Interview - Joe Grahn and Carl Yonder

Joe Grahn and Carl Yonder live in a world where pirates atone for past piracy by solving crimes, governors traffic in all manner of property and you've got to watch your back at all times. The duo are the brains behind Pirate Eye: Mark of the Black Widow from Action Lab Comics and they were kind enough to take some time and answer some questions about the one-shot.

Read on for their thoughts on pirates, detectives and everything in between. Mostly pirate detectives though.
Omnicomic: Where did the idea for Pirate Eye come from? That is, how did you settle on crossing a pirate and a private eye?

Joe Grahn: I couldn’t think of any stories that explore what pirates do when/if they stop being pirates (outside of the most likely retirements: death and prison). If a guy was really good at tracking down valuables as a pirate but managed or was forced to leave that life without dying or getting thrown in the slammer, then in what other profession could he utilize those skills? That’s where the detective idea came in, and then Carl and I built the story around that.

Carl Yonder: Once Joe laid out the foundation of an ex-pirate who is a detective it really opened many doors for me creatively. I love pirates and pirate stories. The opportunity to combine pirates with elements of detective stories was very appealing to me.

Omnicomic: How much of the story is rooted in history? Obviously, there probably weren't many (if any) pirate detectives, but the setting Smitty lives in seems to be grounded in some fact.

Joe: Right, it’s a noir detective story of sorts, but it takes place during colonial times so we did our best to make sure Smitty’s profession was the only obvious anachronism. Smitty’s port of residence is its own little world, but we wanted it to feel period, for sure. 

Carl: We didn't want Smitty's port to be one specific location, nor did we want it to take place in any specific year.  I love the pirate visuals from the Golden Age of Piracy which occurred around the colonial period, which is why that general time period was selected for Pirate Eye.  I was also influences by the art of Howard Pyle, who created some of the most famous pirate art.

Omnicomic: The crime Smitty is investigating is definitely a serious one. Any particular reason that particular one was chosen for the subject of the story?

Joe: I think pirates have become very romanticized, and the fact is that they were (and are) people who tended to do really horrible things to other people. Smitty was a pirate and still thinks of himself as one in many ways, but we’ve tried to show that he’s trying to change, and that he’s not proud of everything from his past. This case presents him with something he’s not willing to stomach, even for money, and money has been his be all and end all for some time.

Omnicomic: The art is very gritty. Did the fact that Pirate Eye is a pirate book lead to going that route with the art?

Carl: I wanted something with a lot of texture and for the art to look gritty and grimy.

Omnicomic: The book seems to have a reddish hue cast on certain pages. Was that chosen as a means of emphasizing the seedy nature of the world Smitty lives in?

Carl: Light sources within the Pirate Eye world are limited mostly to candlelight, but I wanted to explore a variety of color palates, so I added a lot of red in the brothel scene which mimicked the seedy nature.

Omnicomic: There are some pages with really interesting panel layouts. Were they challenging to lay out?

Carl: It's just a variation on the typical nine panel page.  I included more panels in order to really showcase other pirates and seedy characters, which may end up being revisited in future stories, and to add depth to the scenes. 

Omnicomic: For a one-shot, the epilogue is very convincing that Pirate Eye could be anything but. Are there plans for continuing to explore the Pirate Eye universe in future one-shots/series? Perhaps something of a revenge tale?

Joe: We are working on another one-shot! It will be a self-contained story but will continue to build on Smitty and his world. To go back to a previous question, the next story has a small slice of real history in it. Mira won’t be in this one, but we do have plans for her that we’d like to eventually show. She certainly has plenty of revenge still to exact.

Carl: Joe and I still have quite a few tales to tell with Smitty. We really wanted to take advantage of the one-shot because this way every issue that the reader buys will tell a complete tale.  If they buy every issue, they will make many more connections within the Pirate Eye world.

Omnicomic: What are your thoughts on the digital/print comics divide?

Joe: I love my shop and tend to be an “own it and hold it” kind of reader but I love comics in any format. I want digital and print to both sell through the roof and support the industry as a whole.

Carl: There is something exciting about knowing that I can hold the book I create in my hand; however, I think that digital books provide opportunities to those who may prefer digital copies or may otherwise not shop at comic book stores. It doesn't really matter if people are buying digital copies or printed versions, as long as they're enjoying the stories. 

Omnicomic: What's your convention schedule like for the rest of the year?

Joe: I have a three week old, so I’m going to be limited in my conventioning the rest of this year. 2013 is looking great, though.

Carl: Other than an in-store signing at Beyond Comics in Gaithersburg, MD in December, I do not currently have anything on the horizon for the rest of the year; however, Joe and I have been in talks to find and attend a pirate convention.

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

Joe:! Lot of good stuff there.

Carl: Yes! Action Lab Comics has a lot of exciting books coming out. I'm also working with C.W. Cook and Mark Bertolini on a few other creator-owned comics. I hope to share more information soon, so keep an eye on my website ( for updates on these and other projects!