Warren Ellis Interview

Warren Ellis at 2005 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con

Warren Ellis at 2005 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con

Originally published in January of 2004. I once tried to interview Warren Ellis at a 2005 convention in Toronto but that fell through. Previous to this Warren sent out a message saying he would do 4 question interviews to anybody that e-mailed him questions. Prior to that Rich Johnston posted the rumor that Warren Ellis was going to be doing a book at TOYKOPOP, who were then hiring creators to come up with their “OEL (Original English Language) Manga” line. I decided to take a gamble use the interview to ask him about it in hopes of breaking some news.

 

Interview with Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is a writer and sometimes comic book activist. He is best known for his books Transmetropolitian, Planetary and The Authority. He also spent quite some time writing about the comic book industry and it’s need to change and improve, which along with his comic work has gained him a very large following in the industry. The following is a mini interview he allowed via his DiePunyHumans list.

 

Jamie: What are you doing for TOKYOPOP?

Warren Ellis: Um . . . nothing, yet. You seem to be playing off a rumour that I think Rich Johnston ran the other week. I’ve had a conversation with Tokyopop, but nothing else.

 

Jamie: Are you writing stuff for their young female readers or your typical audience?

Warren Ellis: See above. Sorry, but you’re way ahead of reality here…

 

Jamie: TOKYOPOP is only starting to do original material and much of that is from their fans via their Rising Stars contest winners. One might assume the company is closer to Archie or Marvel when it comes to respecting and fairly paying their creators. Are you having to guide them towards DC or better standards or have they figured that out on their own?

Warren Ellis: I haven’t even seen their standard contract and have no idea what they pay.

 

Jamie: Just off the top of your head, what do you think the better GN’s of 2003 were?

Warren Ellis: I really didn’t read many graphic novels in 2003. I certainly couldn’t name any off the top of my head. I think I went into a comics store once in that year, and that was just to say hello to someone while I was passing.

 


 

While this interview isn’t all that exciting I do have a treat for you. Warren did a nearly 2 hour hilarious, story filled Q&A panel at the 2005 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con. I uploaded clips of this panel roughly around 12 years ago and since then I’ve found the full audio file and I’m making it available here for the first time. Enjoy!

 

Colleen Doran Interview

Colleen Doran – 2008 San Diego Comic Con

This interview was originally published in January 2003.

Colleen Doran is one of many creators I “knew” via online for many years before getting to meet her in real life. In this interview I ask her about the Warren Ellis Form and I think enough years have gone by that I should probably explain what that was and why it was important.

In the 1990’s most “comic book” talk on the internet happened on Usenet, which was a pre-world wide web and pre-web browser message board. You needed a software like FreeAgent and know your ISP’s Usenet server details to access it (like POP3 e-mail). Outside of that there was the CompuServ forums, but you needed to be a CompuServ customer to access them. One of the flaws of Usenet is that it was open to everybody and there wasn’t anybody in charge that could ban trolls. The most you could do was put somebody on ignore, but if they replied to a comment of somebody else, you’d see their comments (and their insulting and or lying about you). There was plenty of abuse, up to and including an asshole making a death threat against Peter David.

Warren Ellis created a Warren Ellis Forum on Delphi and nicknamed himself Stalin. He made it crystal clear that trollish or even bad behaviour would not be tolerated and anybody engaging in it would be banned from the forum. This lead to a popular forum with lots of comic creators and well behaved and often intelligent fans communicating regularly. A number of those fans are well known comic creators today. Other comic creators followed Warren’s lead and went on to create their own message board/forums.

Back to Colleen, she saved my bacon with this interview. CollectorTimes was a monthly web magazine and I needed an interview before the end of the month. I had an interview set up with another creator but because of Christmas stuff getting in the way, they bailed on doing the interview with apologies. Desperate, I took a chance and e-mailed Colleen to see if she would agree to an interview and get it done between Christmas and New Years. She agreed and came through for me. I would later meet Colleen in person at my first San Diego in 2008 and took this picture of her.

 


Colleen Doran Interview

Colleen Doran has been working professionally since the age of 15. Throughout her career she’s worked for all the major publishers as either an artist and/or writer. She has also worked for Lucas Film and Disney, among other companies. These days she is mainly known for doing A Distant Soil through Image Comics, a story she’s been wanting to do since she was a teenager. In this interview Colleen talks to us about A Distant Soil, her success outside of the traditional comic industry and other topics.

 

Jamie: You have been doing A Distant Soil (a.k.a. ADS) for a number of years now. How long do you see yourself going with the series?

Colleen Doran: I started doing this book professionally when I was in high school, which is hard for me to believe now! In fact, some of the pages in the current edition are actually from the original pencils samples I was showing publishers when I was a kid! It is very strange, I suppose, to be doing the same book all these years, but I am determined, if nothing else. I intend to go until the story is told and then it will be over. However long it takes. I imagine another year or so.

 

Jamie: Do you have a definite end for it planned out?

Colleen Doran: Oh, yes. The current storyline has about five issues left. I have two other, much shorter, story arcs, but I know the ultimate ending of every character and plotline. I have it all planned out.

 

Jamie: Among some creators there is a movement to do quick, cheap, thin graphic novels. But when you collect ADS you do more issues than usual, creating thick books. Why?

Colleen Doran: As a reader, I am not satisfied with thin, expensive books. They look cheap and cheesy. I hate them, always have. I want to give the reader real value for their money and a sufficient chunk of story to give them hours of entertainment. That is what I want as a reader, too.

From a purely commercial standpoint, a thin graphic novel disappears on the stands when it is spine out. It doesn’t have a satisfying heft and feel and less perceived value.

 

Jamie: Have you considered going straight to graphic novel with ADS? You’ve mentioned before that you lose money on the single issues and it’s the TPB royalty cheques that keep the series going.

Colleen Doran: The comic books don’t lose money, they just don’t make any. If it takes me two months to do an issue and I only earn $1,000, for all intents and purposes, I have lost all the money it took me to live on for that time.

I am afraid of getting bogged down while working on a huge chunk of story, so I would rather produce it in installments, even if it doesn’t really bring in any income. It is an enormous undertaking to do a 200 page book and to work in a vacuum for all that time with no feedback. I would prefer to just dole it out to those who want to see it. Those who don’t can wait for the trades.

 

Jamie: I recently bought a full color ADS graphic novel published by  StarBlaze Graphics, I also noticed they published some of Matt Wagner’s Mage books as well. What happened to them?

Colleen Doran: Donning was a bit of a mess. They were having financial problems for years before I signed on with them and had been bought out by their printer, so they weren’t an independent publisher like I thought when I went to them. They were very badly managed. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the books they were publishing. Some of them were very good, but many were downright amateurish. Some of the books like Gate of Ivrel and later volumes of the Thieves World graphic novels had terrible sales, only a couple thousand each, and that was for color original graphic novels at a time when the comic book market was doing very well. Many other companies had GN’s selling tens of thousands of copies.

Eventually, Donning decided to close its trade publishing division. They sold our contracts to another publisher and there was a big class action lawsuit. Many of the authors ended up suing them, including me. It was a nightmare. We all settled out of court, but Donning has disappeared off the radar for good, I think.

It’s not uncommon for small publishers to be badly managed, particularly when they start to get big and expand. They don’t have the expertise to handle it. Donning was yet another example of that. They just weren’t qualified to do the business they were doing and yet wouldn’t go out of their way to get people with real expertise in the market. They had very limited knowledge of the direct market and they weren’t too savvy in the trades, either. In fact, their whole foray into graphic novels was something of a fluke. Before Donning began publishing graphic novels, they were really a kind of vanity press. They did subsidized books, pictorial histories. Cities and towns paid Donning to publish these things. So, when they did get the idea to begin publishing graphic novels and they sort of took off, they weren’t prepared to handle it, and they botched it pretty badly. They lasted as a graphic novels publisher for only about seven or eight years.

Donning had had some mild success doing science fiction books for a few years before they got into graphic novels. The Starblaze line was created by science fiction artist Frank Kelly Freas. They published a few books that did very well and that is how they got their feet wet in trade publishing, but they were complete know-nothings when it came to the direct market. They pretty much ignored it. It was weird.

 

Jamie: I understand you sell a lot of ADS books outside the traditional comic bookstores. Can you give us a rough estimate, percentage wise, of where your books get sold?

Colleen Doran: My orders on the third graphic novel came in and showed that more than 50% of my sales on the new trade were outside the direct market. A big chunk of those go to libraries, too. I wish I had more market penetration in major bookstores, but that is slow in coming. However, libraries love my books!

 

Jamie: You also attend Sci-Fi conventions and sell many books there do you not?

Colleen Doran: Yes, I do a number of them, though I have cut way back in the last couple of years because my work schedule is really brutal and I am just not doing many conventions anymore. I could expect to see much higher numbers at the World Science Fiction Convention than I would at San Diego Comic Con even though Worldcon would have only about 10% the attendance as San Diego. My take would be 100% higher at Worldcon.

 

Jamie: There was a rumor that CrossGen was going to try and “poach” some creators/books from Image Comics in order to grow their own creator owned line. Have you been approached yet?

Colleen Doran: I am committed to Image.

 

Jamie: Once ADS is completed, will you put the whole thing on CD Rom and sell it?

Colleen Doran: I hadn’t even thought about that! Maybe.

 

Jamie: You did a small web comic with Warren Ellis called SUPERIDOL for Artbomb.net. What was it like working with Warren?

Colleen Doran: I love working with Warren. I was thrilled when he chose me to do Super Idol. He has such great ideas and he is an exciting writer. I am working with Warren on a new graphic novel for Vertigo called Orbiter as well. I am penciling and inking it and am painting the cover. I am almost finished. I think I will be finished in a couple of weeks. It is 100 pages! I also worked with Warren on an animated project called Distance. I was the principal conceptual designer. It was optioned by Sony, but they shelved it after Final Fantasy tanked and the option has returned. I don’t know what’s going on with it now.

 

Jamie: Did you do SUPERIDOL on paper or did you work on a computer?

Colleen Doran: Oh, Super Idol is entirely hand painted. Each panel was a separate painting.

 

Jamie: Was getting it scanned in and looking right a big pain?

Colleen Doran: It really wasn’t too much trouble. Looked pretty good to me right off.

 

Jamie: The art and storytelling style in SUPERIDOL was very different from ADS. Had I not seen your name I would not have guessed it was you. What influenced you to draw in that manner?

Colleen Doran: I choose to do every project in a different style. I try to come up with something that suits the book. I believe that a cartoonist’s job is to create a unique look for each book and do what is necessary to tell the story in the manner that is most appropriate to the story, to the best of their ability. I don’t try to twist each project to suit me, I try to suit the project. I approach my work in much the same manner that an actor approaches a role. I want to disappear into the work. I don’t want to leave any stamp on the work except the stamp that gives the reader a feeling of satisfaction that they have thoroughly entered the world of the story. My job is world building. Some artists complain about having to change their style to suit a project, but no one complains if an actor changes his entire personality to fit a role. That is what I think I do best with my work: I change to suit the role, and the role is the story.

 

Jamie: Do you see yourself doing more “freebee” webcomics in the future?

Colleen Doran: Well, I didn’t do it for free! I got paid. But if someone wants to pay me to do another, sure!

 

Jamie: Do you see yourself trying to make a serious go at web comics like some artists do?

Colleen Doran: Not unless there is income to be derived from it, though I may do a couple of comics for A Distant Soil on my own website, just for kicks. Unlike a lot of artists, I am a pro and do this for a living, so the prospect of making my web comic an expensive hobby has little appeal. Some web comics pay, but most do not. If I want to do something for fun, my impulse is to go skydiving, not drawing! I need to get away from the board once in awhile!

 

Jamie: You were a frequent visitor to the Warren Ellis Forum. Has it’s demise affected you the same way it affected other people?

Colleen Doran: I don’t know how it affected other people because I am rarely online anymore. I didn’t really spend much time online before the forum and even before the forum went down, I drastically cut my online time. I am naturally introverted and while I enjoy communicating with other people, my desire to do so has a limit. Too much makes me nervous and upset. I have been very hermetic of late.

 

Jamie: These days it’s popular for some creators to say enough with the work for hire superhero comics! What do you think of them?

Colleen Doran: Well, whatever they want to do. But I don’t have any problem with it. I think about the project first. If it is a project I want to do, I will do it. I like superheroes and would gladly do them again.

 

Jamie: Legion fans tell me you had an Element Lad story done 10 years ago. Today the character is dead. Can you tell us about that story?

Colleen Doran: You know, I was a big Legion fan for many years. Everyone  knew that. But the last Legion editor flatly informed me that anyone who had been part of the previous Legion mythos was not welcome back on the book. In fact, I was slated to write and draw an issue of the Legion with Element Lad as the main character! My script had been approved by then editor KC Carlson, right before he left DC Comics, but when the new editor came along, he refused to go forward with the story and I didn’t get paid for my work. He wouldn’t even return my phone calls. I was very upset by that, so I stopped reading the Legion entirely. I didn’t even know Element Lad was dead until now! I guess I should be really upset! He was my favorite character!

The last time I was up at DC, I did show the Legion editor my new work on Orbiter and he completely changed his mind about me and asked if I might want to do some Legion work again sometime. However, he didn’t last another week at the company.

Anyway, that Legion story I did was written by Keith Giffen. I will never forget it. It was important to me in a lot of ways. It wasn’t my first Legion work, but it was my last. When I was in high school, Keith Giffen had seen my work in a fanzine and called to offer me a job on the Legion! I really wasn’t ready for it, but a few years later, I did get some small Legion jobs. Keith Giffen has always been very important to me. He was one of the first professionals to see my potential and he always treated me with absolute fairness and honesty. So, to get to work with him on a Legion tale with my favorite character Element Lad, was a real treat.

The story concerned Element Lad’s girlfriend Shvaughn Erin, who actually turns out to be a guy who has had a sex change! The fans went wild! Some of them really hated it! Politically correct gays got up in arms about it. Others were cool. I thought it was audacious and I loved it! However, there are about four pages in it that were drawn by Curt Swan. I became so sick with pnuemonia while working on that book I almost died. I’ll never forget it! I couldn’t even hold a pencil or speak. So, Curt finished the job. In a way, it was good, because I got to collaborate with Curt who was always one of my big heroes. Every year for Christmas and my birthday he would draw me a little picture of Element Lad with hearts and flowers or something. My agent would get him to do them for me. I loved Curt and I miss him terribly.

