RICH INTERVIEWS: Joel Rodriguez Writer/Letterer for “The Dusk County Chronicles”


First Comics News: How did Metal Ninja Studios get started and where did the name come from?

Joel Rodriguez: Metal Ninja Studios was officially founded in January 2019 by myself and my wife, Christina Rodriguez. I have been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember but knew that I wanted to create them when I picked up my first copy of Spawn #1 from a flea market as a kid. After years of writing for myself and coming up with every excuse as to why it “wasn’t the best time,” I started getting serious about making the jump into the industry in mid-2018.

The name comes from my personal definition of success, which is “balance in all aspects of life: work, family, past, present, future.” I don’t think that people are truly “successful” until they have that balance. Without it, the different aspects are always fighting for your attention and pulling you in multiple directions simultaneously.

The name “Metal Ninja Studios” represents my past, present, and future.

Metal: I have always been a fan of heavy metal music and I spent two years in college as a guitar performance major.

Ninja: More recently, I discovered my love of obstacle course racing and training for American Ninja Warrior.

Studios: Finally, I’m working every day toward fulfilling my dream of being a full-time creator in the future.

1st: What is your mission statement at Metal Ninja Studios?

Joel: Our mission is to provide quality stories that help our readers gain a new perspective of our world by guiding them down the paths they least expect.

1st: What type of comic book is “The Dusk County Chronicles”?

Joel: The Dusk County Chronicles is a horror-parody anthology series that takes tales that you know and love and throws a horror twist on them, leading you to question everything you thought you knew about the stories of your youth.

Each issue contains four short stories that all take place in the fictional area of Dusk County.

The upcoming spin-off series, The Dusk County Chronicles: Nightfall, takes characters from all eight of the stories introduced in the first two issues of The Chronicles and brings them together for a three-issue mini-series that delves deeper into the lore of Dusk County.

1st: What about a horror story draws people to them?

Joel: I think that it’s the humanity of the characters that really draws people into a horror story. Whether it’s a slasher movie, zombie novel, or a horror-anthology comic, people love seeing people react to scary situations because they can relate to the emotions of the characters without being in any danger themselves.

For example, there is a story in issue #1 of The Dusk County Chronicles called “Forever Young.” The basic premise of the story is “How far would you be willing to go to be reunited with someone you’ve lost?” We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the pain of loss, so we can easily relate to the main character. Humans are very social creatures that tend to flock to things that we feel empathetic toward, and that keeps us in tune with the emotions that we experience through the characters in horror stories.

We feel ecstatic after seeing a character going through a stressful and scary situation, only to come out stronger at the end. It helps us feel like we can conquer anything in the scary world we call reality.

1st: Why do horror and humor mix well?

Joel: Horror and humor are different sides of the same spectrum and they work in a sort of symbiosis as they toy with our emotions. People say that if you never experience any bad, you can never appreciate the good. Following that logic, we appreciate the emotional high of humor even more after we feel a negative emotion like fear.

1st: What is Dusk County like?

Joel: Well… You know that place that you always wanted to visit, but everyone you know tells you not to go there? The place where something just seems off, but you can’t quite put your finger on why?

That’s Dusk County.

1st: Why do “The Dusk County Chronicles” as an anthology?

Joel: The anthology was a product of circumstance. The entire project originated as one five-page short story that I wrote as a submission to someone else’s anthology. I connected with Roman once the script was complete and we completed what would become “A Friend in Me,” the first story in issue #1.

We submitted it to the anthology, but they didn’t want it. I decided that I loved it too much to just shelve it, so I wrote three more short stories and decided to publish it myself. That became DCC #1.

One thing that I heard quite frequently after people read issue #1 was “I love the short stories, but I want to know MORE!” People wanted to know what happened to the characters and the rest of Dusk County. That’s what led to the shift in format for The Dusk County Chronicles: Nightfall.

1st: How would you say Roman Gubskii’s art enhances “The Dusk County Chronicles”?

Joel: Roman is an artistic genius and I’m grateful every day that he wanted to come on board and continues to work with me to make Dusk County a reality. His wide variety of styles gives every Dusk County tale a unique look, so it’s as if we’re seeing different parts of Dusk County from the different perspectives of the main characters.

He’s also been able to evenly match every tonal shift that we’ve done as the overall story arc progresses, and there have been many. Whether we’re working with the colorful and playful “A Friend in Me” or the grim and horrific “Toy Box,” he’s able to capture every emotion that the characters are enduring and match the tone of the story perfectly.

Rich: What is happening with Supercilious Comics?

Joel: I’m pretty sure that Adrianne, the writer behind the curtain, has a bunch of stuff that she’s working on now. I’m not sure when she’s planning on releasing her next book, but keep an eye out!

1st: What else are you working on currently and do you have planned for the future?

Joel: I spend a lot of time helping other writers and creators bring their projects to life as a letterer and production designer and I recently started doing production design for Scout Comics.

Keep an eye out for Stake and Loggerhead from Scout, which I lettered, along with even more titles in the future!

1st: What would you do if you woke up one night in Dusk County?

Joel: Well, if I was inside, I would probably lock all the doors and windows and find the darkest corner to hide in and wait until the morning.

If I was outside…I’d probably just curl up into a ball and cry. I know what lurks in the shadows and I also know my odds aren’t very good.

Rich: What are a few memorable comics you have read in your lifetime other than your own?

Joel: I’ve always been drawn to the comics with the biggest emotional impact or “gut punch,” as Andrea, my editor, calls it. There are three comics that come to mind quite vividly:

Spawn #5 – There’s a scene involving finger painting that stuck with me from the moment I first read it. As a horror writer, I long for the day I can replicate that kind of impact.

Saga #10 – That cliff hanger still gets me!

Sink #6 – So, this one is more on the technical side of awestruck. Sink is one of my favorite books currently on the market and issue #6 is what hooked me. An entire horror story with virtually no dialogue. The sheer talent that John Lees and Alex Cormack showed in that issue hooked me on the series and also convinced me that I HAD to work with Alex in some form.

Fun note: Alex Cormack drew a variant cover for The Dusk County Chronicles: Nightfall.

1st: Any sage advice for other comic book creators?

Joel: I heard once that “Luck is mostly made up by putting yourself out there and being prepared to say yes when opportunity knocks.” Far too often, we get caught in our own fears and end up holding ourselves back. If we push that fear down as far as humanly possible and prepare ourselves to say yes, we never know how many opportunities will come knocking.

1st: Any words for your supporters?

Joel: None that can accurately describe how grateful I am. I guess I’ll have to settle with thank you.

Thank you for all your support at conventions, online, and on Kickstarter. If you see me at a show, please come by and say hi. None of this would be possible without you, so I look forward to the day I can tell you that in person.

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