Proactive Insurance: The Pros

When I met him earlier this month at Rose City Comic Con, Steven Stormoen gave me the worst pitch I’ve ever heard for his (or any!) comic series: “If you’re into insurance companies, you’re going to love The Pros.” He was dramatically underselling it.

Pros 1 Cover

The Pros has a decidedly cynical premise. It stars a group of covert agents working for an insurance company to fix events ahead of time in high risk scenarios in order to give the company foreknowledge about how said scenarios will turn out. The company doesn’t care what the agents do or whether the scenario has a happy or tragic conclusion, it just wants to know the outcome ahead of time so it can plan accordingly––and make a lot of money. It’s the kind of set up that can only come from a place of deep despair regarding the state of contemporary culture.

Proactive Insurance Explained

But here’s the thing: The Pros was clearly created by idealists. Stormoen is acknowledging the seeming hopelessness of our current state of affairs, affirming all our suspicions about the inherent corruption in our society and then making an argument for the only moral response to these facts: resistance. Even if you fail, you have to push back.

Don’t get the wrong idea here though. This is a fun book. Beautifully crafted by artist Jelena Dordevic. It’s farcical, cathartic fun. Which makes it all the more impressive an accomplishment that it is also a book about something.

You can pick up all four available issues of the first story arc at …and you should.

Pros Camping scene

Mad Doctors

How do you read an indie comic? In my view, if you approach an independent creator’s work the same way you approach a mainstream comic, you’re going to miss what’s extraordinary about it.

Mad Doctors #1

Mad Doctors #1

Mad Doctors, by Matt Blairstone, has all the hallmarks of an indie comic and yet subverts the expectations implied by such a presentation. The art is whimsical, stylized with larger-than-life character designs like something from back in the golden age. The page layouts and overall compositions possess a rough sensibility, complete with small pagination imperfections. Holding the print edition of the book in my hands, it has the overall the aesthetic of one of those morose, hand-crafted comic zines.

But Mad Doctors isn’t one of those lyrical autobiographies about a depressed illustrator; it’s a weird tale. Very weird. It imagines a world were evil geniuses, in the vain of Dr. Doom, rule the planet and hatch machinations to undermine each other's mad science empires. It’s dark sci fi; by the second issue I began to suspect that the cartoony style is intended to soften the blow of its bleak setting. Yet, for every scene of dystopian political intrigue, there might be a battle between a t-rex and a muscle bound cyclops or else some ironically banal office repartee. Whenever you think you have Mad Doctors pegged, it shows a different side of itself.

So, how do you read an indie comic like Mad Doctors? You take it on its own terms. I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it.

You can find Mad Doctors in book stores through Emerald Comics Distro or on Comixology.


As the writer of a science fiction, space adventure webcomic with a retro-futuristic aesthetic, hyper-vivid colors, dramatic lighting and a tough-guy protagonist possessing of a somewhat antiquated sense of style, it can be hard to solve for the variable in the all-important equation “If you like ‘X’ you may also like my comic, Ion Grip.” But now I’ve found Stroper––a science fiction, space adventure webcomic with a retro-futuristic aesthetic, hyper-vivid colors, dramatic lighting and a tough-guy protagonist possessing of a somewhat antiquated sense of style––by Eddie Porter. And holy damn do I find myself in good company.

Stroper is the story of Pak Booker, a mulleted poacher of endangered alien wildlife. Booker seems to take no joy in his work; indeed, the danger inherent in the job and the great length he is willing to go to in stalking his prey demonstrate the terrible need Booker must be in to resort to a life of crime. All this is subtly and competently covered in the first few pages of issue #1 and sets up our Anti-hero’s true antagonist: a universe rife with injustice, corruption, and oppression.

Eddie Porter writes and draws this book with the laser-focused vision one only finds in single-creator works, and yet he somehow avoids the self-indulgent pitfalls that many such books succumb to. He chooses his battles, both narratively and stylistically, providing the reader with a concise story and a stark, cartoony aesthetic. No panel is wasted––long, shadowy scene-setters burst with mood, action scenes punch you with just the right microsecond, and dialogue is brief but nuanced. I am not aware of any other comic Porter has worked on, but he attacks this book like a veteran, confident in his skills.

