Written in Blood: A Conversation with Comics Artist/Writer Mark Wheatley

Mark Wheatley on the Lez Vamps contest, Bride of the Forest, Spectrum Live! and more.

By , Columnist

Mark Wheatley's sensuous Lez Vamps is sure to provide inspiration for a host of horrific musings from writers of all stripes.

When last we spoke, Mark Wheatley was prepping for the Comic-Con International—San Diego show, where he was showcasing various new and recent projects. Never one to rest on his laurels, Wheatley has continued to produce an array of new properties which have debuted in a variety of formats in the weeks and months since then. And even as he was rolling out those fledgling projects, he’s also been showcasing some of his older work on his Facebook page to the delight of fans new and old alike.

Still, all of that was but a warm-up for this week, when he announced that not only was one of his paintings voted to be included in this year’s Spectrum collection, but that he was also partnering with one of the preeminent horror-centric websites to sponsor a newly minted contest open to all writers, regardless of their experience or preferred mode of expression.

With all that and more going on, it was obvious that it was long past time to catch up with Wheatley and get the details on all of those projects, and what else he’s got planned for both the near and far terms.

Connections for fun painting.jpg

Mark, you’ve just announced a really interesting contest for writers. Why don’t you tell us a bit about that, how it all came about, and why you decided to do it in the first place?

My Fan Page on Facebook is quite a busy place and I like interacting with my fans there. I posted a piece of cover art for a new book by Gary Henry, one of my favorite authors—and in that post I mentioned he had requested to write a story based on one of my existing paintings, to do as an eBook like I had done with Bride of the Forest. Within minutes, one of my fans suggested a writing contest where anyone could submit a story based on one of my paintings, and the winner would be published in one of my illustrated eBooks. I loved the idea and by the end of the day we had worked out the rules and details.

Galactic Messenger from return of the human.jpg

Why leave it so open? Why not restrict the competition to only those who write comics or short stories, or those folks who haven’t published a book yet, or even just to those who’ve self-published or worked with indie imprints?

The first and most important rule of collaboration is to not put any limits on the imagination. I like to encourage an “anything goes” atmosphere with my collaborators. I like to keep it as close to playtime as possible. I’m convinced that is the way to get your best and most creative results. Also, a real virtue of the Internet and digital publishing is just how far we would have to go to hit up against any sort of “page count” limit. I can include a massive amount of material in the contest eBook, if the submissions warrant it. So I want everyone to participate who wants to join in the fun.

We are in the second day of the contest and we already have a story submission. It is way too early to say if this story will make the cut — but the idea behind the story is absolutely delightful. And if we had imposed any language of limits on what could be submitted I know we would not have gotten this story and I wouldn’t be surprised if the author might not have had the idea in the first place. I can’t wait to see what else we get!

Final Touch.jpg

Are there some things that those entering the Lez Vamps contest should keep in mind when creating and submitting work for consideration, even if it’s something as mundane as a proper format for the finished page—double versus single spacing, for instance—and are there any content restrictions people should keep in mind, such as “no porn, please” or something similar?

Well, hardcore porn - offensive or abusive situations - these could derail a submission. But I would prefer to let writers have their way. They will always own their works — we are not like some contests where we lay full claim to the submissions. So if it doesn’t make the cut, for whatever reason, they are free to take it elsewhere — just without my illustration!

We do have a few basic rules; here they are and they are posted here.

A Contest Is Worth (Any Number of) Words!

The painting, called Lez Vamps, was created by Mark Wheatley for the wildly popular Flesh & Blood series of graphic novels by Robert Tinnell and Neil Vokes. But any number of stories could be written to explain this scene. With that in mind, we are having a contest. We want you to write something that will blow our minds. If your story is the winner you will collaborate with Mark Wheatley on an illustrated eBook edition, much like his Bride of the Forest story, available from his Facebook Fan Page.

Wide Open Contest Rules

Submit - Anyone who can write can submit. You can submit stories, poems, songs, haiku, comics or even recipes - as long as you can relate it to Mark Wheatley’s painting. Let your imagination run wild. But please keep the stories in the English language.

Judging - Simply put - If we like it - it gets published. This is a very arbitrary selection process - just like the real publishing world! Your work will be judged by a group of writers, editors and artists who all think they know more about writing than the average Joe. And we are still trying to talk Joe into being a judge!

Rewards - Your most important, winning reward, if selected, is publication as an illustrated eBook, designed and illustrated by Mark Wheatley. While the Lez Vamps painting will be used in this eBook, Mark will be adding additional art to the package. He might be inspired by your contribution! (But he doesn’t have to!)

Everyone who enters will get something.

One Grand Prize Winner (drawn at random from all the published submissions) wins a Signed and Remarqued Giclée print of the contest painting.

The Fine Print (as opposed to the Art print)

1) You must guarantee that the work is original and you are the author and you grant Mark Wheatley the right to publish it. The authors retain copyright on their work, but grant Mark Wheatley full permission to self-publish it and market it in eBook form on his websites and Facebook page.

Mark Wheatley can only accept submissions by the authors themselves. By submitting you state that you are the author of the story and hold all the rights necessary for allowing Mark Wheatley to publish.

2) Understand that Mark Wheatley will be selling the eBook compilation on his Facebook page and possibly through his websites for a reasonable price. But he won't be sharing any money with the contributors. First, from past experience, there may not be much money involved. Second, the paperwork/headache just isn't worth the effort, especially if there are many contributors.

3) If the work is picked up and published by a paying market, Mark Wheatley will split the money from that publishing use 50/50 on a prorated basis, where the art is 50% and all the written material is 50% and each contributing author’s portion of the work is figured by page count. With notice to Mark Wheatley (just so we know what is going on) authors can publish their contributions wherever they like, but if they wish to sell it to somewhere including Mark Wheatley’s illustrations, he has full approval and will receive 50% of the sale.

4) We reserve the right to make minor edits on the story, such as spelling, grammar, etc.

5) All entries should be submitted pasted into the body of an email - no attachments will be accepted.

6) Entries should be sent to insight@insightstudiosgroup.com with the subject heading “Worth 1000 Words—Submission.”

7) Entries need to be in by June 1.

8) Don’t forget to include your name, link and info in the email, so we can give you full credit for your story. If you have a Facebook fan page or web site that you want to publicize, please include that info. If you have a brief bio that supports your work as a writer - please include that as well.

So, how long do you expect the judging process to take, and when do you expect to have everything ready to share with the world?

We will announce the judges next week. I’d do it now, but we are still awaiting response from a few people who were invited. But I can say that the judges who are already on board are accomplished editors, publishers, authors, and artists working in the publishing world. This is a great opportunity to get noticed! With this many judges, I hope to be able to announce the winners in just a few weeks.

Woola -- for fun painting based on ERB's Barssoom.jpg

On another topic completely, I understand that congratulations are in order since you recently had a piece chosen by this year’s Spectrum committee. What makes that particular honor so special…and how important to you is that kind of recognition, and why?

Aside from the honor of being in the book of the best Fantastic Art, selected by the best fantastic artists, film designers, book illustrators, comics artists, game designers, sculptors—I’m exhibiting at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! show in Kansas City this May 18-20, so being in this year’s book makes me seem a bit less of a poser; I think this is the fourth time I’ve been in the Spectrum book now!

By the way, Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! is shaping up to be the Woodstock of fantastic art. The guest list is staggering! I’m going to be a fan boy myself! More info here:

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live!

Join Spectrum in Kansas City as we celebrate the convergence of fantastic art and fantastic artists over the course of three days in May 18-20.

Kansas City Convention Center
301 W 13th St
Kansas City, MO 64105
phone: (913) 538-1142

Then, the other cool thing about making the Spectrum cut this year is that they selected one of my illustrations for Bride of the Forest.

Bride of the Forest cover image.jpg

Well, what is Bride of the Forest, exactly? And where did that particular tale come from, and is it a sign of what’s to come from you in the future? 

Who knows what I’ll do next?

Bride of the Forest is an illustrated eBook. A horror story with a picture on every page. I’ve been doing a lot of painting for the past few years. A good deal of this was for assignments, but I love to paint. So I’ve filled a good deal of my free time with “just for fun” paintings. And since I’m a storyteller at heart, I rarely make a painting that doesn’t suggest a story to me. Bride started out that way.

