Interview with the creators of Ethan Stone
About 2 years ago, Writer Mike W Lunsford and artist Ben Shaw created Ethan Stone P.I. and debuted the 1st issue at the Baltimore Comic Con. SInce then, they've sold over 500 copies, released the follow up issue and are hard at work on issue 3. I got a chance to catch up with them and ask them a few questions about their creative process.
1. Creating a comic book is like writing a song. So the age old question of lyrics or music first translates well. Which do you guys start with, art or story?
Mike: We always start with story.
Ben: Story always comes first.
Mike: In some cases, I’ll write the script and then when Ben is done drawing it, it looks a little different than I described and I have to go back and tweak the story, but never anything crazy like a naked silver man showing up with no explanation.
Ben: Yeah, I don’t hate Mike that much…yet.
2. There are some clear parallel's in Ethan and Seth's characters to numerous other movie, comic and literary characters. What stories inspired the look and the personalities of the characters?
Mike: As far as personality, Ethan is a little Indiana Jones, a little Ghostbusters and a little MacGuyver all wrapped up in one. Seth really wasn’t an amalgamation of anything…very organic creatively.
Ben: Seth was a happy artistic accident. I never planned on him looking the way he did. He’s one of those things that just assembled over time. He started off as the fat funny sidekick, kind of a like a balding Jonah Hill, then I started drawing him doing some cool stuff.
Mike: And I was like…wow, that’s kind of bad ass. So I started making him less hammy and more of a priest with an edge. You’ll see this transformation in later issues, too.
3. What comic books, if any, did you two read when you were young that made you enough of fans to create your own?
Ben: There’s a specific issue of “Peter Parker’s Spiderman #95” done by John Romida Jr, Scott Hannah and Howard Mackey. For me at the time, it was a modern day book that still had that old comic book feel of “oh, it’s fun and action packed,” and not the “this is serious social commentary” we get today. There was so much more focus on the story being fun and telling something compelling in the book that they don’t do anymore because of the desire for realism. John Romida Jr is an amazing draftsman and…it was just something that I gravitated toward because of the style.
Mike: I loved reading X-Men, especially the Jim Lee reset they did in the 90’s. Ben says I’m weird because I read those for the story and the artwork was secondary to me. I also loved Batman at this time and Superman because DC was in this weird panic mode where they had to kill or maim all of their characters so I got to watch Superman die…sorta and Batman get his back broken and then Hal Jordan flipped out and killed all the Green Lanterns. It was just an exciting time for a kid who loved stories.
4. Ben. Tell us what pulled you into the world of art when you were younger?
Ben: Cartoons, comics…that was the start. Getting my hands on that as much as possible…I’m a very visual person. I’m a weird sort of person who’s super visual…like I can play Guitar Hero with the sound off and still enjoy it, which is weird because my parents and my siblings are very auditory; they can sing, play musical instruments and I have trouble clapping on beat…I guess I got the other side of the creativity.
5. Mike. Same question, but about writing words and not drawing pictures?
Mike: When I was younger, I loved hearing stories, reading, watching TV and movies…I just loved the fantasy and emotions you could feel from a story. When I was a kid, I would get in trouble for lying all the time and it wasn’t until I got older that I realized why: I just loved the power that a story had. You could get people to believe what you were saying even if it wasn’t true, now…this caused tons of problems so I decided it would be better if I kept my “stories” on paper. I started really getting into writing in middle school and I had a few teachers who really encouraged me to continue pursuing it and even one crazy college professor who forced me to write different stories than the assignments he was giving everyone else because he said I was “wasting my effing time in a creative writing class that was mostly full of idiots.” Needless to say, he helped me with my confidence is writing.
6. Josef Rubinstein did the cover for issue #2 of the title. Speak a little about working with him and how that relationship was fostered.
