JEFF KNOTT & DEREK JESSOME talk about Grandway Comics
Introduction: I was visiting a local Halifax Regional Municipality comic book shop, several weeks ago, and, among other purchases, I chanced upon three different first issues in that store, published by a comics publisher that I had never, ever heard of, before. The company name was Grandway Comics. I asked the shop owner, “Are these Canadian?”
To which he replied, “Phil not only are these Canadian, the artists and writers are right here in Halifax, although they were originally from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia”, he said. “And they now live in Halifax.”
I told him, “I always support Canadian talent in comics, wherever and whenever I can. I’m definitely getting these.” I bought them, took them home, and read all three.
The titles were ‘The Street Fighting Man’ # 1, ‘Space Cowboy & The Triumphanteers’ # 1, and finally, ‘Grand Adventure’ # 1.
Arriving home, I read all three, commencing with Street Fighting Man # 1, which is the tale of a new black superhero, who isn’t — quite — bulletproof!
1st: How did Grandway Comics get started as a new Canadian comic book publisher?
Jeff Knott: It even goes back a little bit further than that — The two of us had worked in animation for a long time, and also did some work on the side, pitching shows, so we had already put a couple of projects together–packages — that never went anywhere. We continued storyboarding but always wanted to do something in comics — just never really worked toward it. –Some blog art, sold some prints — Marvel and DC characters — But, then it was yourself, Derek, who suggested we do something–put something online–something we could maintain — just to get our own stuff out there.
Derek: We had the idea to put together an online comic strip. Jeff originally had these names–
Jeff: Yeah, for the longest time these names were floating around — Space Cowboy, BabyHead, 3-Face, etc. –no designs yet — and Derek wanted to do a comic strip. One of those daily or weekly things like Dick Tracey– 3 or 4 panels.
Derek: Short strips — whenever we could do them — whether they be once a week, once a month, whatever. All we really wanted to do was exercise our skills as story-tellers and comic-book artists — We decided then, we’ll regularly put out a single full page instead — But that wasn’t enough —
Jeff: “Let’s put out a full book”– and that quickly evolved — we decided to put out three titles — a full-blown comic-book empire! We’ve got Space Cowboy & the Triumphanteers; We pulled The Street Fighting Man out of that group; he was originally a member, and gave him his own title!
Lazor Boy was (originally) an animation pitch — we just adapted our script — always meant to be a short — and we came up with Wild Girl as a female counterpart for him. And then, of course, we shared the third book, Grand Adventure.
1st: How long have you all, the creators of the three new Grandway Comics titles, known each other, whose idea was it to launch a new comic book company, and how did you get funding for the launch of these new comics?
Derek: Well, first of all, we met in college–Computer Animation–And yeah, I guess we’ve known each other for twenty years. Whose idea? Well, it was both of ours.
Jeff: It was definitely Derek’s idea to make the initial strip and put it out there.
Derek: And how did we get funding?
Jeff: We worked during the day, and funded it out of our paychecks.
Derek: And a loan to cover printing.
1st: Since your three new comics titles are in full process colour, cover to cover, I’m assuming the decision to release these comics in colour, rather than in black and white, must have cost your company a lot more, to get them published/printed up. What company prints your comics? I am also curious about what your print runs on these titles are, in terms of numbers, if possible.
1st: So, it wasn’t about the money. Sounds like labours of love!
Jeff: Oh yeah, there was no way they were gonna be black & white! The cost didn’t really matter. We hadn’t done anything like this before, and we decided we’d go full-blast. They were gonna be what we wanted them to be– the best as we could make them.
1st: Well, they’re nothing short of fantastic! I enjoyed all three first issues: The Street Fighting Man # 1, Space Cowboy & The Triumphanteers, as well as Grand Adventure!
