Welcome to a new, hopefully regular interview column I’ve decided to call “This is…” Why “This is…?” Kind of a weird name, right? But it works, I swear! It works because this column isn’t your typical interview. It’s all about the person I’m talking to and not what they’re working on, as creators and other folks from around comics answer questions about their own comic book story, what they love, how they engage with the medium, what inspires them, how they work, and a whole lot more, including personalized flourishes for each interviewee. It’s meant to be fun, informative and illuminating about the personalities around comics, and a standardized interview set to consistently highlight the differences in the background and personalities of those who work in comics. That’s it!
And this column kicks off with one of the nicest people and most exciting creators in comics: Vita Ayala. They’re the writer of Livewire at Valiant as well as the upcoming Morbius series at Marvel, and today, they’ll be helping me launch this whole thing by sharing the comics that they’ve been enjoying and the ones that move them, giving us a look at their workspace and bookshelves of books and comics, revealing the artists they’d want to work with on a Jet Grind Radio comic, discussing the influence of cats on their work, telling us what Batman eats in their own head canon, and more. Let’s get to it, and hopefully this will evolve into a regular column here on SKTCHD. Hope you dig it.
What comics have you really been enjoying lately?
I have been trying to catch up on things recommended to me, and on indie/small press stuff I have picked up (especially now that Paper Girls is over). I picked up the Innsmouth graphic novel (by Megan James) from ComicMix at FlameCon, which has been a true joy. I kickstarted The Baboon by Jamie Jones and it has been a thrill!
I tend to read things out from my friends, so I have been mainlining stuff by Danny Lore, Tini Howard, Liana Kangas, Leah Williams, Zoe Quinn, Eliot Rahal, Ryan Cady, Phil Sevy, Steve Orlando, and Chris Sebela (among others, who I feel very guilty for not naming, but this list is getting outta control).
I also read a lot for homework, so I have been rereading a lot of X-Men and Morbius related things.
What comic(s) first made you realize that you loved comics?
I still have it on my shelf (it is in tatters). It is a Marvel/Fisher Price collab – a graphic novel of (some of) the (1001) Arabian Nights. My parents gifted it to me either right before or right after my fateful encounter with that spinner rack at the bodega. I couldn’t read the words, but the book came with a cassette tape that would read all the text on the page to you. I wore the tape out!
But if we are talking about the books that turned me into a Comic Book Reader, then it was Lady Death (the old Chaos stuff), Birds Of Prey, and manga (specifically Flame Of Recca).
What was the last comic or graphic novel you read that made you want to up your game?
I recently (finally) read the first two trades of the Jason Aaron/Esad Ribic Thor run. I sobbed in public, and then immediately got to work. Then I got in scripts from Danny (Lore) for Bond, and I had to lay down.
Single issue wise, I reread House Of X #2 and just…Papa Hickman is changing how I think about super hero books (again), from the ground up.
How do you read comics primarily?
For homework, digitally. I bought a tablet that is almost exactly the size of a single issue so it wouldn’t make my eyes turn into static-y squares (which my mother used to say would happen to my eyes if I watched too much TV or spent too much time on the computer).
By choice though, I love a good hardcover graphic novel. Something I can take the dust jacket off of and put into my bag to read on the train. Something is at least an arc (if not two or three) in it to keep me in a universe for a little longer.
What’s your workspace setup?
When I have to bang out a fresh script, I sit at my dining room (slash kitchen slash library…we live in Brooklyn, it is not a huge apartment) table. My wife and I both work from home, and she has an office space, so I get the public space. In return, I have like 10 Ikea bookshelves stuffed with prose and comics around me.
When I am reading or editing, and it is a sunny day, I sit on the couch by the window and sun bathe with my cats.
You’re in a tough spot on a project. Is there a comic you turn to if you need inspiration?
Depends on the project, but I reread Hellboy and B.P.R.D. yearly just because I love them so much. Strangers In Paradise too, though usually the first and last pocket books.
Often when I am stuck on a project though, I will try and get away from comics completely, or read something that I haven’t read before to try and shake things loose. So I will either play a video game (my Switch is AMAZING) or go to the “To Read” stack and snatch up something I have been meaning to read.
What comic character do you rep hard for that others might not appreciate as much?
I have no idea how to gauge how popular Renee Montoya is, but like, I am her advocate and will talk for hours about her if anyone wants to open that Pandora’s box!
I will go to the mat for Glory (from the reboot series). That book was gone too soon, she was so…beefy and wonderful!
If you were hired to write a Jet Grind/Set Radio 1 comic and you were given the chance to pick the artist, who would you want to draw it?
Khary Randolph and Amy Reeder. It would be a flip book, two main characters with stories that parallel each other until they intersect in the last arc…
Is there a comic that made you rethink what comics can be and the stories you can tell yourself in the medium?
I think Pretty Deadly, Tale Of Sand, and Trillium really changed my brain in terms of comics and playing with the form. Each of those made something inside my head just CLICK out of the old rhythm and into a new, more freeing place. Like being able to suddenly see a new color or understanding a complicated math equation.
What is your typical writing soundtrack, and how much does it depend on the project?
I make playlists for most of the books I work on (not all, but most) so that I can get in the mood. I have a few playlists I use when outlining/doing issue breakdowns (Trash Queer Squad and Hustle-macy are top two right now), and a few when it is Crunch Time and I need to crank out pages (Fix Ya Posture is my go to for that right now).
When I READ comics, I usually throw on Avalon by Roxy Music, because it is…a perfect album.
What comics or creators made you want to make your own comics?
Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon) and Nobuyuki Anzai (Flame Of Recca) when I was younger for sure. As I went through school it was Greg Rucka, Terry Moore, Mike Mignola. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Gail Simone were huge for me. I looked at their work and found (a) piece of myself. It made me think, look we can be IN comics, but it also really showed me how much perspectives like mine were MISSING from comics.
I have always been a person motivated by lack – if I see something missing, I want to shore that up, if there is something I feel is Wrong, I want to fix it, if there are unanswered questions or dropped threads, I want to pick them up and explore. I see a lack almost like an injustice, and I am embarrassingly Saturday Morning Cartoon about injustice.
What do you do when you need an escape from comics?
Games mostly – video games or board games. Sometimes TV/movies. I love consuming media, so I will switch up how I take it in! I try and spend as much time with my friends and family as I can (I don’t always succeed), so things like games are a good way to do that.
What books, movies, music, games, TV shows, etc. do you turn to for inspiration outside of comics?
I get A LOT of inspiration from a strange place: professional wrestling. Lots of different promotions, although I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am a huge mark for all the WWE owned promotions. The characters, the costumes, the LOOOOOOOOONNNNNG form story telling all connects to the comic fan in me, and the incredible feats of athleticism appeals to the parts of me that remember playing sports and running free.
I re-read Octavia Butler’s work every year (sometimes more than once a year), and Starship Troopers by Heinlein too. Anything by N.K. Jemisin, Daniel Jose Older, Silvia Moreno Garcia, Marisha Pessl, Danny Lore, and Victor LaValle always gets my brain going in the best way.
I am a big Star Trek fan, which is something I also share with my family and most friends. I also love trashy television with hearts of gold (Birds of Prey, Cleopatra 2525, MiddleMan, and The Dresden Files).
I have four movies (Mad Max: Fury Road, Pacific Rim 1, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Black Panther) I keep right by the player for when I need a comforting but stimulating mental cleanse.
Music wise, there is not enough room in this document haha, but I will say that right now I am revisiting some of the Hip Hop and R&B I used to listen to when I was coming up as well as my teenage edgelord music. The two playlists I am listening to the most are my QUARTER KILLER playlist and my MORBIUS: THE LIVING VAMPIRE playlist.
Game wise, I have been playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 to clear my mind, and Horizen Zero Dawn to fill it back up. I have Death Stranding on pre-order, as well as Pokemon Shield and Borderlands 3 (favorite franchise, since Jet Grind/Set Radio is MIA).
There is value in both taking in new media, and in going back to old favorites. I can quote all of Aliens in my sleep, but I ALWAYS find something new on a rewatch. Reading something new gets my creative juices flowing, but so does revisiting worlds I know and love. And, music for me, is the most foundational communication we have, so I need to have SOMETHING playing almost 24/7.
What percentage of your writing time is spent with cats trying to capture your attention?
A solid 90%. (My loud, noodle-son is flopped on the table right now pressed aggressively against my laptop.)
They (Chubbs & Bubbs) are both needy, co-dependent little buddies. Bubbs is LOUD and cries like an actual human infant which is deeply distressing to me even though I know he is not suffering AT ALL. Chubbs is wildly disrespectful and will wedge himself between me and my work, and physically PUSH it away. Then he gives me the big, “you know you love me” eyes and I grumble but he is right.
What cover artist gets you to look at any comic?
Phil Noto and Mike Mignola. I will buy almost anything if it has a Noto or Mignola cover. Jenny Frison has a haunting, beautiful style that I can’t pass by without at least picking the comic up. Jen Bartel has always been someone to make me physically have to touch a book. Lisa Sterle and Emily Pearson (who are absolutely wonderful humans as well as amazing artists) are getting cover work that makes me pick up books I would never have before. I am a COMPLETE stan for Kris Anka and Nick Robles, so if I see even like, a mock cover for a thing, I will go find it.
Also, let’s be real, if Tim Daniel is doing a cover or a logo, that book is coming home with me.
How do you organize your comics and graphic novels? Do you have a method, or is it a Wild West type situation?
VERY organized (when I have the space).
Alpha-numerical order (with numbers at the beginning of the alphabet not the end). Hardcovers first then I restart the alphabet for soft covers (unless I have a mix of hardcovers and soft covers for a series, then they are all filed with the soft covers).
Of course, I am WAY past capacity for books right now, so I have three organized piles. They are by size (biggest on the bottom), and then by alpha-numeric order when I can.
If you told a Batman story and it required him to eat at some point, what do you envision Bruce Wayne/Batman eating? And would he dine out, do delivery, have Alfred cook him something or something else?
Bruce and Batman would dine on different things.
As Bruce, I’d probably have him wining and dining either a woman (all in the name of recon, of course) or a group of businessmen. Something flashy, fancy, and E X P E N S I V E. We’re talking the Food Experience, multiple courses and wine pairings.
As The Batman, he’s eating purely to keep the blood sugar up or to help stay awake. Homemade protein bars with the perfect caloric and nutritive content. Stakeout and prep food. Things that wouldn’t make him have to go to the bathroom…
And then, that middle state, after a bad fight, after the evil is defeated and he goes home, still in the batsuit but with the cowl down, he’s sit down at the table, and Alfred would bring him something comforting and simple. Homemade tomato soup and a grilled cheese, or something like that. The little bit left of the child who lost everything.
But, that’s just what I’m thinking…
Thanks for reading the first edition of “This is…” a new, hopefully regular interview column here at SKTCHD. If you enjoyed this interview, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more interviews like this, longforms looking into the world of comics, regular columns, and a whole lot more. Learn more about a SKTCHD subscription here.