Local Comic-Book duo digs "Empty Grave" on Kickstarter

June 21, 2013|Elliott Serrano, for Redeye

The heroes of the Old West had plenty to contend with, whether it was death by six-shooter; at the end of the hangman's rope; or dysentery on the Oregon trail. In the case of the Western Comic Book, death can come from the indifference of a market that is focused on the exploits of the "spandex set" AKA superheroes.

Still, there are comic book creators with a passion for the classic genre, who want to tell stories that take us back to the time when the law was defined by men wearing tin badges and quick-draw holsters. One of those creators is local playwright and comic-book author Warwick Johnson. He has a new book that puts an interesting spin on the classic Western. This is how he explained to me:

"Our comic is a very different take on a revenge Western, as The Empty Grave Volume 1: Daddy's Little Girl stars a female bounty hunter named Annabelle Cutter as she hunts down some of the most dangerous outlaws in the West. Her main conflict is with the citizens of Haven Springs, a town of murderers and thieves run by Granny Collins. The Empty Grave is a comic that has a predominantly female cast, a rarity for a Western, as Dan and I have worked really hard to create some interesting and compelling characters who are not defined by being women. The comic also has a lot of horror and supernatural influences, as well as elements from Navajo folklore. We felt that this all created a very interesting dynamic, especially in a story that is set in 1880's New Mexico Territory, and I think that we have created something that people will be interested in."

Johnson and Hale have turned to Kickstarter to secure funding for the printing and distribution of the first issue. With just over a week left in the campaign, The Empty Grave is still short of its funding goal. Johnson contacted me to help make a push and get them to their goal. In addition to providing the preview artwork you see above, Johnson answered some questions about growing up in Chicago; the comics and creators that inspired him;and the challenges of creating a Western comic in today's market:

Geek To Me:  How long have you been working in the comics industry?

Warwick Johnson: I've been writing comic book scripts since 2011, before that I was a playwright in the area working with primarily the Chicago Mammals Theater. I always loved comic books and most of my plays were science fiction or superhero stories, but told from a very flawed and human perspective. One day I finally said to myself that I should just cut out the middle man and start writing comic book scripts, and I've been doing that ever since. The Empty Grave is my first full series that I've done, it is going to be a 4 volume series when all is said and done. Our Kickstarter is for the first volume, Daddy's Little Girl, to cover the printing and distribution costs for us to get the series started. I have also been working with Jason Muhr on a stand-alone story called Old Soldiers, and that will be released this fall as well. 

Geek To Me: How long have you lived in Chicago?

Warwick Johnson: I was born and raised in Chicago, my family moved to the south suburbs to Park Forest when I was little. We still came down to the city almost every other weekend though, mostly because there is almost nothing to do in Park Forest. I moved back to the city in early 2009 after school and doing some regional theater work after graduation, and I've lived up on the Northside ever since.

Geek To Me: How did you meet your collaborators on the book?

Warwick Johnson: Dan Hale went to school with a guy that I was doing a play with in 2011, around the time that I had started working on The Empty Grave. Ted introduced Dan and I, and I pitched him the story of the first issue. We started working together at the end of that year, and it's been a really terrific process. Dan's a terrific guy to work with and he is an absolutely amazing artist, I always get really excited when he sends me pages. Andrea Celistini joined the project as our colorist back in March, Dan found him on DeviantArt and we both really liked his style. When he sent us the first page that he did the color for, we were both blown away and knew we wanted him for the book.

Geek To Me: What were some of your favorite books growing up?

Warwick Johnson: I was and am a huge X-Men fan. I think I bought every X-title that came out every month, which seemed like 20 of them (my mother is some sort of saint). Aside from that, the ones that really stick out in my mind are Green Lantern when it was Kyle Rayner, and Grant Morrison's JLA run. 

Geek To Me: With the comics market being dominated by superheroes, why did you decide to create a Western comic?

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