Grad Student-Turned-Hero | Shon C. Bury talks Nox

nox-header.jpgReturning from an extended hiatus from the comics industry, writer Shon C. Bury maps Joseph Campbell’s Hero Cycle "onto a world of urban hipsters and grad students" in his first creator-owned graphic novel.


Nox (Atomic Pop Art)

128 pgs. FC; $15.95

(W: Shon C. Bury; A: Allan Goldman, Ed Waysek) 

Sometimes it pays to take your time. That’s certainly the case for writer Shon C. Bury and his new original graphic novel Nox with artist Allan Goldman. Returning after an extended hiatus from the comics industry, Bury’s first creator-owned project was initially announced as a miniseries titled Threshold from Narwain Publishing, a miniseries that ultimately never saw the light of day. But Bury and Goldman charged ahead, completing the series and preparing to publish the project, newly re-titled Nox, through fledgling publisher Atomic Pop Art. Not only would Atomic Pop Art provide a new home for Bury’s project, but it was also supply him with a new job: the author now serves as the company’s publisher and editor-in-chief.


Most fondly remembered (by your author, anyway) for the 1996 Wildstorm miniseries Black Ops, Nox marks Bury’s return to comics after an extended hiatus, and his first creator-owned work after working on corporate-owned characters ranging from Cable and Impulse to Turok the Dinosaur Hunter. Here, Bury discusses Nox‘s sordid publishing history, some of the interesting twists and turns the book’s story takes, and what he’s been up to the last few years. The Nox original graphic novel is set for release this December from Atomic Pop Art.

Nox was originally slated to be released last year as a miniseries from Narwain, yet it’s now finally seeing the light of day over a year later from Atomic Pop Art as a graphic novel. Could you walk us through what brought about both the change in publisher and format?


Right. Originally, it was slated as a five-issue miniseries. After Narwain fizzled, I kept Nox in production. By the time I started shopping it around again, it was almost complete. It was an easy decision to turn the book into an OGN, especially since that’s how I originally envisioned it.


Narwain didn’t make much of a splash in comics. They entered the industry hot on the heel of such failures as Speakeasy and Alias. The market was just not remotely ready for a company with yet another big launch. Fortunately, the market has changed and is ready for new, independent companies like APA who are entering the market slowly with material readers and retailers clearly want.


Taking Nox to APA was an easy decision, as I had already known the President, Tracy Duty, from our talent representative days. He had a plan to collect a lot of orphaned books from around the industry (10th Muse, Phantom Jack, Nox, etc) and collect them all under one publisher for the fans. Regardless of what happened to the respective publishers of the past, these books have dedicated readers. Recognizing that, I brought Nox to APA. Somewhere in the process I landed the gig as Publisher and EIC.


Could you give us a brief rundown on the plot of Nox?


The plot of Nox is based off Joseph Campbell’s Hero Cycle. The protagonist, Joey King, is a Comparative Mythology grad student who’s writing his doctoral thesis on the Hero Cycle. It’s a bit postmodern in the sense that Joey is fully aware of the process he is going through as he delves deeper and deeper into this cycle—fighting demons, encountering mystical gurus, magical artifacts, and mythical creatures. It’s a road trip story as well—as all hero cycles are ultimately about self exploration—but in the end Joey saves the universe from some…really bad stuff. I mean, really bad stuff!


Though the storytelling in Nox is wrapped around a high concept plot, many scenes are driven more by the very natural character interaction between Joseph and his friend Bobby. Which came first for you, the plot or the characters, and did you find that one aspect drove the other in a different direction than you expected while you were writing?


The high concept came first, but natural character dialog and interactions has been something I’ve long strived for with my comic-book writing. But, yeah, even though my plot was pretty well in place from issue to issue, once you start breathing life into characters and let them play with each other, you do run the risk of them taking over and doing their own thing. It’s a constant battle between letting the characters pace themselves and getting them to go do stuff so the plot can move forward.


I think Nox has that nice blend between quiet scenes and explosive action. Again, it was always intended to be a bit of  road trip story…so sitting around talking about what’s going on and what they should do next is an important ingredient.


Along similar lines, your dialogue-heavy, pop culture reference-laden script feels more like a film or television script than a more traditional, dry action comic script. I’ve noticed you mention Joss Whedon in many interviews; does his work play as a major influence on your own style?


Joss is God. There, I said it. Yeah, I’m not afraid to fill up some pages with dialogue. My dialogue has always been more natural. Prone to wisecracks and references. Nox was a huge outlet for that, especially as my first creator-owned book.


I’m often drawn to writers who aren’t afraid to pack in the dialogue. In comics, Bendis is a great example. Joss’s work is some of my favorite. I’m also a huge fan of Woody Allen and West Wing‘s Aaron Sorkin. But all these guys know when not to use dialogue as well. I think you’ll find that to be the case in Nox.


How did you team with artist Allan Goldman on the series, and what do you feel he brings to the table on this kind of story?


Allan was a young artist who was being represented by a talent agency called Sequential Studios. I came on as their studio rep in 2005 and was amazed at the energy Allan brought to his work. I stole him right away for Nox.


