Creative partnerships take on many different faces and shapes today. Some artists and writers collaborate across state lines via Skype, email and phone, others by mail, and some may interact daily. That last piece is certainly the case for Comfort Love and Adam Withers. Not only are the duo married to each other, but they also work together to produce two successful and notable comic book series, Rainbow in the Dark and The Uniques. The pair have been working hard over the past few years, and their recent nomination for a Harvey Award in the category of Most Promising New Talent is certainly one of the rewards of that struggle. I talked with them recently about just what this award means, how their creative process works and just what the future holds in store.
The pair of twenty somethings met in college, the Kendall College of Art and Design specifically, where they fell in love and both have degrees in Illustration and Graphic Design. After some initial work on role playing games, they began working on their own material, and now, a few years later, they are a Harvey nominated duo. The news surprised them. "We were shocked, really. More than shocked," they said, "We didn’t think there was any chance of us being recognized in this way for many, many years, if ever. As a self-publisher, you’re often ignored by the wider creative community. There’s a major struggle to have the work we do seen as legitimate. What this represents to us as much as anything is the vindication that our efforts and the books we create have as much value and legitimacy as any of the major publishers out there."
While they describe the experience of being nominated as humbling and flattering, they describe the category title itself as something of a misnomer, saying, "Some of these guys have been doing major mainstream work for years. It would probably be better labeled “Breakout Talent of the Year” or something similar so as to recognize that none of these people came out of nowhere. It takes a lot of work to have come as far as these creators have." That talent has been seen in their titles such as The Uniques, a series that began with a focus on real people in a way that they see as a departure from some more mainstream superhero comics. "We tackle some darker themes, but The Uniques isn’t a “dark” book. We feel like most times when a comic company touts how “real” their books are, what they really mean is “everybody has a crappy life!” But that isn’t reality, either. It’s just as melodramatic and silly as having everything splashed with bright colors and happy endings."
At its core The Uniques focuses on seven teenagers, who, according to Love and Withers, "act and talk like real teenagers do...they swear, they pick on each other, they flirt, they make mistakes. They aren’t great at what they do when they start. In fact, they spend the first nine issues barely surviving most of the time. But they also go bowling together and go to a karaoke bar and just hang out playing board games. They’re normal people who just happen to wear costumes and fight crime." One thing the series plans to tackle is the passage of time, something the duo feels is missing in some comics today. It’s about trying to become the person you want to be, and how hard that really is. More than anything, it’s about growth and change – two things rarely utilized in the superhero genre. Over the course of the series, these teenagers will grow up into their 40’s-50’s. They’ll become adults and watch a new generation growing up behind them and say “God, were we ever that stupid?” You’ll see the world change around them as a result of what they do, and you’ll see them change as a result of the world around them. The book will not be the same in the end as it is in the beginning, and some characters won’t even be entirely recognizable. The ones that survive to the end, anyway."
With so many youthful personalities in one series, it might appear to be a tough balancing act, however, according to Love and Withers, "It isn’t as hard as you think. We have so much fun with the way these characters interact that we’re always finding new ways to have them playing off each other. Plus, we like them all so dang much, and each for such different reasons, that we’re always wanting to make sure each gets their “moment” in any given story. Now, that being said, seven characters are a lot to balance. What we’ve found is that any given story has one or two or maybe three central characters around which the plot mostly revolves, and then the rest become sort of “Plot Sidekicks” to the others for that story. They still serve a function and get their moments, but the story is clearly not about them during that issue or that arc."
They point to an arc in issues seven through nine in which Telepath, the leader of the team, and members Quake and Scout find themselves in a conflict and the other members of the team are in support roles for those particular issues, however, it does serve a grand purpose, "It gives everybody something to do and something to contribute, but by accepting that there are always a few “main” characters and letting the others live happily in a “support” capacity for those issues, the story flows much more easily and naturally. Then we get to a new storyline and the main characters change and suddenly Scout is supporting Quake’s story or Singe is supporting Kid Quick or whatever. It’s a fluid thing."
In their other well-known series Rainbow in the Dark, described by the couple as, "a rock opera without audio," other elements of the superhero genre are developed, but just with no masks. The origin of the series had an interesting start. "Rainbow began as a challenge from our good friend and mentor Bryan J.L. Glass. We were hanging out together at Heroes Con back in 2008, the two of us had a few issues into The Uniques and were looking down the line at where we were going and how hard the road was going to be...Bryan asked us the million dollar question – do you want to make The Uniques for the rest of your lives, or do you want to do more? Do you want a career in comics, or to make one comic our whole career?"
From there, the challenge came. For a week they were to work on something very different from The Uniques. Fewer panels, more of a "punchy" feel and no superheroes were their tasks, and they delivered after coming up with something after one of them said, "what about combining Rainbow Brite with Mad Max?" From there, Rainbow in the Dark was born. With it a main character, Donna, emerged. "She would be our protagonist – the central character through which the audience experiences the story and is brought into the world. She was somebody a lot like most of us were at one point, lost and confused and bored and kind of sad, feeling like a square peg in a world of round slots. She wants a life that means something, but doesn’t know how to do that."
