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Oni Press and EC Comics, a Match Made in Heavenly Rebellion.

We chat with Publisher Hunter Gorinson and Editor-in-Chief Sierra Hahn about everything else happening at Oni Press.


EC Comics Oni Press Hunter Gorinson Sierra Hahn

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Hunter Gorinson and Sierra Hahn about Oni Press, EC Comics, and everything else they have going on. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.

 

Few comics hold as much influence on the industry as those published by EC Comics. And it's not just the industry, either; it's our entire culture. Books like Tales from the Crypt, Weird Science, and Two-Fisted Tales cut into the public imagination, gripping many and terrifying even more. Is such an influence repeatable? Can contemporary creators replicate what beautiful maniacs like Jack Davis, Al Williamson, and Johnny Craig did?


Those may be the wrong questions. Nearly eighty years after William Gaines took control of his father's company and started publishing gnarly stories to rile up parent groups everywhere, Oni Press finds themselves with the license. They've already announced a bevy of writers and cover artists involved, but we're waiting to hear what devilish stylists they've hired for interiors.


It takes more than guts to confront EC Comics' massive legacy. You must be confident that you're up to the task, and to hold such confidence, you gotta be a little crazy, too. We're eager and excited for Oni Press to host the EC brand and, hopefully, avoid the shackles of nostalgia.


Oni Publisher Hunter Gorinson returns to Comic Book Couples Counseling, bringing along Editor-in-Chief Sierra Hahn. We discuss why Oni Press is the right home for EC Comics and its challenges in modernizing the brand with titles like Epitaphs from the Abyss and Cruel Science. They know we're all eager to learn who's slinging ink on these pages, and while they're not quite ready to spill the beans, they provide a few clues.

 

The Legacy of EC Comics and the Oni Press Promise


Brad: What do you think the challenges are bringing EC Comics back to the public?


Sierra Hahn: The legacy is so tremendous and so important, and that's a daunting and intimidating thing to face, but also an exciting challenge, and there's so much incredible material to honor. It's not like, let's do exactly what they did, but let's take the core of what made those books so special and so memorable for readers and make it contemporary, make it modern. Bring it into our time period, and let's bring in different kinds of writers. It's not the same pool of writers in a room, of male writers in a room. We get to have so many more different voices included in this from our industry, from film and TV, from the prose world, who've all been massively influenced by the EC brand and the various titles under that banner, be it Tales from the Crypt or the war stories or the fantastical science fiction stories. And people want to get in there and play and pay respect to, but also bring it forward to where we are today. But that is a challenge.


Brad: It is a challenge. I was actually at my local comic book store today picking up my books, and because NacelleVerse 0 was out, we were talking about everything going on with Oni Press, and we were discussing the challenges of EC Comics and how you can't just bring it with the writers, you've got to bring it with the art. It's such a high level to meet.


Sierra Hahn: Yeah, certainly. But it's inspiring, it's motivating. I've worked on different projects throughout my career where I'm like, "No one should touch this. This thing is sacred." But if someone's going to do it, I hope that I can be one of the people at the helm to be responsible for this incredible body of work.


Hunter Gorinson: Both comics and our culture are replete with homages and pastiches of EC content. It's everything from John Carpenter's Halloween to Saturday Night Live, to The Simpsons, to James Gunn's Guardian of the Galaxy films, on and on and on and on and on. There's one very famous EC homage that I often use as an example of what we're trying not to do. Out of deference to people who've worked on that. I won't invoke it here, but that is to say we don't want to do the nostalgia version of EC.


As I said to many, many retailers at ComicsPro, "Look, if this was another comic book publisher leaning in to do this right now, you'd be getting Tales from the Crypt number one with one million variant covers." And as an EC fan and appreciator of not just what EC means as a sacred legacy, and I mean that wholeheartedly, sacred for the comics community, but as something that's as influential to the course of 20th and 21st-century pop culture as the Velvet Underground or the Ramones or Jack Kerouac, you know what I mean?


Brad: Yeah.


Hunter Gorinson: That's what we're talking about when we talk about EC Comics. We want to do something that brings that vision forward. Exactly to your point about casting artists on it, I'm literally looking at the previews catalog right now of what Epitaphs from the Abyss number one is going to be. It includes artists - just joking, Sierra, I'm not actually going to name them here. We're going to save that for a big announcement next month. But the name of the game isn't let's find an artist who draws like Jack Davis and let's find an artist who draws like Johnny Craig, and let's find an artist who draws like Reed Crandall. We could never do that.


