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B. Clay Moore discusses the death and life of 'The Whistling Skull'

Comic Books

B. Clay Moore discusses the death and life of ‘The Whistling Skull’

The former DC title finds a new lease as a crowdfunded hardcover edition.

The Whistling Skull has had a long, strange journey indeed.

The character, an adventuring detective-type operating during WWII (who also had access to the memories/skills of his predecessor), was originally set for its own series from creators B. Clay Moore and Tony Harris circa 2010. Until, of course, the WildStorm line shuttered, leaving that character (and many others) in limbo.

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But then, a few years later, the story was suddenly repackaged as part of the non-canonical JSA Liberty Files. The resulting six-issue run of 2013’s JSA Liberty Files: The Whistling Skull saw the titular hero and his sidekick Knuckles cracking a mystery surrounding a small town in Switzerland during the height of WWII.

And while that book’s been out of print for several years, it would seem both Moore and Harris still aren’t quite done with their creation. Having recently obtained the rights from DC Comics, the pair have reworked The Whistling Skull saga once more as part of a brand-new hardcover edition, which is currently crowdfunding via Zoop.

This latest edition features both new material and updates to the existing art, removing it completely from the DC canon and transforming into something entirely its own. Yet the story itself remains just as compelling as ever, as we get a swashbuckling adventure that feels even more like the love-child of ‘40s pulp stories and a mix of Lobster Johnson and The Phantom. It’s also proof that sometimes the long way is best when telling the right kinds of stories.

Ahead of the new campaign, Moore was kind enough to answer some of our questions via email. That includes why the duo reworked this story, what it was like getting the rights back from DC, and what this story’s ultimately about.

B. Clay Moore discusses the death and life of 'The Whistling Skull'

Cover of the new hardcover edition.

AIPT: What was the genesis of this project?

B. Clay Moore: Tony and I had always intended for the Whistling Skull’s story to be larger than what we got to do in the DC series. Once we regained the rights, we started kicking around ways to rework the story. Zoop approached Tony about working together, and we realized that Zoop’s system, which is more like a direct-to-customer preorder method than traditional crowdfunding, provided a great platform for us to do so.

AIPT: How much can you tell us about getting the rights back from DC?

BCM: With creator-owned work, there are usually provisions built into contracts that allow for rights reversion if certain criteria are met. That was true with the Skull, but we did have to rework the contracts once we made the decision to add DC-owned elements to the story. Before doing the book at DC, we understood what it would take to regain the rights down the road.

AIPT: What exactly has changed about this book — it was described to me as having all the JSA references removed and new artwork. If that’s the case, then what is this book now?

Whistling Skull

Cover to the original story’s first issue. Courtesy of DC Comics.

BCM: The truth is that the concept and story were in place prior to bringing in the Elseworlds/Liberty Project JSA elements. The story was always about the Skull and his world, with the JSA/DC elements serving more like window dressing. This has given us a chance to have some fun slightly rebuilding the world of the Whistling Skull without reinventing the basic concept.

AIPT: Is it odd to go back and change up your own work? How does this improve the project? And is there anything “taken away” during this process?

BCM: I think it just opens the door for a more free flowing creative approach. Working with someone else’s intellectual property is always inhibiting, even when one of the creators of that property (in this case, Tony) is involved. You’re always at least subconsciously aware that these aren’t “your” characters, and you don’t have complete freedom to do what you want. There’s no nagging worry about how an editor or publisher will respond to what you’re doing.

AIPT: What was the collaborative process like the “second” time around?

BCM: Tony and I have a lot of trust in one another creatively, and we spent years building this concept the first time around. One of the things I love most about working with Tony is that nothing scares him, and his brain is wide open to wild concepts and new ideas. So reworking existing material becomes pretty easy. I have a pretty good idea of what he’ll respond to, and if something doesn’t work, we’ve never had real issues working things out.

Whistling Skull

Cover to the original story’s second issue. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Does this get you thinking about any other projects you’d like to re-do or revisit?

BCM: Speaking for myself, working with Zoop has given me some ideas about how to collect and tweak a couple of existing things. Zoop is technically crowdfunding, but they take almost all of the headaches involved out of a creators’ hands. There are a couple of older creator-owned projects that I’ve talked with collaborators about collecting, with previously uncollected material included, and I think those will be next up after the SKULL and once an earlier project is finally completed and shipped.

AIPT: Should this be a regular occurrence, where creators go back and rework a story/book? Is there something valuable about this process to the industry at-large?

BCM: I think it’s always up to the creators, but I love the idea of adding cosmetic improvements and slightly updating older concepts in order to give them a better springboard into future editions. For one thing, it’s a great way to introduce new readers to things they may have only heard about, and it’s more interesting than just a straight archival reprint project.

AIPT: Have you learned anything from this campaign or overall process? Either about storytelling, collaboration, the comics industry, etc.?

BCM: After almost twenty years operating at all levels of the industry, running successful campaigns, and campaigns that have been hampered by painful delays, creating new creator owned books, creating new characters for established publishers, and working with countless collaborators, you’d think it would be hard to learn anything new.

B. Clay Moore discusses the death and life of 'The Whistling Skull'

Cover to the original story’s third issue. Courtesy of DC Comics.

But after meeting with the Zoop guys, I’ve had my faith in the ability of creators to take their creations into their own hands reinforced, along with my belief that there are always new paths out there to be discovered to assist them in doing so.

AIPT: Are there any cool extras or other tidbits in this hardcover version?

BCM: The primary benefits are being able to present what I think is beautiful work (along with some of Tony’s best work, the color by Dave McCaig in a format that people will be happy to have sitting on their bookshelves, and resetting the world of The Whistling Skull for possible future stories. But we’re also doing what we can to round up some unseen or uncollected things to enhance the book, and discussing ways to reward people who support the book in cool ways.

AIPT: Why should anyone support this campaign?

BCM: It’s kind of a no-brainer, if anything about the concept or the creators appeals to you. Zoop makes it very easy for us to make sure everything is handled without hiccups, and to present the work in a format that we think readers will be excited to see.

To support The Whistling Skull campaign, head here.

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