SCOUT COMICS AND ENTERTAINMENT sits down with Phillip Kennedy Johnson, the critically acclaimed writer known for Last Sons of America and Warlords of Appalachia to discuss Smoketown, his newest foray into graphic literature, coming in February from Scout Comics.
So, Phillip, speaking for Scout, I know that we are excited for you choosing Scout to be the home to your next comics series. Can you tell us a little bit more about Smoketown and its background?
Smoketown revolves around an American soldier in the days leading up to his murder. Every issue reveals a new facet of that soldier’s life as he unravels, exposing another criminal or desperate element of his supposedly quiet Pennsylvania town. Each chapter stands alone, but ties into the others to tell a more complete picture of the soldier and his community.
It seems that your stories reflect upon deep underlying themes not found usually found in the comic medium. Can you please reflect on this and are these stories of a personal nature to you?
Most of my stories are about America in some way. Last Sons of America is about America’s relationship with human trafficking, and the dangers of a for-profit adoption industry. Warlords of Appalachia is a reflection of the country’s political divisions, told in the setting of a coal-mining town in Eastern Kentucky. Smoketown is about a little Pennsylvania town up the road from a steel mill. I live in the Washington, DC/Baltimore region now, but I grew up in very small communities, and still identify with places like that.
I’ve always found that the most interesting stories don’t have to be tied to cosmic battles, gigantic conspiracies or the end of the world. The biggest stakes are the ones that feel real, the ones the reader can understand. That’s evidenced by the creator-owned stories of Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, Ed Brubaker, David Lapham, and those are the kinds of stories each issue of Smoketown will tell.
The characters in our story aren’t superheroes, supervillains or marked for greatness in any way; they’re decent but deeply flawed, and like most of us, they’ll do what it takes to protect themselves and their children. A veteran who was forced to do things that changed him, and is far too broken to reintegrate into his old community; A battered wife who’s pushed too far, and has to cover up a murder to protect herself and her infant daughter; An illegal immigrant and his young brother, trapped in a dangerous situation by a human trafficker; A fat, aging cop who finds that his old flame has died, but left behind a teenage daughter in need of a hero. These are a few of the people we’ll meet in Smoketown. As in real life, each character is the “hero” of their own story, but their lives intersect in fascinating and unexpected ways to tell a much bigger story.
Can you tell us a little about the other creators involved in Smoketown?
I’ve known the other creators of Smoketown a long time, both of them through my “other” career, music. I met Scott (Van Domelen, penciller/inker) when I was playing trumpet with the Glenn Miller Band, and he was on tenor saxophone. Dustin (Mollick, colorist/letterer) I met after I came to The U.S. Army Field Band. He’s been playing baritone saxophone with the Jazz Ambassadors (our big band component) since 2012, and has been making webcomics pretty much that whole time. Scott and Dustin are both insanely talented musicians, and it’s my good fortune that they also happen to be insanely talented artists. This is their first printed book, and both of them are putting in seriously high-level work.