Welcome to Haunted MTL‘s “People behind the mask” interview series where readers are introduced to fantastic horror content creators.
This week we’re talking to author Russell Nohelty, a USA Today bestselling author and founder of Wannabe Press. Russell has had a great deal of success on Kickstarter, raising over $100,000 across a variety of projects. We’ll be talking about Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter today.
A psychopath escapes a mental asylum and becomes a monster hunter, but he doesn’t know if he’s killing monsters, humans, or it’s all in his head. Ichabod is a self-contained graphic novel that deals with perception, reality, and redemption.
You can buy the book on Amazon right now.
How did the concept for Ichabod Jones come about?
Russell: I had taken my first book, The Wannabes, down to San Diego Comic-Con and pitched it to every publisher I could find. The book was a YA superhero story about fake superheroes who get real superpowers. In fact, that logo became the logo for my company that I still use to this day.
Anyway, everybody told me no. They said, “why would I do a superhero book when Marvel and DC do superheroes?” This was in 2010, years before indie superhero books became a big seller. So, I came home dejected and decided I wanted to make a book that could NEVER be published, with the most unlikely hero imaginable. Interestingly, it’s become the book everybody wants to publish now and was the first book to get a publishing contract.
I still remember crested over the 405 on my way to the valley when the idea hit me for a psychopath hero, who society cast off, who has to become a hero. I loved the idea of trying to get you to love and root for somebody that society has said is evil. Ichabod is, at its heart, a story of redemption. Can somebody who is objectively evil in the eyes of society redeem themselves and become a hero? Can the audience root for somebody like that?
All those ideas thrilled and excited me. Now, as we start the second arc after a 10-year gap in production, I’m just as excited to explore them as I was on day 1.
You mention Johnny the Homicidal Maniac as an influence to the project overall. What was your experience reading it for the first time?
I couldn’t believe something so horrifying could also be so funny and poignant. Johnny was a HORRIBLE person. I mean, he indiscriminately killed thousands of people, and yet I rooted for him the whole time.
It was truly eye-opening for me as a writer and a comics fan. Johnny was truly deplorable. He killed with joy and glee. Yet, I wanted him to win. It showed me that anything was possible if you crafted the story correctly, and had the right art style combined with a complementary writing tone.
It is up in the air whether Ichabod is a monster hunter or not. Where do you find most readers land in that interpretation?
They are all over the map. For a long time, my favorite thing was listening to people tell me their theories. As we move into the second arc, that is still a factor, but it’s much less a factor to the story in the second arc. It’s really hard to keep that suspense when you are telling a big story.
However, everything will assuredly be answered as long as I can keep the story going for enough issues. Right now, I have 6 arcs planned out, but the interest has to be there for me to keep telling the story. If I can get there, everybody will know the truth. I just hope it satisfies them.
How did you first connect with Renzo Podestá? How do you feel he has added to the project?
I met Renzo from an open submission in 2010. Back then I was using Digital Webbing to hire artists, and I wasn’t getting many submissions for Ichabod. I got tons for my book Katrina Hates the Dead, but I had only gotten five for Ichabod. I thought that I would have to settle for a less than perfect artist for the project. I saw some who were nice, but none who blew me away.
I was about to hire a different artist when Renzo’s test page came in and I was floored. It made it into the book without changes. It’s page 4 of the first volume. I loved his work instantly. He was the person who turned me on to Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. I knew I wanted something that felt surreal and like we were stuck in Ichabod’s head, but I didn’t know what that meant until Renzo showed me.
One of your other projects is Katrina Hates Dead Shit, though it has expanded to Katrina hating a lot of things. What did you learn from that initial project that you applied to Ichabod Jones?
Well, Ichabod came before Katrina. It was my first book. However, I wrote multiple Katrina stories before I went back to Ichabod. What Katrina and my prose writing, in general, have done is showed me how to tell bigger, more intricate stories.
Both Ichabod and Katrina were quite simple in their construction, which is okay for a short series, but for a longer series, you need a lot more meat to make it interesting. There needs to be more conflict, and a bigger goal to sustain something for 24-30 issues than for just 4 issues.
What is your favorite horror story?
I don’t like jump scares. I like my horror to dissect the human condition in a weird and creepy way, so I think it’s a tie between Jacob’s Ladder and In the Mouth of Madness.
You can buy the first volume of Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter on Comixology, Amazon, of Drive Thru Comics. Ichabod can also be previewed on Webtoon. Russell and his work can be found at www.russellnohelty.com as well on social media such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Please enjoy this preview of artwork from Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter.