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Desperado, Don't You Come to Your Senses

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Joe Pruett has been an assistant to Bob Burden, a writer and editor for the now defunct Caliber Comics and even spent a stint working on Marvel’s X-Men. Now he’s bringing a little independent creative attitude to the industry with his publishing house, Desperado Publishing. Joe visits the Broken Frontier to talk a little about Desperado and how his band of outlaws are trying to bring some fresh visions to comic books. 

Broken Frontier: Starting at the beginning Joe, can you tell our readers a little about yourself, as well as how you got involved in comic books?

Joe Pruett: Joe Pruett is an escaped lunatic from the Home for the Comically Insane located in Wala Wala. Before that, he was a seemingly mild-mannered boy in the heartland of middle Georgia, where he read comic books, chased girls and produced a cure for the common cold that involved a mixture of aspirin, gasoline and the eye of newt.

I became involved in comics immediately upon graduating college (University of Georgia) as I was lucky enough to get a phone call from Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden in response to a letter I wrote him begging to be his assistant. I ended up working with Bob for a few years (Flaming Carrot #23-29), learning the industry, meeting people, etc. That was 1989. In 1992 I had my first story published (Calibrations #1 by Caliber Comics) as a writer and then moved into editorial with the release of Negative Burn #1 in the summer of 1993, also from Caliber Comics.

My influences range from some of the comic masters: Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Dave Sim, Bob Burden (of course!), and Alan Moore to novelists like Dan Simmons, William Faulkner, and Dr. Seuss.

BF: Which of your projects would you consider as quintessential reading if someone wanted to see what a Joe Pruett story was like?

JP: I think my favorite issue I've ever written would have to be the Gen13: Go West one-shot I did for Wildstorm with Andrew Robinson. It drips with sarcasm, and anyone who's ever met me will hear my voice coming out from those characters. As far as creator-owned projects, I'd have to say my Kilroy Is Here series I did while at Caliber. It had a lot of human emotions, historical interest and allowed me to tell stories about human tragedy in the present and the past that many people may not have known about. Also, Dusty Star, again with Andrew Robinson, was a fun book to do. I like to mix humor and drama which Dusty allows me to do.

BF: Moving into the present – last year you formed Desperado Publishing (available through Image Comics). How did this venture come about, and what is your goal for Desperado?

JP: Desperado Publishing is an extension of what I've always tried to do in comics. I've always been a big creator-driven person, both as a publisher and as a creator. I believe in creator rights and in allowing the creator an outlet to explore and expand their craft. At Caliber, where I served as Creative Director in the mid-90s, I was always about reaching out to the creator and telling them, "hey, bring your personal projects here and I'll let you own them, create them and publish them. You won't get rich, but you'll be richly rewarded."

When I quit doing mainstream comics (I worked as a writer in the X-office at Marvel for a few years after leaving Caliber), I sat back and thought about what I enjoyed most about doing comics. The answer was helping others find an outlet for their own work. That's what I did at Caliber. I probably could have gone to a major publisher as an editor (which I've almost done on more than one occasion in the past), but I realized that even then, with all the resources I'd have at my disposal, I'd still be doing what someone else wanted me to do. With Desperado I'm the head honcho. If I want to publish something or someone I get to make that call. I don't have to get any approval from someone higher up than me, because there isn't anyone higher up than me!

I just want to create an atmosphere and a publishing house where creators can feel like they can bring their stuff to me and I'll treat it like it was my own material. Creators are hired to create. I plan on letting them do just that.

BF: What projects does Desperado have upcoming?

JP: Despeardo has a LOT of great stuff coming up.

We've already got Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot series back. How exciting is it for me to be able to bring back the very comic I broke into comics with?!

Negative Burn also has made a return engagement. The great thing about this series is that I get to work with newer voices as well as the already established superstars. It's very rewarding work. In the first series of Negative Burn, you can find young talent like Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, John Cassaday, David Mack, Brian Bendis, Phil Hester, Terry Moore, Mike Carey, etc. All before they became the big stars they are now.

The Atheist by Phil Hester and John McCrea is doing great! The first issue just sold out and Hollywood has been knocking down the door to get a shot at this project. John is doing the best work of his career and Phil is showing everyone why they should elevate him to the upper-class in terms of writers. I think he's an even better writer than artist, and that's saying a lot!