Issues #1 and #2 are available now and I highly recommend fans of Ion Grip and innovative comic storytelling go pick them up.

Small Press Finds from San Diego Comic Con: Quice

On the surface, you could say Quince is just another comic series about a teenager learning to deal with superpowers––a novel premise back in the ‘60’s when Stan Lee was making hay out of it. But Quince manages to give us something fresh by simply swapping the traditional white, male protagonist for a mexican girl. It’s a small change, but the most distinctive and unique elements of this comic series proceeds from there. By representing a narrow, underserved comics audience, creators Kit Steinkellner, Emma Steinkellner and Sebastian Kadlecik have created a series that should appeal to everyone.

What’s most interesting about Quince’s protagonist, Lupe, is how utterly ordinary she is. Starting at the level of character design, Lupe reads as a background character in any other comic. Illustrator Emma Steinkellner gives you no indication that this young woman was born to greatness. As she trains to be a superhero, even at the peak of Lupe’s physical fitness, she remains squarely a “plus size.” Remarkably, this fact is never lamented by the character nor so much as drawn attention to in the narrative. Lupe is the everyman you rarely actually see in superhero comics––she just happens to not be a man.

Writer Kit Steinkellner nails the dialect of that teenager who can’t skate by in life on good-looks, athletic prowess, or a natural aptitude for school but has to make do with wit and hard work. Comics have long taken aim at these sorts of characters, but rarely do these versions ever ring true. The fact is characters like Lupe are nuanced and hard to write; Kit Steinkellner makes it look easy.

Quince’ story leans heavily on its unique characters and premise, unfolding slowly. After 9 issues out of 15, the existence of a super villain has finally been revealed. This is not a narrative oversight or failing; the true antagonistic force of the series is the process of growing up itself––and growing up takes a long time. Combating a formidable foe will be the final test of all Lupe has learned as she moves into adulthood. She will be faced with an enemy who functions as her opposite: someone who refuses to mature, to learn responsibility, to realize adulthood is really about knowing there is more to life than the self. Or so I predict.

Quince is available as a digital first in English and Spanish on Comixology. But publisher Fanbase Press will be releasing a trade paperback of the series on October 23 of this year. It’s not my job to tell anyone what to do, but the only way to really support an independent book like this one is to spend money on it and Quince deserves support.

Small Press Finds From San Diego Comic Con 2016 - Fanbase Press and The Arkham Sessions Podcast

Wandering the SDCC showroom floor looking for literally anything is a great way to meet people. If your rule is “talk to anyone who engages you,” it opens up so many unexpected doors––some leading to “meh” but others to really, really great discoveries.

And this is how I stumbled upon Fanbase Press. Fanbase Press founders Bryant and Barbra Dillon radiate optimism and genuine love of all nerdy media. They have a small, select line of independent comics worth checking out––but they’re much more than publishers. They’re the very nexus of a community of creators and fans who support each other to do creative work and promote the products of that work.

Turns out Fanbase is a podcast network, as well. (They even do radio plays!) The show from the network that immediately captured my interest was The Arkham Sessions.

The Premise of The Arkham Sessions is so simple and so obvious, I’m actually surprised no one else has done it before 2014 when the show launched. Here it is: Clinical psychologist Andrea Letamendi and co-host Brian Ward discuss the psychological pathologies in play with the characters in Batman the Animated Series. They take on the cartoon episode by episode, starting from the beginning. And it’s amazing!

Co-host Brian Ward is great, and brings a critical knowledge of television production to the show. But, obviously, Dr. Letamendi is the star of the show. Ward goads her with alternate theories and teases out hidden facts from the show bible; he’s a perfect Watson. Good humored and smart.

Of course, Letamendi is Holms and she plays that role with a cool professionalism that doesn’t mask her enthusiasm for what has to be a perfect combination of nerd passions. (If only everyone could be so lucky as to find a way to unite their professional and fan-based interests in one creative enterprise!) She brings a staggering amount of specialized knowledge to each episode. I wish I had this show back when I was working in the mental health field; it’s a genuine education. Truly informative.

