Friday, 11 April 2014

Interview with Kurt Christenson: Writer, Photographer, Comic Book Creator

Kurt Christenson was a name I heard about from Vito Delsante, who recommended that I check out Kurt’s work and when I did, I knew Kurt was someone who I needed to add to the interviews. 

Kurt is starting a new comic book company called Kings County Comics with a book called Thrust and has been working some time on another book called Power Play with Marvel Comics artist Reilly Brown.

To help fund these creative endeavours, Mr. Christenson has gone what I like to call the “Kevin Smith” route; putting his faith in his work and doing whatever it takes to make it happen, in this case selling off a sizeable portion of his comic book collection to help raise money for production and publishing costs. As a fellow comic book fan and creator that speaks volumes to me about how serious Kurt is and how much doing these books mean to him.

So let’s talk to Kurt and find out a little bit more about him and his books and where it’s all headed.
1 Kurt thanks for agreeing to this interview, why don’t you give us a quick rundown on who you are and what you do?

My pleasure! My name is Kurt Christenson and I, along with Marvel artist Reilly Brown, created the original NYC digital comic book series that went on to inspire Marvel's Infinite Comics, Mark Waid's Thrillbent, and what is now ComiXology's Guided View Native comics. My day job is working as a photo editor for Entertainment Weekly, which I'm attempting to bring more comics & geek culture to.

I started creating comics on January 1st, 2001. I've been a paid script-writer, then gone the self-publishing route, co-created an groundbreaking graphic novel with artist Chris Chua called LEGEND OF LIQUID FURY, and I'm a founding member of the art collective I have just launched Kings County Comics as my own comic book company to tell NYC local stories by local creators.

2 What made you decide that selling off your personal collection of comics was the way to go to raise money for Kings County Comics?

I have been lugging around 30 long-boxes from apartment to storage, and back again. I knew I was holding on to them for a reason, but I just wasn't sure what that reason was, until I started selling off small collections as various movies & TV shows were coming out (didn't get as much as I hoped for my original Watchmen issues, but I paid a month's rent with ten issues of The Walking Dead). 

I started asking friends to become investors in Kings County Comics, selling to them collections of things that would either hold their value over time (The Ultimates HCs), or would most certainly go up in value (full Preacher run). I refer to them as investors because I want them to see that these comics are collateral and that the money they are giving me is allowing me to get this company off the ground, and that I want them involved with the company as much as they wish to be creatively.

Then Mark Waid announced he was selling off his massive collection, and well, I knew it was the way to go. 

3 How about a quick breakdown of what Kings County Comics is and what your books Thrust and Power Play are about?

Power Play is my most recent series with artist Reilly Brown, who is also a founding TenTonStudios member. When he was looking to do something creator-owned outside of Marvel, well, we'd be sitting up on rooftops, or drinking in dive bars around NYC, and we knew we wanted to do something that featured the city as it actually existed. Once we started reading ComiXology comics on an iPod Touch, well, we knew the new direction we really wanted to start heading in.

POWER PLAY is about a group of New Yorkers with superpowers competing in a series of underground street-games, hosted by ICE QUEEN from Astoria, WESTSIDE FLAME from Chelsea, TEKTRONIX from the Bronx, and our cult fan-favorite, GOWANUS PETE from Brooklyn. Contenders from all over the Five Boroughs sign up to represent their neighborhood in order to win the League Cup, which will bring notoriety to their local business of choice, which most people tend to use for a year of free drinks at their favorite bar.

Kings County Comics is my new comic book company which will feature stories about Brooklyn and NYC by local creators. KINGS COUNTY is the first title, featuring THRUST, a hipster with electromagnetic propulsion powers who uses them to bounce around the city, avoiding his superpowered ex-girlfriends who all have a vendetta against him, for one reason or another. It's my way of addressing the truly never-ending battle that puts us all in peril, saving the dating scene! 

Future titles include KINGS COUNTY CRIME: ABSALOM, a 70's Mafia story, PA:NyC, a post-apocalyptic rock band, and comics based on actual local superheroes, musicians, burlesque troupes, and more!

4 Your books are set in what many consider to be the greatest city in the world, New York City. Is authenticity something you strive to bring to the books and what are some of the things you do to ensure that what we see is the real New York?

I love New York City. My grandparents all came here as young adults and they instilled this awe and wonder of the city that I will never shake. I've driven, walked, and ran across every inch of this city, and every block is different, let alone every neighborhood. Most times when you see NYC represented in comics it's a fairly generic city. In my comics I walk the paths characters walk, taking photo reference of everything of note, and with Kings County Comics I use those photos for my storyboards as I'm trying to reinvent the digital comics format that I pioneered with Power Play. 

