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Inspirations and Processes: An Interview With White Ash’s Charlie Stickney

Scout Comics’ co-publisher and writer Charlie Stickney crashes the gates for an interview about the upcoming second season of his rural fantasy comic book series White Ash!

In keeping with the journalistic integrity of GateCrashers, I must ask this question: what is your favorite sandwich?

Wow, getting personal right out of the Gate. Well, if you must, my usual go-to is turkey and avocado on a baguette (living right up to the LA stereotype).  But my wife just turned me on to a chickpea spread with sliced radishes and a caper/black olive tapenade that’s incredible. 

What was appealing about the first White Ash for you? Conversely, what is appealing about the second White Ash for you?

I think the magic in an introductory story is just that, you get to introduce your audience to a whole new world.  Everything is fresh and they have no idea where you might be taking them.  With White Ash being a fantasy set in rural Pennsylvania, I think it was fun for the reader to see how it all played out and how Lord of the Rings-esque Dwarves and Elves came to be in this rural coal-mining town. As a writer, you love peppering in those reveals and getting to breathe life into new characters for the first time. 

Credit: Charlie Stickney/Conor Hughes/Fin Cramb (Scout Comics)

That being said, there’s also something amazing about being able to revisit or continue a story. You don’t need to devote too much time to establishing the conceit.  With that foundation already built, it gives you the freedom to really dive deeper into the characters and introduce new storylines. In general, it gives you the ability to push the narrative further and faster because your audience is already on the same page with you. 

If there’s one aspect of the writing and publication of the first White Ash that you are proud of, what would that be?

I think that we’ve been able to find fans in multiple markets.  I started White Ash on Kickstarter and quickly built up a sizable audience there.  Through Scout, I’ve found an entirely new fanbase who has been incredibly supportive of the world Conor and I are building. And now, we’ve been fortunate to have an overwhelmingly positive reception through Scout’s bookstore distribution deal with Simon and Schuster.  It’s an amazing feeling when you can find anyone who connects with the stories you’re trying to tell.  For us to be able to keep building that fanbase has been a truly remarkable experience.

Credit: Charlie Stickney/Conor Hughes/Fin Cramb (Scout Comics)

As a co-publisher at Scout Comics, is there any aspect about the role that you still find intimidating? How do you deal with said aspect?

I don’t know if I found any of it intimidating.  But I think building trust and relationships with retailers is by far the most difficult part.  When stores base their business model on 85% + of their revenue coming from big two titles, getting Scout a share of that 15% shelf space is incredibly challenging. As for how I handle that challenge, the answer is one store at a time.  I spend a lot of time calling shops to check in to see how their store is doing and how Scout is or isn’t selling.  My goal is to establish trust with them, make them realize that even if I’d love it if they carried large quantities of everything we offered, what I really want is for them to order exactly the amount of Scout books that their shop can comfortably support and sell.   We may have some differences on what that amount is, but when retailers don’t feel like you’re trying to strong-arm them and you’re treating them as a partner, over time that trust builds.

On the other hand, is there an aspect in comics publishing that was intimidating in the beginning, but has gotten easier for you? What led to this aspect being easier?

I think for Scout, success begets success.  The more titles that you have that sell well, the easier it is to move to the next book.  The same goes for recruiting creators to bring their talents to our label.  The higher the caliber of creators who release books through us, the easier it is to attract more creators of commensurate talent.

Do you feel that there was a difference in creative process for the second series of White Ash as opposed to the first series?

With the first arc of White Ash, Conor (Hughes), Fin (Cramb), and I had a bit of a feeling out process.  I think the art gets much stronger in the book as the series unfolds.  This comes from all us learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  So as we embark on the second arc, I can now tailor my writing specifically to suit Conor’s many talents. Conversely, he’s been reading my scripts for a good while now and has a very good sense of when he should step in and punch something up visually.

Who has been your favorite character to work with on White Ash?

I adore writing Lillian and I think that shows. I love being able to play with the fact that she’s been around for one hundred and thirty-seven years, and yet for all intents and purposes is just entering her early twenties.  Plus one of the strongest themes of White Ash is family legacy and what part does that play in who we become.  Lillian’s mother Glarien casts one of the biggest shadows in all of White Ash, so getting to discover how that shapes Lillian is constantly a source of interest to me.

Credit: Charlie Stickney/Conor Hughes/Fin Cramb (Scout Comics)

Which character did you enjoy working the most on for the second series of White Ash?

I don’t know if I enjoyed writing about him the most, but I certainly have had some fun exploring Sheriff Gregson and his family in the second arc. Getting to see how actual humans interact with the Dwarves, Elves and Brood (Dragon/human hybrids) has been something I’ve looked forward to showcasing a little more.  White Ash is a melting pot of immigrants from other worlds. In this second series, we really start to see how the human residents (in the know) feel about the non-human population they have to intermix with.

Credit: Charlie Stickney/Conor Hughes/Fin Cramb (Scout Comics)

In your press release, you mentioned being influenced by both Supernatural and Twin Peaks when writing White Ash? Is there an episode from the two shows that stuck out to you personally?

I would say those shows are more quick comps to help people just finding White Ash orient themselves to the kind of story they’re getting versus being direct influences.  White Ash is an urban (well, rural) fantasy, like The Magicians or Supernatural, with a dash of Hi-Lord of the Rings-Fantasy thrown in. That said, I was (and am) a big fan of Twin Peaks.  I loved the way that when it was at its best, itmanaged to tonally go back and forth between feeling like a quirky study of small town life before upending you with moments of abject horror and having it all feel organic to the same universe. I’d like to think I pulled that off as well in White Ash.  

What is your favorite part of the writing process of comics for you? And how would it translate to White Ash?

My favorite part of the process is seeing the pages come back from Conor and remembering that I actually had something to do with the work of art he just sent me.  If that answer feels too much of a cheat, I also really enjoy finding the unplanned moments when I go to script.  And by that I mean when I outline I’m usually pretty thorough.  So I have a pretty strong blueprint of what’s going to happen in which panel and on what page.  However, when I go from that document into the script/ dialogue, new inspiration always strikes.  There’s a bit with a chair in the third issue that makes me smile. Just a little character business that has nothing to do with the actual narrative of the scene, but fleshes out the moment.  So aside from getting in pages, it’s moments like that.

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