Interview - Brendan McGinley (Indelible/Bankshot Comics)

The great thing about the Internet is that it has made everything that much more accessible. I mean, where would Omnicomic be without that loving "http://" in front of it? The comic book industry is beginning to embrace the Internet for delivery of that fine comic book goodness, and companies such as DC have even formed an online submission forum in Zuda Comics.

A recent entrant into the online contest is HANNIBAL GOES TO ROME by Brendan McGinley of Indelible Comics. HANNIBAL is now the newest member of the Shadowline family of online comics and Brendan was kind enough to do an interview with me about it and various other topics. Brendan interned at DC and Marvel in 2001, had about a year and a half at Wizard from 2003 to 2005 and resides in NY like most others in the comic industry.

Omnicomic: I think the first obvious question is where did the idea for Hannibal come from?

Brendan McGinley: Hoooo, boy! What a winding path takes us here. Back in college I had story ideas for a world where Rome never fell, and had instead evolved into the ultimate capitalist empire. Probably because that and altering World War II are the two most over-used speculative fiction ideas, it morphed into the tribulation of a cop (who was himself originally a character in another project called ICONOGRAPHY but let's not get entirely confused) in a world where Carthage won the Second Punic War instead of Rome.

I find dead places kind of fascinating, especially Carthage. Those people were once so pervasive the three most common trading languages were Punic, Greek and Latin...yet today we barely find any evidence of their lives. The idea that a civilization could be so impermanent made an indelible impression on me (a little ironic, no?) and that gave CITIZEN X a little more crux. So I started to do some research, because the awful thing about speculative fiction is you end up doing twice as much research to figure out what knowledge and innovations weren't in existence, and if you need to use, say, gunpowder or saddles in your story, you then need to ask if it's reasonable for Carthage to devise or discover this stuff along the fictional timeline based on the divergence.

And then you need to look at their history, what's different about their culture that affects the story so that it's worth telling in this world anyway. So the short answer is I did a lot of research, and became amazed at Hannibal, a guy swimming in blood yet possessed of a lot of intelligence and character that seemed to separate him from the carnage. I thought he deserved his due in a society overdosed on Rome, and underfed on Carthage. Doesn't your fiction deserve more child sacrifice?

Omnicomic: I’m sure your research (and common knowledge) lead you to know that Hannibal was a violent guy. Why do you think making it a comedy-type comic works? I mean, Hannibal is a fierce warrior and usually it’s hard to find humor in war.

Mcginley: I'm kind of a smart-ass, so that helps. And of course, I have tattered my volumes of Larry Gonick's CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE; that was a gigantic influence. A comic was the best thing for me to do because there's already good scholarly and fictitious prose about Hannibal out there. I wanted a really great, visual story, and I don't have the millions it takes to make a movie (which Vin Diesel keeps threatening to beat me to the punch on anyway). But who needs a movie to chop away all the detail?

A serialized web-comic can capture the entire tale. I just wanted to entertain while informing people about this titanic personage, and you need a sense of humor after the first couple of thousand bodies pile up. And finally, the comedic asides allow me to offer a perspective on the story that's inherently separate from the facts. If I've done my job right, you have no problem separating the facts about a battle from the analysis, and I haven't told a speculative history. Speaking of history, comics have traditionally been a print medium.

Omnicomic: Did you always intend for Hannibal to be a webcomic? Can we ever expect to see Hannibal as a comic book comic?

McGinley: Yeah, wanting to serialize it, the best way to do it would be a regularly updated webcomic. If I tried to publish it in DOSE I'd be burning through those pages, and the story wouldn't see its final print till I was 60. Mauro's fast enough to keep it going, and it's far easier to reach 5000 people in web than print. And then: color!

That said, I should have come to that common sense earlier, and/or waited to color it for the Zuda entry. Originally I had looked at it as a more abridged thing that could run in DOSE and maybe get collected in a lone trade one day. So entering Zuda was sort of an excuse to get off my butt and give the talented Mr. Mauro Vargas something that could keep up with his ceaseless pen. I had no idea we'd get picked, or I'd have listened to him and colored it before we entered. I also should have heeded his warnings that Phoenician purple lettering is ugly to everyone but me, who thought it was a splash of color.

Our deal now with Shadowline is, if we get enough peepers on the page that it's worth printing, they'll make it an Image comic. In the meantime, they get traffic, we get a notable, non-exclusive place to build an audience, and a right of first refusal with the premier creator-owned publisher. Big smiles all around.

Omnicomic: I know that originally you aimed for a following on Zuda Comics, but weren't voted in (please correct me if I'm wrong). Why do you think the comic wasn't as well received as you'd have liked over there?