 

Jamie: What are you doing in the future?

Colleen Doran: Well, I am working on Orbiter as I said before. It is a science fiction tale about the space shuttle. The shuttle went on a mission and disappeared. Ten years later, it returns! Mayhem ensues. As a total space program geek, this is a dream project for me and I went gonzo on it. Frank Miller told me I was outdoing Geoff Darrow! The detail is out of control. I am loving it.

Also, I am doing a new series for DC with Keith Giffen. It is called Epoch of Zodiac or Zodiac for short. I am penciling and Bob Wiacek is inking, which is a blessing because I am very hard to ink and Wiacek is one of about three people who can pull it off. Zodiac is an epic fantasy about the warring houses of the Zodiac. It is very dramatic and political and is, in my humble opinion, Keith Giffen’s best work. People are going to go ape over this book. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever drawn in my life because each house of the Zodiac must have distinct looks, styles of architecture, clothing and props. Nothing can look comic-bookish or costumey. It is a monster task. The goal is to have the styles so distinctive that one look will tell you with which house someone is associated. That’s not at all easy. However, I think I am up to it because I am notoriously detail obsessed. Keith says I am the most fun he has ever had working with an obsessive compulsive!

I am also working on future issues of A Distant Soil. A Distant Soil is the story of a young girl who is born the heir to an alien religious dynasty. She is the center of a conflict between rival factions fighting for control of their world. It is extremely complex and highly character oriented. I adore working on this book. It is nearing the end of the principal story arc and we finally get to see who wins. But good guys are not always good guys in this story and things really don’t go in any one direction, so I am keeping people guessing. No one has correctly
pegged the ending.

I have only told one person what happens: Jeff Smith. I was pulling a marathon session on A Distant Soil one night and he was going berserk on Bone and we both just said “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!” During this eight hour phone call that went until about 5 AM one day, we both told each other everything about our books and where they were going and he had exactly the kind of reaction every author hopes for when he heard what I was up to, so now I am moving toward the end with confidence. If Jeff says it’s good, I’m okay!

I am also working on The Six Swans for Image. It is an adaptation of the old Brother’s Grimm tale of six brothers who were changed by their wicked stepmother into Swans, and the trials their sister must endure to save them. It is a very straightforward telling, but I have added some elements of my own. It will be a combination of illustration and graphic storytelling, much like Stardust, I imagine.

 

Jamie: Do you have any work lined up outside of the comic industry?

Colleen Doran: Actually, until this year, I have been doing a lot of illustration outside of comics, but this year I have so much comics work, I have cut back. however, I have been speaking to a major film studio for a few weeks about doing conceptual work on a feature film. It is up in the air. I am excited about it, but would have to live out of the country for awhile. I do not know if I will take it or not. It all depends.

 

Jamie: You have told a wide variety of interesting stories about your experiences in the comic industry, with crazy fans, bad publishers and other creators. Have you considered doing an autobiography comic?

Colleen Doran: I have thought about it, but actually, I have been working on an autobiographical screenplay with Keith Giffen. A publisher got buzz about the project and has approached us about doing it as a graphic novel first. We haven’t decided. The buzz on the screenplay is incredibly good. People who have read parts of it have laughed their heads off. Some of my experiences were horrific, but we have turned them into comedy gold. It’s the best revenge, really.

 

Jamie: I know in the past you had problems with crazy fans trying to break your hand and stalking you. Do you still have these problems today?

Colleen Doran: Very rarely. When I went pro, I was a very young girl. I was fifteen. I weighed 95 lbs and looked 12. Every creepy old pervert from coast to coast was chafing my trail. I got older, I got wiser and I learned to fight back. It has slowed down considerably.

Actually, Harlan Ellison took care of the stalker. This guy began creeping around when I was a teen. He used to write me letters saying I looked like a “little English schoolgirl”. He was in his thirties, I think, when he started, and here I was, a teenage girl. He would send me resumes and newspaper articles about him with his age scratched out so I wouldn’t know he was a middle aged perv. The guy was a total creep. This went on for a decade. One day I was boo-hooing to Harlan and he just said “Give me his number. I’ll take care of it.” Apparently, he made a phone call to this freak that scared the bejeezus out of him. We didn’t hear from him for two solid years. Then he started back up again and I went right to the police. Stalking laws have come a long way in the last decade and I think he finally got he message that if he didn’t stop his nonsense, he was going to end up in jail.

 

Jamie: Do you think the comic industry has matured since you began working in it?

Colleen Doran: Hell, yes. To be perfectly frank, I would like to blot out all of my early experiences and pretend they never happened. I am so enjoying my life in comics today, it is hard to believe it is the same business. My life now is the way I always dreamed it would be.

Dave Sim Interview

This interview was originally published in July, 2007. With Dave the first thing many people think about is his controversial views. I read his writing in issue #186 and his Tangents series as well. I must admit, when I first thought about interviewing Dave I had envision getting him in room and going after him like a pissed off Mike Wallace on crack over those views.

But then I met him and discovered that in person Dave was extremely nice and courteous. He also had a “spider sense” for when somebody was taking a picture of him and he would turn and smile for the camera, even while he was in conversation with others. At TCAF 2005 I saw Dave squinting at a map looking for his table as he had a signing to go to. It was in another area that I had already been to so I offered to walk him over. Later on that convention was the first Doug Wright Awards, I showed up early as did Dave and he struck up a conversation with me. They had examples of Doug’s work on the walls and we looked at them with Dave describing what was great about Doug’s work. 

At another convention a female friend of mine wanted to get a sketch from Dave but was a apprehensions about meeting him for obvious reasons. I volunteered to get the sketch on her behalf and she stood line with me until we got close to Dave and then she left. She liked Dave’s work but didn’t want to have a bad experience meeting him. When I got to Dave he asked what I wanted and I said Cerebus and Jaka. He said he would only sketch 1 character and I chose Jaka.  Dave did the sketch, looked over to Gerhard who was still working on backgrounds on Dave’s sketches and then did a quick Cerebus sketch too. Both Gerhard and Dave noticed my friend who left the line. Gerhard left his table to have a talk with her and Dave told me later on he almost did this too, but he had a long line of fans wanting sketches.

I don’t think I could go as far as to say Dave and I were friends, but we were friendly to each other. I also didn’t have the heart to go after him regarding his views anymore, even though I disagreed with them. I also had doubts that Dave would allow/agree to that type of interview either as he had his rules. Instead I proposed doing an “introduction” type interview for comic readers who were online, but didn’t read much in the way of comic magazines. I was once one of those type of comic readers. That said, I did learn about his short stay in a psychiatric facility. I had heard other creators reference this but it was good to get the story from him. It was also interesting to get his story about DC’s attempt to buy Cerebus from him, with actual dollar figures and why he turned it down.

I should probably also say that it was once believed that Gene Day died because of how Marvel treated him. I’m friends with one of Gene’s brothers (they live about a half hour from me) and I was told while Marvel’s treatment didn’t help, Gene’s family has a history of heart problems and Gene put his love of work and greasy burgers over his own well being.

After this interview was done, Dave took all the typed questions, attempted to burn them on a CD and then mailed said CD with a sketch on it. Sadly, the burn did not go right, but Dave tried again and got it right the 2nd time. This wasn’t really necessary but Dave wanted to learn how to do it.

Dave Sim Interview

Dave Sim is the creator of Cerebus. He began self publishing the comic book in the late 70’s, promised to do 300 issues of the book and did so. It’s a feat few see anybody else repeating. Along the way he selflessly taught people how to self publish their own comic books, helping many to realize their dream of publishing their creations. A few of those self publishers managed to get rich or get better paying work afterwards. With this interview we talk about Dave’s start with comics, Cerebus, the help and difficulties he encountered along the way, what’s he doing now and a lot more.

Note: This interview was done via fax machine. Dave normally only allows interviews to be 5 questions, but let me ask him 20. So an extra thank you goes out to Dave for allowing the extra questions and for being a great interviewee.

 

Jamie: Assuming you read comics as a boy, which ones did you read regularly?

Dave Sim: I read the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman line of comic books, Superman, Action, World’s Finest, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, later branching out into the rest of the DC line and then Marvel Comics, Warren and then undergrounds by the time I was fifteen or sixteen.

 

Jamie: I take it you were a big fan of Conan during the 70’s?

Dave Sim: No, I wasn’t really a big fan of Conan in the 70s. I had read all of the Robert E. Howard material once and then-reading the lesser L. Sprague DeCamp knock-offs that came later-swiftly lost interest. I really should go back and find the Howard material at some time and re-read it. I would pick up the occasional issue of Conan if I liked what Barry Smith was doing on it-such as the “Frost Giant’s Daughter” issue that reprinted the black & white strip or the two-part “Red Nails” story as it originally appeared in Savage Tales magazine, but early on-with Dan Adkins and Sal Buscema inking-it just looked like a really bad Marvel comic to me. By that time I was starting to draw on my own, so a comic needed to have something more to it in order to get me excited creatively or make me want to swipe the style of the artist. Barry inking himself definitely had that effect on me. Barry inked by others definitely didn’t have that effect on me and most of his work at Marvel was inked by very incompatible talents.

 

Jamie: If you didn’t like Conan, why did you create Cerebus to be a parody of it?

Dave Sim: The decision to do Cerebus was based on my insight that what had made Howard the Duck successful was the “funny animal in the world of humans” motif whereas everyone doing work for Quack! (my intended market) was doing all funny animal strips. Since Howard had modern-day sown up that, to me, left the possibility of a science fiction “funny animal in the world of humans” or a sword ‘n’ sorcery “funny animal in the world of humans”. Science fiction required drawing a lot of straight edges and learning how to use French curves properly, so that left only one possibility. Coincidentally I had the unused mascot for Deni’s fanzine and I did a sample page for Mike Friedrich which turned out to be the splash page of issue 1. The fact that it was successful was a very hard lesson in what happens when you do something because you think it’s commercially viable rather than being what you want to do. I was stuck going through the checklist of sword ‘n’ sorcery clichés and was quickly running out of them.

 

Jamie: Considering Cerebus started off as something you believed would be commercially viable, if you were able to go back and re-do your comic career all over again what would you do differently?

Dave Sim: I’m afraid that one of my core beliefs is to never traffic in the hypothetical which I suspect is one of the reasons that it was possible to finish Cerebus. If you make a choice and then live with the consequences of that choice you are always moving forward. If you make a choice and then spend all of your time trying to assess the different choices you might have made and the possible outcomes of those hypothetical choices, then you just end up spending your life treading water and getting very little done. I conducted my comic-book career the way that I conducted it and it ended up the way that it ended up. I only see what happened, not what might have happened.

 

Jamie: How did you meet Gene Day?

Dave Sim: I met Gene Day in the summer of 1974. We had started corresponding in the fall of 1973 after John Balge and I had interviewed Augustine Funnel for Comic Art News & Reviews. Gus had started writing for Al Hewetson’s Skywald magazines and told us about his roommate, Gene Day, and that we should talk to him about doing some work for CANAR and that I should ask about doing some work for Gene’s Dark Fantasy. I had already arranged a bus trip up to see my aunt and uncle in Ottawa so I decided to make a side trip to Gananoque on the way and stay over for a couple of days. It ended up being the first of many such trips.

 

Jamie: I’ve always heard he was your mentor. What exactly did Gene do for you?

Dave Sim: Gene really showed me that success in a creative field is a matter of hard work and productivity and persistence. I had done a handful of strips and illustrations at that point mostly for various fanzines but I wasn’t very productive. I would do a strip or an illustration and send it off to a potential market and then wait to find out if they were going to use it before doing anything else. Or I’d wait for someone to write to me and ask me to draw something. Gene was producing artwork every day and putting it out in the mail and when it came back he’d send it out to someone else. He would draw work for money and then do work on spec if the paying markets dried up. He kept trying at places where he had been rejected. He did strips, cartoons, caricatures, covers, spot illos, anything that he might get paid for. He gave drawing lessons and produced his own fanzines. It was easy to see the difference, to see why he was a success and I was a failure. It was in the fall of 1975 that I bought a calendar and started filling the squares with whatever it was that I had produced that day and worked to put together months-long streaks where I produced work every day. The net result was that I started to get more paying work and a year later I was able to move out of my parents’ house into my own one-room apartment/studio downtown. I doubt that would ever have happened without Gene’s influence.

 

Jamie: Gene died an early death. Can you tell me about Gene sleeping at Marvel’s office to fulfill a deadline and the health problems that stemmed from that?

Dave Sim: Yes, Gene died at the age of 31 from a heart attack. He had been working for Marvel for several years at that point. He started as an inker which was the thing that he was the fastest at, so he built up a really good reputation as a guy who could turn a late job around in a hurry. He was so fast, the people at Marvel were convinced that he had a whole studio of Gene Day clones working night and day, but it was just him. When I’d go and visit him, he’d have piles of 11×17 photocopies of the jobs he had done-he traded his weekly Cap’n Riverrat cartoon to the local weekly newspaper, The Gananoque Reporter for free photocopying.

When Mike Zeck left Master of Kung Fu to work on Captain America, Marvel was left without a penciller for the title and the editor persuaded Gene to step in which instantly cut his revenue by a substantial amount-he was a much slower penciller than he was an inker. He also ran afoul of then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter’s strict rules about storytelling-that you needed to do the basic six panels to a page method with occasional lapses if you had a good reason for it. Gene, of course was a major fan of Jim Steranko-style storytelling which was exactly what Jim Shooter was opposed to and they locked horns over the subject many times with Gene doing continuous backgrounds in his panel-to-panel continuity (one large background on the page with the action taking place in individual panels set against the one background). Shooter would tell him not to do it and Gene would do it, finally doing I think a five-page sequence that was all one background. At the same time he was doing outside assignments at Marvel including a story for one of the black-and-white magazines (I think it was) which Gene was supposed to pencil and ink.

The deadline got moved up or something and they told Gene on the phone that they were going to have the story “gang inked” over a few days. This was something that Marvel did pretty regularly in the 70s to keep books on schedule. They’d get five or six guys to sit in the bullpen and ink a job to get it done faster. As you would expect, the results were usually horrible. One of P. Craig Russell’s first jobs for Marvel was part of a gang-inking on an issue of Barry’s Conan. For the longest time, my impression of the story was that they had phoned Gene and wanted him to come down and ink the job and that Gene had done so out of loyalty to Marvel even taking the train to Manhattan because he was afraid to fly. It was years later that his brother Dan mentioned to me that what Gene was concerned about was doing as much of the inking himself as he could to keep the job from being a total abomination. The more I think about that, the more it explains what happened. Gene showed up at Marvel and they gave him the address of the hotel he would be staying at. He went there and the place was covered in cockroaches so Gene went back to Marvel and asked to be put up in a better hotel. Nothing fancy, just a place without cockroaches. That was when Tom DeFalco gave him the choice of the roach-infested hotel or sleeping on the couch in Marvel’s reception area. Gene chose the latter, not realizing that they turned the heat off in the building overnight (this was in the dead of winter). So he slept there with his coat pulled over him and developed as a result a kidney infection which stuck with him the rest of his life.

In retrospect, I think the problem Marvel had was that they had no policy for the situation. They had found their solution, they were going to get the job gang-inked. When Gene insisted on coming down to work on it, it just didn’t make sense to them editorially to pay for a hotel room for him given what that was going to add to their costs on the story. For Gene, it was an obvious plus-by coming down and working on the story it would be that much better looking than it would be being inked by whoever happened to be around at the time. But, how the job looked wasn’t as big a priority for Marvel as having the job done. What to Gene looked like a sensible improvement solution looked to Marvel like a needless expense and intrusion by a troublemaker. The same could be said of Gene locking horns with Jim Shooter. To Gene, he was trying to make the book better and more interesting. To Shooter he was making it unreadable and therefore uncommercial.

On Gene’s side of the argument, sales were up on Master of Kung Fu-it had always been a marginal title since Paul Gulacy had left, on the verge of cancellation and now it was turning into a fan favourite again. On Jim Shooter’s side of the argument, good nuts-and-bolts six-panels-to-the-page storytelling always sold better in the long run for Marvel. John Buscema’s Conan outsold Barry Smith’s by a wide margin, as an example. Eventually Shooter fired Gene and I think that, as much as anything, killed Gene Day. His heart and soul were at Marvel Comics. His lifelong dream was to work in the House that Jack Built. Of course, what he failed to see was that working in the House that Jack Built even became an untenable prospect for Jack. And, of course, interviewing as many professionals as I had in my fanzine days, I had a much clearer idea of what Marvel and DC were actually like and just how ruthless the editors could be when the situation seemed to call for ruthlessness (which, as they saw it, it usually did). I knew that in a lot of ways the worst thing you could bring to the table as a freelancer was unwavering company loyalty. For many of the editors at the time, that was just inviting them to rip your heart out. Which, to me, is exactly what Gene did. And exactly what Marvel did.

Dave Sim – 2007 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con

Jamie: Prior to Cerebus you did work for other comics. What happened that made you want to self publish instead?

Dave Sim: That was a combination of things. Everyone that I did work for I was either a minor guy on their roster and so didn’t get the attention that I thought I needed or I was a major guy on their roster only because they were too small to get anywhere. They’d announce that the new issue would be out in July and then write you in August saying they hope to get it out by November. There was a sense of time slipping away while I waiting for everyone to get to the project that I was in. Gene was more interested in getting Dark Fantasy out than Hellhound, his proposed comics title. And then he acquired the rights to do an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Pigeons from Hell and I knew that was going to push Hellhound even further back. I had printed samples in Quack and Oktoberfest Comics and Phantacea No.1 which I had drawn from someone else’s script, colour covers with black & white interiors and what I figured I needed was a few more samples like that where it was all or mostly my work inside the book. So that was why I decided to do three issues of Cerebus, do it bi-monthly and make sure it came out on time, keep the price the same, keep the format the same, keep the logo the same, have a letters page, keep it to twenty-two pages-basically do all the things right that I thought the other guys were doing wrong and if I fell on my face, well fine, I’d fall on my face and I’d stop complaining about what a lousy job everyone else was doing and just go back to doing it their way. But, at least I’d have three issues of my own comic book to put with Oktoberfest Comics and Phantacea so that editors could see what I was capable of. And as it turned out I was right. To this day, I try to emphasize how important it is to come out on time and everyone just ignores me. They want to know the secret to self-publishing but they don’t want that secret. That secret just sounds like a lot of hard work. Which it is.

 

Jamie: I understand you worked for Harry Kremer at Now and Again Books, in what years did you do that?

Dave Sim: I worked for Harry beginning December 1st of 1976 when he opened up the downstairs at 103 Queen St. S. which is across the street from where Now & Then Book is now. The hours were 10 am to 9 pm Thursday and Friday and 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and for that I got a grand total of $75 a month. It was all Harry could afford. And I rented my one-room apartment at 379 Queen St. S. for $120 a month which meant that I had to make $45 a month from drawing and writing just to keep a roof over my head. I had about $1,000 in the bank from selling Harry my comic-book collection to help buy some time, but it was definitely sink or swim. As it turns out it was sink, swim or move in with your girlfriend which Deni and I did in April of 1977 so I only had to come up with half of the rent which I think still worked out to about $120 a month.

 

Jamie: How did Harry help with Cerebus?

Dave Sim: Harry helped in a lot of ways with Cerebus. For starters, he was running the comic-book store that I was living in (it was really my first home, my parents house was just where I slept and stored my comic books) when the direct market started and he was stocking new comic books as well as back issues, new comic books which included ground level titles like Star*Reach which showed me that there was room on the shelves next to Marvel and DC. Then he agreed to publish Oktoberfest Comics in 1976. Through that experience, I found out roughly what it cost to do a black-and-white comic on newsprint with a colour cover and realized that it was a lot more affordable with the new high-speed web offset presses than I had suspected which started me thinking about doing one of my own. And before the first issue was published, he agreed to take 500 copies which, when you consider that our two distributors-Jim Friel of Big Rapids Distribution and Phil Seuling of Sea Gate Distributors-were taking 500 and 1,000 copies respectively tells you what a great vote of confidence and commitment that was from a single comic book store. And then he would also buy artwork from time to time. He bought the complete issue 4 for $220, $10 a page. It may not sound like much, but it definitely paid for a lot of Kraft Dinners which Deni and I pretty much lived on for months at a time. We had our ups and downs over the years-he got seriously offended when I started charging $100 a page U.S. He liked my artwork but he really didn’t think it belonged in that price range. But there’s no question that Cerebus couldn’t have made it through the first few years without his help and, particularly, without the existence of Now & Then Books. Today (6 June 05) would have been his fifty-ninth birthday if he had lived.

 

Jamie: Is it true that Cerebus was supposed to be titled Cerberus? If so, how did it change?

Dave Sim: What happened was that Deni-before I knew her-had decided to put out a fanzine modeled on Gene Day’s Dark Fantasy. When I met her, in December of 1976, that was what she had come into the store to find out-would Harry be willing to carry copies of her fanzine if she published it? I volunteered to help and wrote down my name which she recognized from the work I had had published in Dark Fantasy. The name she had come up with for her fanzine was Cerebus. So I did a logo for her, the one that was on the first forty-nine issues and told her she really should have a name for her publishing company in the same way that Dark Fantasy was published by Gene Day’s House of Shadows. Her sister came up with Aardvark Press and her brother came up with Vanaheim Press, so I put them together and made it Aardvark-Vanaheim Press. And then I drew a cartoon aardvark with a sword as a mascot. At that point someone realized that the name of the magazine was misspelled. What she had intended to call the magazine was Cerberus, the name of the three-headed dog in Greek mythology who guarded Hades. So I suggested that we just say that Cerebus was the name of the cartoon mascot. The printer in California ran off with the originals and the money for the first issue, so the fanzine never did come out. And that was when I started thinking about my own “funny animal in the world of humans” for Quack! so I decided to draw a sample page of Cerebus the cartoon mascot in my best Barry Windsor-Smith style (see question 6 above).

 

Jamie: Somebody made counterfeit copies of Cerebus #1. Can you tell us the difference between the two so the online buyers won’t be fooled?

Dave Sim: The easiest way to distinguish the real Cerebus No.1 from the counterfeit is that the inside covers are glossy black on the counterfeit and a flat black on the real ones. The next easiest way is that if you look at the areas of solid black on pages 9, 10 and 11, they look “dusty”. That’s because the counterfeit was shot from a printed copy where there was already a slightly speckled quality because it was printed on cheap newsprint, so when that slightly speckled quality was photographed, the-now doubled-slightly speckled quality ended up looking like a fine layer of dust over the entire page because there is so much solid black on those three pages.

 

Jamie: Did you ever discover who made the counterfeits?

Dave Sim: I have my suspicions as to who did the counterfeit but, no, the FBI never managed to catch the guys who were selling them-the “mules” folded their operation as soon as word started to spread-and therefore there was no route to anyone who was behind the scam. I certainly wasn’t about to accuse anyone publicly without evidence to support it but, yes, I’m pretty sure I knew who did it.

 

Jamie: I hear that after issue #11 you over-worked yourself into a nervous breakdown. What were you doing at the time?

Dave Sim: Twenty-six years later on, I think it would be more accurate to say that I had achieved a false level of transcendence that I had been looking to achieve through LSD-the psychic equivalent of a massive and pleasurable electric shock-that left me incapable of reassuring my wife (within her own very limited frames of reference) that I was okay: with the result that she freaked out at one point and called my mother and she and my mother locked me up in a psych ward at the local hospital for a couple of days.

 

Jamie: How did you recover from a nervous breakdown and continue on?

Dave Sim: There really wasn’t anything to “recover” from. I had gone through the false transcendent state and come out the other side. The only thing I really needed to recover from was the massive doses of depressants they had given me in the psych ward. That took two or three days during which all of my muscles and motor functions were seriously malfunctioning-it felt as if I had pulled every muscle in my body so that just speaking and walking required Herculean forces of will in order to achieve. Essentially, at that point-never again wanting to experience that severe crippling effect-I began to live two different lives simultaneously. I learned how to portray myself as a normal person in order to keep my wife and parents from locking me up in any more psych wards while at the same time I began to explore all of the thoughts and experiences that I had had over the period of the false transcendent state and began to work towards putting them all down on paper in the Cerebus storyline. When I realized, a month or two later, how large and difficult a task that was going to be, I decided to make Cerebus into a 300-issue project in order to encompass it all and leave room for my own best assessment of the aftermath. The documentation of the state itself went from about issue 20 to about issue 186. I was able to stop leading my double life once I was divorced in 1983 and I no longer had the on-going threat hanging over my head that my freedom depended on my wife and mother believing me to be sane.

 

Jamie: How did you meet Gerhard?

Dave Sim: I had heard a great deal about Gerhard because he was the “golden boy” of his high school clique, one of whose members was Deni’s high-school aged sister, Karen. He was the chief set designer and star of a high-school production “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and also an illustrator and the high-school clique was his major support group. They collectively believed in him and his prodigious abilities to the same extent to which he didn’t believe in himself: which is to say thoroughly and completely. At one point the high-school clique was having a Halloween party and Karen, Deni’s sister, and Bob her boyfriend and later husband came by the apartment to smoke a joint with Gerhard and his (then) girlfriend Laurel. So far as we know that was how I met Gerhard. It would’ve been Halloween of 1981 or 1982.

 

Jamie: I’m surprised more artists don’t try and pair up with somebody to help out with backgrounds. Why do you think you and Gerhard have worked so well together for the past 20 years?

Dave Sim: I’m surprised, as well, that more artists don’t pair up with background artists. The history of the comic-book field is filled with things that worked really well that no one else ever attempted. Look at Will Eisner’s The Spirit-what a great idea to do a comic-book supplement for newspapers and yet no one ever tried it again. It’s certainly something that I would recommend. I suspect fine arts courses and architectural schools are filled with guys who just have a love of drawing still-life’s, which is all that backgrounds are. Of course Gerhard grew to hate pen-and-ink drawing which had been one of his abiding passions when he had to do the volume of drawing required, so you won’t be seeing him recommending it as a career choice anytime soon. But, yes, I do think that guys who love writing and lettering and drawing people should look around for guys who like to draw inanimate objects. Mutual tolerance would, I think, best describe how the collaboration worked and how it continues to work. If I really needed something to go in the background, I’d be specific with Gerhard but if not, I let him do whatever he thought would look best. I always got my own best results by doing what I thought was best and always got second-rate results when someone was telling me what to do, so it just seemed natural to me to treat Gerhard the same way. If you want the best results let the guy call his own shots.

 

Jamie: I recently read that DC made an offer to buy Cerebus from you at one point. When did that happen and how much did they offer?

Dave Sim: Those negotiations took place over the course of 1985 to 1988, I think it was. Ultimately they offered $100,000 and 10% of all licensing and merchandising and that I would be allowed to keep doing the monthly black-and-white and Swords of Cerebus on my own. In the middle of the negotiations I came up with the idea of the High Society trade paperback and selling it direct to the readers which brought in $150,000 in the space of a few weeks and made their offer look kind of puny by comparison. What I wanted to develop was a Superman contract-a contract that would have been fair to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster-where DC could pick the revenue thresholds, but at some point we would split all revenues 50-50 just as is done with syndicated comic strips. No go. They made a final offer to give me the whole $100,000 all at once or half now and half later on which, to me, completely missed the point. You start with a dollar amount and negotiate upward, you don’t say “You can put it all in your right front pocket or you can put half in your right front pocket and half in your back pocket.” When I realized that Paul Levitz wasn’t going to budge, I packed it in.

 

Jamie: Now that Cerebus is done are you more open to selling it?

Dave Sim: No, not really. The difficult part is done now-actually writing and drawing the 6,000 pages so it’s more like it’s nice that the book still keeps us busy, me with answering the mail and Ger doing the business side and renovating the house and both of us working on Following Cerebus and developing a website for selling the artwork and putting together a First Half package of the first six volumes in a boxed set for Christmas, 2006. If we sold it we’d just have a pile of money and nothing to do. I really like being one of the two Cerebus custodians. Part of the fun of sculpting a statue over twenty-six years is spending the rest of your life washing the pigeon droppings off of it every day.