We could try and do that, but it would be like a weird caricature or impersonation, and what makes EC special is both the craft and the intensity and the tone. And so specifically when it comes to casting artists, we got a killer, capital K Killer lineup of artists that I think people will be very excited about on issue one, and some of them brush up against the classic EC storytelling techniques and are definitely influenced by them, but they each have their own distinctive style in the same way that the Graham Ingels did or Johnny Craig did, and that's the name of the game. It was like, "Let's deliver the highest quality stuff that we possibly can and not force people into a nostalgia box." That being said, the lettering stays, just Leroy lettered to the gills. You know what I'm saying?


Brad: All right. Yeah, absolutely. When I was thinking about EC at ONI, I was thinking about what you all did with the Xino anthology, and I was thinking about people like Nick Cagnetti, and I was thinking about Artyom Topilin doing Night People, and they're not Jack Davis, they're not Al Williamson, but they are very stylistic. So, if you're pursuing artists and stylists like that to pair them with some people like Chris Condon and whatnot, I think you'll come up with something pretty darn rad.


Hunter Gorinson: That's the name of the game. And Xino was in some ways a warm up for this project that we knew would be coming down, but is in some ways very different from what we were doing, but there's some stylistic overlap there to be sure.


Brad: I like what you're saying about not falling into the nostalgia trap. I've been thinking about where we are right now as a culture and what succeeds in adaptation versus what fails. I look at Denis Villeneuve's Dune, the two films that he's done, and they are absolutely faithful adaptations of what Frank Herbert did in the book, but they bring a modern style to it and a modern sensibility and modern anxieties as well.


Hunter Gorinson: 100%. Look, one of the early conversations that me and Sierra had explicitly was about EC nostalgia and how do we be reverent and respectful and celebratory of the EC legacy? Because it's immense. It's probably the honor of my career to be able to stand even in close proximity to the original EC founders and creators. You know what I mean? But what we talked about, where we eventually landed with what we're trying to approximate, is it's nostalgia when you try and recreate exactly what came before or constantly pay back callbacks and homages to something that you read 30, 40, 50 years ago. But if you put on a new, modernized production of Titus Andronicus or Julius Caesar or a famous opera of The Magic Flute, that's never called nostalgia because you're observing something that's an ultimate fundamental building block of the culture. And so, hopefully, that's the most pretentious answer that you've had this week.


EC Comics, Oni Press, and the Mission


Brad: It's not a pretentious answer. It's absolutely in the spirit of Comic Book Couples Counseling, I feel like, and it's something that we have talked about in the past. EC Comics was such a moment and had such an influence that it's good that we are bringing it back out for people to ponder and consider again.


Hunter Gorinson: And the timing here is, again, I hesitate to keep using the word synchronicity, but there's a weird concurrence or echo that's happening. There's a weird concurrence and echo that happens between Oni Press and EC. Oni Press is the publisher of Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer, which by all accounts is the most banned book in America, is representative of a kind of unfounded moral panic that has seized a lot of folks across the country in a very similar way to what EC dealt with even before the congressional inquiries in the 1950s. There are photos of PTA committees in Rockland County, New York, or out on Long Island burning piles of EC comics because, supposedly, these comics would turn the kids who read them into delinquents or junkies or homosexuals or some combination of all of the above. And here we are, 70 years later; Comics Code authority is long gone, but now we're dealing with the same kind of primal forces in an entirely different form.


Part of what made EC such a stealthy injection of relevance in the pop culture was the fact that, obviously, comics at the time, especially EC's books, were perceived as being disposable trash for eight-year-olds, but contained all of these incredibly, I hesitate to use the word progressive, but strong sociopolitical, some subtextual and some very overtly textual messages that really changed, was pretty much the only place you could go in 1953 to find an anti-segregation message in pop culture. It wasn't on TV, it wasn't in the movies. It wasn't in a lot of pulp fiction. It was in EC comics. Themes of proto-feminism, anti-nuclear proliferation, tons of anti-war stuff, which was quite taboo when you're seven, eight years out of World War II. Also, they advanced comic storytelling and told stories that were just hella horrifying, hella entertaining at the same time, and also done at a level of craft that we've barely glanced at since. Sorry, that was a TED Talk.


Brad: No, no, no. Good, good, good. No, no, no. Sierra, I spoke with Hunter about this a little bit when he was on last, but I'd like to get your take on it. What do you see as Oni's mission within the industry, within the market right now?


