Steven Grant Interview

Steven Grant at San Diego Comic Con 2013

Steven Grant at San Diego Comic Con 2013

Originally published in June of 2001. I read some of Steven Grant’s comics when I was young but not very many. In particular I enjoyed his run on the Punisher. I became more familiar with him through his Master of the Obvious column on ComicBookResources website. I discovered he was a very intelligent man and we had some of the same interests. Grant had just started getting work at Marvel again and I asked him for an interview to talk about that, his non-Marvel work, his columns and other ventures.

 

An Interview With Steven Grant

Steven Grant is today best known for his Master of the Obvious (MOTO) column on ComicbookResources.com and his recent run on Marvel’s X- MAN. His past comic book credits include Punisher, The Pope John Paul XXIII biography and Whisper. In this interview he reveals some info about his MOTO column, his thoughts on writing comics and more.

 

Jamie: For a while you seemed to have disappeared from the comic industry’s radar. Then one day you’re on CBR and then X-Men, thanks in part to Warren Ellis. How important has Warren been to your recent career?

Steven Grant: Oh, projects come and go. I’ll go for blocks of time without seeing print but I’m generally working. I’m friends with Warren and he puts in the good word for me now and then, but in terms of my recent work… Warren was completely responsible for my association with X-MAN. He asked me to do it. I was more than happy to and I liked his concept a lot. I could have gone another two or three years on it easily. But Warren had nothing at all to do with MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS. That was Gail Simone who put me forward for that. As a matter of fact, I put Warren together with CBR for his column. He’d been talking with someone else about doing one and that fell through due to the insanely stupid terms he was being offered. I mentioned it to Jonah (who runs CBR) and he asked me to put him in touch with Warren.

 

Jamie: You’ve done a large amount of work outside the comic industry. How has that helped you as a fiction writer?

Steven Grant: I don’t know that it’s helped me at all. Everything’s its own discipline. If nothing else, it has given me points of comparison that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m maybe more familiar with non-comics structures and dialogue constructions, but you could say that about any number of comics writers.

 

Jamie: Do you get more satisfaction writing comics than your work outside the industry?

Steven Grant: It depends on the particular project. You get your satisfaction where you find it. It can be money, it can be one little character bit or dialogue exchange you get in there, or the pleasure of developing a particular storyline a particular way. But you should only look for enough satisfaction to keep you going. I don’t think writers should ever be very satisfied. Satisfied writers don’t write. It’s really the flaws in work that keep writers writing, that mar they see they didn’t see while they were doing it, and the desire to try it one more time to get it right. People who are satisfied with their work don’t try to do better work.

 

Jamie: Are there jobs you take strictly for money satisfaction?

Steven Grant: The money’s never the satisfying part. Staying alive another week, that’s the satisfying part.

 

Jamie: Reading through your bibliography, I noticed you worked for a wide variety of publishers. If you had the money, would you self publish comics?

Steven Grant: Absolutely, though I’d probably mask it so it wouldn’t look that way to booksellers. And I’d find a partner who knew something about business and marketing. But it would be lovely to have a situation where I didn’t have to flog ideas to death before I could produce them, just up and go and get the material out while it was still fresh to me. That’s a big drawback with comics these days, it takes way too long to get anything in the pipeline. There are moments of inspiration, but that burns out fairly quickly, and there you are, two years down the line finally pumping out material you thought of two years earlier instead of what’s burning you up inside at the time. There’s really no reason it should take more than three months from conception to presentation. A self-publishing gig would give me the ability to do that.

 

Jamie: I know you’re doing something through Platinum Studios. What is it and how does that work? I know Platinum isn’t a ‘normal’ publisher.

Steven Grant: I’m not entirely sure, actually. You should really talk to Lee Nordling or Scott Mitchell Rosenberg about it. Basically, Platinum is a “broker.” They put projects together, largely to secure film rights to them so they have material to pitch around Hollywood, then find publishers for it. But until they actually start publication somewhere, it’s still just speculation. Things could change as they adapt to conditions. We’ll see.

 

Jamie: I noticed you’re doing a crime comic called CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES for Fantagraphics/Eros, which is different as Eros is known mainly for porn. I’m assuming there will be some sex in it or it wouldn’t be published there. Still many established comic writers don’t go near porn comics. Why are you doing it and why do you think other writers don’t?

