Ty Templeton Interview

Ty Templeton at 2014 Joe Shuster Awards

Ty Templeton at 2014 Joe Shuster Awards

Originally published in November of 2002. At this point I had dropped all monthly comics and was only reading Graphic Novels. When I made that switch I found I didn’t like reading superhero graphic novels all that much, with the exception of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Ty’s Bigg Time had recently came out and I enjoyed it and I thought it was neat that he was relatively local to me.

 

Ty Templeton Interview

Ty Templeton has done a mix of big name superhero, independent and licensed cartoon comics during his career. His latest work is something different: it’s an original, black and white graphic novel published by DC/Vertigo. The book is called Bigg Time and is about something Ty is very familiar with, show business and fame. Ty comes from a very famous family. His mother was a singer with a few hits and his father was heavily involved in show business and politics. In this interview, we talk about graphic novels in general, Bigg Time, politics, his future and more.

 

Jamie: How did you like doing an original graphic novel compared to a monthly comic book?

Ty Templeton: First and foremost, it’s wonderful to have the time to stretch out and really TELL a story, rather than racing through everything in twenty two pages. I get to indulge the characters more, and indulge the pace . . .

This particular graphic novel was originally conceived as a six issue mini-series however, so many of the monthly comic book joys and headaches were all packed into the experience anyway. I wrote it in eighteen page chunks, for instance so I could get a paycheck every couple of weeks. The chapters tend to run to the same breaks that were written into the script when it was intended to be a miniseries . . .

 

Jamie: Did you find yourself trying to put in a cliffhanger every 24 pages or so like a normal comic series?

Ty Templeton: WHOOPS! See answer above! Since it was conceived that way, yup, I did . . . But we knew it was a graphic novel before I’d gotten much farther than the first dozen or so pages anyway . . . so I wasn’t a slave to that format in the end. But there are elements of that, that remained in the finished thing, because they’re in the original plot structure.

 

Jamie: I noticed with Bigg Time, you did *everything* on the comic, some things your not known for like lettering, colouring and separations. Why did you take on all aspects of doing the book?

Ty Templeton: Well, I’m not known for them cause I haven’t done them in a while. But I used to letter everything I drew, and when I worked in the independent comics industry in the Eighties, I had no choice but to do everything, including boxing issues up to be shipped. I even drove comics home from a printer once . . . I also used to colour my own covers on Batman, so I’m used to working with a computer to colour things. I’m very big on the idea that comics should be created by as few hands as possible. That’s one of the joys of the medium . . . I can conceive, write, draw, colour and (should I suddenly wish to lose money) print and publish my own comic iffen I want to. Vive la Artiste Solo! You can’t do that in Movies or TV!

 

Jamie: Did you do lettering, colouring and separations by hand or by computer?

Ty Templeton: Most of the word balloon lettering is done on a computer. All my sound effects letters are done as line art on the boards. I always feel sound effects are part of the art, and ALWAYS do those myself when I pencil.

 

Jamie: Do you think graphic novels are the future of the comic industry?

Ty Templeton: Gosh, I hope so and I hope not. I’d like to see more of them, but only good ones, of which there haven’t been that many over the years. Road to Perdition is a wonderful graphic novel, as is Stuck Rubber Baby, and Maus, and everything Will Eisner ever did with the form . . . but some of the best of the “Graphic Novels”, such as Watchmen, or Sandman, were originally serialized stories anyway. They just happen to collect up nicely. GON, and Asterix, arguably my favorite graphic novel characters, are both in ongoing series, ALSO originally printed in a serialized form . . . But, I still get a kick out of reading Batman or Wolverine’s adventures every month. Guilty pleasure, the ongoing series, who’d like to see that go? And I don’t much agree with the graphic novels that are essentially just long, long superhero stories. There’s been a few Batman or Green Lantern stories that came out as hundred page hardcover books that would have worked far better as four issue mini-series, both in terms of pace, and price. From a marketing standpoint, I’m all for my publisher making money, but the stories that make it as graphic novels don’t always deserve the format. More stuff by Eisner and Kyle Baker and folks like that, hell yeah. Superheroes belong in the monthlies, though.

 

Jamie: I’m no longer a huge superhero lover myself but it’s surprising that you would “write off” a whole sub-genre as not being worthy of a different format. How would you react if someone were to say oh.. Westerns should be off limits to a different format like free digest sized weekly books?

Ty Templeton: I don’t think I “wrote off” a whole sub-genre with the phrase “the (superhero) stories that make it as graphic novels don’t always deserve the format”. That’s more of a judgment about what’s BEEN done with the format, rather than a rule of conduct for future projects. An awful lot of the stuff that gets turned directly into a graphic novel, (rather than a series that gets collected up, such as Dark Knight, etc . . . ) just hasn’t met my particular critical standards. In my experience, the Punisher, Spider-Man, JLA, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Avengers, X-Men “direct to graphic novel” format projects that I’ve read haven’t particularly deserved the high price or high page count. I could mention specific titles, but that’s just needlessly mean to the creators involved, most of whom are fine writers and artists, and often friends of mine. Can you name an original superhero graphic novel published in the last ten years that was particularly good?
Examples of Superhero graphic novels that WERE to my liking include The Death of Captain Marvel by Starlin, Batman: Birth of the Demon, by O’Neil and Breyfogle, Superman vs. Mohammad Ali by O’Neil and Adams. Those were all a while ago, I’ll admit . . . but I haven’t found many that blew me away of late. I haven’t read Catwoman’s Big Score, by Cooke, which I’m told is pretty good, so I may change my mind any day now.
But think through your favorite superhero stories or moments over the years . . . I’ll be surprised if many, or if ANY of those moments come in an original graphic novel format. My favorite moments sure don’t. But some of my favorite moments in comics DO come in graphic novels. Cowboy Wally, Maus, The Building . . . all manage sublime moments of wonder, without a cape in sight. I think pop songs, sit-coms, poetry, candy, liquor, comedy sketches, and superheroes all work best is short doses. I’m certainly willing to watch a four hour Fawlty Towers marathon, or read Dante’s epic poems, because no rule of art and creativity is written in stone. But I don’t think a four hour Just Shoot Me marathon would keep my attention, and consider all the SNL sketch characters who get expanded out to star in HORRIFIC two hour films. But I LOVE the idea of free digest sized Westerns. Who can we contact to get started on that?

 

Jamie: Do you want to do more original graphic novels?

Ty Templeton: I might enjoy writing one. I don’t think the art side attracts me quite so much, unless I get around to actually learning to draw. I have no natural talent for art . . . I’m self taught, and hardly taught at that . . . I’m too much the perfectionist, and I sweat out each line sometimes, continuously dissatisfied with what goes onto the paper. I’m getting less angry at my hands, but I still don’t much enjoy the constant fight that illustrating is to me. I’m much better in short bursts, like single issues, or covers. Writing makes me giggle and smile though.

 

Jamie: Are not artists supposed to be this way? Perfectionists, always unsatisfied with their work, etc . . . ?

Ty Templeton: Not for their own sanity, they’re not supposed to be. I’d rather not spend my days frustrated. I get more of a hoot out of laughing and tickling my children than fighting with my lack of ability to draw. I’m a good writer, and a good inker, and I never seem to sweat that stuff, but penciling is something I’m not basically very good at, and I find it frustrating. I’ve read that Jerry Ordway and Al Williamson are like that too, and they are two of my FAVORITE pencilers in the biz . . . so there!

 

Jamie: With a monthly series, you can get some feedback along the way to what readers do and don’t like about your work. Was it any easier or more difficult to do a whole story without audience feedback along the way?

Ty Templeton: I had feedback working on the book. My wife and a number of my friends read the chapters as I was doing them, and of course, both my editors, Joan Hilty and Heidi MacDonald were good to bounce off of. I may not have had much feedback directly from fans for the story, but the story was fairly personal anyway, and wouldn’t have benefited from too many hands on the tiller.

 

Jamie: I can’t but notice that the book takes place in a very similar Toronto town, even a few blocks from here (the Toronto Expo) is the Bay Street Station. “The Bums Rush” has a familiar looking background. Why did you base this Hollywood story so close to home?

Ty Templeton: As I said, it’s a more or less personal story. If you read the “About the Author” in the back of the book, you’ll find out I’ve been in and around show biz and the famousness business my whole life, which I happened to have spent in Toronto. I didn’t see a need to put it in L.A. or New York, since I haven’t really lived in either city. I actually don’t name the city any of this takes place in, but you’re right, it’s Toronto. Besides, more movies are made in Toronto, and more albums recorded up here, than in any city in North America BUT New York and LA. Why NOT put it up here? We’re Hollywood North, ain’t we?

 

Jamie: Yes, but American entertainment companies often like to Americanize things in order to make them more commercial. Did you choose to not name Toronto so the story would be more universal?

Ty Templeton: Well, I more or less did name Toronto, by not particularly hiding that it was Toronto. T.O. Subway stations, street signs, and the Canadian Prime Minister run about the novel unmolested . . . well, the PM gets molested a LITTLE bit. The name of the town simply never came up in the script, but it was a Canadian town, since I’m a Canadian writer.

 

Jamie: How did the idea of you doing Bigg Time come about? Did you have to aggressively pitch that to DC/Vertigo or did they come to you?

Ty Templeton: While at a convention in Chicago, I pitched Joan Hilty about a science fiction project I wanted to do (and still do, btw). She told me she wasn’t buying anything SF at the time, but did I have something with a magical angle to it . . . ? I mentioned an old screenplay idea that I’d started and never finished a year or so before, and she asked to hear about it . . . liked it, and we went from there. It mutated through a mini-series, to a graphic novel, back to a mini and back to a graphic novel along the way, and the plot underwent a couple of major and a few minor changes from the pitch, but that was about it. There wasn’t much aggressive pitching on my part. Right place at the right time. Plus, the pitch made her laugh . . .

 

Jamie: How Americans do you think will get the Canadian Prime Minister Jean Crouton joke?

Ty Templeton: Believe it or not, the name was actually Chrétien RIGHT up until about a week before the whole thing went to the printer. Literally on the last proofread through, the editor called me up and asked me if Chrétien was the P.M’s real name. “Yeah,” I said . . . “Oh we can’t have that,” said the editor . . . “For legal reasons, you can’t use the Prime Minister’s real name.” So we relettered the balloon so it read Crouton . . . but here’s the best part: No one caught the fact that it was the real PM’s name, because both the editor and the proofreader thought I made the name “Chrétien” up. They thought it was a French spoof on the word cretin.

 

Jamie: Of course you noticed he resigns as Prime Minister the day after your book hits the stands. So that’s obviously your fault.

Ty Templeton: All according to plan. Now if only the Bush people get the secret hypnotic message that’s intended for them, then my work here is done.

 

Jamie: And who would you replace Chrétien and Bush with?

Ty Templeton: I have nothing particularly against Chrétien. I’ve voted for him, and might have even done it again. I’m basically a Liberal or NDP kind of vote, pretty well every election. Paul Martin seems like a fine replacement for Jean . . . I’m fairly sure he’s who we’ll get anyway. As for replacing Bush? Pretty well any creature, vertebrate or invertebrate could do a better job than that smirking frat boy clown. Don’t even get me started on the ruinous car wreck that I find his Fraudulent and embarrassing administration to be. Imagine someone actually usurping the position of “Worst American President of my Lifetime” from Nixon . . .

 

Jamie: Was this book a nice change of pace from doing all those cartoon comics for the last few years?

Ty Templeton: My whole career is a change of pace. Cartoon comics (including Ren and Stimpy, Batman Adventures, Bugs Bunny, the Simpsons) have been a mainstay of my work for the last little while, by my own choice, and as a change of pace from the mainstream superhero comics I did for a while, (Superman, Avengers, Justice League) which were a change of pace from the funky independent stuff (Stig’s Inferno, National Lampoon, Mr. X, etc . . . much like this graphic novel, in fact) that I did for most of the Eighties and early Nineties.

 

Jamie: Are there any particular genre’s and/or formats you want to explore in the future?

Ty Templeton: I’m getting a tickle to work on some more Looney Toons stuff in the future. I may or may not get to . . . but I did a little bit for the 100th anniversary issue of Looney Toons from DC, and enjoyed it greatly, and wouldn’t mind doing more. I’ve got a nibble from a friend of mine to help art direct yet another TV pilot, (making it about a dozen I’ve worked on over the years) which I hope I get to do. Beyond that, I’m focusing on Batman, the Simpsons and the other projects I have actually ON my desk. I don’t get too far ahead of the present . . . I’m a live in the moment kind of guy.

 

Jamie: According to ICV2.com Bigg Time placed #18 in the top 50 Graphic Novels, selling approximately 6,400 pre orders through Diamond. Is that better or worse than you expected?

Ty Templeton: We had a re-order a couple of weeks later that took us up to about eight thousand, I believe. That’s about what my editor and I guessed it was going to do . . . about eight thou . . . It would be nice if it could sneak up to ten thousand over the next year . . . it would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. So it did about what we expected.

 

Jamie: What are you doing in the future?

Ty Templeton: I’m writing a mini series for DC, that’s not yet scheduled, so it’s hush hush time. More or that later. I’m doing a little more Batman work again . . . I just inked an issue, and might be writing and/or drawing a few more. I always loved Batman to work on, so it’s nice to be home with him again. Gotham City is familiar and fun territory. I did a couple of Simpsons/Bongo comics stories . . . a Simpson’s Hallowe’en special that’s just come out, and a Radioactive Man story that’s due out in a few months, I think.
I did a page in the Looney Toons 100th issue special, and had so much fun on it, I promised myself to do more with the Warner Bros characters in the future. Joan Hilty is editing the Warner Bros. comics at DC, and since we worked together on the BIGG TIME novel . . . well, we’re happy to work together again . . . so maybe a Duck Dodgers giant, or something. Who knows?

Max Allen Collins Interview

Originally published in October of 2001. I bought Road to Perdition at a going out of business bookstore sale and really enjoyed the book. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it was being made into a movie (and became really happy when it was a really good one). Shockingly, DC and parent company Warner Brothers did not realize what they had and let the movie rights slip away. I am really surprised that during this time of ‘republish anything that was good’ era of comics that Ms. Tree remains unpublished, especially with the demographics of today’s comic readers.