Sierra Hahn: As you know, we publish an array of titles, an array of formats, middle grade, YA, adult, mature readers content, and we're servicing a lot of different audiences, and that's part of the mission. We want to reach as many perspective and current readers as possible. I think that is part of why we're growing our business and our reach in the direct market space, because we think it's a value, and part of what makes comic books so vital. It's part of the medium where I first fell in love with comics as a kid and where Hunter fell in love with comics, and so this is a space where we want Oni Press to play a big part in the direct market while we also have this robust readership in the book market spaces as well. So, I think continuing that mission while building upon those successes is really important. I think content-wise, we're putting artists forward, bringing this strong, identifiable visual presentation.


You mentioned some really great artists like Cagnetti and Artyom, who are bringing a distinct visual narrative to Oni Press. I think you can also look back and see that distinction with things like Scott Pilgrim and the books that came out just this last year with Faceless in the Family and Jay Stephen's Dwellings. They all have this very distinct visual tone to them that I think stands out on the shelves. I think we are seeing a lot of incredible artists on the shelves every month, but so many of them are working on projects across publishers, and we want to bring something new. We want to give something that feels fresh, that continues to push us forward and capture the attention and imagination of our readership. So I think that's a big part of it.


Brad: I'm so glad that you mentioned Faceless in the Family. Matt Lesniewski is an absolute idol in the Comic Book Couples Counseling Love Nest. We obsess over his work and frankly, I'll be disappointed if we don't see any EC Comics-related stuff coming from Matt Lesniewski. I'll just put that out there.


Hunter Gorinson: Matt was, when I stepped into the publisher role at Oni, one of the very first people I reached out to, because I too am an obsessive Matt Lesniewski fan. I won't spoil anything, but we are going to shortly begin working on something new with him.


Brad: Okay, cool. Cool. Sierra, again, looking at everything you've just said about Oni press, how do you know when a project, an artist, a story is right for Oni Press?


Sierra Hahn: I think it's that visually distinct quality. The boring, predictable answer is strong storytelling, strong, beautiful art, which is so subjective, but stories that have a point of view, that have an authenticity that comes from the written word, from the illustrations, all the way through the design and cover work. Comics are built by so many people, layer upon layer, adapting and bringing this material to life. So I think it's wanting to put all of that forward, but what maybe sets it apart, what makes it Oni, is that it's a little left of center. It's a little quirky. It can be subversive, it can be transgressive, not afraid to break with convention. I think there's a lot of sameness around us right now, and I think that comes from there being a lot of successes and that we want to build upon those successes. But I think we at Oni have an opportunity to break away from that and put the flag in the sand and say, "We're going to go this direction while you all go that direction. You're chasing that thing, and we want to be comics first."


It needs to be a comic book first. It's like with Faceless and the Family and what Matt is able to do on those pages, it's like you can only do that in a comic book. It can probably be adapted in some way, but it's going to be the watered-down version of what this sort of visionary storyteller was able to do on the page that you can only do in this medium. And it's not that all of our books need to accomplish that, but there's something central or to the core of that, that I think represents the stories that we want to tell and the kind of artists that we want to work with. And I use artists to represent the writers, the illustrators, the colorists, the letterers. They're all part of that.


Hunter Gorinson: I will distill down everything that Sierra has accurately said to one thing.


Sierra Hahn: Thank you.


EC Comics and Oni Press Make Cool Stuff


Hunter Gorinson: Make cool stuff. We do not have meetings at Oni about how much money we intend to make off of a specific thing. We're not goal-oriented in that way. We have twenty-seven years of history behind Oni Press, making cool stuff from Clerks, the comic book with Jim Mahfood, to Oni Double Feature to Scott Pilgrim, to The Tea Dragon Society to Gender Queer to The Sixth Gun to Letter 44, oodles and oodles of cool stuff.


Right now, I think Sierra is also being very kind and I will Sierra-translate, my words, not Sierra's. Comics are a little bit boring right now, even with the high level of work being done, the craft of comics, the quality, and overall execution of comics probably at an all-time high, but some of those rough edges of what the renegade spirit of comics truly is that I fell in love with as a reader and then as a professional, it's come away a little bit. And so Oni is a perfect vehicle to bring some of that rambunctious spirit, that cartoonist-driven spirit, that artist forward spirit into comics. That's what got us both, I think, excited about the project of Oni Press when we first started talking about it.


