With every passing day, the folks at Mad Cave Studios are expanding their footprint and making a name for themselves. The key to this is continuously producing entertaining and at times inspirational books. One such book, coming on June 8th, is the whimsical series Potions Inc. by writer Erik Burnham and artist Stalladia. In Potions Inc., a young man (Randelgast Quatermuth Jones…A.K.A. Ran) finds himself wrapped in a magical quest, although he himself had no desire to follow in his parent’s magical footsteps. Regardless of the fact that his twin siblings totally embrace their Legacy’s. It is a entertaining mix of classic fairytale and time travel fun. Given the opportunity, we were pleased to have an opportunity to chat with Potions Inc. creator Erik Burnham about his career, and his new book. So let’s welcome Erik Burnham to GVN’s Talking Comics Interview.
GVN: Thank you for giving us some of your time Erik. So as is our normal start for those creators we haven’t had the pleasure of talking to as of yet, let’s start with your origin story. When did a young man from Minnesota take an interest in writing (comics in particular) and who were those writers and creators who inspired you on that journey?
EB: Honestly, comics were just always there from the time I was growing up. I might have grown past them, except, when I was about 5, my family lost everything in a fire. My grandpa gave me one of the stash of comics he bought for when (his older) grandkids visited–Avengers Annual #6–and as that was my new first possession, it took on an extra-special meaning to me. From then on, as my mom said, I wanted to either make comics (though I had no idea how to go about doing that) or be a magician. I have no facility for magic. My dexterity in particular is abysmal.
Inspiration in Everything
As I grew, writing in general became more important to me. Short stories, stage plays, screenplays, comic strips and comic book stories–I did it all. (And still do! Ha.) As far as inspiration, I found it in everything. In comics, I never lived near a shop so it was always catch as catch can when it came to getting books. I was reading Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s classic Spidey stories from go, and that cemented a lot in my head. Conway & DeMatteis on Spectacular Spider-Man with Sal Buscema when I was a little older. In the 90s, I was digging the Batman and Superman runs (with writers like Dixon, Moench, Grant under Denny O’Neill, plus great art from Breyfogle, Nolan, and my favorite Bat-artist, Jim Aparo on Batman, and Jurgens, Simonson, Stern, and Ordway on the Superbooks with Bogdanove, Guice, Grummett…)
I read weird stuff like Moon Knight back issues with Moench and Sienkiewicz, Marvel’s odd duck Slapstick in the early 90s, the Justice League International (all-time favorite run, with that DeMatteis guy again, Keith Giffen, and Kevin Maguire.) I read Byrne’s Fantastic Four, Claremont’s X-Books… again, no shop, so it was mainly Marvel and DC. When I finally got access to other books, I found O’Barr’s The Crow (after the movie, natch) and Smith’s Bone. I found some of the Image books… but as far as comics, I think most of my inspiration was set early on by folks who could have a bit of fun, even when the story was dark.
I later found inspiration in screenplay books (bookstores had screenplays by William Goldman, Ed Burns, Kevin Smith, and Quentin Tarantino, which informed some of my writing) and also, novelist Elmore Leonard. I’d better stop here – if I continue with screenwriters and novelists, you’re going to get an entire essay. The bottom line of it all is that I’m inspired and delighted by humor in its many forms, especially in stories where you’re not expecting it. That made me want to tell stories even more than I already did. It excited me!
GVN: You started out with some short stories for Shooting Star for their comic anthology series. Did you receive many rejections before Shooting Star accepted those first works and what did you learn during that process of putting yourself out there?
EB: I never received ANY rejections before Shooting Star because I’d never tried anything before Shooting Star! In fact, before that, I’d had a happy career in broadcasting (that got cut short by budget cuts and layoffs.) With jobless freetime on my hands, I turned to the internet more–chatting with folks on message boards and AOL’s late Instant Messenger. Group chats were common, and I always enjoyed hearing about comic stories folks were reading (since again, no comic shop nearby–and this was long before digital comics were viable!) In any case, as fans are wont to do, there were complaints about the quality of the stories. A member of the chat said to the complainers “if you think you can do better, why don’t you?” So we banded together to create the anthology…
I’d written some fanfic to kill some time after I moved from my hometown and hadn’t really established any connections in my new area, so I at least had some idea of how audiences may respond to my writer’s voice, but you never know from project to project. With this anthology, one of our strengths was also our biggest weakness–there was no consistent theme. Pulp styled mystery men, straight up superheroes, adventure books at least all fit together. I did a silly humor story (Nick Landime) and felt the odd man out. But reactions to the character being different from the norm were more good than bad, and that in itself was encouraging. And a fan of the character eventually becoming an editor at another publisher opened doors for me as well.
