There’s a good chance you’re familiar with Kyle Starks’ work. He’s written for the Rick and Morty comic book series, contributed to Marvel’s Secret Wars, Too and worked on an issue of Invader Zim.
Another recent venture, Rock Candy Mountain, follows the adventures (and misadventures) of a scrappy, wandering hero, Jackson, and his sidekick, Pomona Slim. With Issues #1-4 newly available as a complete collection, we had the chance to ask Starks a few questions about his work, his creative process, and what we can look forward to from him in the future.
First things first. . .how did you get started in this industry?
I fell face first into it. I started a web-comic when I was about to have my second daughter, just to prove I could make a full comic before all my free time was taken away in service of being a dad. While I was working on it, with no effort on my end, it got some press and suddenly people were watching. So I kickstarted that book and went to conventions and met a ton of people who I now call dear friends and had such a good time I did another Kickstarter – which was Sexcastle. That book ended up getting read by Matt Fraction who put me in contact with Image. Honestly, a crazy series of lucky events and generous people that I’m forever grateful for.
You’ve worked on some notable projects – from the Rick and Morty comic book series, to an issue of Invader Zim. Is there one project that you’re most proud of? Why?
I mean, I’m proud of all my work I try to put my first foot forward every time. If you mean in regards to licensed books I think I just turned in Issue 36 for Rick and Morty which means I’ve nearly done a 20 issue run – which I think in the current market is something to be quite proud of. And Dead of Winter (from Oni) I got to play in the sandbox of my favorite board game, which was a lot of fun. I mean, I got to write a dog protagonist in a zombie wasteland.
Otherwise, obviously, the books I’ve done top to bottom are all my children – I couldn’t begin to pick a favorite out of them.
Your work was nominated for an Eisner Award! Can you share what that felt like?
It felt amazing. It was wildly unexpected, for sure – I didn’t expect my FIRST published book (Sexcastle from Image Comic) to be nominated for such an industry honor. In fact, I didn’t even know it could be nominated. Comics were very very new to me. But , yeah, I can’t even describe how it felt. It was redeeming and validating and inspiring and thrilling and humbling all at once. All I can say is that it made me want everything I do to be nominated. Everything. I want everything I make to be on a level worthy of that accolade. And, you know, hopefully win the next one maybe.
Let’s talk about Rock Candy Mountain! How did the Jackson character come about? What made you want to tell his story?
So, there’s a bit of story to this, I guess – I was efforting getting into martial arts cinema and, as I began that very daunting journey, I became sort of transfixed with a genre called wuxia – which were always these sort of epic journeys with a light, supernatural element to them. What I became really fixed on was there was not, that I could tell, an American iteration of it. So I set out to figure what that would be and that transitioned into Jackson kung fu-ing his way across post World War 2 America. I figured the logical endpoint to an epic hobo journey was a mythical place…and then all the puzzle pieces fell together.
I really like to swim in the tough guy/action movie sort of genre, but you never want your leads to be the same, as much as possible when they’re always sort of relentless fighting machines. And I wanted the discovery of that person, and their motivations, to unfold with the story itself. Issue 5 comes out in November and it’s basically his life up until he meets Pomona in Issue 1 – I think it might be the best 22 pages of comics I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to here what the readers and fans think of it.
What can we expect from Rock Candy Mountain in the future?
Well, we can expect the climactic finale. The next four issues are going to build to the finale of what the first four (Volume 1) laid the tracks for. I’m really excited about the ending of this book and the final leg to get there. I’ve always sort of pushed Sexcastle as the “best thing I ever did” but I think that, when all is said and done, Rock Candy Mountain is going to be right there. I think it’s a really great, fun story.
Do you have any other exciting projects on the horizon?
At this moment, I do not – but as we do this interview this week, I’ve had three books come out: Kill Them All, Rock Candy Mountain Vol. 1, and Rick and Morty #30 – and that’s not including Dead of Winter #2 that came out earlier in the month. They just reprinted Sexcastle last month. I’ve been very very busy! All my new exciting projects just landed here at once, but I’m in the middle of planning and working out what’s next from Kyle Starks…and I can promise it’s going to be more exciting, fun, great stuff.
Where do you find inspiration for your work? How do you tap into your creativity?
My number one thing (which is not to say the only thing, but the first thing) when I start a new project is that I want to make the thing I want in the world. I wanted to see the greatest 80’s action movie never seen, so I made Sexcastle. I wished there were more things like Hard Boiled and The Killer so I made Kill Them All. I wished America had an epic wuxia so I made Rock Candy Mountain. My very first book – that webcomic/Kickstarter I mentioned earlier – was a pro-wrestling book because I thought there should be more wrestling comics and also because it’s something I like I knew it’d keep my attention.
I think anyone who makes things for a living will tell you that you tapping your creativity is the job. I know that’s maybe a boring answer but you have to always be working and I think you get in the habit of knowing how you break things and how to do it competently.
At Barnes & Noble College, we focus mostly on college students (surprise, surprise!). Do you have any advice for students who are just getting started on their careers? Is there anything you wish you had known when you were just starting out?
I think the best advice you can give anyone in comics is to make comics. That first step is the hardest, then make the book the you want to read. Realize it won’t be perfect, it will be flawed, but it’s better that thing exists, even flawed, than not at all. You make good books, you tell good stories, you go to conventions and meet your peers – who will become your best friends. Making comics is easy – being successful at them is very hard. That’s an entirely different much longer conversation. But to start, make comics and put them in the world. Make comics all the time.
Want more from Kyle Starks? (Hint: the answer is “yes”) Stop in select Barnes & Noble College Campus bookstores and pick up Rock Candy Mountain for yourself!