Image Month: The Houghton Brothers Talk Reed Gunther, The Bear Riding Cowboy

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Shane and Chris Houghton, the dynamic duo behind all-ages title Reed Gunther, got together with Broken Frontier for a fantastic chat on everything from craft to industry...

BROKEN FRONTIER: To kick things off; are there any Image books that hold a special place on your bookshelves?

SHANE HOUGHTON: Image Comics has put out so many incredible books over the years! A few of my current favorites are Chew, Li’l Depressed Boy, Orc Stain, Skullkickers, and Elephantmen.

CHRIS HOUGHTON: Yeah, Shane and I tend to read a lot of the same stuff. We also love The Walking Dead, but who doesn’t? Thinking back, I remember trying to collect all of the Boof comics from Image. They were bizarre but there was something pretty fun about them.

SHANE: I also love Bone, and that was published for like, seven issues or something. Does that count?

BF: I’m sure we can let that one slide. So, Reed Gunther started life as a black & white indie before Image stepped in late into 2011. Was going after a publisher always the intention, or were you guys content doing the self-published thing?

SHANE: We submitted Reed Gunther to Image after self-publishing three issues. We were realizing that self-publishing is incredibly difficult and that we were much better with the creative side of things, rather than dealing with printers and distributing. With nothing to lose, we submitted to a few publishers hoping they would like our book enough so we could selfishly unload the dirty work on them. Image was our top choice and we were thrilled that they decided to let us join their fantastic line up of creator-owned comics.


CHRIS: We couldn’t be happier to be with Image. They let us do what we want and are there to support our efforts. It’s a lot like self-publishing but on a bigger scale and that’s exactly what we like about it.

BF: We don’t tend to see many sibling creative teams in comics, what was your relationship like growing up? Do sibling rivalries ever really end, and what do your parents think of your creative venture?

SHANE: Growing up, we had a blast creating and pretending together, and with creating Reed Gunther, I don’t think we stopped! Any rivalries we had usually lasted no longer than a day and a half. We have an older third brother and it would usually work that two of the three boys would team up against the other. But not for very long. Our parents are tremendously proud of us and have always been supportive of our creative endeavours. They are HUGE Reed Gunther fans! We have Reed Gunther bookmarks that we give away at cons and our mom carries a stack of them around in her purse to give out to friends, family, and complete strangers!

CHRIS: Our relationship as kids was always very strong between us brothers so it feels really natural to be working with Shane. I trust him and he trusts me and because of that we can knuckle down and get a lot of work done. I think Shane and I have always competed a bit but nothing more than healthy competition. And yes, our parents are incredibly supportive. Shane and I could’ve taken up underwater pole dancing and our parents would’ve still cheered us on.

BF: Where did the concept and world of Reed Gunther come from? Was it something you developed a decade ago as kids, or did one of you bring it to the table and let the other run wild?

SHANE: Chris originally came up with Reed and Sterling, but shelved the characters after the publication his original story was in went under. I loved the idea of a bear-riding cowboy and revamped the characters, created Starla to round out the trio, and set them in the wildly strange world they live in. Mostly, we just create a fun and goofy book with all the stuff we love crammed in it—adventure, monsters, and mustaches.

CHRIS: The characters and tone has really developed over the years and I think it’s only been in last few issues that we’ve really hit our stride. The characters are really taking on a life of their own and it’s up to us to rein them in!

BF: Before Reed Gunther, when I thought of cowboys I tended to think of dusty western towns and horses… not a dude riding a bear, fighting off crazy monsters. What’s the creative process behind each issue? Where do you draw your inspirations?

SHANE: Although Reed Gunther is set in the Wild West, we definitely embrace the “wild” side of that over the “western” part. Reed Gunther is an adventure book first and foremost, that just so happens to take place in the Old West. We love those old Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, tough-guy loner cowboy stories, but Reed takes his cues from tales like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Simpsons.

Additional inspirations (slash things Shane likes): The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, 30 Rock, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Toy Story (1&3)... and burritos.

CHRIS: Yeah, that kind of tough John Wayne character never really did anything for me. He’s tough and stoic and good with a gun and those are all things I can’t relate to. I’ve always been a small, goofy, non-threatening guy (Shane too, as much as he’ll stare you down to try and convince you otherwise). Indiana Jones or even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were my kind of heroes. Exciting and heroic, but still fun and vulnerable. I love that!

SHANE: Each issue starts out with a kernel of an idea. I usually get my best ideas while driving five miles-an-hour in Los Angeles traffic. I’ll jot down the idea and let it germinate in my head for a while. Then I’ll pitch it to Chris once I’ve figured out a good outline. Once he tells me, “Shane, you are the most talented and good-looking writer in the world. This script is brilliant!” I move forward. Without that EXACT combination of compliments, I will NOT move forward with my script. So if he wants to draw something, cough up the comps, knowwhatI’msayin’?

Sometimes I’ll start with a cool monster idea like a shark/crab combo, a reverse werewolf, or I’ll decide to bring John Henry back from the dead as a zombie. Once I’ve got a cool creature to fight, I’ll work in the “heart” of the story, whether it’s Reed realizing he’s too selfish, splitting up friendships, or giving tough-gal Starla an identity crisis. Sometimes Chris suggests something cool he would like to see in an issue like a monster or setting. In issue #8, the Starla issue, I had a great emotional story for Starla, but no monsters. Chris thought resurrected Native American mummies would be cool and BLAMMO! There they were.

Chris receives a complete script from me, then it’s on to drawing!

