Interview with Ehmm Theory Creators- Brockton McKinney & Larkin Ford

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Ehmm Theory creators- Writer Brockton McKinney (left) and illustrator Larkin Ford (right) doing the convention hustle.

Brockton McKinney and Larkin Ford are the creators of Ehmm Theory, a new comic book released by Action Lab Comic that revolves around protagonist Gabriel Ehmm and his talking kitten, Mr. Whispers, as they embark on an adventure that I can best describe as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey meets Dead-Alive meets ALF.

I first heard about Ehmm Theory while picking up new books one fateful Wednesday in June 2013. A fellow nerd brought up this new “hilarious” comic that featured a talking cat that said the “most randomest of shit.” Figuring it couldn’t possibly be worse than the 150th new Wolverine title Marvel decided to pull out of its ass that week, I picked it up and was surprised at how great the writing and art was. I’ve been hooked ever since and can say in good conscience and without hesitation that this is not only the funniest comic book so far this year, it is quite possibly the best independent one, period.

I’d love to see Brockton and Larkin work on a major character like Deadpool or even Spider-Man. Remember that “funny” move Marvel took when they brought in comedian Brian Posehn to write the latest Deadpool book? Marvel and readers worldwide would have been better served with a creative team the likes of Brockton and Larkin. And I’m a huge Posehn fan. I’m just saying Ehmm Theory is seriously that good.

I recently asked Brockton if he and Larkin would be down to do an interview with Tuff Gnarl. They were all giddy about it and I was all giddy about it because, quite frankly, I haven’t been this excited about an indie book since Mike Allred first unleashed Madman upon the world in the early ‘90s.

Where are you guys from?

B: I’m outta Chapel Hill right now, originally from Charlotte, NC.

L: I grew up in Taylorsville, NC and now live in Asheville.

What was the first comic book you bought?

B: Mine was Amazing Spider-Man. Then a Batman annual and I graduated to X-Men pretty soon after that. Never looked back! When Vertigo comics came out from DC it changed my life. I was the perfect age to be like, “this is what I’ve been craving.”

L: Damn, I should know that. My first extended exposure to comics came from Calvin and Hobbes in the paper, and X-Men was probably the first comic I bought.

What made you want to write or draw comics? Did you have any formal training or schooling?

B: [I’ve] Always, always loved comics. All my birthdays were comic book themed; I had mail subscriptions when it wasn’t possible to get to a spinner rack. The first comic shop that opened in our town was like my second home!

L: There is something about comics that’s utterly unique, different from any other storytelling medium. I really love their ability to transport readers into any kind of bizarre, unfamiliar world that the creators can dream up. I think the reader’s suspension of disbelief might be stronger in comics than in any other medium. They operate on some bizarre dream logic that’s hard to translate into film.

B: Oh, and I attended NC School of the Arts. Had a blast. Was a terrible student.

L: I went to UNC Asheville. Got a BFA in drawing–I still love to do big charcoal drawings, and the naturalistic drawing skills I learned there were hugely influential on my comic drawings as well.

B: Yeah, Larkin has museum galleries of these huge, incredible paintings and charcoal pieces he’s created. It blew my mind the first time I saw the stuff close up. He certainly brings that unique and beautiful aesthetic to Ehmm. It gives us our look.

What are your top 3 favorite movies?

B: Easy! JawsDie HardEvil Dead 2.

L: Some of the best movies I’ve seen in the past year or so are StroszekMaster of the Flying Guillotine, and Only God Forgives.

Where did the idea for Ehmm Theory come from? What do you think you borrowed the most from in pop culture for book?

B:  I believe Ehmm grew out of Larkin’s and my love for our childhoods. The ‘80s were a kickass time for cartoons and toys and just being a kid. I feel like we take a little bit of all that and wrap it into a story that we’d like to read. That, and we both think a cursing kitten that kicks the shit outta little zombies is hysterical.

L: Visually, I’m pretty strongly influenced by Daniel Clowes and Robert Crumb, though I’ve been likened more to a goofier Tony Moore–which I take as very high praise. I love maintaining a good bit of cartoonish exaggeration in drawing characters, while working for some detail on textures, environments—and, of course, gore.

B: And we just spend a lot of time just trying to make the other one laugh. I’ll call him up and say, “What about a dude with three legs and one of them’s got a raccoon foot?” and he’ll counter with, “And the other two are secretly penises?”

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Cover for Ehmm Theory # 1

Is this your first foray into comics?

B: We’ve both done other smaller work for folks, but this was our first foray into being published by a company. We self-published a book called DeathCurse (which is a Tales from the Crypt kinda horror/comedy/anthology) and we have the second issue of that coming out that and are super excited about it. But Ehmm is our baby and certainly the most rewarding creative endeavor of my career. I get to write about dimension-jumping monkey-assassins, and there is no better job than that.

L: Ehmm Theory is the first comic I’ve worked on that’s truly collaborative. I love the freedom to craft distinctive looks for characters, to help define the pacing and mood of each scene, and to spitball with Brockton on everything from characters’ motives to where the lawnmower pull-cord is bolted to the bionic kitten’s spine.

B: Oh damn, spoilers: DR. WHISKERS IS COMING!

What’s your Zodiac sign? This one’s for the ladies.

B: Ladies? What about dudes? And I’m Gemini (though I’ve been married to my wife for like 100 years, my apologizes, dude-ladies). I always hear that line from Kentucky Fried Movie when I tell someone my sign. “I’m a Gemini, and I never know what to expect!” Cue arrow to chest.

L: I’m a Virgo, though I have to say I don’t take much stock in astrological signs, or the Chinese Zodiac, or, y’know, Christ, or science, or humanity, or any of that stuff. Though I do believe in hell… What? Oh, sorry, wrong meeting.