In touching on Rainbow's content, Love and Withers said, ", it’s got all the fun of superhero books – action, adventure, romance, dark villains and brightly colored heroes. It’s just missing masks and capes. It’s a modern fantasy story that’s about deep and heavy things, but we try to also make it as much fun as we possibly can...
There’s a musical flow to the whole story. Each main character is based on a different genre of music, and their weapons are based on instruments. The rifles are like guitars, pistols like microphones, and instead of a utility belt our gadgeteer has a keytar that shapes solid light. We laced the dialogue with song quotes, but in such a way that they don’t stand out as obvious. If you don’t know the songs, you won’t even notice they’re there. But if you do know them, seeing the lyrics might put the song in your head. It’s a struggle of good and evil with heroes driving tricked-out muscle cars while being chased by huge monsters and trying to free the world from the oppression of dark masterminds we don’t even realize are out there. It’s a wild ride and it’s got all the kinds of things a couple superhero nuts like us love in our comics, just, you know… no masks."
With that, there are also themes about how we define our own reality, the power of creativity, and what it means to be free. In keeping with that idea, the couple say that their books are about those bigger ideas. "We want our stories to be about more than just plots, people going through actions to resolve conflicts. We want them to be about something. Once you have the central thesis of the story, there are naturally related concepts that stem off from that. Nothing’s ever about just one thing, but the more clearly you as a writer understand what your core concept is, the more you can interweave other ideas related to that thesis without muddying the story."
They see an example of this in a very easily recognizable symbol, "Star Wars is a great example of this. The original trilogy is, in a lot of ways, driven by the core concept of Redemption. There’s the redemption of Darth Vader by his son that drives the heart of the movies, but there’s also the redemption of Han Solo from being a heartless scoundrel to being a hero, the redemption of the galaxy from the darkness of Palpatine, the redemption of Lando who betrayed his friend but wound up saving him in the end and being a hero himself, and it goes on like this. With that central concept clearly defined, you can then see the other ideas that weave out from that, but having that thesis rock solid from the start makes the whole story much tighter and clearer in concept and execution."
In expanding on that idea, by its opposite, the pair said, "You could also see it as a major piece of why the Star Wars prequels failed. What were they about? The fall of Anakin Skywalker, obviously, but besides the fact that that story was horribly executed, it’s also just a plot – it isn’t a higher concept at all. What’s the core conceptual idea that drives those movies? There isn’t one. Thus it becomes a scattered mess of conflicting philosophies only half-realized and never well explained." In order to avoid this kind of misfire, the duo discussed the benefits of being not only husband and wife, but partners creatively as well. "We keep each other level. When one is having a hard time, the other can lift them up. When one is lagging behind, the other can help get back ahead. We balance each other pretty well. Comfort tends to be more time oriented, keeping schedules and pushing ahead to make sure we’re on deadline, while Adam tends to be more detail oriented, making sure the art is as close to perfect as we can be." They understand each other well, and their styles are complementary, but more than that, "There’s the joy of getting to work with your best friend in the world every day. And that we’re getting to realize our childhood dreams together, not just as friends and not just as partners, but as husband and wife. To have your spouse as such an integral part of the greatest joy of your life is an incredible blessing."
On the flipside, there can be difficulties there as well, "It’s a blessing and a curse that you can’t leave. If an argument over a story or art decision (and there have been some epic arguments) isn’t able to be resolved in round one, you’ve got nowhere to go. You live with the person! And you can’t ever just throw your hands up and walk away, because you’re married and it would kind of sabotage our future as a couple if one of us just quit on our career. However, it forces us to compromise and to work at our marriage and our relationship and communication instead of just quitting. That’s a good thing. It’s really, really hard sometimes, but it’s making us better, stronger, faster – both as creators and as a couple."
In looking ahead, Love and Withers offered a preview of what's in store for fans and new readers. "We’re cracking on the production of Rainbow in the Dark #5, the middle-issue of the entire series and the second part of the story’s second act. It’s exciting for us because the 4-6 arc is easily our favorite of the series, and a lot of that is because of what we’re doing in issues 4 and 5. On the horizon, we’re working on releasing more Uniques Tales stories. We began the anthology both to have continuing Uniques content even while we’re producing Rainbow, but most importantly to tell stories outside the normal range of the core series. The next set of Tales, however, is a set of 18 stories that bridge between Uniques #9 and #10. When this set completes, Uniques #10 will be right around the corner for the big relaunch of the series next year."
There's also a Kickstarter campaign on the way to fund Uniques Tales, as the first collection was done for free by over thirty creators. The hope is that fans will contribute to a project that has received acclaim and support. The next several months and years look bright for Love and Withers, with more rock opera, superhero, action and imagination on the way! Be sure to visit them at these sites: