Getting The Chair: An Inter-Review - Part 2

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This is an Inter-Review—a review and an interview in one!

Today we speak with Peter Simeti, president of Alterna Comics and writer/creator of  the original graphic novel The Chair, and also the book’s artist, Kevin Christensen.  The Chair made its nationwide comic shop and bookstore release yesterday, August 6th, via Diamond.

The book can be ordered for the special direct-order price of $10.46 at the Alterna Comics online store, or at the regular retail price of $13.95 at Amazon , Barnes and Noble, or at your local comic shop with Diamond code JUN08 3610.

In "Getting the Chair, PART ONE" , we discussed the atmospheric set-up and tortuous twists of The Chair’s plot.  Now we delve into the art and core themes of the piece, as well as discussing its audacious ending. (No spoilers, so no worries).

Broken Frontier Review: To compliment the gothic undertones and terror-inducing overtones of Peter Simeti’s script, artist Kevin Christensen crafts page after page of pictures seemingly smeared onto paper with giant lumps of charcoal. Imagine, if you will, a psychological thriller mock-up of Fear Agent , complete with intricate backstory for the (seriously) flawed main character, pulp heroic dialogue, deeply crazed scenarios cascading one atop the other, and then, equally, dress it in art by Tony Moore and then Jerome Opeña. Christensen’s illustrations strike as precisely these: first with thick and square Tony Moore lines and then, in later chapters, Christensen’s work fine-tunes itself to the tighter but no less old-school pulp style of Opeña. Add in watercolor-esque, black-and-white “wash” tones done by writer Simeti, and imagine everything darker and blacker and dirtier still, and you’ve got The Chair.

As might be gleaned from the mention of how the art evolves, it’s almost as though Christensen and Simeti meant to display the coherency of the world within The Chair on any given page. Their pages begin pitch-obsidian black, hardly a background to be seen through the murk. But the world of inmate Richard Sullivan cleans itself and reveals itself as the story progresses. Scenery comes into focus and the figures themselves are drawn with tighter and finer lines. It moves from art that is borderline Sin City in style to a final “Act” that looks as though Eddie Campbell might have penciled it, Christensen, either by design or by fate, works in total tandem with The Chair’s evolution as a story.

BROKEN FRONTIER: So was this intentional? This movement from black-as-pitch to something a bit whiter and cleaner the closer the book neared its end?

PETER SIMETI: Ya know, it was a bit of both I think. I love how it turned out that way as it really does evolve with the story.

KEVIN CHRISTENSEN:  In all honesty, it was kind of a happy accident. Over the course of the book, I put a lot of effort into evolving the art as much as I could. I felt with every page the art grew a bit  stronger; that it became closer and closer to the detailed images in my head. Essentially I wanted to sculpt Peter’s scripts as accurately as possible, and fortunately my natural artistic evolution very closely followed the development of the story. So while it wasn’t utterly intentional, it fortunately worked in service to what we were trying to accomplish.

BF: How did you two come to partner up for The Chair?

PS: I was looking for an artist for the book, because I just didn’t have the time to do it myself, so I posted up an ad on Digital Webbing – and lo and behold, Kevin responded!

KC: I had recently graduated from a design college in Savannah, Ga, and I was looking for work. I contacted Peter on Digitalwebbing.com, sent him a link to some samples of mine, he liked them, and we went from there.

BF: Can you name your favorite page from the book? Or a favorite scene (on the art end on things)?

PS: One of my favorite pages is probably the whole scene with Tudley about to be given his uhh…“just desserts”. I think Kevin really drew it as ominously as he could and it gave way to probably one of the most gruesome off-camera moments in the book.

KC: There are a few pages that I really think turned out well. But if I had to choose a scene, I think I’d choose the climax. After a bit of effort, it really shines as a final scene, I think. Also, I had a hell of a lot of fun drawing that last page.

BF: Name your top artistic influences, Kevin. And who would you say ranks as supreme artist today in the comics field (in you own be-it-ever-so-humble opinion)?

KC: Alex Toth, Jaimie Hernandez, Bruce Timm, John Buscema, Mike Mignola, Dan Green, Alan Davis, John Byrne, Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart… really the list goes on and on. As far as a supreme artist, it really depends on the work. Michael Gaydos was brilliant on Alias, but he probably wouldn’t be the right choice for something like Secret Invasion; Jim Lee on the other hand is perfect for a big super-hero type book like that, but his figures are a bit stiff to pull off the really human moments and darker mood that makes Gaydos so effective. So you know, different artists, different strengths.

That said, as far as contemporary artists go, I’m really starting to enjoy Ivan Reis’ work, and I think Sean Galloway’s character designs are just fantastic. In the indie scene, I’m really blown away by Matthew Bernier’s work. His attention to intricate process combined with his brilliant, accessible cartoon style and strong sense of design just makes for brilliant reading. Also at Alterna, I’m quite a fan of Michael Bracco’s work on Novo, as well as Jeff McComsey’s work on American Terror.

