Issue 3: Raising the Dead
But not in, like, an evil way.
Hi there! Look at us, all back together again! (And hello to all of you who’ve joined the newsletter since the last missive went out!)
In Issue 2 of this newsletter, I shared how my wacky, irreverent, ridiculous sci-fi/comedy comic book series Unit 44 went from original idea to finished comic. I also hinted that 2+ years after the final issue was released, Unit 44 is set to make a return. And that return has an official date: March 20.
But before we go into marketing mode and kill the mood, I wanted to answer a question:
How does one bring a comic book back from the dead?
It’s not easy as it turns out.
After Unit 44 was originally completed in 2015, series artist Ed Jimenez and I began throwing around ideas for a sequel series. I even wrote an entire first issue for a second volume that would pick up immediately where the first story left off.
However, before we could launch into production, Ed got busy with stuff. I got busy with stuff. The sequel was set to simmer on the back burner. But we didn’t let the idea—or our enthusiasm—burn out. Ed and I talked about Unit 44 regularly. I even wrote a bunch of different short comics starring the series main characters, Agent Gibson and Agent Hatch just to keep some oil on the gears.
I wrote a 3-page story here. A 5-pager there. A 10-pager. However, try as Ed might to find a hole in his schedule during which he might draw the series, he couldn’t. This brings me to another exciting fact—following the release of Unit 44, Ed worked on a handful of other cool and high profile projects and was finally able to follow his dreams of becoming a full-time artist.
People hired Ed to draw comics. Illustrations. Concept art for books, comics, and video games. It was amazing to watch his star rise. I adore him and want nothing more than to see my friends succeed. Knowing that Ed was preoccupied with important work, I focused my creative energies elsewhere. New comics were created, written, drawn, and published (more on these in the future). In fact, I stopped thinking about Unit 44 for a long time. Years even. I assumed that Ed and I had done our thing and that was that. Fade to black. Roll credits. Lights up. Curtain call.
And then something happened. You might even be familiar with this thing.
It was called THE PANDEMIC.
In 2020, everyone turned to entertainment to take their minds off the current events. Everyone was looking for an escape. I was no different. I was right there with the rest of you consuming (unhealthy amounts of) music, books, TV, movies, and video games. Then, as artsy types tend to do, I asked myself, what could I contribute to the cause of distraction?
The things that I write are not heavy. They are pure escapist entertainment. They are fun. They go down smooth—like a light beer that has all the taste of regular beer. I realized that if there was ever a time that the world (okay, that I) needed more Unit 44, it was there, amidst the awfulness that we were all enduring.
But could I still be funny? Was there anything to actually laugh about? I believed there was. I had seemingly unlimited ideas of oddball situations I could throw agents Hatch and Gibson into that were sure to give readers a couple of laughs, some entertainment, and the much-needed escapism. For the first time in years, I had more ideas for the comic than my brain could handle.
Serendipitously, right around this same time, Peter Simeti of Alterna Comics—the publishing home of Unit 44–mentioned on a live stream I happened to be watching that Unit 44 was a title he’d love to see return sometime in the future.
The stars were aligning to resurrect the title, but there was still one missing piece: artist Ed Jimenez.
Bless his heart, Ed tried and tried to work on new pages between other projects but it was clear he didn’t have the bandwidth for the book even though I knew how badly he wanted to be involved. To continue the series, I needed an artist who could fill Ed’s talented (and hilarious) shoes.
In 2020 as I wrote scripts for would become the new issues, one thing became apparent: the new stories weren’t a “series” in the traditional sense. These new tales were coming out as single-serve stories with our bumbling Area 51 agents investigating a different weird case—or finding themselves in an odd predicament—each issue. Ever story was standalone and, in my mind, new readers could pick up these issues without knowing anything that had happened previously. I went to Peter at Alterna and pitched him my idea: self-contained stories with a new artist in each issue.
After all, I’d met a lot of talented artists since the original series and I knew a handful of friends who would be happy to play in my zany sci-fi world if given the chance. Peter said he wanted to approve any artists I had in mind in order to ensure the quality matched what Alterna was known for, and gave me the green light. Unit 44 took the next giant step toward its return.
I reached out to my artist friends. Everyone loved the idea. Some were available, some were not. Two immediate takers were Landon Franklin, an amazingly talented artist who I met locally. We’d previously collaborated on a short called Improvisation, published by Alterna. Since Landon’s style leans toward realistic, I created a story to specifically to fit his sensibilities.
For a really oddball idea I concocted, I reached out to Aleksandar Jovic, the artist on Alterna Comics’ Mr. Crypt, Baron Rat, Mr. Crypt AND Baron Rat (and all combinations thereof). I absolutely adored Aleks’s cartooning, but had never worked (or spoken) with him before. I wanted to change this. Aleks took a look at the wacky script I sent and was immediately on board.
And then pages started rolling in from both artists. Landon killed it with the horror-tinged tale I’d thrown at him.
