Interview: Jona Kottler, co-creator of The Wonderverse

Call it The Boulevard of Fanboy Dreams. It's the section of the San Diego Comic Convention just to the right of all the mainstream hullabaloo. There you find such bizarre things as Naked Star Wars Anime, fiber optic galaxy paintings, Rob Liefeld, and But occasionally hiding amongst the psychedelic softcore will be brand-new independent comics.

They do not have secret corporate funding, or superstar writers/artists. Instead, these are comics truly from the heart, because many of the creators have wagered all their own spare time and money on them, sometimes more. This year, one such book leapt out at us. Okay, the writers/publishers actually handed it to us, but you get the point.

From tiny brand-new publisher Opposite Number comes The Wonderverse, an alternate universe tale featuring cowboys, the supernatural, possible alien invasion, and a British costumed vigilante from a time before such things were understood.

Drawn in a style that looks to combine Art Adams and Judd Winick with a manga sensibility, The Wonderverse is no simple story. The first issue jumps around over an eight-year period, covering many different characters whose relationship to each other may not be readily apparent.

The best concept is "The Magic Bullet;" when fired, it kills, but once removed, the wound heals and the victim recovers. Used by the villain of the piece, Lord Valos Bergman-Jones, to fuel a carnival career, the bullet may be physiologically linked to a mysterious gunslinger known (so far) only as The Spook. But enough of the mystery is in place to make it worth exploring this first mini-series, Nexus.

One of the book's co-creators, Jona Kottler, took the time to talk with Fanboy Planet about the origins of the book, her plans for the future, and just how much sweat goes into trying to publish a book while having both a day job and a family.

Derek McCaw: What got you into comics?

Jona Kottler: Oh, gosh. I think that it started in high school, a lot of kids our age were familiar with comics from the great shows when we were younger, you know, like Superfriends, The Incredible Hulk (live-action show), even Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. My boyfriend, now husband Jason (co-creator of The Wonderverse), was into them, so it was a logical step to turn to the actual comic books.

DM: So what made you decide that you could write comics?

JK: After reading a lot, I thought "I could do better than that." With that kind of smugness that you have, that you think it's so easy to do better than them. And we (she and Jason) talked and talked and talked and then one day we just decided we either have to do it or stop talking about it. So we started writing a script with some characters from various things that we had been doing for a long time. Jane (Pembrook, the book's female lead) was actually a character from a role-playing game.

DM: Which game?

JK: Castle Faulkenstein. And so, we completed a script then we realized we were completely unartistic, and we made up some flyers and put them around local comic stores saying "artists wanted, this fabulous new comic book, that can't afford to pay you a dime, would really like all of your hard work," basically.

DM: Where was this?

JK: This was in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

DM: But you're in California now.

JK: We're in California now, but our artists (Chayne Avery and Russell Garcia) still live in Albuquerque.

DM:You put up these flyers, and Chayne (pronounced Shane, like the cowboy, according to Jona) and Russell were a team themselves?

JK: Yeah. Just doing the same sort of things we were. They were drawing a lot and thinking, "wouldn't it be fun if we could really do this for real?"

Chayne works for U.S. West, or Qwest I guess they call it now. He draws ads as a daytimer. He wanted for a very long time to not be just a commercial artist. To be able to more creative in his work. We found each other at just the perfect time.

DM: So what do you and Jason do?

JK: Jason is a computer programmer. He writes software for NEC Systems. And I'm a teacher.

DM: So that pushed the move to California?

JK: Yeah, it did. Partially as a way to fund the book.

DM: Why go right into self-publishing? Or did you try to sell your ideas someplace else?

JK: We never even considered going someplace else. We wanted to keep control of it, and learn how to do it ourselves. We used to own a business together. We're sort of big-time do-it-yourselfers. Rather than spend a long time sending stuff out and hoping, we just thought we'd jump in and do it.

DM: So what kind of problems and good things have you faced in launching your own company, Opposite Number Comics?

JK: We sometimes call it our trip to Europe. "How's the trip to Europe doing today?" because it's a lot of money. Costs a lot of money. And it requires lots of sacrifices, in many different ways. We spend a lot of time working on it. We have a five-year-old son, and we have what we call "date night." And we go out and work. People say "have you seen X-Men?" and we're like, yeah, once, but we have to go work. Leave us alone, we're working. Once a week we get to work together, otherwise we work separately and try to collate our stuff.

DM: So how long did it take you from the point of hiring Chayne and Russell to the official release date, (was it) this past September?

JK: It was officially released in July. We sort of launched it in San Diego. It took us almost a year from meeting them, mostly because we were inventing the process.

There are a couple of books on the market about how to self-publish your own comic book which are somewhat instructive, but it's like someone giving you advice. You know, like they tell you "when you're in college, never do this," and you're like, oh yeah, sure, it won't be like that for me. You just have to blunder through and make your own mistakes. Those have been the hard things. It takes a long time with everybody having day jobs.

DM: Is this first mini-series then completed and just awaiting sales?

JK: The first mini-series is not completed. We're doing it kind of as we go along. Number two will be out in November. It's going to be quarterly for these first ones. We're going to an anthology format in number five, after the mini-series, or we may be calling it (number) one, having ultimate power, as we say. We're going to get an anthology and have a bunch of different artists. We have four artists that we're talking to right now. Each one of those artists will take on one of the characters from the book.

DM: The book mentions that this first story will go from 1871 through the forties. So will these four main characters be the mainstays of The Wonderverse?

JK: They'll be the mainstays of The Wonderverse for a little while, for x amount of time, until we're not interested in their stories anymore.

If you're looking at it from a television point of view, we don't want to be American television, we want to be British television. We want to tell a story until it's over, and then end it. We want these people to grow old and die and have descendants and move on, rather than have Jane be twenty-two years old for the next fifty years. We'd like the stories to go until they don't, and maybe stop short of where they don't go on anymore.

DM: The art does seem to have a very heavily manga-influenced look, especially in the design of (British/Jewish detective/young hero) Mordecai. Was that something that you had intended, or is it just because Chayne answered the ad and he was good?

JK: It has a lot to do with Chayne's style. We looked at several different artists, and his (work) was really by far the best. When we looked at some of his sequential work together, we thought, wow, we're trying to make this of our world, but not really of our world. And this is one way of making it look not exactly like the Victorian Age. It's like it's a different place.

Although it wasn't our original intention, it was perfect. As soon as we saw it we thought, yeah! It's going to give it it's own look. Wild West manga.

DM: The title of the book itself: Why call it The Wonderverse, when the characters and situations seem so dark and bleak? Wonder has a connotation of being light, like in "the wonder of it all."

JK: Hmm. Wonder has a connotation for me of awe. And awe doesn't necessarily have to be positive. Also, it's a sort of a realm of hope. There's a lot of darkness right now, but with darkness, I think, always comes an underground movement of hope.

DM: What attracts you to this time period for your story, especially when you still have a character like Black Jack who is a very familiar vigilante archetype?

JK: Well, Jane was in that period originally. The way that we write is that we each created certain characters, and when we do a first draft we each write pretty much the characters that we created. Then when we go into editing, we work on each other's stuff and try to polish it out.

Jack was somebody that Jason had thought about, what would happen if you had a vigilante before vigilantes? How would you come about in deciding that this would be an appropriate way to handle your beef with the world? What if we took it back in time when there weren't any models for this? What would you use as a model then?

And for me, I was a literature major in college, and my masters' degree is in Great Books, so it's fun to explore, for me, literary archetypes and to move them into the comic world. Which, certainly, I'm not a pioneer in this, but it's just fun for me to do.

DM: The book opens with the image of a burning missionary outpost in Africa, and a Bible being hurled to the ground. Were you purposely courting controversy?

JK: It's quite a striking image. I wish this were Jason answering. I'd love to make sure I get this right. No, we weren't particularly courting controversy. We didn't set out to say "how do we make a bunch of people mad?" It's part of the story, and it's part of (Lord Valos) Bergman-Jones' character. We wanted to show just how vile he is, exactly what lengths he will go to. We thought if we took something that is supposed to be an act of goodness, and showed how he could turn that around, it would be very reflective upon his character.

DM: What was your initial run?

JK: 3,000.

DM: You have a couple of stores in Albuquerque selling this?

JK: And a couple of stores in Sacramento, a chain in Sacramento. Those are the ones that carry it in the store. We sell it from the site, and we're in Diamond (Distributing)'s committee right now. They send it out to a committee friendly to independent comics, and then they vote (on whether to carry it). We're still there, and in discussions with Cold Cut, the back-order distributor.

DM: How have you done so far with the book?

JK: We were really surprised at the convention. We had done a lot of reading on how many copies an independent comic might sell in total, how many you might expect to sell at a convention. We talked about it with some of the people that we met.

We did about fifty percent more than most of the people we talked to. So we were happy about that. We've had good local sales, and we just had a really nice review in the Comics Buyers' Guide. That just came out this week.

You asked about the bad and the good, and here's the real good: the good is that you get to do whatever you want. Chayne says, "you know, I was thinking it would be cool if I could take page 22 and make it two pages." And we say, yeah, go ahead. It's much more personal. We get to do our own work and we get to really be in charge of what happens creatively. And that's a nice thing.

If you're interested in taking a look at The Wonderverse for yourself, please go to, and tell them that Fanboy Planet sent you.

Derek McCaw





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