I think the key to Letamendi’s insightfulness, with regard to the Batman characters, is her clear love of and respect for the material. Yes, Batman’s a kid's show and there are lots of outlandish and improbable aspects to it that do not go unnoticed by Ward and Letamendi during the podcast. But the reason the animated series resonates with so many fans is that the characters are all too human. Letamendi gets that. She puts herself in the world of Batman to analysis the characters from her office in Gotham City. (Which happens to also be literally true?)

I’m about 10 episode into this show, and I see myself listening to the entire series. If you’re interested, I recommend dipping in at episode 2, “Christmas with the Joker.” While Letamendi and Ward come out of the gate strong with episode 1, the second episode is a better example of what makes the show so damn good.

The Arkham Sessions is an impressive introduction to the creative community that is Fanbase Press. There’s a lot of other content and entertainment on offer at the Fanbase website, too––looks like I’ll be hanging out there for awhile.

Small Press Finds From San Diego Comic Con 2016: Hex11 #7

This year at SDCC, I spent a lot of time at the Hex11 booth. I’m kind of a fan. I even hired their colorist, Samantha Carrasco, to work on my own book, Ion Grip. So, of course I picked up the newly released 7th issue of the series.

Issue #7 is the start of a new story arc that promises to explore the cryptically hinted at realm of the Hex-verse known as the Verge. As it is the very tip of a narrative iceberg, I don’t have much to say about it just yet, save a couple stray thoughts. But I’m intrigued, which is exactly what one wants from the first issue of an story arc.

Stray Thought Number One. While Hex11’s first story arc starts with protagonist Elanor struggling with her own disappointing orinariness, here Elanor can’t quite get comfortable with the fact that she might actually be quite extraordinary––a situation reversal that leaves her every bit as relatable as she’s always been. It’s a nice touch. She’s still a bit too self-conscious and self-righteous, but writer Kelly Sue Milano gives the reader’s own thoughts voice via the criticisms of heartthrob-demon-made-flesh Osrick who never misses an opportunity to call out Elanor’s faults.

Stray Thought Number Two. Speaking of said hot demon: this issue also pushes forward the dynamic between Elanor and Osrick, while keeping the tension in place. There’s a real Pride and Prejudice feel to Elanor and Osrick’s developing relationship––which, incidentally, is one of my favorite of the romantic narrative archetypes. (It’s far better than the star-crossed lover tragedies or the misunderstanding-that-keeps-them-apart comedies. Hell, if Nora Ephron had written a comic about a witch and a demon, I suspect it would look a lot like Hex11.) Now I’m not saying the two of them are definitely going to get together in the end, but there’s definitely more than a shipper’s dream going on there...not that I’m shipping those two...I’m just saying...nevermind.

You can pick up a floppy of Hex11 #7 at or get the digital version a Comixology. And if you haven’t read 1-6 yet, the trade paperback is now available, so go ahead and pick that up too.

Small Press Finds from San Diego Comic Con 2016 - Native Drums

Native Drums (17Machine Studios) is like a Greek epic poem, but with a cabal of corporate masterminds in their orbital Olympus rather than a pantheon of gods and a genetically enhanced super-soldier in place Perseus or Odysseus. It has that straight-forward heroic adventure appeal that belies the depths of many a great narrative. Several days after finishing the first trade of this independently published comic series, I’m left pondering the significance of the question at the core of the heroine's journey.

The protagonist is agent M17, a resilient warrior as strong as she is smart. Writers are often advised to “start with action”––which, in my opinion, is just as problematic (for the purpose of engaging a new audience) as starting with a character portrait or a doxology on the nature of man. Why do I care about what’s happening? What’s really at stake? Native Drums jumps into the action at the start of issue #1, and it’s the protagonist herself that pushes the reader past any apprehension about the worthiness of the tale. Artist, Vince Riley, designed an instant charmer. Far more than just a ‘babe with a gun,’ M17 emotes with every panel, leading the reader’s feelings with her expressive eyes. She’s clever and quipy, thanks to Chuck Pascall’s dialogue; if you’ve been missing Buffy on the small screen (and already burned through the comic follow-up) M17 does not disappoint. It’s important that the creative team succeeds in making you like M17, because the central conflict revolves around the question of whether goodness––as personified in her character––can ever triumph over the pragmatism available to the truly evil. You have to believe in her as your moral stand-in for the story to work––and you do!