Steven Grant: I’m doing it for fun, because Gary asked me to, and because a lot of other writers won’t. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to porn in our society, so that doesn’t surprise me. I don’t have any particular affection for porn, but I’d never done porn so I was curious to see what I could do, and it’s as much a crime comic as a porn comic and I want to do crime comics. Gary’s giving me the chance to do a crime comic. I actually go way past most porn in CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES because, unlike most porn, sex and violence are intimately connected in it; virtually synonymous, and they’re both way over the top. I don’t think porn fans are going to be very comfortable with the sexual content in the book. Men don’t fare very well in it.

 

Jamie: What can you tell us about your new Whisper: Day X Graphic Novel?

Steven Grant: The last WHISPER story came out in 1991. This story takes place in 2000, and concerns her being leveraged out of retirement by an FBI agent who wants her to help him investigate a terrorist movement. It re-immerses her in the “shadow politics” milieu she spent most of her series in, as she unravels a plot tracing back half a century. All the supporting characters are there in very changed situations, but no one will have to be familiar with WHISPER to get it. I don’t think she’ll appear in costume in the novel.

 

Jamie: Do you think you’ll be able to get your old Whisper work back in print?

Steven Grant: Not likely. I have no idea where the film is. Ideally, I’d hire one artist to redraw all the scripts, but I don’t see that happening either. I don’t have the money and I don’t know a publisher who has the interest.

 

Jamie: You are one of the few writers that goes into politics with your writing. Why do you think creators and the industry stay away from political stories?

Steven Grant: I’m not sure many of them have any real interest in politics, but you’d have to ask them. I’m fascinated by politics, but my background’s very political. Campus radicals and all that.

 

Jamie: Okay this interests me. How did you become a radical, what were you protesting?

Steven Grant: I grew up in Madison WI, the Berkeley of the Midwest, in the late 60s and early 70s. Trying to stop the Vietnam War and social injustice, know what I mean? It wasn’t something you became, it was just in the air then. Antiwar marches, underground newspapers, that sort of thing. Never bombed anything.

 

Jamie: In doing WWF Wrestling Comics for Chaos, the stories seem to go into fantasy. You ever wonder how a comic about behind the scenes involving Wrestlers would do?

Steven Grant: Knowing quite a bit about wrestling behind the scenes, I think it’d be pretty much like doing a comic about plumbing behind the scenes. There are occasionally scenarios such as those documented in films like BEYOND THE MAT and WRESTLING WITH SHADOWS, but for the most part wrestlers lead fairly ordinary lives. They have wives and kids, they have mortgages, etc. But the WWF Comics I wrote for Chaos were fiction but pretty much steered clear of what most people consider fantasy. But those were based on the ring personae of wrestlers, not on their real selves.

 

Jamie: I know it’s cliche, but do you want to create the great American novel?

Steven Grant: Oh, sure. But there are so many great American novels out there it makes my eyes bleed, and there’s no money in it. If I could go a year or two without having to worry about money, I’d be happy to write a Great American Novel, but I make my living at this, so I can’t afford to take a year or two off. Novels are a lot of work, particularly if they’re done well.

 

Jamie: You created @venture as an outlet for prose writing for comic writers. Are you at all worried about getting stories and ideas stolen by giving your work away for free online?

Steven Grant: No. Once they’re published, regardless of venue, they’re published and entitled to the protections accorded any form of publication. There’s no more concern about theft and plagiarism than if they’re published in PLAYBOY. Web publication doesn’t warranty anyone against getting sued for plagiarism, either way.

 

Jamie: @venture now has a number of stories by a variety of comic writers. Do you consider this a success or do you still have a bigger vision of what the site should be doing?

Steven Grant: Unfortunately, @VENTURE’s been in limbo for the past several months as my time has been completely eaten up by personal things. I’ve never been able to promote the site to my satisfaction, and I want to promote not to make money off the site but so the writers can benefit from publication of their work.

 

Jamie: You’ve written/writing two stories for @venture, do you want them both turned into comics?

Steven Grant: No. If I’d wanted to do them as comics, I’d have done them as comics.

 

Jamie: You’ve mentioned on @venture that you have a fetish for the name Elvis. Why?

Steven Grant: No, no, I said I DON’T have a fetish for the name Elvis. It just works well with other words, and, due to Presley, has cultural connotations that work as jokes. So I use the name periodically.

 

Jamie: Were you surprised by some submissions to @venture?

Steven Grant: Not really. Most writers have something unexpected percolating in them that they have no venue for.

 

Jamie: You’ve been doing Master of the Obvious since August 1999, which is a pretty good run. Do you see yourself stopping anytime soon?

Steven Grant: I know when it’s stopping, if that’s what you mean. I’ve had it planned from the start. But I’m not saying when.

 

Jamie: Do you think MOTO helped or hurt you in getting you work in the industry?

Steven Grant: I don’t think it’s had any effect on that one way or the other. I know quite a few highly placed people read it regularly.

 

Jamie: What MOTO columns did you get the biggest backlash from?

Steven Grant: Probably the column where I compared the Bush Presidency to the Luthor Presidency. A lot of conservatives got very upset with that one, pretty much doubling my hit rate. I wish I had a column like that in me every week. There have been some columns specifically to do with comics that raised a ruckus, but I don’t recall which ones they were offhand.

 

Jamie: I can’t believe you devoted a whole MOTO column to something as fanboyish as Thor vs. Hulk. Why on earth did you do it?!?

Steven Grant: Fanboys read the column too! The reason you can’t believe I did it is because I didn’t. Maybe a quarter of the column involved whether Thor or The Hulk was stronger, and I used it for an anchor for other points. Besides, there’s nothing that isn’t worth talking about, if you’ve got an angle on it.

 

Jamie: Recently in MOTO you’ve been trying to get people to accept Zines as a replacement term for indy & progressive comics. Why use the word Zines?

Steven Grant: It sounds vaguely familiar to most people, yet vaguely unfamiliar at the same time. It’s a word whose meaning can be easily molded to our purposes, it’s simple to say and remember (which is important to redefining associations) and it doesn’t sound like comics or comic book or graphic entertainment or any number of other terms. And it does have some connection to us.

 

Jamie: This was tried before using Comix, do you think you’ll be more successful than they were?

Steven Grant: Oh, I don’t expect to be successful with it. But anything’s worth a try; what do we have to lose? Actually, “comix” as a term for undergrounds was pretty successful, it only faded because Supreme Court rulings on obscenity put underground comix out of business. “Comix” referred to a specific type of product and it didn’t take long for the association to form. Some of them, like FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS, were outselling Marvels at the time. It was attempts to apply “comix” to things like AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and BATMAN that didn’t catch on.

 

Jamie: Do you think zine should replace the term Graphic Novel?

Steven Grant: No, graphic novel sums itself up pretty well. But you can’t call periodical publications graphic novels.

 

Jamie: Warren Ellis is putting his Come in Alone in print, do you see that happening with MOTO?

Steven Grant: Larry Young and I are sorting that out right now. There will probably be two MOTO collections.

 

Jamie: What is Paper Movies website going to be about?

Steven Grant: It’s going to launch a reinterpretation of the comics medium.

 

Jamie: Where did you come up with the name Paper Movies?

Steven Grant: I thought about how most people would best respond to comic books and decided the best way to pitch them was to tie them into something people were already familiar with and understood: movies. Everyone watches movies. It’s my guess that designing comics that approximate that experience is the best way to draw a new audience to the medium. Hence Paper Movies: movies you can read anywhere.

 

Jamie: Isn’t Paper Movies as a term for comics an oxymoron? Movies are called that because they are moving pictures. Comic pictures don’t actually move.

Steven Grant: Neither do movies. Movement in movies is an illusion, a trick of perception. Comics require a more conscious conspiracy between creator and reader to generate an illusion of movement, but the basic principle isn’t all that different. It’s the story that moves the movie and the comic book along, not the mechanicals.

 

Jamie: How will your Delphi forum called Graphic Violence be different than Warren Ellis’s forum?

Steven Grant: That’s something only time will tell. Our focus will be a little different, though.

 

Stuart Moore Interview

Originally published in August 1999. Stuart had been an editor with DC/Vertigo and had recently left. I often try to grab interview with those people because sometimes they’ve got an ax to grind and reveal some behind the scenes info when asked. I also wanted to interview Stuart because he came across as an intelligent guy in my online dealings with him and Vertigo was such a popular line at the time.

 

An Interview With Stuart Moore

Stuart Moore was an editor for DC’s Vertigo books and was also behind the Helix line that brought us Warren Ellis’s Transmet. He has recently resigned from DC and is now working on a new venture. In this interview, we get Stuart to answer some questions about recent Vertigo controversies and get some info about the job of an an editor.

Jamie: What are the differences between editing a Vertigo book vs. a normal superhero comic?