 

An Interview With Max Allen Collins

Max Allen Collins is probably the best writer you never heard of. His works stretch from comics to novels to screenplays. He has won a number of awards for his work outside of comics, but inside the industry he’s largely ignored. Among his better remembered works is Ms. Tree done through Eclipse and DC. He recently wrote a graphic novel called Road to Perdition that is extremely good and is going to be coming out in early 2001 as a movie. The movie will star Tom Hanks and be directed by American Beauty’s Sam Mendes and is expected to be a major hit at the box office. In this interview we ask about Road to Perdition, Ms. Tree and numerous other topics regarding his future.

 

Jamie: How long did it take you to research and write Road to Perdition?

Max Allen Collins: The research and writing was spread out over at least a four year period; this was because of the time it took the artist, Richard Piers Rayner, to turn out his precise, detailed artwork (often working from research materials I sent to him) (he’s in England).

 

Jamie: How much of Road to Perdition is true? Which parts did you have to fill in with your own assumptions?

Max Allen Collins: It’s mostly fiction. John and Connor Looney are real, and much of the material involving them has some basis in reality, including the Gabel shooting and Connor’s eventual death…and several lieutenants who felt betrayed by Looney. So the setting and historical underpinnings are fairly real — though Looney’s reign was more in the teens and ’20s — but the story of Michael O’Sullivan and his son is my invention.

 

Jamie: Did you at all contact Michael O’Sullivan while researching his father?

Max Allen Collins: He did not exist; I created him.

 

Jamie: Road to Perdition has a number of nifty lines like “God made Irishmen pale, but not as pale as those priests who came out after papa had unburdened his soul to them.” Where you thinking about a possible movie adaptation when writing?

Max Allen Collins: Thanks — a sort of quiet poetry emerged from the narrator’s distance from the story. As for thinking about the movies, no more than usual — but comics, as a visual medium, has ties to film. As Will Eisner has aptly pointed out, however, there are many differences between them.

 

Jamie: What is the current status of Road to Perdition? Does it have a publisher?

Max Allen Collins: ROAD TO PERDITION will be reprinted by DC in time for the movie’s release. The movie will probably have a limited late ’01 release to qualify for Oscars, then a wide one early in ’02.

 

Jamie: Did DC give you a reason when they didn’t resign the rights to the book back when they had the chance?

Max Allen Collins: They still have reprint rights. It’s just the other rights — movie, sequels, prequels, etc. — that I own. (Actually, Richard and I own the movie rights to ROAD.)

 

Jamie: What was your reaction when you learned that Sam Mendes and Tom Hanks wanted to do Road to Perdition as a movie?

Max Allen Collins: I said I would believe it when I saw it. Having been on the set, and met and talked to both Mendes and Hanks, I believe it now! And I’m thrilled.

 

Jamie: Were you at all involved in the making of the film?

Max Allen Collins: Not really. Visited the set, spoke frequently to Producer Dean Zanuck, and have written a novelization. The script is good — very faithful, though it compresses the material and it’s somewhat less action-driven.

 

Jamie: Does the success of the film concern you at all?

Max Allen Collins: I don’t quite know how to answer that. The bigger it is, the better my future — so, sure, it concerns me! If you mean, artistically, I am convinced this will be a quality picture.

 

Jamie: Do you lie awake at nights thinking about the possibilities of your future if the movie is a smash hit?

Max Allen Collins: Sleep?

 

Jamie: You’ve said in other interviews that you consider Road to Perdition your comic writing swan song. Has that changed?

Max Allen Collins: Possibly. DC has spoken to me about doing a major BATMAN project. I have been working solely on novels and screenplays, however; the moribund status of the industry — and my own disconnection from it, for several years — hasn’t sent me scurrying to comics publishers…or, frankly, vice versa. I thought I would get some calls from comics editors/publishers, after ROAD got this major movie deal…what could be bigger? The only editor who has called is Andy Helfer, who edited ROAD, God bless him.

 

Jamie: There has been a lot of talk lately about how the comic industry should move towards Graphic Novels and movie deals, although not exactly hand in hand. Road to Perdition is a success in both areas but it doesn’t get the praise it should within the comic industry. Does that disappoint you?

Max Allen Collins: That was largely why I walked away from comics. ROAD got almost no reviews, and did not receive an Eisner nomination. If I could do my best work, and get no notice whatsoever…well, it was a bitter pill. Many people followed the lead that Terry Beatty and I took with MS. TREE, and we’ve had zero recognition while lesser, trendier crap gets raves. My attitude was, “Screw them.” To some degree, frankly, it still is.

 

Jamie: Do you think Road to Perdition would have gotten more reviews/praise/nominations if DC promoted it better? I tend to wonder if the lack of response is directly related to the lack of marketing on DC’s part.

Max Allen Collins: DC did some limited promotion, but ROAD was the last of the Paradox Press slate of crime novels, and the others had not done well. So we were lucky to be published at all, and DC can’t be faulted much. Where they can be faulted is that some key high people at DC did not recognize the quality of the work; if they had, they would not only have promoted it, but would have matched the DreamWorks offer for movie rights (which they could have done).

What is truly annoying to me is how DC has ignored Richard and myself, and our work, when this is arguably the biggest comics movie ever…because they are apparently embarrassed to have let ROAD “get away.” If they promoted us, and bragged about a DC project being this big Hollywood deal, the people at Warner above them would ask embarrassing questions…like, why isn’t this a Warner Bros. movie?

 

Jamie: Do you think DC would have promoted it more if they had owned the work, lock, stock, and barrel like they do Batman?

Max Allen Collins: Undoubtedly. But I don’t think they knew what they had — at least one of the top people simply didn’t “get” it. (Let me say that Paul Levitz has been great to me and did in fact publish the book when others in his position might not have.)

 

Jamie: What’s the current situation with the rights to Ms. Tree. I know for a while it was published through DC. Do they still own the character?

Max Allen Collins: Terry Beatty and I own MS. TREE, and we would love to do something with her, after a several year lay-off (preferably a graphic novel). A TV option is about to run out. We’ll see.

 

Jamie: Any chance of putting out a TPB collecting your Ms. Tree work?

Max Allen Collins: Possible. We’re available if anybody’s interested. But I’m not sure where the negatives are. The early stuff we don’t have, and DC controls the rest. I would love to see the DC stuff gathered, as I feel it’s our best work.

 

Jamie: You work in a lot of different storytelling arenas, mainly prose novels, but also in film making and music. What can you do in comics that can’t be done in other forms of storytelling?

Max Allen Collins: That would require a book-length response that neither of us has time for. I would say, however, that one aspect is the manner in which comics fall between film and prose: film is an exterior medium — shows us the story from the outside — and prose is an interior medium — tells us the story from inside. Comics is the only form that can gracefully give us both the interior and exterior of a story (ROAD is a case in point). Words and music, in other words…or rather, music and words. As Eisner has pointed out, the manner in which images can be frozen, in effect…the emphasis and rhythm that is possible, a manipulation of image that is quite beyond film…makes comics a storytelling medium without peer. Unfortunately, for cultural reasons, Americans will never understand that.

We just lost Johnny Craig. Did any newspaper in America cover that?

 

Jamie: You’re best known for writing in the Crime genre, both novels and comics. Do you have any desire to work in other genres?

Max Allen Collins: I have always been attracted to suspense and crime — because of the inherent conflict. (All good stories have a conflict at their heart.) Most genres have these elements — I wrote the novelizations of WATERWORLD, a science-fiction story, and MAVERICK, a western, without even thinking much about the fact that they weren’t “mysteries.” I’ve written quite a bit of horror, for instance, because those same elements are there to attract me: suspense, conflict, crime. There are more mainstream subjects that interest me, too, but I would guess whatever tale I tell, suspenseful conflict…some kind of tension, fear, crime element…is going to be in there.

 

Jamie: Jim Steranko recently called right now the “Kervorkian Age of Comics” saying there is too much violence in comics, linking them to the recent terrorist attacks in NYC. He went as far as to call an upcoming comic called PRO a “Terrorist Comic.” As a writer who writes scenes of violence, what is your response to this?

Max Allen Collins: Well, it’s obviously hyperbole, and Steranko is if anything the master of the grand gesture. My view is a little different. What I don’t like about comics and much of popular culture in recent years is a sort of phony darkness — a juvenile, arch darkness. “Darkness” isn’t tattoos and piercings and discordant music — “darkness” is flying a fucking plane into a building…that’s true darkness, and it’s not terribly entertaining. I feel my work — ANGEL IN BLACK, the latest Heller for example — is more legitimately dark, or anyway noir, than most of this stuff. James Ellroy is the best example, of course…it’s so childishly dark; everybody’s a dog-raping child molester or something. Laughable.
What’s going to be interesting is seeing where popular culture goes. Hollywood is re-releasing fluff like LEGALLY BLONDE and shelving the new Arnold-kicks-terrorist-butt movie…but maybe Americans would like to see Arnold kick some terrorist butt. About now a Mike Hammer novel with a great over-the-top revenge ending might feel pretty good. But I’m relieved to be a historical novelist at the moment — the 20th Century seems like a much safer canvas right now.

 

Jamie: What are you working on now?

Max Allen Collins: I just finished the novelization of ROAD, but I’m having trouble with DreamWorks because the licensing person feels I’ve put in too much material not in the script. The fact that I created this story and these characters does not seem to sway this person. So that’s a small nightmare I’m wrestling with.

And I’m working on THE LUSITANIA MURDERS, another of my “disaster” novels. Then I do the movie tie-in for THE SCORPION KING. Before the end of the year you’ll see two other recent works: WINDTALKERS, a John Woo novelization, and the first CSI novel, DOUBLE DEALER.

Brian Hibbs Interview

Originally published September of 2001. The follow up part was published a month later. What was interesting about this interview is that not too long after it Brian Hibbs would sue Marvel Comics for their refusal to accept returns on late or significantly altered books, as per Marvel’s own legally binding Terms of Service said they would do. Marvel settled the case out of court by giving comic shops credit for those books, which retailers were very thankful of. Shortly after that Brian was one of the founding members of ComicsPro, a trade organization for direct market comic shops.

 

An Interview With Brian Hibbs

Brian Hibbs is a very active comic retailer who owns a comic store called Comix Experience in San Francisco. Lately, he has been responding to public comments by both Editor in Chief Joe Quesada and President of Marvel Publishing Bill Jemas. Recently, Bill Jemas had an interview with GrayHavenMagazine.com in which he gave a number of surprising answers to questions concerning how stores should display comics, the price of Marvel vs. DC books, how quickly Marvel books sell and the very controversial no-overprint policy. In this interview, Brian responds to some of those statements by Bill Jemas and also talks about other topics concerning the industry.

 

Jamie: Tell us about your experience in comics. How long have you been a retailer, what’s your store like and what else you do in the industry?

Brian Hibbs: Comix Experience has been around for 12 years now. Opened April Fools day in 1989, but I’ve worked in comic retail for 16 years, something like that. I worked in another store before I opened my own. I’ve also done a little work in distribution, the only thing I haven’t done is publishing, actually. What’s the store like? We’re primarily a bookstore oriented comic shop. Trade paperbacks and Graphic Novels are our focus. We’ve been nominated and won national and local awards for excellence, that kind of thing.

 

Jamie: What’s different from your store than typical comic stores, I understand you are different in how you rack things?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, we do genre racking and things like that, but I don’t know what a “typical” comic shop really is. Even among the stores that I would consider my peers and who run excellent comic shops, I don’t think any of us do things the same ways or stock things the same ways. It’s one of the things I like about the comics business, actually.

 

Jamie: Variety eh?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, exactly. We’re really focused on reading. I guess the biggest difference I can say between us and the “average” store, we simply don’t allow speculation of any kind. You’re not allowed to buy more than two copies of any comic from us unless you tell us in advance that you want it. We’re completely focused on reading. That’s why we’re trade paperback and graphic novel oriented because I tend to think that’s a superior format for the reader, rather than a collector.

 

Jamie: I understand you also have a column?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah I write a… well, it’s not a monthly column anymore. It was monthly for many years there, about 8 years, in Comics and Games Retailer Magazine published by Krause Publications (the people that do Comics Buyers Guide). And yeah, I’ve written a hundred and six of them so far, about a third of them are up on our website if your readers want to check them out.

 

Jamie: That’s at ComixExperience.com right?

Brian Hibbs: Right.

 

Jamie: Are you in touch with a lot of retailers around North America?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah I like to think so, at least (laughter). Most of them are my friends and then there’s also things like some Robert Scott’s Forum on Delphi, which is a message board just for comic retailers, every day. There’s lots of threads going on back and forth there.

 

Jamie: Okay, we’re going to come up to Bill Jemas here. One of the things he mentioned in that Grayhaven interview was that he never read a comic book prior to becoming President of Marvel Publishing. Do you think that is a good or a bad thing?

Brian Hibbs: I tend to think it’s probably a bad thing. Comics is a very idiosyncratic business. We’re not like virtually any other business you can name. The things that work well in the comics field wouldn’t work well in other fields. I talk to a lot of other retailers who aren’t comic retailers and I tell them some of the ways our business works and they go “WhuuuHuh?” (laughter). They don’t get it, you know? But on the other side, I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with having an outsider’s perspective as long as you’re perceptive to the way the business actually works. Jemas, I understand, comes from Sports Cards and my perception has been that he is doing any number of steps that are appropriate for the sports card business but I don’t believe are very appropriate at all for the comic book business.

 

Jamie: One other comment that Jemas made was, “The simple fact is that the vast majority of retailers are doing very well with Marvel and are pleased with our current policies.” Do you agree with this?

Brian Hibbs: I would agree with the former part of the statement, I would very strongly disagree with the latter part. Certainly the retailers I speak to, I’d say only a third or less of them are “pleased” with the policies. Yeah sure, we’re selling more Marvel Comics but that’s a function of the fact that Marvel Comics are good and readable right now, not lack of stock availability. There was a long, long, long period…10 years…when they were just horrible tripe that nobody wanted (laughter). And now they’ve got really good creative teams on them, strong editorial directions. Of course the sales are going to be up in that context, but that doesn’t mean the policies to sell those comics to the retailers are necessarily wise or smart ones.

