Starburns Is Set To Unleash Humor-Driven Comics – Talking With Trevor Richardson And Eric Esquivel

by Hannah Means Shannon

A new publishing wing of Starburns Industries, SBI Press, is set to hit the ground running this Spring with a series of releases in 2018, and already revealed is a special edition of Starburns Presents for Free Comic Book Day 2018. Recently, Starburns revealed the cover and some of the content of the FCBD introduction to the publisher, and one of the major stories featured in this sampler will be Gregory Graves, written by Dan Harmon and Eric Esquivel, and drawn by Brent Schoonover, with colors by Rebecca Nalty. To top off that talented team on the book, the cover for Gregory Graves, when it’s released as a full one-shot, has been drawn by the great Philip Bond.

For those unfamiliar with Starburns Industries, the company was founded by Dan Harmon, Dino Stamatopoulos, Joe Russo II, James Fino and Duke Jonhson in 2010 in order to make shows and films, as well as animation, advertizing, and gaming. They describe themselves as “creator driven” and have been responsible for Adult Swim series Morel Orel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole and Rick & Morty, as well as animated film Anomalisa and the upcoming Netflix animated feature film Bubbles. Something common to all of these endeavors is a focus on comedy, and what seems like a specific philosophy behind humor, which has led to the popularity and success of their work. You might call them “humor-driven”, but the approach to humor is all their own.
That unique blend of humor looks to be forthcoming to their comics, too. Joining us today to talk about Starburns and SBI Press is Trevor Richardson, VP of Acquisitions at Starburns Industries Press, and also comic writer Eric Esquivel, who will fill us in on the upcoming publication Gregory Graves.

[Cover to Gregory Graves by Philip Bond]

Hannah Means-Shannon: So, Starburns Presents will be arriving in comic shops for Free Comic Book Day this May. Is Starburns Presents going to be a recurring anthology, or will we just see it for FCBD?
Trevor Richardson: Starburns Presents will preview our main titles from our 2018 line of books. It will be an annual anthology of previews for each year’s heavy hitters, which at present will be based around FCBD each year, but we may expand that line to a biannual schedule as we grow. Our biggest books this year include Gregory Graves and Comics Comics which are pictured on the cover,  but we also have a fantasy adventure tale called Odwell and a family comedy set in the Underworld called Hellicious. Odwell follows a warrior frog tasked with finding a cure for the kingdom’s ailing princess. Hellicious is the story of Cherry, the Devil’s granddaughter as she tries to work her way up through the ranks as a reaper of souls, while balancing the joy and thrills of a very unique vision of Hell. All of these will be available to order in the Previews catalog this Spring.

HMS: Will Gregory Graves be appearing as a single issue-based comic series?

TR: Graves is currently a stand-alone book, but there is so much fun to be had in the world Dan and Eric have created that there is already talk of a follow-up. Most likely, this will take shape as a series of oversized one shots or small graphic novels. Whatever shape it takes, we know Eric and Dan have more to say with these characters.
HMS: Creatively, what do you find most rewarding about bringing a humor-based sensibility to comics? How do you think the world of comedy and the world of comics can both best benefit from each other?
TR: The whole sensibility at Starburns is that comedy is much more than mere escapism. Humor teaches faster than sermons. The laugh on the other side of pain or fear is bigger than the laugh at the end of a snare roll and cymbal crash. The timeless stories are still hilarious and our favorite comic-inspired TV and movies, as a culture, are also the funniest.
Bottom line, the comedy world is tight knit because it’s such personal work and it’s the same with comics. We aren’t going for what MAD Magazine has done so well for decades. We’re looking to bottle that tragic truth that makes you laugh or that hilariously strange work the guys have captured on Rick and Morty. The hope is that bringing these two worlds together will create something doubly personal, hilarious, sad, beautiful, and true.