McGinley: I'm pretty happy with how Zuda went, actually, for a black and white, historical comic with the aforementioned troubled lettering. We ended up probably right where we belonged. We debuted at number one thanks to Mauro's art, racked up a lot of hits (numbers beget numbers in that contest), and when we did slip, came in behind some terrific art and writing.

If we'd won, we'd have been subject to the limitations of the license, and instead they handed all rights back to us. So I look at it as getting paid a stipend for some high-profile attention. Zuda basically gives you the deal they give Vertigo creators, as I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong, internet), which is, you retain ownership, but they're licensing all the rights you enjoy for the life of the copyright.

You can request your rights back if they don't use it after some time, and other nuances, but that's the gist. And I understand that to amount to: you can do anything you want with it, but anything you want to do goes through them, and they have rights of refusal. How that would have applied to a historical person like Hannibal might be more questionable as you switch artists and drop the comedy, but it amounted to a safe bet.

If we got picked, there was still room to tell the Hannibal story, perhaps in a more fictitious than historical fashion. Instead, it wasn't even an issue. The Zuda crew, in addition to being fun people to drink with, are very supportive and helpful. So my recommendation to you, youth of the geek world, is cobble up eight screens for a Zuda submission. Just expect nothing to come of it, and be ready for what does.

Omnicomic: It seems that Zuda is definitely an avenue for new talent to break into the industry. Do you feel like comics are moving towards the web in general? Is the print comic slowly dying, or do you think it will always be around just because of tradition?

McGinley: Yeah, it's hard to argue with the results of web comic publication. Our first day on Zuda we got more hits than the entire time I'd had my website. There's some good analysis of the benefits out there on the web. The loss is profit, though my friend Josh Elder, who warped children on MAIL-ORDER NINJA, is working on a kind of pay for play iTunes deal. But at the early stage, you're better off building an audience. Take it from me.

I'm calling every retailer in America to distribute DOSE right now, and as open as they try to be, what's the best I can expect to sell? Marvel & DC titles with Diamond distribution are in the low thousands, and they're just selling ad content. Print is very hard on the indie creator right now (mind you, I'm still bashing my skull on that frontier for at least a few more issues of DOSE, so do as I say, not as I do).

But is print dying? Nah. The monthly pamphlet will be. Trades will go on. Pamphlets have more life than folks expect at the moment, but you'll see the monthly rack given over to the trade shelf, and then comic book stores will be much more akin to specialty book stores, I think. Maybe more retailers will adopt the Isotope model of a cool-geek cultural epicenter. Paper and shipping are no longer cheap, and web hosting is no longer expensive. People still want to own hard copy, but trades can cover that. The few disadvantages of web are getting sifted out.

Pamphlets, I think, will polarize into the punk-rock, hungry kids publishing out of their own home, for audiences who want something fast, cheap and cool (which was my DOSE philosophy), and the Big Two super-heroes, who will get smaller numbers as their dedicated audience keeps moving its demographic forward. There's always money in Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. Wonder Woman will keep going or the rights flip back to the estate, I believe. But a lot of Thors and Iron Men will become OGN characters, while all those properties who can't sustain a title like Dr. Strange will probably find a home on But that's kind of cool, right? Comics are shifting due to the Internet and it can be to our benefit. The web also necessitated low-budget reality TV, which is so mindless it drove more people afield than might otherwise have picked up on those wonderful FX dramas or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

You're going to find print comics are only worth doing if they're earning good bank or never expected to. One thing I haven't heard said much, though, except by Grant Morrison, who's always ahead, is that superheroes are jumping ship to movies. Film can finally do superheroes better than comics can, and it's become easy enough to do that you can have a regular series like HEROES.

Thus, Marvel Comics becomes Marvel Entertainment and starts making their own films. There could be a pretty big vacuum in print down the line as superhero lines stop dominating the market and the Big Two take to the stars. Who knows if they'll even bother developing new print lines? Will the book publishers move in? Will Dark Horse step up? Will I ever stop answering this question?

It's an interesting time to be here, anyway, as probably the last graduating class in which it was kind of weird or geeky to be a comic reader in high school. Interesting, and how can I score some of that action?

Omnicomic: Has the success of Zack Snyder's 300 influenced (or could influence) the success of Hannibal? That is to say, do you think that because that film was successful as an adaptation of a graphic novel loosely based on history that that may lead more people to check out Hannibal (in the sense that readers realize history can be cool)?

McGinley: Hmmm, I hadn't really considered the relevance of 300 to HANNIBAL You know, before GLADIATOR, gladiator films were dead, before UNFORGIVEN, so were westerns. These days it's HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE's a good time to have a sword or a staff. Quick! Get me my creative team! We're going to retool this vehicle and market to the 300 crowd!

