Danny Djeljosevic is one of my favorite writers. He is also one of my favorite people. He’s a dude to watch, largely due to his penchant for fluorescent clothing but also because he’s one of the freshest voices up-and-coming in comics. In what is a largely biased and free-form interview, I spoke to Danny as if I’d never met him and we talked the whole span of his work and even managed to sing a song together. In this extensive, career-spanning interview, Danny and I chop it the fuck up and find a fascinating throughline into the mind of one of the most talented guys in the game.
CB: This is a special treat for Comics Bulletin readers. Danny is the former editor-in-chief of Comics Bulletin.
Djeljosevic Co-managing editor.
CB: So you were taking the initiative that a lot of writers do, by self-publishing your own work to begin with. You have done so online with The Ghost Engine. Do you want to tell us a little about that? Djeljosevic:The Ghost Engine, at theghostengine.com and on Comixology, is a story about an art thief, a bounty hunter, and the ghosts that live inside of their heads. It’s kind of like 48 Hours meets Dead Heat. Or like Ghostbusters or some shit like that. They’re both gray characters — the art thief has the good guy ghost inside her head, and the bounty hunter has the bad guy ghost inside his head, and he’s being slowly corrupted throughout the course of the story. It was originally meant to be a print comic, structured as four 22-page issues. But we couldn’t really get anyone to bite, so we just put it up online.
CB: You and I previously talked and you had mentioned the idea of possibly Kickstarting the printing of The Ghost Engine now that it is complete. But you opted not do that. Which route did you choose and why?
Djeljosevic: When I went to Kickstart it, I didn’t have any money.In the time since, I got a day job, and I don’t spend money on anything else, really, because I live in a shitty apartment and I don’t own very much. I realized I can just use this money to pay artists to draw stuff for me and to get things printed. And Kickstarting things is hard.
CB: Paying for them is easy?
Djeljosevic: Right. The thing about Kickstarter is you have to get people interested in giving you money, and that involves offering swag and stuff. And that costs more money. So you have to figure that people are paying you not only for the product you actually want to give out, but all the T-shirts and buttons and shit. Then you have to account for shipping and international shipping. I’ve had quite a few friends get fucked up due to the international shipping. ‘Cause you’re like, “add ten bucks for shipping,” and it ends up being twenty. So everyone has to be like, “Oh, no, now I’m losing money over this.”
CB: Yeah, the whole Mark Andrew Smith Kickstarter thing with Sullivan’s Sluggers was a precautionary tale.
Djeljosevic: Yeah, that dude and other people who did far less questionable shit also.
CB: It’s a tough one. Djeljosevic: It can defeat the best of us. So instead, once I had printed my own comics, I decided, “Wait, we got this entire complete miniseries. Why don’t I just print it myself, too?” It doesn’t have to be fancy — it’s a barebones collection. The first four issues, plus a brand-new exclusive epilogue short story that finishes it all up, ties up a couple loose ends.
CB: Is there a street date or a possible projected date for the release of that?
Djeljosevic: It’s out in September.
CB: Where we would be able to purchase all of the projects that we are going to talk about today? Where should we go find our Djeljosevic fix? Our Djeljosefix, as it were.
Djeljosevic: That would be at Loser City.
CB: So you completed The Ghost Engine, and currently you are selling your new project, Kids Rule!
Djeljosevic: Over the years, I’ve done a few short stories for anthologies. Most of the anthologies have not come to fruition. I have all of these orphan stories that I decided to put all together in one complete, one-shot issue. So it’s three short stories,and the anthology is called Kids Rule!!, with as many exclamation points as you wish to put in it depending on how you’re feeling. The first story is called New Wave Cthulhu. It’s about Cthulhu as a 1980s record producer. It’s another one that was a result of me getting a day job. I realized I could just print it myself instead of waiting for this collection to come out, so I just withdrew it from the anthology and used it in Kids Rule!!.
The other one is No City Above, which is actually the oldest one. It’s from like four or five years ago — holy shit. It is from an anthology that completely fell through. The editor had a call for stories, people submitted, got accepted, got paired up writer/artist, and then it never came out. This person doing the anthology just stopped talking to people, while still existing in the world and updating Facebook and stuff. Did not fall off the face of the earth, just did not address the project we all pretty much wasted our time on. Last year, I finally met the artist, Zak Kinsella, at Emerald City Comic Con. We were like, “Remember that thing we did? Why don’t we just put it out? Fuck it.” So I hired a colorist, my friend Marissa Louise, who’s just about to blow up. She’s really good, she does that new RoboCop series from BOOM! Studios. She made it all pretty, got it all finished. And now it exists. It’s a dystopian sci-fi thing in a domed city. It’s alright. The last one is a Drake fan comic called No New Movies.
