Richard: How did you get into writing comics?
Neil: Actually, I started off drawing comics — I'd always wanted to draw superhero comics, since I was a kid, and one day I was introduced to an editor at DC who took a look at my pages and explained that while my pages were humdrum, my storytelling was spot on and I should focus on writing. Started with mini-comics and spec scripts, slowly worked my way into indie comics and just persevered up through the levels of the industry.
Richard: What is the storyline of "The Big Kahn"?
Neil: Rabbi David Kahn has lived a forty-year lie: he is not, nor has he ever been, Jewish. When at his funeral, the “rabbi’s” grifter brother reveals the truth, it forces the Kahn family to struggle with grief and betrayal as their congregation examines their every move and they question all they believe. It's a sequential drama about loss, lies, belief and renewal in this exploration of a family secret so well-hidden, it questions the very nature of faith.
Richard: Why write about the Jewish faith?
Neil: Write what you know, basically. Honestly, I think one of the things that drags me back to Jewish comics might be that I'm the one of the few out there doing it. See... you know the comics industry, right? That insecure medium that flies into a tizzy anytime someone mentions comics on television, in movies, etcetera? The victimized, oppressed literature that's been looking for respect for so long that it clings to moments when the 'mainstream' acknowledges its existence, pointing and shouting and thrilled when someone makes a Justice League reference on the news or drops Doctor Doom's name in a novel or flashes a Hellboy poster in a movie? Remember comics? Judaism is the religious equivalent of the comic book industry. We puff our chests out with pride and make sure everyone knows when the X-Files features a golem lore or some sitcom has a 'very special Passover episode' or Ben Grimm turns out to be a Yid. Jews are never the action heroes—we're Bruce Willis' lawyers, Indiana Jones' accountants and sometimes, if Adam Sandler is having a good day, we're comedic relief.
It's changing now. Besides the guys who inspired us, Eisner and Spiegelman, there are plenty of independent comic book writers like me—Sammy Harkham and Lauren Weinstein and Rutu Modan and Sarah Glidden and many other talented Jews putting out well crafted comics and graphic novels. But we're few and far between. We need more Jewish comix
Richard: How would you describe Rabbi David Kahn?
Neil: Currently? Deceased. Formerly? A pillar of community, spiritual benchmark. Before that? No good, lying, Non-Jewish con man.
Richard: What do you think of Nicolas Cinquegrani's art?
Neil: Grounded and immediate — suited for quiet, introspective moments. Understated and subtle and well worth checking out.
Richard: What do you like about being part od NBM?
Neil: Creative free reign, open-mindedness to storytelling you may not see anywhere else, eclectic, quality, sequential gems.
Richard: What is "Brownsville" about?
Neil: It's the true story of the Jewish mafia, specifically the hit operation known as Murder Incorporated, following Albert "Tick Tock" Tanennbaum and Abe "Kid Twist" Reles through the rise and fall of their criminal careers. I've always been fascinated by the criminal world before the 1950s and I've always wanted to tell a gangster story. So I did a bit of research and discovered that there were all of these little hoodlums out there that all contributed to the larger story of the Mafia - and more importantly to me as an Orthodox Jew, the Jewish Mob. I'm from Detroit where you keep hearing about The Purple Gang and had never really read up about the Jewish Mafia. I knew all the Italian players, and a good deal of the Irish. But apart from Lanksy and Bugsy? Zip.
So I dug a little and found out about Reles and Pittsburgh Phil and Gangy Cohen and Mendy Weiss and so on. Did you see Band of Brothers? It's the story of the individual soldiers of Easy Company from D-Day until V-E Day and it lets us see that these heroes, these men who gave their lives for us, had personalities and individual hopes and dreams. I suppose my story could be subtitled "Band of Bad Guys", because that's essentially what it does - shines a light on the personalities, hopes and fears of these nameless hoods you see standing in the shadows of movies like The Godfather and Once Upon A Time In America.
Richard: Did you like working on "X-Men Unlimited"?
Neil: Sure — this was my first swing at the majors, and I got to do a neat little story about art, too. Also, it's really the emotional exploration of what being an X-Man means to Colossus via his art. Also? I got to have Wolverine say 'bub' in a Marvel comics. Yeah, it was a blast. Here's hoping I get to do it again.
Richard: What was your first published comic?
Neil: Mini-comic? An awful eight pager I wrote a drew entitled "Gym Story." Limited run, out of print. Anthology story? The ten page "Letters from a Broken Apple" with Insight Studios in Alternative Comics' 9-11: EMERGENCY RELIEF to benefit the Red Cross. Self-published? NINETY CANDLES, a 48 pager I wrote/drew with help of the Xeric Foundation about life, legacy and comics. Full published comic? THE INTIMIDATORS #1 from Image/Shadowline.
Richard: What future projects do you have?
Neil: BROWNSVILLE (and soon, BIG KAHN) are getting iPhone releases via Panelfly.com, and in that vein I have a 5 issue miniseries called POP! I co-wrote with Dan Taylor being released via electronic means from IDW Publishing sometime this year. Currently working on my next NBM book, AMERICAN CAESAR, which takes a modern day corporate look at the Shakespearean tragedy. I've also got two anthology stories on deck and am about to get rolling on a big time OGN I'll be writing and drawing for a major publisher. BIG. TIME.
Richard: If you could work on any comic at all which one would it be and why?
Neil: RAGMAN, baby. Jewish Batman without all that pesky wealth.
Richard: What comics did you read as a child and do you read now?
Neil: I was a big DC COMICS PRESENTS and DIAL H FOR HERO man as a kid. I've also always dug GREEN LANTERN, even to this very day as I salivate over BLACKEST NIGHT. Devoured the BLUE BEETLE series, all 24 issues, and the Hama GIJOE.
These days I'm into Dark Horse's CONAN series, WALKING DEAD, the Dark Reign event running through Marvel and the New Krypton bit over in the SUPERMAN titles. I'm also digging on LOCKE AND KEY and Darwyn Cooke's HUNTER graphic novel from IDW, a thing of beauty indeed.
Richard: How can someone contact you?
Neil: Site's got it all: www.rantcomics.com
Richard: Any last words of advice?
Neil: Never give up. Never surrender. Write every day. The monkey always pays.