There's just too much cool public art, neighborhood flavor, local history, etc. to NOT tap into all that. In many ways NYC always writes its own stories, and as I began working on these comics I found boundless amounts of research that fed into ideas I had been developing that enhanced the story. I'm also in the early stages of developing an original app for Kings County Comics that will enable the readers to go to actual locations and see parts of the comic book come alive through Augmented Reality. 

5 I did some digging and found that the character Thrust is on that you’ve had for quite some time- how much has he evolved over time and what sort of stories are you planning to tell with him?

Thrust is indeed from way back in my High School role-playing days. Back then I wanted to make a superspeed character based on my love for the Flash, but I knew I wanted to take it in a different direction beyond just pure speed, mixing in a bit of Spider-Man. Once I had the idea that he created inertia and propulsion, well, my game-master dubbed him Thrust and it just stuck. 

I revisited the character when I moved into the Lower East Side a decade ago. After many years in a relationship on Long Island, I began writing short stories with Thrust as my alter-ego to deal with the insanity that I continue to go through as I started dating in the city. It has been a very strange ten years, filled with all sorts of team-ups, secret origins, and super-villains. 

The main point of Thrust is to help guys (and girls) see that we all too often demonize ex's, telling ourselves we are the hero, when in actuality, we're all somewhere in that moral middle grey zone. I also have a much larger plot going on regarding a prophecy about the destruction of NYC, and to that end Thrust is my metaphor for Mercury, who is portrayed all across the city in very interesting sculptures and public artwork. I just want to tell real stories about living and working in New York City, with a dash of modern mythological, spectacular superpowered action!

6 Where’s this all going? Do you have plans in place for Power Play and Thrust to be on-going series? Any new projects in the works that you can tell us about?

I can't say much about Power Play at the moment, except that there will be more in the future, and not just comic books! 

Kings County, starring Thrust, will be the one main title I write (and direct) going forward, leading straight into animation to flesh out a 21st Century publishing/marketing model I have been developing over the last few years, but after that, my main role will be as editor-in-chief of Kings County Comics, pairing up writers and artists to help creators tell the stories they want to tell.

Later this year I'll also be self-publishing my novel, The Tower of Brahma, which is an experimental, noir memoir, that was written on a T-Mobile Sidekick as I went from Long Island to living in the city, and all the craziness that came of it. And hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be able to make an announcement about a burlesque comic I'm developing. 

7 Photography seems something that you’re pretty passionate about and involved in. What about it appeals to you?

I had a talent for writing early on, and found it incredibly easy to create scenes from words, but when I was younger I felt I didn't have much that I wanted to say. Film though, is really my true love, and I started getting into photography after my aunt had introduced me to it as a teenager. For me, photography was really that middle ground between film and comics, and I found that I loved composing shots, which has helped my comic book writing significantly. 

There's something about stealing that moment in time, about capturing things that people pass by, portraying the random scribbles of people on dive bar bathroom walls as artwork, that I am obsessed with. To me it's a form of magick. The immediacy of being able to capture an image, caption it with keywords, and then post it to the internet for the world to see instantly...that is the science-fiction future that I'd been waiting for my whole life.

Also, I found that photo editing was an easy paying gig if you knew Photoshop and had an eye for composition, saturation, contrast, etc. As a photo editor I've worked for the paparazzi, the NY Daily News, and now, I'm at Entertainment Weekly, all of which have helped me see the city in a very specific way, networking across all media, and being able to create a visual as a non-artist is still very much a thrill for me.

8 As we mentioned earlier, you were selling off a bunch of your comics to raise money to make your own. Do you still buy comics or are you focused mainly on making your own?

As I mentioned, moving thirty long-boxes from storage units to apartments, well, I better really love that comic book to justify owning it in print. That was really the impetus, even beyond creating a comic for ComiXology, to start reading comics digitally. I pick up anything that's Guided View Native to see what people are doing with it, anything from a publisher that I think is ahead of the curve or doing something interesting (Monkeybrain), but very few mainstream titles. Mostly I buy books for market research or to support friends of mine. I never thought I would be too busy making comics to have time to sit down and read them!

However, right now I am thoroughly enjoying a print version of Punk Rock Jesus.

9 When you aren't writing what do you like to do for fun?

If I'm not writing, which actually doesn't happen nearly enough these days, I'm probably plotting & scheming for some ridiculous project, scribbling notes in a dive bar in Brooklyn, scouring the city for a decent dance-floor, or hitting up a gallery, a friend's rock show, or a burlesque performance. If you're ever looking for something to do in NYC hit me up and I'll let you know what's going down!

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