CHRIS: I read through Shane’s script and make notes and drawings to myself. I try to figure out the best way to “show” the story. Shane’s job is to write the story and my job is to tell that story. Shane sends me very descriptive scripts that are very fun to read and which really motivate me. I want the final product to give the reader the same feelings I get from just the script. I want things to read fast when they should and slow down when it’s necessary. I work out little thumbnail drawings of the characters actions and fit them into appropriate page layouts. After that’s done, it’s just a matter of putting in the long hours to draw and ink it before sending it off to our colorist, Josh Ulrich.

BF: You both have always had pretty interesting things to say on the position of all ages books in the comic market, and how they are oft misinterpreted as kids books. In your opinions; is there ever likely to be a divide?

SHANE: I can only hope that one day All-Ages comics and Kids comics will raise up with torches and pitchforks in hand and have a very, VERY bloody and violent fight. With lots of sex and swearing. Whoever emerges from that R-rated battle can call their book what they want. Until then, we like to say that kids books are for kids and all-ages books should be for everyone (just like the words mean!). Unfortunately, retailers often don’t have an “all-ages” section and lump those books in with the “kids” books. I don’t blame them. Superhero books used to be all-ages, but are no longer. Without more quality all-ages books coming out, there may not be an “all-ages” section away from the “kiddie” books. We applaud the retailers who stock us in both the kids section AND the adult section. You guys rock.

CHRIS: Yeah, everyone seems to be a bit guilty of mixing up the two. It’s a fine line between what makes a story all-ages or for kids since all-ages includes kids in its definition. It’s all so confusing!

BF: Many readers have noticed that a handy ‘One Shot’ indicator has replaced the ‘All-Ages’ label on the cover. Has the change helped sales and general awareness?

SHANE: I think our “One-Shot” star has definitely helped out. We started doing that on issue #6 to let folks know that certain issues are done-in-one, and that they can jump right in without ever having read a previous issue. I like when I pick up a book and it has a beginning, middle, and an end with twists and action and a little bit of heart. That’s what we’re going for with Reed, and the “One-Shot” logo let’s people know they’ll be getting a little dose of what they love about stories in every issue.

CHRIS: Comics seem to have a mentality that you can’t pick up issue #7 of a series, unless you’ve read issues #1-6. Usagi Yojimbo does a great job of keeping each issue self-contained enough for new readers and yet has a slightly over-arching storyline for the long-time readers. The sad part is most people don’t know that you can pick up any issue of Usagi Yojimbo or Jonah Hex, etc. and just enjoy that one issue. That’s why we finally decided to literally stamp “one-shot” on the cover of Reed Gunther as we’ve seen other series kind of do (Hellboy comes to mind). It’s helpful to us as readers and we only imagined our readers would enjoy that as well. Of course now I get people coming up to me asking, “What does ‘one-shot’ mean?” Haha, you just can’t win sometimes!

BF: This month the Fiends Forever arc wraps up, what can fans expect moving forward as we approach the one-year mark? Can you tease any future storylines!

SHANE: After issue #10, we’re taking a little hiatus to work on some exciting new projects together. Issue 10 is not the end of Reed Gunther (as you’ll find out, things are JUST getting started!) but there will be a short break. As for future storylines, we’ve toyed with doing an all-Sterling one-shot, Chris wants to draw a story with lots of snow (probably so he has less to draw. What a slacker!) and I want to bring Reed Gunther to the White House. Regardless, the future of Reed Gunther is going to be exciting and hilarious!

CHRIS: Yeah, I want to take Reed and the gang into different territories. They live in such an exciting time in America. There’s so much to explore and so many odd places to go. We have so many ideas for RG issues. As for me wanting to do a snow issue? Heck yeah! Can’t a guy get a break? But watch, Shane will write it so that each snowflake is a monster or something like that… Hey, that’s not a bad idea…

BF: Can you tell us about any work you do outside of Reed Gunther?

SHANE: Outside of writing comics (I also write for Peanuts and Casper’s Scare School), I work as a filmmaker. Recently, I’ve shot a web series for Comedy Central, I directed a promotional commercial for a video game controller company (which will air locally on New York TV!), but mostly I edit reality TV shows. I’m currently working on a Tattoo show that will air on TLC soon.

CHRIS: Besides working on Reed Gunther, I’ve been working in animation for a bit now. I was working at Nickelodeon on a couple of different productions (Fanboy and Chum Chum and Robot and Monster) and I just finished up working at Disney on a new production called Gravity Falls which will air this June. I’m also the regular cover artist on the Adventure Time comic book series.

BF: Lastly; would you like to see Reed Gunther cross over into any other mediums? I can’t help but imagine it as a glorious Saturday morning cartoon show. (Big question: would you have someone narrate Sterling’s thoughts, or leave him be as a mute?)

SHANE: We’ve had lots of folks tell us how much they would enjoy Reed Gunther as an animated show. So would we! However, in comics, you can go from an idea to final product on the shelves in about three or four months. In TV or film, it takes much, MUCH longer. We’re definitely not against the idea so if anyone wants to fund a TV show, just let us know. As for Sterling, I don’t think he’ll ever talk. Except in Reed’s fever dreams.

CHRIS: Animation is great and it’d be a lot of fun to take Reed and his friends into that medium. There’s also a lot more money at stake and the logistics of it all are much more complicated than creating a monthly comic book. We’d love to see it happen one day but for now, we’ll continue to make comics. And yeah, Sterling will never really talk. Reed babbles on enough for both of them.

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