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Mark Tatulli: Becoming Short & Skinny

Short & Skinny cover“You wrote a graphic novel memoir? Who wants to read a story about you?!”

This ungallant sentence was spoken to me by a cartooning compatriot when I gave him the news that I had sold Short & Skinny, a mini-memoir of my life in the summer of 1977. You might think my first reaction would be to get indignant and huffy.

But all I could think in that shocking moment was: “Holy crap! He’s right! Who wants to read a story about me?!

I hadn’t thought of this before! I was so wrapped up in wanting to tell my story and analyzing my life as a detached, outside reporter that I never stopped to think, why was this a story worth telling? Who would want to read this? I forgot to ask myself the first question I always ask …why do I care?

How did I miss that very basic thing? What was different this time?

So I stepped back and reviewed…I remember reading Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (who hasn’t?) and being so moved and engaged by her very personal middle school story, and relating to the same thoughts and feelings at that age. And without hesitation, I jumped into writing/drawing my own middle school epoch…my story. As I pondered my early teens, the words and pictures came flooding out, right there in those spiral Strathmore sketch books. With no forethought. I just started to draw panels…and then myself in those panels, and suddenly it was May 1977 again and there I was at a desk in Memorial Jr High…drawing in my private world and swathed in insecurity.

The memories continued to bubble up and fill the pages. Soon my thoughts moved faster than I could draw, and I began to cram the anecdotes and events of my experience onto single Post-it notes, forcing me to keep them simple and to the point. I honestly, and at times painfully, examined my 13-year-old self (but always with a bent toward humor), with each distant recollection unleashing two or three more. Before I knew it, I had an entire door in my office, ceiling to floor, full of these little orange and yellow flashbacks.

Then I assembled the memory-squares into an arc of my life from that far past summer, and like a puzzle coming together piece-by-piece, the full picture of Short & Skinny emerged.

Then, I sat down and converted the story into comic pages like I saw in other graphic novels for middle schoolers. I had never written a long form comic story (I make two daily newspaper comic strips three or four panels at a time—a very different genre), and the process was sort of scary and exhilarating at the same time. I love learning how to do something new, especially if it combines cartoons and storytelling.

Soon I had 60 rough pages and the story treatment, which was passed along to publishers and before long, BOOM! A sale to Little Brown Books for Young Readers was made. Taa-Dah!

“You wrote a graphic novel memoir? Who wants to read a story about you?!”

For the first time I thought about the “why do I care?” question after the story was written. And it dawned on me:  middle school is this weird, awkward bump in time for everybody. Everybody has that cringe worthy, outcast, ill-fitting, body-conscious period…when you have one foot in childhood fantasies and the other foot slowly making the turn into young adulthood, and nothing you do seems right or normal and you’re filled with doubt. When you are trying to find yourself. Everybody has a story about that time. And Short & Skinny is mine.

Who wants to read a story about me?

I do. Middle school me. I wrote this for middle school me, and all those other kids that feel like I did. In retrospect there’s nothing especially cataclysmic about being short and skinny, but when you are 12, 13 or so, it’s pretty devastating to be the smallest kid in your class. With no end in sight. So I wanted to let that me know it’s going to be ok. That in the end it doesn’t matter how tall or short or fat or slow or dorky or clumsy or different you think you are. It’s about finding your voice. All kids have that hidden voice, that something special just waiting to come out. For me, it was my storytelling voice and how STAR WARS unlocked that back in ’77. And I can only hope that Short & Skinny will be that kind of inspiration too. That being different isn’t a bad thing. As my Mom used to say, “It’s all about what you do with those dancing shoes.”

Read an Excerpt of Incognito: The Classified Edition

Want a sneak peak from the Classified Edition of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ INCOGNITO, but can’t make it out to your local comics store? Marvel was kind enough to provide us a few pages below–now go grab yourself a copy! You won’t regret it.

Continue reading “Read an Excerpt of Incognito: The Classified Edition”

An Interview with Ed Brubaker

This week, our friends at Marvel publish the Classified Edition of Incognito, collecting, with bonus material, the first two volumes of the acclaimed, hard-boiled series Joe Hill describes as “what the albums of the Black Keys are to rock and roll and the pictures of Quentin Tarantino are to film.”

