I recently interviewed Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez for a Grammy.com feature on rockers writing comic books. We had a long chat about all things comics (and a little music), and I felt that fans of both the band and comics would appreciate our discussion. We chatted about how the guitar-slinging singer got into comics, his famed Amory Wars series — the story for which spans Coheed’s entire catalog and whose protagonists inspired the band’s name — and the upcoming projects he is working on. Sanchez has a pretty full plate this year, and he seems to like his life that way.
I get the feeling you’ve been a comic book fan your whole life.
Yeah, even before I could actually read my parents dressed me up in the shirts of The Incredible Hulk, Superman and Spider-Man, so it naturally became something I was interested in. My father had a slight interest in comics, and growing up I think he was a fan of The Mighty Thor. When my brother and I started to get into comics and even baseball card collecting, there was always some sort of interest in him taking us to those places to collect.
What about you?
For me? I was interested in comics through the elementary years, then fell off a bit in high school, though the interest never left. One moment in particular that stands out from my early days: I remember going to the shop and finding this X-Men/Spider-Man team up signed by Todd McFarlane, who was my favorite. I needed to own it. It wasn’t that expensive, but it was expensive for a kid. I was intrigued enough to want to invest something in the medium even then. I really liked the art and the mythology that followed the characters.
So, Marvel or DC?
Oh man, it’s so tough, it depends upon the time, I think. If I’d pick one from each mythology I would have to say Wolverine is certainly one of my favorites from the Marvel side and then Batman from DC. But it all depends again on the stories. I’m a fan of Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale’s run on The Long Halloween. I actually own a couple of pieces, one from the ultimate edition and from the story that followed, Dark Victory. I have a original page of the Calendar Man busting through the wall. I really enjoy that character in that particular storyline. He was very much a reflection of Hannibal Lecter in Silence Of The Lambs.
There have been a lot of musicians lately who’ve been writing comic books in recent years. For example, Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance has co-created The Umbrella Academy and Scott Ian is working on The Demon for DC. Have you received a positive or negative reaction for being a musician crossing over into comic books, and how do you think having a lot of rockers and pop stars do this has impacted the industry?
I don’t know. Doing the conventions, I see both. Whether it’s music or any other medium coming into comics, sometimes you just kind of question whether people care about the medium or see it as an opportunity to license a property. Seeing Gerard and Scott, I think these guys do it right. From what I’ve read, Scott has pushed from Lobo to The Demon and seems to care very much about those titles and the histories of those characters. Others, I just don’t know. I care about comics and sometimes I do get that negative backlash where some may see me as just pursuing it in hopes that something big will come afterward.
Comic book movies have blown up, but comic book sales themselves haven’t soared again. The biggest selling books now will sell 100,000 copies in a month, which were poor sales back in the Eighties. It seems that the culture is getting bigger, but the independent comics don’t sell a lot, even though there is still a ton of them out there. It seems to be very hard to make a living doing it now.
Sometimes when we put these books into production we have to look at the numbers, but for me I just want to continue telling stories. It’s more a labor of love. We do okay, well enough that we can sustain, but it’s not what’s paying my mortgage. That’s not why I wanted to do it. Certainly The Amory Wars is an extension of the [Coheed and Cambria] records. It was the story I wanted to tell to an audience who wanted to see that side of it, but I love doing comics. My wife and I have three other titles, including Kill Audio 2, that we’re working on now. We like to work together, and it’s fun.
“There has been interest in Kill Audio for TV and The Amory Wars property in multiple mediums, but if I were ever to push and adapt these stories, it would have to be the right scenario.”
All of the Coheed and Cambria albums are tied into The Amory Wars, so what’s going to be next for the band? Obviously your recent album is the prequel, so what’s going to be the next step for you after this?
I concluded the story of Coheed and Cambria with these five stories, and am starting to toy around with the future. After the end of this story, all of Heaven’s Fence is gone, and the only remaining system is our Earth and its solar system, so I’ve thought of telling stories of the future and stories of the past. There’s the possibility of getting into the story of Sirius Amory, the fellow who figured out the value of the Keywork. Or even side stories that kind of parallel the one that we’re telling. It’s sort of up in the air. I’ve started writing music for that next record, and I’m kind of hoping that maybe it will point me in the next direction.
Are there any recent comic book titles that you have been reading?
