INTERVIEW: Craig Schroeder of “HIT!” and Gentleman Baby Comics

Picture-small1Craig Shroeder, along with artist Daniel Hooker, are getting ready to release not only their first comic collaboration together, but also the first title for Craig’s Gentleman Baby Comics, a small press imprint sure to have a whole line of amazing titles as time goes by.  The ideas for “HIT!” are fresh, the writing tight and clever, and the artwork lends its own style – making this a comic to watch for!  Links for their Kickstarter, main website, and more are found at the end of the interview.  Hey – even some sample pages from the comic and photos of the creators!  Okay, here we go:

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– We’ll start with the basic first question: what do you do when you’re not working on “HIT!”, or on future endeavors with Gentleman Baby Comics?

Both Daniel and I have day jobs. I work for the state of Florida and Daniel does graphic design. I always get self-conscious describing hobbies and what-not, but bear with me. I’m a bit of a cinephile and I spend a lot of time watching movies and catching up on good TV shows. I also read a lot of comics. I have been reading a lot of Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire right now, I don’t think there are any better writers working currently. I’ve had to balance my full-time job with writing this comic and launching Gentleman Baby Comics so that doesn’t leave a whole lot of extra time. And I would be in big trouble if I didn’t mention by lovely wife, Jessica (we’re about to celebrate our second anniversary), and our dog Scout.

– Give us a quick rundown of the premise for this comic.  I really find it excitingly interesting!

HIT! is about Connor Connolly, orphaned as a child, he was raised by Patrick O’Reilly, boss of the Irish crime syndicate in Boston. Connor becomes a brute for the mob. Their biggest muscle. Our story picks up in Hot Springs, AK., where Connor has been dispatched to perform a hit on an anonymous pair living in the suburbs. Connor is efficient and brutal, so when the plan goes sour Connor is caught off-guard. Furthermore, he discovers it’s not coincidence he’s been sent to Arkansas and a part of his past comes surging back into his life. It’s a six-issue arc, but each issue has a kind of self-contained story that propels Connor to the eventual conclusion.

– Can you tell us about your Kickstarter, and some of the awesome gifts you can get for backing it?  I really love the gift package where you can have yourself drawn into #1 as a target of a hit man.  Very clever!

We’re so excited about the Kickstarter. In just 12 days we reached our goal. We wanted to try and have some creative rewards. There’s some really cool comic book merch, like buttons, pins and stickers, but we wanted to do something really personal to the book. So we decided to draw some fans into the book. We have four rewards (two for men and two for women) where the backer can have their likeness drawn into a panel of the book. Of those four, we have one remaining. And for a little bit more, a backer is able to have their likeness drawn into the comic to be assassinated! We just wanted to provide some rewards that are a bit more intimate, without these backs we’d still be e-mailing ideas back and forth, so now that they are making this happen for us, we wanted to be able to give some really awesome rewards.

– Judging from the NPR interview, your meeting Daniel Hooker was almost like fate.  How did you get in touch with Daniel?  What drew you to his work?  His style is great, and I feel a perfect fit for what I’ve seen of the book.

Yeah, it was just an opportune moment in both of our lives, unbeknownst to either of us. I had been working on HIT! for several months and needed someone to do some sample panels for me. I knew Daniel through some mutual friends though we hadn’t really connected in some time. But, we were friends on Facebook and I had seen his art before. His art (to me) had a kind of fantastic and whimsical element to it, but was still grounded in reality. Even with our kind of gritty, noir comic, there is a kind of a fantastical element (that I still can’t quite put my finger on) that just seemed to lend itself perfectly to the kind of comic we wanted to make. I contacted him to do some sample panels. I was (and still am) very naive to the industry and my original intentions were to sell my script to an indie publisher. After going to a few cons, I realized a majority of the indie publishers in Florida had started a label to produce their own comic. And I’m a control freak so that immediately was an idea I was drawn to. I contacted Daniel again and asked if he’d be interested in doing the whole book. Daniel said he was so I emailed him the whole script and we’ve been working on it since.

– You weren’t headed straight for comics coming out of college.  I was wondering – did you have any goals set at the time, before comic writing banged your door in?  In other words, did you see yourself in possibly a different job, or working towards a different career?

Most definitely. I always wanted to write. I just wasn’t sure what. I always loved short stories, I am a huge fan of Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver who write really intimate and interpersonal short stories. And I always thought that was my “thing”. I tried writing short stories, some I liked some I didn’t, but the entire process just frustrated me. As a writer, and this may seem odd to people who don’t write, but you kind of know when what you’re writing has the potential to be something better. For me at least, there is a kind of excitement when I hit a beat in a story that works really well and it propels me into writing more. The more good stuff I think I’m writing, the more I write. Well, out of college, I wasn’t really writing anything that I felt good about or proud of. I tried to write and I was really just getting frustrated. Then when I started dabbling with comic book scripts, something clicked and I got that feeling again. I was finally excited about what I was writing.

