Comic Book Day: Sam Humphries Talks “Uncanny X-Force” and Aztecs
by Dan Casey on December 12, 2012
Sam Humphries may just be the nicest guy in comics. He’s also the most Horatio Alger-esque. After his self-published Our Love is Real sold out its initial run in 9 hours (!), Image picked up the title for wider release. Now, he’s got books at Marvel, Dark Horse, BOOM! Studios and, of course, in his hot little self-publishing hands. And, surprisingly, he is still modest, humble and not afraid to pull his narrative punches. Oh, and did we mention we also love him because he used to co-host the Meltcast (the official podcast of our home base of Meltdown Comics)? Because that’s yet another reason we love him. Now, the self-made man is gearing up for his highest profile assignment yet, Marvel NOW’s Uncanny X-Force, coming in January and featuring dynamite art from Ron Garney. How does Humphries deal with tackling the House That Remender Thrilled? With ninjas, hot sauce and a fierce love for all things Aztec. Oh, and preview pages – sweet, sweet preview pages.
Sam Humphries: MUTANT NINJA NOIR. In a world where WOLVERINE is running a goddamn PREP SCHOOL, and even Sunfire is a goddamn AVENGER, there’s gotta be a place for the outsiders, the scoundrels, the TRULY uncanny — and NOT the posers who kick it with Captain America on the weekends! Psylocke and the crew will be pulling back the curtain on the darkest corners of the Marvel Universe — confronting things that even the X-Men fear and hate. There’s a lot of books with Uncanny in the title, but this book is gonna be dark, sexy, weird, bloody, and sticky — the most Uncanny of them all.
N: Were there any characters you wanted to add to the team but couldn’t for whatever reason?
SH: I was given complete freedom to make my own team, but I am working in a shared universe, so you can’t always get what you want. The only reason I was told I couldn’t have a character was because they were busy elsewhere. That said, I never felt like I was last in line at the buffet. I was denied some characters I wanted, but I was also able to snake some characters away from other writers. Suckers!!
But every character on this book is there because I want them there — this is my team. As a poet once said, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, etc., etc.
SH: The only Marvel NOW! mandate is that these are NEW books. It’s a new day for all the titles. So take advantage of the opportunity — show us something new, go a little crazy, break the mold a little bit. And don’t blow it.
N: Uncanny X-Force has been one of the most well-received books in Marvel’s lineup. Do you feel any sense of pressure following Remender’s powerhouse run or are you eager to sink your teeth into it?
SH: I’ve loved Rick’s run on Uncanny X-Force long before Nerdist ever had a reason to interview me. But I love it enough to leave it alone. Rick’s run is its own complete story, and it doesn’t need any ham-fisted rehashing from me. So we’re taking a left turn out of Remenderworld and entering MUTANT NINJA NOIR territory. Everyone at Marvel has encouraged me to write the book I want to write — and not to try to write a Remender book or a Hickman book. That’s a great thing to hear — because I know I can deliver a Sam Humphries book, for better or worse! It takes a lot of pressure off and helps you relax. And when you relax, you can have fun.
SH: X-Force has had a lot of different guises over the years — from extreme 90s to day-glow pop absurdity to black-ops wet-works. Change is a constant. But one thing has always remained true — this is a book of outsiders. This is a book that gets dirty, different, and weird — way out on the fringes of everything else. This is not the typical X-Men book with Cyclops and Colossus and Nightcrawler — this is X-Force! If you don’t see something you can’t find in another superhero book, then it isn’t X-Force.
N: The art that we’ve seen so far is gorgeous. Talk to us about Ron Garney’s interiors and how you two worked together to guide the book’s visual tone.
SH: Ron Garney is the true killer of Uncanny X-Force. Not only is he a goddamn master of dynamic storytelling and fist-blistering action, he won’t flinch at drawing ANYTHING. It’s amazing to work with an artist knowing I can throw anything at them, and they’ll nail it. The temptation to take advantage of an artist without fear is… overwhelming.
N: Let’s talk about your creator-owned effort Sacrifice for a moment. It combines two of my greatest loves: Aztecs and Joy Division. Where are we in the story now, and how many more issues can we expect?
SH: Sacrifice is making a triumphant return to stores and online on January 16 — same day as Uncanny X-Force! We’ll be shipping monthly until the end, issue 6 in March. Hector is a Joy Division fan from modern-day San Diego who finds himself trapped in the past, and must stay alive during the height of the Aztec Empire. He’s been manipulated by political, religious, and rebel factions to determine the future of the empire. He knows the Spanish are coming to destroy it all. And the end of the last issue, he’s been enlisted to perform a human sacrifice — to pull the heart from the ribcage of the greatest warrior in history.
N: What made you want to write a book about Aztecs? How much research does a title like this require?
SH: The research made me want to write the book, not the other way around. I’ve been obsessed with the Aztecs for about a decade, devouring whatever material I can about them, even going so far as to take an Aztec cooking class. (It was delicious.)
I’m fascinated by the Aztec Empire because it was a beautiful, bloodthirsty world so unlike anything we know today. They were an advanced civilization that grew up in complete geographic isolation from European and Asian societies. When the Spanish landed in Mexico, Tenochtitlan was the third largest city in the world. It’s the equivalent of discovering Singapore on the dark side of the moon. That moment in history is the closest thing we’ve had to an alien encounter.
SH: Well, I developed epilepsy as a kid, and there’s absolutely nothing cool about being the literal spaz in school. The only cool thing about epilepsy is that in certain cultures, it’s considered sacred. So I thought there should be a story where that actually comes in handy.
More than that, having epilepsy has been a life-changing experience, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I have medication that works and I live my life relatively free of symptoms. Most people are not so lucky — and there’s over 50 million epileptics in the world. There’s no one out there, that I’m aware of, who is telling stories from the perspective of epileptics in comic books. It’s not like I’m raising awareness about genocide here, but when it comes to unique things I can bring to the table, this is one of them. There’s part of Hector’s story that belongs to all my fellow spazmos out there.
N: Writing for an established title like X-Force presents different challenges than working on a creator-owned title like Sacrifice. Do you find you prefer one to the other? Which do you find more challenging as a writer?
SH: They both present a different set of challenges. Writing a character like Captain America in The Ultimates is like flying a jet plane. It’s turbo powered, so you can do some bitchin’ stuff when you’re sitting in that cockpit. And while there’s definitely artistry and hot-doggery to what you do in the air, if you don’t have a mission plan, you’re screwed. And you’d better bring it back in one piece, because that sucker is worth a billion dollars. I don’t have a metaphor for the creator-owned stuff but that’s fun too.
N: You garnered a lot of attention in 2011 after Our Love is Real sold out its self-published print run in 9 hours and sold out multiple subsequent runs. What was the experience of self-publishing like? Would you recommend it to other aspiring creators? Why or why not?
SH: Well, it changed my life! It gave me a career. If I hadn’t self-published Our Love is Real and Sacrifice, would I be talking to you now? Probably not. I recommend aspiring creators take their careers in their own hands. Go make comics instead of waiting for someone to give you permission. It’s a lot more fun to make a comic than to wait around all day for your phone to ring or your inbox to light up — and at the end of the day, you have a comic!
In terms of self-publishing, that’s just one way to make your own comics as an aspiring creator. There are many tools and methods and strategies available for getting your work out there. What counts is a) coming up with a plan that fits your priorities, and b) doing it.
N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
SH: Comics by Simon Hanselmann on his blog; SuperMagic Mutant Academy by Jillian Tamaki; Corpse on the Imjin!, a collection of Harvey Kurtzman war stories by Fantagraphics; Forming by Jesse Moynihan; Adolf by Osamu Tezuka.
N: Solid list. Are there any other projects on the horizon that you can share with us?
SH: The Ultimates is going strong, we’re midway through the “Reconstruction” arc, and gearing up for a big story later in 2013. Other than that…nothing that I can talk about right now!
N: Last, but certainly not least, what is in your ideal burrito?
SH: I live in Los Angeles, so carne asada, chunky guacamole, french fries, and sauce so hot it hurts.
And now, without further ado, feast your eyes on some awesome covers and preview pages: