With an anticipated release date of February 2013, Pawn Shop has just joined the select group of unconventional graphic novels that have found their funding on Kickstarter, where fans invest their own hard earned cash in books they want to read. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Pawn Shop scribe and IGN Comics Editor Joey Esposito, writer of Footprints and a recent backup feature for Image Comics’ Grim Leaper, “Drive Time Commute.”
Starburst: We read the preview pages of Pawn Shop on the Kickstarter site and it looks great so far. What’s particularly interesting is that you took the slice of life route with the story... what inspired you to tell a story like Pawn Shop?
Joey Esposito: Well, first and foremost it's simply that those are the stories I really identify with and the ones that made me want to be a writer in the first place. I love the idea of exploring our seemingly "mundane" existence, because it's really anything but. Our every day lives are so much more complicated and interesting than anything that superheroes or genre stories deal with. So out of a desire to explore those ideas and work out some personal issues (what writer isn't?) and out of a need to try something very different after Footprints, Pawn Shop was born.
So, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Yeah, exactly. There's so much to examine, even in a seemingly banal routine.
Why New York?
As for New York, I mean, part of it is just the magic of the city in general. There's no other American city, in my opinion, that captures what NYC does. So much variation and so much character that literally changes block by block. It's a city that always offers something new, no matter how many times you walk its streets. But for me personally, I left New York when I had to move to LA for work. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't take full advantage of living in New York and so Pawn Shop, in part, is sort of a love/apology letter to the city that I never let grab me like it should. I spent a lot of time there, obviously, working and playing in a band and stuff, but in the end I was pre-occupied with trying to move ahead in my life that I guess I never really took advantage of the city like I should have.
What can readers expect from Pawn Shop?
So, as you can see on the Kickstarter page, Chapter 1 follows a widower named Harold. He's lived in Manhattan all of his life, up until his wife passes away and he moves out to Long Island. Yet, he finds himself traveling back to the city every day, retracing their old haunts, unable to let go. In the move out to the Island, the movers misplaced this old antique mannequin that was his wife's, and that sort of serves as Harold's motivation for this story, hunting down that old mannequin as though it's all that remains of their memories together. It's all very depressing. But it's sweet too, I hope, because I think having that sort of a commitment to somebody is just the most spectacular thing I can imagine.
Can you tell us about some of the other characters and where they fit into your vision of NYC?
I don't want to say too much about the other characters and how the stories intertwine, but I can say that all the characters will appear in each chapter. The goal is to make your second read of the book a different experience - hopefully each character will provide a new perspective of various events and scenes. The other characters are Josh, a home care nurse, Lilly, an LIRR conductor, and Jen, a teenager that's sort of in with the wrong kind of crowd. She's brilliant but confused. They've all got ties to the city in different ways, but they're all tied to one another through this one block that the pawn shop sits on.
You currently live in LA. Any plans on triumphantly returning to the city in which Pawn Shop is set?
Not in a permanent capacity, not right now, anyway... For now, I'm living vicariously through Pawn Shop!
And therein lies the power of art... to transport us to where we'd rather be. Speaking of art, you're working with renowned escapologist Sean Von Gorman, right?
I am indeed. He's quite the character.
Out of all the comic Kickstarter rewards I've seen, I don't think I've ever come across one that involved a straight jacket (contributors who pledge $250 or more have the opportunity to experience Sean Von Gorman’s escape act in person).
Yeah. His skill set has been a boon to not just Pawn Shop, but the books he works on in general. He's a fantastic artist, but his mentality for self-promotion and innovative marketing really go a long way, particularly in the independent scene.
So, every creative team has their own unique process... can you tell me a bit about working with Sean on art?
Well, we've never met in person, so thus far it's really just a lot of e-mails back and forth. We talked a lot before starting the project, where we were sort of feeling each other out, I think. When I sent him the script, Sean read it and gave me his thoughts, we talked about it a little more, and then ultimately decided to move forward. As soon as he sent me the first character designs for Harold, I knew we were good to go. I loved what he was doing. From there, the pages began coming in. In general, when I work with an artist, I want it to be a collaboration. If there's something that really doesn't work, we'll talk about it, but in general he's the artist and knows better than I do what he can do in the space of a panel and all that. I imagine as we get further on the project I'll be able to write more to his strengths and interests and hopefully the final product will be all the better for it.
How much influence do you have in the look and feel of the book? Some writers can be very prescriptive and others have a more laissez faire attitude towards the visual side of things. Where do you fall on that spectrum?