I’ve been following The Walking Dead. Before digital comics, it’s the one book that I would try to follow monthly. Being out on the road, it’s kind of difficult buying single issues and leaving them in a bus with 12 other guys, knowing that they’re probably going to get damaged. I like to keep my things pristine.
I’m one of those geeks, too. It drives people up a wall.
I know, seriously. My wife is like, “What’s wrong with you?” I’ll go into the comic shop and make sure I’m picking the tenth one back. And that lifestyle has creeped its way into my buying anything. Why does it matter if I grab the first or last can of beans? What the hell’s going on? What’s wrong with me?
I think of it this way: There are some people who feel that a book that is worn and perhaps even has things circled in it is a book that has been well read and well loved. My attitude is the opposite. I like to keep it in really good shape because I might want to read it again or share it with somebody. I don’t want it to fall apart. To me, that’s the sign of respecting the art. I want to keep my comics in good shape because someone spent a lot of time to create that, and I want to be able to enjoy it later without it being beaten up.
I was talking to Peter David, my partner on In Keeping… and Black Rainbow, and we were talking about the covers for hardcover trades. He saw that I had a trade without the book cover, and he asked where it was. I said I wanted to keep it nice, but he said the book cover is supposed to protect the book. I was like, no. There’s beautiful art on that thing. I don’t want it to get torn up in my luggage.
What do you think of digital comics?
For me, it allows me to collect out on the road. If I want to try something out, I don’t have to worry about it getting damaged, but new releases don’t come out on the same schedules as the hard copies in the store.
Are they delayed a little?
I think so. The only digital comics I have actually purchased are older: Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come and the Chris Claremont Wolverine limited series that he did with Frank Miller. So it’s usually older classic stuff. The newer stuff doesn’t come out on the same schedule. Or at least I haven’t seen anything that does. I can enjoy them on my iPad, but I think there’s always a place for a hard copy.
“I’ll go into the comic shop and make sure I’m picking the tenth one back. And that lifestyle has creeped its way into my buying anything. Why does it matter if I grab the first or last can of beans?”
I’m still old school. I still buy them in the store, but I know people my age are downloading comics for free. I’m wondering if illegal downloading is going to hurt comic books in the same way that it has hurt music and movies.
I don’t know, maybe. I just recently watched over a friend’s shoulder [while he was] on a torrent — he was explaining it to me because I don’t really understand how the torrent works — and he could find anything on there. I mentioned an issue, and he found the whole run [of that series]. It’s just insane. I’ve got to imagine that it’s going to affect it somehow.
I work in the industry and get a ton of free stuff, but I still buy things and support.
In the first one, we never really explain where he’s been. He’s been missing for so long that there’s this big void in the story from when he went missing to when he re-emerges in Kill Audio. The next story will reveal why he had gone missing and elaborate more on the world of Sight and Sound.
Are there any plans to license your stories for movies?
Not really. There has been interest in Kill Audio for TV and The Amory Wars property in multiple mediums, but if I were ever to push and adapt these stories, it would have to be the right scenario. I like going to the meetings and listening. It’s a learning experience talking to people in the business about adapting comics to film.
What were your main inspirations for The Amory Wars and Kill Audio?
For me it was science fiction —Star Wars, Dune and the religious tones that follow that [latter story]. Certainly with In Keeping Secrets… one of the big subplots is the questioning of faith. I think everybody has that at some point in their life, and I like science fiction that deals with it..Kill Audio is definitely different. When I was first working on it and trying to figure out a way to pitch it to Boom! and the comic world, I liked to think of it as a rock ‘n roll Ghostbusters, which is one of my favorites.
I also sense a bit of Ralph Bakshi, the film director behind American Pop and Fritz The Cat.
Hell yeah, totally. But I would say more of a direct influence from Sam Keith’s The Maxx. Also, you certainly see The Wizard Of Oz in the first issue, with him trying to find his way to the Clock Tower and acquiring his team along the way.
Are there other comic book projects you can tell us about?
Right now my wife and I are finishing up a series tentatively called Subway Seriez. My wife wrote a short story for a collection called Zombie St. Pete a year or so ago, and we decided we wanted to write a zombie comic, [especially] with my love for the Walking Dead comic and George Romero. We wanted to do something that involves New York. It’s a post-zombie apocalypse where each stadium is colonized — Madison Square, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field — and it’s basically a war for control of the island [of Manhattan] in a zombie world. It’s a lot of fun for her and I. We sit in bed with our dry erase boards plotting out story arcs.