 

Jamie: Something else Jemas pointed out was that he thought the industry’s problems mainly stemmed from bad books. Do you think it was just bad books that hurt the industry for all those years?

Brian Hibbs: No, not at all. There’s bad books, bad stores, escalating price points, late shipping, inconsistent creators — all of these things play into it equally, I think. I don’t think you really can go, “Oh, it’s just bad comics.” Certainly looking at the sales charts, quality is not always a one-to-one relationship to sales. I’m sure you and I can both name any number of books that are excellent, superb comic books that just don’t sell very well in the average comic shop. I think that a lot of the problem is that most of the retailers do not appear to be stocking the wide range of material that would appeal to a wide range of people. They tend to focus primarily on the collectors and superhero completists. That’s certainly how this business, the direct market, evolved. I would tend to think bad stores are just as equal in the equation as bad content.

The real problem with the comics industry, as it stands at this moment, is there are simply not enough venues for you to buy comics in. There’s what? Three and a half thousand comic shops across this whole country? That’s really not very many at all, and more than that, the majority of them are concentrated in the big cities. There’s whole stretches of the country where you can go a hundred miles and there’s not a comic shop anywhere. Certainly there would be people interested in reading comics in those markets that aren’t being properly served. Even worse though, and this is going to sound a little arrogant and one thing I don’t like about interviews is you can’t see that I’m smiling when I say this, but about a year ago I did a tour of all the stores in San Francisco and went around looking at each one. I was looking for ideas mostly cause good retailers always learn from each other. But I realized that I don’t really have any “competition” in comic shops around San Francisco. Most of the stores here sell DC, Marvel and Image and that’s that, and that’s all they sell. They are much more focused on collectors only, and the stores remain small I believe because of that. Nobody in San Francisco has anywhere near the trade paperback selection that we do, except for Virgin. They’re the only ones that I would call my “competition” and they’re a media store or whatever. You don’t think of them as a place to go buy comic books, necessarily.

So I think the largest part of the problem is that there’s not enough good quality retailers out there. If someone does have an interest in comics that’s spurred by a movie or something else outside of comics, they’re probably not going to find what they want, in an environment that they want to shop in, because the direct market simply doesn’t have enough stores to give that to them. Outside of the direct market, you’re getting more and more venues that are beginning to carry graphic novels and trades, presented in a way that will appeal to people who aren’t interested in walking into a comic book shop every seven days to see what’s new that week. But again, I still think that it’s difficult if you’re a potential new consumer to just find a place to buy comics. When I was a kid growing up in New York, every little corner store had a rack of comics. That’s how I got into comics and everybody I know got into comics. We’ve lost the feeder mechanism to bring people into the marketplace, which is just a terrible shame.

 

Jamie: What sort of feeder mechanism should replace the one that we lost?

Brian Hibbs: Well, I think one of the problems is there is not enough of an incentive for new people to be opening comic shops. We also need the newsstands, there’s no doubt about it. In fact, I would be happy if newsstands went back to being 80-90% of comic sales, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing at all. I don’t know that’s going to happen because the amount of money a non-comics store can make off comics, seems to be generally limited in terms of periodicals. In terms of the perennial, the paperback, I mean obviously every bookstore in America should be carrying comics, some have done very, very well with them. In terms of the direct market, the main thing is to provide more incentives and a better business climate to which to show new entrepreneurs that it is possible to actually make money, to be successful selling comic books. I easily think we could double the number of comic book shops in this country and we wouldn’t even come close to meeting the demand that’s out there. And I think unfortunately, a lot of mechanisms in this business are really not geared towards making retailers any money. I do pretty well running a comic book shop, I’m not rich or anything. I don’t think there is a rich comic book retailer in this country (laughter). But certainly, if people are willing to work hard and really have a passion and desire for the form, it’s a business I would absolutely encourage people to jump into.

 

Jamie: Bill Jemas thinks that the most successful comic shops are the ones that carry the most Marvel Comics. Do you agree?

Brian Hibbs: Well, pretty clearly not (laughter).

 

Jamie: No?

Brian Hibbs: As far as I am aware, as of my last conversation with Diamond on the subject, I am the largest single comic account in San Francisco. San Francisco is one of the largest markets for comics in the country, and Marvel is a fairly low proportion of my business. Marvel is certainly an important publisher, is certainly a publisher that you shouldn’t go, “Agghh… I don’t want this,” but to say that you can not be successful, which is certainly the implication there, without Marvel Comics, is an utter fallacy.

 

Jamie: What do you think the most successful comic shops carry, then?

Brian Hibbs: The most successful comic shops carry a wide and diverse range of material that appeals to both their regular ongoing customers, and to civilians as well. Regardless of who publishes that material.

 

Jamie: Okay. Here is another quote from Bill Jemas from the same interview. It says, “On average, Marvel Comics sell more than twice as fast as a DC book and nearly 3 times as fast as an Image book and – are you ready – Over 10 times faster than the average indy book.” Has this been true in your experience?

Brian Hibbs: No, and I don’t even know where those numbers come from. I saw that and tried to figure out exactly what he was talking about. I think he was talking about average print runs. The problem is, when you’re looking at average print runs in the direct market, what is reported is initial orders only. For example, he said “twice a DC book.” Yeah, that’s probably true if you count all the newsstand-oriented comics DC does. Like the children books, which sell you know, ten thousand or less copies in the direct market because they’re not really geared to the direct market, they’re geared outside the direct market. So you’re really comparing apples and oranges in that case. Certainly in my experience if you believe in a book as a retailer and you are honest and straightforward with your customers, the customers could not care less who publishes that comic book. It makes no difference whatsoever, you know? Do they say, “I want to see a movie tonight and I’m going to see a Warner Brothers movie?” No, they go see a movie they want to see, with stars they want to see in it, by directors they enjoy or possibly even the screen writer that they think is a good one. That… it’s just a silly statement on so many levels I don’t even know exactly how to address it (laughter). I can say that yeah, it doesn’t come out very often, but a book like Eightball we sell probably 2:1, 3:1 on our average Marvel Comic sale. But again, that’s not really comparing apples to apples which is the problem of doing comparative analysis in such a flippant manner.

 

Jamie: Regarding Marvels no-overprinting policy. They say it saves them money and helps the comic industry in a number of ways. I take it you disagree with this?

Brian Hibbs: Well, I don’t know if I disagree with whether it saves them money or not because I don’t have access to their accounting, but I don’t think it serves the comic industry in any particular way at all, no. The direct market was primarily based originally around back issues. The average comic shop had a difficult time getting new comics and it was primarily selling old back issue comics. Most retailers would stock specifically for back issues. In the store I worked at before opening Comix Experience, we would order another case for the warehouse on certain books. Because we knew over time we’d sell them, that just made financial sense. Now of course, comics were only 75 cents then so our unit costs were, oh 35 cents, something like that. So you can stock a whole lot more in that case when the unit costs were so low and the majority of your business is based around the back stock. But that changed. The market completely changed as prices went higher, people stopped buying back issues by-and- large. Or at least they stopped casually buying back issues. It used to be that someone would come into my store with 5 dollars and they spent 3 dollars on new comics, getting a few new comics or whatever, then they’d have 2 bucks left and they’d spend that on back issues, just to fill out a run. As prices escalated, that same 5 dollars only bought you one or two new comic books and people could no longer afford to keep up on all the new books that they wanted, let alone buying any back issues.

So, the tenor of ordering properly meant that the retailer had to become much more conservative in their ordering because there isn’t an automatic pipeline anymore to sell those comics that come off the stands. What I found over the last 6 or 7 years, lets say, if I do not sell the average comic book in the first 30 to 90 days, it does not sell. If I order 20 copies of something and I only sell 18 of them, I will probably not sell the remaining two copies any time in the near future. It may take 3 or 4 or 5 years. So when you look at the business from that point of view, from a historical here-is-where-we-came-from-and-why-are-circulation- numbers-dropping-so-much POV it suddenly doesn’t make any sense for a comic book retailer buying non-returnably to over-stock their store. Certainly an awful lot of stores went out of business in the 90’s because they were drowning in overstock. Some of the best stores in the country nearly went out of the business during the 90’s because their inventory went out of control. Thankfully, these guys figured it out and have reduced their extreme exposure. A no-overprint situation means all the burden is put on ordering and selling that book up-front the first time, even if you don’t have any appropriate information to do so.

I’ll give you an example. Prior to the relaunch with Grant Morrison on X-Men we hadn’t sold, um… lets say 70 copies, max, of any issue of X-Men in like the 5 year period proceeding that. On a Grant Morrison book, I’m pretty sure we never sold more than a 100 copies at any point. Same thing with a Frank Quietly book. So I looked at that, thought, “This book is going to be big and I’m going to order… what the hell, I’m going to order 125 copies, let’s do it.” That, I think, is showing confidence in it. And I sold out of those in two days. Now, I probably could have sold 200, I could have sold 250, I could have sold 300 copies. Who knows? But because there weren’t any re-orders available, I wasn’t able to find out and customers went without that comic book. Now I more than doubled what the previous month of X-Men was and I sold out in two days. I couldn’t get any more. I don’t see how that can be a good policy, by any means.

I suppose Jemas would argue the reason that I sold out so fast was because people thought it would be short printed or something, but I certainly don’t think so. This is certainly not information that we’ve been making a big push of in our store. I think it was just the right book at the right time. But it under-performed to what it could do. You look at something like Green Arrow where we again ordered very strong, we sold out instantly, we called up and DC had some more for us. And when they ran out of those they went and printed up some more…and they printed some more…and they printed some more a fourth time. Green Arrow is my best selling DC comic right now, at least superhero-wise. And that’s precisely because I could keep going back and getting more copies, and more copies, and more copies each time. And of course I learned to increase my order the next time. Going back to X-Men, I saw how fast the first one sold out and I put in an advance re-order for the second one and took it up to 200 copies. The book finally comes in, it’s 5 weeks late, which doesn’t help anything and I sold 125 copies. I got 75 copies sitting there that I’m not going to sell anytime soon. I just took a bath on that book. I just lost money on the second issue of X-Men because I couldn’t get any more of the first one! When you look at it in those terms, I don’t see how I’m not doing everything exactly as I’m supposed to. I’m showing, in fact, statistically more support for a publisher, Marvel Comics, than the average quote, unquote comic shop. The average comic shop went up by about 40% and I went up a 100%. I think that gives me a bit of justification in saying that no, this is not a good policy. You cost yourself sales, you cost me sales, you cost Grant Morrison, you cost the distributors money, I don’t see how anybody is going to be happy with that situation.
The thing is, overprinting isn’t as expensive as Bill would like people to believe.

 

Jamie: Or Joe Quesada?

Brian Hibbs: Well, with him too, I guess.

 

Jamie: I know you had a public back and forth with him on Newsarama about this as well.

Brian Hibbs: Absolutely. The thing is, that when you do an analysis of what it costs you to print a comic book, your initial costs are amortized against your initial print run. So if it costs you X dollars to print, X dollars for talent, and X dollars to ship it out, X dollars for the retailers, then your profit or loss comes out of your initial orders. To flip the switch and have the printers run off another 5,000 copies is costing virtually nothing, it’s costing them 10 or 15 cents a book. You don’t amortize the entire cost back against the increased print run, you see what I’m saying? In other words, instead of costing me $3,000 to print 10,000 copies, if I print 11,000 it’s costing me $3,100. There is a hundred dollar difference there, for the “extra” 1000 copies. It costs you far less to print the “extras” than it does to print the initial run.

So, from any point of view, running an overprint is a very economical and profitable thing. The last statistic I saw from several different publishers was that they only had to sell 1 out of 5 of those overprinted copies to make a profit. As long as you sell 20% of it that’s okay, you can throw the other 80% of it away and you still made more money than you would have made otherwise. So, I definitely don’t think it’s a good plan at all.

 

Jamie: I noticed in the memo that Marvel sent to retailers regarding the no-overprint policy, they mentioned that some of the books found their way into the black market. Did you ever have a problem with that?

Brian Hibbs: No, I haven’t. I seem to think that is much more of an east coast thing because they print them up there, right in Montreal. Right close to the border. And that’s where copies are going through. I know there is… I don’t want to say which retailer it is… but there is one retailer in Montreal who says it was and sometimes continues to be, a massive problem for them. Boxes falling off the truck, or whatever. But I don’t see that as an issue with overprinting per se, certainly the same thing can happen even if you’re not overprinting.

 

Jamie: More of a security issue.

Brian Hibbs: Exactly.

 

Jamie: There are several other things they said in that memo that I know you disagreed with in the past, I guess I’ll get you to comment on them publicly. They say they kept their prices at $2.25 while DC raised them to $2.50.

Brian Hibbs: Well, that’s demonstrably not so. At the time when they made that statement, if you went in and compared Marvel’s list of comics vs. DC’s list of comics, most of DC’s books were still $2.25. DC has any number of $1.99 books to try and act as feeder books. I mean mathematically, at the time, it was not so. But still Marvel prices a lot of books at $2.99 and $2.50 constantly. So I don’t know… I mean… statements like that makes me wonder about the press sometimes, that they just run a statement like that without even going and checking if it was true or not (laughter). When someone makes a statement you should go and fact- check it, before you print it as fact y’know? But that’s just me, I suppose.

 

Jamie: Marvel says as a result of their no overprint policy, they’ve been able to build an inventory of trade paper backs and keep them in print. But I’ve heard Marvel has been having some troubles keeping trade paper backs in print.

