Karl Bollers is no stranger to the industry. With over 118 written titles under his belt (everything from Archie Comics': Sonic the Hedgehog to numerous Marvel Comics related titles) Mr. Bollers has proven he has the chops to craft tales that engage and contribute to the lexicon of whatever property he is involved with. A writer who is not only talented, he knows both the craft of storytelling and the business of creating comic books. New Paradigm Studios teamed with Karl to write on one of their titles, Watson and Holmes (A modern urban re-interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. Starring Watson as a medical intern and Holmes private detective), which is currently taking the comic industry by surprise. The first printed issue, which was due to hit comic shop shelves on July 17th, sold out of its 3888 print run ahead of its street date (resulting in demand for a second printing). Issue #2 is available now for fans to check out. Those who do will discover why this is one of the breakout titles of the year. Karl graciously took time out of a busy schedule to share a bit about Watson and Holmes, his career, what's on his read list right now and more.
MT: You have extensive experience working in the industry as a writer. How did you get into comics and do you recall what your first writing gig was?
KB: Well, there's how I "got" into comics and then there's how I actually got into the comic book biz. My older brother, Kurt, got me into comics when I was a kid. He was an avid trader and collector, so comics were always just a part of the scenery for as far back as I can remember...even before I could read, so at first I'd just look at the art. Eventually, I cut the umbilical from my brother's collection and began one of my own with the titles I was interested in reading. In seventh grade, my best friend, a talented artist who taught me a great deal about human anatomy and proportions, got me to start noticing the credits in comics. At that point, I made the connection that comics were made by living, breathing human beings(!), something clicked in my brain and I pictured a reality where I could be one of those people.
When I was 20, I applied for a college internship at Marvel Comics and after getting the position, I worked in two editorial offices learning comic book production from the ground up. Almost from the get-go, I began trying to find a way to establish myself as a comic book writer. I became friends with Mark Powers, who was the assistant editor on the Marvel Comics Presents weekly anthology series. I pitched an idea to him featuring the X-Men character Northstar in an 8-page story about terrorism and it was received really well by Terry Kavanagh, the book's editor. The art was by a 16 year-old high school intern named Joe Madureira, ended up seeing print in Marvel Comics Presents #92 and that's how I got my first writing gig.
MT: How did you end up at New Paradigm Studios and working on Watson and Holmes?
KB: I met in early 2012 with my former Archie and Marvel Comics' editor, Justin Gabrie, who had just gotten the position as Senior Editor at New Paradigm Studios. He told me New Paradigm publisher Brandon Perlow was looking for a writer to work on a new comic book series featuring people of color. I was intrigued by the idea, and after meeting with Brandon and W&H series co-creator and colorist, Paul Mendoza, and hearing this really cool concept they'd both devised, I accepted their offer. It's been great coming in on the ground floor, helping to re-imagine the characters, their world, setting the series' tone, plus working with penciler Rick Leonardi has been incredible.
MT: Watson and Holmes updates and reinterprets the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. I got a bit of a vibe reminiscent of Shaft (Ernest Tidyman) and Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson (Cotton Comes to Harlem and The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes). Was this intentional, just a coincidence, or does it have to do with the universality of the genre and characters?
KB: I wasn't intentionally going for the Shaft / Cotton Comes to Harlem vibe, but since you're not the first to mention it, I guess there may be some aspects of those movies that I might have internalized having seen them at a very young age (totally inappropriate, yeah...yeah...I know...) And then, like now, there weren't a lot of movies featuring mostly black casts, and when Cotton Comes to Harlem or Uptown Saturday Night would air on television back in the day, it was something of an event for us...definitely memorable.
MT: The first print run of Watson and Holmes recently sold out. Many sites are reporting it is due to unanticipated reception by the public and that many comic carriers under-ordered. What does the fact that the title has sold out so quickly say to you, as an insider, about the title, and wants and needs of fans?
KB: It says something about publicity and marketing as well as the changing face of the modern comics fan base. We launched the series one year ago in digital format and had been working steadily trying to figure out how to best promote it. The Kickstarter campaign was a huge success, enabling us to reach our stretch goals, produce the book on a monthly basis and raise audience awareness. Add to that the word of mouth associated with W&H and it became a kind of perfect storm that put the book in demand. Superheroes remain dominant in mainstream comics, but I think readers are starting to grow somewhat weary of this material, seeing it served up the same old way, or in a deconstructed analog fashion. In mainstream superhero comics there's often a need to "go big" as evidenced by the endless wave of crossover events which have become the norm. But if everything is big, then nothing is big. We don't live our lives in a constantly ramped up state, and sometimes audiences simply need something more relatable.
MT: The art, inks, lettering and writing all blend so well to create not only the story, but creating a vibe/character to the title. Can you share about the creative team you are working with on the title? Have you ever worked with them before? Are you all New Yorkers? (thus, creating a kind of shared language that you all tap into to create a synergy).
KB: If I'm correct, I think assistant editor Zack Rosenberg is the only member of the W&H team currently living in the New York City area. Brandon is in New Jersey, Rick is in the Philadelphia area and Justin Gabrie is also in Pennsylvania (Justin was born and bred in Queens borough, so he knows what's up, though). But seriously, everyone on the team can get to Manhattan by public transportation. The only one who has to go into luggage mode when it comes to taking a trip here is series co-creator / colorist Paul Mendoza. I've worked with Justin before. We both were assistant editors at Marvel Comics and he was my editor on Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog and Marvel's “What If...?” series. Rick and I first worked together years ago when he penciled a Marvel Comics one shot I co-wrote featuring Cable from the X-Men and Machine Man, one of the legendary Jack Kirby's last creations for Marvel.
MT: Will the stories in Watson and Holmes be adapting from the classic stories or are you creating all new mysteries for the new incarnation to tackle?
KB: Some of the stories will be direct adaptations, but I think more will be original than not. Though I think part of the fun of adapting those old stories is seeing just how effectively modernized they can be.
MT: With your extensive background, you've had the chance to write a variety of different stories. Do you have a favorite genre? Any genre that you would like to return to/take a stab at?
KB: I really enjoy horror and magic. Something about the unseen world, things just outside the periphery of our vision and comprehension, the things that make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck...not so much that type of blatant, in-your-face-horror. I'd like to take a stab at writing horror or magic, either a period piece or something set in the modern day.
MT: Any favorite reads right now?
KB: I'm not reading any comics regularly right now, but I just started rereading Twelve Years A Slave, so I guess that counts as a favorite read. It's the memoir of Solomon Northup, a Nineteenth Century black freeman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South. He spent twelve years in captivity and the book, which I believe has been made or is being into a movie, details that period. (*see the associated video for a peek at the upcoming film)
KB: The choice is blatantly obvious, isn't it...?
Check out Watson and Holmes available now and watch Karl Bollers weave the magic behind the mystery.