B-SQUAD TP VOL 01 CONSPIRACY IN CAMBODIA
The expendable misfits of B-Squad live from mission to mission and die by die roll! Not everyone will make it back, and the casualties of each mission are decided by the roll of the writer's dice. Join the best of the worst as they bravely tackle the dangerous leftover missions no other outfit would take on. In this first mission, B-Squad is sent to Cambodia to protect a cancer researcher from radicalized hipsters convinced his research is part of an international conspiracy. Taking on waxed mustaches and fixies, cancer-curing mugwais and mad scientists, B-Squad soon gets overwhelmed sorting out the truth from fiction.
SBI is talking with Eben Burgoon, creator of B-Squad, a fan-favorite at comic cons since 2012, soon to be released in an all-new, reimagined format through SBI Press. Eben is also joined by Michael Calero, artist and writer of Monster Safari, a feature of the new B-Squad, and Lauren Gramprey, one of the original artists of the first edition books.
Eben, start by telling us about the inspiration for B-Squad. You're obviously pulling from a lot of pop culture sources, but there is a lot more going on here than just a parody of 80s action heroes.
Eben Burgoon: I’m sure it started as an idle thought for a humorous mischief meets action-adventure mayhem comic book, but the more and more I toyed with the idea in my notebooks, the more I saw pages of different characters, like tons, all worth playing with, but I managed to get it down to a “squad” size of six.
And then I had some sort of Dr. Brown slip-on-the-toilet epiphany and these paths converged. I could cross all these seemingly disparate loves into one great gordian knot.
I love creating characters and I love adventure stories. I love goofy-footed parodies of tropes and an Island of Lost Toys-style misfits running around in these underdog stories. Also, I have this love of literature from my minor in college and I could easily blend desire to toy with a collective’s narrative and enrich the iceberg of the whole story by playing with the paradoxes that examine nature and nurture and how our lives are in a constant state of birth, rebirth, and finality.
The more I toyed with it, the more it just felt like it had the potential to be something bigger and have benefits and serve roles I had never really planned it to have.
B-Squad has an ensemble cast of mercenaries, but the team roster is constantly evolving due to that whole "someone dies every mission thing." Tell us a bit about how that works and how you keep it feeling like one cohesive story even as the team is always changing.
EB: At it’s face, some people out there don’t look beyond that as a gimmick — it’s not a gimmick. The die rolls are made specifically so that as the writer I am giving up a portion of control to some sort chaotic force of fate; rather than predestination. At the end of the day, most narrative storytelling always has a safety net in place while the protagonist does their acrobatics. My goal was to remove that safety net. Now I can’t disguise my goals as engineered twists and turns, but rather I have to adapt the story around that chaotic force.
Some of that chaos is lightly counterbalanced by my view that the chief narrative belongs to the whole squad first and viewing each member of the squad as a replaceable part. So if the squad is like a sailing ship, if my masts break then I know I need to replace that with a new mast.
And that brings me to the die I use — this old whalebone six-sided gambling token that acts like a top. It’s named after the boat in Moby Dick specifically because of the paradoxes central to B-Squad.
The book was originally released as a series of collected B-Squad adventures, but it is now being reimagined with SBI Press as something else entirely. How will the new format work and what led to this new approach to your stories?
EB: When I was doing B-Squad as a creator-owned title, it never made sense for me do single issues and the goal was really to help other artists have jobs in comics. I felt with B-Squad I could make a blanket fort for a lot of my creative colleagues who were all having trouble getting their first job in comics. I could use the little notoriety and skills I had to gather the resources, get everybody a paid gig, and if everybody worked at the same time on their own parts of their story it would be a showcase of everybody’s talents and the rising tide would raise each of our ships.
Collaborating with Simon and Trevor at Starburns Industries Press, they wanted that same spirit, but they also wanted to make something new and not just re-release something. I told them about my original vision for B-Squad as Tintin-style magazine-sized 60 page books that blended the comic book feeling of things like National Geographic and Carmen San Diego with MAD magazine and Highlights — while also creating this interconnected Disney afternoon of support comics that could incubate under B-Squad until they are ready to fly on their own. When they saw that original vision for B-Squad could make it feel fresh and new and make something that really isn’t available in the comic market right now.
This new approach will really let the Law & Order or X-Files aspect of B-Squad shine in a much better way. Each mission stands alone, but as you invest in each book an over-arching story emerges while allowing for that “monster of the week” styled episode to keep things surprising book to book. Plus, we’re adding support comics like Tiny Wizards and Monster Safari which will add anywhere from 10-15 pages of totally new comics to each book.
Additionally, we’re going to have a few all-new missions — a few of the books will be 100% all-new. The die rolls will stay the same, but I’m going to reimagine the story while keeping some of my personal favorites like when they have to save a Hawaiian island that’s been sieged by a collectively-conscious hive of nippy dachshunds.
Lauren, you were an early contributor to B-Squad, prior to this reimagining. Will you be involved in future editions?