HMS: Eric, how did collaboration between yourself and Dan Harmon work in terms of writing Gregory Graves? What sort of methods worked best for you all?
Eric Esquivel: It’s funny, Dan and I actually met on “Harmontown” the weekly podcast he used to record in the back of Meltdown Comics. For whatever reason, (I think he caught a rerun of the first Superman film on Cable?), he started one of the episodes with an epic rant about how much he hated Superman, and idolized Lex Luthor.
Harmon and I had never spoken before. But when he glimpsed out into the audience and saw me vibrating with unadulterated nerd-rage, he brought me up on stage. And we each argued on behalf of our respective heroes.
That weird argument–wherein Dan was basically in-character as Lex, and I was Clark–continued after the podcast wrapped, and eventually mutated into a pitch for what we would do, if we were ever given free reign with the characters.
I hit up my connection at DC and scheduled us a meeting with the suits…who promptly rejected our idea(I think it was a combination of our take being a little too “out there” for mainstream DC, and the fact that Geoff Johns sort of had dibs on the character of Lex Luthor for an upcoming Justice League arc).
But Dan and I resolved to do it anyway, and just file the serial numbers off of the thing so that we couldn’t get sued.
Our writing process mostly consists of us bullshitting over Taco Bell, me going home and writing all of our ideas down as a proper script, and then Dan doing a second-pass that makes everything (particularly Graves’ dialogue) infinitely better.
HMS: Would you describe Gregory Graves as having more of a comedic element at work, or being more old-school superheroic in tone? What sort of elements did you pick and choose from comic traditions?
EE: Sure, Gregory Graves is funny– but we never cross the line into MAD-Magazine-style parody. Nobody on our team considers themselves ABOVE the superhero genre.
Gregory Graves is to Superman what Rick and Morty is to Back To The Future, or The Venture Brothers is to Johnny Quest— an obvious love letter from a couple of dudes who are obsessed with the material, but way too weird to be given a shot on the official property.
HMS: One of the things that creators often stumble up against in comics is the fact that super powered beings are just too powerful, and so it kind of drains the plot of meaning. Does that idea play any part in this story, or if not, how did you work around that issue? I know you have a superpowered figure, Luminary in the story.
EE: Graves was raised by a physically abusive, alcoholic father who taught him not to trust in the benevolence of men in power.
Living in a world full of superpowered beings who have the ability to snuff out the sun a with snap of their fingers–and the only thing keeping them in check is their pinky promise that they’re always going to behave–is driving him steadily insane.

HMS: So, the title of the series is actually named for an opposing figure, since Gregory Graves is someone who is opposed to heroes, and especially to Luminary? What more can you tell us about the personalities of Graves and Luminary?
EE: Luminary is a monster who’s trying to pretend he’s a man, and Graves is a man who’s trying to pretend he’s a monster.
Both characters have turned themselves into fictitious symbols to avoid the reality of who they actually are. Luminary wants people to see him as a non-threatening boy-next-door (instead of the gravity-defying atom-bomb-on-legs that he actually is), and Graves wants people to think that he’s some sort of ultimate badass Godkiller (instead of a hurt little boy, still desperately trying to find a way to avoid getting smacked in the mouth by his dad).
Both men dislike in each other what they dislike the most about themselves.

HMS: Graves, as the title figure, has some kind of “plan” he’s working on to counter both Luminary and other heroes of the world, it seems. To what extent is this plan kind of arrogant and wacky of him to believe he can carry out? To what extent might his confidence be well-founded?
EE: It’s an ambitious plan for sure. Graves’ goal isn’t to kill every superhero in the world (that would be EASIER, but it’d be addressing the symptom of society’s illness, and not the cause), it’s to forcibly break humanity’s “Hero Worshiping” habit.
It’s a plan that requires a remarkable amount of faith in humanity, because it’s ultimately not up to him if it succeeds or not.

HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about working with Brent Schoonover and Rebecca Nalty on Gregory Graves? What most excites you about their work on the comic?
EE: Brent rules! Having an established superhero artist on our team (Brent has penciled stuff like Adventures of Superman, Batman ’66, Deadpool, etc.) brings an authenticity to the book that helps it feel more like Invincible than Spaceballs.

Rebecca killed it. I especially appreciate her coloring job on Luminary. She brought a sensibility to the work that was inspired by stuff beyond just Cape comics, and it shows. No primary colors!
Also PHILIP BOND DID THE COVER! That dude is legitimately my favorite artist in comics. I sent him the most embarrassing email of all time to convince him to rock that out for us.
Thanks so much to Trevor Richardson and Eric Esquivel for taking part in this interview with Comicon.com!
We look forward to the Spring roll-out of Starburns books and to the upcoming Free Comic Book Day Starburns Presents special, where you’ll encounter Gregory Graves.

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