– I understand you got the original idea for this comic during the final phase of a “Intro to Writing Graphic Novels” class.  How much of this idea is still in the finished scripts?  Any interesting things that were left out or put into the story?

Yeah, it was through an online writing community called LitReactor. I’ve always liked comics and read comics, but since I can’t draw a lick, it never dawned on me that there is an aspect of creating a comic book that has nothing to do with drawing. So I took this class and the final assignment was to write a one-issue comic of about twenty-two pages. The original idea for HIT! and the finished product are pretty similar. The original idea just came from a love of gangster/noir comics and movies. I was just kind of musing one day and I thought what if the most ruthless and formidable gangster I can think up, just gets brought to his knees physically and emotionally in one failed job. So I started writing this comic, which I originally intended to be just a one-shot. But as I started I realized I liked the characters a whole lot and they gave me so much room to expand the story and really pick apart the relationships between these thugs, essentially.

– Speaking of this class, what can you tell us about the experience?  I know there were some amazing guests/instructors.  What is the strongest thing you took from the class, in terms of the ‘big picture’ of your writing comics?

It was a great class. It was taught by Bree Ogden who is a literary agent and comic writer out of Seattle. She was really great, both from a creative and business standpoint. The experience was really great and as far as extracting a single “big picture” take-home I really can’t narrow it down. I really think the class just pulled back the curtain on comics for me. It helped me realize that there is a creative process in comic books that I’m not only capable of but I relate to.

– The whole idea of Gangsters existing within a super power/superhero type of world is great!  With this you mention films by Martin Scorsese as being a huge influence. 

I feel like I must clarify, in that our gangsters don’t have superpowers. The template for my story I wanted to be like a classic super hero vs. villain story line but set in a kind recognizable world of gangsters and thugs. So I wanted Connor to be my Batman and Patrick to be my Joker. I feel like the majority of crime stories are about thugs vs. the law or Gang 1 vs. Gang 2; I wanted to try and create a gangster story that pitted two daunting gangsters against one another to do battle like Superman vs. Lex Luthor.

That being said, Martin Scorsese is a huge influence. I’m sure there are some subconscious parallels between my characters and his, but the part of Scorsese that I tried to emulate the most is how good he is at making you have genuine feelings for really despicable people. There’s not a whole lot of redeeming qualities to Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro in Casino, but when he gets in the corn field it’s hard not to feel for the guy. Connor does some awful things, but there is never a doubt in anyone’s mind that he is and will remain the hero of the piece. And I think that’s what Scorsese does at his best.

– As the writer of this upcoming series, what were some of the main themes you were trying to hit on?  Also, what are some of the things you took in as inspiration for this, other than Scorsese?

Oh man, I almost want to plead the fifth here, so as not to give away the twist in Issue 1 that propels the rest of the series. But I’ll be vague and obnoxious instead: Connor, a man who has been trained to have no emotion, has lived with a sizable emotional void in his life. I kind of wanted to explore what it’s like for a guy in this world to suddenly and unexpectedly have that void fulfilled.

As far as inspiration goes, I’ve just been reading a lot! The guys who I’ve connected the most with during this whole process have been Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire. I think I like them so much because they write these really broad and ambitious stories that are so grounded and character driven. For example, Lemire’s The Underwater Welder has this really ambitious and fantastic science-fiction element that takes a complete back seat to how perfectly he explores the psyche of the main character.

– I really find your villain, Patrick O’Reilly, very interesting.  From his character design to what has been mentioned about him thus far, he feels like a serious man you wouldn’t want to tangle with.  Were there any heavy inspirations that brought this character to life?

I’m not sure. I’ve joked with my Dad a little bit, because I didn’t realize until Daniel started drawing the characters that he looks a lot like my father. (I want to go ahead and clarify, that he is not inspired by my dad. When the series progresses and Patrick gets really vile, I don’t want there to be any confusion). I had the most fun with Patrick because I wanted to create a really dichotomous villain. I specifically made him look non-threatening and malleable so when he turns into a monster it is that much more unsettling. I’m also a horror movie geek and my favorite kinds of horror movies are the kind of smart and calm psychopaths. I think there’s just something really unnerving about a nerd in a cabbie hat screaming obscenities and ordering murders. I knew I wanted to kind of separate him from the kind of slick looking, level-headed mobsters from the movies. I always got the feeling that Don Corleone, and mobsters of his ilk, got where they were due to a mixture of moxie and finesse. I wanted to make it clear that Patrick got to where he is because he’s brutal and unstable.

