Inside the Mind of Kurtis J. Wiebe

One Year

One year ago, I woke up with the worst headache I’d had in my life. By 11am, I managed to call a car to bring me home, as I’d spent the night at a friend’s place.

On my phone were several text messages from my partner, asking where I was. We had made plans for the day, and I had been expected home hours earlier. My responses were apologies, a sad recurring theme in the weeks and months leading to this fateful day.

The first thing that hit me as I crawled into the Uber was a familiar feeling of anxiety, an issue I had always battled but on this particular morning it was a goddamn demon. I’d been experiencing panic attacks more regularly leading up to the day, which was odd, I’d never had them until the Spring of 2019.

Back home, I could see through the car window that the day had long started without me. My daughter had set up her lemonade stand for the first time on the sidewalk outside. It was full of fanfare, yellow and bright, an excited child thrilled to see Dad stood behind it’s inviting storefront.

Dad had promised to help her set up the stand and sell lemonade alongside her.

It was well past noon. She’d been waiting for hours.

I apologized, fully ill and wracked with the early stages of another debilitating panic attack. I lied and told her I’d be back in a little bit after some rest.

I walked into the house, desperate for a dark room and enough pain meds to get me through the day. I realized in that moment I’d forgotten we also had guests from out of town visiting. They had already arrived, sitting and having tea with my partner as I stepped into the house like some horrific undead monster.

I made excuses about my headache, apologized that I needed to excuse myself and shamefully hid in the basement while I suffered through the worst few hours of illness and regret I had ever experienced.

I wasn’t sick.

I was hungover.

But this time, unlike the previous instances that were happening with alarming frequency, I couldn’t hide from the facts anymore.

I Am Not Deryk Whibley

I laid in the dark for hours, sweating, my heart racing, terrified that I was dying but too embarrassed to ask for help. I was desperate for escape, something to take my mind from the vomiting of poison from my body.

I reached out for my tablet, maybe music or a video could help with the escape.

I opened Youtube, and the first video that showed up on my suggestions was an interview with Sum 41’s Deryk Whibley, the singer who barely survived his battle with alcoholism.

It was a strange recommendation; I hadn’t watched or searched anything related to him or his band, and I couldn’t think of any association that would land this on my front page. But I watched it anyway.

Everything he talked about resonated with me, so much so that at the end I decided to take a break from drinking. I wasn’t like him, absolutely not, but I could use a break.

I could acknowledge that my drinking had increased, not only in how often, from once a week to every other night, but in the amount consumed. A 26oz of Jack Daniel’s for an evening wasn’t cutting it anymore.

But I wasn’t Deryk Whibley. He was an alcoholic.

By 10pm, I finally emerged from the basement. The whole day, all of its little bits of magic having passed me by, and a disappointed daughter long asleep upstairs.

I had a small measure of pride in my decision to take a break, as though it wasn’t something I’d done a dozen times before with delusional promise to my partner and to myself. As though it would make a difference this time.

I went to bed with a new awareness of what I was going through.

But I wasn’t Deryk Whibley. He was an alcoholic.

A Spade a Spade

The next day I felt a small return of confidence having confronted a demon and beat it back for awhile. I was considering looking up some local AA meetings as a support while I took a break. To be surrounded by people who struggled with alcohol and to be able to have open conversation about the topic without fear of judgement could be what I needed to get through this period of time.

After all, I wasn’t Deryk Whibley, he was an alcoholic.

Then, I received a phone call. A friend checking in, who said he’d been thinking about me and wanted to see how I was doing.

I confided in him that despite doing better today, I had a terrible few days leading up to it.

I relayed the story to him that I will relay to you now.

My Last Drink

It was the Friday night when I caught an Uber to a friend’s place for a BBQ. I had the request to bring some whiskey for everyone to share, which I willingly obliged. I brought a 40oz, more than enough for five people even though there was only going to be three of us.

It was a good night, but I don’t honestly remember much of the back half of it.

When I woke up the next morning, my friend came to check in on me, to make sure I was OK. I told him about the aforementioned headache, but I lied and said I was good. It was becoming a default fabrication, now more commonplace than ever.

I don’t believe he bought that lie, his worried expression didn’t dissipate when he told me that the entire 40 was empty. I didn’t believe him, there was still a quarter of it left when I went to bed. (Even though I didn’t remember doing so).

I found the bottle. And it was as he said. Empty.

Thing is, my friend and his brother only had one drink each from that bottle.

The rest was on me.

The Talk

After I relayed the story to the friend who had called, he went quiet for a moment, maybe trying to find the best way to have an important conversation. Meanwhile, I assured him that the AA meetings I’d planned to attend were merely a support system while I took a break from the drink and reassessed my life. I told him about the YouTube video I watched.

But I wasn’t Deryk Whibley. He was an alcoholic.

My friend opened up to me about his own experiences with alcoholism in his family. About the stress and sadness it spread from one person to many others. He talked about family meetings with Al-Anon, as the family members left to deal with the impact of an alcoholic they loved.

As he spoke, I felt a deep sense of dread coming over me. And as though to surface all of that pain, that denial and sadness, he told me to ask myself two things

One, can you have just one drink?

Two, is it taking from the joy in your life?

All I could think of in that moment was my daughter’s face when she saw me coming up the sidewalk. Joy. And the moment when I lied and it all collapsed into disappointment.

That would be the legacy I’d give her.

That friend saved my life. I hope he knows that when he reads this.

I owe you everything for reaching out and checking in on me. Because I couldn’t have just one drink. And I had no joy left in my life.

I am Deryk Whibley. I am an alcoholic.

One Year

Today marks the first year of sobriety in the rest of my life.

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For the legacy I will leave for my daughter and my partner who never gave up on me through any of it.

There’s been an ongoing joke about how often our family moves. Over the course of seven years, we have moved nine times. Four cities, two provinces and two countries.

Every time I would see the change as a new start. A fresh beginning. Because, the truth is, I’ve been aware of my discontent and unhappiness all along. I’d deceived myself into believing that the sadness was somehow borne of external factors and that a change in them could right the course of my life.

There are many issues that led to a very quickly spiraling addiction to alcohol. Of the most relevant was when I faced a crippling blow to my professional comic career in 2016 that never recovered. I was desperate for approval with the community I had placed so much of my identity and worth in. I saw the trajectory of my career, what it could’ve been and how it crashed and could barely face the despair of it.

I placed so much value in my identity as a comic writer that losing it was tantamount to dying. I had no value. No worth. Even though I was loved by friends and family, that I was a papa to a beautiful daughter… I saw none of it with any value.

So I drank. More and more.

Until one day, I realized something.

It was a summer trip to Vancouver to work at The Coalition, a video game company, for a freelance gig. And, looking back, it’s funny to me now, but then I didn’t see it as potential career for me. My mind was still so focused on vindicating my reputation and pedigree in comics that my success in video games didn’t even register.

But, after a week at the studio, of being thanked for my work and feeling a continual sense of appreciation and welcome, something clicked.

I could turn my talents anywhere.

These two things, of realizing the depth of my addiction and how disillusioned I was with my identity, came together at the exact right time.

I decided I needed a new start, but this time with all the understanding of why and what needed to change.

It remained what the answer had always been: me.

I Am

IMG_20200727_190438A father and a husband.

I take pride in my writing, but it no longer defines me. I have spent fifteen years refining my skills as an author, but none practicing them as a father and husband. These traits do not, generally, come naturally, as I am slowly learning.

My sense of self isn’t weighted on the success or failures of my creative life, but rather by the legacy I will leave in my daughter’s life and by the support I can be to my partner. Because, when this all goes away, it’s ultimately the two of them I will have to answer to, and who will be at my side if I get this right.

And I won’t always. But I’m no longer living as a culmination of all my failures. Instead, I choose to celebrate the victories and fix the problems as they present themselves.

I am Kurtis Wiebe.

An alcoholic.

But a sober one.

 

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If I Wrote Gears of War 6

For the past 3 years, I’ve been involved in the periphery of Gears of War. In 2018 I wrote the Rise of Raam comic series, a story that took a look at the Locust Wars story from the side of Raam and his armies. In 2019 I wrote a new series called Hivebusters, featuring characters from the Escape game mode in Gears of War 5, a mode I also did a lot of dialog writing for in the game itself.

After dabbling in a few time periods of the Gears universe, I laid out what I would plan for the Gears of War 6 story. There are spoilers for Gears of War 5’s ending, so be forewarned! Also, this is a sort of stream of consciousness writing jam, but I think the ideas are pretty clear in it.

So, Gears of War fans, enjoy!

Edit: this is fan fiction based on my own contributions to Gears in the comics and from what I learned playing Gears 5. Just a fun collection of thoughts I had while ruminating on the many Gears stories we’ve all experienced over the years.

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Gears of War 6: The End of All War

Premise:

In the final battle against Reyna, JD is killed in front of Kait and Del. His death, a traumatic event to all the major characters in the Gears franchise, sets in motion a series of events no one, not even Marcus, could expect.

This concept relies on the death of JD in Gears of War 5 to propel all of our major characters into this direction.

Opening Scene:

The player takes control of a soldier in a platoon of COG soldiers who storm a secret COG facility, led by Marcus Fenix and Kait. The battle is intense, and utterly chaotic. And most of all, confusing. Why are the COG attacking each other?

Marcus’ platoon reaches the interior, Kait at his side, as the final battle to their destination begins.

We learn this is a prison break.

A short cinematic flashback shows Marcus arguing with First Minister Jinn about a real way to win the war, but it will require sacrifice and compromise. Jinn, not revealing what they are talking about, threatens Marcus with arrest for treason. Marcus, furious, leaves.

Cut back to Marcus and Kait, together, pushing through the facility, stopping at nothing to get to the secret prison. Soon, they reach the holding cells. They find a heavily fortified cell at the far end. As they walk past the other cells, they find every single one empty.

Marcus hesitates a moment at the door. Kait assures him that it’s the right plan.

The door opens and reveals the prisoner inside:

Ketor Vrol. The High Priest of the Locust. The last scholar and knowledge keeper of their people.FEEC05CE-1B67-4CDA-9995-4E7566EC9EDD

Marcus approaches.

“You’ve held out for twenty-five years. Your games ain’t doin’ you no favours no more. You’re going to tell me where the last of the Locust have been hiding.”

“Why would I ever do that?”

“The Swarm will destroy Sera. If there’s anything we’re both good at, it’s total annihilation of our enemies. I have a proposition for you.”

The Game:

Bringing back all the living characters from the previous trilogy, either playable or interacting through cinematics, Gears of War 6 is the action packed but heartfelt finale that brings both trilogies to a close in a way that brings justice and closure to our leads, past and present.

Playing as Marcus and Kait, both having lost one of the most important people in their lives, they take a desperate stand to wipe war off the face of Sera forever.

In their desperate plan, they enlist the help of the Locust, old retired veteran Drones still living from the time of the Locust War. The game then transitions to Marcus fighting alongside Locust to bring down the Swarm.

The Story:

Marcus lost his wife. Now his son. War has taken everything from him, anything that ever mattered, and turned his life into a series of nightmares and trauma he can no longer ignore. It’s time for Sera to live in peace, so kids like Kait and Del can live a normal life. One he and his forefathers were never given.

He begins to see the truth: they are mere cogs in a war machine. A perpetual grinder, feeding on the lives of those who should be anything but soldiers. It’s become the way of things. The way of living that killed his son.

No more.

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Kait, having severed her connection to the Swarm, too grieves the loss of her best friend and a man she saw a future with. After… this. She, too, sees the cycle. She knows the mind of the Swarm, that it only exists to breed and corrupt. It has no goal. It makes monsters of even the best of them. Of her mother.

Del, disillusioned with it all, walks away. He never looks back. If he’s to die, it’ll be on a patch of land, far from the rest of the world. When the Swarm comes, on that day, he will take his fate into his own hands. For him, the war is over.gears-5-ultimate-editon-nordic

Kait confides in Marcus that there is no hope of winning. The Swarm is too powerful, and their means of expansion greatly outweighs COG ability to recruit and train soldiers. The war will be over in a year. Humanity will be wiped out.

Marcus learns through his buddy Cole that there’s a specialist team his daughter works with that’s figured out a way to kill a hive once they locate it. Some ragtag group of freelance operatives under Hoffman’s command in the island region. Called themselves Scorpio. Marcus figures that if they are to stand a chance, this hivebusting operation might be good to investigate.

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Arriving at Galangi Island, Marcus and Kait meet Lahni, Keegan and Mac: team Scorpio. Their method of dealing with swarm is effective, but Marcus is concerned the Swarm could adapt to it quickly.

Lahni approaches Marcus, pulls him aside. Tells him that he’s a massive hero to her and that she grew up with stories about his exploits. Marcus plays them down, tells her that heroics only get important people killed. Lahni confides that her reckless behavior with Brash Brigade was what got her into this whole hivebusting thing to begin with.

They talk more, and Lahni reveals the truth about Brash Brigade; they cleaned up pockets of Locust that survived the final COG attack against their species. In their missions, they came across a very old section of the Locust tunnels and inside, an ancient temple. When they searched the ruins, they found a single living Locust, Ketor Vrol, guarding the last remnants of the Locust religion.

They captured him and Vrol was imprisoned in a secret COG base that Brash Brigade reported to.

This leads us to the opening.

The Locust will be recruited, agreeing that the Swarm will decimate both of their races, and to stand together in one final battle will be how they all see tomorrow.

With Locust knowledge of the underground tunnels, and their access to Ketor Vrol’s religious scholarship, including how to raise the remaining two of the trinity of worms, as well as Kait’s understanding of Swarm abilities and tactics and Marcus’ learned experience from a lifetime of war, they will fight the Swarm until its ultimate destruction.

At the end, the Swarm is defeated. There are losses along the way. Friends from past and present give the ultimate sacrifice. But in the end, there is peace…

As the Locust and human armies part ways, there’s an uneasy feeling that it’s a peace that cannot last. That old grudges, valid and still fresh, could propel these two uneasy allies to war once again.

And in that moment, Kait sees what she can do to honour the memory of those who paid the ultimate price.

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To ensure that their sacrifice would lead to long peace and prosperity.

Kait leads the Locust to their city and, following in her grandmother’s footsteps, becomes the Queen of the Horde.

Marcus returns to his farm and finds Del fixing the place up, struggling to hold up a wall section he’s repairing. Marcus steps in and helps him. For the first time in a long time, he’s fixing something instead of destroying it. And for now and until he dies, that’ll be enough.

Hail to the Queens!

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This Is Me Now

 

It was early 2012 when the core concept of Rat Queens came together. I’d been in contact with Roc Upchurch after meeting him randomly on a street corner over the weekend of NYCC in 2011. I’d seen his work on Vescell and was inspired by it. He was making art in a way I’d never seen in a comic series.

While he finished Vescell, we emailed several times, batting around ideas. We’d attempted a small pitch on a concept that I’d originally worked on with Owen Gieni (who, in a strange twist, became a later Rat Queens artist), it was called Goblinettes, and it ultimately didn’t float. Didn’t seem like there was much interest in a story about a three-piece all girl goblin punk band that sang about love and getting along.

We went back to the ideas phase. We both knew we wanted to work on fantasy. And we both knew we wanted to try something fresh with a genre we loved.betty

I sat and thought on it awhile. I asked myself all kinds of questions. What did I love about fantasy? What was ridiculous? What was annoying and outdated?

It wasn’t a new thing for me to have female leads in my stories; Debris, The Intrepids, Beautiful Creatures and even Peter Panzerfaust, while predominantly male, had women that are, to date, my favourite I’ve written.

Having four female leads wasn’t the novel idea, in my opinion. What I wanted to do was have a fantasy adventure story where being a woman wasn’t a thing. And in so many of the fantasy books I’d read, it almost always certainly was.

dee 2We did a call and I laid out the idea that I’d come up with in the worst way possible: It’s Lord of the Rings meets Sex in the City. We both laughed. It was a terrible mash, but we both knew what it meant.

That’s where it started. Where it would land, how it would end, we had no idea. Our best guess was five issues and a good looking trade collection.

Rat Queens #1 came out on September 25th, 2013. Five and a half years ago, now.

On that day, my life changed.

Within months, Rat Queens became the most successful project I’d ever worked on. Both in sales and in the acclaim it garnered from an industry, a community that had become so important to me. It was the highlight of success after years of personal struggles that had nearly sapped me of hope and strength.

I felt like I finally belonged.hannah

And it was good for a while. We always struggled to get the series out on its monthly schedule (I have many thoughts about the industry’s demand on artists, but that’s for another time), but we were creating something we loved and the fans loved in returned. It was the best a creator could ask for.

Since then, it’s been a long and difficult journey. The years following September 25th, 2013 have been a trail through the highest mountains and the darkest caves.