Stuart Moore: I’ve only ever edited a handful of superhero comics, so I may not be the best person to ask. You certainly have to put on a different set of mental filters when you’re editing a “mature readers” book, because different kinds of material are allowable and appropriate. There are all kinds of superhero comics, and I don’t like to generalize about them too much, but certainly the subject matter dictates that there’ll be more action and usually a faster pace than in Vertigo titles. Vertigo books are also almost always written full-script, as opposed to the Marvel-style plot-first method used often in superhero titles.

 

Jamie: Some retailers report that Vertigo gets more female readers than normal superhero comics. Did you plan or foresee this?

Stuart Moore: I’ve always wanted that and worked toward it, and I know Karen Berger has. To be honest, though, I’m not sure it’s true, except for a few books like SANDMAN which clearly have large female readerships.

 

Jamie: Preacher is very far away from typical mainstream comics, how did it manage to get approved?

Stuart Moore: I walked straight into management with the proposal in my hand and four big guys with boards and rusty nails behind me, and I said, “Boys, we got somethin’ to discuss.”

Seriously…it’s an extreme title in many ways, and that was clear from the start. But Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon were coming right off a highly acclaimed and commercially successful run on HELLBLAZER, so everybody trusted them to produce a good book. It’s very much to DC’s credit that they both approved a title like that in the first place, and stuck with it.

 

Jamie: It’s known that Garth Ennis does not use the internet. Does this make things more difficult for an editor?

Stuart Moore: Actually, no. Garth’s an extremely conscientious guy and he faxes most of his scripts in. He’s always accessible.

 

Jamie: Some editors at Marvel have to handle several titles all at once, what do you think is the ideal number a books for an editor to take on?

Stuart Moore: There’s no simple answer to that, because each book takes up a different amount of time (if you’re doing your job right). Rule of thumb at DC is that an editor should be producing about four books a month. That seems right to me; I’ve done more, and it gets a little hairy, but I could handle it when I had a really good assistant who was up to speed on everything, like Julie Rottenberg was for a while and like Cliff Chiang was for a year or so before I left. It’s kind of tricky at Vertigo, though, because the imprint is more heavily weighted toward miniseries than most comics operations — so you can have a hell of a lot of minis in the works for a long time without much actually coming out, and then everything gets published at once.

 

Jamie: As an editor you must get a large number of proposals for new series pitched to you by professionals. How do you decide which ones will become published?

Stuart Moore: Well, obviously you look for something interesting, something with a point, something different. I’ve always liked fiction of any kind — movies, books, TV, comics — where there’s an author showing me something I’ve never seen before, or telling me something I’ve never thought of. Recently I was also trying to keep an eye on what might be commercial, how to establish a GOOD writer as a COMMERCIAL writer, how to get new readers in to Vertigo.

I also place a lot of importance on people who want to work together; if I can see that a writer and an artist are clicking on something, that means a lot to me. Beyond that, Karen does all the approvals at Vertigo, and she has some very specific ideas about what’s appropriate for the imprint, so that was always foremost in my mind.

 

Jamie: How do you deal with the ‘slush pile’; the submissions and proposals mailed in from comic fans?

Stuart Moore: Well, I always meant to be better about that than I was. I instituted something we used to do in book publishing called a “slush party,” where we’d all stay late and go through a big pile of submissions, but in practice what it meant was you’d end up putting aside anything interesting and never getting to it anyway. You always want to be good about this stuff, but in practice it becomes a very low priority because your first job is to put the books out — and that work expands quickly to fill the available time. That said, the internet’s been a big help to me. We never accepted e-mailed submissions at Vertigo, but it sure made it easier to jot off a quick note in reply.

 

Jamie: Have there been any titles published at Helix or Vertigo that came about through mail-in proposals?

Stuart Moore: That’s a tough one…I was developing one, but I never got it together. I’m sure there have been, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

 

Jamie: I know editors don’t read fan fiction, but does doing it and meeting deadlines help writers when looking for freelance work?

Stuart Moore: If by fan fiction you mean prose works about comics characters, probably not (at least in the kind of comics I do). If you mean small press or self-published comics, definitely yes. I always encourage prospective writers to just get something published, even if you do it yourself and even if you’re not working with the best artist in the world. It gives you something to show around that shows you can work in the medium, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to get an overworked editor to read a comic book than to read a script or a proposal.

 

Jamie: Was there any cancelled Helix or Vertigo book that you thought was well above average and should have done really well?

