Russell Nohelty is a USA Today bestselling author and publisher at Wannabe Press. He’s written several comic book series and more than two dozen novels, and he edits the Cthulhu is Hard to Spell anthology series. We talked to Russell about his short comic, “I Can’t Wait,” coming soon in the Becoming Anthology from Oneshi Press, boring explosions, stopping to smell the roses, and adorable gut punches.
Tell our readers about yourself, Russell! How did you get into writing comics?
I’m a USA Today bestselling author of fantasy and horror-adjacent books. I got into comics because I was a movie and TV writer who wasn’t getting anything made, or even having meetings. I had produced and directed a movie I wrote in 2008, and it had been in editing for years. When my manager at the time handed me a stack of indie comics and told me they were able to me made affordably and still look amazing, I was hooked. I fell in love with everything about comics, and started making my first slate of books, including Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter and Katrina Hates the Dead.
Can you tell about the inspiration behind “I Can’t Wait,” the short comic you created with artist Angela Oddling for the Becoming Anthology?
Whenever I work with Angela, I try to utilize her art to describe a deep topic with simple language. That’s where I think Angela is the strongest, and as a person who usually tells stories with action, it’s an interesting challenge to pare down my work to the essentials and still make it powerful.
Angela is so amazing at telling complex and emotional stories with just a few pen strokes. I am her bigger fan and have been since I first came across it years ago.
When I saw the prompt of “Becoming” what immediately clicked to me was how I was ALWAYS trying to get to the next step in my life, and how now, in my very late 30s, I feel like I missed out on so much by only looking at the horizon. This story is really a cautionary tale to my younger self. Of course, that guy would never have listened to that kind of talk. He was the worst, always too busy looking forward to the next thing to appreciate what he had. I’m still like that, but I’m trying to be better now.
Angela’s art is so uplifting, for a gut-punch project like “I Can’t Wait.” How did you wind up working with her?
I helped Angela get her first work in comics. I fell in love with her work, and then commissioned her to do a pin-up in one of my books, and then she did a story for my Monsters and Other Scary Shit anthology, which was her first published comic book work.
From there, she kept refining, and appearing in our anthologies until we started working together on a project together. I love how she can take a small moment and create a world inside of it, and so whenever I have that kind of story, I always turn to her because she’s so so so so so good at it. If you need an adorable gut punch, call in Angela. That’s what I say, especially if cute animals or monsters are involved.
Who are your writing heroes?
I was just thinking about this last night. I try not to have heroes, because then you tend to idolize their style and try to mimic them. Then, your writing suffers. I can tell you I got into writing because of Kevin Smith. I found his story super inspiring, especially how he just went out and made the thing, and people responded to it.
I’ve tried to do the same thing with my own career. I’ve put movies and comics and novels on credit cards and been deeply in debt a couple of times. Even though I’m not proud of being that far in the red, I am very proud of what came from it, and how my career has evolved because of those risks. The most influential writer to my comic book work is Brian K. Vaughan, because his work is the perfect blend of words and art. They work in tandem so wonderful and never overshadow each other.
What fictional character do you identify most with, and why?
This is a hard one. I think Michael or Eleanor from The Good Place. My work is oozing with my thoughts on morality and religion, and I identify with their struggle to be good people even though they are dumpster fires.
What are you currently reading, listening to, and/or watching?
If you asked me yesterday, I was writing a different book, so my playlist literally changed today. I pick my playlist based on what I’m writing, and generally rotate between three main ones, depending on the project.
Right now, I’m listening to my favorite playlist, Red Rider, which is what I use to write The Obsidian Spindle Saga and anything with a dark pop feel to it, including K Flay, Kesha, Bishop Briggs, Lova, Meg Myers, Julia Michaels, and about 500 total songs.
Currently, I’m reading The Grishaverse. I’m on the third book, Ruin and Rising. My wife and I are also reading Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, one of my favorite authors, along with Melissa Albert and Stephanie Garber, among others.
The last long comic series I read was Destiny, NY, created by Pat Shand. It’s one of my favorite series, and then I read the memoir Chunky by Yehudi Mercado, which was great. I am also watching Summer Camp Island, which is appropriate, because Angela recommended it, and just finished the first season of Owl House, which I complained to her for not recommending to me.
What’s important to you in a comic book, as a reader? As a writer?
The same thing is important to me for both. Most comics are little more than a series of things that happen, and creators expect readers to fall in love with the character because they are going through these incredible events.
But I don’t care about any of that. Explosions for the sake of explosions are boring.
I care about characters.
Most of my early work even named a single character or perspective in the title: Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, Katrina Hates the Dead, My Father Didn’t Kill Himself, Gherkin Boy and the Dollar of Destiny, etc. It wasn’t until the middle of my career when that expanded into more expansive worlds. If you can’t get me to care about one character, your book is doomed.
If you give me a compelling character dealing with something serious, they could be going to the supermarket, and it would hook me. Of course, that brings up another issue, because you also have a lot of comics with deep characters who have no growth, which isn’t something that interests me, either. I look for an incredible character and how they grow over the course of the narrative. If you can nail both, then I’m in for the long haul.
As a very successful writer of both comics and prose fiction, what’s your best short-form advice for aspiring creators?
Short stories are very different beasts than long-form stories. If long-form is about crafting a compelling narrative, full of conflict and growth, complete with peaks and valleys, then a short-form piece is about getting in quickly and showing the most interesting moment of a character’s life, whether that is the beginning, middle, or end of it.
As an anthology author, you must stand out in the field of dozens of other stories, so you have to announce your presence with authority. That doesn’t mean explosions, either. There are no explosions in “I Can’t Wait.” It’s a very soft, quiet piece, but it hits hard and powerful at the end—I hope, at least.
The thing I find as an editor is that people can usually cut off the first two pages of any story and not lose anything. Almost all comic book short stories are at least two pages too long. It is better to have a shorter, more impactful story than draw it out unnecessarily.
Also, editors are almost always looking to fill their anthology with shorter pieces to plump up their volume and are more willing to take a chance on a two-page story than an eight-page story, so learn how to write super short, and you have the best shot of getting into the most anthologies, as long as the stories are killer.
Seriously, the best advice is to edit an anthology. You will quickly learn everything that people do wrong going through the process and getting beaten up along the way. I don’t envy your jobs at all.
[Editor’s note: Thanks, Russell.]
Are you working on anything new that our readers can keep their eyes on?
So much stuff, even though it might not look like it on Amazon or ComiXology. In 2022 we are finishing off the third in our Cthulhu is Hard to Spell anthology books, and I’m also releasing the fourth and final volume of Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter.
We’ll be releasing the last four novels in the Godsverse Chronicles, then, in January 2022, and you can pick up one of the stories from that stories, And Demons Followed Behind Her, on Amazon or almost any other platforms.
Finally, I am writing my new novel series, The Obsidian Spindle Saga, along with some other book projects set to release in 2023. I’ve already finished 7 novels this year and am trying to get as many finished as I can before shows start up later in the year. I’m hoping to finish the last book in a new trilogy by the end of this summer, before heading into my show season starting in September.
Where can our readers find you online?
You can find all my work at www.russellnohelty.com, including picking up another free story, Mystery Spot, and download our app.
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