I ran into Jacoh Semahn this year at San Diego Comicon, at the Hilton bar (where everything interesting seems to happen). We got to talking about his upcoming Image Comics series Goners, and as he discussed the book I knew that I had to interview him about it. Goners looks weird and fun and interesting… well, let's let Jacob tell you why he thinks you should pick it up.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Who are the Latimer Family and why are they so important to their world?
Jacob Semahn: In a world of horrors and ghouls, the Latimers are the world famous familial line of hunters that keep humans from being at the bottom of the food chain. They've saved the world time and again, and with each generation the latest Latimer offspring is trained to inherit that mantle. That legacy. All except this one.
CB: What makes them famous?
Semahn: They've been instrumental at turning the tide in many historical events throughout U.S. history. The Latimers have become the guardians of the world, however to fund such an endeavor, the latest generation, that of Raleigh and Evelyn, have turned the name into a brand. They have their own reality show. They have their own toy line. They have their own lunch boxes! What can be more famous than having your face plastered on a lunch box?
CB: What are the types of monsters that they hunt down?
Semahn: Half the fun of Goners is learning about the obscure folklore that we'll be exploring. In the first arc we have Bakaaks, Chenoos, Ekeks, Wargs, Patchwork Monsters, Accidental Ghosts, and the lowest on the supernatural totem pole… Vampires (seriously… in Goners Vamps are treated like go-fers. Little annoying ass minions).
CB: What happens to the world when the terrible events in the first issue happen?
Semahn: To put it in succinct relatable terms: The world was one way before John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. The next day was a completely different ballgame. Sure the world turned… but it turned to a different tune. This thought informed a lot of how the world reacts in Goners. It's not a loss felt only by those closest… It's a loss felt the world over.
CB: Tell us about the world that these people live in. It's pretty different from our world.
Semahn: Not much different at all. This is how our world used to be before scientific rationale entered into the equation. Centuries ago we clung to stories. To folklore. Most of it would be tied to morals, but monsters existed. Just out of sight. Lurking.
In the Goners world, I pose the questions: “What if the folklore were true? What if we were all aware of their existence as fact? What would that world look like?”
CB: So Red Riding Hood actually did fight the wolf, the little mermaid actually swam in Europe, and so on?
Semahn: Not necessarily fables per se, but world folklore, monsters, and superstition.
CB: Will you be plunging deeper into the history of the world to see where things changed and how they changed?
Semahn: That's the plan if the book sales do well. We're all a slave to the numbers. But yes… there is a map to explore the history of the United States through the various generations of the Latimer family.
CB: But that world is also a lot like our world.
Semahn: Yes. I describe it as “a world just left of center to our own.” It's familiar, but through a warped lens of supernatural sensibilities. History, while consistent to our timeline, plays out quite differently in Goners.
CB: How tightly have you planned out the back-story?
Semahn: It's all about the back-story. It's a sins of the father sort of tale. One that unfolds with our characters as it does with the reader. The only two people with answers, died in the first 5 pages of issue 1. So expect a lot of running, crying, killing, and dying. There are answers… but they're hard fought and will have devastating repercussions for Zoe and Josiah.
CB: The first cover has a weird creepy-crawly monster on the cover; are we going to get lots of cool monsters and creatures in this series?
Semahn: YUP! The fun thing that Jorge Corona (Teen Titans Go!) and I came up with is an obscure monster of the month for the covers. These “cover models” will be in the story as a creature and every issue is a piece of an overall monster gallery of sorts. And maaaaaan… can Jorge draw the hell out of them! Issue 2's cover is by far my favorite.
CB: Ooh, obscure monsters? Will you be having any prizes for people who figure out the patterns? Or are there patterns?
Semahn: No patterns. Just fun and rad covers done by Jorge Corona and our immensely talented colorist, Gabriel Cassata (Supurbia)!
CB: Why did you bring Goners to Image?
Semahn: I will always agree with the sentiment that Image is the home for creator-owned content. There's no other publisher like ‘em. Image Comics is the creator's dream!
I'm a television writer and as such, I like to have the option to turn my work into something further if I want to. With the help of Man of Action, and Joe Casey (Sex, Butcher Baker, Gødland) in particular, I was able to get Goners on Eric Stephenson's radar and into an audience's hands come October.
CB: How has it been different working for comics versus TV?
Semahn With Image, this whole process is overseen by Jorge and myself. It's nice to have a vision come together. If it succeeds or fails, it does so on our terms. We came up with everything and executed it with what we saw in mind. With TV it's slightly different, but also less scary. With TV we have a writer's room of around 7-10 people and we break whole arcs of stories. We call each other out if something doesn't work. We pitch in ideas if we come up with something new and fun. It's a deeply collaborative effort. One that feels like you're working with a grand safety net. However, on the flip side of that, your ideas are often parsed or thrown out altogether. It's just the nature of the beast. So it is not entirely your vision when working on a TV script… it's a group vision. The comic's side feels a little more pure to my ideas. It's all Jorge and me. And the lovely trappings that make our brains ‘gasm are provided by Gabriel and Steve Wands, our letterer (and with issue #2, our Inker!). They pull out some crazy stuff that Jorge and I haven't even thought of. I'm truly lucky to be working with such diverse and amazing talent.
CB: How did you hook up with Jorge Corona on the series?
Semahn: Jorge and I met in NYCC one year. I looked at his portfolio and his style clicked with what is now called Goners.
I emailed him the script. We talked briefly. Lined up completely when it came to the tone of the book: Johnny Quest, Dave Steven's The Rocketeer, Monster Squad, Hellboy, Batman: The Animated Series, etc. We strove to create a dark adventure throwback, where kids are thrust into impossible situations where it comes down to them to save the day.
CB: Do you write the book with Jorge in mind?
Semahn: I didn't at first, but after I saw the thumbs for Issue #2, I eased up on the direction. Jorge has an amazing eye for “camera” angles and storytelling. He covers it all and does it with such mind-blowing clarity that I have come to completely trust his instincts. Jorge still sends me thumbs, but out of 22+ pages, I'll find like 2 panels that I think should be executed differently. The guy's a master and he's only beginning!
CB: How do you think your work in animation has helped in developing this series?
Semahn: It's helped with a few things, especially because cartoons are SUCH a formula. They really are. It's an A+B+C = D affair. You must have these elements to “Pass Go”: Always go out on a cliffhanger. Have a theme. Know your ending before writing your beginning. Characters must learn something. Ear for clunky dialogue. Get in Late. Get out Early. The last two I've learned from Joe Kelly (I Kill Giants, Bad Dog, Deadpool), and oh, how true that sentiment is.
CB: Tell me about your autobio graphic novel that's coming out later this year.
Semahn: Fingers crossed, it might be out by early next year. The book is called Infected, and it's a semi-autobiographical anthology in the vein of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. It documents my life as a germaphobe and how I try to make a connection with people, but y'know… without actually having to physically connect with ANNNNY OF THEM.
When I was younger my intestine ruptured and I was in a coma for two weeks due to sepsis. I came out of it with a hyper-awareness of all the germs and bacteria around me. I had to be or else it could further complicate my failing health. It was touch and go for a while, but that enhanced-perception never quite left, and while I've made some progressive strides, I haven't been the same since.
CB: Hey, and you let me shake your hand! That must have taken some courage! Maybe I was too busy with my con buzz to notice…
Semahn: Don't worry. I had the hand-sani at the ready when I reached the elevator! Haha.
But seriously, I made a concerted effort to break one crazy thing about myself every year. Shaking hands was my New Year's resolution about 7 years ago. Good luck succeeding in life, let alone business, without shaking someone's hand.