With a prestigious Glyph Award and multiple Eisner nominations already under his belt, Jeremy Whitley seems poised to take the comic book world by storm. His work on Princeless is both criticially acclaimed and beloved by fans of all ages. A true gentleman and scholar, Whitley’s thoughtful approach to the craft of comics and his ability to connect with his audience is also starting to garner the attention of the industry’s top talent, with Mark Waid and Mike Carey recently giving rave reviews to one of strongest debuts in recent memory.
The overwhelming popular and critical success of Princeless has not only benefitted the young creator but has also increased the profile of independent publisher Action Lab Entertainment, allowing them to expand and diversify their presence in the marketplace with their new Danger Zone imprint. Broken Frontier recently caught up with the busy creator, who doubles as Action Lab’s resident PR guy to discuss his future plans and how the success of his unassuming modern fairy tale has helped him attain the next level in his career.
BROKEN FRONTIER: Princeless has been a huge success for both yourself and Action Lab. How has the book’s status as an Eisner-nominated, Glyph-winning title impacted your career and Action Lab’s profile? How do you maintain the positive momentum?
JEREMY WHITLEY: Well, I think I’m still waiting to figure that out. The comics industry can be a little slow moving but I’m hopeful it will be a nice down payment on the credit I’m given by companies that are looking for talent. There are a lot of unknown quantities when you’re looking for a new writer, but now they know I’m capable of writing award winning work. Hopefully that means something.
As for how it has affected Action Lab, I think it’s helped to open a lot of doors for us. The biggest problem we had with the first volume was just getting it into people’s hands. Now people know about us and know to look out for us in the back of that Previews book. Not to mention, creators and properties are looking for us as well.
You’ve recently expanded the cast and universe of Princeless by introducing new characters and exploring her realm in a collection of short stories and brand new limited series. How far out have you planned Adrienne’s adventures? How will she change as a heroine?
WHITLEY: I have a lot of things planned out. The second limited series introduces the first of Adrienne’s sisters in her attempt to rescue her. We’ll be doing another one to follow each of the other sisters. Additionally, we’re introducing some new characters and new stories in the Free Comic Book Day story and the upcoming short story series.
The short stories have been a great opportunity to work with some amazing artists and explore some of the unseen corners of the Princeless world. As for how far out I’ve planned…at the current rate of production I’ve planned years out.
Adrienne is a unique protagonist for various reasons. Was it a conscious decision to present a visible minority as your protagonist or was it a more natural process?
WHITLEY: It was a little of both. I wanted to have a great female heroine of color that my daughter could look up to. It irritates me that characters of color rarely exist in fantasy settings and it was a conscious decision to make this a fantasy world that includes a variety of races.
Princeless is a property with a potentially broad commercial appeal. What are you ultimate goals for the property?
WHITLEY: I would love to make a Princeless animated series. I’d also love to have some toys/dolls/action figures out there.
Your series, The Order of Dagonet, with Jason Strutz, is about as far away in tone and theme (not to mention visuals) as you can get from Princeless. For the benefit of the uninitiated, can you lay out the premise of Dagonet?
WHITLEY: Sure. The Order of Dagonet is about the return of the magical forces of Faerie to modern day England. When they run rampant, the only people who can stop them are the knights of England. Unfortunately for us, today’s knights are all actors, authors, and rock stars. Now our fate is in the hands of people like Ozzy Osbourne, Elton John, and Ian McKellen. And there’s amazing art by Jason Strutz who has a style unlike anything else in comics. The first issue is actually available for free on Comixology for those who want to check it out.
With two properties as diverse as Princeless and Order of Dagonet, one has to wonder about the man behind the stories. What or who do you draw inspiration from as a creator?
WHITLEY: My dad is my first inspiration, in that he introduced me to a lot of the things I love. I love Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony, Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Gail Simone, Joseph Heller, Kelly Sue Decconick, and Matt Fraction. And, of course, I think the biggest source of inspiration for me are the people I know. I’ve had the luck of knowing some amazing people.
The comics industry has always been somewhat unpredictable. Currently, it seems as if it’s undergoing something of a renaissance, with renewed Hollywood interest, video games – not to mention a burgeoning independent/small press scene scattered across the Internet.
As an up and coming creator and publicist for Action Lab, do you feel the current climate is a healthy one? If so, can it be sustained?
WHITLEY: That’s kind of a tough question, as we have a hard time dealing with success as an industry. I think the key to sustaining it is to realize that that success can only be maintained by continuing to be creative and original. The success of books like The Walking Dead is great, but creators have to know that recreating the book is not the same as recreating the success. Books like Saga and Chew are as original as they get but there can’t be two of them.
What does Action Lab bring to the table that other publishers lack? What about their approach to publishing attracted you to them?
WHITLEY: Action Lab is all about creator freedom. Action Lab wants to make your book successful, but more than that, they want your book to stay yours. Action Lab is made up of creators who came together to make comics on a larger scale. We know what it’s like to self-publish and we want to help make it easier for creators to reach the marketplace.
Danger Zone is Action Lab’s new mature readers imprint. What was behind the decision to create a distinct publishing identity for adult material? Do you have any plans to publish any work under the Danger Zone banner?
WHITLEY: The biggest thing with Danger Zone was that we’d always wanted to give every great book a shot to get out there. In its own way, our success made that difficult. Because we became successful with books like Princeless and then we attained an NFL license for their all-ages title we couldn’t put mature readers titles on the table next to those. So, we needed to create a haven for our mature readers titles with Danger Zone, so that we wouldn’t find ourselves in an awkward positions with licensees (or parents for that matter!)
I would love to put a book out through Danger Zone, though I’m not entirely sure what. I have to submit books the same as anybody else, so I want to find a book that’s going to be a perfect fit.