Interview: MYTHOI Author James Ninness

Lots of people who read comic books one day hope to write or illustrate them but the number that actually will is small. One thing is for sure, you can’t just sit around waiting for it to happen. James Ninness, author of MYTHOI Book I: Birth from Semantink Publishing, took matters into his own hands and today gets to see the fruits of those labors.

“The idea was spawned as a lovechild of frustration and gin. Frustration over what kind of original, thought-provoking comic book I would write before finally deciding to do them all at once. And gin because, well, gin is awesome,” Ninness said of his first trade paperback, now on sale (Read my recent review). “In college I started getting into comics…I know, I was a late bloomer…and decided that this was a form of storytelling I needed to be a part of. The problem was that I couldn’t settle on just one idea.”

Ninness says the frustration caused him to give up all of his ideas for a while until a friend (and alcohol) helped him realize he could throw all of them into one story. “Within a month I had the first MYTHOI outline complete,” he said. “I actually wrote the first and last issues before I wrote anything else. This isn’t something that goes on forever. It has a beginning and an end.” MYTHOI is set for a 60-issue run.

The Birth series was not part of the original plan he explained. “In my initial incarnation, pieces of the Birth series were littered about the series proper as flashbacks to give the reader a better understanding of the characters themselves just a bit at a time, generating some mystery as to their motivations and revealing their individual motives periodically.”

For someone who put so much thought into his first series you’d think Ninness was a lifelong comic reader but like he said, his interest didn’t emerge until college. “Most of my life I thought they were a bit immature, though admittedly I never really gave them a chance,” he said, “That was until Gaiman’s Sandman – damn, that guy can write. After Sandman, Ennis’s Preacher and Moore’s Watchmen, I was sold. Comics were going to be a part of my life forever.”

Instead of comics, Ninness got his inspiration and love of myth from film as a young boy. “The first movie I can remember watching with my dad is called Krull, directed by Peter Yates. I think everyone should be forced to watch it – it’s so outlandishly brilliant. He also made me watch everything Harryhausen, from Clash of the Titans to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”

“In college I got into some of the source material for a lot of today’s mythology: Apuleius’s Golden Ass, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Homer’s Troy and the Odyssey, Beowulf, and Bullfinch’s collection to name a few. I fell in love with the allegories these creators used to make their points,” he said. “Religion. Myth. Science fiction. These are all ways of explaining something more complex to a world that may or may not be ready to understand subject material. Ultimately I became obsessed with not only the myths but the cultures in which these myths thrived, the underlying beliefs that fueled them – the mythos.” This is exactly where MYTHOI Birth steps in.
With such multifaceted ideas in his head, Ninness needed to find an artist up for the task of illustrating what would be an undoubtedly epic story. Through mutual friends he found Jed Soriano, an art student from San Diego. “I saw some concept sketches Jed was doing for a student-film and pitched MYTHOI to him on the spot,” said Ninness, “Within a few minutes we were coming up with character descriptions and sketches. We hit the ground running.”

For a special story added to the TPB, Ninness and his Editor Benjamin Glibert knew they needed something a little different. “For Heathcliff and Catherine I wanted to do something more in the vein of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It felt write for the setting of the story and the design lends itself well the comic book form,” he said. He describes the artist, Yanglyn Ou, as “a goddess” saying, “Her line work is amazing on that story and I can’t get enough of her. She really took what I wrote and gave it the perfect mix of classic and creepy. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t at least mention our cover artist for the trade, Kevin Warwick – he really knocked it outta the park!”

Instead of aiming to sell his story to one of the bigger publishing houses, Ninness joined with newcomers Semantink Publishing for his fledgling comic work. “I’ve heard horror stories from some writer-friends of mine wherein they sell a book, but the publisher, upon picking up said tale, warps, twists and bends it to make it more marketable or better suited for mass-appeal. Not Semantink.”

Even though the book has just gone on sale, he believes he’s made the right choice. “The hardest part with Semantink was proving that MYTHOI is an original piece worthy of their ‘quality over quantity’ mantra. Once I had Benjamin convinced that MYTHOI was something special we signed a contract and he’s let me write the stories. He gives his two cents but ultimately I have complete creative control over the direction of the story itself,” he said, “While I do see this as a blessing, it also means that if the story bombs it’s 100% my fault – I don’t get to blame anyone for negative reviews/reception.”

He stands behind his work but like any author Ninness can’t be certain of it’s success with the masses. “My hope is that MYTHOI finds readers with a desire for adventure outside categorical limitations. MYTHOI is fantasy, but it’s more than that. It’s not a book about vampires, werewolves and gods – but they’re all there. There is more between the pages than dragons fighting time-traveling-cyborg assassins and Japanese ghosts battling Ancient Greek titans – but we’ve got that as well,” he said, “I wrote this book because it’s the kind of thing I’d like to read. So I guess if there are more people out there with a somewhat twisted sense of humor that dig mythology, action and movies like Krull, this is for them.”

Authors note: James Ninness has generously chosen to donate his income from MYTHOI through the end of 2011 to a charity very close to my heart, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He gets paid on the back-end a certain percentage of digital issue and TPB sales. You can read more about it on his blog but I have to say a big THANK YOU to him right now. He encourages people to donate even if they aren’t comic fans and won’t be picking up his book so all-in-all he’s being pretty damn generous. Thank you James, I wish you success for both of us. :)

2 Responses to “Interview: MYTHOI Author James Ninness”

  1. Budd says:

    I am now intrigued. great interview.

  2. Amber Love says:

    That certainly is incredibly generous of him to donate all the monthly income to MDA. As a budding writer late to the game too, I enjoy hearing about other people's motivations and the kinds of stories they are creating.