30 Years Of Writing Comics
Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden talks to writer JC Vaughn about a long career in comics with a CV that includes licensed books and creator-owned titles…
J.C. Vaughn is no stranger to the four-color medium of comics. In fact, he is easily one of its biggest champions. Having spent almost three decades in the comics industry – with a quarter century of that time working his day job at Gemstone Publishing (currently as its vice president of publishing) – he has created or co-created Zombie-Proof (with Vincent Spencer), Vampire, PA, The Flight, and Antiques: The Comic Strip with Brendon & Brian Fraim, and Return of the Human with Mark Wheatley. He also is the mastermind behind the brilliant Bedtime Stories for Impressionable Children, McCandless & Company, and others.
When it comes to writing other peoples’ comics, he has worked with fellow scribe Mark L. Haynes on Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, as well as a triad of original graphic novels and a mini-series based on the smash Fox TV series, 24. He also has written or co-written Shi (with Billy Tucci), Mighty Samson (with Jim Shooter), Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here & Now, an eight-page Blue Beetle tale that managed to fit three generations of Blue Beetles into one story in DC Universe Holiday Special 2008, and Battlestar Galactica.
While writing the above and working on various Gemstone projects, he has worked with 20th Century Fox, Crusade Fine Arts, Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, Disney, EC Comics, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, MGM, and Universal Studios, among others.
In addition to comics, he has written for animation, trading cards, magazines, newspapers, and websites. His work has been profiled in Emmy magazine, TV Guide, and 24 Magazine and other periodicals, as well as on comic industry internet sites. He is presently developing a pilot for Roddenberry Entertainment with frequent writing partner Haynes. He’s also developing other projects.
Yes, that’s just some of the highlights of his CV. Free time for Vaughn? Not much. But, he’s the real deal, folks. But although he’s tackling many different creative media, once again, his heart belongs to comics. In fact, Vaughn has been writing comics for many a year now. What is it about the four-color medium that appeals to him as a writer?
“It’s a different answer at different times,” said Vaughn. “There are many instances in which I really enjoy the collaborative spirit of the endeavor. At others, depending on the particular project, it’s the chance to play writer-director and to really layout a specific vision. Sometimes, as in the case of licensed comics, the challenge is to make the comic as seamless as possible with the source material.
“Also, it’s hard to overstate how appealing the egalitarian nature of comics is. If you go out, do an indy comic to the best of your ability, some convention planner might seat you next to established creators such as Jim Shooter or Jim Krueger or Jimmy Palmiotti, to name just a few Jims, and you’ll find that they will welcome you to the fold. Go out and make a great indy movie, one that even makes a fair amount of money, and are you hanging out with Steven Spielberg? Doubtful. But in comics, it happens all the time.”
Who are the veteran writer’s influences – both inside and outside of comics?
“I’ve had influences from just about every medium,” explained Vaughn. “How about Milton Caniff, Howard Chaykin, Tom Clancy, Steve Ditko, John Fante, Archie Goodwin, Alfred Hitchcock, Bruce Jones, Jim Krueger, Stan Lee, David Mack, Frank Miller, Dean Motter, Robert B. Parker, Walter Simonson, Jim Shooter, Robert Tinnell, Mark Wheatley, and Wally Wood among others?”
As Halloween draws near, fans of Vaughn’s work are immediately drawn to Zombie-Proof and Vampire, PA. As the creator of these hits, does he consider himself a horror guy or an action guy?
“I don’t see myself as a horror guy specifically,” Vaughn admitted, “but I do love the genre. There’s a lot to say and do in it, including some new material I will be excited to reveal soon. But I also love science fiction, superheroes, mystery, and romantic comedy. I hope some of these other interests show up in the way that I write horror. Sooner or later, one or more of my characters will comment on the absurdity of the situation. I don’t mean that horror is particularly absurd more that life itself can be pretty crazy.”
With that said, what is the story behind Zombie-Proof? How did Vaughn come up with the name and the concept?
Vaughn explained: “Twenty years ago, Billy Bob Driwahl had recurring visions of his hometown being attacked by zombies. His mistake was letting people know. He’s spent the ensuing two decades as the town pariah or nutjob. But he is an expert locksmith, so he was able to earn a living. Now he’s been proven right, and he was the only one ready for the zombie apocalypse. It started out as a love letter from Vincent Spencer, my artist and partner on the project, and me to George Romero for Dawn of the Dead. From there, it just sort of took off.
“How it got to that point is the story within the story. Shi creator Billy Tucci was developing the early version of his Zombie-Sama. We frequently bounce story ideas off of each other. His main character was a Samurai sword-wielding young man named Jim. Loving puns and good word play, I suggested that he needed a redneck sidekick – never mind that it was set on Long Island – who would call out to him, ‘Yo, Jim-bo!’
“We had a good laugh, but he was too far along and suggested I do something with the character. Similarly, we had a conversation about a party he attended in Hollywood at which whether the building was safe from zombies or not came out. Zombie-Proof was born”.