CB: Having read it, they are all really great. You mentioned that these were all abandoned stories for an anthology. Usually an anthology that gets put together has some sort of a throughline. So in selecting to put these stories out, did you find that you had any kind of a throughline or anything that sparked thematically?
Djeljosevic: You know, I wasn’t actively thinking it, but I realized they kind of have similar themes going on. They’re all about aesthetics and people pretending to be things they’re not and people performing to get what they want. There is a degree of celebrity in them. There is a degree of media.
CB: Yeah, you’re right!
Djeljosevic: I’m glad you think so, too. I always try to analyze what I’m doing and figure out what is this about. Because I came up as a critic in the comics game.
CB: For Comics Bulletin.
Djeljosevic: Yeah, so this is a hell of a biased interview. When I’m writing, I’m always thinking, “what is this about?” If I start analyzing it now, it will help me figure out what the hell it’s going to be. The original premise was just I have these three short stories lying around. I want to put them out. They’re not going to come out in any other form. It would be cool to just put them in this one collection, like an EP.
CB: I like that comparison.
Djeljosevic: It’s exactly what I was thinking, Because music is a pretty heavy influence in Loser City. My co-founder, Morgan Davis, is a pillar in the Austin, Texas music scene. He plays for a million bands and has played for a million more. You can see it in the design, for one thing. I didn’t realize when I was doing this, but I wanted something that looked like an actual record cover. Originally I was thinking of Kendrick Lamar’s… whatever the hell the name of his album is.
CB: Good Kid, M.A.A.D City?
Djeljosevic: Yeah, I was justthinking of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, which has just a Polaroid photo. I thought that was really cool because you have to visualize your music somehow, and your cover is how you get to it. And these three stories are all different, like the textures are different in each story, but they all have a similar thing going on. I wanted to just like create a cover that — I don’t know if it necessarily shows anything about the story, but I wanted something catching that wasn’t a character or just a drawing of like an object or anything stupid like that. So I did something, it ended up being really Odd Future-y I realized. I guess I am the comics game Tyler, The Creator now.
CB: You are wearing a snapback and Converses.
Djeljosevic: Just kind of like, jump off of shit and get my friends to do stupid shit.
CB: We are on a balcony. We are doing stupid shit right now. It’s a great cover. It really is evocative. I never even thought about it; it is very much like an album cover. It reminds me a bit of the Animal Collective cover for Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s like a paneling, but it also has that pronounced statement with just the title of it, which is enough to get you to at least flip open to the credits. You said that music is a very big influence. One thing I was going to say actually, we talked about you being a former critic for Comics Bulletin. That’s a very common thing. Look at Cahiers du cinema in the ‘50s. Those guys who were watching these movies and realized we can make our own. My personal Jesus, Matt Fraction, used to be a writer for CBR. How do you think your background in criticism has prepared you to receive it for when your comics are going to get reviewed or distributed?
Djeljosevic: Not at all really, ‘cause we comics people are as insecure as fuck. It’s hard to take what you dish out. Hopefully you’re not a dickhead. I tried to be fair. I tried not to be some “early days of Pitchfork” kind of asshole in my reviews back in the day, even though I had a tendency. You want to sell your personality when you are a writer, no matter what you are writing. Sorry, what was your question?
CB: I think you just answered it. But you are always writing, you are always thinking. You are like 7-11; the doors aren’t always open, but you are always doing business. So what can we expect in the future? Do you have anything else on the horizon? Maybe Adults Rule?
Djeljosevic: Adults Rule, that would be the worst. For future releases, I would just come up with a cool, different name every time. It’s like music; you come up with a new album cover. Unless you are like Seal or something, I feel like he had the same one every time. Or like Chicago. I never want to be Chicago.
CB: Don’t ever be Chicago.
Djeljosevic: Let’s not be Chicago.
CB: Going back to EPs, The Ghost Engine is effectively your mixtape that you put together.
Djeljosevic: Actually, I think The Ghost Engine is the fully polished studio album that we had to put out for free because the record company dropped us before it came out.
CB: Do you see yourself bringing out a new album any time soon, possibly even remixing said EP?
Djeljosevic: Oh man, I should come out with a bigger anthology and have one of the original stories in there, like the most popular one.
CB: I think that was what I was alluding to.
Djeljosevic: That would probably be wack. I don’t want to do that. Exclusive: I’m not doing a big anthology right now. I have one other release. This is actually the B-sides collection. Kids Rule!! was an EP. This is the B-sides collection. It is actually the first Loser City release, which is kind of stupid because it is like a retrospective collection of two guys you’ve never heard of. But me and my boy, Mike Prezzato, have done several stories over the years, all short stories, all kind of 2000 AD and Heavy Metal-inspired. Just stupid, fast-and-dirty garage comics. And we’re finally putting them all together in a collection called Hurlants, named after the original French edition of Heavy Metal, which wascalled MetalHurlant. That one is pretty fun. Some of it was in color, but we decided a lot of the black and white stuff looks better. And it’s all going to be in chronological order. You see us get better. And sometimes we fuck up. There’s like one weak one in there, maybe two. But they’re all fun. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. Lots of different science fiction subgenres. There’s “going to weird planets” stuff. There’s “fighting robots” stuff. There’s a robotic hitman and zombies, sad-sack Dr. Strange-type dudes, an actual Dr. Strange parody, existential swamp monsters, the whole shebang.
