Happy National Authors Day to all the writers out there! Zenescope wouldn’t be in the comic book business without the talented writers that help us bring our stories to life. Among those writers are Fox Kavanagh, Howard Mackie, Ben Meares, and Victoria Rau. If you’ve read our first graphic novel in our collaboration with Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, then you might recognize these names because they wrote some its stories!
To honor these authors and pay homage to the great work they did on this series, we wanted to ask them a few questions we hope our fans and readers find interesting. Read on to learn some trade secrets, fun facts about each author, and what can be expected in the next issue of Ripley’s!
Zenescope: Do you plan to keep writing professionally while working towards a career in mathematics?
Fox: I’m not sure about my future in professional writing. Obviously writing and math are two fairly disparate fields, so I don’t know how many more opportunities will come my way. However, I have always enjoyed writing as a pastime, and will certainly continue to pursue it in my leisure. And who knows; I certainly won’t turn down any chances to write professionally should they make themselves available to me.
Zenescope: Your story in Ripley’s is based off real history but with the title of a fairy tale; if you could pick any fairy tale not already based off a true story to be real, which would it be and why?
Howard: I’ve always been a big fan of Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack was a troublemaker. I’m not saying that I identify with that character trait, but… Besides that, there are magic beans, a goose that lays golden eggs, a singing harp, and getting to fight GIANTS. What’s not to like?
Zenescope: What can readers expect in the next issues of Ripley’s?
Ben: Expect a bunch of creative people creating a love letter to Ripley’s in comic book form. Everyone has brought different voices, different ideas, to the series, but the one common thread is that it’s all coming from a place of genuine appreciation for the weird and wonderful. But, at the end of the day, it’s Ripley’s! So, expect the unexpected.
Zenescope: What drew you into writing graphic novels?
Ben: I’ve been writing comics since I could hold a pencil. I learned to read by reading comics, and sequential storytelling has always been my go-to way of telling a story. I’ve wanted to write comics for as long as I can remember. Well, technically, I always wanted to be an artist, but my hands have never really been able to keep up with my brain. The ideas behind the things I would try (unsuccessfully) to draw were always better than the drawings themselves. Plus, collaborating with an artist, and watching them take the pile of words I wrote and give them shape and vision, is basically the coolest feeling in the world.
Zenescope: How different was the writing process for Ripley’s versus one of your other works, like Peek-A-Boo?
Victoria: I’m a research junky, so while I love to find details that might make a purely fictionalized story like Peek-A-Boo feel more realistic, the Ripley’s story was next level. Since it was a speculative story based in actual science, I had to figure out what was both plausible and potentially frightening. I now know way too much about volcanology. If anyone needs help with a sixth-grade science report, I’ve got facts ready to go.
Zenescope: Tell us about a time you experienced writers block and how you got through it.
Fox: I find the best way to conquer writer’s block is to just keep writing. This sounds obvious, but a lot of us (myself included) can tend towards perfectionism with our writing. I think a refusal to put something on the page that you’re not entirely happy with can lead towards paralysis and an inability to push the story forward. Don’t be afraid to write something questionable and then go back and revise it later. A lot of the time, it’s easier to rewrite something than to produce it from scratch, particularly when you have an idea of where the story is going to end up down the line.
Howard: The best piece of advice that was given to me at the beginning of my career is, “Writer’s block is for amateurs.” Now that is not totally true—and I’ve definitely found myself confronted with the occasional wall in my career. I find that the best way to deal with that wall is to NOT hit your head against it in the hopes that it breaks. The WALL usually wins, and you wind up with a headache. The trick is to go AROUND the wall. The way I do that is to ALWAYS have multiple projects to work on at the same time. Get stuck on one… work on another. The wall eventually weakens from the lack of attention.
Ben: I’ve experienced writer’s block on nearly every story I’ve ever written. Sure, there are moments when a story pours out of my head fully formed, but that’s pretty rare. I’ve always treated writer’s block as part of the process; a time to sit and really analyze the words I’m trying to put on paper.
And, sadly, there’s only one way to get through writer’s block: write. If you can’t write a story, write about the room you’re sitting in, write about a movie you watched, or even write about the fact that you have writer’s block. Just write.
Victoria: I experience writers block almost every time I sit down to write. And I’m only half-kidding. Mostly block happens when I’m into the meat of a story. It’s easy to come up with a good opening and a good ending, the middle is where it gets muddy. When I’m really stuck (and I haven’t horribly procrastinated), I like to watch some reference shows or read some good material in the same genre I’m trying to write. Maybe do a little research. You’ll never know what you’ll find in a random detail, it could open up a whole scene. Sometimes though, you just have to push through and write some truly awful shit to get to anything workable. Once you take to heart the idea that “writing is rewriting,” you can give yourself permission to suck for a while just to get the words out. Then you go back and make it good.
Zenescope: Does being a writer make you more or less of a consistent/dedicated reader?
Fox: To be honest, I don’t read much literature in my free time. Most of my reading comes from browsing the internet for fun factoids and the occasional mathematics paper. However, I can’t help but read things in a different light now that I’ve seen the other side of the writing process.
Howard: I believe you cannot REALLY be a writer unless you are a reader as well. Ideas come from EVERYWHERE. It is the fuel I require to produce the work I do. I usually have two or three books going at the same time. Some are fiction, others non-fiction. I’m also always reading articles online and in magazines.
Ben: More dedicated, less consistent. I spend a whole lot of time in a room, alone, hunched over my laptop, so visits to the comic shop are inconsistent, which makes it hard to keep up with many monthly titles. But, the few series that I do keep up with are obsessed over.
Victoria: I’ve always been a relatively consistent reader, and as a writer I really have to be. It’s a pet peeve of mine to hear writers say they don’t have time to read. It’s part of the job! Reading is how you gather the tools to write. It’s like saying a composer doesn’t have time to listen to music or a chef doesn’t have time to eat good food. You can’t become better by living in a bubble of your own work.
Zenescope: Are there any inside jokes or secret meanings you put in your works?
Fox: I’m not exactly confident enough as a writer yet to put inside jokes into my work. I would prefer to make sure my writing is universal appreciable than sprinkle it with arcane self-indulgences. That being said, it’s definitely a cool way to inject a sort of signature into your work and show a glimpse of the man behind the pen. Maybe next time.
Howard: Yes. But if I told you… they’d no longer be SECRET.
Victoria: I wish. I’m not that cool. Though, I do like to hide meanings in character names which I think is a pretty common ploy among writers.
Zenescope: What was the hardest and easiest thing you’ve written or are writing?
Fox: When I was in college, I wrote satire for a publication called The Rival. It was fun and I loved doing it, but man, it was hard sometimes. Drawing the line between being funny and being poignant was tricky; those vibes can often be in conflict. It was especially difficult when I wrote from the perspective of a specific character/personality. Distancing myself from my natural tone only added to the difficulty I faced in conveying my points and themes. The easiest things (and most boring) things I wrote were probably analytical writing pieces for high school and college.
Howard: A couple of years ago, I was asked to write a Batman story for DC comics. At that point in my career, I had written close to 700 comic books stories featuring almost every character in the Marvel Universe—Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, The X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, etc… but THIS was BATMAN!!! I felt like I did the first time I had to write a story as a pro. It took me a while to approach my keyboard without a combination of trembling and giggling at the sheer luck of it all. Easiest? Nothing is ever really easy… just LESS hard.
Ben: I don’t know what the hardest thing to write was, but I know what the most intimidating thing was: the fact pages in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When the editor of the series, Terry Kavanagh, got in touch and asked if I was interested in writing them, I nearly turned it down. Not because I didn’t want to write them (because I very much did), but because I hold the Ripley’s newspaper strips in ridiculously high regard. I read Ripley’s in the religiously as a kid, and the idea of trying my hand at writing things in the traditional Ripley’s style, and screwing it up, scared the hell out of me. But, after thinking it over for all of ten seconds, and quickly realizing that I’d be a fool to pass up something so cool, I told Terry I’d be happy to write them. And I’m really happy that I did!
As far as the easiest things to write, that would have to be the stories I wrote for the Hellraiser: Anthology series. It was a series that was totally uncensored, so there was this freedom to just tell stories, regardless of their subject matter. Having that kind of freedom opened up a floodgate in my head, and for a few months stories were just pouring out of me.
Victoria: This? No. But anytime I have to write about myself it’s hard. That feels a bit more like bleeding onto the page than an invented horror story.
Zenescope: What kind of stories are you looking to tell through your writing?
Fox: I like to tell stories of progression and transformation. Conflict is a great thing to write about, but I find it especially resonant when it results in a tangible change to a character that the audience can witness. Watching characters go through experiences that force them to self-reflect is cathartic, allowing the audience to vicariously experience a small evolution in themselves. I don’t like stories that feel stagnant; I prefer when they are continuous and organic journeys which end in very different ways than they began.
Howard: I prefer to be able to identify with some character in the story. I want some of the emotions to be personal so that I can connect with them. Often it’s the hero of the story, but sometimes it’s the villain—and that can be really fun.
Ben: At the end of the day, stories about people. I love the feeling that comes with creating characters that are identifiable and likable (or hate-able). Writing about monsters and magic and all that stuff is ridiculously fun, but none of those things matter if it’s surrounding characters that the reader doesn’t care about.
Victoria: My priority is to always just tell a good story, but if I can do it through the eyes of a compelling, historically underrepresented character, so much the better. There’s an oft-repeated half-truth that writers should write what they know. The reality isn’t that writers can or should only create characters exactly like themselves, but that channeling your own experience can help bring a needed perspective and emotional depth to a story. We need more diverse perspectives these days.