 

[Note: Following Cerebus is a magazine that Dave and Gerhard work on. You can find more info about it here: http://spectrummagazines.bizland.com/]

 

Jamie: I understand that since Cerebus ended, you are now organizing your archives and this will likely take another few years. What do you plan to do with your archives when you are done?

Dave Sim: Actually I have a lot of help from the Cerebus Newsgroup readers at Yahoo.com who are working out all the computer technicalities and Margaret Liss of the www.cerebusfangirl.com website who has started scanning in all of my notebooks. After that it will be all of my comics material starting with my first fanzine in 1970 through until the present day, all of the paperwork and correspondence, interviews, reviews, etc. in chronological order. As she scans that, she’ll be “key-wording” each document so that it can be indexed for content and you’ll be able to type in, say, “Kevin Eastman” and it will call up every document that mentions him. The idea is to arrive at a point where that becomes the primary research resource for Cerebus. Someone wanting to do an interview like this, I can just go through and check off the questions that they can find answers to in the Cerebus Archive so that I don’t have to keep answering the same questions over and over and over. Basically the same thing that I did with the Guide to Self-Publishing where I went out and promoted self-publishing through the Spirits of Independence stops for a couple of years and then wrote down everything I had been telling people and now I can just give them a copy of the Guide to Self-Publishing if they come to me for advice. I almost never get asked about self-publishing anymore for that reason.

 

Jerry Robinson Interview

 

Jerry Robinson – 2008 San Diego Comic Con

Almost all of my early interviews was done by e-mail. This interview was my first face to face with somebody. I really wanted to interview Jerry Robinson because he was a part of golden age comic book history. It took place at Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon. April 29th, 2005 and was originally published on June 2005. I had met Jerry at the convention, asked him for an interview and he agreed but after his signing was done.

I waited (about a half hour) and we went into a quiet room to do the interview. What I wanted to do in particular was ask about his history and find out first hand some things I had read about Siegel and Shuster that I wasn’t quite sure was true or not. I has also recently read Gerard Jones Men of Tomorrow and was really exciting about all of the new info it had revealed. Jerry was able to fill in some holes for me, making me very happy.

Jerry Robinson created both The Joker and Robin the Boy Wonder. He spent 20 years drawing comics before becoming a political cartoonist. He was also instrumental in getting a settlement from DC Comics in the 1970’s for the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Part of his story and this interview surrounds his role as it is described in the recent critically acclaimed book Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones.

 

Jamie: What Year were you born?

Jerry Robinson: 1922.

 

Jamie: 1922.

Jerry Robinson: A long time ago. Before you were ever even thought of (laughter).

 

Jamie: My Dad was born in 1940.

Jerry Robinson: Oh boy, my you’re a youngster.

 

[Note: I’m 30 years old, but Jerry Robinson has full rights to call me a youngster.]

 

Jamie: What did you do prior to assisting Bob Kane on Batman?

Jerry Robinson: Well, nothing professionally. I started right in on Batman. I came to New York at 17 and was going to college. I started with Bob in that same year in 1939. I just did it to earn my way through college. Little did I know I’d still be talking about it 60 some years later (laughter).

 

Jamie: Did you say you met Bob through college?

Jerry Robinson: No, no. I met Bob through a strange circumstance. I had sold ice cream after I had graduated high school, in the summer before going to college, to earn enough for the first year, or semester. I was very light, only 98 pounds. On the track team as a matter of fact, very slight, almost as slight as yourself. So peddling Ice Cream on the bicycle all summer on the cart I dropped to probably no more than 78 pounds. Then my mother insisted I take $25 dollars, that’s all it took, to go up to the mountains to the resort and she said, “fatten up.” She was afraid I wouldn’t survive the first semester in college (laughter).

Just by sheer chance, I went out to a tennis court one day and I was wearing a white painters jacket and at the time you decorated them. So I had cartoons all over mine. I had drawn for my high school paper but that was my only involvement in cartooning. So I was wearing that painters jacket as a tennis jacket and I was trying to find a partner at the tennis court. Tennis was a family sport, my brothers were champion players. So I was standing there looking for a partner and felt a tap on my shoulder and heard “Who did those drawings?” I thought I was going to be arrested or something (laughter).

I turned around and said “I did.” “Well, those are pretty good. I just started a new feature called Batman and the 1st issue is on the stands. If you come with me I’ll show you.” We went down to the village and bought a copy. I was 17, he was about 24. He said, “If you come to New York, you’ve got a job. I need somebody to help me on Batman.”

I was going to go to Syracuse College, but I had also luckily applied to Columbia. I quickly called Columbia to see if my application was still good, which it was, then I called Syracuse and told them I was not coming. I called my parents and told them I’m not coming home, I’m going right to New York as I had a job. I went to Columbia and began moonlighting on Batman.

 

Jamie:  So it was Bob Kane you met at the resort?

Jerry Robinson: Yes, he was the one that tapped my on the shoulder. Then I met Bill Finger.

 

Jamie: Yes, I was about to ask about him as well. What was he like and how did you meet him?

Jerry Robinson: Well, I met him through Bob as he wrote the scripts. He and Bob really co-created Batman.

 

Jamie: Yes.

Jerry Robinson: Unfortunately, only Bob’s name is on it. I started an award for Finger, similar to the Shuster Awards here that will be given at San Diego this year. It’s The Bill Finger Award and this will be the first year.

 

Jamie: Excellent.

Jerry Robinson: Bill never got credit. He died broke. It’s a tragedy.

 

Jamie: Yeah, that’s what I heard. Do you have any photos of him by any chance?

Jerry Robinson: I don’t, we didn’t take pictures at the time. There are some that exist and have been published.

 

Jamie: I’ve seen one, but that’s it.

Jerry Robinson: I’ve only seen two or three at the most, different shots. One he’s playing Golf, one is a head shot.

 

Jamie: Yeah, I’ve seen one where it looks like he has a painters cap on and he’s looking sideways.

Jerry Robinson: Yeah. He was a great guy and was really a mentor of mine. He was 24 or 25 when I was 17. I was coming from a little town to New York for the first time in my life. I was going to University and going to my room at night and drawing all night. He took me around New York, showed me museums, foreign films, plays. He was very well read and a well rounded guy. He was my first cultural mentor.

 

Jamie: What was Bob Kane like?

Jerry Robinson: Well Bob was.. he had a great flair in his drawings. He was a comic artist before starting Batman, so it was a very difficult transition for him to go through, from comic art to doing more realism. So he struggled with the art. I think it’s easier to go the other way around. I started out doing illustration and later I did a humor strip that went for 17 years through syndication. That was an easy transition, being able to draw realistically to drawing humor. Not so easy the other way around.

 

Jamie: How long did you work on Batman?

Jerry Robinson: I think from 1939 to 1947.

 

Jamie: Wow. Why did you stop?

Jerry Robinson: Well, I wanted to do something more. Something under my own name. I wanted to do more creative writing and do different things. I never liked to continue to do something for too long. I like new challenges. I went on to do a lot of different comic strips. I partnered with Mort Meskin, we did strips for DC and other publishers. We did Johnny Quick, Vigilante, The Black Terror, Fighting Yank. Then I worked with Stan Lee for 10 years. I did a lot of stuff during the 50’s, crime, science fiction, war, which I enjoyed as each book was a different challenge.

 

Jamie: Yeah, they published everything.

Jerry Robinson: Yes. I really wanted to be a political cartoonist, so around 1961 I quit to do political cartoons. I did them for 33 years and I wrote and drew my own feature. That was 6 days a week and it was syndicated throughout the US and abroad. In between I was a book illustrator, did books and advertising. I curated a lot of shows (at museums). I traveled around the world, went to about 43 different countries. Did a lot of exhibitions and was a part of international juries. So it’s been a very interesting and satisfying career.

 

Jamie: I imagine so. I know for part of that career you went to the National Cartoonists Society. I understand you became the President at one point?

Jerry Robinson: Yes I served as President of the National Cartoonists Society and later on became an editorial cartoonist and served as President of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. A lot of Canadians belong to that.

 

Jamie: Yes, we have a strong group of political cartoonists.

Jerry Robinson: Very strong, yes. I have an International Newspaper Syndicate (called Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate) that started in 1979 and we represent the leading cartoonists in some 75 countries now. Including many Canadians I just visited, like Brian Gable, Bado (Guy Badeaux), all top, top cartoonists, world class. Dave Anderson of the National Post, Patrick Corrigan of the Star, Andy Donato of the Sun, all great cartoonists and others too. Roy Peterson in Vancouver, Dale Cummings from Winnipeg. For a country of this population it has an extraordinary number of great cartoonists. I’m very, very pleased to have them in my syndicate.

 

Jamie: Now the National Cartoonists Society, what is that, is it a bargaining agent or a social society?

Jerry Robinson: No. We did have committees and took up professional issues, but it wasn’t an union. It was a professional society for professionals, we discussed professional problems. We exchanged ideas and met socially as well. It was started during world war one, when a number of cartoonists started going around entertaining at hospitals for wounded soldiers. They one of them said “Gee, we ought to form a more organized group.”

There was about 6 or 8 of them to begin with and it grew to 3500 today. There was Milton Caniff and Rube Goldberg and other popular people, mostly strip cartoonists it started with, then other genres joined then, later editorial cartoonists as well. The editorial cartoonists had their own problems and later on they formed their own organization, The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. A lot of them belong to both. The NCS is like the parent organization. The Magazine association which I mentioned earlier also formed their own group to discuss their own problems. But NCS is still like a parent and it’s still running.

 

Jamie: Did you ever do any comic strips?

Jerry Robinson: I did one that went for several years. Called Jet Scott, it was a science adventure. I also helped friends on various ones; none that were my creations.

 

Jamie: Ghosted?

Jerry Robinson: Yes, just for periods of time when they needed me. On Jet Scott I did daily and Sundays.

 

Jamie: I was wondering if you read the book Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones?

Jerry Robinson: Oh, sure have!

 

Jamie: Your name appears in there quite a bit towards the end.

Jerry Robinson: Gerard interviewed me quite a bit for the book. It was a remarkable book. He did great deal of research.

 

Jamie: Oh yeah.

Jerry Robinson: There were things there that I didn’t know myself (laughter). I would recommend the book. Also Kavalier and Clay.

 

Jamie: Yeah, it’s fictionalized —

Jerry Robinson: Yes fictionalized —

 

Jamie: But a lot of it rings true.

Jerry Robinson: I met Michael Chabon in San Diego last year. I had the honor of getting elected to the Hall of Fame at the Eisner Awards. Along with Jules Feiffer and Al Capp.

 

Jamie: Yes I know of them.

Jerry Robinson: Michael had gave the keynote address, he’s a very charming man and really bright.

 

Jamie: How familiar are you with Siegel’s and Shuster’s past, I have some questions but I don’t know if you would know about them.

Jerry Robinson: I know some of it.

 

Jamie: Okay, there is a story about either Siegel or Shuster was a mailman and they had to deliver something to DC’s offices and that demoralized the staff at DC and somebody gave them a tip or and told them not to come back?

Jerry Robinson: No that is a mix of two different stories. Siegel did become a mailman, he had a writers block from the trauma of losing Superman. He would walk by a newsstand and see Superman all over the place, there, in movies, etc.. and he would literally get sick to his stomach. He couldn’t write anymore but he had to support his wife and child. There was a government agency he worked at, sorting mail, he wasn’t a mailman on the street. It was a very simple, non creative job. It’s what he had been reduced to.

And Joe, he was certifiably blind, he had bad eyesight even when I first knew him. So he couldn’t draw. He was supported by his brother but he got a job as a messenger. He delivered packages like mail and one time, he did by chance have to deliver something to DC Comics . . . Joe told me that story himself.

 

Jamie: Okay, so it was Joe then. That’s something I wanted to clear up as I heard two different stories about that. In the 50’s Siegel went back to work for DC and in the 60’s he stopped. I heard he tried to copyright Superpersons or something like that. Do you know anything about that?

Jerry Robinson: Well I know it was a long drawn out legal battle over the years. He (Siegel) had really created a Frankenstein (DC) and they could afford to hire the top lawyers and draw out the negotiations for years and he couldn’t afford to do it. From time to time they sued them and it just dragged on with more lawyers. It was a sad time for them.

 

Jamie: Do you know exactly why he left DC in the 60s?

Jerry Robinson: In the 60’s, no I don’t know.

 

Jamie: Okay.

Jerry Robinson: I know originally they were cut off once they had started the suit. They were fired and they had no income. I know they had a rapprochement for a period of time but it was nothing substantial.

 

Jamie: And there was another court battle in the 70s. It either went to a district court or to the Supreme Court…?

Jerry Robinson: Well, it went through a number of courts but not to the Supreme Court. It never got to that level. It was always lost in lower courts.

 

Jamie: Okay.

Jerry Robinson: I think if they brought suit under the proper clause, which is very involved technically, but conceivably they might have won in the Supreme Court. But they didn’t have the wares at the time. Jerry had already had a heart attack. In fact, the night before we had settled it Jerry had ordered me to settle it. I couldn’t tell the other side because then we’d lose our leverage, but he was afraid he wouldn’t survive the negotiations. He wanted to leave his wife and child with some security.

 

Jamie: Okay do you know what state it the case was filed in . . . was it New York?

Jerry Robinson: Yes, they were all filed in New York State. I can’t tell you what level it stopped at, but they never won, either because of technicalities or it wasn’t written up properly or they didn’t have good representation. The initial error was at the very beginning when they sold it but it wasn’t filed properly, the details would be too long, but they might have won on other grounds. But it never went to the Supreme Court. I don’t think a jury ever got to hear it. So it was drawn out, you are talking about billions of dollars when it comes to Superman.

 

Jamie: During the court case, I believe Carmine Infantino was the publisher of DC Comics at the time.

Jerry Robinson: Yes.

 

Jamie: Where was he in all this?

Jerry Robinson: As far as I know he was never involved. We never dealt with him. They were owned by Time Warner and we negotiated with Time Warner, their vice president and their lawyers.

 

Jamie: In the 70s, Jerry wrote out a 10 page letter and apparently sent it out to everybody and it helped get the media on his side initially.

Jerry Robinson: He did do that, but he didn’t get much headway. The media discarded him. It was only after he got on the Tom Snyder show and that was national, and got some of us professionals involved to help him with it did it start to go somewhere. That gave us the leverage we needed to negotiate with Time Warner. Also the movie was coming out at that time and that gave us leverage as well.

 

Jamie: About that letter, do you know if Jerry wrote that during the court case or after it? Men of Tomorrow is a bit murky with that.

Jerry Robinson: Well, it was probably written in between court cases. Siegel was frustrated as there was no settlement and he didn’t get anything. It was out of desperation he wrote that. He tried a lot of things. As you can imagine he was very frustrated and depressed. I mean Superman is one of the greatest properties in the 20th Century. He was stripped of everything and couldn’t make money for his family. And they (Siegel and Shuster) were both terrific people. I knew them both well. I even double dated with Shuster (laughter).

 

Jamie: There are two stories about Jerry Siegel appearing on TV, and I don’t know which one is true. There is one, it wasn’t mentioned this way in Men of Tomorrow, where he was in a talk show audience and he stood up and told everybody that he was the creator of Superman and he had to make a living bagging groceries. Apparently you saw this, was that on the Tom Snyder show?

Jerry Robinson: I remembered that it was the Tom Snyder Show yes. I saw it yes, I was working late for a deadline and I heard the name Siegel and Superman and I looked up and that was the first time I was aware of the their plight. I had thought they had made a settlement in the previous years. I was very upset in hearing that and immediately called Jerry in California and begun to work on restoring their rights. Neal Adams had also called them and we teamed up. I got the National Cartoonist Society, I wrote up.. what you would call a declaration of support. The Society had brought Siegel and Shuster in and I had went over to the Society of Magazine Cartoonists, they are an organization filled with mostly New Yorker and humor type cartoonists and they gave me the floor. It so happened it was all on the same day so I raced over, addressed them on their plight and they passed the same resolution unanimously. I went to other organizations, the screen writers and called all the names I knew like celebrities like Jules Feiffer and others there was this one science fiction writer . . .

 

Jamie: Harlan Ellison?

Jerry Robinson: No, I know Harlan and he would have, but I didn’t know him at the time.

 

Jamie: I believe the names are in Men of Tomorrow.

Jerry Robinson: Maybe, I don’t think they got all of them, actually. But what happened after the signing and we had a celebration at my apartment and Siegel and Shuster were over and I met Eli Wallach and his wife on the way there. Not that they did anything, when they heard about it they asked “what can we do?” and I told them we just got done the signing and that’s how they ended up being there. So there was Jules Feiffer and everybody was there. We had promised to give the scoop of the signing to Walter Cronkite for his program, he was the top newscaster. So we all gathered in front of the TV at that time. We had broke out the bottle of champagne waiting for him to announce it. At the very end of the show they had a sign and an animated Superman in the background flying across the screen and he said “At last, truth, justice and the American way has won.” We all toasted and everybody was crying and it was a very moving moment.

 

Jamie: That happened right after the settlement?

Jerry Robinson: Yes.

 

Jamie: I know you said you had everybody sign a declaration, but was there anything legal involved or like a boycott because I understand Neal was talking about doing boycotts. Was it anything like that or just a show of support?

Jerry Robinson: It was a show of support, we really didn’t have to go to that measure. What I personally did was use my persuasion on the Vice President of Time Warner, I called the night before the settlement in order to restore their names. Time Warner depends on talent of all kinds, it’s a multi media company, it does movies and everything. I said look, you are going to get a lot of bad press. Be aware of what you are doing if we can’t come to a reasonable solution. Restore their names, their dignity depends on it. So they finally agreed on it, but that was the night before the settlement. They were afraid that restoring their names would give them a claim in the future.. not that they don’t deserve it. They got a settlement but not what they deserve, they really should have been multi millionaires.

 

Jamie: Yes . . .

Jerry Robinson: But they had security for the rest of their lives, at the time they were both really destitute.

 

Jamie: What do you think about the future of comics with graphic novels?

Jerry Robinson: Well, the future is unknown, but I think it has a tremendous future. The comics are in the hands of creative people and it’s a very versatile media. The parameters keep expanding. Who would have foreseen the work being done today with graphic novels, in different mediums at different levels, computerized works of art? But in my analysis the creativity and the art is surviving. The form might change though, technology always dictates what is going to happen. It happened with newspaper strips and comic books, it depends on a confluence of events. I wrote about this in my book, it would take too long to go into detail, but that’s the bottom line. It took a number of events and people at the right time and the right place for it to happen.

 

Jamie: Thank you very much for the interview Jerry.

 


Sadly, Jerry Robinson passed away late in 2011. I still see him, his wife Gro and occasionally his son Jens at conventions, often right before the Will Eisner Awards.

I also interviewed Neal Adams about his role with Jerry and Joe Shuster’s mid 1970s settlement. That I will publish later this week. I should say that writer Brad Ricca has a fantastic book called Superboys that goes into great detail about Jerry and Joe’s fight for their rights. I highly recommend his book as it was a story that really needed to be told.

I should note that Marc Tyler Nobleman has a picture book called Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman that revealed a lot of new information of Bill Finger. Among which that bill has a granddaughter and great grandson who are now receiving royalties for Bill’s work. Today Bill Finger is recognized as co-creator of Batman. Jerry would be very, very happy with that. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention’s Marc’s Boys of Steel picture book that also added some new information regarding the creators of Superman.

Richard Kyle Interview

Mike Royer, Richard Kyle and Erik Larsen. From San Diego Comic Con 2011, Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

From about 1998 to 2012 I did interviews off and on for CollectorTimes.com under the column name Coville’s Clubhouse. The website stopped updating in 2014 and has since gone off line. I’ll be reposting my interviews here one at a time in no particular order and in some cases be talking a bit about the interview. This one is was published online in the July 2012 edition of Collector Times.

This interview with Richard Kyle was the last one I done. I was “retired” from doing interviews but this was an opportunity that I could not resist. I had learned from Bob Beerbohm that the first person to use/create the term “Graphic Novel” was Richard Kyle. In 2011 San Diego Comic Con was celebrating 50 Years of Comic Fandom and brought in a number of people involved with the earliest comic fanzines and Richard Kyle was one of them.

After a panel he was on, I asked him about doing an interview some time after the con was over. He agreed and we exchanged phone numbers. I called him, we did the interview, I transcribed it and mailed it to him for review. Then I broke my right foot. Richard mailed back an altered transcription which I read, I knew would want to make changes to but didn’t do anything about it for a while. My office was upstairs and I was living downstairs on a lazy boy chair as my foot needed to be elevated at all times otherwise it would swell.

After my foot healed somewhat and with some prodding from Richard, I got back to the interview and we worked out an mutually agreed upon transcription of the interview. I also got Richard to give me permission to post the original column, giving his definition of the Graphic Novel. He also had another column that he wanted posted as well about his theory on comics, which I happily did.

Some of the interview goes into more detail about what he meant by Graphic Novel. Around this time there was much discussion online about what a Graphic Novel was by people in the industry. Some would say it had to be an original story, not a collection of previously printed comics and that Maus & Watchmen weren’t really Graphic Novels. I heard Will Eisner on a panel insist it wasn’t about “two mutants smashing each other” not long before he passed away. Others felt it had to be a complete story that ended and books like The Walking Dead series didn’t fit the definition. One creator believed it was the story that mattered and not the format. Some creators still have animosity towards the term and only have it on their books begrudgingly, in part due to what could be incorrect assumptions of what the term is supposed to represent.

I thought the best thing to do was to go to the source, Richard Kyle and get his take on what he meant when he created the term Graphic Novel. The interview covers more than just his definition of the term Graphic Novel, but I’ll let you read about the other things Richard has done within comics in the interview itself.

Richard Kyle came up with the term “graphic novel” in a 1964 article titled “The Future of Comics.” He was a contributor to early comic fanzines and often argued that the comics industry should publish more sophisticated stories for an older audience. He was also a comics retailer and in 1976 co-published the first book identified as a “graphic novel,” Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger. I met Richard at the San Diego Comic Con 2011 and he agreed to be interviewed about his thoughts on the graphic novel.

 

Jamie: I guess we’ll get started with your background. Where abouts were you born?

Richard Kyle: Oakland, California in 1929. A couple of months later the stock market crashed.

 

Jamie: Did your family go through hardship during the Great Depression?

Richard Kyle: Not the Depression itself, initially. My father had tuberculosis and was on 100% medical disability from the Navy, so there was enough money to get by. He’d been in the submarine service – I think he served on the D-1 – and a chlorine gas accident had seriously damaged his lungs. Tuberculosis set in. He died when I was four years old, and although my mother remarried, the years afterward were not easy. It wasn’t until the war came along that things began to get better. Then there were jobs for everyone. So after my mother and stepfather divorced, I left school to work. I got my education from science fiction magazines, pulp magazines, detective stories, and comic books. On balance, they were no worse teachers than the ones in public schools.

 

Jamie: When did you get interested in comic books?

Richard Kyle: Apparently with comic books with the first regularly published comic book – Famous Funnies. Maybe its first issue. At the time, there weren’t any others for me to see. Now I know it was made of up of newspaper comic strip reprints. Then, I didn’t have a clue.

One evening I went to the corner grocery with my stepfather to get milk and bread. Right beside the cash register was a pile of comic books. I’d never seen anything like them. They cost a dime, the equivalent of two dollars in today’s money, and that was a lot in the Depression – so I knew better than to ask for a copy. Especially since I couldn’t read worth beans. But, read ’em or not, I was in love with comic books the minute I saw them. They were something new, and I’ve always been in love with new.

I haven’t any memory of actually buying a comic book early on. I know I must’ve read practically everything that was being printed, however, because I have scraps of memories of so many of them. From New Comics to Pioneer Picture Stories to the early Funny Pages, to the newspaper strip reprint comic books and so on. Although I don’t remember most of them in detail, I do remember individual strips. Siegel and Shuster’s “Dr. Occult,” and “Radio Squad,” “The Clock,” “The Wake of the Wander,” and others. The Clock was probably the first masked character in comic books, although his mask was just a square black cloth with slits cut out for the eyes. He left a card behind, something like The Saint. It said “The Clock Strikes,” or something like that. He had his own private torture chamber –really-that he used to get the truth out of bad guys [laughter]. As near as I recall, there was an episode where he had a guy hanging up by his hands, trying to keep his bare feet off broken glass.

“The Clock” was created by George Brenner who later would take him over to Quality, where Brenner became editor. At Quality he would also do “Bozo, the Robot,” about a guy fighting crime inside a giant, rocket-propelled hot water heater with arms and legs and lots of rivets-an early-day Iron Man-and a strip called “711,” about a guy – inmate #711 – who escaped jail every episode to fight crime. And then broke back in at night to hide his secret identity. Something like that.

But they’re only pieces of memories until just a little while before Superman appeared. Then I-and the other kids-suddenly became conscious of comic books as something unlike anything else. Guys stopped collecting Big Little Books and started collecting comic books. We got them used from a nearby Salvation Army store.

I loved Siegel and Shuster’s “Slam Bradley,” in Detective Comics. As long as it was drawn by Shuster, I liked it more than “Superman.” Then there was Paul Gustavson’s great “Fantom of the Fair,” for Amazing Mystery Funnies, about a caped crime-fighter who lived in the catacombs under the New York World’s Fair. It was produced by Funnies Inc., one of the original comic book art studios. And over at Blue Bolt, from Novelty Press, Funnies Inc. had Bob Davis’ terrific, and now virtually forgotten “Dick Cole, Wonder Boy.” He wasn’t a costumed character, but the strip was a great favorite of mine. Funnies, Inc. also produced “The Human Torch” and “Sub-Mariner” for Timely/Marvel, along with Tarpé Mills’ forgotten “Fantastic Feature Films,” another favorite.

In fact, I guess it was Funnies Incorporated that I was a fan of more than any single publisher, including DC-although I was a great Batman fan. I’d initially been a full-on fan of “Superman,” then Joe started doing halfhearted layouts. But when it was Siegel and Shuster together it was a great strip.

 

Jamie: Yes, they put together a studio and were asked to crank out a bunch of work quickly and the quality of it went downhill.

Richard Kyle: Still, they also had a unique touch. Take “Slam Bradley.” Slam was a detective, he had a partner named Shorty. He was Slam Bradley’s pal. The little guy rode around on Slam’s shoulder a lot of times. He was ridiculous when you think about it, but as a kid without a father, I identified with Shorty. A lot of other kids my age did too. There were a lot of ’em in orphanages in those days. But, Joe left to produce “Superman,” even though Jerry was still writing the stories, it wasn’t the same. There was a magic between Jerry and Joe that made their work together unforgettable.

Once, I was talking with Jerry about how much I liked “Slam Bradley,” and he said that it was created after “Superman” but published first. That it was a more realistic development of the “Superman” idea, which the publishers of the day thought was too far-fetched for the customers. And if you think about it, Fawcett’s “Captain Marvel” has the same structure as “Slam Bradley”-in one, a young boy is literally transformed into a strongman, in the other a little guy gets to ride around on his shoulder, almost becoming him.

 

Jamie: Jumping ahead, how did you discover comic fanzines?

Richard Kyle: A science fiction fanzine I subscribed to mentioned Dick Lupoff’s fanzine Xero and praised its comics coverage. I subscribed, and Dick asked me to write a piece about the Fox line of comics for him. [Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego #101 has just reprinted it.] At the same time, comics fandom was forming, and because of the Fox article I became a part of it. I’m not an organizer, so my contribution to the creation of comics fandom was mainly the comics stuff I wrote.

 

Jamie: From what I’m reading, you came up with the terms “graphic novel” and “graphic story” in Capa Alpha #2. This was in 1964. How did you come up with those terms?

Richard Kyle: It’s curious. Until recently, I thought I’d invented them solely for Capa Alpha. But a while back, I discovered an earlier remark in an old letter of mine where I said “there ought to be a name for more serious comic book stories.” So it must have been in the back of my mind.

I was aware that Lev Gleason’s editor Charles Biro–Daredevil, Boy, and Crime Does Not Pay–called his more grown-up comics “illustories.” And, as I’ve mentioned, in the mid-’30s a few comic books tried putting “picture-stories” in their title. And then Picture Stories from the Bible, of course. (And that in the ’50s, EC had identified their new and lame half-text, half-comics stories as “picto-fiction.”) But they were really “shame names,” except Biro’s, that tried to avoid the perceived semi-literacy of “comic book,” not names created to describe the form accurately and to celebrate comic books for what they really are.

I wanted a name to match the kinds of stories I wanted to read-that is, stories for guys in their late teens to their mid-forties that used all the conventions of the “comic book” without apology, sound effects, motion lines and all the other devices that a lot of editors and writers and artists were ashamed of. I was aware of how careful I would have to be, given the failure of earlier attempts. So I thought of basic words and terms. “Novel” and “story” were about as basic as you could get. And “graphic”-my dictionary told me-was exactly right. [I used the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, definitions 1, 2 and 3.] The words felt good in my mouth, too, and that was important.

So, “graphic story” and “graphic novel” were it. And why these commonplace words were called pretentious, or why comics for grown-ups were, too, I’ll never know.

However, no one in Capa Alpha commented on this column-nor any other column of mine. So when Bill Spicer, the publisher of Fantasy Illustrated, invited me to take “Graphic Story Review” over to FI, I jumped at the chance. His magazine, which would be renamed Graphic Story Magazine, was the single most important and influential fan magazine of that time.

I soon realized no professional would take the advice of a fan. I had thought the comic book publishers would be smart enough to at least test a comics magazine in a good-looking, uncontaminated format that had only grown-up stories in it. But none of them ever did-except Lev Gleason, Charles Biro’s publisher on Boy, Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay–and he chickened-out before Tops’ first sales figures came in. Tops was the same size as Life magazine and was displayed with the grown-up periodicals, so it had a job penetrating the market. However, its final sales figures for Tops weren’t that bad at all. I know because I was working for a major San Francisco magazine distributor at the time. A lot of the big newsstands sold out three or four times.

It is amazing how conservative comic book publishers have been over the years. Even in the days when they were taking in money hand-over-fist they were afraid to do anything new. The publishers needed a demo. They’ve always needed a demo.

Years later, in 1976, there was an opportunity to provide that demo, and when Denis Wheary and I published George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again in hardback we subtitled it “A Graphic Novel.” It had taken its time, but once that demo stared the publishers in the face they finally accepted it-after Will Eisner legitimized the term, with a book that wasn’t a novel. The publishers were afraid to the end.

 

Jamie: Now did you see Graphic Novels as a literary designation, for stories that were more sophisticated regardless of how they were published or more of a format, like a think hardcover book?

Richard Kyle: Both. Because one requires the other. In the literary world “short story” and “novel” don’t just describe the length, they also describe the complexity of the material and suggest the seriousness of it. So I saw the graphic novel as having content that was as complex and serious as a motion picture or a text novel.

 

Jamie: You weren’t thinking about the Europeans-?

Richard Kyle: No. The Wikipedia entry for “graphic novel” says that I created it to describe European comics, and that I regarded them as superior to American comics. That’s wrong. Some were, some weren’t. At the time I came up with the term “graphic novel” in 1964, I hadn’t seen-or heard about-any of the European albums except “Tin-Tin”. I was introduced to the others in ’70 or ’71 by Fred Patten, a comics fan and member of LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, who became my partner in an international comics and fiction bookstore. We carried only new, in-print, books and magazines. No back issues. Fred wrote and spoke French, so we had access to everything, fan and professional, that was being published in Europe. But that was years after I introduced “graphic novel.”

It’s true enough that up to that time, with few exceptions-say a piece by Jack Cole, or Will Eisner or Kurtzman or Krigstein or Kirby or Alex Toth or-very soon-Jim Steranko, American comics seldom presented what I would regard as serious graphic novels or graphic stories. And, even when the exception came along, it was almost always presented in a format that made it seem shoddy and cheesy until you took a second look.

Actually, I shouldn’t say “serious” in this connection. I should say “grown-up.” I didn’t demand that the stories be thoughtful and profound and grim and all that. Just something that would interest and entertain me as a grown-up. But despite exceptions, despite superior packaging, the Europeans weren’t doing that much better than we were. They had brilliant layouts by Guido Crepax, Hugo Pratt, Druillet, and Mobius, but we had the guys I mentioned, Cole, Eisner, Kurtzman, Krigstein, Kirby, Toth, and Steranko, and others, who were admired by the Europeans.

Anyway, despite the refusal of the American comic books publishers to experiment with a fan-created term and format, “graphic novel” eventually caught on, and the professionals were forced to accept it. Even public libraries have a graphic novel section now. And it turns out that despite all the professional resistance here in the U.S., they’d been using the term in Portuguese for years-as “novela grafica,” or something similar. I wish I had known. It would have been a lot easier to talk professionals here into using the term if professionals there, even in another language, were using it.

 

Jamie: Some people think a graphic novel needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end. That it can’t continue on, book after book, with an endless narrative. Do you have an opinion on that?

Richard Kyle: You can do anything with a graphic novel that you can do with a text novel – good or bad. Somebody once described a novel as a full-length portrait of the author’s universe, and a short story as a detail from that portrait. That applies to the “graphic novel” and the “graphic story” too.

 

Jamie: Something sequential-like?

Richard Kyle: No, not sequential. At least, not completely. I’d say “Narrative Art.” “Sequential” is a beautiful, important-sounding word that seems to describe comic book art at large. But it doesn’t. It only describes newspaper strip art. Reality isn’t merely a series of so-called “still” pictures strung end-to-end, like a movie or newspaper strip. It’s endlessly complex, and the comic book story – the graphic novel and the graphic story – has the capacity to portray that world more fully, more realistically, than the simplistic cause-and-effect world of the daily newspaper strip.

 

Jamie: In what way?

Richard Kyle: The comic book story couldn’t develop in newspapers. There was only a limited amount of space, three or four panels, except on Sundays, where the best they had to work with was a page. And newspapers were in the news business, not the comic strip business. They hired news editors, not full-time comic editors. Comics were tolerated because they brought in readers, not because they wanted comic strips defiling their newspapers, taking the place of real news — and the newspaper syndicates served those papers. Many editors were openly hostile to comics. And still are. They’ve never understood that just as newspapers cover current news, comics in those same newspapers cover current emotions. The syndicates are no better.

A sort of exception was Will Eisner’s “Spirit Section,” and it was inadequate. Despite Eisner’s best intentions, there was the short story limitation. Not much room fro growth there.

 

Jamie: What kind of growth?

Richard Kyle: The panels of comic book stories – graphic stories and graphic novels – relate not only to the frame behind and the frame ahead, as the frames of newspaper strips and movies do, but, like a hologram, they relate to everything – not only the frame in front and the frame behind, but to the whole page or spread or book, just the way we relate to the universe around us. Our modern conception of “time” hasn’t been with us very long. Just a few years ago, before the invention of the movies, the ordinary person would describe “time” as an endlessly flowing river, formless, without boundaries. Then, after the invention of movies, he’d describe time as something like a movie reel that could be run backward into the past and forward into the future, like H.G. Wells’ brand-new Time Machine. It was natural, then, that people would see newspaper comic strips as analogs of movies-as “paper movies.” We accepted that conception of time as real because we could easily visualize it, correct or not. But movies don’t report reality, they represent it. We can’t run life backwards and forwards like a reel of film in a movie projector.

We’re part of the universe, and the universe is a part of us. Somehow or another, like waves and particles in physics, comic book stories combine a serial view of time with another view – a hologram that embraces everything, from a “full-length portrait of the authors universe” to “a detail from the portrait.”

It’s a matter of time. The thing about both newspaper strips and comic book stories that differentiates them from other forms of pictorial storytelling, is their conception of time. When you put a border around a comic book illustration, it becomes a new universe. And that frame contains all of the conventions of the comic book story within it. If, say, you take all the borders off a Hal Foster “Prince Valiant,” something goes wrong. And if you put frames around the pictures in a New Yorker spot cartoon spread, that seems equally wrong. Why?

“Prince Valiant” which used no word balloons or sound effects, but it’s clearly a comic strip. It has the frame around its panels. Occasionally Foster uses the vignette without the frame, but it’s understood to be there. Within those frames is another universe, complete in itself, like an equation. However, “before-and-after” is good enough for a cartoon spread.

A panel may represent any amount of time. I remember a lecture given by Burne Hogarth, who drew the Sunday “Tarzan” strip and taught drawing and anatomy. He showed one panel from his Sunday “Tarzan,” and explained how that single panel represented 15 minutes. And it did. He had crammed 15 minutes of time into this one panel. His inspiration was Michelangelo and the Renaissance artists.

If you look at photos of the Sistine Chapel you can see that Michelangelo’s use of the idea of painting a picture in time. And Jack Kirby’s Silver Surfer may have had his origin in a panel of the Last Judgement. The figure is in extreme perspective, so that as your eye tracks from the back of a panel to the foreground it gives a sense of dynamic movement. The seemingly broad exaggerations that people see in Jack’s work are Jack’s way of telling a story in time. Instead of having a dozen little frames, as Krigstein might, he would have one large and powerful frame containing the same information.

But the thing about the so-called “still” picture is that it isn’t still. The nearest thing you can find is that represents a still picture is a terrific blur. We live in a world of blurs. The whole universe is moving at incredible speed, in every direction. But we’ve so accustomed ourselves to the blurs, to the selective seeing, that we don’t see them. They merely provide fodder for comic book critics, along with the sound effects, thought balloons, and the rest of the conventions. Jack knew this, and he drew the blurs.

You take a picture of somebody, even with a good camera and they can be alive and dead in the same photograph because the camera hasn’t stopped time, it hasn’t slowed down the bullet, it has just made reality a little less blurry. If you’ve seen photographs of insects that are taken by electronic microscopes you see them in extraordinary detail because you are seeing them almost completely frozen in time, close to absolute zero. Truly “still.” they look unreal, alien.

The impressionists re-saw the way we looked at things. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” was painted while he was in a mental hospital, true enough, but consciously or unconsciously, Van Gogh was painting a picture of the blazing Einsteinian universe – before Einstein.

The graphic novel has the potential to re-examine the world and see it on fresh terms. You do that by seeing something other than a river flowing by. There is something else that time is. It’s doing something sequentially and not sequentially at the same time. In Eastern philosophy, there is a sense of the world being a gestalt, that it’s all happening everywhere, all at once, right now. There isn’t a past, present or future, There is now. The conception of time is seen as an artifice.

But you asked about “sequential.” I think Eisner successfully applied this sequential terminology to his own work, the post-“Spirit” stuff when he started doing his self-described “graphic novels.” But the sequential universe is entirely cause-and-effect, before-and-after. It doesn’t see the other side of anything. You need enough pages to do that.

 

Jamie: With graphic novels, do you think they need to be a minimum number of pages?

Richard Kyle: They need enough to fully exploit a complex storyline. If it’s just an incident of something of that kind, no matter how long it is, it’s still not a novel.

There are short graphic stories that have done it – Steranko’s “At the Stroke of Midnight,” Krigstein’s “The Master Race,” Metzger’s “Möbius Tripp,” and work by Cole and Kurtzman and others – so it clearly can be done.

 

Jamie: Nowadays, it seems the graphic novel term applies to the physical format. They really don’t care about the content. Do you agree with how the term has evolved over the years?

Richard Kyle: Probably not. As near as I can tell, the term is made to describe something thick that has some sort of pictorial narrative. But if you notice, people-including the news media-also confuse matters with straight novels. They’ll still describe, say, a non-fiction book by a well-known non-fiction writer as a “novel”-either because it’s thick or because all thick books are novels. Or because all bestselling books are novels. Or something. But some genuine graphic novels are being done, I think, and that’s what counts. It’s always that way in the arts.

 

Jamie: I’m not sure if you are aware of some thicker books that were published prior to George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again–Lynd Ward’s novels-in-woodcuts, Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Töpffer, Milt Gross’ He Done Her Wrong. Dell did a couple of paperbacks that were all comics and St. John published another, The Case of the Winking Buddha. Have you seen any of those things?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know anything about Obadiah Oldbuck. Lynd Ward’s books are novels-in-wood-cuts, pantomimes on paper, one picture to a page, wordless, soundless, with time presented as simple before-and-after. They are fine books, but they’re not comics. Some interesting novels-in-woodcuts were also done in France during the ’30s.

In the case of the novels-in-woodcuts there is no delineation of time except before-and-after, and very little of that. So, although I enjoy them, they don’t deal with time satisfactorily.

As for the paperback-size comic books, I thought they were pretty lame, with disappointing breakdown. I read a couple of them. The writing was pretty poor. They were over the top, caricatures of private eye novels with smart-ass remarks and that kind of stuff. But none of them were labeled graphic novels. The publishers called them comic novels or something.

 

Jamie: Would this be The Case of the Winking Buddha that St. John put out?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know. Probably another one. There were three or four different companies. I never thought they were serious works. It was kinda like doing a deliberately lame motion picture. A near-inadvertent “Airplane.”

In any case they weren’t called “graphic novels” which is what the argument seems to be about. So the answer is that there may have been comic book stories that people might have called “graphic novels”- but they weren’t labeled that on the book itself. Which could be true of a lot of the stuff like that Milt Gross book.

 

Jamie: He Done Her Wrong?

Richard Kyle: Yeah, that was a parody – a funny one, I recall – of the woodcut novels, which was very popular at the time. It was a spoof.

 

Jamie: What do you consider to be the first graphic novel? There are a number of claims to the first one.

Richard Kyle: The only thing I’ve ever said was that Denis Wheary and I – he was my partner in publishing George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again – published the first book labeled a “graphic novel.” It was a hardback, bound in blue cloth, with silver stamping. The term “graphic novel” appears on the dust jacket copy and the title page.

You can call things anything, however. In Eisner’s case, he called a collection of short stories a graphic novel. But before he did that, Joe Orlando who had access to Bill Spicer’s Graphic Story Magazine, where there was a discussion of graphic novels, used the term on a romance comic. [Jamie’s Note: Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (1972) was called a “graphic novel”].

 

Jamie: For a while there Eisner was saying he had created the term and that he even published the first one, but he would correct this towards the end of his career.

Richard Kyle: At that point I hadn’t paid much attention to inside-comics for several years. But there was an article in the local Los Angeles Times. They used the term with Eisner’s name on it, and it was obvious that they were working from material supplied by DC Comics. I wrote letter to DC and included a copy of Metzger’s book, published two years before Eisner used it. They talked to Eisner and Eisner ran a quote about having come up with the term independently, which is not implausible.

