On Thomas Alsop, Shakespeare And Watson, Writing Comics and More -Talking With Chris Miskiewicz
By Nikolai Fomich
Who is Chris Miskiewicz? What is Chris Miskiewicz?
Some say he's a writer of short stories, comics, and film. Others that he is in fact an international man of mystery. Though both are probably true, I spoke with him only about his career as a writer – including about Thomas Alsop, his new series with artist Palle Schmidt from BOOM!.
Nikolai Fomich: Chris, why did you decide to pursue a career in writing?
Chris Miskiewicz: I've always wanted to tell stories. I don't really know what it is, just that from very early on my imagination was making waves and I wanted to write them down. So I started to after college and never stopped. Prose, poetry, and eventually script writing (thank god for Final Draft). I've had a good amount of luck with web publishing, but Thomas Alsop marks my first major publication in the direct market, and I have to say that I'm humbled and hooked by the experience so far.
NF: When did you become interested in comics?
CM: I've been a comic book fan since I was ten years old. My father turned me on to them and I've never stopped going back to the store. I love the medium. You can literally do anything in comics, free of budget constraints, as long as the story, writing, and art are bad ass awesome!
NF: Which works would you say have influenced you the most?
CM: Warren Ellis's Planetary has got to be the perfect balance of everything I love in comics. The pacing, the twists, the high concept science stuff. I think that's the book that I try to steer myself by. Beyond that, in no particular order: John Byrne's Fantastic Four – reading that as a kid made me want to write F.F. (I really do want to write F.F…); Mike Mignola's Hellboy; Frank Miller's Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns. I often start people who never read a comic off with The Dark Knight saying, "If you don't get this, you probably don't get comics." There's also an 80's graphic novel called Blood by Jon Muth. It's a ghostly story I reread every few years. I love the art. Totally haunting.
NF: Having written short stories, screenplays, comics, and songs, you've produced a wide and diverse range of material. How has exploring so many different kinds of writing helped you grow creatively?
CM: If Shakespeare were alive today he'd write a webseries. As in, we're in the 21st century and I feel like most creators aren't just singular creators of any one type of product any longer. Instead, most people do many different things. Being a part of so many different levels of the arts is probably a lot more common than not. I think in the end the biggest gift it brings to a person is the understanding that nothing can ever be made by one set of hands, everything is a collaboration, and the things that aren't rarely ever get seen.
NF: You're not only a professional writer, but also an actor and a musician. What makes you want to continue to act and create music? What draws you to those creative pursuits?
CM: Well, acting is physical storytelling, and half the time when I'm going through a final edit of something I find myself reading the dialogue out loud and acting like the character anyway. It just seemed like the next logical step for me to take.
All in all, I'm addicted to making things whatever the size of the role. I'm fortunate enough to be based out of New York City where just about every amazing person I've ever met comes through for a period of time. You get to talking and ideas pop up, good ideas, and you want to see them happen, and the next thing you know you're involved in something else that you didn't expect to happen. I love that aspect of this town.
NF: You're part of the Brooklyn-based literary arts salon Trip City. How did you become involved with that group? How has it helped you?
CM: Trip City was a fantastic experience. I co-founded the site alongside Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner and Jeffrey Burandt in 2011 and love that it's still trucking along. It was initially Dean's idea, but we each had aspects of the site that we were intending to do on our own. Instead we did it together, basically creating an online multi-media literary magazine as a platform to showcase some pretty exceptional fiction. Trip City curated prose, comics, photocomix, webseries, music, and a fairly successful podcast series that's had an amazing amount of candid creator interviews. I'm incredibly proud of Trip City. It's like the little "digital grassroots" engine that could, and keeps producing great content simply for the sake of making it.
NF: One of my favorite works you've written was the online comic anthology EVERYWHERE, in which you tell fourteen different stories with fourteen different artists, each about what would happen if a particular animal began to appear everywhere – from butterflies and alligators, to worms and whales – to even hipsters! How did this idea come about?
CM: Thanks man. To be one hundred percent honest… I got real drunk in the Mark Bar with artist Andrew Wendell. We were working on something else at the time that we ended up scrapping, but got into a conversation at the bar that night about how he'd rather draw insane things instead of period cars and hats like he'd been doing.
Somehow, drunkenly, the animal apocalypse world that EVERYWHERE became sparked from those barstools. I went home and wrote the first eight episodes in under a week. Then as time passed, I e-mailed them off to Dean Haspiel to get his thoughts. He suggested I pitch it to the web collective Activate, and sure enough they voted it in.
I'm incredibly proud of that anthology and the work everyone put into it, and that I got to be a part of Activate. There are a few more chapters I'll eventually add before I start looking for a publisher. I keep thinking that it's the greatest tabletop Christmas gift book ever. "Here! I got you an anthology of animals trampling children! Merry Christmas!" Am I right?
NF: Nothing screams Christmas spirit more. You also created the spoken word short story series Signals. In the series you often talk about Brooklyn – the Brooklyn of your childhood, the Brooklyn of today, and Brooklyn's possible futures. What is it about that borough that interests you as a writer? Why do you find yourself returning to it again and again with new stories in mind?
CM: Well, I do live here, and you're supposed to write what you know, right? Signals was very much about snapshots, quick moments, interesting shorts which hit certain themes in or around New York. Certain signals you might hear… (Get it?) So there is a theme running through the series.
As for why I dig Brooklyn? It's a fantastic place with a deep rich history that goes back to the settlers. Not a lot of places in America have that much history to them. I think that's the reason why waves of interest keep coming back to B.K. again and again, both in fiction and real life. I love living here. I also don't know what other town would have me as a resident.
[Watson and Bowie from Shakespeare and Watson]
NF: In 2013 the web-series Shakespeare and Watson: Detectives of Mystery premiered, which you wrote, produced, and starred in. Shakespeare and Watson is in equal parts bawdy, exciting, and gritty (I loved the David Bowie appearance – your character seemed to as well). I'm sure making the series was itself quite an adventure. What was your experience working on that series like?
CM: Making S&W was one of the best experiences of my life. I co-wrote the series with my cousin, Christopher Piazza. We co-produced it alongside our editor, Kathleen Green. It starred David Blatt as William Shakespeare, Nick Abadzis as Sherlock Holmes (Nick is the writer of Titan's Dr. Who comic and the graphic novel Liaka), Ozzie Martinez, Paul Bosche, comedian Nick Vatterott, and tons of more amazing actors.
The premise was basically that Sherlock & Watson went back in time to ask Shakespeare a question, but Moriarty shows up, breaking their "time cane" (yeah, we had a time cane) and everyone gets lost in a temporal storm that strands Shakespeare & Watson in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they start a Detective Agency to "find a way home." (Get it?)
We produced six out of thirteen episodes, and they were probably a few of the funniest nights of my life. It's got some "out there" humor to it, very Adult Swim, and completely written to offend, annoy, and bother our audience. We're planning on launching a Kickstarter for episodes 7 – 13 sometime this fall.
And as for David Bowie's cameo in the second episode – yeah. I got to say, performance artist Robert J. Anderson does know how to wear a gold leotard.
NF: Moving on to Thomas Alsop – your new miniseries with Palle Schmidt from BOOM! – talk a bit about the origins of this project. How did the idea for Thomas Alsop develop?
CM: I found a small family grave inside of a larger cemetery in Queens called Calvary with headstones dating back to the 1600's from a family with the Alsop last name. I know that cemetery well, but hadn't ever seen this area before. It blew me away and I began researching everything about that part of New York that I could find.
My imagination took over and I started typing, completely haunted by the image of Richard Alsop and misty banks of the Newtown Creek, and then one day the idea for Thomas and his show came to me, and the two worlds tied together. And then I met Palle Schmidt…
NF: What has it been like working with Palle on the series?
CM: Working with Palle on Thomas Alsop has been the best collaboration I've ever been involved in. Palle is a stellar artist, a natural storyteller, and an absolute gentleman. It's been a pleasure to work with him on every aspect of this book. I can't think of any moment in our process that's had friction. We both very much are in love with Thomas and his world and want to create the best story that we're capable of making.
NF: The title has garnered many comparisons with Hellblazer. What sets Thomas Alsop apart from that book?
CM: It's hard to write a modern sorcerer and not get a Hellblazer comparison, and it's totally understandable, and completely valid to make… at first glance. But, as people are starting to find out, Thomas Alsop has a lot more going on than just the brash, smoking, magic-wielding, sarcastic media-star anti-hero you see on the cover.
It's really a huge interconnected tale that follows three hundred years in the lives of the Alsop Family, and every one of them who ever held the curse of "The Hand of the Island." Thomas Alsop may be the current Hand, but there're tons of stories that come before him. So in that regard alone I'm finding fans really digging that there have been other Hand's. And honestly, I can't wait to start showing them off if this series continues past the first volume.
[Bliss – From Alsop #3]
[*There be SPOILERS below for Thomas Alsop!]
NF: Issue two of Alsop delivers one of the best cliffhangers I've read in comics – the revelation that the souls of the 9/11 victims are still trapped at Ground Zero. Why was it important to you that 9/11 be a part of this story? Were you concerned that the idea might receive any backlash?
CM: I labored on this plot point for a good long while. Why bring a concept so ripe with spin off possibilities into a topic that immediately brings a sneer to every American? In the end, I decided that since Thomas Alsop was always going to be based in and around the history of New York I couldn't ignore the largest historic event to happen under the current Hand's watch. Instead, I'd try to make 9/11 a defining moment for who the character is, and will become. But, you'll have to get to issue eight to see what I mean.
As far as fear of backlash – absolutely. I was sure there was going to be a negative spin, but the press has been favorable. I think readers get how carefully we're approaching the topic, while still weaving it into a piece of fiction. It's a delicate balance to get to, believability in occult fiction while still being respectful of the actual event. BOOM! was concerned how we were going to approach this and we had several calls about it. We explained it point for point, and they gave us the green light to go forward with this story. And that is brave. It is brave beyond belief for a major American publisher to put out a tale like this. And it's that very bravery that cemented my feelings that BOOM! was the right home for this book.
Then when I read something like your quote, saying that "issue two delivers one of the best cliffhangers I've read in comics" – thank you. Reading that, and seeing the acceptance of this story… I think it says a lot about our culture and where we place 9/11.
NF: You're welcome! Anything you can tease about future issues? What can readers expect from issue three?
CM: Issue three takes Thomas on a psychedelic journey explaining exactly what the downtown disturbance has been doing to the city for the last three hundred years.
It also has the best drawn drop of water ever published by an American comics company. Palle's art is incredible, and takes us to some ghastly places in the third issue. There are a few images that might make some people never go swimming again. Trust me, I've seen the issue, and Palle's art is breathtaking all the way through.
[Bloody Waves – From Alsop #3]
NF: Finally, what other projects can we expect from you in the near future?
CM: I'm currently finishing up a few creator owned concepts, [and] hopefully there will be some announcements coming over the next few months.
Beyond that, I'm praying that we get to continue with more of Thomas Alsop. I'd love to do several volumes, showing other Hand's and showcasing a bit more of Richard Alsop. It's a dream job, and I'm having an absolute blast doing it. I really don't want it to end. I love writing this guy.
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to talk about his work!
Nikolai Fomich is a teacher and writer in Philadelphia. Follow him @brokenquiver