Joe Casey Introduces 'Annual,' His Upcoming Comic Book Mixtape (Exclusive)

Annual Cover - Publicity - P 2017
Sonia Harris/Image Comics
The Image Comics title will feature rare and unseen work from the 'Ben 10' and 'Godland' creator.

This September, Joe Casey is going to get himself together.

The writer will release Annual, a 128-page collection of work he's created with a number of artists, including Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg and Luke Parker, with a cover by longtime collaborator Sonia Harris.

Annual will be a mix of previously published and all-new material, including the print debut of The Winternational (his pulp series for online platform Stela) and Modern Romance (his collaboration with Nathan Fox for Playboy's 60th Anniversary issue). The $9.99 release — described by publisher Image Comics as a "new-format comic book anthology"— is, according to Casey, a "personal mixtape" of his work, curated to create a "singular experience" for the reader.

Casey's work includes Uncanny X-MenAdventures of Superman, the creator-owned Officer Downe and Sex. He's also known for creating Ben 10 for Cartoon Network, with Man of Action Entertainment.

Heat Vision talked to Casey about the new project.

Annual is a great idea: a one-man anthology, collecting short material from all manner of different outlets together into one place. It's something that feels commonplace for prose writers, as can be seen by the number of Kurt Vonnegut essay collections or Philip K. Dick short story collections I own — but unusual in mainstream comics, Alan Moore or Jack Kirby collections aside. What made you want to do it?

The comic book marketplace is changing every month, it seems. The direct market especially. The old models aren't as reliable as they used to be, if at all. In the face of that reality, I've been wanting to experiment with different delivery systems that might have a chance of — in some small way — evolving the methods of how we consume comic books. I'm sure as hell not saying that Annual is anything particularly revolutionary, but it's something I've never done before and, like you said, it's a little unusual in mainstream comics. Although not so much in indie comics. In that space, the "one-man anthology" is much more commonplace. Then again, I've stopped trying to classify myself as being in the mainstream or in the independent scene anymore. I might be caught somewhere in-between, just like Image Comics in general. Maybe that's why I'm a good fit there. They've been hugely supportive in helping to make this book happen. On a personal note, I suppose you could say I've got a vested interest in these types of "experiments" succeeding...it'll allow me to keep making comic books, which is what I love to do.?

The title has a couple of connotations: that we'll be seeing one of these every year from now on, but also that all of the material therein comes from the last year or so of work. That's not entirely true this time around — the Playboy piece comes from outside that time period — but is Annual intended as a one-off or a periodical of sorts?

First and foremost, the whole thing is built to be a very "no rules"-type of publishing endeavor. Beyond that, I try not to predict the future anymore, but I did want to set this up in such a way that we could go back to it every year if we wanted to. Unless making this one completely burns me out, which is entirely possible. It's been a hell of a year so far.

One of the things that Annual underscores is how diverse your work is — in terms of everything: tone, subject, approach, even type of outlet. You're willing to turn your hand to almost anything. When curating something like Annual, do you start to see common threads appear?

As pretentious as I know it sounds...I'm the common thread. Comic books as personal expression is a tenet I've always subscribed to, even back when I was doing WFH gigs for Marvel and DC. And not just when it comes to content, but presentation, too. The overall vibe of Annual might even be more important than what's inside of it, as far as making any kind of a statement. And, even at an affordable $9.99 price point, I want to give readers more than just their money's worth.... I want to give them a singular experience. So I suppose a common thread was including material and presenting it in a way that contributes to a particular kind of ride.??

How did you curate the book? What was the criteria for selecting what showed up and what didn't?

Well, obviously, I know what material I've done that didn't have a permanent home in print. Beyond that, putting it all together was a lot like making a personal mixtape. I tried to find some sort of organic balance between reprinted material, new material, text pieces and design pages. I'm even bringing in a few outside creators that are seeing print here for the first time. Ultimately, it just had to feel right. It had to have some sort of flow. There was no precise formula, believe me. It's a comic book festival, basically. A cornucopia of full-color insanity! All hyperbole aside, the real models of inspiration for me — purely in terms of artistic intent — were RAW, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, Robert Crumb's Weirdo and Peter Bagge's Neat Stuff. Obviously, what we're doing with Annual is not nearly as affecting as the groundbreaking work those books delivered on a regular basis, but it's a start. I do think there's a definite resonance to Annual, insofar as the book has a certain unique feel to it.

??Finally, let's take a moment to talk about the cover: not only does it riff on DC Comics' annual cover design from the early '80s, but it's another example of what Sonia Harris brings to the table as designer and illustrator on your books. She's worked with you on multiple projects, adapting and changing and rolling with your punches the entire way. Considering that you do work with so many collaborators on so many different projects, what does Sonia bring to Annual, and in general, as a long-term collaborator?

I know I'm incredibly biased, but I love the Annual cover as much as I love the original Trevor Von Eeden cover that inspired it. As both a graphic designer and as an artist in her own right, Sonia's my secret weapon in the ongoing war to present my material with as strong a design aesthetic as humanly possible. And she delivers every time...even while dealing with my considerable levels of craziness. To me, our collaborations are an ongoing exploration on the untapped potential of comic book design and there's still a ways to go. I honestly don't know why more creators and other publishers aren't falling all over themselves trying to hire her. I've worked with some esteemed graphic designers over the course of my career, from Richard Starkings to Rian Hughes, so I know what I'm talking about here. And Sonia's creative fingerprints are all over Annual, even beyond her painted cover. There are things that she's contributing that inform the entire package. Needless to say, I couldn't do this without her.

Annual will be released Sept. 27 in comic book stores and digitally.