This question at the core of the Native Drums is a subtle but powerful one: two agents strive against each other, one encumbered with the burden of moral virtue, the other willing to do anything, hurt anyone, to accomplish the mission––which agent wins the contest? On this level, Native Drums is less a philosophical exploration than it is an affirmation of our shared human values. It allows the reader to root whole-heartedly for M17, while pondering the genuine seductiveness of abandoning one’s principles when it’s convenient to do so. In other words, as the epic struggle plays out on the pages of Native Drums, it also plays out in the reader’s heart and mind.

You can pick up the digital version of Native Drums on Comixology and the print version from 17 Machine Studio's online store

Season 2, Episode 9: Cephalopod Sign, Part 4

We’ve been taking you through Cephalopod Sign, the first part of my YA Fantasy novel, "The Adventures of Woodrow the Wicked." (Which, incidentally, is now available for download on Amazon and will be free from April 1st through April 5th.) At this point in the story, Woodrow has set the giant cephalopod against those rotten old salvagers, but has unwittingly endangered the life of his new friend, the mysterious pirate girl. Meanwhile, Tambroline has managed to steer clear of Iplio's wrath. But now what's god up to? And can Woodrow save his new friend before she’s drowned by the giant tentacled monster? Will he be eaten by the monster himself? There's only on way to find out: listen to the fourth and final episode of Cephalopod Sign!

The music for this episode was provided by the McKenzie Stubbert

Josiah Martens wrote the Lies and Half Truths theme song.

Meg Weber produces the show, along with me, your host A.P. Weber.

Cover by Lance MacCarty and Ivan Vidovic

Cover by Lance MacCarty and Ivan Vidovic

The Adventures of Woodrow the Wicked

My new YA Fantasy novel, THE ADVENTURES OF WOODROW THE WICKED, is now available for digital download on Amazon. You can listen to an audio performance of the first few chapters on the Lies and Half Truths Podcast. (See players are below.)

Now, let me entice you with the book description:

In Woodrow’s world, the moon is shattered against the vaulted sky. It serves as a constant reminder of his own broken life. At fifteen, he’s seen his father murdered and his hometown burned to the ground. He escaped the destruction on his genius father’s greatest invention, a mysterious airship.  But everywhere he goes, a bad reputation precedes him. Woodrow the Wicked, they call him. They say he killed his father and burned his town.

Woodrow is not without allies, such as they are: a self-interested feline pet, a “guardian” angel who does little to protect the boy (but has tried to kill him on one occasion), and a robotic golem––caring, but cowardly and mute. And then there’s Cassandra, a young pirate-in-training; she’s charming, but can she be trusted?

Now Woodrow and his crew find themselves pursued across a fantastic world by a family of aristocratic sociopaths bent on obtaining the ship for their own sinister gain. Will Woodrow become the wicked boy the world thinks he is? Or will he find  a way to rise above his reputation? 

Oh, and by the way: from April 1st through April 5th, 2016, it will be FREE! 

Cover by Lance MacCarty and Ivan Vidovic

Cover by Lance MacCarty and Ivan Vidovic

Season 2, Episode 8: Cephalopod Sign, Part 3

On the podcast, we’ve been taking you through Cephalopod Sign, the first part of my forthcoming YA fantasy novel, "The Adventures of Woodrow the Wicked." If you haven’t heard parts 1 and 2, go back and listen to them now. Otherwise you wont know what’s going on in this episode. On the last episode Woodrow agreed to help rid the salvage area of the Giant Hermit Cephalopod living there, but now that he’s made the plunge into the beast’s watery habitat, he’s having second thoughts. Meanwhile, his pet greatcat, Tambroline, is still lost in the jungle, and what’s more, she’s found herself testing her wits against an enigmatic supernatural being. Will the two live to see each other again?

By the way, here's Woodrow the Wicked's cover designed by Lance MacCarty:

This episode’s sponsor is author Cidney Swanson.

The music for this episode was provided by the McKenzie Stubbert

Josiah Martens wrote the Lies and Half Truths theme song.

Meg Weber produces the show, along with me, your host A.P. Weber.

Next: Cephalopod Sign, Part Four 04.01.2016

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo