Hey Kids! Comics!: Come Fly With Me – A Conversation with Raven Gregory

The primary cast of Zenescope Entertainment's horror/fantasy cult sensation "Wonderland"

Since 2005 Zenescope Entertainment has been entertaining comic book readers with their own special brand of story telling.  Combining horror, eroticism and fantasy in a smart and tantalizing brew of guilty pleasure, Zenescope has managed to find a devoted following amongst readers, making them one of the rising companies in the world of independent comics.  A big part of Zenescope’s success is a result of the talented mind of writer and executive editor Raven Gregory.  Joining Zenescope in 2007, Raven was the mastermind behind Zenescope’s successful Wonderland franchise.  A fresh and twisted spin on the world from the famous children’s novel by Lewis Carol, Raven introduced readers to Alice’s children, Johnny and Callie Liddle, and sent them on their own horrifying journey through a Wonderland unlike the one that our parents read us about when we were children.  The series became an immediate cult hit, spawning two spin off series and a number of one-shots and annuals.

2011 has proven to be a busy year for Raven, where he not only served as the writer for the latest Grimm Fairy Tales spin-off, Myths and Legends, but penned Zenescope’s massive summer cross over, The Dream Eater Saga, as well as released three new on-going series – Fly, The Theater and the soon to be released latest chapter of the Wonderland saga, Alice in Wonderland.  Filled with Zenescope’s trademark shocking imagery, sexy heroines and twisted humor, Raven Gregory’s stories are not just about gore and violence, but also contain strong plots and characters, and play on the eternal themes of good vs. evil.

Zenescope Executive Editor and writer Raven Gregory

But out of all the projects that Raven has worked on, it has been Fly that has truly been his most personal.  One of the best new comic book series of 2011, Fly is the story of three young people addicted to a drug called fly, which gives them super human abilities including super strength, speed and the power of flight.  But Fly is not just another story of drugs or super heroes.  The story comes from a much deeper place within Raven’s past.  A recovered meth addict, Raven is using his own experience with drug addiction and recovery, as well as the real life drama that he and his family went through as a result of his and his former wife’s addiction as inspiration for his storytelling.  Fly is a genre bending book that is nothing like the preachy books dealing with drugs from the past.  It is raw and realistic and a story that only someone who has walked that journey could be able to write.

One of the most interesting writers in comic books today, I was excited to talk to Raven Gregory about his current projects.  One of my favorite writers in the comic book industry, I have read every book that Raven has written since 2007 and he never ceases to horrify and entertain me as I wonder what the next totally fucked up thing is going to come out of his head and onto the page.

CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS

COME FLY WITH ME:

A CONVERSATION WITH RAVEN GREGORY

Sam Tweedle:  I’ve been reading your books ever since I discovered your work with Return to Wonderland.  I’m a pretty big fan of everything you’ve done to date   How many books do you currently write for Zenescope?

Raven Gregory:  It fluctuates between three and six books a month.  The work never ends.

Sam:  Let’s talk a bit about where you came from in regards to comic books.  Have you always been a comic book fan or is writing comics something you fell into?

Uncany X-Men #295

Raven:  I think I was in sixth grade when my brother’s friend left a copy of Uncanny X-men #295 [at our house].  It was the Executioner’s Song.  Apocalypse is on the cover and he’s crawling up a mountain and the X-Men are chasing him.  That was literally my first experienced with comics.  Later, in the sixth grade, my stepfather gave me a box of comic books that got me started.  [There were] House of Mystery and some old X-Men and Man-Thing books.  But what really kicked me into gear as a comic book fan was one day I was in high school, and I think I might have actually have stolen it, but [I got a] copy of the first issue of Age of Apocalypse.  From there I just became a ravenous comic book collector and I couldn’t get enough of finding what happened before and what was going to come after.  I started off with X-Men and I branched out on everything else.

Sam:  When did you start working in the industry?

Raven:  I started writing comics in 1999, and I self published my first comic in 2003.

The Dream Eater Saga: "As a writer you grow up and you read all these epic crossovers and it’s the kind of thing that I think most writers, at one point in time, want to dip their toes in the pool and play with"

Sam:  You have been one of the driving forces behind Zenescope Entertainment’s success over the last few years, and you’ve had a huge year this year.  A big part of your year has been devoted to writing The Dream Eater Saga.  What has the journey of bringing the entire Zenescope universe together in one crossover been like for you?

Raven:  (Laughs) It was such a fun idea.  As a writer you grow up and you read all these epic crossovers and it’s the kind of thing that I think most writers, at one point in time, want to dip their toes in the pool and play with.  But at the same time I never realized what I was undertaking until I actually started doing it.  The mapping out of the characters to make sure that everybody gets equal time and that everybody matters.  It’s really a lot of work and I’m glad it’s over now.