Ben: I had a professor at Kuberts (Joe Kuberts School of Comic Book Art and Design in New Jersey) who was talking about the art form of inking and how important it is in adding depth and definition. She mentioned that she had worked w/ Josef Rubinstein. I was captivated and no one else really cared. That’s how good he is. He makes the artist look better without anyone even knowing he did it. That’s the hallmark of a good inker. After I graduated, I remembered his name and looked him up. He had inked something insane…like 60% of the books I was into. Our first show w/ Ethan Stone was at the Baltimore Comic Con and Joe had a table with like…no one in line. I went up and showed him my work. He called me “baby Joe Kubert,” I don’t know if that was in terms of my inking skill or if I went to school, but it wasn’t the first time I had heard that I had a Kubert-esque style. He said it was great and that there were a few technical tweaks I could make that would make a significant impact once mastered. So it began as inking lessons from him and grew from there. Me and Mike actually hung out with him in DC after Awesome Con. It was a blast to hear all his stories about inking Frank Miller, Joe Kubert…he actually holds the Guiness World Record for inking the most pencilers…the guy is amazing.
7. Ethan and Seth had a pretty exhilarating first adventure together. Can we get a sneak peek into what to expect their future adventures will look like?
Mike: Wow…there’s so much going on with Ethan and Seth in coming issues. The next issue coming out has the duo going toe to toe with the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow which I just about lost my mind writing because I loved that story when I was a kid…especially that creepy Disney movie with the Horseman in it.
Ben: We drop a pretty big bomb at the end of issue 2 that some people have read and said to us “WHAT? When are you going to resolve that?” Well…it’s coming at some point. It’ll be worth the wait though, trust us.
Mike: Yeah, it’s going to be awesome. There’s going to be, all in told, about 8-10 issues of our first major story arc. Like we said, The end of issue 2 shows us that book that Ethan used to stop that demon is actually the Diary of Judas Iscariot and in order for anyone to read it, they must sell their soul to do so…this book ends up being the focal point of the story arc…but really it’s more about the relationship of Ethan and Seth and the importance of not letting anyone or anything affect who you are and what you believe. We see Seth really become a much deeper character and you get to see where Ethan came from and where the series will go from here.
Ben: I wish I could draw faster because I can’t wait to tell these stories. They’re so much fun to work on.
Mike: Yeah, it’s a blast to write and create, we need to clone Ben so we can finish the story arc now.
8. Very few comics employ the stylistic choice of being printed in landscape format. What lead to that decision?
Ben: It’s a pretty underwhelming answer… We were going to submit it to a contest DC Comics was doing and it was for digital content and that was the requirement to do it landscape. We read the rights agreement and we didn’t like that we didn’t have any control over our product so we decided to go on our own.
Mike: yeah, we told DC to kick rocks and we decided to do it independent.
Ben: Not literally told them…but ya know, figuratively.
9. Ethan Stone P.I. is available in both digital and print format. As comic creators and fans, do you have a preference on how you digest your comics?
Mike: For me, it’s all the same when I’m reading for story and content. When I see something that is striking visually, owning it in print is way better. It’s kind of like saying “I really like that painting, but I’ll just download a picture of it and make it my windows background.” It’s just not the same.
Ben: Print. I don’t care what adjustments are made in digital animations and such…there’s nothing like turning a page to get to the next part of the story
10. Finally, are there any other projects that you two are working on? What kind of things can we expect from Ben and Mike?
Ben: I do a lot of commission work…I’m in high demand. People want me to draw tattoos and various other works of art…yeah
Mike: He’s kind of a big deal…in Lake Ridge.
Ben: Haha, shut up.
Mike: We have Ethan, we just started working with a new website that’s a place for everyone to talk about the nerdy things we all love without having to worry about being shouted down by sycophants and internet trolls, I have several other writing projects I’m working on…we stay pretty busy.
Ben: Yeah, between Ethan and the commissions I have a pretty full plate. I love it.
Mike: There really is nothing like creating something and seeing that other people enjoy it.
Pete Rogers is a beat writer for the website The Great Geek Refuge (www.greatgeekrefuge.squarespace.com)