Deadworld by Gary Reed and Vince Locke is also another breakout hit. Like the first issue of The Atheist, Deadworld #1 just sold out its entire print run! This is a classic zombie tale with a unique twist in that not only are there mindless zombies, but they're controlled and directed by intelligent, talking zombies and their masters. Deadworld previously had a long run at Arrow and Caliber Comics. What we've done here is go back to the beginning and create a sort of "Ultimate" version of the series. It's great for new readers and old readers can climb back onboard.

Dusty Star by Andrew Robinson and myself is set to return in August. Two issues originally appeared from Image back in 1997 and, for whatever reason, elicits a rabid fan-following to this day. It's a western, but not quite a western. There's robots, horses with tattoos, flying contraptions, giant monsters, etc. It's crazy, but a lot of fun.

Stardust Kid by J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog debuts in May. This all-ages accessible series is by the entire creative team behind CrossGen's wonderful Abadazad series. It's beautiful and will delight all who read it.

Common Foe by Keith Giffen, Shannon Denton and Jean-Jacques Dzialowski, with covers by Esad Ribic, is our World War II horror title where we see how two armies out to kill each other must form a mutual alliance to survive the night from a supernatural army in the darkness.

Plus more in the coming months ahead.

BF: In addition to being the head honcho of Desperado, you’ve also kept up with your writing. Could you share a little about your current book?

JP:  I wanted to write a story that I wouldn't be ashamed to have my young daughters pick up and enjoy. There just isn't enough material out there that doesn't exaggerate the female form or serve as a story that girls could possibly relate to. Beyond Avalon is an all-ages fantasy tale of Megan, the daughter of King Arthur, born on the isle of Avalon after his "death," and her following in her father's footsteps seeking adventure and her own self-worth traveling through different fantasy lands that exist through the mists of Avalon. It's a tale that appeals to all ages and genders. Plus it's a modern tale forged from one of the most mythical legends of all time. It's got something for everyone.

BF: You mentioned that Beyond Avalon is an “all-ages adventure.” What do you think makes a good all-ages title?

JP: Treat kids as adults in terms of writing. Kids are smarter today than we ever were. They don't want to be treated as "dumb little kids." They want to be treated with respect. Harry Potter opened up the respect avenue where it's okay for adults to read young adult material. If you write a story with one audience in mind then you're going to write to that audience. If you write a story with multiple audiences in mind then you open up the boundaries that might have existed before.

BF: What is your dream project?

JP: A graphic novella/novel drawn by Brian Bolland. Brian is not only a dear friend, but my favorite artist of all time.

BF: You've been a self-publisher and have had a chance to play in Marvel's X-men sandbox - any unexpected differences between working on small press and big business comics? 

JP: Unexpected? No. Different? Yes. With the big business comics you don't really have a free rein. You're telling the editors stories a lot of the times. You're also trying to coordinate with numerous other titles in the family of comics you're involved in. With the creator-owned projects you have the ability to do whatever it is that you want to do. No one is really there to tell you that "you can't do that." It's a lot more liberating.

BF: What do you see as the future of the comic book industry?

JP: I think the industry needs to follow in the steps of Manga in allowing and encouraging other genres to develop and not just the superhero market. It's funny how retailers and fans will support Manga titles that are basically romance comics or sci-fi comics or all-ages comics, but if the same material was done in comic format then the sales wouldn't be
 there to support it. It's almost like it's okay to do that kind of material if you're Japanese, but don't think about it in terms of American comics. It seems there really are two different customer bases for both forms of comics.

Comics are pop culture now. The problem with that is that there's the danger of comics becoming a fad. The industry needs to take advantage of the window of opportunity they now presently have and offer comics in forms and genres that will appeal to all walks of life and not just stubbornly stay in the realm of superheroes. If we stay where we are then we'll never grow beyond what we already are.

BF: As we’re wrapping up here, the obligatory question - what advice do you give to aspiring creators who want to break into comic book publishing or writing?

JP: Don't quit your day job. Comics aren't a place to go to get rich. You get into comics because you love it. Do it on the side. Do it at night. Just don't do it to make a living. Sure, some people can make a living doing comics, but those are few and far between.

BF: Finally, are you or any of the Desperado crew going to be at any conventions this summer?

JP: Of course! April Doster (Desperado's Creative Director) and I will be at Charlotte HeroesCon, San Diego ComicCon, Wizard World Chicago and probably Atlanta DragonCon and Baltimore Con. Drop by and say "hi!" and tell us what you think about what we're doing. We'd love to hear from you.

- Fletch Adams

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