I had a daughter.

I moved seven times. (Yes. Seven.)

I began new comic series’.

I finished several others.

It’s no secret Rat Queens has had its share of controversies. They took a heavy toll, bringing me back to a dark place I thought I’d escaped when this Rat Queens journey began.

You can read about my brush with suicide in the summer of 2016 here: https://kurtiswiebe.com/2016/10/28/this-side-of-suicide/

Even then, I kept creating new stories with these four women throughout it all. But, I have to be honest, it was getting more difficult with each new iteration. Each new artistic team that came on.violet

At the end of the day, I had to step back and ask myself some familiar questions: What did I love about fantasy? What was ridiculous? What was annoying and outdated?

This past summer of 2018, I found that I didn’t have the answers I used to. Or maybe I’d already answered them and somehow lost myself along the way.

In that reflection I realized that I’d been burned out on the one thing that once gave me joy and provided for my family.

I was terrified.

And then I knew: it was time to move on.

That fear only grew, but it was the seed to plant a new foundation. I’d wrapped up so much of my identity in Rat Queens; my worth, my voice, and world-view.

Five years is a long time. We all grow and change, day to day, and over the span of five years, I’ve faced many shifts to my status quo.

Those changes excite me, I want to write about them. While that doesn’t mean the Rat Queens can’t be part of the equation, it means that I want to commit the next span of years to these new perspectives that have deeply informed my life.

So, I’m saying goodbye to Rat Queens. For now, and the foreseeable future.

 

The Next Chapter

 

Rat Queens is still popular. I know fans love these characters, and I’ve always been interested to see what other people would bring to the table with this large cast of characters. There are still a hundred stories that could be told with Betty, Hannah, Braga, Dee and Violet.

With that said, I’m passing on the torch to a new team, a group of amazing creators who will carry on the legacy of the Rat Queens in an exciting and new direction.

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Ryan Ferrier, who has lettered the series since we came back in 2017, will be taking over writing duties. He was absolutely the first choice for me. We share a similar sense of humour and he’s been living with these characters for over a year now. If you haven’t read any of Ryan’s work, I HIGHLY recommend D4ve. It was my first foray into his work, and it’s genius and funny and heartfelt and great.

Our new line artist, Priscilla Petraites, is someone I’ve been watching for years. She has emailed me every year since 2014, always sending me her new portfolio, to show her progress and growth as an artist. I’ve always had an interest in working with her, but could never find the right concept for the collaboration. When I decided to move on from Rat Queens, Priscilla was an obvious choice. And the heavens aligned, schedules collided and Rat Queens is now her baby.

Marco Lesko and Priscilla had worked together on several other projects as a team before coming on to Rat Queens. I’d seen their work together and bringing Marco onto Rat Queens as our colourist made absolute sense. They have an artistic chemistry that drips off the page, and I can’t wait to see them craft their take on the world of Rat Queens.

This new team will be taking over in April, 2019, with their one shot: Rat Queens Swamp Romp, before jumping into their full-time duties with issue 16 in June.

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So. What’s next? And what about current Rat Queens artist, Owen Gieni?

In the past few years, Owen has become like a brother to me. He’s been around through the toughest of times and has always been an honest and stalwart friend. Through our long conversations over the years, we’ve discussed hundreds of theories and philosophies, and even more stories and worlds.

It’s time we did something with them.

2019 is about change. About taking a risk, in art and in life.

Together, Owen and I are founding a creative company; Beast and Bone Studios.

We’re going to be creating a pile of new art, comics and otherwise. We’re finally going to get a start on a series we’ve been talking about since summer of 2017. Plus a few others we’ve been hashing out in the last few months. I cannot wait.

First, I want to thank Jim Valentino, the man who saw something unique in this little series. He backed me through everything, and has supported my decisions, both creatively and professionally, and it’s been a fantastic journey. I call him my second dad for a reason!

And finally, I want to thank every single person out there who’s supported Rat Queens, and more directly, supported me through the past five years. It has never been unappreciated, and the kindness you’ve shown through emails and messages has saved me more than you can know. I will be forever grateful for the fans and to the five Queens who made my current life possible.

Here’s to you, Violet, Dee, Hannah, Braga and Betty.

Especially you, Betty. You know you’ve always been my favourite.