– Let’s hear about some of the other main characters.  Who are they, and can you tell us something about their personal motivations and/or goals for this first story?

Other than Connor and Patrick, the other main character of Issue 1 is Bradan Byrne. Bradan’s basically a prospect, he’s been Patrick’s errand boy for years and this is the first time Patrick has sent him to do something important. Connor doesn’t like him and has basically worked out a plan so Bradan will have very few opportunities to screw anything up. Of course, I’d like to tell you about the people they’ve been sent to kill, but I think it would be best if I left you in the dark, like Connor. Throughout the series though there are a number of really cool characters that Connor embraces. One who I really enjoyed writing, is named Joey “Lips” McGee, who will appear in Issue 3. He is an antagonist to Connor and I don’t want to give away too much but he’s a bigger brute than Connor (and his nickname came about due to the gnarly scar that runs straight from under his nose to his chin, separating his lips into four quadrants).

– It really looks like you’ve been getting some great local support on this.  How has that helped in the promotion for your comic, as well as the Kickstarter?

It’s been really awesome! Our friends and family have been outstanding, not only in the Kickstarter contributions but also in spreading the word and just providing moral support. The community (we both live in Tallahassee) has also been great. We’ve been embraced by our local comic shops and were even able to set up in one this past weekend and meet the customers, and hopefully, future fans. Then there’s just been an outpouring of support from unexpected places. We were able to sit down with the local NPR affiliate and do an interview and that really helped get the word out. Also, I know it’s cliche to say it, but the power of social media has definitely been on our side. We’ve been promoting pretty hard on Facebook and Twitter and have gotten nothing but support from total strangers!

– I absolutely love the mask design for this book.  Can you tell us what went on behind the scenes when creating the masks?  Do these masks have anything to do with the character’s personality, as far as the different animals go?

When I originally wrote the script it was two ski masks rather than a wolf and a pig. But I quickly realized how boring it is to look at two faces covered in cloth for multiple pages so I decided to change it. I wanted something that kind of represented the characters personality. At the time, I don’t think I realized how fun it would be to play around with the wolf and pig masks but as I continued to write I feel like the masks really allowed me to add some cool stuff to the script. Then, once Daniel got a hold of it, it just really took off. Daniel was able to make adjustments and play with the masks even more and I think the image of the wolf and pig will be the kind of lasting image of Issue 1.

– You’ve stated you’d like to have the first issue out by Free Comic Book Day this upcoming May.  How are things looking towards having this goal completed?

Good! We’re on track as of writing this. Daniel does have a one-year old son (and another on the way) so we wanted to make sure we gave him a lot of time. Of course, there’s always obstacles and unforeseen setbacks, but as of right now we are right on track to having this thing cranked out by the beginning of May.

– You guys also seem to have plans for a lot of convention visits, including the famous San Diego Comic Con.  Do you have special plans for these conventions?  What conventions are you planning on hitting this year?

It all depends on how well the Kickstarter goes. We will definitely be hitting up the ones in Florida (except MegaCon which happens in March, so we won’t be able to make that one), but depending on how well the Kickstarter goes, we will be able to expand our convention schedule. If we get enough money we are hoping to make it to some of the conventions in Georgia and some of the surrounding states. I really don’t know what to expect as a vendor at these things, I’m nervous about being overwhelmed or ill-prepared. That being said, I think we have some cool ideas: I want to get a few friends to take turns dressed like Connor and Bradan in their wolf and pig outfits and have them take pictures. I think that would be super fun and a really good way to help spread the word.

– Any future plans with Gentleman Baby Comics that you can talk about?  Any ideas floating around in your head?  I’m curious to see it grow, and where you can take us.

We’re trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we have talked about some future projects. I have one story that I can’t get out of my head. I’ve talked with Daniel and he is interested in it, so hopefully when I have the time I can take these rough outlines and characters and put them together. Also, there are things I would love to try, like a great, original super hero story (who doesn’t want to write a great super hero story). Right now we’re really working hard on HIT!, but I would be lying if I said we haven’t already started thinking about what’s to come.

– Well, thank you, Craig, for sitting down with these questions!  I really want to thank you for joining us here, and for working on what will surely be a great title.  Best of luck to you guys!

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All the info you need, including their main website!

Twitter: @Gentleman_Baby
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IMAGES AND SAMPLE PAGES FROM THE COMIC:
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