Brad: I hear what you're saying. I feel personally like we're in a golden age of comics. At the same time, I do feel like corporate comics, and maybe places like the House of Ideas, some of those ideas have been extremely softened. And I think right now, the golden age is in places like Oni, it is in with the independents, and there are some rebels out there fighting the good fight.


Hunter Gorinson: 100%, I agree with you.


Brad: So we've mentioned a lot of stuff. You've talked about a lot of rad stuff in Oni Press's history. What else do we need to be excited about? Is there something we haven't mentioned that you two are particularly excited about coming out of Oni Press?


Sierra Hahn: Coming up in April and May, there are some graphic novels that I'm particularly excited about. One that you may be familiar with already because two volumes already exist, but we're republishing The Hobtown Mystery Stories.


Brad: Yeah, I love them. So excited about that.


Sierra Hahn: I think they're incredible books, so beautifully done. Just very tight mystery stories with these characters that you immediately fall in with. Pure entertainment, but with a real substance and just I think the line work, the details on the page, it's where you want to sit and you want to rest with it. The first Hobtown will come out in April, and then we'll have a volume two and then the new edition, volume three, coming out shortly thereafter in the next year or so. The Hobtown line of books is just something I'm really, really excited about and hope people get on board because I think they're really special, and this is the first time that they'll be in color. They were published in black and white before that.


And then we have two coming up this year that were originally self-published on Webtoons, which is Covenant by LySandra Vuong and Sub-Zero by Juniper, both very different thematically, but have these sort of sweeping romance, but that's grounded in high energy, high octane action, adventure, and drama. And they're just beautifully done, and we are doing three volumes of each of those and hope to continue them well into the future. Sub-Zero will come out later in the year, but Covenant is coming up in the short term.


Hunter Gorinson: And then I will very briefly give a shout-out to three upcoming monthly comic book series. The first one you'll be getting in just a couple of weeks is Akogun: Brutalizer of Gods, which is a three-issue prestige format mini-series by two really, really, really talented creators by the name of Murewa Ayodele and Dotun Akande, who are both based out of, of all places Lagos, Nigeria. They were discovered essentially by Tom Breevort at Marvel, who put them on an Iron Man mini series, also did a short in Moon Knight: Black, White, and Blood a couple of years back that was really impressive. But they're just in a place where they don't have access to comics, there are no comic book stores in Lagos. They were able to just show up, have a completely fully realized mastery of what comics can be. And this book, I was really excited when I had first seen their work and we started talking about what's the kind of story you would want to do with an unlimited budget? No restraints, what would you want to do?


And they essentially came up with this idea that's like Conan meets Black Panther. So it's a full-on African-based sword and sorcery epic in the same way that Conan takes all of Western European mythology and runs it through that Hyboria filter, they're doing that with a bunch of West African mythology that's never been touched before in comics. If you liked Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic on Thor, this is a great book for you. It's absolutely beautiful. And then Derek Charm, who I've had the pleasure of working with previously and is also just a super talented cartoonist, is doing a very, very fun horror comedy book called Toxic Summer. That's also three issues bimonthly, so it'll be on an alternating schedule with Akogun.


And then we'd be remiss if we did not mention Cult of the Lamb beginning in June from Alex Paknadel and Troy Little, which is based on the very, very, very, very, very, very popular Devolver digital massive monster video game about an anthropomorphic lamb that is obsessed with dark magic and is resurrected by an Eldritch dark God to recruit followers as the leader of a cult. I know you predicted every word of that sentence, but that book is already causing a big stir online. There are millions of Cult of the Lamb fans around the world, so this book is probably going to be a little bit of a monster, no pun intended.


Brad: Alex is a friend of the pod, and I know nothing about Cult of the Lamb, but the moment I saw he was involved, I was curious. And then reading that Kickstarter, I was like, "Okay. Well, I just have to back that immediately."


Hunter Gorinson: Oh, nice. Thank you for doing so. As you can see, the Kickstarter has taken on a little bit of a life of its own.


Brad: Yeah.


Hunter Gorinson: We had been warned by our friends at Devolver that the Cult of the Lamb legion was vast and mighty. Many of them do not regularly patronize comic book stores, which was kind of the logic behind putting it on a Kickstarter first. But we will be making sure that our friends in the direct market have the first opportunity to both sell and promote this book. It'll be going on sale as a serialized comic series beginning in June.

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