I kept thinking about the story long after I finished the painting and finally, one day, I told the story to my frequent collaborator, Robert Tinnell. He liked it, so I decided to go ahead and write the thing. We had been tossing around the idea of doing the story as a short film. So I figured if I wrote a short story and included a few illustrations that would be a good “proof of concept” for the project. When all was done, it turned into a very satisfying and attractive eBook. I installed the Ecwid shopping service on my web pages and Facebook Fan page, and now anyone can instantly purchase and read my Bride of the Forest for just one dollar!

Going back to that Internet interactivity thing — about two minutes after I released Bride, I started getting inquiries from some of my writer friends about the possibility of having them write a story around one of my paintings. So we have a number of those projects in the works. In fact, the Gary Henry eBook is due out in just a few weeks.

full sized Familiar Haunts from forthcoming unnamed project by MW.jpg

And how much of an impact, if any, might this kind of outlet have on your doing projects with other publishers, like IDW, Dark Horse, DC, etc., in the future?

Well, digital publishing and the Internet are going to have a huge, possibly total, impact on all my projects in the future. As much as I love printed books, there is just no denying the coming digital age of publishing. There is a digital publishing tsunami heading to shore and the water is already up to our necks! The good news is, I firmly believe that the digital platform offers amazing possibilities for telling comics stories, stories of all kinds, really — potentially far more powerful tools than we currently are limited to in print. For proof of this, I would point to what Mark Waid is doing with his Thrillbent projects. He is just scratching the surface of what is possible. And I hope to have my own examples out there in a very short while. Stay ‘tooned!

If your Facebook page is any indication, you’ve also been sharing select pages from some of your recent work for IDW—specifically Lone Justice—of late, as well as going through some of your much older Jonny Quest pages. What led to you going back to those projects at this point?

LJcover.jpg

I’m not doing anything new with the Lone Justice material, just posting some of my process work, because my fans like to see it. But the trip down memory lane, and my sharing of this material from Jonny Quest, Mars, Lone Justice, EZ Street, etc. all got started because this year’s August issue of Back Issue magazine is devoted to the Jonny Quest comics. And Marc Hempel and I did an interview with them. And they asked for art to illustrate the book, which meant that Marc and I had to pay a visit to our Insight Studios warehouse. Imagine the ending of Raiders, only on a smaller scale. We have kept everything, a lot of original art, and where we no longer have the originals we have copies, stats, photos, film. That warehouse is the physical history of over 20 years of our creating comics.

Anyway, we pulled out what we could easily find of the Jonny Quest issues and I had a lot of it scanned. So I’ve been pulling from that to share on my Fan page. It has been very popular, so I’ve expanded that to include some of the other projects. When I was doing Radical Dreamer we made the initial transition to a digital production chain. So the last 12 or 13 years of my work is much easier to dig out, since it is stored on disks! I guess this just means that I have a lot of cool DVD extra kinds of things I can share with my fans on my fan page.

Jonny Quest big kiss image.jpg

Now, I know you’ve got a number of other projects in various stages of completion, including a pretty cool piece of science fiction that you’re creating with J.C. Vaughn. Can you share anything from that front, or do we have to be patient a little bit longer for the proper time to learn more about them?

I can tell you that the name of the series is Return of the Human. It is a galaxy-spanning space opera in the tradition of Star Wars or Babylon 5, but told in the style of a Ken Burns documentary. Beyond that, the publisher has asked us to remain silent until the big announcement that will be coming in just a very short while.

Apocalypse on Angiliall from return of human from mw's facebook fan page.jpg

Anything else to add before I let you get back to work?

Yes! I also tell stories in music. I’ve had a number of professional music gigs over the years, but I’ve chosen to concentrate on my graphic arts, rather than my musical work. But I do still create music for fun. And my prog rock epic, "Freeday," a song that I wrote and performed, is climbing the charts over at SoundClick; it's currently #6 on their progressive rock charts, out of 20,903 songs. I’ve had a tune climb as high as the #2 spot, but this is the chance for "Freeday" to hit #1! The more people who listen, the higher it climbs. So thanks and give it a listen!

Also I’m appearing this Saturday, for Free Comic Book Day (this Saturday, May 5) at Beyond Comics in Fredrick, Maryland.

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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