BF Review: Ultimately, The Chair moves toward its resolution with a major (albeit sweetly unexpected) twist.  Well, quite a few twists in fact.  This is the point where readers will likely stand divided—do the twists work? Were they set-up properly? And regardless, do they make for a good or buyable or even worthwhile ending? They might. There’s more than can be detailed (and more than really should be detailed, as this review will sport no spoilers, thank you very much) that takes place in the final parts of The Chair than can be digested in a single reading. When I originally finished the book, I couldn’t tell what I thought about the end. I honestly sat baffled as to whether I’d read a conclusion that was wonderful or horrible or (most likely) a little of both. Some will go ga-ga for the sheer audacity of the book’s final moments. Some will grimace and shake their heads. But one thing’s for sure: it’s a damn memorable thing. UPDATE: In retrospect, I liked it, and then after a second reading, I liked it a lot.

BF: In this day and age, twist endings are a risky business. Speaking as the writer of the piece, and if at all possible to discuss this without giving up the details, what would you say distinguishes the end result of The Chair from most other psychological thriller stories-with-a-twist?

PS: In all honesty, I think the biggest twist is going to result from how invested you were in Sullivan’s perceived reality. I read something that Stephen King said one time about endings; that they whether or not they were “expected or unexpected” they should follow a logical point. I think if people were to truly dive into the psychology of these characters, that they’d fine the ending does reach a logical point. Will readers be saying out loud “Oh come on! What are the odds of that happening!?” sure they will. But what were the odds that two planes would crash into a building - killing thousands of innocent people - and changing our world as we know it? There are a lot of situations in life that people shrug off as “oh that could never happen”. A lot of those situations have, unfortunately, happened. 

BF: Are you satisfied with the final product?  If you could go back and tweak any small thing, would there beany small thing?

PS: Hmmmm… I think I’d make it all more “expansive”. Really go into the past of the main characters. I think the book plays out like Memento but prison-style, if that makes any sense (laughs). So I think it’d be fun to go back and really hash out the past of these characters in a prequel of sorts (not saying like that’s happening any time soon though!!).

BF Review: The Chair by Peter Simeti and Kevin Christensen is another meaty and thought-provoking offering from Alterna, a genre-bending smack in the kisser that seethes with its own self-made vitality, a thing culled from creators pouring their all into a book and letting it run its course no-holds-barred. There’s a power and purpose to the story, as it examines a half-dozen lines of morality, diving head-first into questions of guilt, blame, responsibility, redemption, the many forms of cowardice, and it manages to cover all this without ever breaking dramatic momentum. If you’re a fan of Rick Remender books, the best from Archaia and Dark Horse, Oni as well as Image OGNs, then The Chair fits perfectly within those things’ framework—edgy, nuanced, and yet loud and unselfconsciously a work of comics.

BF: So what’s next for the two of you as creators—another project together?  Anything else for Alterna on your part, Kevin?  Or something entirely different?

PS:  I know right now I’m going to focus on getting the book into readers’ hands. Not to mention the fact that I have so much to keep me busy with being the publisher at Alterna. I’d say that I’m set for a while as far as personal projects go.

KC: I’m currently working on illustrations for a friend’s children’s book effort. After that, well, I’m always open to further projects.

BF: And what’s next for Alterna as a company in the second half of 2008 and beyond, Peter?

PS: Second half of 2008 looks to be pretty jam-packed. We’ve got Jesus Hates Zombies featuring Lincoln Hates Werewolves, Vol.1 of 4 (in July Previews!), RISERS, Mr. Scootles, Novo Vol.2, and a re-release with a new cover and some other new bonuses of Jesus Hates Zombies: Those Slack-Jaw Blues. We’ll also be hitting some major conventions like Baltimore Comic Con and SPX so keep an eye out for us there! 2009 looks to be a breakout year though – look for us to make a huge splash at New York Comic Con!

BF: Awesome.  Thanks for your time, guys, and parting shot for “Part 2”—what’s your favorite story of all time, any medium, this can be a single issue or episode of something or an entire run, show, title, what have you.

PS : Wow, favorite story of all time?? I’m not much of a person for “narrowing” things down, but I’d have to safely say that Batman: The Animated Series’ entire run is always high on my favorites list.

KC: Boy, there’s too many to name. I love all of the Gilbert Hernandez “Palomar” stories from Love and Rockets, Mignola’s Hellboy, Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s run on Daredevil, John Byrne’s brief run on Wolverine in the late 80s, Miller and Mazzuchelli’s Year One, Alan Davis’ Excalibur, Jeff Smith’s Bone... I mean it’s impossible to just pick one. I’d have to say Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan were both kind of turning points for me as far as how I saw comics, as well as, obviously, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and even more recently Lost Girls. That guy just cracks boundaries in half whenever he puts pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard as the case may be.

BF: Excellent choices, all! Thanks for being with us, guys!


The Chair OGN can be ordered at the Alterna Comics website for the special direct-order price of $10.46.

Alternately, it can be purchased through Amazon or Barnes and Noble or at your local comic shop with Diamond code JUN08 3610.

And don’t forget to check out Alterna’s vast catalogue of low-priced digital comics at DriveThruComics.com or Amazon Kindle!

And read a free preview of The Chair below (it picks up where the free preview in "Getting the Chair,PART ONE" left off...)

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