Lauren Gramprey: That’s a great question! Eben has always been such a gracious and exciting person to collaborate with, and has certainly left the door open for me to contribute in the future. I have a lot of love for these characters and the concept, so while I don't really do comic work anymore, I'll never say never!
What would you like to see happen with B-Squad in this new format?
LG: I really do love this project; and I've been so impressed by Eben's dedication and what he's been able to accomplish so far without a publisher. That being said, I'm absolutely thrilled that it's been picked up by SBI and is being given the distribution and chance it deserves! What I'd really like to see happen with B-Squad is that it just continues to expand. The world, the audience, everything.
There is so much innate potential in this property that can be tapped and explored, (Squad member origin mini-series, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, board & card games, you name it) and I really think being a part of the SBI family will give Eben & Co. the opportunity to do that! Being from an animation background, I'd love for it to get picked up as an animated series. Rick & Morty can always use some friends, right?
B-Squad not only exists to give a variety of artists the chance to get their start in comics by contributing, but also a chance to publish their own original comics as extra feature stories in the back of B-Squad. What can readers and retailers expect from this mixed bag approach?
EB: One of my favorite parts of the books is the supporting comics for people to enjoy as like a side of fries and milkshake with their B-Squad burger. This serves as an incubation chamber for colleagues and collaborators to add some shared universe-styled comics. The first two are Michael Calero’s Monster Safari and then I’m working with Dean Beattie on another called Tiny Wizards.
I also do a lot of outreach and community work in schools, libraries, and even at comic conventions where I run into people who have brilliant stories and artwork, but they don’t have a platform to showcase their work other than Instagram or a webcomic. Starburns Industries is giving me a lot of creative freedom to cultivate those works out there that I respond to and give them shelter under the B-Squad banner so they can grow into whatever they can.
“Collaborate or perish” has been a sort of mantra of mine for a while. One of the most beautifully tragic parts about B-Squad was how often the artists that would work on it would use it as a stepping stone to move out on their own. Almost every artist that’s worked on a B-Squad mission has gone on to continue creating work and some even used B-Squad directly as a stepping stone for other paid work. I think all the time about guys like my collaborator Sean K. Sutter who, after working on a couple issues of B-Squad with me, decided that he should follow his bliss too. And he so he did! He’s got this fantastic adventure game called Relicblade, models and sculpts all his minis himself, and has been making fantastic expansions for the game every year since.
I want more of that kind of thing to happen for the people I work with. That’s such a big part of who I am. All our stars shine a bit brighter when we help each other reach the moon.
Michael, since B-Squad in its current format now allows for other stories to join the team, what do you plan to do with Monster Safari as part of this variety show approach to a comic?
Michael Calero: I really love the idea of Monster Safari feeling like something that has always existed in the world. That you're tuning into an old favorite that feels very familiar but is still an exciting page turn. The format of B-Squad really allows that to flourish because it works well as both a support story and a stand alone adventure.
What do you see Monster Safari doing in the future, in and out of B-Squad?
MC: One of my favorite things about the Monster Safari story format is that it has a huge potential to grow into a lot of different media. I could see making unique content for online that would support the comic work and hopefully have something animated down the road.
Eben, what will change with B-Squad and what will stay the same across the various issues?
EB: A lot will stay the same in terms of the actual comics. We’re reformatting it and remastering lettering and punching up some of the dialogue here and there. We are doing completely new missions for a few of the future books, but the die rolls and deaths are staying the same. This is B-Squad Remastered, but I’m not going to tinker to give FBI guys walkie-talkies or anything like that.
In so many ways, the biggest changes are really about enchanting people with more depth and humor via some of the salt & pepper sections. There is so much that’s left on the cutting room floor when making a comic. Crafting these expanded ‘infotainment’ sections for the book has me revisiting the sources of inspiration and enriching it to become something new and unique and fresh.
I want desperately for it to feel like equal parts adventure comics and enjoyable magazine, with a place to discover new artists and writers and voices in comics. Hopefully eventually the fans will help select new artists or even become contributors to the books themselves!
What are your goals for B-Squad going forward? What can we expect from the other stories like Tiny Wizards and Monster Safari?
EB: My biggest goal is to get about 36 of these books. I’d love to go into a comic shop and see a shelf where I could pick up a book and on the pack have that Tintin like feel of “ OOO! Look at all these!!” But I have made die rolls for “alternate” iterations of B-Squad. I’d love to have a timeline where B-Squad is written by a different writer, maybe it’s less comical and more Apocalypse Now gritty. Maybe it’s a audio-podcast play and those iterations follow a different set of rolls and we get to see how all those worlds intertwine or straight up don’t; but are new and different.
