Just before NYCC, Erick Freitas sent me an e-mail asking if I'd be interested in reviewing Amazing Forest before it premiers on Oct. 23rd, and with my love of Gamma pretty public, I jumped at the opportunity. But I also conned Freitas and his collaborator Ulises Farinas into granting me an interview.
Freitas and Farinas are two of the most exciting creators operating in comics right now, and their daring anthology Amazing Forest is an especially vital example of this. Stocked with unique stories by even more unique artists, Amazing Forest has the potential to be the successor to the daring anthologies of the previous decade, like Flight, as well as the pulpy anthology mags that begat comics in the first place. I was fortunate enough to get Freitas and Farinas to open up about what inspired Amazing Forest, the challenges and rewards of working in such a format, particularly in the digital world of Monkeybrain, and their respective thoughts on Lords of Salem (Freitas is a self-admitted Rob Zombie junkie).
Nick Hanover for CB: I love the rhythm of the phrase Amazing Forest, it simultaneously recalls the pulp anthologies that helped inspire the original comics pioneers, like Amazing Stories, and fits in with the back to nature wonderment that is popping up more frequently in art today. What's the origin of the name? Why were you drawn to it for this project?
Erick Freitas: I wanted a title that sounded like it was made in the 1940s era of pulp. I also knew I wanted the title to be two words. The first word, pulling from the pulp genre. The second word would be more modern. We had some silly ideas on the board at one point. We went from "Tall Universe" to "Beautiful Universe" to "Beautiful Forest" to "Amazing Forest." Once we landed on that– we stopped arguing with each other. Which basically means we were both happy.
CB: Similarly, what drew you and Ulises to the anthology format? And how would you describe the aesthetic of Amazing Forest?
Freitas: Since we were younger, we were creating stories together. Or at least harshly criticizing each other's stories. Now as adults, when we talk, we are always coming up with new concepts. It is just how our conversations are always geared. Some friends you talk sports. Others may want to talk movies. But Ulises and I are always talking story. So after all these years, we finally created an outlet for all these little ideas we had come up with.
Ulises Farinas: I've always been a fan of the short story, whether it was children's literature or Isaac Asimov's robot stories. I love what you can do in a few pages, a quick one-two punch. And I really think the future of comics is infinite diversity in infinite combinations, and there's so many amazing artists doing so many different things right now. I wanted to see that all come together.
CB: What led you to MonkeyBrain as a publisher? What are your thoughts on the digital frontier in general and its potential for the indie world in particular?
Freitas: I think Ulises can answer this question better than I. In terms of digital format though, I feel like it is the future for comics. For example, my aunts in Florida read Gamma because it was digitized. They are super into Kindles, iBooks, things of that nature. I honestly don't know if they even know where their local comic book store is in Miami. So digital really helps extend that olive branch for people who may not think the comic book culture is for them.
Farinas: I met Chris at SDCC a couple summer's ago, and he really was excited for creators to take over. That's where it's at, cutting out the middle man and putting the creators in control of their own fate. Publishers like Monkeybrain, and the growth of digital comics, will let more and more people do that.
CB: I know you and Ulises are splitting the scripting duties, can you give us some insight into that process? How do you divide the scripting? Do you guys get into impromptu East Coast vs. West Coast battles [Freitas is in New York while Farinas is in Portland- ed.], with or without supplementary rap battles?
Freitas: We are constantly in a state of disagreement. Our brain storm sessions are more like hyper aggressive hip hop free style battles. If you didn't know us, you would think we were sworn enemies. But eventually one of us says an idea that the other likes. Then we discuss a very basic outline. What ABSOLUTELY needs to happen in the 1st Act. Then the second. Finally, how do we tie it all up in the 3rd? Once that is laid out, I go out and write a first draft. He sends me his notes. I write another. And boom– whalla. Finished.
Farinas: I come up with a GREAT GENIUS IDEA, and I try to keep Erick from making it a BAD STUPID IDEA.
Farinas working on a GREAT GENIUS IDEA
Freitas: In other words, he writes me incoherent e-mails, because he is locked inside of a room all day drawing with no human interaction, and I take his shit and make chicken salad.
CB: I'm impressed with the range of collaborators you've lined up for the first issue, including indie comics legend Paul Chadwick, who did the cover. Did you have these artists in mind while you were writing, or did you approach multiple artists and let them decide which script to work with? Or was it a different process altogether?
Freitas: Ulises would talk to one of his artist buddies and send a bunch of scripts. Then they would pick their favorite one. Pretty simple. The hard part is really keeping up with everyone's deadlines.
Farinas: You know, there's sturgeon's law, that says "99% of everything is crap" and that really applies to comics. So when I see an artist I like, I really try to big them up, and want to see them everywhere. This is what comics should be. I'm trying to destroy sturgeon's law, by rounding up all my sharks and going on a feeding frenzy.
CB: Will we see art from Ulises in upcoming Amazing Forest issues? Or will he mainly be sticking to writing?
Freitas: He is doing the cover for issue #2 but besides that, Ulises will not be doing any other art for Amazing Forest. In fact, I may actually be doing some cover art for one of the later issues. I'm still thinking about it.
Farinas: Eventually, people will get tired of all that wiggly doodly detailed stuff, so I gotta try to delay the inevitable. Here's some writing I did with Erick in the meantime. You can also find my writing at mistermisses.tumblr.com
CB: The first issue of Amazing Forest has a thematic focus on otherness and how it impacts family units, whether through infection or transformation or other. Is there a story behind that? Or was it simply something both of you were inspired by and felt lent itself to the anthology format?
Freitas: I feel like you just psycho-analyzed me. I didn't realize I was doing that until you pointed it out. Kind of makes me want to sit outside for a little bit and think. Haha.
Farinas: Our families got some gross stories, maybe that's where it came from. I honestly don't know.
Erick Freitas, now with more beard
CB: Can you tell us about what's on the horizon for Amazing Forest font>? Who else can we expect to see collaborating with you in the future?
Farinas: Caitlyn Boyle, Angelica Be, Chris Hunt, Derick "Skuds" McKinley, Sean Pryor, and other artists that'll just blow your mind, lose your breath, make you give up on trying to be a better artist-writer-anything, cause we just set the bar at Heaven's gate.
CB: How about more Gamma? The one-shot had a semi-uplifting ending that seemed to hint at further adventures…
Freitas: YES! More Gamma! Seems like a lot of people love Gamma. So, I'm hoping the good people at Dark Horse have noticed.
Farinas: There'll be more Gamma. Definitely.
CB: Lords of Salem. What did you think? Because I thought that ending was one of the most accidentally hilarious things ever.
Freitas: I don't know if Rob Zombie will ever get to read this, but if you are, much respect. You are one of, if not the biggest, influence on my style, but I have to say I wasn't 100% behind Lords of Salem. It definitely had flashes of brilliance, but I just wasn't as into it as his other movies.
Farinas: Never heard of it. But I'm all about lords of sodom. 😉 <3￼
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter egos at Fitness and Pontypool.