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Much love,

Kurtis Wiebe

PS: Here’s your first look at Ryan, Priscilla and Marco’s Rat Queens!

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Dungeons and Dragons – It’s True, Teenage Me.

Last year I was invited to participate as a player in the Misscliks Dungeons and Dragons Twitch stream of Tomb of Annihilation. I’m normally pretty hesitant to be involved in D&D as a player. I rarely take that role anymore, and to be honest, I find it less enjoyable than being the man behind the story. The vile master inflicting my narrative on poor, unsuspecting player characters.

I stumbled my way through it as King, a half-orc ranger, beast hunter type. He was pretty lame, if I’m being honest. But, I had fun and I really enjoyed having the chance to kill him when, in Season 2, I took over the reins of the story and DM’d 10 episodes.

I only wish I could go back to my teenage self and tell him that at some point in the future, he’ll be paid to run D&D.

Here’s the link to the first episode that I ran. There are 9 more if you enjoy the first.

Rat Queens #2 Available Now!

Rat Queens #2 hits stands today and we are super lucky to have a pretty hilarious backup story written by Pat Rothfuss and illustrated by Nate Taylor.

I’m very proud of this issue. I’m always very critical of my work, but this is one of those times where I can feel confident with the final product. Owen Gieni has given the series new life for me. The process we go through each issue is much more involved. Since this issue in particular, we’ve sat down on the phone and broke story from scene to scene until we have the whole thing plotted. In that way, we’ve been able to make jokes stronger and plan for a tighter long game as we plant early seeds now.

I’m thrilled to be back with Rat Queens. I love it again.

I hope you do, too!

Kurtis

PS: That issue 2 B cover is a tribute to Larry Elmore’s classic Dragonlance piece.

Rat Queens Wednesday Webcomic #11: Identity

A new webcomic by Linda Sejic and me, with letters by Ryan Ferrier. Rat Queens #2 comes out April 12th!

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Rat Queens #1 Relaunch Sells Out! (Plus ECCC Thoughts)

It’s hard to believe how fast the time as blown past since we announced the return of Rat Queens back in November. Owen and I had been quietly working away on the series for a long time before the announcement, we’d finished a full issue and most of the second issue by that time. It was really difficult to keep it under wraps because I was SO fucking proud of what we were building.

It was almost therapy to launch Rat Queens at Emerald City Comicon this year. ECCC has always been a Rat Queens kind of crowd. It’s the place where I first noticed how much the fans loved the series, and more than that, they loved Violet, Dee, Hannah and Betty.

I was nervous about the convention this year. Almost paranoid, if I’m being honest. What would people think of the relaunch? And, foremost on my mind, what would people think of me?

To see so many happy faces, so many people genuinely happy we brought the series back, it was a huge relief. A highlight of the entire show was when I received a hand written letter from a reader who couldn’t get me to sign in person, and her friend delivered it. It was first thing in the morning, I was just setting up. I read it and I had to hold back the tears. It was such a beautiful thought for someone to take time to send me. And, if you’re reading this right now, you know who you are, and it meant the world to me that morning.

I’ve been home since Tuesday. I’ve recovered from the show. And now I’m sharing the news that Rat Queens #1 sold out and that we’re going back to another printing. It’s all so surreal.

So, this is a thank you. To the retailers, for continued faith in Rat Queens, to the readers who have loved these characters through everything, and to my publisher, friends and family, for believing in me.

I can’t wait for you to see everything Rat Queens has in store.

PS: Pat Rothfuss has a backup story in Issue #2, out April 12th. It’s super great.

(Pictured: Rat Queens #1 Second Printing [Left] and Rat Queens #2 Cover B [Right])

Rat Queens Wednesday Webcomic #10: Bad Omen (Late Post)

Forgot to post this to my website on Wednesday! Here’s the tenth webcomic by Sedona Parnham, Ryan Ferrier and me! Rat Queens returns March 1st!RQ_BadOmens.jpg

Rat Queens Wednesday Webcomic #9: Girls’ Night Out

A new webcomic by Stjepan Sejic, Ryan Ferrier and me!rq_girlsnightout

Rat Queens Wednesday Webcomic #8: Bedtime Stories with Braga

New weekly webcomic, this comic written by me, art by Will Kirkby, letters by Ryan Ferrier.ratqueens_bedtimestories