JC Vaughn is an experienced writer and creator currently co-writing Mighty Samson for Dark Horse Comics.
Mr. Vaughn took a moment from his busy schedule to chat with Comic Book Interviews and Mark F Davis about his projects past, present, and future.
MFD: Where were you born and raised?
JCV: I was born in Pittsburgh, PA and grew up for the most part in suburban Mt. Lebanon, one town away from where Jim Shooter grew up, if you can believe that. Knowing the story of how he started out was a major influence on me. When I was 15 I moved to Texas, not too far from Fort Worth, and lived there for quite a while. I generally say I’m an expatriate adopted Texan from Pittsburgh. I wear cowboy boots, but I bleed black and gold.
MFD: Have you had any formal training in writing?
JCV: Yes. My formal training in high school and college ran to journalism, but I always took creative writing courses as well. I’ve been writing fiction in one form or another since at least third grade, so I would guess I’d say the bulk of my training in this area has been informal. As long as you’re hungry to learn and get better, you can get the education anywhere.
MFD: Could you speak to the very interesting and diverse career you’ve had in writing about comic books and also scripting comic books?
JCV: I was jazzed by a lot of stuff going on it comics when I was little. I never really drifted all the way away, but back in the stone age days of the internet I was on the CompuServe comics forum and through it met a lot of creators. Without really knowing what I was going to do with them, I started interviewing them. I got to read a lot of scripts, and this fueled my desire to write comics and about comics. Tom Mason (then of Malibu) and James Hudnall (then one of the founders of Malibu’s Ultraverse) were particularly kind to me.
In 1994, I broke into comics on a paying basis by doing some PR for Defiant. Clark Smith, who headed up marketing for them, introduced me to Bob and Carol Overstreet, and their editor, Gary Carter. I started freelancing for Overstreet’s Comic Book Monthly. When Bob sold his company to Steve Geppi and Gemstone Publishing launched Overstreet’s FAN in 1995, I accepted the position of Associate Editor. I’ve been with Gemstone ever since. Now I’m Associate Publisher and Executive Editor. I think I’ve written more than 3,000 articles since then covering all sorts of collectors and collectibles. The history of the comic book medium is fascinating, and so are many other niches in collecting.
It was always my intent to write comics, cartoons, television and film, too. I never wanted to write just one style or type of work. I worked on a lot of stuff on my own, learning some of what worked and what didn’t. My friend Billy Tucci was completing one mini-series featuring his character Shi on a particular Friday. He told me that he was going to start working on the next one, a one-shot, the following Monday. He confessed he hadn’t written it yet. I said, “Okay, I’ll have you five pages of script by Monday AM.” I did, and I wrote or co-wrote much Shi for Crusade, Avatar and Dark Horse over the next several years. It was a lot of fun.
Beyond that, some friends and I published Battlestar Galactica about four or five years before it would have been really cool to be doing so. Learned a lot there. Painfully, but effectively. Did a number of other small projects, edited stuff for friends, and then when IDW had launched CSI and it was doing well, Mark Haynes and I pitched them on doing 24. We loved Jack Bauer and they liked our idea well enough to go get the license. We did three one-shots and one mini-series with them.
Since then, I’ve created Zombie-Proof and Vampire, PA, as well as the horror anthology Bedtime Stories For Impressionable Children, all of which are published by Moonstone. I also created and wrote a weekly Sunday-size newspaper strip, Antiques, which was a romantic comedy/mystery and ran in the weekly newspaper Antique Trader. It was collected in hardcover by Gemstone. That was a lot of fun and I’ve done a draft of a pilot teleplay for that as a series. With some of the great shows on cable right now, it would fit right in.
And now I’m co-writing Mighty Samson with Jim Shooter, which is something that the 13-year-old me wouldn’t believe if you told him.
MFD: What do you do as Executive Editor & Associate Publisher of Gemstone Publishing?
JCV: I oversee the operation of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which still strikes me as amazing. I grew up reading this book! On top of that, I write most of the weekly Scoop email newsletter and any of our other publications that come out in a given year. For instance, we’re also working on a new Free Comic Book Day issue called The Overstreet Guide To Collecting Comics. It’s an expansion of what we did last year, for which we got great, enthusiastic feedback.
MFD: What has Robert Overstreet meant to the comic book collecting hobby?
JCV: That is not an easy question to answer, but I believe the liquidity at the high end of the market – not just the $1 million dollar sales we saw in early 2010, but the long list of six-figure sales in the years leading up to that – owes a substantial debt of gratitude to Bob for his steadfast efforts over the years. He has not reacted to blips on the radar. A sudden spike in prices – the current “hot” book – has never suckered him. Instead, he looks for the performance in the long run, and he’s done superb. Like anyone else, he’s had his misses, but we had a mathematician at our 40th anniversary at Comic-Con International: San Diego stand up in the audience and explain why the Guide has worked so well for the last four decades.
MFD: Zombie-Proof and Vampire, PA are two of the more popular comic books you’ve written. Would you mind talking about those titles, and some of your more recent comic book scripts?
JCV: In Zombie-Proof, Billy Bob Driwahl, the only locksmith in the isolated town of San Rosina in far west Texas knows they’re coming. In fact, he’s known since before he graduated high school 20 years ago. His mistake was letting people find out. Since then, the town’s been divided into two groups. There are the folks who think he’s plain crazy, and there are the other folks who think he’s plain crazy but realize that he does good work and is, after all, the only locksmith in town. Then, of course, the zombies come. When the civilized world starts to collapse, the town turns to the guy they’ve thought was crazy for the last 20 years.
In Vampire, PA, Dean Marklin didn’t believe in vampires at all. Then he met one. Then he met lots more, and they all wanted to kill him. He displayed a remarkable ability to deal with them… severely. Now he’s a vampire hunter, and he’s pursued by a beautiful vampire while he tries to hold onto what’s left of normal life. Just for the record, these vampires don’t sparkle.
I’ve also just launched a horror anthology that’s been in my head since high school, Bedtime Stories For Impressionable Children, and as I mentioned I’m co-writing Mighty Samson with Jim Shooter. A very, very educational experience, I have to say.
MFD: You mentioned you are co-writing Mighty Samson, one of the Gold Key characters, for Dark Horse Comics. Could you talk about your plans for that title?
JCV: Like the first issue, the initial story will give readers a real taste of Samson’s world, where the average conditions of life are – to borrow from Thomas Hobbes – solitary, poor, brutish, nasty and short. We’ll also get to know a bit of Samson himself. He’s not a saint, certainly not by 21st century standards, but he is a ray of light and hope in a bleak and dangerous world. There’s a whole world to rediscover here, and it should be fun.
MFD: What’s it like working with Jim Shooter?
JCV: Jim pushes for the best in what he’s doing, and likewise expects that from his collaborators. Even after being a fan and friend of his for years, it’s still surprising to see his level of commitment to doing what it right by the stories and the characters. Some folks use the phrase “an educational experience” as a euphemism for something negative, but I’d go the opposite direction. This has definitely been an educational experience so far, but a great one.
MFD: Are there any plans to bring back other Dark Horse titles or characters, such as the Comics Greatest World characters, and mix them in to what’s being released with this new line that’s so far centered around the Gold Key characters?
JCV: That sounds like a question more for Jim or Dark Horse editor Chris Warner! My lips are sealed. Or I don’t know. Either way…
MFD: Are there any plans to develop brand new titles and add them to the titles that are already being produced for this new launch?
JCV: While I’m not entirely sure what Jim and Dark Horse’s Mike Richardson cooked up in their initial plan, I know that as a fan I certainly have a few things I’d like to see. One of the things I think most of Jim’s fans know is that he loves to build in story and character elements from the earliest stages that pay off later in surprising ways, those things that when they finally click cause you to say, “Oh, yeah!”
MFD: Do you read any of the new comic books that are being published today?
JCV: Tons, since I have to review things all the time for Scoop and keep up with them for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. I love Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, Criminal by Brubaker and Sean Phillips (I don’t think colorist Val Staples gets enough credit for the brilliant mood of this series). I’ve enjoyed the new Terminator from Dark Horse. Matt Wagner’s Green Hornet: Year One has been outstanding. Just read Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix Without Ashes from IDW (fantastic, awesome story with great covers by my frequent collaborator John K. Snyder III). The Walking Dead is awesome just about all the time. It’s nice that so many new readers are discovering it because of the show. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run on Nova was month in and month out one of the best reads in comics. Really sorry that seems to be over. Probably the best and certainly the most consistent treatment the character has ever received. Star Wars: Knight Errant rocks (no surprise, John Jackson Miller rocks as well). Jonah Hex is probably the best example on the market today that single-issue stories still can make great comics. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have turned that into an amazing run and a healthy how-to. Their Time Bomb series for Radical was cool, too, and I enjoyed both of the Shrapnel series by Nick Sagan. I’m also reading the three Stan Lee series from BOOM!, which I’m really enjoying so far, and Mark Waid’s Irredeemable and Incorruptible. I always check out Captain Action. Tiny Titans is another nominee for best comic month in and month out. Dynamite’s new Warlord of Mars is cool (thanks to Joe Jusko for urging me to try it), and I like Batman Beyond. I’m sure I’m leaving something out…
I’m really looking forward to the return (36 years later) of Atlas. I’m guest curating an exhibit on the original Atlas at Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore that’s set to open on March 11, 2011.
I also read a lot of reprints. I really believe that we’re living in the Golden Age of comic strip reprint books and archival volumes in general. I can’t wait for the next THUNDER Agents Archives entry (which features the ill-fated Deluxe Comics material), and Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell at IDW’s Library of American Comics imprint just release the third volume of Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby, Al Williamson and Archie Goodwin’s Secret Agent Corrigan, and Chic Young’s Blondie. They also put out a massive volume of Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals. Hall of Fame type stuff. There’s also the Nexus Archives, which are a must.
So, when I said “tons,” it was barely hyperbole.
MFD: What are your hopes and plans for your comic book writing future?
JCV: In addition to Mighty Samson, I have a horror anthology called Bedtime Stories For Impressionable Children. We’ll have at least two and I think three more issues of that in 2011. I’ll have a one-shot sequel to my Zombie-Proof mini-series, Zombie-Proof: Zombie Zoo, and I have a few other back burner projects simmering, too. A couple of really good ones. The main thing at the moment though is Samson.
Everyone at ComicBookInterviews.com would like to thank Mr. Vaughn for taking the time to answer our questions.
About the interviewer –
Mark F Davis is Vice President of Publishing for Comic Book Interviews and is also Senior Editor for Red Leaf Comics.
Mark is a contributing writer at Red Leaf Comics and has crafted several tales for The Leaf, Canada’s Greatest Hero at www.redleafcomics.com. His creator-owned properties include: Skyscraper, Depthon –Son of the Ocean, The American Guard, and other heroes from Surprising Comics and can be found at www.surprisingcomics.com.
Mark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.