Butcher Queen: Interview with the creators + review!

Butcher Queen Volume 1: Black Star City – out 9/23/2020 – In Black Star City, alien Off-Worlders are being systematically attacked and removed from society. When cop-turned-mercenary Syd Kiowa is hired by one of the victims, she uncovers a terrifying war of secrets that could change the future of  human and alien relations forever.

Butcher Queen: Planet of the Dead issue #1 – Begins 10/21/2020 – When a young boy discovers a never-before-seen lifeform, Syd Kiowa and her team of misfits must unravel its connection to a series of global attacks from another dimension.

Writer Jim Ousley recently reached out to me about their series, Butcher Queen, from Red 5 Comics. Both Jim and Ben Sawyer, the artist, answered some questions for me in a quick little interview. Since they’re both St. Louis based, they’re pretty close to me! So anything to help some local talent.

But first! Jim was kind enough to send me Volume One of Butcher Queen, as well as issue one of Butcher Queen: Planet of the Dead, so I could get myself familiar with their work.

I must say, I really enjoyed this series! The story is both exciting and heartbreaking, the characters are the sort you get attached to easily, and the art is fantastic. Butcher Queen is something a step above the typical, and the main character, Syd, holds the same sort of charm and longing for redemption that we find in many of the most popular characters in comics history.

There’s a lot to love about Butcher Queen, and I’m hoping you guys will check it out and see what I mean!

Now, on to the questions!

1.) How did you both come to work together on Butcher Queen? Were you friends already or meet because of the project?

JimI met Ben at the St.Louis-based creative collective Ink & Drink Comics. The idea is that writers can get together with artists in a relaxed social setting, talk about comics, share ideas, and ultimately pair up to work on stories. At one point I got paired up with Ben, and we hit it off, and started working on projects together. We’ve worked on The Rough & Tumble (an action comedy anthology), The Dead Palace (a horror anthology), and then the Butcher Queen series. We’re still at it, and now we’re working on Butcher Queen: Planet of the Dead. Ink & Drink Comics is also where we met Jason Green, our editor. He does a really incredible job, and his feedback is essential to what we’re doing with the series. He’s amazing.

Ben: We met in a meeting for a St. Louis creator collective called Ink and Drink comics. We got our comicking chops there and our first self-published book was a collection of our Ink and Drink stories.

2.) Were there any particular inspirations for your story, or any of the characters? 

Jim: The Butcher Queen series kind of came from exploring the idea of regret. We’ve all been in a position where we’ve not handled a situation the way we wanted to, and as we grow, we do our best to dissect it and glean what lessons we can from it. It’s an essential thing to do as a human being, because if you don’t learn from whatever it was, it will just eat away at you. This is the framework that our protagonist Syd Kiowa has to grapple with. She tried all of her life to do the right thing, really screws up, and takes it upon herself to actually learn from her mistakes and not be devoured by them. Of course, this is all framed by the glorious cyberpunk influences that Ben and I both enjoyed growing up, like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, all of that cool stuff.

Ben: For me the characters had to be stylish while also treading on the more punk side of cyberpunk. Not the overly glamorized cybernetics or hairstyles or studded clothing, but sort of slapped together, this is what we found, living on the fringes sort of ensemble. I mean, Avina is wearing underwear for most of our first book. Looking cool was not her concern. But it is for book two!

3.) Do you have a favorite Butcher Queen character, or one you feel you relate to on some level?  

Jim: I think in the first series, It was absolutely Syd. She was at the center of this sci-fi morality tale, and I felt for her because I could intrinsically relate to what she was going through. She was carrying a lot on her shoulders and really working for redemption. If you read the trade paperback collection of the first series (Butcher Queen: Black Star City), it includes the short story that shows you what happened in her past that shaped this perspective.

In Butcher Queen: Planet of the Dead, I have to say I’m really enamored with a new character named Dagger. He’s a really smart kid, really together, but again, not beyond making mistakes. His arc in this series and how it relates to Syd and the team was a really fun thing to explore. I genuinely had a lot of fun writing this series, and Dagger was a big part of that.

Ben: It’s cliche but I love our main character. She’s not that complicated and the solution to many of the problems we throw at her is often a straight line. She can body slam someone twice her size and handle her liquor. But she’ll still crack a joke and let you know you are appreciated. Plus, I love drawing tough women that LOOK tough. Syd is battle-hardened but far from anti-social. 

4.) Where do you draw inspiration from? Any particular writers or artists you admire? 