Allan brings a level of realism and naturalness that was paramount for me on this project. Nox is not superheroes. Nox is about fairly normal guys who find themselves in extraordinary circumstance. Unlike most artists, Allan was okay drawing guys with beefy midsections, cargo pants, bookcases, eyeglasses…lots of boring, real-life stuff. Then, when the time came, we had demons getting eviscerated by poleaxes, centaurs with rainbow wings…all kinds of visually stunning, action-packed stuff.


The one character sure to grab attention is The Nun, the traditional "wise man" concept turned on its ear. What brought this rather unique character to life?


Yeah, The Nun is definitely our Wise Man. I chose to make this physically powerful male a transvestite as a sort of nod to the power of feminine energy. The White Goddess by Robert Graves is as much a primary source for my Nox research as [Joseph Campbell’s] The Hero with a Thousand Faces, as was The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby. Both books speak at length about the feminine and masculine nature of man and the world and the balance that should be struck. The Nun is a bit of a smart ass way of symbolizing that balance. Or an attempt at that balance.


In terms of "turned on its ear"…that was the entire purpose of mapping the Hero Cycle onto a world of urban hipsters and grad students. I’ve always been very fond of "subverting the moment." Not only with The Nun, but I tried to do that with my choice of protagonist, sidekick, other Wise Men, the antagonist…etc. I mean, look at my centaur!


Since Nox is being released as an standalone graphic novel, is that all there is to the story? Is there potential for a sequel if demand warrants?


If demand warrants, yeah, I have a few more "cycles" in me. Personally, I’d love The Nun to spin off into his own book…but that’s too much for the Heartland to handle, I suspect.


Since moving Nox to Atomic Pop Art, you’ve also joined the company’s staff as Editor In Chief. What specifically is your role at APA, and what do you see as the company’s overall publishing philosophy?


I’m the Publisher and EIC. Basically, I bring books to the company and figure out how to make, sell, and distribute them. APA’s overall philosophy is to bring the best non-superhero books to the market as possible. With that goal in mind, we’ve gathered together several "orphaned" books throughout the industry, like 10th Muse, Isis, Phantom Jack, Judo Girl, etc, and we have collected them for the die hard fans for the first time. Having a single home for these books makes it easy for the fans to get the material that, in some cases, has been spread out over several publishers.


Although we will have 32-page comics, collected trades and original graphic novels are our big push. Nox is our first original graphic novel. We follow up with two OGNs from Jeff Marriotte in 2008, Zombie Cop and Fade to Black. We’re also talking with a number of creators right now to see what else we can get on the shelves in time for 2008 con season. Big guys. You’d be surprised to know how big.


Nox returns you to comics after a fairly lengthy hiatus from the industry. What have you been up to in the meantime?


I spent most the time working/playing/writing in the Seattle poetry community. I was on a few non-profit boards that put together an annual poetry festival, anthology, radio show, weekly shows, events, readings, etc. I wrote lots of poetry during that time. I also dabbled with some screenplays, most lost to developmental hell. I did co-write/co-produce an indie film called Bite Me, Fanboy. Basically it’s High Fidelity in a comic shop.


I got back into comics in 2005 with the intent to write some creator-owned books. Nox is a result of that. That’s when I got involved with Sequential Studios. From studio rep, I became president. From there, I decided to transform the company into Space Goat Productions, which has talent from every corner of the globe. We offer services from writing, script doctoring, consulting, pencils, colors, full art teams, graphic design…the works. Nox was produced by all-Space Goat artists, as is Redball 6 (also from APA) and Philosopher REX (from Arcana). We’ve worked on Noble Causes, Midnighter, Iron Man, Nightwing…currently we’re working on Spidey Family, Hulk Aftersmash, and Exiles.


We also just entered into a partnership with India’s Dheeraj Vherma and his Edge Studios. I’m very interested in bringing more East Indian artists, like Dheeraj, into the US market.


Building Space Goat, working on a few other creator-owned projects, and helping APA launch is really all a guy has time to do!


How do you find your writing has changed since the days of Black Ops in the mid-to-late 90s?


Hrm. Well, almost 10 years has passed. I was just a kid when I wrote those books. I think I bring the life experiences of that time to the work to write more realistic, naturalistic dialogue and characters. I have a much deeper well to pull plots out of. But mostly, I’ve taken the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t in my comic writing. When I was younger, it was mostly trial and error. That period of my writing is over. Though I do like to experiment…so who knows for sure.


What’s next for Shon C. Bury?


So much. I have two new creator-owned books coming out in 2008 that I’ve spent a lot of time on over the last year. A LOT. of. TIME. I’m really excited about them. I’m not ready to talk about them yet, but I’ll give you the titles: Lance Hunter, Monster Hunter @ Large, and Mage, Inc.


I’ve got mountains of scripts and some fantastic artists working on both books. Can’t wait until I’m in a position to chat with you more about them. | Jason Green

For a 21-page preview of Nox, visit Shon C. Bury’s ComicSpace page!

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