But if you want the 300 audience, don't make another bunch of warriors with killer abs, tell a noir story set in a historical context. 300 fans already HAVE 300, Harry Potter fans have all the kid sorcery they need, etc. If we did HANNIBAL without the comedy, we'd be skirting dangerously close to 300 or AGE OF BRONZE territory, and brother, you don't tug on Eric Shanower's cloak. That guy is too good to follow. 300 was fun because this whole millennium, we've had all three branches of government giddily kicking us towards the sunset of Constitutional values. It was a relief to cheer unabashedly for fascism.

Once you take the Persian Army away, the Spartans need their heads examined. A military society of xenophobic, fascists are usually the bad guy, but you put them up against a million invaders and they're the right tools for the job, so we can all pump our fists and enjoy an instant guy film. I did it, same as everyone else. HANNIBAL, I hope, questions that without answering it. Yeah, there's bloodlust and its obvious gains, and there's also the guy getting his head chopped off asking what's in it for him. I have the room, and I hope the craftsmanship, to show all the perspectives.

So give it a read, 300 fans. It won't be the same breed as a whole, but you will feel hear that roar of victory at points.

Omnicomic: You mentioned a work called Dose earlier in the interview. Can you shed any light on what that's all about?

McGinley: DOSE is a (mostly) humorous anthology I edit and somewhat write and draw, except when I yield to my more talented friends and collaborators in a flash of common sense. It satirizes comics, movies, society, politics and HAMLET. There are a few serialized pieces, but the aim is that they're still standalone tales. The idea is you can buy an issue of DOSE and very happily read it without waiting a year for the next issue, because way, way too many independent comics expect your commitment for an extended arc. DOSE, you get your kicks, and you're done till you feel like another. We're kind of like prostitutes that way.

Also, I'm trying to make it a good deal for everybody, so they're $5, but run between 48 to 56 pages each issue. That's a whole lot of thrill up in your grill. And we have swell guest stars like Evan Dorkin, Michael Netzer, Beau Smith, Molly Crabapple. We've also got Zuda winners like Johnny Zito and I think soon David Gallaher, and friends from my DC and Wizard days: Joshua Elder, Alex Segura, Brian Warmoth, and Chris Ward, who I honestly believe is the funniest writer in comics. Did I mention we have space-faring anime girls who run compulsory, educational raves? The kids still like that kind of thing, right?

Omnicomic: Space-faring anime girls aside, who do you note as your comic influences? I saw your dream team being Grant Morrison and JH Williams III, but would you say they've influenced your desire to be in comics?

McGinley: Alan Moore goes without saying, and yet, deserves to be said. Grant Morrison is similarly capable of bending my head in strange shapes while bridging pop thrill with earnest feeling. I should probably credit the Usual Gang of Idiots, since I'm told the first thing I ever read was a MAD magazine. John Ostrander and Mark Waid, I think as writers, never get enough due. Those guys are structural masters without getting formulaic. The first comic I ever collected was GRIMJACK, and I think you'll see that influence in a DOSE feature called "Strychnine Kiss." Geoff Johns is pretty amazing for sheer quality and quantity.

And you know, I will say that the greatest comic writer on planet earth, when he's on form, is Gerard Jones. No finer superhero comic exists than his run on GREEN LANTERN: MOSAIC, and he wrote the single most effective Martian Manhunter story ever by combining the character's true nature as an outsider with his police detective persona in AMERICAN SECRETS, a be-bop conspiracy tale set in the baby boom.

Art-wise, Adam Hughes and Kevin Maguire for form and faces. Winsor McCay for damned near everything. I have two copies of DRAWING THE HEAD & FIGURE by Jack Hamm, which is perfect for anyone who wants to make comics. Will Eisner, for sure. I really love Edward Hopper, and those private, peaceful moments that are ambiguous enough they could just as easily be the last scene of utter loneliness before a suicide. That probably shows up more in my writing than my drawing.

Omnicomic: Anything else you want to plug while you have the floor?

McGinleyElder and I have plotted a book called HEIST that's drawn by Andres Ponce and colored by Rocio Zucchi, two terrific artists. It's the Aladdin tale as told by Ian Fleming and Adrian Tomine, as the world's greatest supervillain is hired to steal an immensely powerful artifact from superhero headquarters. It does not go well. I'm also working on INVISIBLE, INC. with Tomás Aira, about the conspiracies necessary to keep your average superhero universe running. It goes from journalism to big business to government to religion as a reporter discovers supervillains don't try to take over the world because they already have. And then there's a dozen projects getting done piecemeal, including CITIZEN X by Leonardo Pietro, to be completed by the grace of Baal when we get the chance.


  1. Buen aporte y mejor historia la de tan entrañable "Anibal".

    Salud e inteligencia.


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