GVN: You have since worked for IDW on different titles including Ghostbusters but your recent book for Mad Cave Studios is a whimsical magical adventure entitled Potions Inc. along with artist Stalladia. Tell our readers a little about the new series and what inspired it?
EB: Oh, my. Well, there was an idea in place to do a book called Potions, Inc. There were a few character names in place (basically, the Jones clan) and the notion of going from Primaterra (the fantasy world the characters come from) to Earth. That’s what was there from go, when I was approached to see if I had any interest in building it up from there. A family-based fantasy story? Yeah, I was in. I began to knock around ideas with editor Erica Schultz, who initially came up with the idea to set the story in the 90s (which was perfect) and–I can’t remember if it was her or me who suggested setting it in Seattle instead of the originally conceived New York City, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that came from Erica again.
Editor Erica Schultz
From there I just… riffed, working in suggestions and changes from Erica and the crew at Mad Cave to smooth out the story and add new elements that got us to where we are today, such as the macguffin–the Fordstone–and the rival potionmaker Poncelina Arkay, to name a couple. When Stelladia and cover artist Natasha Alterici came on, they too had input and suggestions, including a major one regarding one of the twins in the story, Asteria Jones. (Only letterer Micah Myers wasn’t there at the beginning, or he might’ve had some ideas in there as well! Either way, I wanted to mention his name. He did a great job matching the tone of the series, and readers don’t always pick up how crucial the right lettering can be, so let me tell ya–cheers to Micah!)
But back to inspiration–we had so many fantasy tropes that we wanted to work in… the call to adventure, the danger to home and hearth, family dynamics, chafing against expectations, ticking clocks, wizards, betrayal, revenge, and a change for at least one of the characters at the end of it all. Those are the ideas from fantasy stories that inspired us on this book, the things we were discussing, and hopefully, the things we got into the story of Ran and co.
GVN: In just the first issue, you have done a masterful job of exploring the age-old concept of legacy and how parents sometimes expect their children to follow in their footsteps and the pressure that can cause. What do you hope to convey to readers (and maybe parents) about this subject or is it simply an effective literary device? (It is, by the way).
EB: It’s effective because it’s just so relatable. Relatability was something we really wanted in the book, since there were so many fantasy elements. These things ground the story and let readers put themselves into the characters’ heads, at least, that’s the hope. If it provides nostalgia or perspective, that’s just the icing on the cake. I think above all, the thing we hoped to convey (or, to not speak for the others, the thing I hoped to convey) is that neither your life nor your family are going to be exactly what you assume they’re going to be, and that’s not automatically a bad thing.
GVN: As aforementioned, you are working with talented artist Stalladia on Potions Inc. How did that collaboration come about and were you at all surprised by the pages that they turned out for your story?
EB: This was another inspired choice of editor Erica Schultz. Stelladia brought a great vibe to the artwork (line art and color) and got on the page a breezy fairytale-like feeling. It felt like wispy images that float through your mind when you’re being read a bedtime story as a kid (and it was a prime reason we worked a bedtime story into issue 1!) Once Stelladia’s art started coming in, it changed my approach. First it was their character sketches (which inspired that bedtime story instead of a more standard opening) and then, later, the early pages inspired imagery in later scripts that I might not have come to otherwise. I’m so glad I didn’t write the entirety of the story before seeing the artwork! To say nothing of some of Stelladia’s inspirations. A specific pair of sunglasses was completely their inspiration.
Artist Impacts on Story
GVN: In addition, did Stalladia’s work have any effect on your story direction or perhaps make you rethink how to present it?
EB: Seems like I accidentally answered this above! But to reiterate, yes, absolutely. Both Stelladia’s pages and Natasha Alterici’s covers inspired detours and presentation in the story as it went along, for sure.
Other Projects to Follow
GVN: Thank you once again for your time, Erik. Before I let you go, do you have any other projects you would like to let our followers know about and where can they follow you on social media?
EB: Well, I’m almost done with GI Joe Saturday Morning Adventures and Transformers Beast Wars for IDW. Folks can catch my Downside comic strip at downsidecomic.com (first collection is on Amazon now), my twitter and instagram are both @erikburnham–that oughta do the trick! I have some neat projects upcoming, but it’s too soon to mention them. I’m just psyched I can finally share “Potions, Inc” with the world and I hope everyone has as much fun reading it as I did seeing it all come together!
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Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 18 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.