Pagemaster’s Mind Meld:
(Pat Shand, Zenescope Entertainment)
In this installment I get to talk to author Pat Shand (Robyn Hood, Hellchild, Charmed Season 10) about his career, his work, and life at Zenescope Entertainment!
“My mind to [his] mind; My thoughts to [his] thoughts“
Pagemaster: To start I was hoping you could tell “us” a little bit about your history as a creator. How did you end up with Zenescope and what attracted you to them as a publisher?
Pat: Coming off of my first gig in the industry at IDW, I was looking for publishers to work with. Zenescope was one of the ten or so that I contacted, and they were really receptive to my ideas early on. I did a few smaller gigs with them and other publishers for a while, stuff like 1000 Ways to Die (based on that Spike TV show) and some one-shots here and there, and soon after they gave me a bunch of miniseries and kind of just let me do my thing.
Pagemaster: Sounds like a pretty sweet gig! Have things always been that amicable between you and Zenescope? Free reign sounds pretty awesome, but have you ever run into any roadblocks on ideas and/or creative direction you’ve tried to do or have you found that “nothing’s too crazy for Zenescope”?
Pat: You know, when you’re doing work-for-hire, essentially writing on properties that other people or companies or corporations own, you’re never going to get 100% free reign. Sometimes it’s a positive collaborative experience, where I’m with other creators in a writer’s room, and we’re working toward similar goals and following through on the best ideas. And then, sometimes I really believe in an idea that ends up getting cut. It’s part of the process. The only ever truly 100% pure “free reign” type work you’ll ever see in comics, I think, is creator-owned stuff. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Comics is like TV writing in that it thrives on collaboration, sometimes. It all depends on the project.
Pagemaster: I see what you’re saying. At least you seem to have had an overall positive experience, not everyone gets to say that about their employer lol.
In the time that you’ve been with Zenescope, how much would you say has changed from those early days? Is Zenescope still the same company and environment that it was when you first signed on? Are Grimm Fairy Tales titles still pointed in the same creative direction?
Pat: No, not at all. It’s day and night. I think that a lot of change has been affected. Look at the books on the slate right now. Grimm Fairy Tales, which was known as a sort of action-adventure cheesecake book, is now a young-adult comic, sort of a Harry Potter meets Supernatural type deal with a cast of young heroes from Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz at magic school in Pennsylvania. Robyn Hood especially is a book that would’ve never happened at Zenescope back when I first started.
There has been a push toward highlighting the story and the characters, with the creation of characters like Robyn Hood, like Liesel Van Helsing, and some of these new characters they’re doing in books outside of their normal shared universe. Creatively, too, I feel a lot more free in a way. I used to essentially receive a plot, and back then I could definitely change things and pitch new ideas, but I would primarily script from someone else’s outline. Now, I’m very much doing my own thing. I’m also co-writing a little with Ralph Tedesco on some Grimm Tales of Terror stuff, and that’s something I hadn’t really done much of before.
Pagemaster: I’m sure that liberation not only feels good, but I imagine also helps improve the quality of your work, right? A happy writer is a good writer lol.
Given that switch, what would you recommend for new readers interested in jumping into the GFT universe? Specifically, do you have any advice for those readers who want to binge as much as possible, but only in the newer styles?
Pat: Yeah! Start on Grimm Fairy Tales: Arcane Acre Volume One. That’s the first collection of my run, and that story runs from #101 – 125, and it’s completely standalone. I’m finishing up on #125 now, so it would be a good time to jump on. Robyn Hood: Riot Girls is a great place to start that series, and really any issue of Grimm Tales of Terror stands completely alone, so any of those. I’m also on a new series called Hellchild, which just started in March, so that is an easy place to jump into the series.
Pagemaster: Awesome, I might take some of that advice myself! 🙂
On a similar note, what would you say to those who know Zenescope by that “Cheesecake Action/Adventure style”, or simply judge the titles by their covers, and turn away from the GFT universe?
Pat: I would say that I understand that, for sure. There is obviously that perception about the books. I’d also say that everyone I know who gave the books a chance, especially Robyn Hood and Arcane Acre, were pretty floored by what the comics actually are. I’m not saying that to try to convince anyone or to be smug, though. It’s just that I’ve gotten into many conversations with skeptical readers, both at conventions and on Twitter, and I made it a point to reach out for them and send them free copies of the work. Just connecting with readers on a personal level and being like, “Here. Here’s what I really do as a creator.”
A lot of people also assume that all I’ve done here since starting with the company is adaptations. That Robyn Hood, for instance, is a retelling of the old ballads, and that soooo isn’t the case. That’s also why I think the actual first time someone reads my work at the publisher, they’re surprised.
The truth is that if these were just adaptations and if the stories themselves were cheesecake, I wouldn’t be writing for them. There is so much more to what we’re doing here, and I think it’s fair to say that the readership has unique bond with these characters. The love I get for writing Robyn, Marian, and Helsing in particular is huge, overwhelming. I could literally cry. Charmed, too.
Pagemaster: I know my first experiences with Robyn Hood shook off any doubts I might’ve had. I love that you reach out and show people what you’re about like that!
I can feel your pride and passion, both in talking to you and through your work, so I have to ask: With all the time and effort you’ve put into Robyn and the gang, how does it feel to hand the reigns over to Lou Iovino (and company) for the new series?
Pat: Honestly, I’m sad to go. It was the right move for me, but it was a very difficult call to make. I’ve said before that writing Robyn Hood has been therapeutic for me, that it’s been essentially my diary for the past four years. That so many people love the story is really gratifying to me, because that story is very much the embodiment of who I was for the time that I wrote it. So if I’m being truthful, passing it off is just about as strange of a feeling as you’d expect. That said, I knew that the character would continue, and I wish the new team the best.
(Robyn Hood final chapter; marriage of Marian and Sam)
Pagemaster: I believe that’s an admirable stance. Robyn may not have been “creator owned”, but I’m sure it felt that way at times. You mentioned your new title earlier, Hellchild; How does developing Angelica Blackstone compare to your experience with Robyn? Do you think she, or any character really, can replicate that “author therapy” that Robyn owned so well?
Pat: Hellchild is a really personal story too… I mean, on one level, it’s a crazy romp through New York with vampire junkies, werewolf bikers, nightclub witches, and vengeful gods. But the story I set out to tell with Hellchild is about a character who fears that she will grow up to become everything she hated about her father. Hellchild has me very raw, and writing that series is honestly very emotionally difficult, even though I think it comes off as a fun book.
Also, while the series totally stands alone, it’s had probably the most build out of any series I’ve done here. In the various titles I’ve written, Hades has been trying to resurrect his daughter for years. But then, when it finally happens in Hellchild, the way it goes down is completely devastating for him.
(Scene from Hellchild)
Pagemaster: Well that’s a “hell” of a tease! Character driven work is a personal favorite, so I know I’ll be following Hellchild for sure!
Many of Zenescopes titles are miniseries connected in the larger framework, is Hellchild another mini or do you think there’s room to grow into a full fledged-ongoing?
And on that subject, is there a particular reason why so many titles run as connecting miniseries as opposed to ongoings like “the big 2”? What are the benefits to that model?
Pat: I imagine there will be more Hellchild stories. I’m working on an outline for a second miniseries now, but I honestly have no idea when that would drop.
The truth about the ongoings is that there are very few independent titles that can sustain an ongoing in this market. Obviously some, as Grimm Fairy Tales #125 is in production right now. But miniseries just sell better.
Pagemaster: I understand, that makes sense. “If it ain’t broke” and all.
Though, sticking with ongoings, your runs on all three ongoings that you’ve been working on for sometime are or have already come to a close. I imagine there’s a great deal of satisfaction in getting to make it to the natural end of long plotted stories, which doesn’t happen often even in the “big 2”.
How would you describe that feeling closing out these series and what can you tell us about your upcoming work in their absence?
Pat: Each feels different. Robyn Hood is bittersweet, because I’m sad to go but I feel staggeringly proud of what we’ve done. It’s such an ending, and it’s the exact way it was meant to end. With Grimm Fairy Tales, that feels very similar. That was a series that ended up meaning a lot to me, and I’m incredibly excited at the way it comes together. Whereas Robyn Hood has a quiet and personal finale, Grimm Fairy Tales ends with a 60-page giant issue that feels like a summer blockbuster movie. In a good way, though. It’s grounded with real, raw, vulnerability and emotion. Charmed: Season Ten, that one is a relief because it was so heavily plotted that it has felt very much like a puzzle. Whereas Robyn Hood and Grimm Fairy Tales had a lot of room to explore, Charmed: Season Ten always had the same ending. So that one feels a lot less like a break-up and more like I’m about to cross the finish line.
(Charmed Season 10 #18)
As far as upcoming stuff, I’ve got a few things I can talk about and a few I can’t. I’m working with Joe Books on Charmed novels, the first of which should come out soon. I’m also doing some other novels and comics through them that I can’t talk about yet. My creator-owned comic with Roberta Ingranata (Robyn Hood) called Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl was just announced. That comes out this June from Margins Publishing. I’m doing the Equilibrium comic with American Mythology Productions, and that picks up after the cult classic movie ends.
At Zenescope, I’m launching two new series as soon as my Grimm Fairy Tales run ends. One is a Van Helsing miniseries and the other is a huge event featuring casts from all of the books I’ve written thus far. That one is sort of like a “One last time, for old times’ sake” type adventure in this shared universe with those favorite characters of mine.
Pagemaster: Exciting stuff! Plenty for fans to look forward to, myself included.
To close out, I want to ask: Given your good fortune, what advice would you give new writers hoping to break into comics?
Pat: The advice I always give to writers is to create comics before you ask someone to pay you to create comics for them. Write scripts, pay artists to draw them. Or partner with an artist who is also hungry to make samples. Worst case, draw them yourself. The truth is that no editor out there will read a script sample, but almost all of them will read an actual comics sample.
Pagemaster: It’s sort of a tradition at ComicPlug to end interviews by giving creators “the podium”, so to speak, and “plug” anything they might want readers to know about themselves, their work, or anything else!
Pat: You can follow me anywhere/everywhere @PatShand