CB: Awesome. So when you are doing something like that, where it’s clearly inspired by or owes thematic debt to something beloved like Metal Hurlant how do you mitigate it so you’re not just echoing what you see? So you’re not just redoing Hurlant your way? How do you distinguish it so it’s not just a pastiche?
Djeljosevic: I didn’t do very much pastiche in these stories. We came up with cool ideas or stupid ideas, and we did it via our own sound. It’s kind of hard to do pastiche because you have to nail what the original source is going for, and we weren’t interested in that.
CB: So do you ever see yourself putting out a covers comic?
Djeljosevic: Actually yeah, that would be dope.
CB: Well I mean more of the idea of, for example, you would have to redo Casanova with one of your artists. Djeljosevic: My boy Morgan and I actually had an idea for that. We never really got very far into it. The idea of doing an anthology comic where people cover each other’s comics and do their own interpretations.
CB: That’s pretty good.
Djeljosevic: It ain’t never gonna happen, though.
CB: Not yet. Never say never, even though that’s a bad movie.
Djeljosevic: What movie is it?
CB: Never Say Never Again. I cut out the last word.
Djeljosevic: It’s not the worst. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst.
CB: Yeah, it’s bad but it’s not the worst, which is Comics Bulletin’s official motto. So when can we expect to see Hurlants available?
Djeljosevic: It’s already available. Right now it’s only in digital, but we are going to have a print version very soon, also out in September. Because we’re tabling at Rose City Comic Con in Portland, so we’re going to have a bunch of brand new print material there.I got a banner. You’ll be able to see my name.
CB: Even better.
Djeljosevic: Especially since there is like fifteen letters in it. We had to buy like three tables to fit the name.
CB: Is there anything else that’s on the horizon that isn’t going to be readily available, something you are currently working on?
Djeljosevic: This is my favorite one. I’m about to put out a futuristic roller derby manga called Final Derby. And that’s going to be by me and Diana Naneva, who’s a Bulgarian comics creator. Super duper good. It’s a shame no one has heard of her yet. But after this, they will. It’s going to be fly, sick, hell, dope, and other superlatives. I’m so stoked.
CB: What’s the chillage factor?
Djeljosevic: Ah, man, the factor is so chill.
CB: On the hella scale.
Djeljosevic: The factor is so chill that Skeet Ulrich and Cuba Gooding, Jr. will be there in an ice cream truck.
CB: A+. Man that movie sucks, which is also Comics Bulletin’s unofficial motto. Djeljosevic: I wanted to see that real bad, because the premise sounded fun. They get into trouble and one’s an ice cream man and one’s a short order cook.
CB: I think William Sadler’s in it, and that’s the best part of it. So one final question. So obviously you’re grinding. You are putting your comics out there. So what is the end game? Some people want to take over Batman. Some people want to be the next Grant Morrison. What do you see yourself in an ideal world? Do you want to work your way up to the top and be a mogul? Or do you see yourself in someone else’s fashion?
Djeljosevic: That was a good question. I don’t really think about writing superheroes all that much. If someone wanted me to, I would and I would have fun and it would be pretty sick. I don’t really actively think, “Oh, I’ve got a real great Daredevil in me.” I don’t know, I’m sure it will be fine. I would like to do it given money. I would want to be like the comics game Kanye West, just that dude who got big. He was always kind of doing his own shit, but got big and got better and weirder and was on a whole other level that regular people didn’t understand. That kind of dude. Like your Grant Morrisons or Matt Fractions, where, like, comics bros are like, “I really like his Batman or Iron Man or whatever, but I don’t understand what he’s talking about on Twitter?” kind of shit. It’s kind of funny, it’s kind of cool. I find it kinda funny. I find it kinda sad. The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.
CB: So who do you see being your Jay-Z to your Kanye West, when you inevitably do your Watch the Throne collabo?
Djeljosevic: I don’t know, whoever reps my shit first I guess, whoever reps my shit biggest and loudest, gets to be the Jay-Z.
CB: Okay. In the words of N*SYNC, I think, it’s gonna be me. One last question that I’m sure our readers are pondering. How do you balance work and family?
Djeljosevic: Oh you know.
CB: By having neither?
Djeljosevic: I live on the other side of the country. So family is not a going concern. And work, I put in work.
CB: Do you have any closing comments?
Djeljosevic: Fuck Steve Harvey.