I write the panel descriptions and everything, and I get pretty detailed in them but I'm not super attached to what I write. Any excessive description is less for the artist to render verbatim and more to describe the tone of the scene, if that makes sense. I want the artist to be engaged while reading the script, rather than having it read like a step-by-step instruction manual, so that their excitement and understanding of what I'm going for ends up on the page. But like I said, I want it to be a collaboration, so if there's anything I've written that the artist takes issue with, I'm more than happy to talk it out.
So with its slice of life narrative, Pawn Shop steers well clear of comic book convention in a way we don't really see often enough, considering the limitless potential of the medium. Do you think Kickstarter is influencing the types of books writers and artists are interested in creating and readers are interesting in buying?
Oh yeah, for sure. We only pitched this book to one publisher, who politely declined, before we took it to Kickstarter. I don't blame them, honestly, because the market hasn't exactly suggested that a book like this will be a smashing sales success. But with Kickstarter, I think it lets comic fans literally vote with their dollars on the kind of books they want to see, which is why you're finding more and more established pros turning to crowdfunding for their passion projects. Creator-owned work comes with great financial sacrifice - not only for production, but also in time spent away from doing paying work. Kickstarter lets creators take more risks without having to worry so heavily about how the direct market will receive it. More importantly, I think Kickstarter opens up comics in general to new fans. People that might not know that anything outside of superheroes exist in comics, you know? I think Kickstarter is a great way to find a whole new audience for the medium in general.
Do you think the popularity of projects that are picking up speed on Kickstarter has the potential to create a sort of shift in the publishing world? Perhaps people are looking at what readers are, as you say, voting for with their own dollars and seeing that there is a place for the books they've been ignoring?
I really hope so. I mean, we're already seeing publishers themselves use Kickstarter - like Top Cow just did with Cyber Force. I think that's a really fascinating experiment, to find out what readers are willing to support like that. But more generally speaking, I think it'll take a long, long period of huge successes on Kickstarter for the bigger comic book publishers to start taking a cue from that. After all, Marvel and DC, for all intents and purposes, are sort of a ground zero for multimedia properties at this point. Their publishing division is more or less a slave to the more profitable areas - movies, TV, games - that they are taking less risks in really branching out in genre. And when they do - things like the New 52's war titles, for instance, they don't really do all that well. To that end, I think the independents are the place you'll have to go for real innovation and variety in the medium, and with Kickstarter, I think that idea of having a known publisher's logo on your book is slowly becoming less important. We still live in a world where being published by an established company somewhat guarantees a certain level of quality. And certainly, self-publishing, even if it's supported by thousands of dollars in Kickstarter pledges, can churn out some garbage. But just like anything else, if the work is quality and you can get it in front of people, then there's no reason you can't find success on your own terms.
Pawn Shop is worlds apart from your previous series with artist Jonathan Moore, Footprints. How did you, as a writer, get from something like Footprints to something like Pawn Shop?
Really it all comes from the same place, which is having something to say with those characters. It's just a different way of expressing it, I guess. Footprints, while a fun monster/detective story and all of that, has a larger message about our world and the way we treat it. That sounds kind of silly, saying it out loud, because it's a book about Bigfoot. But that's where the thematic elements come from, which I think is what makes it work beyond just the gimmick of "Bigfoot as a PI." I mean, hopefully it does. But in terms of the themes I wanted to explore with Footprints, using that genre approach was the best way, given my particular skill set and interests, to do so. And with Pawn Shop, it comes from the angle of wanting to explore the seemingly mundane, like I mentioned earlier. The easiest and most direct way to do that is just to do a story about real people; people you've probably bumped elbows with on the subway. But as a writer, I'm still very early in my career, and one thing I wanted to do right away was establish versatility. I don't want to be pinned down as a guy that does a particular type of story. Maybe that'll be inevitable anyway, who knows, but at least I can say I tried to keep some variety in my projects. I think exploring different genres and themes is exciting for a writer.
Anything else you'd like to say about Pawn Shop?
I guess I would just conclude by saying that I hope anyone reading this will take a look at our Kickstarter and help us surpass our goal. We've only got about a week left, but we've got some great incentives for hitting our stretch goals. At $13K, for instance, we're going to have a photography series commissioned, done by a photographer friend of mine, that will be a series of real NYC pawn shops, put together in a really lovely art book. So if you love NYC, alternative comics, or just stories about regular people, I hope you'll give Pawn Shop a look.
Though Joey Esposito and Sean Von Gorman have already reached their minimum goal to ensure that Pawn Shop meets the light of day, the Kickstarter funding period for the book is still open. Contribution information and preview pages can be found here.