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Marvel Taps Rising Comics Sensation Sam Humphries for Ultimates

Comic book writer Sam Humphries
Comic book writer Sam Humphries
Photo courtesy of Sam Humphries

Today, Marvel announced that L.A.-based writer Sam Humphries will be joining veteran comic book author Jonathan Hickman as co-writer of Ultimates, an alternate-universe version of the Avengers superhero team. Humphries will come on board with issue 10 of the Ultimate Comics series, set for release in May.

For Humphries, who says he had comic book ambitions back when he was 10, this is a rare and amazing opportunity. He'll be working alongside with Hickman, a writer he admires, and he's a longtime Marvel fan. Humphries says he's acquired an impressive amount of knowledge about Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four since childhood.

"The Marvel universe feels like home to me," he says.

Our Love Is Real is Sam Humphries' breakthrough comic book hit.
Our Love Is Real is Sam Humphries' breakthrough comic book hit.
Image courtesy of Sam Humphries

This year is shaping up to be a busy one for the local up-and-comer. He's also been working on Marvel's John Carter: Gods of Mars with artist Ramon Perez (who's been generating some good buzz with his work on the Archaia's adaptation of Jim Henson's A Tale of Sand), due to hit stands next month. Then there's Fanboys vs. Zombies, a Boom! Studios series about zombies taking over San Diego Comic-Con, which launches in April. The following month, Boom! Studios will release Humphries' creator-owned science fiction epic Higher Earth. And, if that weren't enough for the first half of the year, he's still working on his self-published series, Sacrifice.

It all started with a self-published, one-off comic called Our Love Is Real. Humphries had been published before that, having contributed stories for Boom! Studios' CBGB: The Comic Book and Archaia's Fraggle Rock anthology, but his first self-published, creator-owned effort was a little different. Our Love Is Real is a sci-fi romance that pairs people with dogs, plants and minerals. It's weird enough to have riled up the comic book crowd on message boards, garner some stellar reviews and sell out of its first print run in a matter of hours.

Humphries says that self-publishing was "the most solid strategy" he had for breaking into the comic book industry. He had the contacts, and he had already received a positive response when shopping around Our Love Is Real and Sacrifice, but he was still a n00b in the creator world, which meant people were less likely to take a chance on him, even if the idea was there.

Coming soon, zombies invade SDCC.
Coming soon, zombies invade SDCC.
Image courtesy of Boom! Studios

"It would have been a tough sell for anyone before I did it myself and got some buzz behind it," Humphries says.

And he did an amazing job of creating the buzz on his own. Having already spent three years working at MySpace in the marketing department, he knew the ways of social media and generating online interest. One of the smartest things he did was wait until two days before the release of Our Love Is Real to announce the book.

"When people got excited about it, it was available immediately for them to buy," Humphries says, "which I think worked out because people could actually act on that excitement and curiosity."

That first run was limited to 300 hard copies, available only at nine comic book shops and via mail order. It sold out in nine hours. A second print run sold out a week later. Altogether, Humphries went through four printings on his own before Image issued the book a fifth time. When Marvel caught wind of the book and contacted Humphries about working with the venerable comic book publisher, he was shocked.

"I really didn't think it was going to be the dog-sex book that did it," he says. "I thought it would be something more conventional, like Sacrifice, perhaps."

Sacrifice, an adventure in the Aztec world, complete with a nod to Joy Division.
Sacrifice, an adventure in the Aztec world, complete with a nod to Joy Division.
Image courtesy of Sam Humphries

Sacrifice, which followed Our Love Is Real, is the title that Humphries has been working on the longest. The story, about a guy sucked into the Aztec world, stems from Humphries' long-running fascination with Aztec culture and history. He began studying the civilization 10 years ago, learning about their poetry, military and even their food. Six years later, he started formulating Sacrifice, but the series didn't come together until 2011. The first issue came out last December.

While Humphries' first two creator-owned comics were self-published, at least at first, this won't be the case for forthcoming series Higher Earth, which was picked up by Boom! Studios. The series takes place in a universe where there are numerous alternate versions of Earth, each one accessible for travelers. The multiple, vastly different incarnations of the planet are conquered by Higher Earth. Amidst this complex system of Earths, two people meet and bond over revenge. It's a complex story for the writer.

"Every character in this story ... has such a different frame of reference," he explains. "When you think about it that way, it triggers such a conceptual link your brain that it can take a while to get in and out of [the story]."

But he's balancing the intensity of Higher Earth with a good dose of fun. Humphries is also working on the undead fandom comedy Fanboys vs. Zombies. In the new series, zombies will attempt their takeover at San Diego Comic-Con in what Humphries describes as a "steel-and-glass hothouse on the edge of the ocean in San Diego."

"It's a natural place for humanity to survive a zombie infestation," he says. "You've basically got 165,000 of the most qualified zombie hunters in America all together in the same place."

At SDCC, Humphries says, you have people who have long been schooled in how to survive the zombie apocalypse. More importantly, though, "They've had their battle reflexes sharpened in the fire of multiplayer video games."

Between his numerous, and varied, projects, Humphries is establishing himself as one of the most eclectic writers in the field. It's a lot of work, but well worth it. As he says, "Some of these opportunities may never come again."

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