B: Man, we lost control of that question quick!

How’s Action Lab Comics treating you guys?

B: Couldn’t ask to be a part of a cooler company. They took us under their wings and have paved the way for getting Ehmm into people’s hands. Dave Dwonch and Jason Martin are not only the coolest bosses in the world, but also our biggest fans. Jeremy Whitley, the Head of Marketing over there and the writer of Princeless, is getting us some serious coverage across the board. We owe that guy. Those are the cats that are making Ehmm happen.

L: Yeah, they’re very open, flexible bosses, and they’ve treated us great and had a lot of faith in us from day one. Thanks, Jason, Dave, Jeremy and crew!

What’s the most annoying thing about comics today?

B: I love comics. There’s good and there’s bad, but it’s my favorite medium and I can’t complain about a thing. No shit. Comic book life is extremely cool.

L: I agree. There are always awesome new books coming out, and a wide variety of perspectives. If anything, it sometimes bugs me that there isn’t more intermingling between ‘mainstream’ and ‘indie’ comics, but with Strange Tales and Solo focusing on individual creators’ interpretations of classic characters, I think there are at least some rope bridges being built across the gap.

In your opinion, what’s the shittiest cartoon from your childhood?

B: Shittiest? HA! I remember loving just about every cartoon as a kid, but I hated that the Smurfs was something like a 2 hour block on Saturday. I was just, “At least lemme see them underwater SmurfsThe  Snorks!

L: I think the ones I dreaded the most were those clunky all-CGI shows like ReBoot and Transformers: Beast Wars. There were a few others I can’t think of at the moment–they all ran together for me.

B: Damn, Beast Wars was clunky, huh? I loved that one. I was living in a house with a band, and we’d get up every morning and eat crappy old cereal together and watch Beast Wars. The animators barely even rendered backgrounds on that show.

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Mr. Whispers (left) and T.A.M.M.I. (right) face off for the first time in Ehmm Theory # 2.

What’s your best advice for naïve egotistical artists or writers?

B: Write. Write. Write. Every day. Carve out a time and just make sure you do it. You only get better with practice. Go to comic book conventions and meet people. Be nice, be friendly, don’t be a dick. And have your work reviewed. I heard Steranko say recently, this is paraphrased, “Don’t ask your friends and relatives if you’re any good. Ask the guy who hates you.”

L: Right, self-deception is the easiest thing in the world, and it’s tempting to think that you’re brilliant and unappreciated and all that. But that doesn’t take much courage, and the belief that you’re already a genius sure as shit won’t make you better. It’s more useful to focus on what you can learn from all creators you encounter. Whether or not their stuff is your favorite, everybody has something you can learn from. Find people with similar sensibilities to yours, so you can hone the most distinctive qualities of your work. And like B said, don’t be a dick, or an elitist–live and let live.

What’s your best advice for the shy hermit-like artists or writer?

B: Same and same. You ain’t getting any better writing if you’re playing video games, although you are getting better at video games and there’s certainly something to be said for that, because that new Tomb Raider game is AWESOME!

L: Speaking as one, interact with other creators! Make sure you show your work to people for constructive criticism. It’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t plan to show anyone your work until your 300-page opus is complete, but you’ll learn more by finding a community of artists and writers with similar sensibilities to bounce ideas off of and to keep each other motivated to create new work.

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Cover for Ehmm Theory # 2. Released 07/31/2013.

What’s the most important life lesson you have learned in the last 3 years?

B: A. Create a hardcore work ethic for yourself and kill that shit daily. B. Talking animals that fight robot-bear-octopi are gonna be huge this year.

L: At the risk of sounding hokey, I’ve learned it takes a village for any creative endeavor. Nothing is created in a vacuum, and over the course of Ehmm Theory‘s publication, first as a tiny black-and-white edition and now nationwide in color, I’ve slowly realized just how important it is to have people who love your work and want more of it. It’s an enormous motivating force that helps me to draw as much as possible, and to keep improving as much as possible.

B: Yeah, our colorist, Jason Strutz, brought such a killer look to the book with the very first issue. We’d always just worked in black and white, and the Action Lab thought we might need color to help catch peoples eye. Strutzy did some test pages and got hired, and it’s been a whole new world, man. He just turned in the pages for issue #3 and, I have to say, it’s the best stuff he’s ever done. Hands down, issue three is the one I’m currently most proud of.

So is Ehmm Theory going to break into an ongoing series from its initial four part mini-series?

B: Yes! Action Lab has us sectioning them into smaller arcs but I’m working on issues 9 through 12 as we speak and it is the best kind of madness. We’re so excited to see what people think of issues 1 through 4, as it’s our ‘pilot episode’ of sorts. The reaction so far has been nothing short of overwhelming. We can’t thank everyone enough for giving us a chance to tell our story.

L: Yeah, I really feel lucky to be working with Brockton on this, and to have a chance to get our work out there. It’s such a rush! I’ve been constantly surprised–people of all stripes love the book and look forward to reentering its world every time a new issue hits the stands!

B: And thank you so much for the kind words and having us on, Chuck.

L: Seriously, Chuck, can’t thank you enough. You’ve been awesome and encouraging, and I sure hope you’ll keep in touch!

B: As Mr. Whispers would say, “Damn, this shit was bitchin’!”

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Chuck Livid

Chuck Livid hails from Miami, Florida. He did a zine in the '90s called Muddy Chaos and is best known for his work with independent music label Livid Records. Chuck lives in Boca Raton, Fl with his wife illustrator Helena Garcia and their son Nico. He founded TuffGnarl.com and hosts TuffGnarl.com's official music podcast - Another Music Podcast which is available on iTunes & Google Play

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