“The story is set in an isolated town in far west Texas,” Vaughn added. “I lived a good chunk of my life in Texas and certain aspects of it really took. That’s the flavour and the backdrop of the series.
“Vincent, who works primarily as a storyboard and development artist, and I are slowly working on Zombie-Proof: Team Zulu, the next chapter in the story.
What is the secret origin of Vampire, PA? What’s the story behind that story?
“After creating a locksmith who fights zombies,” Vaughn said, “what else was I to do besides an HVAC repairman to fights the vampires who live in his abandoned, favorite childhood neighborhood movie theater? It seems only logical, right?
“I had written a short story called “Vampire Hunter Dean” for a Moonstone Books vampire anthology. Naturally, the title came from me miss-hearing the title of Vampire Hunter D, which it otherwise has nothing to do with. I teamed up with my frequent collaborators, Brendon and Brian Fraim, and continued the story as a three-issue comic book mini-series for Moonstone. Through some scheduling magic that I will never fully understand, we were blessed to have Mark Wheatley (Mars, Breathtaker) provide our first cover and serve as color artist for the series.”
“Vampire, PA is set in suburban Pittsburgh,” Vaughn continued, “one town over from where I lived until I was 15 and moved to Texas. Later, we added some pages that had been cut, added the original short story and some bonus material, and did a great trade paperback of it with American Mythology Productions. We followed that up with a one-shot, Vampire, PA: Bite Out of Crime, which introduced a new vampire threat, Al Capone. More to come.”
One of the writer’s first creations was the fondly remembered McCandless & Company. Any crossovers planned to happen between this property and your others?
“Two strong female private investigators and their male writer-wannabe assistant,” Vaughn asked. “I was 20 years too early. I still love the characters. I’m giving some pretty serious thought to collecting the short comic stories that were in the trade paperback – which didn’t get a great printing at all – into a single issue. Good stories told well by innovative artists, they deserved better than they got originally. It would also include the five-page McCandless & Company story that ran in The Wicked West 2, as well.
You mentioned Tucci earlier. You’ve worked with him on various projects. How did that relationship start, and how do you collaborate creatively?
“The first cover I ever commissioned for anything was Billy’s Shi variant cover of Overstreet’s FAN #3 in 1995, which was our San Diego Comic-Con cover that year. So, it’s fair to say we’ve known each other a long time. Many of our collaborations are unofficial, since we’re always bouncing ideas off each other. I have a couple of good lines of dialogue in his acclaimed Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion, for instance. He’s said things that immediately altered my thinking on a project. That kind of stuff. But we’ve also co-written Shi and I’ve edited both
“Shi and Zombie-Sama for him. He’s just about to start shipping the crowdfunded Shi: Return of the Warrior, which I edited, and launch Shi: Hikayo, the next chapter in the story, which I’m also editing. Best Shi stories ever. That will be followed by one that Billy and I are co-writing (sorry to leave this nebulous, but more on it soon). And seriously, if you didn’t support the Kickstarter or Indiegogo for Shi: Return of the Warrior, find a way to get it. This comic rocks!”
After almost 30 years of writing and writing about comics, what does Vaughn consider his finest work so far?
“That’s a great question,” Vaughn said, “and of course it’s hard to answer. I really like the script for Zombie-Proof: Team Zulu – Book One. I’ve got one in the works called It’s Only A Rental, which is just a slice-of-life little indy. And I just wrote a pilot based on The Flight, a graphic novel Brendon & Brian Fraim and I did in serialized from for David Lloyd’s amazing digital anthology, Aces Weekly. We’ve also had great reactions to a pilot Mark L. Haynes and I wrote for Roddenberry Entertainment.”
Speaking of your frequent collaborator, Mark L. Haynes, you guys are known for your comic book work on 24, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe. What other film and TV properties are you interested in bringing to comics?
“ It has to be the right gig or I’d rather be working on my own stuff,” Vaughn said after careful reflection, “but I’d love the opportunity to write Jack Bauer again (easiest dialogue of my career to date, Jack just told us what to write). I’d definitely like the opportunity to do more SGA and SGU, but getting a shot at Stargate SG-1 might be very appealing. Again, it’d have to be the right gig. Mark works primarily in Hollywood. But if we dig far enough back in the closet, I know that we’d love to at least two major stories with the original Battletar Galactica, which was our first collaborative effort in comics (along with James Kuhoric) at Realm Press.
One last question for Vaughn: Conan, what is best in life?
Without hesitation, Vaughn laughed: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women. A close second is hearing Previews Editor Marty Grosser deliver that same response as Paul Lynde.”
Your retailer can order the Vampire, PA TP (SEP201088), Vampire, PA: Bite Out of Crime #1 (SEP201086), Vampire, PA: Bite Out of Crime #1 (SEP201087), and the Zombie-Proof TP (MAY161074) from Diamond Comic Distributors.