Derek: An ‘all or nothing’ attitude — Whatever it took to make the comic books we wanted, we were willing to do — no matter what the cost. If there were a way, we’d find it, without cutting any corners. There’s a company in Pictou, Nova Scotia — Advocate Printing, in Pictou. And they printed our books. It was the first time they’d done anything like that — three full-color comic books!
Jeff: They’re great — They worked with us and gave us the exact product we were after. That worked out great!
Derek: And as for print runs on these titles, it’s two-thousand copies of each.
Jeff: So, reserve your copy today!
1st: Prior to my speaking to Calum Johnstone* about Grandway Comics, owner* of the three Atlantic Canada-based ‘Strange Adventures’ comics specialty stores, who kindly put me in touch with you both, I had bought all three of your new titles, and read all three from cover to cover. Thus, I already knew what each of your three number # 1 issues were all about. But why not explain the general theme of each of them, for the benefit of potential readers of them, without giving too much away?
Derek: Well, for starters, we have a mandate: Our books have to be fun. And that’s what we focus on.
Jeff: Action, adventure–Good vs. evil. Classic Saturday Morning fare.
Derek: They’re really Saturday Morning cartoons.
Jeff: Yeah — That’s the level you’ll find the violence — and the drama. Good for boys and girls of all ages.
Derek: There’s drama; existential problems for the characters.
1st: What is the theme of Space Cowboy #1, “…Of Titans and Tyranny!”?
Jeff: It’s our flagship title, that’s for sure, so it’s the epitome of everything we’ve just rhymed off, in terms of Saturday Morning!
Derek: Super Hero team.
Jeff: Super Hero team, Super Villain team. Grandway’s Super Adventurers & Super Enemies. There’s a revenge plot, a love plot, a teenage jr. high plot — science fiction, fantastic powers. –Space Cowboy is a stylized space-western character, a cosmic sheriff from another planet. He’s an alien lawman assigned to Earth. He leads a special team of (human) Super Adventurers, the Triumphanteers; through many exciting episodes as they defend Grandway City and the Earth. In this issue, a number of the Triumphanteer’s arch-foes have teamed up, with a plan to destroy them.
Derek: And the Street Fighting Man #1, “If Ever this World Needed a Hero…That Time is Now!”?
Jeff: That’s our solo hero-book — A loner of a character in a more urban setting.
Derek: He’s “The Man Who Cannot Die.” He’s a martial artist; a spiritual character on his own quest, but he’s also on the run!
He’s a fugitive from the top secret government agency that gave him his powers. In this issue, he’s traveled to Grandway City. He’s lying low there while trying to solve a mystery involving a wild street gang.
And then there’s Grand Adventure #1, “The Wrath of Ro-Busto!”/”The Forest of Peril!” Meant for a bit of a younger audience, but still all-ages. It’s a fantasy book featuring two separate short stories. It has a greater ‘cartoon’ look to it than the others, with beautiful, painted backgrounds by Adam Hall.
1st: Part of the reason I enjoyed your title Grand Adventure was because, despite the fact that it was completely original and unique, it nonetheless reminded me of all of those fantastic Hanna Barbera 1960’s animated TV series like Space Ghost, Birdman, The Galaxy Trio, The Impossibles, Dino Boy, Frankenstein Junior, and so many more!
Derek: It’s set on another world, in another time and place. LazerBoy is the famous hero/defender of this world. He uses his powers and his mighty LazerBlade, and he’s noble; these characters are very noble. That’s very much what we try to do with them — make them heroic. WildGirl’s adventures are set in the same realm. Her powers more revolve around nature; she can communicate with animals and plant life.
Jeff: In Grand Adventure #1, essentially, LazerBoy squares off with a bully, and WildGirl must escape a ‘boogeyman’ — from space!
1st: I really enjoyed The Street Fighting Man # 1, a title about a black costumed and masked new superhero!