However, he also used the term “graphic storytelling” which isn’t the best coinage I ever made but it was mine. Then Eisner then came up with a book title Graphic Storytelling and there were some other things. It was clear that whether consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, Eisner picked up the title from our reviews of “The Spirit” in Graphic Story Magazine.

In the beginning I didn’t make any effort to identify myself with the creation of the term. I was certain that the pros, being what they are, pros, weren’t going to take suggestions from some fan in the jillikins. That turned out to be the case, and when Eisner began producing his collections and calling them “graphic novels,” well, then, the professionals had finally spoken. I only made an issue of it when Eisner began to lay claim to the term. If it was important enough for Eisner, then it was important enough for me. Eisner had read my reviews of his work. He knew me.

 

Jamie: I believe they’ve just discovered some letters between Eisner and Jack Katz where Katz was talking about The First Kingdom as a graphic novel, this was before Eisner even started A Contract With God so some people think he might have picked it up from there.

Richard Kyle: He could have. But Beyond Time and Again was the first book labeled a graphic novel.

 

Jamie: With Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again, you said you published over a thousand of them?

Richard Kyle: A hair over or under 1,000 copies. Somewhere in that range. The records are packed away.

 

Jamie: Do you recall the markets it was sold in? Was it in both what would be become the direct market and in bookstores as well?

Richard Kyle: No. Remember there was no direct market. And the regular bookstores regarded every kind of comics except Disney reprints as something out of a sewer. We sold a lot of books pre-publication. We sold them retail at conventions. And to large dealer-wholesalers like Bud Plant and Bob Sidebottom. We sold a lot of copies at my own bookstore. And through my Graphic Story World / Wonderworld magazine, which had a circulation of almost 3,000-a big circulation before the direct market.

 

Jamie: Over the years the term “trade paperback” has become interchangeable with the word “graphic novel.” Do you know how that came about?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know. I haven’t been in touch with inside-comics stuff since I closed my bookstore. But I imagine they borrowed the term from mainstream publishing-mainly to avoid calling them some fan name, I expect. However, the thin and flat 8 ½ x 11 format doesn’t really lend itself to commercial success-it resists bookstore display. It’s too tall. It doesn’t shelve well. It doesn’t “show spine” at all well. We’ll see. People seem to like saying “graphic novel.”

 

Jamie:  Jim Steranko did a book called Chandler: Red Tide and people consider it a proto-graphic novel because there was a lot of text and some panels with some word balloons. Do you consider a book like that to be a graphic novel?

Richard Kyle: I’ve only read the original book and Jim was dissatisfied with that. He seems to feel much happier about this one. I’ll have to see what the new Red Tide looks like to make any judgment. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Jamie:  Okay, with the term “graphic novel,” some people feel the term diminishes comic books. Was that the intention?

Richard Kyle: No. I’ve never had anything against comic books. I read ’em.

My objection is that comic book publishers have seldom published anything for grown-ups. And when they do, they try to hide it. If adults want to read comic books mainly directed towards much younger people, fine. In fact, of course they do. And among text novels, Treasure Island is a favorite of mine, and Tom Sawyer, and there are a whole slew of children’s books are among my favorites, not just comic books.

My argument is quite simple. If you want to reach a five-year-old child, you publish five-year-old child stories. If you want to reach ten-year-old children, then you publish stories a ten-year-old would be interested in, and so on. If you want to sell to a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old then you publish a book that a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old would want to read. It seems simple. But, no.

Most comic book publishers will tell you they’re not in it for the art, they’re in it for the money. Well, if they’re in it for the money, then why don’t they test the market, so they can make more money? Why don’t they find out if they can sell something to sixteen-year-olds in addition to the fourteen-year-olds that they already have? And so on.

And if they are only interested in the money, then why don’t they go where the money is-to young adults with a lot of disposable income? There is something wrong with the comic book “industry.”

For a time, Marvel was so successful they could have easily have tested the market with a good-looking, magazine-size, graphic story magazine of at least 100 pages of new stories, in full color and priced right for an older, more affluent, audience-a good solid magazine that published in the same issue every month, on a running basis Smith’s or Buscema’s “Conan,” Archie Goodwin’s and Gene Colan’s “Dracula,” the Englehart/Starlin “Master of Kung Fu,” and Jim Steranko’s great “SHIELD,” which was always too sophisticated for little kids but a hit with adults.

They didn’t. And it’s strange, because Marvel did publish the next thing to it, the first issue of the Savage Sword of Conan, 8 ½ x 11, in full process color, and it sold out and had to be reprinted. But they never did it again. The rest of the industry did no better – except for one shining moment-when Dick Giordano gave the go ahead for The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen books. Heavy Metal has always been too esoteric for a general audience. Marvel’s Epic was simply lame.

And then look at the case of The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. They came out, they were a huge success, they made an unbelievable amount of money. It may have saved DC Comics from just being folded up and written off. And what did DC do? They got in a silly argument about censorship with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the creators of all that money-and the guys who had made a great success with a new format. So Miller and Moore quit and went to other companies, more or less permanently. It’s just dumbness, it’s incredible that these people could have been so foolish. Many years have passed, but I don’t know of anything dumber in the business.

DC couldn’t experiment intelligently. They came out with tabloid-sized comic books in a brand-new format. You remember ’em? And what did they put in them? Reprints. I recall standing in a line at a grocery store, and they had the tabloid-sized comics displayed by the cash register. There were two guys behind me. One of them said, “Hey, Tarzan!” and the other said, “Forget it. It’s just a reprint.”

And on top of that, because of the format DC was using, they couldn’t publish the complete original comic book story. So they dropped four pages or so. Instead of offering more, they offered less. What a way to promote a new format. Then they came out with Action Comics Weekly, a sure disaster from 3000 miles away. It was, I suppose, DC’s idea of testing.

 

Jamie: Any last words, Richard?

Richard Kyle: Yes. The idea of the graphic novel, and the graphic novel itself, did not originate with the professional comic book writers or the professional comic book artists or the professional comic book editors or the professional comic book publishers – it originated from the demand by comic book fans themselves for grown-up comic book stories.

And even though many years have passed, every comics fan should remember the industry’s folly, because it is waiting to happen again.

The iPad Plus is on the way.

Richard Kyle also supplied us with his theory on comics titled “The Graphic Narrative.”

Tips for covering Comic Conventions

As some of you know I go to comic book conventions and cover them, usually as a member of the press. My first convention was in the summer of 2002 which means I’m coming up on 15 years now. So I’ve been thinking about all of the stuff I’ve learned over the years covering conventions and decided I would share them for anybody who is either just starting to cover comic conventions or thinking about doing so.

 

If you are there to cover the con and have fun, remember that covering the con comes before having fun. This means if there are things you want to do as a fan conflict with things you should do as a member of the press, then do the press thing. Especially if you are working for another website and not for yourself. If the convention has given you a free ticket to get in, you should do the job that you’re there to do and not just have fun for “free.” There have been several conventions where pro-wrestlers I really liked were there and doing a panel, people whom I’ve always wanted to meet and ask questions. Sadly, doing so conflicted with covering comic related stuff so I wasn’t able to do it.

 

Just because the convention gave you a press pass doesn’t mean owe the convention a positive review. Some conventions are run badly or at least did not work out as well as they hoped. You can and should be the voice of the people who paid money to be at the con, both vendors and fans. When I was writing convention reports I’d talk to the exhibitors that were at the con. Sometimes exhibitors will tell you something completely different than they say to the convention organizers or what they say out loud when convention staff are nearby. They might do this in fear of petty retribution by the convention organization, be it getting kicked out other shows the organization is doing, getting a poor spot on the convention floor next show or something like that. Some people just don’t want to say negative things about somebody’s work to their face. Go with what they tell you, as they know you are press and they want the word to get out.

 

Some people very loudly complain about the convention and are not shy at all. It might be the same complaint every convention, every year. The market is evolving and they refuse to evolve with it and they get mad at the convention for it. For example, it was (and still is with some dealers) common practice to mix up the dollar bin books so that fans would need to look through all of them to find the books they want. In the old days die-hard fans would go through all the books and find some they want and maybe pick up something they didn’t originally plan on buying, which is why the dealers did it. It was also much less labour intensive to have them mixed up then putting them all in order. These days more and more fans just won’t spend the time to do that anymore. If the books aren’t sorted so they can quickly find if what they’re looking for is there, then they move on. Either another dealer will have them sorted (and they’ll pay $2 or $3 for the same book if it’s easy to find) or they’ll buy it on online. Vendors who don’t adapt see their sales falling and they blame it on the convention. It’s always best to get a variety of views and not let just one or two colour your view of the whole convention.

 

I get a number of people asking me the details about who I work for and the purpose of my coverage. Have business cards to give them. Some people will really appreciate them and it looks more professional. Sometimes you’ll get a business card back that will have a way to contact them that’s not public and can be useful down the line.

 

Look at how other professionals are dressed. Are they wearing Wolverine and Walking Dead t-shirts? With rare exceptions they’re not. Dress in normal clothes and not like a fan. Feel free to buy and wear those clothes when you’re at home, but while you’re at a convention, don’t pay money to be a walking billboard for a company’s product. It’s a subtle thing, but if you don’t want professionals to treat you like a fan, then don’t dress like a fan. The rare exceptions I’ve seen a professional dressed in fandom clothes are usually older creators wearing a t-shirt of a character they created. If you’re Len Wein and you co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing you’re totally permitted to wear a  t-shirt with them on it.

 

With many conventions you really need to pick and choose what you’re going to cover as conventions are multifaceted and have a mix of comics, gaming, celebrities and other stuff going on. When I first started covering conventions I tried to cover it all, but that quickly got frustrating. Especially when some parts of the conventions weren’t very receptive to the press. In my case it was covering the celebrities. They wanted everybody to pay for photos and often there were mechanisms to block anybody from taking a photo without paying for it, including the press. In one case a celebrity did a panel, but had the convention block access to anybody with a press pass from attending said panel. At that point I stopped covering celebrities and decided I was there for the comics so I would focus on the comic aspect of the convention.

 

Plan ahead and have backup plans. Have a schedule of what you’re going to do and when it’s happening. This means if there is panel you wish to cover, get there a head of time. If the convention doesn’t clear out the rooms, you might want to attend the panel prior to it while its ongoing so you’re in the room when the next panel starts. If you have to miss said panel (this always happens to me at least once per convention), think about what else is going on that you can cover and rearrange your schedule to compensate. Sometimes this is a bonus as you get something nobody else is covering, effectively giving you an exclusive and learn something new that’s really interesting or cool. Best part will be passing this along to your readers.

 

Not every creator is going to agree to what you want or even follow through on their promises. I’ve had creators skip out on doing scheduled interviews, then refuse to make alternative plans to do the interview at a different date (or even some other method after the convention). Some have agree to having their panel recorded at one convention, then refuse the same request at another.  I have even helped a lost creator find their room they’re doing a panel in and then said creator refused to have the panel recorded. It’s best to not take this stuff personally. For starters you’re not entitled the the professional’s time. It also  doesn’t do you any good to hold on to the anger. Let it go and just know that you can’t rely on that creator in the future. There are lots of people who want coverage and many that aren’t getting the coverage they ought to.

 

Assuming you use electronics, have spare charged batteries and/or chargers with you at all times. This is especially true for cameras and tablets/laptops. Sometimes things get left on or a battery that you thought was charged suddenly isn’t. It really sucks not having the tools you need to cover something. Also, bring a notepad and pen(s). It’s often just easier to pull it out of your back pocket and write stuff down. Especially if you are taking pictures of pro’s you’ve never seen before. I always make sure I write down their names in the order that I took the pictures, even if I know who the pro is. I also write down something about them to identify the picture. Something like green T-shirt and glasses, standing with book, etc.. This will really help when putting names to faces. The photos of people you know mixed in with these photo’s will help assure you that your putting the correct names to faces.

 

After the convention is over for the day, if you have any writing to do you should spend at least part of your evening writing. I know with most conventions there are parties at night and it’ll be tempting to go to said parties but again, if you’re there to do a job, then do that job. Otherwise, you’re going to need to make up the time somewhere else to meet your deadline which may involve missing sleep – which is never a good thing to do on purpose. Often I have a tablet (with keyboard) with me and when I’m getting dinner at a restaurant I’ll pull out the tablet and start writing while I’m waiting for food and my bill. Squeeze in your writing where you can. If you miss something you wanted to cover and there is nothing else between now and and the next thing you want to do, find the press room and use it to get some writing done. The less work there is to do after the convention is over the better it is for you.

 

If you ARE at a party with lots of professionals, know that your presence might be a downer at the party. Because you are press, people might be more guarded about what they talk about in fear of what they say getting spread online, even if you reassure them that’s not going to happen. Also if you are conversing with a pro at a party, don’t ask them the same fanboy questions they’ve probably been asked 2 dozen times that day.

 

Another thing you will notice is different press organizations get different levels of access. If it’s a TV show with a camera crew, they are probably going to be able to get the interviews with people you can’t just because of how large their audience is. Same goes for the more popular websites that cover comics. Don’t fret over what other people are doing as covering a convention isn’t a competition. If you have stuff you wanted to do, go and do that and be happy with it. Not everything at a convention gets coverage and often people/events that aren’t big names are very appreciative for the coverage you bring.

 

If you do this long enough, some creators who you’re used to seeing and chatting with are going to become very popular. Then you’re not going to be able to just walk up to their table and chat with them like you used to anymore. Chip Zdarsky and Agnes Garbowska are two examples for me right now. For years I would walk up to their tables, make small talk with them and ask them for a picture. Now their tables are usually surrounded with people and sometimes they just do signings at specific times. Be happy for their success. You may still see them at a panel or elsewhere outside the convention itself.

 

Beyond that, do try to enjoy your time at the convention. While you still need to work and focus your energies to that end, the work you are doing should still be enjoyable. Otherwise, why do it?

 

San Diego Comic Con 2016

Joker Trump

I went to San Diego Comic Con again and this year things went a little differently for me.

First, I got a direct non-stop flight from Toronto to San Diego, which was nice because normally I have at least 1 layover ever when I fly there. On the flight back I saw quite a few comic peeps I recognized. The flight was also significantly cheaper than what I normally pay.

