For years, he has utilized his writing and producing talents on television series such as Everybody Hates Chris, The Boondocks, American Gods, and Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. Now, in addition to continuing his innovative work on the screen, Rodney Barnes is using his cinematic skills to tell compelling, unpredictable, and creepy stories in the world of comic books.
In a new Q&A feature, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of catching up with Rodney to discuss the latest projects on his prolific comic book slate, including working with Jason Shawn Alexander on the current six-issue story arc of their comic book series Killadelphia (in which the stakes have never been higher), continuing the story of an iconic cinematic character in the new graphic novel Blacula: Return of the King (which also features artwork by Jason Shawn Alexander), and teaming up with artist Alex Lins on the upcoming Image Comics series Monarch!
You can read our full Q&A with Rodney Barnes below, and in case you missed it, check out our recent Q&A with Jason Shawn Alexander!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions for us, Rodney, and congratulations on the continued success of your comic book series Killadelphia, which recently returned for its 25th issue. For readers who are new to this series, what makes issue #25 a good jumping-on point to start reading the series (before going back and catching up on the previous issues)?
Rodney Barnes: Up until issue 25, Jason and I have been worldbuilding; getting to know all of the characters, the city of Philadelphia and the universe itself—Heaven, Hell, and every place in between. We’ve been to the dark realm, purgatory, heaven, met a lot of other deities… and now, we’re taking the story in a new direction, where all of those characters and their relationships are being put to the test. There’s war in the streets of Philadelphia and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The powers of light against the powers of darkness, and ironically, if darkness doesn’t win, it could trigger the war of armageddon.
With issue #25, you raise the already high stakes of Killadelphia to epic new heights, as the war between the living and the undead on Earth attracts the attention of the gods. How did you decide to push this story even further into the realm of the cosmic and otherworldly?
Rodney Barnes: Killadelphia began as a grounded series; vampires on the gritty streets of Philadelphia. Slowly but surely, it expanded out beyond that. It’s always been a sort of challenge of Jason and mine; to start the book in one place, swing it to the other end of the pendulum, then return back again to combine both elements while maintaining a sense of cohesion.
In issues #25 and #26, there are two genuinely shocking moments that occur, letting readers know that this new story arc in Killadelphia is going to be as unpredictable as it is violent. When you started writing this latest arc, did you know that you were going to be making some of these tough decisions, and as the writer who has spent a lot of time with these characters, was it difficult to make some of these tough choices as you were writing the battle scenes?
Rodney Barnes: Incredibly difficult. These two issues—and the next four—have been the most difficult to write. I love these characters and I’ve lived with them for a long time, so every time I need to make the decisions that I’m making now, it’s really tough. You live in the hearts of the readers, so you have to treat the characters with heart and compassion. Which sounds ironic in a book about vampires, violence, and death. That said, I think we do it in the best way possible.
Even at its most fantastical and cosmic moments, Killadelphia still draws inspiration from its real-life setting. How has Philadelphia continued to impact you several years after you started writing this series?
Rodney Barnes: Philadelphia still stands as a symbol of democracy and struggle—and that’s what I’m shooting for at the heart of Killadelphia. Our vampires don’t just want blood. In their own ways, they’re looking to make a better world—which I think is unusual for a book about monsters. In a lot of ways, they’re trying to save what’s left of their souls, and I think we as a society are fighting for the soul of our own nation as well. When you see what’s happening on the streets of America’s cities, it’s certainly ironic that a lot of times it plays into the themes we capture in the book.
In this new arc, you’ve continued working with talented artist Jason Shawn Alexander, but you’ve also teamed up with Germán Erramouspe and Lee Loughridge (with Jason also busy working on his comic book series Empty Zone). What has it been like to bring Germán and Lee on board for this latest arc of Killadelphia?
Rodney Barnes: They’ve been great. Having Jason do finishes and inking still gives it that distinct feel. I’ve worked with Germán on The Butcher of Black Bottom, which has been published on my Substack page (rodneybarnes.substack.com). Having been partners on another project, there was already chemistry between us. I’ve already fallen in love with Lee and his work as well, so it’s all family at this point. We just keep marching on.
This new arc of Killadelphia is six issues, but do you and Jason already have plans to continue this epic story beyond issue #29?
Rodney Barnes: This story arc has six issues. But we do plan to continue, going bigger and bolder, including some one shots into arc six—so there’d be a continuing storyline for story arc six, and then standalone stories that focus on certain characters.
Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from this latest arc of Killadelphia?
Rodney Barnes: That you can never predict what’s going to happen. From the beginning, we never wanted this to be your routine, plot-driven story that was serialized like a typical soap opera. Nothing against those, but we wanted this to be the type of story that grabbed your heart—as well as your throat—and kept you guessing. And that’s something we’re deeply committed to.
You and Jason have also been working together on the Killadelphia tie-in series Nita Hawe’s Nightmare Blog. What can you tell us about the upcoming issues in that series?