Grand Adventure # 1 was a new comic book from your new company that I really enjoyed, also, and the art and two stories and characters in this issue, Lazer Boy, and the backup story Wild Girl, I admit, reminded me a bit like Hanna Barbera’s The Herculoids, and other Hanna-Barbera superhero 1960’s animated series, like Birdman, The Galaxy Trio, and other hero 1960’s Hanna-Barbera series releases, though the heroes in Grand Adventure # 1 were completely new and unique!
I actually own commercial DVD sets of Space Ghost, Birdman, The Galaxy Trio, The Herculoids, Frankenstein Junior, and several others.
My question about the characters in the Grand Adventure comics title is, were you both fans of those series and the comics based on them, or is this a complete coincidence? Grand Adventure was a lot of fun to read and enjoy, and, as I say, while they reminded me somewhat of the above Hanna-Barbera characters, your new characters, at the same time, are completely unique! What are both your thoughts on this?
Jeff: Glad to hear you enjoyed the Street Fighting Man! Wait ‘til you see the next issue; We’ve got some surprises in store!
Derek: Same goes for Grand Adventure. And, are we fans of Hanna-Barbera? You bet.
Jeff: Major influence. The Super Friends were ‘it’ for me. But all of their heroes, like Space Ghost, the Herculoids, and Birdman, for sure — we love all of that stuff.
Derek: Grand Adventure stems from, as Jeff mentioned, LazerBoy being an animation pitch. And it was meant to be in that vein, of the Hanna Barbera stuff (and the Mighty Hercules), while yeah, doing something original with that aesthetic. Very much inspired by those cartoons, absolutely.
Jeff: When we decided to beef up the line with 3 titles, we already had LazerBoy, his designs, and script, done, and standing by. Then we designed WildGirl to, of course, compliment him. All three titles are available as digital downloads, from our website.
1st: Note to readers: all three comics are ALSO available as published, full colour throughout, hold-n-your-hand-comic books! That’s how I got mine, bought at a local comic book store! If your store doesn’t carry them, ask that they get them in, because, that way, they are guaranteed sales for the store owners. Impress that idea upon them! And, because the print run is only 2,000
copies of EACH issue, you want to track these down NOW, while you can, BEFORE they end up on TV as animated series-!
Jeff: Grand Adventure, with its three-tier page layouts, was originally designed to be viewed on a phone, for a more ‘cartoon-viewing’ experience — scrolling through the tiers with ease, with each tier filling the screen.
1st: Is there a Grandway Comics website, as yet?
Derek: Yes, there is. You can go to GrandwayComics.com. You’ll find our digital comics, our video ads for each title, a link to our online store (t-shirts, mugs, etc.), and information about Grandway Comics like the ‘Making Of’ gallery, featuring rough sketches — the process through penciling, to inking, to color.
1st: I see that Halifax comics creator artist Dave Howlett, (and manager of the Halifax, N.S., Canada Strange Adventures specialty comics store), did all the lettering for your Grand Adventure comics title, in # 1. I have plans to ask him if he’d agree to do an interview, separately, as he’s been putting out his own unique local Halifax Canadian comics (various titles) for many, many years, now.
How did Dave Howlett get involved with Grandway Comics, and will he be doing any art on any future Grandway Comics titles?
Derek: It’d be great to see Dave do some artwork, for sure! Maybe some pin-ups; see his take on the characters!
Jeff: That’d be cool.
Derek: How did he get involved? We’ve known Dave Howlett for years. Since we’d first moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada — that’s when I first met him, about twenty years ago, I guess. I’ve known him for a long time.
I don’t know if he was managing the store (Strange Adventures), then. Yeah, so we asked him for his help, and if he’d be interested – -and he lettered The Street Fighting Man and Grand Adventure titles, and we couldn’t have done it without him.
Jeff: Yeah, Dave’s great. He’s your guy when it comes to comics–a comic book enthusiast; he’s put out a few books himself.
Derek: We’re really happy to have him on board.
Jeff: He’s part of the team.
