Comics Interview: J.T. Krul Gives Insights On Writing For Aspen Comics

J.T. Krul (for this interview, the ‘T’ will stand for Thunderbolt) was born and raised in Michigan. He received a Bachelors of Arts in Film and Video production from...
Issue Seven of Fathom

Issue Seven of Fathom

J.T. Krul (for this interview, the ‘T’ will stand for Thunderbolt) was born and raised in Michigan. He received a Bachelors of Arts in Film and Video production from Michigan State University, and in 1996 he moved to Los Angeles and became a production assistant on Seinfeld. Through hard work, he moved up the production hierarchy and eventually was promoted to production coordinator in the show’s last season. After Seinfeld he began writing comic books. His first major assignment was in 2004 at Marvel Comics, writing both X-Men Unlimited and Spider-Man Unlimited. He then joined the late Michael Turner and Aspen Comics, writing for Fathom and Soulfire. He is currently working on the latest volumes for both titles and the Soulfire: New World Order miniseries. He has not only written for DC Comics, but he will also be writing the upcoming comic, Blackest Night: Titans #1. His other writing credits include Dynamite’s Red Sonja and Highlander: Way of the Sword, and NBC Studios’ Heroes graphic novels. Outside of writing, he also acts as a consultant for various online projects.

Nicholas Yanes: You’re a graduate of Michigan State. How has the education you received there helped you in your career? With this topic in mind, do you feel it is essential to get a college education in order to break into the comic book industry?

J.T. Krul:
That’s always a tricky question to answer. The technical aspects of the education (i.e. video production, editing, and such) are not being utilized at the current moment. And, even when I stepped out the door with my degree, the production work I did do used equipment that far surpassed the college equipment. Obviously though, the principles carry over…editing as a process, writing, creating stories and researching subject matters.

As far as comics go, I wouldn’t necessarily say a college degree is essential to break into the industry, but I do believe a degree is essential in life. I know there is a lot of institutionalization involved with higher education – many hoops to jump through – but I still believe it exposes minds to the world at large and makes one start to grasp the reality around them. So from an experience standpoint, I believe college and continuing to expand your mind and your horizons are extremely valuable endeavors.

Yanes: The biography you have on you homepage merely claims that you left Michigan and then got a job working for Seinfeld. Did you have to do any other jobs between graduation and Seinfeld, or did you know you had a job waiting for you when you moved out to LA?

Krul: Ha! No, no job waiting. After college, I initially worked for a small video production house in Michigan. I edited a Sunday morning real estate program – nothing but a slideshow really. They also shot a business show for PBS. It was a good job, but the pay was…what’s a Politically correct word for lousy? I ended up getting a second job at nights in a gym, cleaning locker rooms. After that, I sold radio advertising for about six months, and then moved to LA without a job or contact or anything. All I had was a place to crash for 6 months. Once in LA, it all started with cold calling. My guardian angel was named Joyce Dasher at Castle Rock Entertainment. She accepted my resume, met with me, and eventually sent me along to Seinfeld where I was hired as a Production Assistant by my second guardian angel, Jeff Bye. It all continued from there.

Yanes: It’s rare to hear about someone entering the comic book business that didn’t live in California or New York for some time. Could you have the career you have now if you had stayed in Michigan? Overall, do you think a person has to move to New York or California in order to be successful in the entertainment industry?

Krul: I don’t think a person HAS to move to New York or LA, but it helps. It’s all about building relationships and getting your face – and your work – in front of people. And, that’s much easier to do in the two big cities. It’s less vital for the comic book industry because there are the various conventions for networking with editors. And, there are several publishers in other cities. For television and film, it’s almost necessary. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but most of the Hollywood creative types that have careers and live elsewhere started in the big cities and moved away after they “made it.” In a way, it’s like you move to LA or New York to get your career started, then the more successful you become the further away you can move. Personally, my opportunity at Aspen Comics was partially due to me living in LA. They wanted a local writer they could work closely with. And, truth be told, I was introduced to Michael Turner, Frank Mastromauro, and Peter Steigerwald at Aspen by Geoff Johns – a good friend I met in college (again, a benefit of college – good friends).

Yanes: I’ve been told that the hardest aspect of making it into the comics industry is simply getting a contact on the inside. How did you establish your relationship with Marvel Comics?

Krul: Yes, getting that contact on the inside is tricky, even more so for writers (sorry writers). Companies are always looking for artists. They accept portfolios and often hold interviews and reviews at the conventions. For writers, they normally don’t accept anything aside from published work – this makes getting that first job so difficult. I was lucky that Marvel was actually on the lookout, so to speak, when I landed my first writing job. Again, it was partially due to my living in LA. At the time, Marvel had a liaison named Josh Ryan mining Hollywood for writers. This was 2003, before the Hollywood-Comics connection totally exploded, so it was tad more accessible – but just a bit. Again, a good friend of mine put me in touch with Josh and I started sending him sample scripts, one after another, for their intended relaunch of the Unlimited anthology titles. Marvel editor Teresa Focarile liked my X-Men story and they bought it. That led to another short story in Spider-Man Unlimited. By the way, if you are reading this and it seems like I am mentioning a lot of names, it’s because they have all played a big role in me getting to where I am today.

Yanes: To write for Marvel Comics seems to be the end goal for many comic book creators. Why did you to begin writing for Aspen and stop writing for Marvel?