Rodney Barnes: Don’t think it’s any surprise at this point, but by the time this interview is published, issue 12 of Nita Hawes will have dropped, and Nita will be joining what’s left of our cast in the main Killadelphia book of arc six. So that’s exciting! At some point, we’ll pick up on her continuing series, but for now, she’ll be in Philadelphia trying to save the world.
You’ve teamed up with artist Alex Lins for the new comic book series Monarch, premiering February 8th from Image Comics. What are you excited for readers to experience in this new series?
Rodney Barnes: First, I wanna say how excited I am to work with Alex. I love his work; the expanse of it. How he’s able to go from the small community feel of the inner city to the expanse of the universe, as this is more of a science fiction/alien-driven story. So I’m honored to be working with him. But I’m excited to just tell a story that has a completely different feel than the werewolves and vampires I’ve been writing about the past few years. As well, telling a story that’s primarily set in the minds and hearts of kids is also different for me. I usually deal with adults, but there’s a different level of vulnerability in dealing with kids.
In addition to Killadelphia, you also have extensive experience as a TV series writer and producer. Has your background in TV helped with your approach to writing comic books?
Rodney Barnes: Basic story structure for sure. And to a degree, dialogue. I had to learn to differentiate between the two and learn to make dialogue that fit working with art vs. working with moving pictures. Ever since my first series Falcon, I’ve been learning.
There’s also the scheduling. Working in television is like having a 9-5 job because you work every day when you’re in season. In comics, you have an editor, which is a lot like working for a network. So there are deadlines and accountability that create a certain structure I’m accustomed to.
Can you give us any updates on the Killadelphia TV series adaptation that is in the works?
Rodney Barnes: Yes! I’ve rewritten the Killadelphia pilot and am incredibly excited about it. We have a couple of attachments, a lead, a director…and I should have more to report by the end of this spring.
What advice would you give to aspiring comic book writers who are just getting started?
Rodney Barnes: Practice. Make things. Make comics. And of course, practice, practice, practice. Read established comic writers’ scripts. What’s great about comics today is when you get the deluxe editions of graphic novels, they often have the actual scripts in the back, so you can see the process from script to the making of the comic.
Getting to know editors is invaluable as well. You can make relationships with them at conventions and online. Get to know artists. Creating a community of people who wanna do what you wanna do is the best way to get better at a thing—other than just doing it.
With Killadelphia #27 now available from Image Comics, what other upcoming projects are you excited about, and where can our readers go online to keep up with your work?
Rodney Barnes: Blacula: Return of the King, the first book from my company Zombie Love Studios, written by me and illustrated by the great Jason Shawn Alexander, who also serves as art director for the company, will be released on January 31st, 2023. The aforementioned Monarch comes out February 8th. Check out Killadelphia, Nita Hawes, Mandalorian… as well as the second season of the show I write and produce, Winning Time, which will air this summer.
When did you first see the 1972 film Blacula, and what kind of an impact did it have on you when you first saw it?
Rodney Barnes: I saw the original Blacula film when I was about eight years old. It was the first time I’d seen a black character at the center of a horror movie’s narrative. Suffice it to say, the movie had a profound effect on me—so much so that it stayed with me all these years and drove me to write Blacula: Return of the King.
How did the opportunity to do a Blacula graphic novel come about, and how did you approach expanding upon the story and mythology of this cinematic character?
Rodney Barnes: I was working with Alana Mayo when she was running Outlier Society—Michael B. Jordan’s company—and we got to know one another. When she went to Orion, it was around the time I was trying to get the literary rights from MGM. She helped cut through a lot of red tape, and here we are!
In regard to my approach to the reboot, I wanted to build a bridge between the original ’70s film and now, so I picked the elements of story I thought would travel best.
In addition to Blacula, you have another iconic character, Count Dracula, featured in Blacula: Return of the King. What was it like for you to bring Count Dracula and Blacula together for an epic showdown?
Rodney Barnes: A dream come true! Kind of like those classic Universal Monster team-ups way back when—which is what I was going for.
You’ve reteamed with artist Jason Shawn Alexander (Killadelphia, Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog) for Blacula: Return of the King. What made Jason the perfect collaborator to help bring this story to undead life?
Rodney Barnes: The level of comfortability we’ve built over the years. I have such a deep appreciation for his work, I can’t see doing this with anyone else.
Is Blacula: Return of the King a good jumping-on point for readers even if they haven’t seen the films?
I believe so. I added a degree of backstory for the uninitiated.
Blacula: Return of the King is now available from your company, Zombie Love Studios, and I understand this is the first installment in a planned graphic novel trilogy. Can you tease what eerie adventures you have planned for Blacula in the future?
Rodney Barnes: Volume II will see Prince Mamuwalde team up with another iconic ’70s character.
Blacula: Return of the King:
Monarch #1 Cover Art by Alex Lins:
Killadelphia #27 Cover Art by Jason Shawn Alexander: