Once Upon a Time Machine in June
In April of 2018, Dark Horse released Once Upon a Time Machine Volume 2, a 224 page collection of futuristic interpretations of Greek Myths. It follows on the 2013 success of the first volume, which did similarly modernistic retellings of mythological tales. Chris Stevens, one of the editors, willingly allowed me to ask him a short set of questions about the book. Chris will be appearing on the Pint O’ Comics radio program soon, so look for that announcement as it comes.
— What was the impetus of the book? Not just this one, but the first volume.
The Time Machine books came about as an extension really of two things, Jon. First would be the love of the old storybooks and books of myths that I found in the school book fairs and libraries of my boyhood. Second was moving to Philadelphia and meeting and getting to be friends with a lot of creators, including, and most importantly as far as Time Machine becoming a reality, my partner Andrew Carl, and wanting to combine these new folks with some people I knew from online to kick aside the old complaint that it was so hard to make comics and just make a comic. don’t get me wrong, it IS extremely difficult to make and complete comics and get them out into the world, but this was about the doing of it as much as anything else.
— Very nice! Generally, how long does it take to put a themed anthology like this together? Do you find more creators coming to you, or do you have to actively search them out once the project gets a green light?
These things take a couple years, give or take. Mostly give haha [sic]. They take a while in my experience, for a variety of reasons (which) mainly come down to people’s schedules and budget. As far as how the creative roster gets put together, it’s a mix of what you said. There were people we definitely sought out, and people who came to us because they liked the other books we had made or had hit it off at a convention or something.
— I’m sure it’s nice when they come seek you out. What’s your background in our lovely world of comics? And beyond?
I grew up in Atlantic City and banged my head against the wall of trying to make comics and get into comics for most of my twenties. By my late 20s/early 30’s I had worked as a writer with some amazing artists, both established ‘stars’ and new folks I found online, and I had a couple stories published in anthologies from Random House and Image, but still felt relatively stuck as far as getting things going. I moved to Philadelphia in the fall of 2008 and met some good people who were into comics and I wound up co-founding Locust Moon, which was a comics shop and small press publisher. The store had to be shut down, sadly, early in 2016 but it was a great 6 year run and 4 of those years, from 2012-2015, we hosted the Locust Moon Comics Festival, where we were able to create a pretty intimate con setting with guests like Jim Steranko, Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dean Haspiel and a bunch of wonderful creators during that time. With Locust Moon Press I edited & published, and did some minor writing for 12 or 13 books I think, and won some Eisner & Harvey awards along the way. We closed the doors on Locust Moon Press last year and now I’m working on writing my own books, and working with Andrew on developing his new series as well as new projects together.
— That’s an impressive array of everything comic books. You’ve certainly maintained your goals! Do you have a particular favorite story for this volume? Along those lines, do you have a favorite Greek myth? (The challenges of Theseus being one of my own…)
Do I have a particular favorite from this volume? Hold on, let me go look at the book… ha! Never supposed to choose favorites but I do think what Paul Pope did with his brief story was pretty brilliant and touching actually, and I love David Garrido’s EROS spread. Michael Swanwick, this was his first ever comics work after an extremely decorated career as a science fiction author, and seeing his script come to life in Joe Della Gatta’s hands was a highpoint for me as an editor. Jonathan Tune’s COSMOGONY story is truly its own creature, and something that could only be done in comics. I love how Jonathan uses the various languages of the medium in that one. I could name something from every story and pin-up honestly so I’ll stop there for now!
I don’t know if I have a favorite Greek myth. The stories are so huge and fantastical yet so rooted in our human nature, the best and the worst of it that different myths over the years appeal to me in different ways. At the time of making this book, Sisyphus was something that I could relate to or sympathize with I guess, and the imagery of it struck me. The Theseus stories you mentioned, yeah, they are terrific! Did you ever read Pope’s SOLO issue? There’s a great short story in there you might like if that’s your favorite Greek myth.
— SOLO is one of the most underrated series DC Comics ever published, not just in the last 20 years. Every single issue was a supreme creation of excellence. It’s a terrible shame it gets overlooked. So yes, I’ve read the Paul Pope story!
The first volume (of Once Upon a Time Machine) came out 6 years back and has apparently remained on Dark Horse’s reorder lists. Obviously it did well enough to garner the current volume 2. Where are you seeing most of the sales, through traditional comic stores, or more from book stores and online purchases? Do you have an idea if digital formats have made impact on numbers?
Yeah, the first book did ok, especially taking into account the nature of the project and the fact that 90% of the creators in book had never been published before. We did well on the convention circuit, or any environment really where potential readers had a chance to interact with the book, particularly parents & kids. And a nice chunk of sales came through those venues. Traditional comics shops were never going to be the make or break on a book like this, but we did ok there too, and we’re happy to see the book on shelves in shops around the country (and in other countries, too!) and appreciate the retailers who supported us. Dark Horse has great book store distribution so bookstores, bless them as they struggle in this day and age, were important for us. Digital sales were a lesser element but still helped add to the bottom line.
— It’s good to hear that the book is an across-the-board seller. I’ve got a number of thoughts on comic sales and distribution that will have to keep – they’re extravagant and will take up much time.
Is Once Upon a Time Machine an entirely freelance project through Dark Horse?
Yes, this is freelance. My partner Andrew and I work with Randy Stradley (VP of Publishing – Dark Horse) on the Time Machine books, he’s our editor there.
From the back cover of Once Upon a Time Machine Volume 2: “Ancient” Greece: the year 3016 AD. And 4079 AD. And 6060 AD. From the trials of Heracles to the love songs of Orpheus, the myths and gods of the past are reborn in wondrous and scarcely imaginable futures. Witness exciting new visions of the Greek tradition from the hands and minds of Ronald Wimberly (Prince of Cats), Paul Pope (Battling Boy), Toby Cypress (The Gravediggers Union), Conor McCreery (Kill Shakespeare), Andrea Tsurumi (Accident!), Hugo & Nebula Award-winning science fiction author Michael Swanwick (Stations of the Tide), and many more of today’s most inventive creators. Edited by Andrew Carl & Chris Stevens, of the Eisner & Harvey Award-winning Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream.
Once Upon a Time Machine Volume 2 is available now from your FLCS or book store.