Our celebration of this truly bad-ass bind-up continues with an exclusive interview with writer Ed Brubaker. Check back tomorrow for an excerpt!

The idea of a bad guy disguised in plain sight is something that is universally frightening, is this where the idea of Zack Overkill came from?

I think part of it actually came from trying to figure out what the flipside to my and Sean Phillips’s series SLEEPER would be. That was about a good guy pretending to be a bad guy, so this would be about a bad guy pretending… something. I wasn’t sure yet. I came pretty quickly to the idea of supervillain Witness Protection, which to me, seemed like for some of these guys would be worse than prison.

Megan Abbott said recently that the line from Double Indemnity “I did it for the money and the woman. I didn’t get the money. I didn’t get the woman.” sums up noir. Incognito certainly adheres to this formula, what it is about noir that is attractive to you?

I’m not entirely sure. I guess because all of us, at some time or another, feel like everything could just fall apart. Or feels desperate. And I like stories that play into that. And there’s a certain mythic inevitability to noir stories. You watch all the parts of the story moving, and you know they’re going to end somewhere bad, but you can’t look away. You hold onto some desperate hope that your “hero” will somehow get out alive, if not intact.  I think Double Indemnity is the perfect example of why noir works — at the beginning of the movie (I can’t remember if it’s the same in the book) you already know everything has gone wrong, and yet you just want to see what happens anyway.  So much of film and tv and books and comics these days are about attempts to surprise readers or viewers, and while that can be fun, showing the aftermath first removes that, and allows you to just write from the characters, if that makes any sense.

One of the great things about the INCOGNITO series how well it incorporates the shades of grey between “good” and “evil”—something quite rare in comics even today. Where on the spectrum would you place Zack at the beginning and the close of the story arcs in Incognito: The Classified Edition?

I think at the beginning of the story, he’s a bad guy. An amoral prick at best. It’s a black comedy in some ways, so I played it for humor, but he’s not a guy you’d want to know. His best friend is the office drug addict and thief, after all. I think by the end, he’s been dragged through the wringer to the point where he feels just used by everyone on both sides — the good guys and the bad guys.

You’ve said elsewhere that you’re a big Hammett and Chandler fan—what’s your favorite of each of their novels? Did you draw on these writers or the work of other novelists in writing INCOGNITO?

I think the only conscious influences on INCOGNITO would be old pulp mags – Doc Savage and the Shadow — and Philip Jose Farmer’s A FEAST UNKNOWN.

My favorite Hammett and Chandler — Hammett it’s probably the Continental Op stories, and I love Red Harvest, of course. With Chandler, probably the Long Goodbye, although they’re all good. I even love his letters, which have so much of his dark humor in them.

When we first meet Zack Overkill, he’s powerless—just another office drone fighting boredom. What was it like to write a character with a life so run-of-the-mill, yet capable of such extreme superhuman acts without the restraints placed on him?

A lot of fun, really. I loved making a normal life feel like a trap. And I loved that even after he got his powers back, he still had to go to the office everyday, which made it even worse. I think that’s what makes these stories work, in the long run, is seeing him in his “secret identity” in both lives. Like in Bad Influences, when he has to live in an apartment building and deal with nosy neighbors.

Under the Influence

This week, our friends at Marvel publish the Classified Edition of Incognito, collecting, with bonus material, the first two volumes of the acclaimed, hard-boiled series that Joe Hill describes as “what the albums of the Black Keys are to rock and roll and the pictures of Quentin Tarantino are to film.”

Hill’s essay on INCOGNITO follows. Go check out INCOGNITO now! We’ll have more from Brubaker and the INCOGNITO series as the week continues.

I hate it when comic creators get bitching and moaning about how their art form doesn’t get the respect it deserves, isn’t honored the way theater or painting or mainstream literature is honored, and all that blah-de-blah-de-fucking-blah.

Oh, go cry a river somewhere over your twenty-year-old copies of Maus and leave me alone.

Then there are these card-carrying boys of Fanboy Nation who want to establish a “read-comics-in-public” day, to make comics seem more socially normative.

Fuck that.

I don’t want comics to be respectable. I don’t want everyone proudly looking at them in public. I want reading comics to feel dirty and unhealthy and transgressive, to feel like sin, like a visit to the whorehouse, or a secret fight club, or maybe both at the same time.I don’t read comics, I do comics, like shots, four-color grain alcohol slurped out of the White Queen’s dainty navel; afterwards she can slap me around  a little and tell me how she’s going to punish my wrongdoer. I didn’t put my money down for a moving literary epiphany. I dropped my cash to see badass women cavort in fetish costumes while fighting evil, to watch brutal men strangle monsters with their bare hands, to see a city block leveled (if not a whole city), and to have a front-row seat as malformed monsters of evil are sliced in half by their own death ray machines.

Don’t get me wrong. I am often engaged, enthralled, and moved by the redemptive experience of high art, as it is found in films like “Rules of the Game,” a book like Malamud’s “A New Life,” or a comic like “Fun Home.” It’s just that I don’t seem to be compulsively drawn to that kind of thing. What really gets my pulse jacked are stories of grime and punishment, lawlessness and disorder, the bad and the ugly(hold the good).

Stories of this ilk grab me like a magnet grabs iron shavings. The creators of such work are blood-slicked  MMA fighters, in a world where to fight at all is increasingly seen as barbaric, and embarrassingly out of step with the times. If I was a more sensible man, governed by more sensible, forward-looking notions, I’m sure I would invest my time in better mannered, more tasteful art forms. But my deepest enthusiasm has always been reserved for the creators that speak to my nerve-endings.

I suppose it’s a failing; I have always had compassion for the wrong people. Continue reading “Under the Influence”

Why I Write “Strong Female Characters”

[This post originally appeared on i09]

Greg Rucka has rocked the worlds of comics and novels for years, including memorable Batman writing, plus the Queen and Country series and the Atticus Kodiak books. But he might be best known for being a man who writes a lot of “strong female characters.”

People always ask Rucka why he chooses to write so many hard-hitting women. And now, to celebrate the release of his new novel Alpha, he’s explaining why.

The first story I can remember writing, that I truly set down on paper, was a Christmas story that I wrote when I was ten years old. The irony of this isn’t simply that I’m Jewish, nor is it that the story was about what happened to North Pole Operations when Saint Nick “went to join the bleedin’ choir invisible.”

No, it was that, in this little school assigned short-story I wrote, the mournful elves were roused from their grief by a determined and forceful Mrs. Claus, who took – ahem – the reins of the operation in hand. Under her steely gaze, toys were made, presents were wrapped, reindeer were harnessed, and the sleigh took flight with her in the pilot’s seat.

It wasn’t, I think, a terribly good story, but it had two things going for it. It had the shameless unselfconsciousness of a ten year old author, and it had a clear feminist agenda.

Shades of things to come.

When I was in high school, I started writing a serial novel, longhand, set in the Arthurian mythos, and influenced not incidentally by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. It was the story about a young pagan priestess, a Lady of the Lake, as it were, named Adriana, and the various adventures, trials, and tribulations she experienced. I wrote this in several college-lined notebooks. This was what I did sitting in the back of the classroom during English. My thinking was, well, I’m writing it in English, aren’t I? An excuse that, incidentally, did not impress my teacher at the time, Mr. Murray.

I still have those notebooks buried in a filing cabinet in my office. As with Mrs. Claus, the story – in memory, at least – isn’t terribly good. And like Mrs. Claus, Adriana was no wallflower. While I’m certain I never once put a sword in her hands or armor on her form, she was undeniably kick-ass, strong-willed and proud and disinclined to back down in the face of adversity.

Why I Write "Strong Female Characters"In graduate school, I wrote a one-act play called Work Ethic under the guidance of the terrific writer David Milton. There were three characters in this play, two men and one woman. The woman was a Deputy U.S. Marshal by the name of Carrie Stetko, a later-iteration of whom would reappear as the protagonist in the graphic novel Whiteout, written by me, and illustrated by Steve Lieber. Whiteout was my key through the razor-wire and spikes surrounding the comics industry.

Whiteout was made into a movie. There’s a Carrie Stetko in that, too. She shares the name, but the similarities between Movie Carrie, Comic Carrie, and One Act Play Carrie begin and end with the name. Comic Carrie and One Act Play Carrie would shake Movie Carrie down behind the bleachers, laugh her out of the You Share Our Name Club, and send her limping and mewling home to mother. And they wouldn’t feel a moment’s regret about doing it, either.

In early 2001, Oni Press published the first issue of Queen & Country, a comic book series written by yours truly and illustrated by many wonderful artists throughout its run. I later wrote three novels that are – depending on your point of view – either tie-ins or crucial parts of the series. The main character of both the comics and all three novels is a woman named Tara Chace. Tara is a Special Operations Officer for the British SIS, or MI6 if you’re the kind who likes Old School. She’s basically James Bond, except without the hyperbole and the bullshit. Quiller set in a Le Carré-influenced world might be a better description.

Tara can kill people with her bare hands and escape from Iran with two bullets in her body, but she can’t maintain a personal life worth a damn.

There are more. There are a lot more. There’s Renee Montoya and Kate Kane and Sasha Bordeaux, all over at DC Comics. There’s Black Widow v1, Natasha Romanov, and Black Widow v2, Yelena Belova, and Elektra, and currently Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves, all at Marvel.

There’s Bridgett Logan, and Natalie Trent, and Alena Cizkova, all from the Kodiak series of novels. There’s Miriam Bracca from A Fistful of Rain, and there’s Dexedrine Callisto Parios, from Stumptown, and there’s Her Ladyship, Captain Seneca Sabre, from the webcomic that I write and that Rick Burchett draws, called Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. There’s Victoria Black from a Project That Is Yet to Go into Production but by the grace of God will soon see the light of day.

There are a lot of women.

You will have no doubt detected a theme, here. Continue reading “Why I Write “Strong Female Characters””

The Lineup: Weekly Links

Contrasted ConfinementGreg Rucka is everywhere on the internet this week!

Rucka’s new novel ALPHA has received fantastic reviews from the likes of Library Journal, who in a starred review wrote: “Rucka gets his new series featuring Ex-Delta Force Master Sergeant Jad Bell off to a smashing start with this pitch-perfect thriller [that] will appeal particularly to readers who like a strong hero along the lines of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher,” Publishers Weekly, who called the novel “pulse-pounding,” and Booklist, who proclaim it “gripping….A real corker.”

Also check out fantastic blogger reviews from the likes of IE Mommy, BrodartVibe’s Blog, Deer in the Xenon-Arc Lights, and this nice Staff Picks note from Mystery One Bookstore.

For more from Rucka himself, don’t miss the amazing conversation between Rucka and Brian Michael Bendis (Parts I and II), Rucka’s io9 post on writing strong female characters, and Rucka’s interview and podcast with Russ Burlingame of Then consult Greg’s schedule and head on down to the event nearest you!

Liam Neeson just signed on to play Matthew Scudder in a forthcoming adaption of Lawrence Block’s A Walk Among the Tombstones. Congrats, Larry!

In other Mulholland news, bloggers like Mysterious Reviews have continued to shower the love on Marcia Clark’s GUILT BY DEGREES, while Marcia recently dropped by KTLA in Florida to discuss her newest Rachel Knight thriller. And Deadline reports that Nick Santora has signed a deal to develop new projects with CBS TV Studios and rights to his new novel FIFTEEN DIGITS are currently under auction.

We’re going to go ahead and call The Great Gatsby a crime film if that’s OK with you.

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch at or DM us on Twitter.

TORSO Revisited

Earlier this month, Marvel reintroduced a refreshed and reformatted edition of the classic, Eisner Award-winning crime comic TORSO, by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko to graphic novel readers everywhere. Read on for an interview with Brian Michael Bendis and an excerpt from the comic’s opening pages.

How did the writing of TORSO influence your later crime comic work including SCARLET?

Torso was one of the biggest challenges of my career. Taking on the responsibility of a true story but abstracting it in graphic novel form is a very large mountain to climb. When Mark Andreyko  brought up the idea he was thinking of it only in movie terms, but I became obsessed with the idea of how to do the story is a graphic novel.

Once you delve into that level of reality and research on one project, it becomes the standard to which every other project, whether it is Scarlet or even Spiderman, must rise to. Continue reading “TORSO Revisited”