Krul: It wasn’t so much that I stopped writing for Marvel as much as having opportunities open up elsewhere. The Marvel work led to the Aspen work, which led to work with DC Comics and Dynamite and IDW. That’s the great thing about being a writer. You can work for several companies on several projects simultaneously. For instance, I am currently writing three titles for Aspen Comics, the Blackest Night: Titans miniseries for DC, and working on a creator-owned project that Aspen will be publishing toward the end of the year.

Soulfire New World Order

Soulfire New World Order

Yanes: Aspen Comics in many ways was birthed from Michael Turner’s style and genius. How do you approach creating a story that reflects your ability as a writer, while honoring Turner’s legacy?

Krul: Wow. Reading this question just reminded me that we are coming up on the year anniversary of his passing. He was amazing person, all around. As an artist, as a friend, as everything. So far, honoring Mike’s vision has been relatively seamless because everything I am currently writing was discussed and formulated prior to his death. Even so, there have been times when I’ll sit around with Frank, Peter, Vince, and Mark and talk about Fathom and Soulfire. Inevitably, someone will say something like “no, man. Mike talked about that one night. He really wanted this…or that.” We are constantly combing our memories for those nuggets Mike gave us throughout our time together. Moving forward, I will probably handle it the same way I handle stepping into any comic project with existing characters – acknowledging what has come before as you try to figure out the stories you want to tell. If you don’t do that, you can’t create anything new. You’ll simply be churning up the past in new packaging.

Yanes: There is a lot of hype surrounding the upcoming Fathom movie; can you comment on if there are any plans to turn Soulfire into a movie? On this topic, how do you think the Fathom movie will affect you as someone who has written for the comic book?

Krul: Aspen Comics is primarily just that – a comic book company. That being said, I know there has been interest in many of their properties and I would not be surprised to see Soulfire jump off the page into another medium. As for a Fathom movie affecting me, I think I’ll be getting a boatload of requests for Megan Fox’s autograph.

Yanes: When discussing comic book adaptations at academic conferences, people automatically assume a person is talking about films that are based on comic books. As someone who was written for Heroes’ comic book tie-ins, what is your perspective on creating comic books based on films, shows, or other books? Do you feel that the comic book medium provides something to the story that films and television can’t replicate?

Krul: I love taking film and television properties and pulling them into comic books. It’s the other end of the recent Hollywood relationship with the comic book industry. I literally just read today that Robocop is coming back to comics. So, it can also be a revolving door, from comics to film to comics and I bet back to film. As a medium, comics are great because there is no budget. It’s cost the same to pay an artist to draw a coffee shop scene as it does an epic space battle with flying horses and a giant piñata. In addition, I think the comics offer the writer an opportunity to delve even deeper into a character, play with time, and expand the overall universe as they explore areas the show or movie just can’t reach.

Yanes: You act as a consultant for various online projects. What have some of these projects been? Further, what do you think about the growing popularity of digital, web and motion comics? Do you think there is a future for paper based comic books?

Krul: The biggest online project I was involved with, beside the Heroes stuff, was called Gemini Division – an original web series produced by Electric Farm Entertainment and starring Rosario Dawson. I handled the creative development for the additional online content. Over the course of the show’s rollout, we designed a host of interactive content to enhance the experience of the show for the fans.

I think digital and web comics are great ways for new talent and new concepts and new stories to step into the light. Comic book production and distribution can be tricky and expensive, plus the independent comics world is getting a bit tighter due to distribution constraints. So, having a means for people to create their stories and get them out to the world is a great thing. As for motion comics, I feel the real benefit comes in outreach to non-comic book readers. It’s a way to bridge the gap for the film and television audience.

I don’t believe paper-based comics are going anywhere. It’s the same way people talked about the death the novel. Readership wanes and the business dips, but essentially the comic book looks the same as it did way back when – albeit sans ads for sea monkeys, x-ray glasses, and inflatable battleships. Even if you look at Kindle, their big marketing strategy is to make it mirror the experience of holding an actual book. I suppose eventually, when deforestation and environmental concerns become more prevalent, all paper will become scarce – but by then we’ll probably figure out a way to turn banana peels into paper products.

Yanes: You are currently writing a major comic book crossover tie-in, Blackest Night: Titans. What’s it like knowing that you are going to be part one of the biggest comic book events for the summer of 2009?

Krul: I am extremely excited to be a part of DC’s mega-event of 2009. Blackest Night is going to be epic in every respect. Working with Geoff Johns and everyone at DC has been unbelievable since the very beginning. And, being able to work with Ed Benes is something of a dream come true. He’s a titan (sorry for the punny reference) in the industry and he’s going to make my story look amazing! I have the pages to prove it.

Yanes: What are some of the projects that your fans can look forward to in the near future? Are there any plans to go back to television?

Krul: Fathom and Soulfire are still going strong at Aspen Comics. Fathom will finish up it’s third volume this summer as the heroine Aspen Matthews finds herself fighting alongside the humans and the Blue against the global threat from below called the Black. Soulfire’s first volume is just finishing and we’ve already launched the New World Order miniseries, which will take us right into Soulfire Volume Two premiering later in the fall. Like I said, I also have a creator-owned project set to launch toward the end of the year and recently completed a G.I. Joe one-shot featuring Beach Head for IDW.

Yanes: Finally, if you wanted your fans to add false information to one Wikipedia entry, what entry and what information would you want added?

Krul: This was the hardest question to answer, so here it goes.

Under the entry for “Zingers” the Dolly Madison/Hostess snack treat, the following information:

“When asked about the similarity between Zingers and Twinkies, a spokesperson for Dolly Madison was quoted as saying – ‘Twinkies can suck it!’”

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