Brian Hibbs: Yes, Marvel has been pretty damn bad about keeping trade paperbacks in print. But again, you have to look at the right way of doing the business model on this. You don’t just print for your initial orders and plus an overage to cover for the next couple of months. It doesn’t make any sense to do that. It makes a lot more sense to print a 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 year supply of the books because your unit costs are going to be that much lower. If you go back to press on another 3 to 5 thousand copies or whatever those numbers they are printing on, it costs you so much more than if you increase your print run to 10 to 15 thousand, if you see what I mean. It doesn’t make any mathematical sense. Now, if the argument is by not overprinting single comics then we can afford to print more trade paperbacks, that seems to me to be a fallacious argument on the face of it. Look at the disparity of the cover prices on those. As I say, when it costs oh.. lets say 15 cents to print off an extra copy of a periodical comic book on a 15 dollar paperback you’re looking more at a 2 to 3 dollar cost, lets say. My numbers may be a little off there but you would have to be overprinting by a really, really, really enormous margin to even come close to the math on that working out. Again, the problem is that Marvel has been doing a pretty bad job of keeping trade paperbacks in print, in stock and available. I mean, right now you can’t buy Marvels, the Kurt Busiek-Alex Ross book. That, if anything, is a perfect thing to hand to someone that hasn’t read comics in a long time, and to get them excited about superheroes and Marvel superheroes, in particular. It’s the namesake book of the line and it hasn’t been in print for something like 4 or 5 months! That, to me, is just absurd (laughter).

 

Jamie: A number of people think the no-overprint policy is mainly designed to enhance the collectability of a sold out comic. Does this help you at all?

Brian Hibbs: I don’t think it helps anyone, really. Look, comics are collectible because of supply and demand. Placing an artificial ceiling on the supply is… well, I think it is manipulative to the marketplace. I was always taught that the market itself should decide what is collectible and what is not.

Why would a publisher be in the business of trying to manufacture collectibles? They don’t see any money from that. Marvel doesn’t get a piece of E-Bay action. If the logic is, “This makes the initial orders higher”, well, I really challenge that. Morrison’s first issue of X- Men took a 40% leap (though the numbers went back down by the third one to only 20% above pre-Morrison numbers). I see that more of a function of the talent involved, rather than any false limitation of the print run. Besides, if it really was working then why are the Ultimates all down, across the board, from April to August? Spidey dropped 4%, X- Men 6% and Team-Up a staggering 22%. That wouldn’t be happening if they were truly collectible.

One other thing to take into account, is that Marvel’s plan seems to be to TPB their best-selling books as soon as humanly possible. Often before 30 days has passed since the last single issue. Now historically, TPB release of material deflates and softens the collectible value of the original issues.

 

Jamie: They also mention posting sold out comics on their webpage as a positive thing, do you think that’s good?

Brian Hibbs: Sure, why not? I don’t know that I believe that the experience of reading a comic on the web, especially one with the kind of pop- up pages the Marvels have, is even remotely the same as reading a printed comic, but anything that exposes our material to potential new customers is probably a good thing.

What I’m curious about is whether or not it actually helps drive sales. Like how many hits they get, and if they can point to any information that it is actually moving more units. Reading the sales charts, no, I don’t think it does. At least in no measurable way.

 

Jamie: Marvel has also been focusing on movies, hoping that they’ll increase the sales of their comics. In your experience, does comic movies help the sales of comic books?

Brian Hibbs: Virtually never, outside of a quick aberrational blip. What it can possibly do is translate to a greater awareness of a character or a concept in general… but it doesn’t appear to sell any more comic books. A quick look at the historical sales charts will confirm that.

There are certain exceptions, of course: Ghost World has had a significant impact on sales of that TPB. Our unit sales in that case have increased tenfold over what they were before the film. But that’s a rare exception.

 

Jamie: Bill Jemas seems real big on promoting the Ultimate, especially Ultimate Spider-Man as a good starting on point for new comic readers.

Brian Hibbs: It is a reasonable one. The story is well crafted, clear and easy to follow, and gives a good starting point for someone interested in super-hero comics. The thing is, the average non-comics reader isn’t particularly interested in reading super-hero comics. You’re much better off handing them a Ghost World, or a Maus, something that more accurately speaks to real experiences in their lives. Having said that, sure, I could think of far worse “entry points.”

 

Jamie: Including female readers?

Brian Hibbs: People are people, regardless of their sex. All things considered though, I’d hand a new female reader Ghost World, I think, over Spider-Man. The only real female roles in Spidey are “wife” and “girlfriend.”

 

Jamie: Jemas recommends Marvel-hating indy fans to read Elektra as a date comic. Think that’ll work?

Brian Hibbs: I’m not sure that Elektra is even remotely “indy flavored” (whatever that might mean). It is a decent enough comic, but within the Marvel line, I think I’d give an “indy fan” Morrison’s X-Men, or maybe X-Force by Milligan and Allred. Those seem to me, to be closer to that sensibility.

One thing though, and this is coming from a store where we sell as many “indy” comics as we do “mainstream”… the customers aren’t really that separate. It is very, very, very common for the cat who buys JLA or X-Men to also pick up a copy of Peepshow or Eightball or whatever.

 

Jamie: What books would you recommend as beginner books for males and females?

Brian Hibbs: More things than I could cover in an interview! I’d say it depends on who exactly that customer is. One of the tricks you learn in retail is finding out what a person’s interests are, and then matching a book to that. Comics are wide and diverse enough that I’m pretty confident I have something for anyone who walks in the door. Our massive and continued growth, strikingly above industry norms, should justify that statement.

 

Jamie: Marvel has recently announced an incentive for their TPB line. Saying, if retailers order 14 of their 16 TPB, you’ll get an additional discount going by the amount of books you order. An example being if you order two of each, you get an extra 2% discount. Is this an incentive that most retailers can actually use?

Brian Hibbs: Sure, I think so. The nice thing about this plan is they’ve set their quantities fairly low. That extra 2% comes with only 2 copies bought, and that is, I think, a good tool to use to get the average store to actually stock TPBs in the first place. The only problem with the plan is that they’re mixing in reprints of OP titles into that mix… a few of which had a low enough sales velocity in the first place to go Out of Print.

But anything that encourages more retailers to get into the book side of things is, I think, a very fine idea. TPB sales are the engine that is driving my business, and are a much better business model than non-returnable periodical comics. The reason for this is Just-In- Time ordering. Rather than investing real heavily on untested “floppy” comics, you can stock and restock the periodical. Well, assuming the publisher actually has them available, that is.

When you’re establishing yourself and sell two copies of Watchmen every month, when you sell one of those copies you can order another one. You’re only out of anything for a week, at maximum, at any time and your constantly turning over your cash flow in a real respectful way. This is a good business model.

 

Jamie: Now there were some things that Jemas said that seem to be positive, progressive things like he thinks comics stores should be racking by content rather than alphabetically.

Brian Hibbs: Oh absolutely. We’ve done that for years. Now having said that, some of the smartest retailers in the business vehemently disagree with that. I know Jim Hanley really strongly believes he gets much, much, much more great sales out of racking alphabetically. And I believe that’s true for Jim. As I was saying earlier in the interview, no two stores are really alike. I believe that genre racking is getting me increased sales over what alphabetical racking would. Jim feels differently, more power to him. But yeah, I’m definitely with Jemas on that one. I think that’s a good and smart way to rack material.
[Note: Jim Hanley owns Jim Hanley’s Universe at 4 West 33rd Street, New York, NY]

[Jim Hanley’s store is now called JHU Comic Books and has since moved to 32 East 32nd Street, New York, NY]

Jamie: Bill mentioned Marvel is trying to get new readers by giving away free online comics and giving away free samples. Examples given are the 500,000 Spider-Man comics within a game magazine, free Wolverine and X-Men Comics when the X-Men Movie came out, and in the future the 1 million Spider-Man comics going out through the Buster Brown Shoe Stores.

Brian Hibbs: Well, it’s been in the future for over a year now, so I don’t know (laughter) how much I trust that last one there. I think giving out comics is probably the smartest thing you could possibly do. Having said that, I have never, not once ever, seen anyone come into my store because of the giveaways that Marvel has done. I don’t know if… this is entirely possible that it’s just a regional thing. I do not believe that they gave out any X-Men comics at any San Francisco showing of the X-Men. I mean, I was there opening day and I didn’t see any comics being given away. I’m sure it’s happening somewhere, and I think it’s a great plan, again I think it’s a really intelligent and smart thing to do. The best way is, you know, “The first one’s free, kid,” particularly if the content of what you’re giving away is good quality content. That’s why I think giving away Ultimate Spider-Man would be a really smart thing to do. Giving away some bad X-Men comics could actually hurt you at that point. If someone comes out and says, “That was a great movie, what’s this free comic? Ewww… it’s not very good at all.” I don’t know if you remember the TV Guide X-Men insert?

 

Jamie: Yeah, I don’t think I got it, but I heard about it.

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, it was really, really, really bad. It was everything that was wrong with the Chris Claremont X-Men. Just page after page of people coming in and saying, “My name is this and here is my power!” and you know it wasn’t interesting at all. I’m sure that turned more people off from comics than it could ever have gotten them to come into a store and say, “Hey, this is interesting, lets check this out.” So you have to be very careful when giving stuff away for free (laughter). To make sure it’s good, quality, appropriate material.

Here’s the thing though: if you’re doing these sort of giveaways… shouldn’t you be informing the local retailers so they can capitalize upon it? If they did giveaway X-Men comics at the X-Men movie, I sure didn’t know about it.

 

Jamie: Marvel says their goal over the next 5 years is to double their sales. Do you think they can do that?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, sure. Sure. I mean, I don’t think they can do it as long as they have a policy in place that’s says once we sell out that’s it, period. You know? (laughter). I don’t think that’s going to happen until they remove the no overprint program. I don’t think it can happen. But otherwise? It’s completely doable, completely doable. It’s just a matter of putting out good comics, supporting the stores, letting people know that the comics exist, getting people excited about the content of the material. Yeah, Marvel’s got no where to go but up right now and I think that’s a good thing. What’s interesting particularly in my exchanges with Joe Quesada, we had a bunch of e-mails back and forth and I was really struck with the impression that they seem to think I’m like anti-Marvel or something. And nothing could be further than the truth, I want Marvel to succeed, you know? I want as many good quality publishers producing good, quality material out there doing as many strong things as they possibly can, in my store. But, I don’t like being called an idiot. I don’t like being told I’m full of self-loathing. I don’t like a policy that is very demonstrably costing me sales. All those things are very negative and horrible things and when I stand up and go, “Hey this is wrong” it’s from that point of view. Not because I hate Marvel or I’m anti-Marvel or something like that. That would be silly, I’m a comic book retailer, it’s my job to sell comic books. When the publisher gets in my way of selling those comic books, then we’re going to have a problem.

 

Jamie: Just out of curiosity, what’s your IQ score?

Brian Hibbs: What’s my IQ score?

 

Jamie: (laughter)

Brian Hibbs: I don’t remember. When I took the IQ test I was like 13, or something like that? But I qualified for Mensa, if that counts? But I don’t know, I don’t care. IQ numbers?

 

Jamie: Sorry, that was just a question I had to ask (laughter).

Brian Hibbs: That was a very ill considered statement on Bill’s part. And I think he made it much worse by issuing the second press release saying, “Yeah, I’m fooling around but oh, by the way, you’re still idiots.” You know, that’s how I read it. I didn’t want to read it that way but that’s… you know, here we are… comic shop retailers work really, really, really, really hard and we don’t make very much money. Not that we’re poor or anything like that, but then to have a some guy go, “Well if you don’t agree with me, than you’re a dope.” You know? Pfft. That doesn’t help anything. That doesn’t help morale. And particularly coming out after getting through the 90’s, morale is an issue that… if I were a publisher, morale would be an issue I would be very, very concerned with. I wouldn’t want you retailers going, “I don’t know if this guy is someone I want to do business with.” It’s just dumb.

 

Jamie: I understand that Marvel recently had another retailer press conference, one that you suggested to Joe Quesada at San Diego. Within this, they openly admitted that they only invited retailers that had the strongest growth of Marvel sales and they left you out of it. How does that color your view of them?

Brian Hibbs: Well, I don’t know the specifics of the statements that Bill or Joe or whoever made at the conference call, so I don’t know what their standard was. I will say though, that their most vocal critics like me, like Joe Field, like Matt Lehman, who were invited to the first retailer conference, were not invited to this one. How does that color my perception? I don’t know, I think it makes them cowardly, is what I think it does. I think that if you can’t have an intelligent conversation about a policy, particularly now that we’ve had some time behind us and we can start to judge if that policy has or has not worked.
I would point out that the SCC filings that Marvel just made as of last Tuesday (from when we are doing this interview) show that from quarter to quarter, from 2000 to 2001 that Marvel Publishing sales have gone down. They haven’t gone up, they’ve gone down.
I would point to the very sales charts from April to August, that every single one of those months, the vast majority of Marvel Comics have dropped in sales from month to month. Nineteen of the twenty-five books that are on all four month’s worth of sales charts have dropped. To me, this says, “Well, this policy isn’t really working is it?” Yeah, absolutely, X-Men has gone up 25%, or whatever and that is a great thing, that is a wonderful thing for them. But Avengers has dropped by 6% and Daredevil dropped by 15% and Tangled Web dropped by 32%. So, I think at this point you should be willing, as a publisher, to look at what the actual impact is. As opposed to what you believe, or what you want to have happen. I think it’s really important to look at those things critically. The smart publishers and the smart distributors (well, which is pretty much Diamond at this point but…) have come to realize that critical thought is a good thing and something that should be embraced. That if we go to them, me and any number of retailers go, “We don’t think it’s a good idea,” they’ll go, “Okay. We’re going to think about it again. We’re going to actually look at this carefully and ask ourselves, “does our plan make sense or does our plan not make sense?” If we still think it makes sense as a publisher than let us go back to the retailers and go “Here’s really why we think it’s making sense and here’s some tangible, provable things that we can point to.” Marvel doesn’t have any of that right now as far as I can tell, besides just blind rah-rah. “No-No, it’s working. Look, X-Mens up!” (laughter)

To me that doesn’t tell the whole story, that tells a very small part of the story. How much would X-Men be up if we could keep going back to the well and keep getting more copies? Frankly, I think X-Men could have done 200,000 copies rather than the 150,000 or so that it did. I really do, I really believe strongly that it could have done 200,000 copies. But we’ll never know now. And if I were a creator, I’d be really upset about that. you know? “Wait a minute, what do you mean? There’s people who want my comic and you won’t sell it to them?” (laughter). That’s silly. So, to sorta back up there, I think it is extremely short sighted to only invite people to a conference call that are there to, let us say, be “positive.” Unflinchingly so. I think it’s always a good thing to have dissenting voices and to listen to them carefully and pay attention to what they have to say. I would love it, I would adore it in fact, if Joe or Bill came into my store, walked around and went “Y’know, we think if you did this, your store would be a better place.” And I would listen to that. I listen every time anybody comes into my store and says, “You know, I don’t think this is right, I think you should do this.” I look at it, I evaluate it, I think about it and most of the time I actually end up trying people’s suggestions. You know, that’s how you get better. You don’t get better by going “Oh, you can’t come because you’re a big meany.”

 

Jamie: At the same conference call with a number of your peers, Bill Jemas referred to you as “Hairy Neck” and kept calling Joe Field’s Flying Colors store “Failing Colors.” How do you respond to something like that?

Brian Hibbs: I’m not sure, honestly. I think it is incredibly juvenile to resort to name-calling, particularly in front of a group of peers. Several of the people involved as participants called me to tell me how ashamed they felt hearing that. I don’t think it is good business to insult your customers.

 

Jamie: Switching topics a bit here, I understand there is a weekly War Machine Comic that’s coming out, part of the experimentation that Marvel is doing. And because of it being weekly it’s very hard for retailers to order it in proper numbers. Can you explain to the readers why that is?

Brian Hibbs: Okay, because we’re basically ordering sight unseen and we’ll probably end up ordering all 12 issues before the first issue even ships. Now this is assuming it ships on time. I’d like to believe that if they’re doing weekly comics they can do them on time. But Marvel has been very, very, very bad on timely shipping recently. When you order a comic you’re… if you’re a good retailer, you keep up to date on what you sell of your comics. So, let’s say for War Machine, I’m going to look at it and go this is going to sell relatively in some sort of proportion, be it up or down or in the middle of, lets say, Iron Man. That gives me a good benchmark to work from. But War Machine is black and white. But it’s weekly, it doesn’t have any of the same creators that Iron Man has, it is a character that has failed in his own series in the past and that people didn’t appear to like very much. So, you look at that and you’re going, “Well, do I order 50% of Iron Man? Do I order 70%? or do I order 110%?” There is no way to know. We’re guessing. Every time a comic book retailer places an order they are basically guessing. They’re educated guesses to be sure, we have data we can look back at. I can show you in cycle sheets where books just take sudden shifts whether it’s up or whether it’s down for no reason. It’s the exact same creator team from month to month, there is nothing that changed about the book, not a character has changed or anything like that, and all of a sudden a third of the customers go, “I don’t want this anymore,” all at once (laughter). And there is just no way to predict these things. Ordering comics is not a science, it’s an art. It’s like trying to see the future. What are my customers going to want 3 months from now? And it’s much, much worse in the case of a weekly book because there are so many issues you have to order in advance. Now, a normal comic book, if we’re lucky, we only have to order maybe two, maybe three issues in advance before the first one comes and we can actually see whether it sold or not. In this case, we’re basically going to have to order all of them. If not, it’s all but 3 and even then you can’t really tell from issue #1 what a series is going to sell for issue #12. You can sorta tell, but not really. I don’t know, is that making sense? I never know how to answer these questions, because for me, comics retailing is so ingrained that do it without thinking.

 

Jamie: I think you explained it as best you could, I understand it.

Brian Hibbs: Okay. Well, if you understand it, hopefully your readers will.

 

Jamie: I know some retailers have been little squeamish on selling some of Marvels non-code approved books to kids. An example being the eyeless Wolverine issue. What are your feelings on that?

Brian Hibbs: I think in an awful lot of communities, retailers really, really, really, really need to be squeamish about doing those kinds of things. Because community standards are the important issue when it comes to the acceptability of selling a book. I am blessed, well not blessed because I’ve very specifically opened my store here, but I’m blessed by being in San Francisco. Not only in San Francisco, but in an extremely liberal part of San Francisco. So those are not particular concerns that I have. But yeah, I would be very concerned if I was in a more conservative area with having that comic or any number of things that have been announced or have come out. Because if just one wrong person sees it, you can lose your store. It’s entirely possible. Just look at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and look at all the retailers that have gone to jail, or who have lost their store or lost thousands of dollars fighting conservative forces. In something that is especially perceived as children’s entertainment by the vast majority of America, IE. Superhero comics, I think that becomes an even bigger issue to be aware of. I would not consciously sell that issue of X-Force or that issue of Wolverine with the eyeball to a child. I wouldn’t do it and I’m in San Francisco. How much worse it must be if your in, I don’t know, Iowa or something like that? Something else of note is that I used to be on the board of directors for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. And at no point was Marvel ever interested in supporting the CBLDF or what it stood for. At the time their reasoning was something very close to, “Well you know, we just don’t produce comics like that.” And now they are producing comics like that and I will be very curious to see if a store does get arrested for selling some of this material, what Marvel will do. I’ll be very curious indeed.

 

Jamie: I wonder if some of this comes from our own ideas of what kids should and shouldn’t be seeing vs. what Network TV keeps showing. Some think we should just follow their lead and just think if they’re doing it, we can do it too.

Brian Hibbs: Well, yeah, maybe. I don’t know I really want to wade into the censorship issue or the appropriateness issue because frankly, I think that’s a decision the parents have to make. The parents need to decide what they are comfortable with their children viewing. In something like that first issue of X-Force, which was an excellent comic by the way, I really liked that comic a lot… but you know, it’s got a character that’s ripped apart by a machine gun and his guts are leaking out of his body. I mean, it’s shown and it’s very visual and I don’t think you’d even see that on Network Television. I think it was really irresponsible, particularly in a comic which had been completely and utterly safe for children for 115, or whatever, previous issues, to sudden have massive eviscerations (laughter). But I really think it’s… I don’t really have a problem with Marvel having their own rating system as long as it’s consistently and consciously applied. I don’t know that it is and that’s my big concern. As far as I understand from reading their press release on it, if I recall correctly the Ultimate Marvel line was supposed to be G rated comics, as it were. And I think there are things in there that are probably not G rated and aren’t being thought about. Things like the Kingpin crushing some guy’s head. Yeah okay, it happens off panel but if I recall correctly there’s a spurt of blood. You know, you feel it and I personally wouldn’t go, “Well, that’s a G rated thing”. Again I’m in liberal San Francisco, so I don’t have to worry about these kinds of things, thank God (laughter).

Hibbs Interview Responses:
Last months interview with Brian Hibbs got a lot of traffic and reactions around the web. We decided to follow up on it by asking for responses by those involved. First we made the offer to Bill Jemas as he was the most talked about person in the interview.

Bill Jemas responded with:
By the way Brian Hibbs is just Paul Levitz spokesmodel – so you could go ahead and attribute his opinions directly to the Sultan.

We talked to Paul Levitz and he replied with No Comment.

Brian Hibbs replied with:
Why do I have this horrible thought of me wearing pearls and high heels, and doing that Vanna White hand-gesture thing?
Geez, I could have lived without that image in my brain!
‘Spokesmodel’? Can’t the man even insult correctly? First ‘hairy neck’ (huh?), now this!
Anyway I have to assume that it is only since Mr Jemas took over Marvel Comics, that he started reading Comics and Games Retailer, where my opinion column Tilting at Windmills runs.

If he had read the column prior to that, he would see that I have strongly criticized the policies of all and any companies (including, yah, DC Comics) that work against the best interest of comic book retailers. And, of course, when DC does dumb things in the future (and they will, such is the nature of things), I’ll be there to discuss their mistakes with my readers.

And, of course, as the older columns continue to go up on www.comixexperience.com your readers (and Mr. Jemas!) will be able to see that for yourself.
I’d like to think better of my fellow man, but it seems to me the reason that Mr. Jemas dismisses cogent and specific criticism with random insults is that he can’t defend his own position in any other manner.

It frustrates me as a comics retailer that the COO of Marvel Comics is determined to follow policies that are pretty demonstrably costing both them, and myself, sales.
It frustrates me as a person that he has to resort to name-calling when faced with rational debate on the subject.

 

2nd Jim Valentino Interview

This was originally published January of 2001. I had done an interview with Jim previously and thought it went well. Now he had recently been named Publisher of Image comics and was working with ACTOR (now called Hero Initiative). I thought I’d interview him again about his new roles. This was sadly a short interview. I had sent Jim a batch of 13 questions and he only answered a half of them. I then sent him another batch of 12 questions and again only answered half of those too. I was pretty frustrated and decided to just go with what I got instead of continuing with the teeth pulling exercise.

 

An Interview With Jim Valentino

When I first interviewed Jim Valentino in June of 1998, he was working on the Altered Image mini-series and had just announced he was doing some work with Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles titles. Since then, he has become the Publisher of Image Comics and a board member of ACTOR (A Commitment To Our Roots). In this interview, we talk about new books and talents at Image, Jim’s background and his work in ACTOR, a charity group that helps out retired creators in their time of need.

 

Jamie: What are your goals for Image? How do you want it to improve?

Jim Valentino: I want Image to improve in every way conceivable. Better stories, better art, better on-time shipping. I want fans and retailers to trust that Image is a company they can depend on for quality, diversity and professionalism.

 

Jamie: Were you surprised when Tom DeFalco wanted to do a creator owned book through Image? Since he was the Editor In Chief of Marvel way back when the founders broke away and formed Image?

Jim Valentino: I was delighted. Tom brought me into Marvel, we have always had a very warm and friendly relationship. This is pure joy for me. I’ve read the first issue of Randy O’Donnell is The M@n, Tom’s first book for us–and it’s a sheer delight! It’s the best stuff Tom and Ron Lim have ever done, I could not be happier.

 

Jamie: Image has gotten some big name creators and titles as of late with Battle Chasers and now Kevin Smith books. Just to clear something up, will Image be reprinting books that were done at Oni?

Jim Valentino: This was covered in the press release. Chasing Dogma and Clerks will both be re-issued with photo covers, the former in color.

 

Jamie: Do you plan on doing any creative work soon?

Jim Valentino: The work I’m doing every day to make Image a better company is both creative and rewarding enough for me at the present time.

 

Jamie: How is working on the business end of comics different than working on the creative end?

Jim Valentino: It’s different on nearly every level. The job descriptions are different. As a creator, one must create–something new where it did not previously exist.
On the business level, one must wear many hats. Find solutions to problems that come up on a daily basis. The two could not be any more dissimilar.

 

Jamie: Does being a former creator give you an insight or advantage that others in the business side of comics don’t have?

Jim Valentino: Certainly it gives me insight and experience. Having worked at all levels in this business from retail to distribution, creator to editor to publisher, I’ve learned one or two things along the way. How that compares, favorably or in any other way to anyone else I cannot say.

 

Jamie: I wasn’t aware you had experience in retail and distribution, can you tell more about your time in these areas? (Who did you work for, when & how long, what did you did there, etc…)

Jim Valentino: I worked for several retail stores in the 70’s–Colorado Comics and Jack Dickenson’s Comic Kingdom in San Diego, among others. Also in the late 70’s, I helped Ken Krueger open the first distribution center in LA for Pacific Comics (so Diamond big-wig, Bill Shanes, was my boss!). I also worked with Pacific in San Diego.

 

Jamie: TPB backlists have become a topic in the industry with DC benefiting greatly from one and Marvel admitting they need one. Any chance that Image will create a backlist program for all of it’s creators instead of having them do it all on their own?

Jim Valentino: Image already has a large and growing backlist of titles. And since all Image comics are creator owned, I’m uncertain what the last sentence means.

 

Jamie: DC has a staffed warehouse full of TPB’s and keeps them all in print. Do you see Image doing that as a service in the future?

Jim Valentino: All of Image’s trades are in Diamond’s Star System (as are DC’s). They are warehoused. As books go out of print, we gauge whether or not there is sufficient demand for the title. We discuss reprinting with the creator/owner (DC’s owning their Marks and Image publishing creator owned properties is not merely a difference in semantics, but a difference in the entire way we operate), if there is sufficient interest in the title and if the creator is willing, we go back to press. Again, we are not DC. Comparing us, one to the other, is an apples/oranges argument.

 

Jamie: Who came up with the idea of ACTOR and how did it form?

Jim Valentino: Jim McLaughlin came up with it. I do not know how it was formed, I suggest you ask Jim.

 

Jamie: Do you know who ACTOR will help out first and when and how it will do that?

Jim Valentino: No. It’s set up so there are two separate committees. The one I’m on will get the word out (promotion, propaganda, whatever) and help to raise the funds. Then there is another committee that will nominate recipients and disperse the funds.

 

Jamie: Can you tell us who is on which committee?

Jim Valentino: The Board of Directors (fund-raising committee) are: Jim McLaughlin, Mark Alessi, Brian Pulido, Patrick McCallum, Joe Quesada, Diana Schutz and Jim Valentino. The disbursement committee are: Roy Thomas, George Perez, Joe Kubert, Denny O’Neil, John Romita, Sr. and Dick Giordano.

 

Jamie: How can fans help out with ACTOR?

Jim Valentino: They can donate money–they can buy the stuff going up for auction. They can look for more auctions.

Paul Levitz Interview

Originally published in February of 1999. I did this interview in part because my editor Sheryl Roberts was a big Legion of Superheroes and Paul Levitz fan. After I e-mailed it in she thought I was hard on Paul (brutal was the word I recall) and she told me she e-mailed him an apology for the interview. Every time I re-read this interview I cannot find what I asked that was so hard, except perhaps some industry ‘comics not selling as well as they used to’ stuff and getting him on record on Bill Finger Bat-Man co-creator credit (which I think even Paul is happy has changed for the better). I’m not sure how Paul felt about it and I haven’t bothered to ask him either. I think this was the first ‘online’ interview that Paul did and if I remember right it would be several years before he did another.

 

An Interview with Paul Levitz

For those who don’t know who Paul Levitz is, look inside your DC Comics. You’ll see his name in the fine print beside the title ‘Executive Vice President and Publisher of DC Comics’. So he’s a big chief, but he was also a comic pro – best known for writing the Legion of Superheroes. He talks to us today about the state of the industry, current goings-on at DC, and his former work on LSH.
 

Paul Levitz at 2016 San Diego Comic Con

Jamie: Exactly what does the Executive Vice President and Publisher of DC Comics do? What is your job description?

Paul Levitz: The job is basically to supervise the day to day operations of the company. I spend the majority of my time on our publishing business, and the balance working with our product, promotional and media licensing.

 

Jamie: What was the path that took you from lowly fanboy to VP of DC? What kind of educational preparation did you get and how did you get hired at DC initially, and what did it take to stay there and to move up?

Paul Levitz: The path is mostly luck, I suspect, and being in the right place at the right time. I was going to NYU’s business school while I was working as an assistant editor at DC (two days/wk of one, three days of the other–the work providing the means for me to pay for school, obviously). Joe Orlando had hired me to do his text pages freelance while I was in high school, having decided from my fanzines that I could be a writer before I thought I could be, and later asked me to come on staff. Over the next few years, when more business/editorial opportunities opened up as Jenette arrived at DC, I was one of the rare folks with some knowledge of both.

 

Jamie: What is your opinion on the current comic market? Some people say it’s been niggling upwards since February ’98. Is this true?

Paul Levitz: I think the market’s fairly stable. The better retailers’ sales are rising, but we’re still losing some of the weaker ones.

 

Jamie: What do you think is needed to improve the comic industry?

Paul Levitz: More great comics, more places to buy comics.

 

Jamie: Some people think we need to change the 32 page pamphlet format to something else. Do you think we would gain readers if they were in Archie style digests or in magazines?

Paul Levitz: All depends on where you can offer those formats for sale. For example, the Archie digests are perfect for young girls with their supermarket display space, but I doubt that would work for super hero material…and Vertigo-type material wouldn’t even be allowed in the door.

 

Jamie: How is DC trying to get non-comic readers buying comics?

Paul Levitz: We did a major cross-promotion with Cartoon Network last year, giving away hundreds of thousands of comics and advertising this on tv. We’re also reaching out thru bookstores for our paperback formats.

 

Jamie: Over the last few years we have seen a number of quality books come out from DC like Chase and Young Heroes in Love but they soon get canceled. Do you have any idea why these books don’t succeed?

Paul Levitz: Not enough people think they’re great.

 

Jamie: Looking back on those titles, is DC going to do anything different with Keith Giffens new title Vext?

Paul Levitz: It’s different type of material, and perhaps that will help.

 

Jamie: What new titles and Archives can we look forward to in 1999?

Paul Levitz: I can never keep track of what stage we’re at in making announcements, so I don’t do them. Watch DC OnLine.

 

Jamie: Now that Hypertime is established in the DC Universe, will the Elseworlds label still be used?

Paul Levitz: Yup.

 

Jamie: Hypertime has been called a continuity mistake fixer by some fans. Do you agree with this?

Paul Levitz: Time will tell.

 

Jamie: Continuity has been a hot topic as of late. Some pro’s say it hinders the the industry, while others seem to revel in it. What’s your opinion on continuity?

Paul Levitz: I loved playing with continuity as a writer.

 

Jamie: Will there be any more Kingdom related story lines?

Paul Levitz: Yup.

 

Jamie: Does DC already have something planned for the next ‘skip week’? If so, what?

Paul Levitz: Next one is a JSA stunt.

 

Jamie: Is there any chance Bill Finger will be credited as Batman’s co-creator in the Bat-books?

Paul Levitz: Not likely. Bill was technically Bob’s ghost writer rather than the co- creator, so for a host of legal reasons it’s unlikely to ever happen.

 

Jamie: What titles do you read that are not published by DC Comics?

Paul Levitz: Varies with the month…the new Spirit, Cerebrus, any of the classic Marvel titles when written by a writer I enjoy (I’m dipping into Thor and Avengers occasionally these days).

 

Jamie: What do you think caused the shift from dark/grim hero comics to bright/fun comics, and how long do you think it’s going to last?

Paul Levitz: The tide seems to shift with the mindset of the major writers working at a time. The grim/gritty crew had the tail end of Vietnam and Watergate as their childhood worldview, and that probably showed in the work. I’m not certain what the next generation responded to–maybe Reagan?

 

Jamie: Do you think this shift to bright/fun comics has hurt the Vertigo line?

Paul Levitz: Nope.

 

Jamie: Paul, you are certainly considered *the* writer of The Legion of Superheroes by the majority of fans. Here are some questions related to the Legion: How did you get the writing assignment the first time? How did you get the writing assignment the second time?

Paul Levitz: I was a lifetime Legion fan, and at the time Jim gave up the book for a staff gig at Marvel (1976) I had a fair amount of influence over assignments, and must have begged/pleaded/persuaded Denny to give me the chance.

Second time out, Mike Barr was editing the series and talked me back on when I was between major assignments and the book came open.

 

Jamie: You’re work on the second run is far better than the first run. What changed to make you a better writer?

Paul Levitz: Mostly me. I had the maturity to stick to assignments I could do, instead of overcommitting my writing time and spreading myself too thin (result: fill- ins, sloppy work, etc.). Plus the great advantage of the long collaboration with Keith, at the peak of his fecundity.

 

Jamie: Speaking of writing, who were your mentors and what did they teach you?

Paul Levitz: Joe Orlando taught me the most about comics writing and editing. My creative inspirations as a writer came from Roy Thomas’ work, particularly on the Avengers, and therefore at one remove from Stan Lee’s. Denny was particularly helpful in teaching me how to tighten and edit my copy.

 

Jamie: It was fairly common knowledge in fan circles that you used cards to keep track of the characters in your second stint as LSH writer. How exactly did that work?

Paul Levitz: Never used cards, actually. Probably comes from a remark about using a SCORECARD to keep track. Basically, a column down the left spelled out the plotlines I had in works. Sequential columns were labelled by upcoming issues, and indicated the developments I expected.

 

Jamie: We know that you were for the reboot of the series when it happened. As a fan instead of “The Boss,” what do you think of the post boot Legion now?

Paul Levitz: Couple of good stories–particularly the riff on xenophobia–but I’m a harsh judge because I can’t help seeing it through the eyes of my personal preferences. It’s not a title I can judge objectively.

 

Jamie: What can fans do to show their commitment to the Legion if they don’t feel the current books are worth buying?

Paul Levitz: Write MacAvennie and Carlin, tell them.

 

Jamie: What conditions would have to be in place for you to consider a third stint at writing the Legion books?

Paul Levitz: Never thought I’d do a second run, so I certainly don’t expect to do a third. When I’m done with the day job, who knows…

Steve Darnall Interview

This is my interview with Steve Darnall. He’s probably best know for co-writing Uncle Sam, a Vertigo book he did with Alex Ross. It is a fantastic book and I’m surprised Darnall didn’t get a lot more mainstream comic writing work out of it. This interview was originally published in May 1998.

 

An Interview with Steve Darnall
Steve Darnall is best known for teaming up with Alex Ross and writing Uncle Sam, a book published by DC Comics. He also writes a comic called Empty Love Stories and is here to talk to us about comics, politics, his current and upcoming work.

 

Jamie: What is your book Empty Love Stories about?

Steve Darnall: For practicality’s sake, it’s a satire of old romance comics–and more importantly, about the attitudes many of those romance comics espoused. A great number of those stories of the 50s and 60s were written by middle-aged men–often men needing some money before the next superhero or western script came in–and aimed at adolescent girls. Now, if you were to ask a hundred people at random, “Which demographic do you think should be giving young women advice that will shape their lives forever?” I doubt very much if the first answer on their tongues would be, “Middle-aged men.” It’s absurd. So I just decided to be absurd in the extreme.

In the grand, philosophical sense, it’s about the fear of being alone.

 

Jamie: How long have you been doing Empty Love Stories?

Steve Darnall: The first issue came out in late 1994, another in ’96, a third earlier this year, and we’re planning to reprint issue #1 in July of this year–with another new issue scheduled for January–so that makes almost four years of sporadic loving.

 

Jamie: Where did you get your start in the comic industry?

Steve Darnall: The embryonic moment came when my friend Alex Ross came to me with an eight-page story he’d done involving the origin of the Human Torch. He wasn’t feeling very confident with his script and asked me to try my hand at it. I did so, we rammed the two scripts together at high speed and suddenly, I’d helped to write a comic book story. Some years later, the story appeared in Marvels #0.

As far as landing a position that suggested I could be in this business for awhile, that came when I took a editorial position at a trade publication called Hero Illustrated in 1993. I learned an awful lot about the industry, worked with some good people, won an Eisner Award and got to cultivate a lot of friendships–some of which I still maintain.

 

Jamie: Have you ever sent proposals to Marvel and DC? If so what were they?

Steve Darnall: Oh, sure. They were among the many companies that turned down Empty Love Stories–Marvel’s paying the price for that one now! Obviously, Uncle Sam came about in part because of a written proposal. I recently sent something to DC regarding a Batman story, but I hear there’s a long line of folks ahead of me waiting for that character.

 

Jamie: What inspired you to write Uncle Sam and pitch it to DC Comics?

Steve Darnall: The initial inspiration came from an evening spent over at Alex’s where I mentioned that Sam was one of the few unjustly neglected characters in the DC or Marvel Universes. At that point, the light bulbs over our heads went off. Over the next year or two–a period filled with the Persian Gulf War and the Los Angeles riots and the looming Presidential elections–we discussed the idea that there were really two Americas, the flawless giant we were told about and the rather fragile creature we were seeing in the raw. Then, as the years went by and one of us became a hot property–I’ll let your readers guess which one–Karen Berger approached the hot one about the idea of doing something for Vertigo. Alex brought up “U.S.” and the ball was officially rolling.

 

Jamie: I’m sure you got some reaction from conservative readers regarding Uncle Sam, how did you deal with them?

Steve Darnall: I accepted them as part of the diversity of opinions that make this nation great and wished they could have directed some of their indignation towards their elected officials, who are doing a far better job of selling us down the river than I ever could.

Actually, there wasn’t a lot of negative feedback brought to my attention, and most of what I did see came from people who’d only read the first issue. In fairness to them, I only read the first half of their letters.

 

Jamie: I got to ask this.. Who did you vote for in the last election?

Steve Darnall: Let me put it this way: neither Kang nor Kodos.

 

Jamie: What new books will you be writing?

Steve Darnall: The one thing that remains firmly in place is writing and publishing Empty Love Stories–something of a job in itself these days–and I’m working on getting a new issue written this spring so my artists can have it ready for release next January–just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jeff Smith is scheduled to do the cover. I’m keeping busy freelancing for some other media, in case the powers that be sink comics entirely.

Beyond that, I’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline but nothing so final that I want to talk about it now.

 

Jamie: As a writer, who are your influences?

Steve Darnall: Oh God…one that leaps to mind is S.J. Perelman. An absolutely brilliant humorist. John Steinbeck. Graham Greene. Howard Zinn. Willie Dixon. Shakespeare. Woody Guthrie. Hunter S. Thompson. The Beatles.

In terms of comics: Will Eisner, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Los Bros. Hernandez.

 

Jamie: What comics do you recommend to other readers?

Steve Darnall: Of the current crop, my hands-down favorites are Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage, and Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting. I’ve never been big on fantasy storytelling but Linda’s work has a great sense of humor and I’m always drawn to that clean, fluid style of art. I thought Ragmop was tremendous; I was really sorry to see it go. Starman has always impressed me: it’s great to see DC publish a book that’s basically about getting along with your father. Let’s see…Palookaville, Manya, Action Girl, Scary Godmother, Bone…I must like Lethargic Lad, since I’m always calling Greg Hyland with story ideas I hope he’ll use…the EC reprints, of course…and of course, anything by Evan Dorkin.

 

Update! The Combined Best Graphic Novels of 2016!

Since I posted this I’ve had a couple of people point out some sites I’ve missed. This list has now been updated with those lists and the new totals.

Over the last few months there have been many, many websites with “Best of 2016” lists concerning comic books and graphic novels. If you’ve looked at a few, you may have noticed some of the same books on different lists and seen some unique to only that list.

I went through over 120 different “Best Of” Lists regarding comic books and graphic novels and combined them into a spreadsheet. There are over 2,000 different listings of books from these websites. I should note that I’ve included books that were given honorable mentions. In short, if somebody thought it was a good book that you should check out, it’s on here. Pivot tables have been created to show which books appeared on the number of lists. Here are the books with 5 mentions or more:

Book Title Count Writer Artist Publisher
Paper Girls 42 Brian K. Vaughan Cliff Chiang Image Comics
March: Book Three 41 US Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin Nate Powell Top Shelf
The Vision 40 Tom King Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Michael Walsh Marvel Comics
Patience 35 Daniel Clowes Daniel Clowes Fantagraphics
Rosalie Lightning 29 Tom Hart Tom Hart St. Martin’s
Black Panther 27 Ta-Nehisi Coates Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse Marvel Comics
Monstress 23 Marjorie Liu Sana Takeda Image Comics
Ghosts 23 Raina Telgemeier Raina Telgemeier Graphix
Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq 20 Sarah Glidden Sarah Glidden Drawn and Quarterly
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye 18 Sonny Liew Sonny Liew Pantheon
Dark Night: A True Batman Story 18 Paul Dini Eduardo Risso DC/Vertigo
DC Universe: Rebirth 18 Geoff Johns Various DC Comics
The Sheriff of Babylon 17 Tom King Mitch Gerads DC/Vertigo
Mooncop 17 Tom Gauld Tom Gauld Drawn and Quarterly
Saga 15 Brian K. Vaughan Fiona Staples Image Comics
The Wicked + The Divine 15 Kieron Gillen Jamie McKelvie Image Comics
Panther 15 Brecht Evens Brecht Evens Drawn and Quarterly
The Flintstones 14 Mark Russell Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry DC Comics
Faith 14 Jody Houser Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage Valiant Entertainment
Sir Alfred 3 13 Tim Hensley Tim Hensley Pigeon Press
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 13 Ryan North Erica Henderson Marvel Comics
The Legend of Wonder Woman 13 Renae De Liz Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon DC Comics
Tetris: The Games People Play 13 Box Brown Box Brown First Second
Superman 13 Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez and Doug Mahnke DC Comics
Black Hammer 13 Jeff Lemire Dean Ormston Dark Horse Comics
Mockingbird 13 Chelsea Cain Kate Niemczyk and Ibrahim Moustafa Marvel Comics
Midnighter/Midnighter and Apollo 13 Steve Orlando ACO, Fernando Blanco, Various DC Comics
Hot Dog Taste Test 13 Lisa Hanawalt Lisa Hanawalt Drawn and Quarterly
Omega Men: The Complete Series 12 Tom King Barnaby Bagenda DC Comics
Beverly 12 Nick Drnaso Nick Drnaso Drawn and Quarterly
Hellboy In Hell 12 Mike Mignola Mike Mignola Dark Horse Comics
Giant Days 11 John Allison Lissa Treiman and Whitney Cogar BOOM!
Black Widow 11 Mark Waid Chris Samnee Marvel Comics
The One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel 10 Isabel Greenberg Isabel Greenberg Little, Brown
Wonder Woman: The True Amazon 10 Jill Thompson Jill Thompson DC Comics
The Fix 10 Nick Spencer Steve Lieber Image Comics
Big Kids 10 Michael DeForge Michael DeForge Drawn and Quarterly
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous 10 G. Willow Wilson Adrian Alphona Marvel Comics
Peplum 9 Blutch Blutch New York Review Comics
Paul Up North 9 Michel Rabagliati Michel Rabagliati Conundrum Press
Libby’s Dad 9 Eleanor Davis Eleanor Davis Retrofit/Big Planet Comics
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur 9 Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare Natacha Bustos Marvel Comics
Blammo #9 9 Noah Van Sciver Noah Van Sciver Kilgore Books
Demon 9 Jason Shiga Jason Shiga First Second
Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam 9 Simon Hanselmann Simon Hanselmann Fantagraphics
Someone Please Have Sex With Me 8 Gina Wyndbrandt Gina Wyndbrandt 2dCloud
The Arab Of The Future 2: A Childhood In The Middle East, 1984-1985: A Graphic Memoir 8 Riad Sattouf Riad Sattouf Metropolitan Books
Providence 8 Alan Moore Jacen Burrows Avatar Press
Superman: American Alien 8 Max Landis Various DC Comics
Plutona 8 Emi Lenox and Jeff Lemire Emi Lenox Image Comics
Laid Waste 8 Julia Gfrörer Julia Gfrörer Fantagraphics
Moebius Library: The World of Edena 8 Moebius Moebius Dark Horse Comics
Doom Patrol 8 Gerard Way Nick Derington DC/Vertigo
Kill or Be Killed 8 Ed Brubaker Sean Phillips Image Comics
Nod Away 8 Joshua Cotter Joshua Cotter Fantagraphics
Bitch Planet 8 Kelly Sue DeConnick Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma Image Comics
Carpet Sweeper Tales 8 Julie Doucet Julie Doucet Drawn and Quarterly
Goodnight Punpun 8 Inio Asano Inio Asano Viz Media
Goldie Vance 8 Hope Larson Brittany Williams and Sarah Stern BOOM!
Wonder Woman 7 Greg Rucka Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott DC Comics
We All Wish For Deadly Force 7 Leela Corman Leela Corman Retrofit/Big Planet Comics
Soft City 7 Hariton Pushwagner Hariton Pushwagner New York Review Comics
The Nameless City 7 Faith Erin Hicks Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire First Second
Future Quest 7 Jeff Parker Various DC Comics
Huck 7 Mark Millar Rafael Albuquerque Image Comics
Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus 7 Chester Brown Chester Brown Drawn and Quarterly
5,000 km Per Second 7 Manuele Fior Manuele Fior Fantagraphics
Frontier #11 7 Eleanor Davis Eleanor Davis Youth In Decline
Adulthood Is a Myth 7 Sarah Andersen Sarah Andersen Andrews McMeel Publishing
Last Look 7 Charles Burns Charles Burns Pantheon
Hilda and the Stone Forest 7 Luke Pearson Luke Pearson Nobrow
Moon Knight 7 Jeff Lemire Greg Smallwood Marvel Comics
Wonder Woman: Earth One 6 Grant Morrison Yanick Paquette DC Comics
Clean Room 6 Gail Simone Jon Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter DC/Vertigo
Princess Jellyfish 6 Akiko Higashimura Akiko Higashimura Kodansha Comics
Fantasy Sports No. 2 6 Sam Bosma Sam Bosma Nobrow
Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! 6 Kate Leth Brittney L. Williams and Natasha Allegri Marvel Comics
Our Mother 6 Luke Howard Luke Howard Retrofit/Big Planet Comics
4 Kids Walk Into a Bank 6 Matthew Rosenberg Tyler Boss Black Mask Studios
Darth Vader 6 Kieron Gillen Salvador Larroca Marvel Comics
A.D.: After Death 6 Scott Snyder Jeff Lemire Image Comics
Orange 6 Ichigo Takano Ichigo Takano Seven Seas Entertainment
Ganges #5 6 Kevin Huizenga Kevin Huizenga Fantagraphics
Seven to Eternity 5 Rick Remender Jerome Opeña Image Comics
Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride 5 Lucy Knisley Lucy Knisley First Second
The Mighty Thor 5 Jason Aaron Russell Dauterman, Steve Epting and Rafa Garrés Marvel Comics
Shade, the Changing Girl 5 Cecil Castellucci Marley Zarcone DC/Vertigo
Snotgirl 5 Bryan Lee O’Malley Leslie Hung Image Comics
Secret Wars 5 Jonathan Hickman Esad Ribić and Paul Renaud Marvel Comics
Spidey-Zine 5 Hannah Blumenreich Hannah Blumenreich Webcomic – https://gumroad.com/l/aXcO#
I Am A Hero 5 Kengo Hanazawa Kengo Hanazawa Dark Horse Comics
Band for Life 5 Anya Davidson Anya Davidson Fantagraphics
Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties 5 Neil Gaiman Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon Dark Horse Comics
A City Inside 5 Tillie Walden Tillie Walden Avery Hill Publishing
How to Survive in the North 5 Luke Healy Luke Healy Nobrow
Black Magick 5 Greg Rucka Nicola Scott Image Comics
Animosity 5 Marguerite Bennett Rafael de Latorre Aftershock Comics
Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay 5 Ben Katchor Ben Katchor Drawn and Quarterly
On a Sunbeam 5 Tillie Walden Tillie Walden Webcomic – http://www.onasunbeam.com/
Deadly Class 5 Rick Remender Wes Craig and Jordan Boyd Image Comics
Deathstroke 5 Christopher Priest Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and Jeromy Cox DC Comics
Highbone Theater 5 Joe Daly Joe Daly Fantagraphics

Also of note, a handful of reviewers included a webcomic within it’s best books lists. There was a tie for 1st spot between Spidey-Zine by Hannah Blumenreich and Tilly Walden’s On A Sunbeam (5 picks each). A close 2nd was The Nib (4) as a general site, but also nominated was Nib hosted Bianca Xunise’s work and Melanie Gillman’s Witch Camp.

The full spreadsheet with pivot tables for books, writers, artists, publishers and more is available here.

Regarding Publishers:

Image was the most popular with 73 different titles.

Fantagraphics was 2nd with 62 different titles.

DC has 58 and Vertigo has 16 books.

Marvel has 51 titles.

Dark Horse has 33 titles.

53 Self-Published books made the list too.

 

Caveats:

Where a writer wrote ‘best of’ lists for multiple websites, I’ve cross referenced their lists and removed books that were named twice. I did not think it would be fair if those writers could tip the popularity scale by naming the same book(s) over and over again on multiple websites.

If a writer wrote for multiple sites, but one of those sites picks was a group effort, I did not remove books that are listed twice.

I did not include lists that were a mixed of prose books and graphic novels, with 1 exception (New York Public Library) because they had over 10 Graphic Novels on their list.

I did not use lists where the website was not in English and the books appeared to be translated versions.

I did not use nominations for upcoming awards.

For simplicity sake, if a list named a specific comic book issue or specific volume of a graphic novel, I removed those specifics and just listed the series title, with rare exceptions. Apologies to the reviewers of those books.

Some writers included books that were technically published in 2015 and at least 1 just listed best books they read that year, but the vast majority of those lists were 2016 books. The number of non 2016 books in the spreadsheet is very tiny and insignificant to the overall list.

Most of the lists were general ‘best/favourite books’ of 2016, but I also included lists dedicated to young readers, manga, etc… What type list is noted on column B in the spreadsheet.

A small number of lists also had rankings and those are included in Column C.

Here are the websites I used, including the ones with lists broken up into multiple pages.
A.V. Club – http://www.avclub.com/article/best-comics-2016-247013
Adventures In Poor Taste – http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2017/01/05/the-15-best-manga-series-of-2016/
All The Wonders – http://www.allthewonders.com/books/best-of-2016-comics/
Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=as_li_ss_tl?fst=as:off&rh=n:283155,n:!2334088011,n:!2334119011,n:10207069011,n:10207117011&bbn=10207069011&sort=review-count-rank&ie=UTF8&qid=1479311361&rnid=10207069011&linkCode=sl2&tag=thebeat0b-20&linkId=29e69bcf1db7acc87ad1ccf25f740094
Audiences Everywhere – http://www.audienceseverywhere.net/best-comics-read-2016/
Austin Public Library – http://library.austintexas.gov/list/best-graphic-novels-2016
Autostraddle – https://www.autostraddle.com/drawn-to-comics-the-10-best-comics-of-2016-364541/
Barnes and Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/best-comics-graphic-novels-2016/
Barnes and Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/best-continuing-manga-series-2016/
Barnes and Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/best-new-manga-series-2016/
Benzilla – http://www.benzilla.com/?p=6040
Bleeding Cool – https://www.bleedingcool.com/2016/12/31/bleeding-cools-11-favourite-graphic-novelscollections-2016/
Bleeding Cool – https://www.bleedingcool.com/2016/12/31/bleeding-cools-11-favourite-single-comics-2016/
Book Minx – https://bookminx.net/2017/01/03/2016-in-review/#more-12194
Book Riot – http://bookriot.com/2016/12/14/best-comics-of-2016/
CBR – http://www.cbr.com/cbrs-top-100-comics-of-2016-100-76/
Chicago Public Library – https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/list/share/200121216_chipublib_teens/684190077_best_teen_graphic_novels_and_manga_of_2016
Comic Alliance – http://comicsalliance.com/comicsalliances-best-of-2016-all-the-winners/
Comic Bastards – https://comicbastards.com/comics/best-of-2016-the-entire-list?rq=Best%202016
Comicosity – http://www.comicosity.com/best-of-2016-graphic-novel/
Comicosity – http://www.comicosity.com/best-of-2016-series/
Comicosity – http://www.comicosity.com/best-of-2016-single-issue/
Comics Alternative – http://comicsalternative.com/episode-220-our-favorite-comics-of-2016/
Comics Bulletin – http://comicsbulletin.com/11-comics-improved-2016/
Comics Bulletin – http://comicsbulletin.com/jams-top-10-2016/
Comics Bulletin – http://comicsbulletin.com/top-15-comics-elkin-reviewed-2016/
ComicsBeat – http://www.comicsbeat.com/the-beats-best-comics-of-2016/
Crave Online – http://www.craveonline.com/entertainment/1189005-10-best-comics-2016
Critical Hit – http://www.criticalhit.net/entertainment/ten-best-comic-books-2016/
Den of Geek – http://www.denofgeek.com/us/books-comics/best-comics-of-2016/261139/the-best-comics-of-2016
Entertainment Weekly – http://ew.com/gallery/best-comic-books-2016/the-best-comic-books-of-2016/
Fantagraphics – http://fantagraphics.com/flog/whats-store-top-ten-2016/
Five Books – http://fivebooks.com/interview/best-comics-2016/
Flying Colors – http://flyingcolorscomics.blogspot.ca/2017/01/flying-colors-retailing-brigade-best-of.html
Forbes – http://www.forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2016/12/08/the-best-graphic-literature-of-2016/#4d66f12114f2
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-andrew-girdwood/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-andy-luke/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-andy-oliver/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-james-lovegrove/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-joe-decie/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-julian-hanshaw/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-krent-able/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-metaphrog/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-robin-etherington/
Forbidden Planet – http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2016/best-year-2016-supplemental-sarah-mcintyre/
Forces of Geek – http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2017/01/best-of-2016-part-one.html
Forces of Geek – http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2017/01/best-of-2016-part-three.html
Forces of Geek – http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2017/01/best-of-2016-part-two.html
Forces of Geek – http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2017/01/graphic-breakdown-best-comics-and-graphic-novels-of-2016.html
Game Spot – http://www.gamespot.com/gallery/best-comics-of-2016/2900-1044/
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-graphic-novels-comics-2016
Graphixia – http://www.graphixia.ca/2016/12/260-the-annual-graphixia-year-end-spectacular/
Heroic Girls – http://www.heroicgirls.com/best-comics-2016-kids-teens/
High-Low – http://highlowcomics.blogspot.ca/2017/01/top-thirty-long-form-comics-of-2016.html
Hollywood In Toto – http://www.hollywoodintoto.com/the-years-best-comic-books-and-graphic-novels/
How to Love Comics – http://www.howtolovecomics.com/2016/12/06/10-best-comics-2016/
io9 – http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-20-best-comics-of-2016-1790283155
Just Indie Comics – http://justindiecomics.com/2017/01/16/best-16-comics-2016/
Lazygamer – http://www.lazygamer.net/comics-2/ten-best-comic-books-2016/
Library Journal – http://lj.libraryjournal.com/bestbooks2016/graphicnovels.php
Mental Floss – http://mentalfloss.com/article/89562/30-most-interesting-comics-2016
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-anthology/
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-digital/
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-limited/
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-new-series/
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-ogn/
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-reprint/
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-single-issue/
Multiversity Comics – http://www.multiversitycomics.com/news-columns/2016-yir-translation/
Nerdist – http://nerdist.com/the-16-best-comics-of-2016/
New York Times – https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/books/review/the-seasons-best-new-graphic-novels.html?_r=1
NPR – http://apps.npr.org/best-books-2016/#/tag/comics-and-graphic-novels
Odyssey – https://www.theodysseyonline.com/top-5-creator-owned-comics-2016
Olathe Downtown & Olathe Indian Creek Libraries – http://www.olathelibrary.org/kids/blog/staff-picks-2016
Omnivoracious – http://www.omnivoracious.com/2016/11/graphic-novel-friday-best-of-2016.html
Panel Platter – http://www.panelpatter.com/2016/12/james-2016-favorites-part-1-favorite.html
Paste Magazine – https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/12/10-amazing-indie-self-published-comics-you-might-h.html
Paste Magazine – https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/12/the-best-comics-of-2016.html?a=1
Print Mag – http://www.printmag.com/comics-and-animation/best-comic-books-year-designer-guide/
Publishers Weekly – http://best-books.publishersweekly.com/pw/best-books/2016/comics
Publishers Weekly – http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/72373-march-book-three-tops-10th-annual-pw-graphic-novel-critics-poll.html
Random Thoughts – https://lars.ingebrigtsen.no/2016/12/21/the-best-comics-of-2016/
Richland Library – http://www.richlandlibrary.com/recommend/top-ten-great-graphic-novels-teens-2017
Rob Kirby – http://robkirbycomics.com/RobKirbyComics/Blog/Entries/2016/12/12_Robs_6th_Annual_Top_20_Comics_List__the_2016_Edition.html
Savage Critic – http://www.savagecritic.com/uncategorized/abhay-2016-another-year-that-i-mindlessly-consumed-oh-god-oh-god-make-it-stop-uncle-uncle/
School Library Journal – http://www.slj.com/2016/11/reviews/best-of/top-10-graphic-novels-2016#_
Slate – http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2016/12/top_10_best_comics_and_graphic_novels_of_2016.html
Study Group Comics – http://studygroupcomics.com/main/process-party-episode-12-the-best-of-2016/
TCJ – http://www.tcj.com/the-best-comics-of-2016-according-to-some/
The Comics Reporter – http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/fff_results_post_467_best_of_2017/
The Daily Dot – http://www.dailydot.com/parsec/best-superhero-sci-fi-comics-2016/
The Globe and Mail – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-globe-100-the-best-books-of-2016/article33132356/#collection/comicsfive2016/
The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/04/observer-graphic-books-of-year-2016-stan-nan-hundred-nights-hero-lost-time-proust-irmina-mooncop
The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/19/best-comic-books-graphic-novels-2016-hellboy-wonder-woman
The Hollywood Reporter – http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/best-comic-books-2016-series-read-959653
Under the Radar – http://www.undertheradarmag.com/lists/under_the_radars_top_25_comic_books_and_graphic_novels_of_2016/
Unwinnable – http://www.unwinnable.com/2016/12/28/the-best-comics-of-2016/
Uproxx – http://uproxx.com/hitfix/2016-best-comics/
Vox – http://www.vox.com/culture/2016/12/21/13919580/best-new-comics-2016
Vox – http://www.vox.com/culture/2016/12/28/14009216/the-best-comic-books-of-the-year
Vu Weekly – http://www.vueweekly.com/148643-2/
Vulture – http://www.vulture.com/2016/12/best-comic-books-of-2016.html
Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/best-graphic-novels-of-2016/2016/11/17/684ef15c-9dde-11e6-9980-50913d68eacb_story.html
Wired – https://www.wired.com/2016/12/best-comics-2016/
Women Write About Comics – http://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2016/12/27/wwacs-favorite-big-press-comics-of-2016/?utm_content=bufferc7199&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Your Chicken Enemy – http://www.danielelkin.com/2016/12/top-15-comics-i-reviewed-in-2016.html (Duplicate List)
Bomb Magazine – http://bombmagazine.org/article/42281213/just-a-few-of-the-best-comics-of-2016
Calgary Public Library – https://calgary.bibliocommons.com/list/share/393989767_calgarylibrary_adults/777209168
CBC – http://www.cbc.ca/books/bestbooks2016/
Guide Live – http://www.guidelive.com/comic-books/2016/12/27/perfect-panels-10-best-comic-books-2016
Everett Public Library – A Reading Life – https://areadinglife.com/2016/11/28/best-of-2016-adult-fiction-graphic-novels/
Flood Magazine – http://floodmagazine.com/42168/flood-presents-the-year-in-arts-and-culture/
The Hundreds – https://thehundreds.com/blog/only-built-4-true-believers-the-best-5-comics-of-2016/
ICPL – http://blog.icpl.org/2016/12/30/icpl-top-staff-picks-for-2016-graphic-novels/
Irish Examiner – https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/artsfilmtv/truth-is-stranger-than-these-comic-fictions-437019.html
Lafayette Public Library – https://lplbooksandbeyond.com/2016/11/30/dont-miss-list-great-graphic-novels-of-2016/
NewsOK – The Oklahoman – http://newsok.com/article/5532325
Pierce County Library System – http://www.piercecountylibrary.org/books-materials/best-2016.htm
The Herald – http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents/books_and_poetry/14971551.Graphic_Content__The_Best_Graphic_Novels_of_the_Year/
New York Public Library – https://www.nypl.org/books-music-dvds/recommendations/award-winners/ya
San Jose Public Library – https://www.sjpl.org/blog/best-new-graphic-novels-2016

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.

Kevin Nowlan Interview

Kevin Nowlan – 2007 HobbyStar Toronto ComiCON

This interview was originally published in July, 2007.

I have a horrible confession to make. When I was at a convention looking for somebody to interview, I was actually looking for Kevin Maguire. I did not know what he looked like so I was walking through the artists alley looking at names on the tables and saw a Kevin and immediately went over to introduce myself and ask for an interview.

Kevin Nowlan agreed, but said he had just done a long interview about his career that was now out in the TwoMorrows Publishing Modern Masters series. He asked me to pick it up and try to not ask him the same questions. This was a reasonable request and not unusual either. I usually try my best to avoid asking the same questions as I think one of the goals of an interview is to learn something new about the subject so I was glad Kevin made me aware of the Modern Master’s book on him.

Since Kevin agreed to the interview I felt I ought to go through with it. I was able to pick up the Modern Masters book right at the convention itself and took it home to read it. Little did I realize how great of an artist he was and felt dumb for not knowing who he was before. I came up with questions and did the interview via e-mail. Off to the interview.


Interview with Kevin Nowlan

Kevin Nowlan is a jack of all trades when it comes to comics. He’s known for penciling, inking, lettering, coloring and even color separations. He’s also done a bit of writing. Nowlan is probably best known for his work with Alan Moore on the Jack B. Quick stories within the ABC line of books, but he’s been working in the industry since the early 80s. Kevin answers questions about his early experiences in the industry, his art, Alan Moore, recent Witchblade & X-men work, and more.

 

Jamie: I imagine there wasn’t a lot of professional comic artists in Nebraska where you grew up. Who was the first comic professional you met?

Kevin Nowlan: No, Nebraska is pretty much a comic artist free zone. I think Gil Kane was the first professional artist I met. The Fantagraphics guys went out to eat with him when I was visiting them in Connecticut. I was too frightened to speak but I hung on his every word.

Later, I saw him again at conventions and inked a couple of stories that he penciled. For a while, I seemed to be his go-to inker at DC. They kept calling me every time he was scheduled to pencil something.

 

Jamie: I believe you inked both Gil Kane and John Buscema’s last work, which was in the comic Superman: Blood of my Ancestors (what a title, yeech!). Did you feel at all uneasy about inking another artist from the golden/silver age?

Kevin Nowlan: No, but I wasn’t as comfortable inking Buscema’s pencils as I had been with Kane’s. With Buscema, there was less information on the page. The book was in limbo for a year or more after Gil died. He’d penciled the first 24 pages but no one could think of an appropriate replacement penciler. There just aren’t any Gil Kane Juniors out there.

John Buscema seemed to make sense. Their styles couldn’t be more different but the book already resembled a Conan Annual so who better than John Buscema to finish it?

 

Jamie: Early in your career you worked for Fantagraphics. How did you first meet Gary Groth and work for him?

Kevin Nowlan: I sent them some sample drawings and they published them in The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes. They were just starting to move toward publishing comics so Gary tried to get me involved in one of those projects.

 

Jamie: What projects was he trying to get you to do?

Kevin Nowlan: A Harlan Ellison story, “Eyes of Dust” and an adaptation of E. L. Doctorow’s “Welcome to Hard Times”. Those didn’t work out but “Grimwood’s Daughter” a 5-part back-up story in “Dalgoda” was one of my first assignments. It was written by Jan Strnad. I hope it will be collected one of these days.

 

Jamie: You said Al Milgom gave you some solid advice on your first work for Marvel. What advice did he give you?

Kevin Nowlan: He warned me about trying to draw faster and encouraged me to just work at drawing better. He said that many of the really fast artists who cut a lot of corners have trouble getting work when times get tough. I took it to heart but I’d still like to pick up a little speed. Some of my favorite artists work or worked incredibly fast: Owen Fitzgerald, Kirby, Buscema, Byrne.

 

Jamie: When you draw normal people they end up looking much more ‘real’ than the standard superhero comic artist. Where did you learn to add in those very human looking flaws to the characters and do them well?

Kevin Nowlan: I try to imagine how the characters and settings would look if they were real so that I’m not doing a new version of someone else’s drawing. Then I exaggerate the proportions or gestures or expressions to give the drawing a little punch. But I like to start with reality. For instance, when I was a kid I copied Superman drawings by Curt Swan and put the little parallel lines under Superman’s shoulder even though I didn’t really understand what they were. Later, I tried to draw a shoulder by looking at the way the deltoids connect with the triceps instead of just repeating someone else’s abstraction. But I never like to get too clinical about it. Those things evolve as you work on them until eventually you have your own abstraction.

 

Jamie: Another thing I really admire is your ability to draw detailed facial expressions. Do you have people pose for you and take pictures for reference?

Kevin Nowlan: I’ve done that before but I don’t make a habit of it. It depends upon the requirement of the job. I vacillate between realism and exaggeration. I went through a phase where I was taking lots of photos for reference. Nowadays I’m more likely to make stuff up and if it doesn’t look right at first I’ll keep sketching until it does.

 

Jamie: You mentioned in your Modern Masters interview that you go to the library to get reference material on things. Are you still doing that today or does Google take care of that?

Kevin Nowlan: Yeah, Google is a lot faster. You can find 50 photos of fire hydrants in two minutes. But there are still things that you’re more likely to find at the library.

 

Jamie: You were working when comics were printed on newsprint. Today the printing process is much different and comics are generally printed on much better paper. How did the upgrade in production qualities change the way you work?

Kevin Nowlan: It’s easier to be subtle now. The printing isn’t just better, it’s more consistent. Letterpress ink could look great or it could be run light and you’d lose half the color. The art has to be a little more refined than it did on newsprint. You see everything, whereas newsprint would soften the images up a bit.

 

Jamie: I have to wonder, your work in comics is often short stories, pin ups, inking and so on, all over the place. Do you make your living on comics alone or do you have outside work?

Kevin Nowlan: Mostly comics. I do a few commercial jobs from time to time but nothing steady.

 

Jamie: You spoke to Alan Moore on the telephone over the Jack B. Quick work for the ABC line. What was he like?

Kevin Nowlan: He was terrific. I had a little trouble with his accent but I got most of it. He was also surprisingly open to any of my concerns or preferences.

 

Jamie: You are the co-creator of Jack B. Quick. What did you contribute to the character?

Kevin Nowlan: The visuals. I don’t think Alan had anything specific in mind for the appearance of the main characters. Or if he did, he didn’t share it with me. It wasn’t until the third or fourth story that he described what someone would look like, and that was a secondary character, Mr. Murk from the Dairy.

 

Jamie: Will there be any new stories with the Jack B. Quick character?

Kevin Nowlan: There will if Alan decides to write them. I don’t know what his plans are but I don’t see much point in doing a Jack story without him.

 

Jamie: In X-Men First Class Special, you gave Jean Gray the smallest boobs I’ve seen on female superhero in a very long time. Did that sail through without any uh.. suggestions from editors?

Kevin Nowlan: Yes. The editors, Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby were as
obliging and supportive as any I’ve worked for, almost to a fault. I think I needed someone to step in and point out that I’d drawn Jean Grey way too thin on the cover. But I was trying to suggest that all the characters were young, barely out of their teens. I think I was more successful with Bobby and Hank on the story inside. For some reason, exaggeration seems to work better when you’re drawing males. But females come in different shapes and sizes. I’m trying to avoid drawing them like they all have the same bodies.

 

Jamie: You’ve been inking Witchblade over different pencilers lately; Matt Haley, Stephen Sadowski, and Rick Leonardi. Are you supposed to keep it all looking similar?

Kevin Nowlan: No. I don’t think that would be possible. They’re three very different artists.

 

Jamie: Are you inking on paper or doing it on computer?

Kevin Nowlan: On paper.

 

Jamie: How many more issues of Witchblade are you doing?

Kevin Nowlan: Three.

 

Jamie: You have also worked with DRAW! magazine showing penciling and inking. Do you have any desire to teach comic art?

Kevin Nowlan: I’ve thought about that a little. In the right situation I think it could work.

 

Jamie: In your Modern Masters interview, you mentioned wanting to do a complete Graphic Novel. Are you any closer to doing that?

Kevin Nowlan: I hope so. The Man-Thing graphic novel is back in my hands now and I’m hoping I can clear my plate and finish the remaining pages later this year.

 

Jamie: Was that supposed to one of those thin 80s Graphic Novels with Steve Gerber?

Kevin Nowlan: Yes.

 

Jamie: How many pages are left to do?

Kevin Nowlan: Twelve — fifteen at the most.

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.

 

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