INTERVIEW: Juan Ponce talks THIRTY-THREE and escaping from one’s past

Comic News

Juan Ponce is a writer on the rise. In the years since his first comic work was released, Ponce has produced short stories and specials with a number of artists, including Matthew GalmanCraig Cermak, Yasmín Flores Montañez, and more, both in the self-published space and through publishers like Action Lab. Later this year Ponce will make his Marvel Comics debut with a story in the Marvel’s Voices: Comunidades one-shot spotlighting Latinx creators and characters.

Before that arrives, though, Ponce is working on crowdfunding a new creator-owned project, as Thirty-Three is currently being funded via Kickstarter. The graphic novel, which the campaign page says collects issues 1-5 of a 10-part series, finds Ponce teamed with an all-star cadre of fellow creators, including artists Gavin Guidry and Marco Finnegan, colorists Michael Fisher and Ellie Wright, letterers Gabriela Downie and Ariana Maher, editor Brittany Matter, and logo designer Taylor Esposito. The project, featured in The Beat‘s Crowdfunding Round-Up last month, follows Andrew West, aka the former assassin Thirty-Three, now twenty-five years out of the business, who finds himself and his family the targets of figures from his former live. As the family is forced to go on the run, Andrew must confront his past literally and figuratively.

The Beat chatted with Ponce about his latest project, including how the creative team for Thirty-Three came together, and how working on his first longer project compares to his previous shorter-form work.


Joe Grunenwald: How did you go about developing Thirty-Three? How did the creative team for the book come together? What do they each bring to the project?

Juan Ponce: Thirty-Three started out as a five-issue mini-series. I wanted a mad comedy with some high stakes and relatable characters, specifically a dad. At that time I didn’t have a daughter, but I was year into my marriage and into my really boring office job. Essentially, I wanted a hero that I could relate to. Thirty-Three was a much simpler story early into its development. But everything changed shortly after Marco Finnegan, who had just wrapped up Crossroad Blues for Image Comics, began working on issue one. Seeing his pages made the idea and characters more complex. Everything snowballed from there and Thirty-Three became a two trade story. 

Variant cover by Will Rosado

I was really lucky Marco said yes to me back in 2018; I was barely getting my voice out there at the time. Luckily he loved this mad story of family and redemption. Not too long after hiring Marco I contacted Ellie Wright, she too was eager to jump on board. Ellie added so much to Marco’s vision. Their pages felt noir, but somehow also madly kinetic and cool. Their work is truly a spectacle. Ariana Maher heard my pitch and also said yes, we had just wrapped up work on a lovely short called A Moment in Time. She added so much as well. Her sound effects were perfect for Marco’s style. Can’t say thank you enough everyone from that first issue, they took a chance on me.

Marco and the rest of the team had to bow out after issue one. Everyone’s schedules were pretty crazy at the time, and we all left on good terms. I actually worked with Ariana recently on Marvel’s Voices: Comunidades and she’s the one who recommended Thirty-Three‘s amazing letterer and cover artist, Gabriela Downie.

The second team came in running and made the book their own. Gavin Guidry loved issue one and shortly after the release of [his Action Lab series] Going to the Chapel began work on issue two. About six pages into seeing his awesome style I began to shift elements of the story, [and] Thirty-Three quickly became ours–our story. Gavin made so many great choices and always knew what I was thinking, our voices just worked well together. With Gavin I pushed the madness further and really leaned into crazy comic book action, his vision would not accept anything less.

Michael Fisher and Gavin are close friends and they worked hand-in-hand on this. Michael is making his debut here and you’re going to hear his name a lot after this. His lighting work is unbelievable. He also adds to the madness with easter eggs scattered throughout the book. Gabriela Downie made this book sing; much like Michael she added brilliant details that I couldn’t imagine. And much like Gavin, she was all about the story being as bonkers and heart-driven as possible. Couldn’t ask for a better team.

Grunenwald: Were there any stories, in comics or otherwise, that inspired you while you were working on writing the book?

Ponce: [Robert] Kirkman’s dialogue in Walking Dead rang in my head throughout this series. That comic has such an organic voice, the characters feel real, as do their decisions. That’s what I wanted for this book. Sure there’s hahas here, but the emotion had to feel grounded. Another book that was top of mind was [Joshua] Williamson’s Birthright. He handled the family dynamic brilliantly. Lastly there was Tom King’s Vision which balanced dark humor, family, and identity very well. 

Grunenwald: Andrew, the book’s lead character, is a former assassin whose past comes back to haunt him. Do you think a person can ever truly walk away from their past?

Ponce: We can learn, grow, and recover from our past. But the past is a part of us. We’re not the same people we were five years ago, that said, we were molded by our experiences five years ago. It’s important to look back on who we were, good or bad. Whether we like it or not, the past is a part of us.

Grunenwald: This is your first longer project. How did your experience working on Thirty-Three compare to the other short comics you’ve written?

Ponce: It was a blast. I love writing shorts, because I get to hit the reader in the gut pretty quickly. With a longer form story I get to do that more meticulously and more often. Both long form and short form comics are a three-act-structure. With Thirty-Three I got more of a chance to explore act two and that’s awesome. 

Grunenwald: The campaign page indicates this is the first half of the story. How far along into development of the second part are you?

Ponce: The next trade is mapped out and the major beats are also laid out. I know chapter 6/ issue 6 really well and I’ve known how this story would end since the beginning. Well aside from one character’s fate. Things might change, as they always do when I see Gavin’s amazing art, but the next arc is pretty well mapped out. 

Grunenwald: What are you excited for readers to see when they check out Thirty-Three?

Ponce: The character study in the book. I have a pretty big cast here and a lot of them have their moment in the spotlight. Those quiet moments with characters were so fun to write. I hope the reader feels something when they read them.


The Kickstarter campaign to fund Thirty-Three runs until this Friday, November 19th, at 4:42 PM Eastern. 

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