Sam:  My favorite book of 2011 throughout the entire comic industry, hands down, has been Fly.  When I read the first issue of Fly I was absolutely astounded.  I really see it as a genre bending book.  How has the response to Fly been so far?

Raven:  Really great.  I’ve never received so many e-mails about a comic before in my entire career.  People really seem to be digging it which is very very cool.

Using his and his families experiences dealing with crystal meth addiction, "Fly" has been Raven Gregory's most personal project to date: "Fly is something that has been very therapeutic to write"

Sam:  Now Fly is possibly your most personal work to date and you’ve written in the book about how the overall story relates to back to your own life.  Could you go into the development of the book, and where this book is coming from?

Raven:  The inspiration for Fly came about five or six years ago.  My wife at the time got addicted to crystal meth, and during her addiction I also got involved with it as well.  Over a period of two or three years, and somewhat still continuing today, it just literally turned me and my family’s life into a living hell.  So Fly is something that has been very therapeutic to write because I’ve got to draw upon all the terrible stuff that happened to us during that time.  There is not a lot of books out there that actually deals with the fundamentals of addiction.  This is something that affects society whether it is drugs or alcohol or something else.

Sam:  I think about some of the ways that other mainstream companies have dealt with drugs over the decades, like DC’s famous book that depicted Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy as a heroin addict or the Spiderman books from the 70’s with Harry Osborn tripping out.  They are hailed as masterpieces, but Fly takes a much darker and realistic approach to the subject of addiction.  Something less preachy and more horrifying.

"Fly's" primary characters Eddie and Danielle: "I wanted to make sure with this particular story that you got to see both sides of it. You got to see the descent into addiction. I mean, the reason people get addicted to drugs and the reason they destroy so many people’s lives is that they are actually enjoyable at some point of the addiction process"

Raven:  Those stories were extremely ground breaking for their time, but they were also very heavy handed.  The drug addict always looked just miserable.  I remember reading that Harry Osborne issue where he’s addicted to LSD and in every panel you see him in he’s sweating and breaking down.  I wanted to make sure with this particular story that you got to see both sides of it.  You got to see the descent into addiction.  I mean, the reason people get addicted to [drugs] and the reason they destroy so many people’s lives is that they are actually enjoyable at some point of the addiction process.  I hope it doesn’t come off as heavy handed as it would if I came around to saying “drugs are bad.”

Sam:  The series has a power all its own.  Can you give us any hint of what is to come in Fly?

"Fly's" underdog Francis: "There’s no bad guys in this story. Everybody is really “grey” depending on what perspective you are looking at it in"

Raven:  It gets really dark [Laughs].  It’s totally not going in the direction that people think it is, yet it still holds true to the foundations set in the first issue.  But, yeah, it gets pretty twisted.  That’s what everyone has to look forward too.  I love the characters more then anything.  Nobody really realizes it yet, but there’s no bad guys in this story.  Everybody is really “grey” depending on what perspective you are looking at it in.  To me those are the best characters.  Characters that you can say to yourself “Wow, this is a horrible person who is addicted to drugs, but what caused her to get addicted to them?”  When you start looking at it from that angle it suddenly changes the whole dynamic of the story and [you think] “Wait a minute.  Maybe the hero of the story has been the bad guy all along and we didn’t know it.”

Sam:  Tell us a bit about your characters in Fly.

Raven:  Eddie Patrone, the main character of the book, is a character who has done something quite horrible in his past, that is slowly being revealed, and its something that he feel incredibly guilty about and he’s been running from it his whole life.  You get hints of it from his interactions with his ex-wife, which is Danielle, who is high on [Fly}.  [Through] the flashbacks of the story you begin to peel back the layers one by one and you see the process of which they met, they fell in love and eventually how this drug came to play in their lives.  The final piece of the puzzle, besides Danielle, is Francis.  Francis was this nerdy kid in high school who Eddie, out of the goodness of his heart, kind of saves from bullies, and as a way to repay him Francis is the one who introduces him to the new designer drug, without realizing that this act is going to fundamentally change all three of their lives forever.

Sam:  If Fly stems from your real life experience with addiction, are any of these characters inspired from real people from your life?

Raven:  There’s bits and pieces of different people I know in the characters, but no one person in particular.  I don’t have an Eddie hanging out with me right now [Laughs].

Sam:  Now in the first issue, you state that it was relatively easy for you to kick your personal addiction to meth.

Raven:  It was much easier for me then it was for my ex-wife in that I never used to hang out with the people who did it.  She was the only one who brought it around so when she initially went to prison the first time, I no longer had access to the drug.  So I smoked cigarettes and I quit meth [Laughs].  Plus, it just wasn’t my bag.  I’ve tried a lot of things in my life.  I’ve tried a lot of experiences and I don’t get addicted to anything but, with that particular thing, because she always had it around and was always using it, you don’t realize how easy it is to get addicted to [meth] until you start walking down that road.

Sam:  How long have you been off of meth?

Raven:  Six years.

Sam:  Now you’ve written that you came up with the concept of Fly a number of years ago but we’re just seeing it now.

Raven:  Yeah.  I started writing Fly in 2004 or 2005 and I wrote the first two issues right around that time.  I didn’t start writing the last three until the last couple of years.  Now I’m on issue seven.  It is the only story I write that is completely organic.  I try to never plan ahead.  I never try to peek behind the curtain to see what happens next.  I try to see whatever situations are going on in my life at whatever given point to inspire that storytelling of that particular issue and that particular arc.  So it’s a very cool treat for me to never know what’s coming next.

The Theater #1

Sam:  Your other new book is The Theater.  What can you tell us about this series?

Raven:  I can’t tell you a lot because we are trying to keep it on the hush.  We’re really doing something special and I don’t think it’s been done in comic books this particular way.  We really want readers who pick it up to not go in with any expectations.  But the story itself follows an old movie theater in New Jersey where not everything is what it seems.  There’s some horrible things going on in this particular movie theater and everyone who enters it is in trouble.  Beyond that there is some cool stuff.  It’s a very different kind of horror then I’ve ever done before.

Sam:  Is it going to be what your famous for – demented stuff happening to hot heroines?

Raven:  You have to wait and see.  I used to hate when writers would say that because it was like [they were] teasing [Laughs].  But it’s going to be a lot of fun.  It does have some of the themes I play with in most of my horror stories but it’s very much the most different and unique thing I’ve done staying in the confines of cool horror.

Sam:  Possibly my favorite series that Zenescope has done thus far, and it was the one that drew me to the company originally, is Wonderland.   What I’ve always been impressed with in your take on Wonderland is that its not just been about shock, sex and the same old dark version of Wonderland that readers have seen over and over again, but that you have very distinct storylines, characters, plots and mythology.  You now have the newest Wonderland series coming out focusing on the adventures of Alice Liddle.

Raven's next chapter to the "Wonderland" series, focusing on matriarch Alice Liddle, begins in December 2011

Raven:  Yes.

Sam:  What can you tell us about the book?

Raven:  I actually can’t say too much about it at the moment [Laughs]

Sam:  Well, obviously you are taking the series in a new direction, but will we see Callie and her daughter Violet ever again or is their story done?

Raven:  Well the whole entire Wonderland series, when you peel it back, has always been about Callie trying to keep her family together in some way or form, whether it is the beginning series with her dealing with having a dysfunctional family with her adulterous Dad, her crazy Mom and her psycho brother.  It’s always been about the family dynamic.  The new series is going to follow that same structure but now, if you’ve read the Dream Eater Wonderland one-shot, you see that she’s really damaged as an adult.  After all these years Callie has been trying to hide it from her daughter but now she has no choice.  She has to come clean and how that’s going to affect their relationship.

Sam:  Has the success of the Wonderland series been a surprise to you?

Raven:  Yes.  You always hope for the best with everything you do, but that series caught on really well.  There are a lot of people who love the original story and there are a lot of people who love the twisted version.

Sam:  What is it like to see women come to conventions dressed up as your characters?

Raven Gregory meets an Alice cosplayer: "You get a lot of fans that say that they really like your work and really enjoy your characters, but something about them being tattooed on them, or even putting together a costume and getting dressed up, is very humbling"

Raven:  It’s pretty awesome [Laughs].  It’s a very awesome perk of the job.  It’s just such a huge compliment.  At one of the last shows I went to this really cute Asian girl came up to the [Zenescope] booth and she had Callie, from the Beyond Wonderland cover, tattooed on her side.  I was just utterly taken aback and amazed because that’s so huge.  You get a lot of fans that say that they really like your work and really enjoy your characters, but something about them being tattooed on them, or even putting together a costume and getting dressed up, is very humbling.

Sam:  So what is it that you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

Raven:  Well I’ve always wanted to work at Marvel.  That’s always been the little kid dream of mine.  To write The Incredible Hulk or something.  At the same time I’ve grown up a lot over the last ten years of [writing comics] and I used to have conversations with friends of mine about what you’d like to do.  If you’d like to write for DC or Marvel and I had one particular friend who would say ‘I just want to tell my own stories.”  As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize that I’m very satisfied to be able to just express myself doing my own work instead of telling other people’s stories.  So mostly I just want to tell my own stories.  That’s my dream project.

Raven Gregory’s books are not for every audience.  I have thick skin and a strong stomach, but some of the graphic imagery and intense violence in Raven’s books are often a lot to handle.  However, what makes it justifiable is that Raven balances the brutality in his stories with intelligent plots and three dimensional characters.  Raven Gregory has become one of North America’s best writers in the modern horror/fantasy genre.  If you haven’t experienced the demented world of Raven Gregory, visit Zenescope’s web-site at https://www.zenescope.com/ for more information and to order Raven’s books, as well as all the other titles that Zenescope Entertainment offers.

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