One of my favorite new comics of last year was Hit, a crime noir by Bryce Carlson and Vanesa R. Del Rey that explores the dark side of Los Angeles in the 1950s. The comic has a well-earned and rough-hewn feel for the era that makes it intense fun. Issue two of Hit: 1957 drops this Wednesday, so it seemed a great time to share the conversation I had with Bryce at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con; our conversation is below.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Thanks for joining me, Bryce.
Bryce Carlson: Good to be here.
CB: It seems like Hit’s a hit.
Carlson: I like to think so. But the Hit puns online are one of my favorite things in the world.
CB: How did you come to be writing a noir comic for BOOM!?
Carlson: It all started in 2008 when I started working at BOOM!. My background and my story was that I was in school, graduated, went to school studying film, particularly screenwriting. I had always loved all forms of writing. I was originally a creative writing major, but dropped out of the program because it was not a good program. I wasn’t going to wait two years before I actually took the writing classes. I changed to something where I could start writing immediately.
I moved out to LA once the recession hit just because I wanted to get into something creative. I was doing sort of tile and stonework down in Orange County and doing writing stuff on the side. Work dried up and I was like, “Hey, that’s a good time just to move up and make something happen,” which was crazy because no one was hiring. I actually was just going through old emails and realized I applied to over two hundred jobs in that time and didn’t get anything. So I was just waiting tables up there. I was a courier. I was a paid background person on Deal or No Deal, which is my claim to fame.
But then I found an opportunity with BOOM! through a friend I went to college with. She was sending out a weekly email for just job opportunities in LA. She was at a production company. So I saw this one that said, “Hey, temporary job, BOOM! Studios, comic book publisher. Guaranteed work. Flat rate. Just coming and helping with some shipping and receiving stuff.” So I called in and got hired over the phone, which was like a breath of fresh air after not even getting replies to emails from other places. Just sort of showed up. Where BOOM! was in 2008 was a completely different world than where it’s now.
The old office, I think there was maybe ten people in there. But when I walked in, the first person I met, I didn’t know at the time was Matt Gagnon, who was sitting there on a card table with his personal laptop working away. And I asked him if he was Johnny. And he was just like, “No.” And that was all we said to each other for a few hours. But at the time, BOOM! was publishing Warhammer 40k. And they had a new number one that had a scratch off beta code for the new online game –like one in ten had the correct code.
So Warhammer fans all over the planet were ordering like ten, twenty-five, fifty copies of this book, selling it online, stuff with the codes. So BOOM! needed a lot of help because there was no infrastructure at the time. I just came in and packed the hell out of boxes and enveloped comics. I just sort of seized the opportunity. I’m a hard worker by nature so I just always figure out the best, most efficient way to do stuff. And they noticed. The next thing I knew, Ross had offered me to be his executive assistant. I was just like, “Yes.” I don’t even think I asked the details about pay or anything. I was just like, “Yes, I don’t care. You offered me a job.”
I hadn’t really been into comics for a good ten years. What was really cool about that was I was a working at a publisher, so I got to read their line, and every day, someone who just slap down a new trade paperback on my desk of something that I hadn’t read yet. I just got the crash course back into a medium I loved. For me, when I was growing up younger, it was all superhero comics: Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman, Superman.
And what was great is that what I had gotten to was this place of, “Oh, yeah. That’s what it was.” But then seeing all of these other examples of what you can do with it as a medium and understanding it more as an art form. Reading The Invisibles was eye opening. I was like, “Holy, crap, you can do this in comics. This is awesome. This is a storytelling art form, not just capes and tights and stuff.”
CB: Obviously Hit’s pretty far away from the capes and tights.
Carlson: Absolutely. To Ross’s credit, he was always very cool about what I wanted to do. He always wanted to empower me in whatever direction I was passionate about. I had no intention of pitching anything. One day we were talking about zombie stories and just different takes on the genre. I told him about this little short story I had written that was about the zombie virus being passed through cigarettes.
He was like, “That’s a really cool thing. You should go pitch that to Mark Waid for Zombie Tales.” I was like, Oh, okay.” He was like, “No, do it right now.” And he like stood me up and was like, “Mark, you need to hear this” and made me pitch him cold. I was like, “Okay, I guess I have to pitch Mark Waid a zombie story right now.” And he was just like, “Oh, that’s really cool. But we have a story just like it in like two issues.” But he was like, “Feel free, anytime you have something.” So that’s how I got my first short story in Zombie Tales with Mark just through the door being opened.
And then later in 2009, I hit up Ross. I was like, “Hey, man. I have an idea for a story I’m really passionate about. Give me your take on it. No pressure.” And I pitched him Hit. And he was just like, “Yes. I want to do that book. That’s great.” And we developed it for a super long time. I’m glad we did because it kind of synced up with the perfect timing of when it was released in 2013. There was no better time before that for that book to come out through BOOM!.
For me, crime genre stuff is what got me really interested in consuming entertainment. James Elroy’s Clandestine was the first book I ever bought for leisure reading. And from there, I was just hooked. Most of the stuff I was really looking at when I was studying film and all of that. For this, it all came just from hearing stories from old cops about how things were and what went down behind the scenes and getting inspired by some of that. And then doing tons of research.
I was researching that first series for years because when you attack something that is in a specific time period and you’re trying to really be in that world, you want it to be as authentic as possible. That’s kind of frightening. I’m not an old person with tons of experience. The genre is huge and been done to death. There’re people out would be looking probably for anything to sort of pick out. So I really wanted to put in the extra effort and do my homework and get it right. And have fun at the same time.
CB: But that’s comfortable, too, right? It’s like playing the blues or something where you have a certain cadence that you know the story is going to take. And that way the beats kind of work themselves out naturally.
Carlson: Right. It was a super cool experience to work with Vanesa. She’s a phenomenal artist. It’s the first published work she ever did. It’s truly an honor to be a part of her journey on that, too. We both are super grateful and thank each other constantly for just working. I don’t know; the stars aligned and it was just great.
CB: Not to slight you, but I heard so much buzz about her work on the series right away. It kind of helped her break out in a way.
Carlson: Totally. And I will tell you what; it’s not every day an artist puts out their first comic book and then eighteen months later has a book announced with Grant Morrison. It’s pretty rare to see that trajectory so fast for someone. She’s super deserving because she always wanted to do comics, but was doing animation work. This was her chance to sort of focus on comics. Now she’s got more than she knows what to do with, which is a great place to be.
CB: So how many mini-series are there going to be on this? Are you going to keep skipping ahead every two years for a while?
Carlson: You know, it’s so funny. Everyone keeps asking. I have ideas for stuff to keep going. It kind of depends on how sales do and make sure that we continue to have an audience. I structure each arc as if it’s the last one I’m ever going to get to write. So I get in everything that I want. Obviously I do have ideas for the future. I think if we did continue, I do like doing two arcs in each decade because it does give you a chance to cover a lot of ground and have some progression. Seeing how LA changes, seeing how the LA Police Department changes, seeing how these characters change.
CB: As you can see, I just pulled up the ’57 book because I liked seeing how she had changed in just that little bit of time. Stuff happened behind the scenes in between the arcs, too. The world just didn’t stop.
Carlson: Right. It was really cool to get the second opportunity because I got to focus so much more on the characters. I had already built the world, set up the characters. There was character stuff that I liked in the first arc, but this is much more focused on Slater and Bonny and Sticky and all the characters and what they’re going through. I’m getting to explore stuff that I didn’t in the first series and expand on it.
CB: Do you keep track of the body counts? Do you know how many people you’ve killed so far?
Carlson: I did in the first series. For the pen and ink edition, I remember I was doing some commentary. I went back and I counted everyone who died on panel and every time a cigarette got lit. It’s a lot. I don’t remember the exact number, but it’s solid double digits.
CB: Any other series in the pipelines?
Carlson: Not right now. I kind of only ever have time to do one thing on the side. For me, that is good because I can stay focused on it and not sort of get pulled in too many directions. I can give it all of my creative energy. For this, I’m just totally focused on this arc and seeing it through to the end. I have ideas for other stuff, but I’m not in a rush because I wouldn’t have time to do anything,