Aleks slayed it on the goofy case of mistaken identity I’d cooked up with his pencil in mind. Not to take anything away from Landon, who I adore and look forward to collaborating with many times in the future, but Aleks’s take on Unit 44—the world, the characters, the humor—left my with my jaw on the floor. He was putting his spin on the comic, unafraid to share his ideas. He wasn’t just a hired gun, he was being a collaborator. And anyone who knows me knows that above all else I love a good collaboration. Working with Aleks mirrored the same feeling I had as Ed and I had toiled away on the original series 6 years earlier.
Before I knew it, Aleks and I were spitballing new issue ideas. I got excited about writing them and so I wrote them feverishly. Soon I had all the 4 issues of Unit 44’s second season written and ready to be drawn. I went back to Peter and told him the news. Unit 44 had a new artist in Aleksandar, but we were still going to publish a very badass issue with Landon as a guest artist.
Also, because I like to involve my friends in everything I do, I brought on my pal Andrew Pate to color the next four issues. He’s my favorite colorist, an awesome dude, and he’s breathing some incredible life into both artists’ work. (He also looks like Wolverine, but don’t tell him that.)
How does one bring a comic book back from the dead?
It turns out you just need three things: A handful of ideas, the will to create, and a global pandemic. Your mileage may vary.
Unit 44 was promoted from being a limited series to one of Alterna’s ongoing titles. There will be an issue 5, an issue 6, a 7 and an 8. More if readers support the book and enjoy the stories. Aleksandar’s first issue of Unit 44–issue #5–will be available for preorder on March 20. In fact, you can smash the button below to be notified when preorders open. I hope you’ll do that.
I hope you’ll support me in my endeavors to make the world smile. Next time, we’ll take a closer look at issue #5 (and then I promise I’ll talk about other things. I have a TON of stuff I want to discuss, but a newsletter is a marathon, not a sprint.)
THE OTHER MAN, MYTH, AND LEGEND.
I’m Wes Locher. I’ve been writing professionally for a decade. I write comic books. I write video games. I write fiction. I write nonfiction. I write whatever seems fun, cool, and inspiring. I also love helping other writers to demystify the process of making a living through words. This is my newsletter.
If you’re reading this online, then consider hitting the button below and having this delivered to your inbox every two weeks (which seems to be the current schedule).
Focus on developing your own voice.
The publishing industry—whether that be books, comics, short fiction—always has its trends. Sometimes we see a deluge of Young Adult stories hit the shelves at the same time that share a thematic link. Other times sci-fi comics take over the market.
However, if you set out to follow the current trends with your next project, you’ll discover that in the year, two years, three years it takes you to bring your project to the world, the tides have shifted and you missed the wave.
Instead, I encourage writers to spend their formative writing years developing their own voices.
When I wrote my first graphic novel I was reading a lot of crime comics. Bendis. Brubaker. Aaron. Azzarello. I loved the tone and grittiness associated with such books, so I set out to create my own. And after working on the comic for two years, holding a published copy in my hands, and reading it I realized… it wasn’t a Wes Locher comic. It was Wes Locher doing his best impression of all those other writers.
While I’m thrilled with the final product and loved the experience of making it, I later found myself being slightly embarrassed by the book. It didn’t feel genuine. It didn’t feel authentic. I had this beautiful softcover collection and I couldn’t even look at it. Oof.
From there, I vowed to develop my own voice for future comics and writing projects. I vowed to make each project something that only I could make. I wanted my readers to know what they were in store for each time they cracked open a “Wes Locher comic.” They’d be treated to something fun, irreverent, and completely bonkers. That became my branding.
But finding your voice as a writer takes time. It’s not something to be rushed. If you’re wracking up rejection letters that force you to switch up your style and the new work starts hitting and being accepted, that’s when you know you’re on the right track. Sometimes we have to find out who we are not. Such things take time. Only with dedication, focus, and allowing yourself to experiment do you find out who you are as writer.
Write those things which only you can create.
These last two weeks were light on questions, so I’m going to answer some of my own.
How are you sleeping?
Terribly. Ever owned a toddler?
Are you excited for new issues of Unit 44 to be released?
I haven’t been this excited for anything since ever.
Did you ever finish watching Cobra Kai?
I did! I wrapped up season 4 over the weekend. Let me tell you—that show has no right being as good as it is. Considering I have zero emotional connection to the original The Karate Kid movies, I worried I’d be lost or confused, but through the majesty of flashbacks and old movie clips, the show provided me with everything I needed to know. As soon as I finished streaming the Netflix series I entertained the idea of joining a dojo so that I could get into rumbles with rival karate students at the local mall. My wife said no.
If you’ve been on the fence about watching the series, watch it. You’ll have so much fun, and you’ll (karate) kick yourself for not enjoying it sooner.
Do you have a question about writing, any of my current projects, or just want to share some existential dread? Reply to this email, hit me up directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment and I’ll answer the question next round.
Unit 44 #5 cover reveal!
A sneak peek at the issue!
Secrets from production!
An exciting announcement!
Talk again in two, or thereabouts.