I landed in San Diego on Tuesday and got around to do some things in San Diego before the con, like go to the Coronado Beach. The sand looked like gold and I saw small crabs in the barnacles. I also saw the hotel that was in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot. I’m told it’s been used in a lot of TV shows and movies.

Normally I land in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon, go straight to my hotel, check and get lunch, unpack, relax for a bit, then head down to the convention to get my badge. All of this makes for a really long day, so coming in Tuesday made it much easier on me. The only problem is needing to find a Hotel for Tuesday only and having to pack up and leave on Wednesday to your comic con hotel. As I’ve learned a couple of years ago, even if you get the same hotel the staff will have a different room for you for the convention days and you’ll have to move to that room.

For the con itself what was different was that I didn’t spend that much time on the exhibit floor. There were days where I didn’t hit the exhibit floor at all. I didn’t go there on Thursday or Saturday. I was only on there for a bit on Friday and Sunday towards the very end. Normally I make it a point to walk every isle and see everything. This year I felt fine skipping about a 3rd of the exhibit floor.

In previous years in the non comic area’s you’d sometimes find booths with a couple long boxes of comics or trades. Often it would be a mix of odd stuff that they’re just trying to get rid of and you’d get a decent deal. The last couple of years I haven’t seen any comics at all in that area, so I skipped it. The publishers (big and small) and back issue dealers are primarily in Hall B & C then you find artists alley, some artists collective booths and original art dealers in Hall’s F.

I discovered some booths I normally shop at either had smaller spaces or reduced/changed what they had brought. Bud Plants booth was half of what it normally is. There were a couple of underground dealers that didn’t have much in the way of old underground collections like they normally did. I also noticed Mile High didn’t bring any GNs and was only selling back issues, which was a switch. As a result I bought less than I normally do there.

I don’t know how the publishers are doing when it comes to selling their books but I haven’t heard any complaints. When I typically walk by their booths I see lots of people in them. I did find it a little odd that the Image Comics booth didn’t have any Savage Dragon trades there. Considering Erik Larsen was an Image founder you’d think they’d bring something. It’s pretty sad when the publisher you help create decides to abandon you at the biggest show of the year.

The moment the con announced the show was closing in a half hour all the dealers started taking down their “wall” comics and packing up. I didn’t talk to many dealers about how the show went, but when dealers start packing up early (or at least as early as they’re allowed), that’s almost always a sign it was a bad show and they just want to cut their losses and get out of there ASAP.

I know dealers are increasingly unhappy with the con because they feel back issue buyers can’t get into the con because tickets sell out so quickly. I have no doubt that’s true, but I think there’s more to it. I think there are less people buying back issues than before. Those that do want a good deal (EG: below guide) and normally dealers that exhibit at San Diego can’t give them that deal due to the high costs of being there. Discounts don’t always pay for themselves with volume sadly.

I also suspect a lot back issue buyers are older and they don’t like the difficulty of getting tickets, a hotel room and the large crowds. Plus all that is really expensive. It’s much cheaper and more convenient for them to buy online and/or go to a closer, quieter convention. I’m wondering what a traditional comic convention might look like without any back issue dealers and I might actually see that within my lifetime.

The slower sales may also have something to do with the smaller crowds this year. It’s been said that San Diego’s switch to using badges with RFID chips made it harder for people to pass (or counterfeit) badges and get in. The less crowded exhibit floor was nicer for the attendee’s that were there. I suspect another reason the floor was less crowded was due to people playing Pokemon Go around the con. Even on Wednesday night I saw numerous people walking around in circles looking at their phones. One professional I talked during the day to told me his daughter was out playing Pokemon Go at that moment.

During my TCAF post I mentioned I was unhappy with my camera and was getting a new one. I got a Canon Powershot SX710 HS and am quite happy with it. There camera does not get the best rating on the various review websites, but it worked well for my purposes. I’m learning to not just blindly follow reviews & ratings and instead focus on what the pro’s and cons of the camera and applying that to what I’m using it for. I don’t think those reviewers have taking pictures at comic conventions and darkly lit award ceremonies in mind when doing their reviews.

I am especially happy with how using the sport scene worked on the Eisner Award pictures. I took a whole bunch of pictures in that mode (over 2,000 of them) but that allowed me to get better pics than usual. I’m typically in the pro seats behind the tables, which is quite a ways away from the stage. My camera ‘s 30X zoom was used to the fullest to get pics of people on stage and less than that was used on the big screens showing what’s happening on the stage.

Surprisingly I did not see any celebrities outside of the Eisner Awards. Normally San Diego is crawling with so many celebrities I end up seeing somebody somewhere even though I only focus on comics programming. For example, one year during a Ted Naifeh panel the back door opens up and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, etc..) walks out. He apparently just wanted to go outside for a smoke. He came back in after the panel was done and was giving an interview to a camera crew as the audience was leaving the room. Of course it’s entirely possible I did see one, but didn’t know it was a celebrity.

I was quite happy to be able to audio record some panels with creators whom I’ve never met in real life before like Christopher J Priest, Howard Chaykin and Mike Baron. I was only turned down by one creator but I knew in advance that was a strong possibility. I’m not bothered by it as I was able to record him at at another convention recently. The only disappointing situation I had was a creator who wouldn’t let you take a picture of him unless you bought a $15 print/sketch.

The panels I recorded can be found on the audio page of my other website. Also at that link is the Will Eisner Awards recording and pictures to both the convention and Eisner Awards. I should warn you that there is a bit of swearing of almost every panel. Off the top of my head the YA? Why Not? panel does not have swearing, but the rest I can’t vouch for. The saddest panel was the Darywn Cooke tribute, while you won’t hear this on audio I can tell you from being there that several panelists were in tears at the end. What’s also sad was that there was no tribute panel for Paul Ryan, who worked in the comics industry since the 1980s. I’m hoping a convention that’s local to where he used to live puts something on for him.

As always with San Diego there usually multiple panels I wanted to be at and record happening at the same time. I shockingly did not record a single panel that Mark Evanier was on.  The same goes for Paul Levitz except for a surprise appearance at the Fan vs Pro Comic Trivia challenge. I sometimes question the choices that I’ve made when it comes to which panels to cover, but in the end I’m very happy with all the panels I got. I just wish I had a 2nd person who could go to the panels I can’t be at and record them, despite the extra work that would bring.

The only panel I did not like that much was one about goal setting for creative people. I only came in part way through but it was clear to me that this was a rewording of a standard SMART goals course/lecture that almost everybody in business has to take at least once. The main difference was the presenter telling people to draw their goals instead of writing them down and an artist was demonstrating how to do so with large paper flip chart and markers.

There are official video recording of panels going on now. It’s something called Comic Con HQ but they are understandably only recording the panels with the widest commercial appeal thus far. Outside of the Will Eisner Awards which was live streamed online there is no overlapping between us that I know of. If they do decide to record everything I’ll have to decide if I want to keep recording or even if I can. Chances are they’ll want exclusive rights to the panels.

I also got to see and hang out with some friends which is always great, but there were many people whom I usually see that I missed this year or only saw very briefly / in passing. While that happens every year, it seemed more pronounced this year. I think I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to find and say Hi to people next year.

Of those that I did talk to Donald Trump’s name came up a lot when the conversion drifted outside of comics. Everybody was speaking about him in an “OMG how can anybody vote for this freaking lunatic?!?” type way. He was also the butt of many jokes when people were in front of a microphone.

I am very much looking forward to going back next year, where it’s the 100 year anniversary of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. I learned that there are supposed to be extra panels on the two creators next year and that sounds great.

TCAF & DWA 2016

Steven Twigg at TCAF

Steven Twigg at TCAF

So I went to TCAF a week ago. I did my usual audio recording of panels and took some pictures of creators. Normally I try and get pics of all of the creators there, but I was unable to this time due to recovering from a cold and dealing with back pain.

This year’s TCAF was a little different in that the ground floor wasn’t so crammed with creators and publishers. One of the back rooms was being renovated so they weren’t able to use it. Other areas where they would normally have tables on both sides of the isle only had tables on the 1 side. This made walking around and browsing much more pleasurable. I also noticed a lot of new faces this year as well. I think having a bunch of different creators with new (thus more popular books) is good for the overall vibe of the convention. Seeing so many new/good things to buy I think gets people spending money and enjoying the event more. I imagine it leads a more positive conversations among creators after the event if they all sold a lot of books.

They were able to more effectively use the 2nd and 3rd floors in terms of putting creators up there. I doubt they got as much foot traffic as the usual places creators were but when I was there people were there browsing and shopping so I hope they did okay. They also put most of their big mainstream creators in a new spot (the Masonic Temple) which was about a block away from the Library. I never got to visit there but I’m told it was really nice. My understanding is the place was mainly used for signings and wasn’t a place where creators sat all day selling their stuff.

One panel I attended for myself was about dealing with back pain. It was aimed at creators who are at their drawing tables (or computers) all day. I did not record it because 1. I came in late after the panel started and 2. It was a very visual panel with lots of slides showing drawing of bodies and things you can do prevent and manage back pain. Personally it was a very useful panel and I’ll be seeking out Kriota Willberg for more information.

One of the oddest things I saw while in Toronto was a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk selling back issue sets of comics. I only got to do a bit of shopping myself and I did the majority of it in the last 10 minutes of the show. I bought Mary Wept at the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown and Bernie by Ted Rall. I’m about half way through the Bernie book now and I’m enjoying it. The book is like comic version of a Bernie Sanders speech, but with historical and economic information to back up the points he makes. So far it’s covered income inequality and the move of the US Democratic Party to the Center/Right in the 1970s and how it doesn’t represent progressive Liberal voters.

I did something else I very rarely do at panels and that is ask questions. I did this at the Chester Brown panel that quickly went from being about the book to being about sex workers and how/why the Catholic church has worked to criminalize their profession. I don’t disagree with anything that was said but I think room started getting tense as not everybody was comfortable with the criticism of the Catholic church. I tried to steer the panel back to talking about the book. That said, Chester might want to consider making a book about the history of prostitution and how/why it’s illegal. I think much of what was said at the panel would make for some interesting reading.

The Doug Wright Awards were a bit different this year. For starters Brad Mackay wasn’t there due to a family emergency. Dustin Harbin stepped in to host the awards. Usually they get some celebrity involvement in the awards but there was none of that this year, which was fine as it wasn’t needed. The awards ran a bit quicker than usual which was good as they got off to a late start.

I feel I should note that I’m not that happy with my camera. Last year I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 that had multiple review sites saying it was the best point and shoot camera out there. Those sites are wrong. The biggest problem with the camera is the Auto Intelligent Scene picker setting. The camera examines the shot you want to take and then picks the scene mode best for that shot. Sounds great doesn’t it? Problem is, nearly half of all the scene modes say it should be used with the camera on a tripod. So when you’re taking pictures by hand you get blurry or bad pictures and you normally have no way of knowing what you’re going to get.

I took the majority of the pictures at the show at either Portrait or “Food” setting, but still wasn’t happy with the results. Some of it is because the camera takes the shot right when the flash is shooting, which leads to wicked shadows behind the people and flash light washed out faces.  I plan on buying a new camera before San Diego Comic Con and I think I’m going to sell this one on Ebay. My previous camera took much better pictures but I stopped using it because of increasing delays between pressing the shutter button and getting the shot and also inconsistent flash settings. Also, it took 4 AA batteries, which increased the cameras weight and my backpack weight due to me having spares.

King Con 2016

KingCon2016

I went to King Con and a related event from March 11 to 13th. King Con is a local comic/gaming convention. Originally King Con was just a gaming convention, I never attended it but my understanding is it was on hiatus for a while before our local public library took it over last year. Now it’s half gaming convention and half TCAF like convention, but on a very small scale.

On the 11th, I went to the Screening Room (local mainly indy movie theatre) for a showing of Seth’s Dominion, which is a documentary about the cartoonist Seth. They gave out tickets for a door price of the latest Palookaville book. Seth gave a small introduction explaining that they were going to start with two short animated cartoons done using Seth’s work. One was called the Great Machine, the other Kao-Kuk. Seth wanted it known that these stories were not typical of his work.

The documentary was a mix of Seth talking about his life, his work – both personal and commercial, it showed a number of his friends talking about him, Seth’s parents were discussed too. I was surprised to learn about some of the things Seth does for himself, this includes developing puppets and doing a show with them and his building a large model city. In between all this are animated short Seth stories.

After the show there was a question and answer with Seth himself. I counted 35 people in the theatre. Among the things Seth revealed is his puppet work is going to become it’s own movie. Seth talked about his relationship with Joe Matt and Chester Brown and said they’ve grown apart because they don’t see each other very often. He said when they all lived in Toronto they were constantly talking comics and sharing their work with each other for feedback, but now that they’ve grown more experienced in their cartooning they don’t need that feedback anymore.

Seth talked about the importance of establishing rules in comics and working within them, then breaking those rules. Seth said he really liked the animation of his work in the documentary and he had nothing to do with it. Seth gave all the credit to the person behind the documentary director and animator Luc Chamberland. He liked it so much he’s now thinking about doing some work in Animation.

Seth revealed that the next Clyde Fans is almost done. He needs to revisit what he’s done and he believes he’ll be making some changes to it. Seth also talked about his relationship with computers. He said he went from hating them to tolerating and using them, but he still keeps his computer on the 3rd floor of his house while he works in the basement so it’s not a distraction.

Seth’s Dominion can be rented or purchased here at the National Film Board of Canada’s website. A DVD will be coming out soon is my understanding.

On Saturday and Sunday I went to the King Con convention itself. There were 2 panels featuring comic creators on Saturday and I’ve audio recorded them. One was on Dan Parent and the other on Seth. I also took some pictures, which are a mix of cosplayers and creators.

On Sunday I came back to chit chat with some of the creators, which was nice. I also came across a pirate musical group called Capt’n Tor & The Naer Do Well Cads. They were going around and singing songs, drawing people to tables that weren’t getting much traffic on the first floor. Here are 2 of their songs. Personally I like the 2nd one better, but both are fun to watch.

 

I only got a couple of books for myself at the convention, one was Lucifer’s Sword by Phil Cross and Ronn Sutton and Epochs #1 by Cody Yeo, Greg Moser and Christian Wolf.