1st: Who did the pencil art, inks, letters, and who was the colourist, on The Street Fighting Man # 1? I really enjoyed this comic, but there didn’t seem to be any creator credits on this book, except on the cover.
Derek: They’re on page 3.
1st: Oh, okay. Guess I missed that.
Jeff: Below the second half of the issue’s title. Derek and I scripted, we both penciled & inked it, the aforementioned Dave Howlett lettered the issue, and Rick Laffin coloured it.
1st: I got quite a kick out of the back cover of all three premiere titles, since, on all three, the back covers was a colour ad of TOYS of many of your characters, toys that, in reality …. do not exist — yet! Whose idea was this?
It almost looks as though you folks are already thinking ahead, in terms of merchandising your characters, perhaps later on, into action figure toys?
Derek: Yes, our characters are intended to be spun off into toy lines merchandise. Everything from beach blankets to school bags. Read the comic, watch the cartoon and see the film!
Jeff: The whole G.I. Joe sort of machine. Space Cowboy himself was designed specifically as a toy, ‘first’; that’s a big part of his conception. Speaking of G.I. Joe, and Transformers too, in regards to this machine, we’d always liked how those toys were presented as real characters, and the creators had breathed life and personality into these objects. Space Cowboy was designed as a stand-alone, 12-inch adventure doll, in line with The Six Million Dollar Man, Pulsar, & Rom, and was conceived as almost a pretend experiment: What if we had been tasked with developing a backstory and continuing adventures, for this doll? Sounded like fun!
1st: What is the back story to Space Cowboy? He’s got blue skin, he seems to be able to breathe in outer space, and his blue legs and arms seem to be transparent? Is he a robot, or an alien, perhaps?
Jeff: He’s an alien from the planet Spektra; there’s a glimpse of this in the first issue. It’s got a number of parallels to Earth — some stylized translations of Earthen culture, like Space Cowboy, himself. Space Cowboy and other Spektrons have transparent limbs; this is natural to their species. We describe these characters as Bio-Electronic Beings or Organic Cyborgs.
However, Space Cowboy is somewhat different from his people, in that his body/form has been augmented. He’s stronger and faster than the average man -human or Specktron. He has a jet pack with retractable wings, that enables him to fly, and he has a retractable ‘Oxyo-Helmet’ that allows him to breathe, in space.
1st: Which creators created which characters and features, and where is each series going? How often will these titles be published?
Jeff: We, Derek and I, created all three books, together.
Derek: We each had a hand in everything–the characters, design, concepts. It’s a lot of back and forth. What does a particular character look like? Who are they? What are they? We work that out together as a team, and we work together very well. We share a lot of the same sensibilities and influences, and our individual influences are often complementary.
Jeff: It’s a combination, a duo. One of us will start something, the other will add to it, we’ll discuss it. We’re always throwing ideas at each other. We plot and write the stories together.
Derek: And where is each series going? Pretty far! We’ve got a lot of great ideas. This is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s only the beginning. We’re going to go to some great places, and we can’t wait to show what we’ve got in store for everyone! And how often will the titles be published? Well, we’re slowly gaining momentum right now, and we plan to have one new book released every 30-45 days. that’s our goal.
Jeff: And for the time being, the titles will be released in rotation: Space Cowboy#2, followed 30 – 45 days later by the Street Fighting Man # 2, etc.
1st: In terms of distribution, how wide an area are these titles being distributed? For example, will these titles, or have these titles already, been appearing in the monthly Previews/-Diamond catalogue? I’m basically interested to know if these titles will see distribution to other Canadian provinces, and possibly to the United States? Since Calum Johnstone owns three different locations of his Strange Adventures specialty comics stores — one in Halifax, one in Dartmouth, and still another, in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, (specifically, in the town of Fredericton), I’m betting these titles will at least see some distribution in to New Brunswick?
Derek: Yes, they are in New Brunswick, a number of stores in Nova Scotia, they’re in Ontario: Toronto, Hamilton, Oakville, Stoney Creek. The ultimate goal would be to get into the Diamond (Previews) monthly catalogue, and to do that we just have to put together a body of work, show what we can do, and make Diamond the next step. We want to hit overseas markets, too!
And, If you’d like to see Grandway Comics in your town, let your favorite comic shop know! Contact us through our website or on social media with the store’s contact info, and we’ll see what we can do!
Derek: You’ll see us across the country and into the United States, too; we’re only just beginning. We’ve only really started (launched) in October, with prints (print comics) in November, so we’re still very new. The biggest hurdle right now is to get known — to get out there. We’ve had great responses from the books! Older readers and kids alike are excited by this style of storytelling.
New, Silver Age-style stories about fantastic characters, told with heart and conviction, that’ll take you back to a time of Saturday Morning cartoons!
Jeff: Over the top adventure handled with dignity and care. We love that stuff.
1st: Am I correct that The Street Fighting Man, Grand Adventure, and Space Cowboy & The Triumphanteers are the very first three titles ever published by Grandway Comics, or did I miss some?
Derek: No, that’s it.
Jeff: For now.
Derek: Actually, we’ve got three other titles sitting on the back burner, that we’d love to put out right now, but one step at a time.
Jeff: Hang tight. Right now, we’re focusing on the three we’ve got and building some momentum with them.
1st: I think you are both being very smart, with this! Because, too many comics companies – including Canadian comics companies, have, in the past, launched with too many ongoing titles, too soon, without first building slowly, a regular reading network of fans. The result was often that those companies imploded, with too much, too soon.
And so I am saying that I think that you both are going about this in the right way. The other thing I like about your titles is that there seems to be some real – not just enthusiasm in these books – but also a positive message and a way of story-telling, that harkens back to the comic books of old. I read these three # 1’s, put them down, smiled, and said to myself, “I’ve got to talk to these guys-!”
Derek: Yeah, and eventually we’ll be looking for artists and writers to help handle these books. We’ve got a whole war-chest of ideas, and you will see them.
1st: A multi-part question I have for both of you, Jeff Knott and Derek Jessome, is: have either of you been published in comics, or fanzines, in the past? And if so, when and where did these come out?
Derek: I was published in one book — a pinup, actually, of Spider-Man and with the help of Callum Johnson, that was printed as a back cover of Spider-Man, vol. 3, #1. Nick Bradshaw did the front cover.
The Grandway books are the first full comics I’ve ever done.
Jeff: I’ve done a couple of ‘homemade’ books in the past — just some stuff with friends in school. No professional publishing.
1st: Did either of you go to school professionally, in terms of art training?
Derek: I didn’t. I spent one year in college, with some drawing classes here and there. Twenty years in animation, more than anything. And working with Jeff, I learned a lot from him. But no formal training.
1st: In that case, I’m even more impressed with you guys, and the comics work you put out, that I was, to begin with!
Jeff: I got a bit of everything. I did a year of Animation, a year of Graphic Design, and a year at an Art School in Calgary, Alberta. But the same as Derek, really, I got my training in the field, story-boarding for twenty years.
1st: Thank you very much for talking to me, Derek and Jeff! I really very much thank you both for taking the time!
Well, with these three new ongoing – and Canadian – Grandway Comics full-colour titles, I can definitely state that you both have three new HITS on your hands!
Please keep me in the loop when it comes to the next issues coming out! I’d be more than happy to announce such news each time, on First Comics News!
And now, folks, to see the other talents behind the All-New Grandway Comics, go their website, right here, and while you’re at it, on that website, make sure you look at all the videos having to do with their comics, as well!http://www.firstcomicsnews.com/jeff-knott-derek-jessome-talk-about-grandway-comics/http://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Grandway-Comics-logo-600x257.jpghttp://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Grandway-Comics-logo-150x64.jpgInterviewsTalking About...