd done for the Quarantine book was kind of really selling his full talent set. So with Shaky, I know when I'm working with Shaky that I'm writing for him, and that's always front of center. So, for example, the opening of The Man from Maybe has the kind of reveal of the dinosaur astronauts, and that's completely Shaky. This is a real collaboration. Whereas, Weird Work was me thinking what would be a really cool thing for Shaky Kane to draw. This was more we knew we were going to do a book together as only they hadn't approached us to pitch, they'd approached us to actually do something.


We kind of had a certain amount of carte blanche to do whatever we wanted, more or less. And Shaky said to me, "I've got an idea. So, there's dinosaurs and then something crashes from outer space into the dinosaurs. Then there's a NASA space buggy that comes out of the jungle. Two astronauts get out of it and go to investigate, but then they take off their helmets, and they're both dinosaurs as well."


That was our beginning. That was kind of the kickoff for the issue. And as you see in the comic, I added a couple of captions later on. They weren't even in the initial script, it was only kind of looking at it and thinking I should probably put some words in here for people to read. But really, that's pretty much a silent sequence, the whole eight opening pages of the book. So that gives us a nice opportunity for Shaky to really show off his stuff at the beginning before we get into a few of the more denser parts of the book where maybe we're building the world a bit more, and maybe some of the stuff with some of the villains, which were a bit more chatty. But yeah, I definitely like, as much as possible, to get out of Shaky's way and let him deliver some really big, vibrant, impactful images.


Brad: And my understanding is that the initial version of this first issue was radically different, that you actually wrote an entirely different issue. Is that correct?


Jordan Thomas: Yeah, so normally I'm pretty chilled and writing's very pleasurable for me and I've got a lot of ideas and there's not too many problems. But this project... I think it was the first time, although I've had other work published, I'd often made it in advance, like Frank At Home On The Farm with Scout, we did that on Kickstarter and then they picked it up. So that was already made. Same with Weird Work, where we did that on Kickstarter, and then Eric Stephenson said he wanted to publish it for Image. This was the first time where someone had approached us and I was having to write for a page rate for a specific project, and deliver something for a client who was waiting for it.


We had an initial idea that was much bigger. It was like four one-shot issues, which all had a mystery that then had this weird door appearing at the end, and all the characters were going to go through from different time periods and then fight some kind of evil God-type character at the end that they'd all had small interactions with, a little bit Dark Tower-y, like Stephen King-type style and Hunter at Oni Press liked that idea. But he also had a kind of strict remit on how many pages they wanted these initial series at Oni to be, and that was a 200-page book, and we were not getting 200 pages.


I had to scale that back. Shaky also then had some of the dinosaur ideas and some different pieces. Hunter had a few opinions on things, and I started trying to write this story that was just much more, I guess it was a bit more, it wasn't coming from me personally, it was a little bit more me trying to pull together all these different opinions and pieces of feedback that other people had had. And I realized I'd written about 35 pages, and I was swimming, where I do a lot of thinking about what I'm working on, and I just realized that I wasn't proud of that. That wasn't my work, really. It was me being like, "Okay, this is my first book that's coming out. I know it's coming out from a publisher. Something is Killing the Children. It's very popular. People seem to like that 'cause it's got this cool girl character with a cool mask."


I was trying to kind of manufacture it a bit too much. And so I kind of had a minor breakdown, threw all that out, decided in the swimming pool that's going. I kept the dinosaur opening and I kept the villain from that story, who was this kind of Oppenheimer-obsessed billionaire megalomaniac. And apart from that, I got rid of everything, and Shaky already had this Western character with the gas mask that we'd looked at and the title of The Man from Maybe. So I pulled in the Western element and a couple of the little pieces from the original idea. And then in two days, I wrote the 44-page script that is the first issue of Man from Maybe. In Breaking Bad, he talks about going into a fugue state where he breaks from reality and just lets whatever carry him off. I think he's lying to get away with some kind of drug dealing problem in that. This wasn't drug-related.


I think from the panic and the worry, I kind of just compartmentalized and went off and just wrote it really naturally. Writing The Man from Maybe has been one of the easiest things I've ever written where once the characters came to me, Shaky had this great design of the lead guy, and then the other characters kind of fit in around it, and it just was really natural what would happen, what the characters, their behavior, the things they would say. So yeah, I mean, that's the quickest I've ever written anything, but it came out of a slightly stressful initial, I guess, a teething pain kind of panic of a new professional writer.


Brad: You had to get out all the worst-case-scenario stuff before you could relax and just create.


Jordan Thomas: Yeah, I decided, "Oh yeah, this would be a really fun thing to do." Whereas I think the initial script I was doing was the first time of me trying to meet some specific targets being like, "Oh, it needs some of this, and it needs some of this, and my publishers asked for this, and Shaky wants this, and we had this initial idea that we don't have enough space for, but I liked all these bits." Like, they talk about killing your darlings, in terms of stuff that you're happy with, that you've done, but it doesn't really work with the story. And there are probably too many darlings flapping around in that initial script. So yeah, it's not a normal experience for me, but yeah, hopefully, it's ended up with a good outcome.


Brad: Well, you can't sense any of that torture when you're reading this book. The great thing about The Man from Maybe is when you pull it off of the rack, I mean, it is a thick single issue. I mean, this is a double-sized issue, and that has to be quite the blessing as well to be able to have so much space to tell your introductory story.


Jordan Thomas: Yeah, jumping back to the previous question you had about writing for Shaky, definitely having the double-sized first issue is really great as it does let you stretch out some, there's some really cool double-page spreads in there, or at least we did a lot of trying to create that widescreen feeling with the double-page spread that also has a few panels along the bottom to really achieve that widescreen ratio, which I think works really well with Shaky's style. There's a particularly beautiful panel that Shaky did of The Man from Maybe and the group of villages who were going to move across the desert to settle a new place and they're passing all these weird environments.


Brad: Yeah, like a wagon train moment.


Jordan Thomas: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think stuff like that we just wouldn't have been able to do in a standard 22-page issue 'cause I always wanted the first issue to finish how it does with the return of a particular breed of character. And if you're getting to that, the opening sequence with the dinosaur astronauts investigating the wreckage is like eight pages long. So in 22-page comics, by the time you've got to about page 10, you're already starting to think about, okay, we need to build towards the big moment for the end of the issue. Whereas 44 pages really gives you the chance to introduce characters, and introduce the world. We get some nice time with the heroes, a couple of action sequences, some fun time with the villain, we introduce some otherloose canon characters. Yeah, I definitely think, to be honest, 44 pages as an opening issue is a really great way to work.

 

The Man From Maybe is now available from Oni Press. To listen to the rest of this conversation, join our Patreon.

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