Jim: There are so many to mention that it’s overwhelming just thinking about it. I’m a big fan of Dennis O’Neil and Scott Snyder, off the top of my head. Outside of comics, I’m also a huge fan of Bryan Edward Hill, and I love his Batman and the Outsiders books. I’m also a big Dickens fan, like so many others. Great Expectations is one of my all-time favorite books.

Ben: My biggest inspirations are Sean Murphy (Batman: White Knight, Punk Rock Jesus), Moebius (The Incal, Silver Surfer) and Daniel Warren Johnson (Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, Murder Falcon). My style has always been a blend of East-meets-West with huge intricate manga-esque backgrounds and simplified faces and expressions. It’s slowed me down in the last year but I don’t think you can rush art. It’s very counterintuitive that this industry (and manga too) insists on it.

5.) What got you into comics, and wanting to create your own? 

Jim: Growing up, I was pretty consumed with comic books, movies, and Saturday morning television. I was a very quiet, very introverted kid, so getting lost in a story was ideal for someone like me. Escapism leads to the desire to create, so that’s what put me on the path to just making stuff. It’s my goal to leave behind as much fun stuff as I possibly can before I die. Every day when I wake up, I think “What can I MAKE today?”

Beyond the creative aspect, I simply learned things from comic books that I didn’t learn from anywhere else. For example, racism was never really spoken about in our house growing up. However, in comic books, there were stories that explored those themes. The great Stan Lee would speak boldly about the issue of race, and he had no issue letting his readers know where he stood. That’s something that’s always stayed with me.

Ben: I’ve been reading Marvel comics since before high school. I got my hands on some real grimey indie comics and some uncensored European comics in middle school that warped my brain a little bit. And I think Spawn might have made me a little more obsessed with Hell than Heaven. I’m not an avid Big Two reader anymore I tend to read stuff like Murder Falcon and Moto Crush, but my studio walls are still covered with X-men art. 

Creating my own comics came at the start of my freelance career as it’s a product I can create solely on my own, cover to cover. Soon clients started lining up as their life-long scripts they’ve been sitting on for years were now a reality. I’ve been struggling to get into the industry for 10+ years. There’s no shortage of extremely talented and hungry artists out there.

6.) What would be a dream project for you? Another creator owned, or would you want to work on a famous character/title that interests you? 

Jim: Again, there are so many, but I would love to have a shot at the big boys like Batman or Superman. This is going back pretty far and might be a little more obscure, but The Phantom would be just incredible to work on. Honestly though, I’m so grateful just to have the chance to work with Red 5 Comics and bring stories to a wider audience. Superlatives don’t really do it justice.

Ben: I want to make either an X-Men book or a Spider-Man book. They’re simply my favorite. Of course I would do Green Lantern or Batman or Justice League too, any huge tentpole franchise would make me unfathomably proud. However I pride myself as a storyteller. I REALLY admire Daniel Warren Johnson’s career path, a solo creator (except for his colorist and letterers and editors) and his unbelievably ambitious commission work. Just jaw dropping. So while I’d love a shot at a huge franchise, I just want to tell good stories for my fans.

7.) What’s up next for the both of you? Any other projects on the table, either together or separate? 

Jim: I’m actually working on a non-comics project with a couple of friends of mine here in St. Louis, and I’m REALLY excited about a new series I’m doing for Red 5 Comics for late next year. It’s a completely different world than Butcher Queen and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a long time.

Ben: I’m currently doing art for a videogame that just landed on Steam called Voidspeed Outlaw. It’s a retro-inspired racer like F-Zero or Outrun. I’m also trying to finish a fan webcomic called Wipeout 2058 on my website (www.sketchsawyer.com) before I move on to my next passion project, a new universe I’m building around sky pirates. 

8.) Anything else you’d like to share or plug?  

Jim: We just hope that people enjoy the Butcher Queen: Black Star City trade collection (out on September 23rd) and the new series, Butcher Queen: Planet of the Dead (out on October 21st). Going through the trade collection, I’m pretty thrilled with the whole package and how well the story works. With BQ:POD we have a chance to really build on that and have some great twists and revelations for those that have been on the journey with us. Can I say one more thing? Support your local comic shops. They’re the backbone to everything we are doing, and without them, the world would be a lot less fun.

Ben: I’m always open for commissions! I would love nothing more than if someone would ask me to illustrate their favorite comic or video game character.

There you have it, folks! I hope you check out Butcher Queen (and to agree with Jim – support your local comic shops! Ask if they can order (or if they’ve already ordered) Butcher Queen. Trust me. You won’t want to miss this series!

Thanks again to Jim and Ben for reaching out to me and answering my questions!

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