Over the past few weeks, I was lucky enough to review C.J. Standal and Juan Romera’s Return of the Gangster Books 1 and 2. Great books! I was able to catch up with C.J. Standal for a interview about the series. Enjoy!
Brian Barr: I love your comic, Return of the Gangster. What inspired you to come up with this comic?
CJ Standal: There are a few things that inspired me, partly from what’s been going on in the world in the past few years and partly gangster/noir titles.
In the past few years we’ve seen an increase in public dialogue and awareness of racism (especially with police shootings), sexism (especially with the recent focus on rape culture), and classism (Bernie Sanders and the Occupy Wall Street Movement to name a few prime examples of that). While I don’t think that means these issues are happening more necessarily—it’s possible, but I don’t have a complete set of data to come to that conclusion–I do think we’re finally becoming more aware of them.
Rebirth of the Gangster stems from my desire to talk about all these issues in a more entertaining way that is also open to interpretation and open dialogue, something we’re sorely in need of given our recent polarization. The first issue might have been more explicit in my feelings on these issues, partly to establish theme a little more obviously, but the series as a whole will imply my thoughts more instead of outright stating them and leave more instances where I just put forth an instance of one of these conflicts without any complete opinion.
But this comic isn’t just about high minded societal issues and the meaning of life; it’s also supposed to be suspenseful and entertaining. I’ve spent a lot of my life loving thriller and noir entertainment—most notably 100 Bullets, Criminal, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Godfather, Damages and The Big Sleep—so I wanted to create something that paid respect to those great works that brought me endless hours of enjoyment. Hopefully, it’s not just an homage to these pieces though: I’m trying to keep people guessing with new twists and I’m trying to make more people relate to these types of stories by having a more diverse and well-rounded cast of characters.
BB: Since Return of the Gangster fits into the crime noir genre, but with a very modern feel, do you have any crime comics, TV shows, or movies that you are a big fan of?
CJ Standal: I kind of already mentioned this in my previous answer, but other than the ones I’ve mentioned, I love Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country, anything by Ed Brubaker, the Frank Miller Daredevils, Better Call Saul (I’m trying to balance some comedy with the noir, like that program does), and way more.
BB: Is this your first project you’ve released as a comic or have you other comics that are out? Along with comics, do you write short stories and novels as well?
CJ Standal: It’s my first published comic; I wrote the script for another comic that just didn’t get off the ground, partly because I didn’t have as detailed of a plan for that one as I do for Rebirth of the Gangster. I haven’t had any published short stories or novels, but I’m working on them. I have had some articles published by the now defunct Slant.
BB: What is the collaboration process like with you and Juan Romera? I love his art style.
CJ Standal: When I first was talking to him about the project, I sent the synopsis and an outline of what will happen in each issue (of course some of that might change as I get more experienced as a writer and more familiar with these characters). That helps Juan have a better idea of the purpose of each scene.
For individual issues themselves, I send Juan a very detailed script (think Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman full script style). In these scripts I also insert a drawing of the way I see the panel layout (size and arrangement of panels). I send Juan these scripts, but make sure to emphasize that these are only suggestions, and that he should make changes to anything if he thinks of a better way. I would say that Juan follows my layouts about 75% of the time, but changes them for the better the rest of the time.
Before Juan fully inks each page, he sends me a sketch of the page in case I can think of anything to change. That hasn’t happened much (maybe twice an issue) and it’s always because I thought of a better way to layout a page or stage a panel that wasn’t in my original script.
BB: What are your main goals with Return of the Gangster? Do you want to remain independent as a creator or have a publishing company behind you eventually?
CJ Standal: My main goal is to finish the series, which is a planned 24 issue series. Ideally, I’d like to make a profit from it and have a publishing company pick it up, but my main goal is just to get it out there. I’ve been wanting to tell this story and write a comic for years, so I’ll be happy if I’m able to do that.
BB: The way you crafted these characters in a crime story is believable and realistic. In crime drama, it may be a little hard for some creators to make characters that are believable and real without being stereotypical. What inspired you to make your characters this way?
CJ Standal : I guess part of it comes from noticing what great shows, books, comics, and movies do. Many of my friends and I have always talked about how if you have great characters, you’ll have a great piece of art. Part of our conversations have also focused on the fact that better characters lead to more options for plot and more flexibility with the plot, which is also helpful.
Connected to that, part of being a creator is trying to empathize with all of your characters. Empathy doesn’t come from generalizations; it comes from knowing somebody in all their unique, contradictory, beauty. There’s a reason most actors who play the “villain” always talk about how their character actually seems themselves as the hero of the story.
And I guess another part of it comes from seeing the dangers of stereotyping and generalizations: we see it in our political climate; I see it in my classrooms; we see it in everyday life. By no means is my comic going to fix these issues, but I’ll be happy if it helps ease them and bring us all a little closer together.
BB: Your artist Juan Romera has an art style very reminiscent of crime and mystery cartoons I grew up with as a kid. Did you originally look for an artist with a nostalgic cartoon style before meeting Juan or did his art style win you over? I’ve mentioned this in both reviews I did for ROTG, but his art style has that cool BTAS/Tintin feel and yet is very original at the same time.
CJ Standal : I wasn’t looking for that type of style when I started the search. Essentially, my main priority was just having someone who could use shadows/shades effectively and make characters “act” in a believable way. It’s very hard to get a wide range of emotions, and do so subtly, so I was focusing on that. Other than that, in my head I was looking for an Eduardo Risso, partly because 100 Bullets is the biggest comic influence on Rebirth of the Gangster.
Juan won me over because he had some great black and white artwork that plays with shade and shadows very well, helping create a great atmosphere. His artwork also showed a wide range of emotions in the characters he was drawing. He also has great character designs that let each character have a distinct visual look, making it easy to recognize them right away. Sometimes I read comics and the characters look so similar that I can’t tell who a specific character is until a few pages into the scene, and Juan helps readers avoid that. So while he’s not Eduardo Risso, that’s actually a good thing, because he’s able to do what I was aiming for, but in a unique way that helps Rebirth of the Gangster avoid being a pale imitation of 100 Bullets.
BB: Who are your favorite authors?
CJ Standal : Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, David Simon, Quentin Tarrantino, Ed Brubaker, Sofia Coppola, Greg Rucka, Raymond Chandler, Isabel Allende, Frank Herbert…I could keep going on—I’m an English teacher after all!
BB: What are your plans for the future with comics? Do you have any other series in the works?
CJ Standal : I would like to release another comic after Rebirth of the Gangster or start releasing it in a year or so (when I’m about halfway done with Rebirth of the Gangster). I don’t have a specific story in mind yet (I have a few), but they all center on doing something dramatically different than Rebirth of the Gangster.
I want to do something that’s lighter in tone; I want to do something that’s in a different genre, probably fantasy; I want to do something that ignores the limits I imposed on myself with Rebirth of the Gangster (for instance: I want to use traditional, first-person narration; Rebirth of the Gangster has captions but they’re always dialogue from a different scene than the one being illustrated, since I was going for a more cinematic feel).
Although I want to do different things with my next comic, I still want to have the range of entertaining plot, characters and characterization that I have in Rebirth of the Gangster.
BB: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Anything you’d like to add for readers?
Thanks for taking the time to interview me!
The third issue will release in the beginning of September, most likely September 7.
I also have a Patreon created for the series with some cool rewards (like making a cameo in the comic!). You can find that at https://www.patreon.com/cjstandal
Want updates through my blog, a store where all the comics are available together, or links to some great reviews of the comic? Check out my website at cjstandalproductions.com
Thanks again for your time and your support!