Stay tuned after the comic to read an interview with the writer and artist of, "Together Forever"
An Interview with writer J. Michael Donohue & artist J. Paul Schiek
Question: First off, tell us how the two of you connected on “Together Forever” and what the end goal was for this excellent short story.
Donohue: I could be completely remembering this wrong but I believe, I put out a ‘call for help’ on Twitter and Jeremiah swiftly answered. I took a peek at his work and loved it. His “Rocketeer” in particular really drew me in. After that, I messaged him about teaming up, sent him a couple different scripts, and “Together Forever” is what he chose. Hopefully, I remembered that correctly. I feel like our work together and shared interests has bonded us, so it all seems like a blur. Plus, fatherhood has aged me horribly.
The only real goal I had with this project was to jumpstart my portfolio, make a friend, and have some fun. I’m pretty lucky to have succeeded in all three fronts and so much more.
Schiek: Joe had been writing several different horror shorts and had suggested the idea of teaming up on one or another of them, Together Forever being one of them. I loved TF pretty much immediately, so we hashed out some of the finer details off-timeline and went from there.
Question: What’s really interesting about this plot is that it inverts the undead genre, in a sense, with profound grief driving an outcome for a macabre reunion! It even leads to the husband proclaiming the zombie uprising as a “miracle.” Kindly tell us more about this unique spin, and what we might have seen if there was a page 4.
Donohue: This is a story that has been simmering in my head for a while. When you read most zombie stories or watch zombie movies, the heroes are constantly rowing up stream with only one paddle. They see these nightmare creatures shuffling out of the shadows and their first reaction is to bash them in the head, and rightfully so. You better believe if someone or thing tries to sink their teeth into my brain, they’re getting a visit from Lucille. But I couldn’t help but think about the other side. What if the dead rising from the graves wasn’t the end, but a new beginning? Granted, it makes for a much shorter story, but equally tragic.
As for a page 4, I’d like to imagine this story takes place in Isaac Marion’s “Warm Bodies” world. These two try to continue on with the life they once had, but in a weird, macabre sort of way.
Question: Please tell us about the challenge of creating contrasting moods within the artwork. As these pages exist within an extreme duality, ranging from a family man’s love/loss to the shocking jolt of the undead rising forth. Yet it all was brought together seamlessly.
Schiek: I use red and blue a lot as a limited palette in the color work I do. I tend to use red for dominant forces and within the story, and blue for the more passive, or in this case, depressed elements. I always try to make the colors a character in the story, as much as I can. Page one was perhaps the most challenging because that is where colors seem to be blended the most. I opted here for more of a “sunset” appearance, kind of playing with the more Asian concept of a sunset being representative of death. Joe is very generous in his scripting, leaving it mostly to the artist to panel out described contents. I used that freedom to highlight things like the child’s high chair on page 1. On its own in a larger panel, it might have gone overlooked, and mixed with the photo elements at the bottom of the page, one might get the idea this is the story of a miscarriage. Joe did a magnificent job with the script, using that first page as a blind for the zombie story, so that page 2 is a surprise even when you’re reading just the script without any of the visuals. After that surprise of contrasts in page 2 panel 2 of the zombie apocalypse being equated as a miracle, I mostly focused on keeping characters true to their colors and maximizing opportunities for a clear reading flow. Once Rebecca enters the house, she is always wreathed in what I call “world’s worst sunburn” red, and Mr. Rebecca holds onto his blue tones from his introduction in page 2 panel 1.
Question: What do you feel are the most challenging aspects while working in a short story comic book format, both from a writing and illustrating perspective?
Schiek: For myself, I think it’s the polarity of not having enough time, space, wherewithal to say enough, and perhaps saying too much. I had the advantage here that the story was already written for me, so the possibility of saying too much wasn’t so much in my hands, but the possibility of over or understating a point—and since Joe’s script was fairly open to artist interpretation—there could have been misfires, ideas that failed to land visually that could have compromised other areas and intentions of Joe’s story. I do, however, wonder how it would have turned out in a different artist’s hands.
Donohue: I think the biggest challenge for me writing this short story, or any short story, is being able to tell a complete story in three or four pages. In a novel or an on-going series, you’re allowed more time to get to know your characters. They’re allowed to breath and grow, but in a short story you have to make your reader instantly fall in love. I lost count at how many times I rewrote panels or dialogue, trying to paint the perfect picture.
Question: Aside from comic books, what other forms of creative arts do you draw inspiration from?
Donohue: I’ve always been a huge movie nerd, especially when it comes to horror movies. Especially when it comes to anthologies: Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, Tales from the Crypt, Trick r’ Treat, etc. I love every single one of them and more. It’s the dark sense of humor that gets me every time and I think it shows in my work.
Schiek: Film is perhaps a throwaway answer to that question, but, like comics, it has visuals and storytelling thrown in the mix. Music and poetry are also big inspirations. The Lion And The Unicorn came out of applying words from one thing and superimposing them over something else, seemingly unrelated and letting the reader’s mind discover and determine how they actually can, and I believe do work together. I’ve been considering doing my own comic book cover of Bob Dylan’s, All Along The Watchtower, perhaps finding some recognizable story or struggle and putting the very familiar lyrics over the top and seeing if it works and how well. And one of these days I’ll return to my comic, Taxman, where I did something similar using W.B. Yeats’s, The Second Coming. I try to keep my mind open for new ideas as much as I can. Sometimes inspiration can come from a dream, sometimes from playing with my son—he’s got the real imagination in the Schiek family—or when I’m stuck at one or the other of my two part time “day jobs,” I think inspiration can really come from anywhere. Comics are certainly a primary source, though.
Question: Do you feel that today’s storytellers are perhaps too deeply rooted in their modern environments? As personally, I am seeing an erosion of mythology and an uptick in modernized entertainment, more so than any time before in my life.
Schiek: Naturally, I can’t speak for everyone else, but I still feel a very strong connection to more mythological themes and settings. Hush Ronin, my samurai comic, is heavily steeped and seated in feudal Japanese culture and mythology, albeit with a slightly more western spin on things. Likewise, my other passion project that I work on in my free time (which is never) consists almost entirely of Norse mythological figures and personages. I suppose it depends on where you look and who you ask. Even stuff I haven’t written, pretty much all of the pitches I have worked on in the past eight or so months have been set in that Game Of Thrones-ish, sword and sorcery kind of world. One of them was a King Arthur story, in fact, another that was an entirely imagined world. And maybe that’s why they’re pitches and not books as yet, if the market itself is more interested in stories set within more modern confines. Doesn’t stop me buying both Conan titles every month.
Question: Please tell us where we can find more of your work and the best places to reach you at.
Donohue: Whoa, I think we may be moving a little fast. I’m kidding. I will say Jeremiah’s site is much more interesting than mine, but my site is email@example.com and on Twitter at @jmichaeldonohue. If anyone wants to message me to talk comics or maybe hire me to write for a project, I’m always available.
Schiek: Well, actually *clears throat, cracks knuckles* I have two other pieces right here on HyperEpics: The Lion And The Unicorn & Slaying The Debt. I’ve also done a few pieces with Three Panel Crimes, both for their Instagram feed and their Patreon, and I have a number of short pieces available on my website at: www.jschiek.com. Additionally, I have a pinup in the newly released trade paperback of Road of Bones by Rich Douek, released through IDW. Trenchstalker, an 8 page short I did with C. Brennan Knight is available on Comixology, and my own samurai comic, Hush Ronin, is available to read for free at: www.ashcancomicspub.com.