I don’t want to get "streets ahead" of myself, but bringing a comic like this into orbit of Starburns Industries is the ideal for the future of B-Squad thanks to the creativity at that animation studio. I’ve been a fan of what Dan Harmon, and Dino Stamotopolous have done for many many years, and I’d love to see what we could do together. Plus, people like Rob Schrab who made comics like Scud the Disposable Assassin — that’s a super influential book for me. All that to say the future is so much more open now that it could be anything. Collaborating with people who have abilities to manifest those things — who knows! Is B-Squad perfect as some sort of interactive cartoon show like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch and if these books catch the attention the way I know it will, there are many ways to do that. At the end of the day though, that’s what those guys do best and right now I want to finish making these comics. Day dreaming is lovely fun, but there is work to be done.
With Tiny Wizards, that’s a world full of fantasy and wizards set in the roadside consumer culture of fast food. Dean Beattie is absolutely crushing the pages so far and that world is so much fun. We’ve been kicking around turning it into an RPG or even just a campaign setting. I’d love to bump beards with Spencer Crittenden of HarmonQuest about that. And that’s beginning to seem all the more possible. Those dreams really could come true!
Monster Safari is also brilliant. Michael Calero and his wife Tyra have been creatively working on Monster Safari as a sort of riff on those History Channel or TLC shows that are about bigfoots or river monsters, but it’s more of blending reality TV and The Office. I just love the premise and Michael is taking a fresh and different artistic style into it. It’s great to give that this space where he can share one of his many good concepts with the world. In a lot of ways, Monster Safari ends up being like a Netflix-style “You Might Also Enjoy” function within the comic book.
What else are you working on that fans of B-Squad can check out?
EB: Oh wow. I mean, I get up to all kinds of things. I teach workshops in schools and libraries all over about storytelling and sharing the SBI Press project “The Book of Nightmares” with that… it’s a book that’ll be authored by 13-year old or younger kids with scary stories to tell. We’re gathering submissions for that right now.
In May, Starburns Industries Press and I are going to the Maker Faire in San Mateo to make a giant blanket fort where makers can come get creative with us and make stop motion videos on VHS, mini-comic books, or their own cassette tapes. The Maker Faire is just this fantastic mash-up of Burning Man, a County Faire, Science Fair, and a comic book convention, but you learn how to make everything; not just buy things. It’s a really beautiful and strange event and there are hundreds of them.
I also make sculptural artwork out of masking tape … it’s sort of like 3D printing with masking tape and fingers… but over the past six years have been honing that art to the point that it’s taken me all over the world as part of Maker Faires. I was just brought out to Cairo this year to share a bunch of the art from the comic books and tape artworks and likely will be doing here and there for the rest of my life. I went to Vilnius Lithuania and Rome, and even Berlin for an international tape artist convention and met all sorts of fantastic artists doing wonderful work with tape. That was magic.
Some of my favorite pieces were a co-authored a 4-foot long Millennium Falcon made of tape. I love to make derpy unicorns, and one of my favorites was a giant snail that was being ridden around by a royal and his guards. I have one that was a giant terrapin with a beard that I often like to call my familiar.
You can see a bunch of that stuff via #TapeWizard on Instagram.
MC: Monster Safari is the most immediate thing that people can check out but I do have a fair amount of guest covers and another creator owned project in the works.
LG: Animation and advertising is where I make my living, so if you have any pre-school aged children (or just like to watch Nick Jr. for some other bizarre reason) tune in to watch Blaze & the Monster Machines! That keeps me fairly busy, but I'll occasionally post an illustration or two to my Instagram page, my passion/specialty being musician portraits and the like.
What are you reading right now just as comic fans?
EB: Headlopper is probably my most consistent purchase when I drop into a comic shop right now, but I have been checking out Ice Cream Man and Middlewest. Farmhand by Rob Guillory is really solid. I love Manfried the Man from Quirk Books. It was a great underachiever story but the world is one where the cats are people and the people are cats. but that’s such an oversimplification of how much fun it was. Really wonderful. My Boyfriend is a Bear from Oni Press was so good and I loved that read. I love what SBI Press is putting out too. Really looking forward to the Free Comic Book Day sampler to see all the other folks doing new work, too. I got a good preview of Invasion From Wrestletopia which was s really fun as is Oddwell and Hellicious — they’re set for some really wild next chapters.
David Baker and Nicole Goux did these awesome art books called Shitty Watchmen and Shitty Dark Knight where all sorts of their artist friend took on those seminal works of mid-80s comics and asking them to just get weird with a chunk of the book. They’re really fun if you’re an comic art process nerd. I’m really hoping I can contribute to the next one which I hope will be Shitty Days of Future Past or Shitty Ninja Turtles… maybe Shitty Sandman… I dunno. I pitch that to Dave so much he’s probably sick of it.
MC: I’m always really behind on books. Most recently I finished reading Invincible and Paper Girls which were both really fun reads.
LG: Long John by Dan Bethel, anything written by Christopher Hastings and Todd Dezago, Full Tilt by Jason Copeland, and of course I'm super excited for Eben's other project, Tiny Wizards (also with SBI)!