Stuart Moore: Well, most of the Helix line was pretty dear to me. I had really high hopes for VERMILLION — I think the second half of that run, in particular, holds up beautifully — and GEMINI BLOOD was really hitting its stride, too, after a slightly shaky start.

 

Jamie: If you had total control over the Vertigo line, would you have removed the letter pages for more ad space?

Stuart Moore: Well, I understand the move, but no. I think the space could have been made available on a when-necessary basis. But the ads are crucial these days.

 

Jamie: Should the industry move towards doing returnable comics for the direct market?

Stuart Moore: That’s a big question. The direct market’s a funny beast; it wasn’t designed to function under the current market conditions. I think there’s probably a sort of record-industry-style middle ground of partial returnability that might benefit everyone in the long run; but with most publishers scraping by, it’s understandable that they don’t want to give on this. People think the major publishers are short-sighted, but — well, Marvel’s a whole unique, weird situation, but I don’t think that’s a fair description of DC at all, otherwise they wouldn’t be publishing the variety of material they do.

I think it’s probably a better use of everyone’s time to explore alternative distribution and delivery systems than to try to “fix” the direct market. There are a lot of great retailers, and they’re absolutely crucial to comics publishing. But you also need to think about other ways of getting comics out to people. Of course, there are also direct market retailers involved in internet sales ventures themselves, and that’s great too.

 

Jamie: Recently there have been a number of changes on both DC and Vertigo books because of a possible media/public backlash. Would you have made those same changes? (why or why not?)

Stuart Moore: I haven’t read Warren Ellis’s unpublished HELLBLAZER issue, so I can’t really comment on that. I thought the decision to replace the PREACHER cover made sense — it wasn’t exactly a crucial scene in the series, and given the timing, it’s an image that very easily could have been taken out of context. And I’ve said repeatedly, as have the creators, that the FINALS situation has been blown way out of proportion – the editor suggested a change based on how the book would be perceived in the light of the Columbine shootings, the creators agreed, and the creators came up with a scene that worked better for the book.

In a larger sense, though, I certainly wouldn’t shy away from controversy the way DC management does. But they also have pressures on them that I, or a smaller company, wouldn’t. It’s the tradeoff you make for working at, or being published by, a company with deep pockets and a reliable record of actually publishing your work.

 

Jamie: Did the decision to make a 5th week event featuring pre-Vertigo characters as a superhero team influnce your decision to leave?

Stuart Moore: Considering it was my idea, no. Actually, the fifth-week event, V2K, is a series of millennial-themed one-shots and miniseries, of which the book you’re talking about, TOTEMS, is one. (The others are creator-owned.) TOTEMS is great; Tom Peyer really came through on the script, and Duncan Fegredo and Richard Case are doing the art. It’s sort of a gift to Vertigo’s long-time fans. Tom jumped at it, since he was one of the founding Vertigo editors. (And the characters aren’t EXACTLY a superhero team.)

 

Jamie: Some people worry about the fate of Vertigo once Preacher ends. Do you think another key title will be found in time to draw readers to the line?

Stuart Moore: The big gamble about a line like Vertigo is that its success is tied very strongly to specific projects controlled by specific creators. There’s no X-MEN franchise to keep it going once Garth and Steve decide PREACHER is over. That said, Vertigo’s had a pretty strong record, and there are a lot of new monthlies about to start up, so there are a lot of possibilities.

 

Jamie: Can you tell us about what freelancing projects you still have left at DC.

Stuart Moore: I’m working on a miniseries I can’t talk about yet. I just wrote the chapter introductions for the MYSTERY IN SPACE trade paperback, reprinting old DC sf stories. That was a fun little gig.

 

Jamie: You’ve already said the new venture your working on will be doing comics and multimedia, will the comics be similar content to the Vertigo and Helix books you edited at DC Comics?

Stuart Moore: I can’t really talk about the new venture yet.

 

Jamie: What do you think the likelihood is of a Vertigo comic being made into a movie?

Stuart Moore: There are a hundred answers to that. About a year ago, there was a lot of motion on various Vertigo projects; then they all seemed to kind of stall, all for different reasons. But as I always tell people, even when I was on staff at Vertigo, I would usually find out about this stuff from WIZARD or ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.

I do hope Garth and Steve can pull off that PREACHER movie, though they don’t seem too optimistic about it right now. And Warren Ellis has had some very promising interest in TRANSMET. But you never know. If there’s a crazier business than comics, it’s got to be Hollywood.

 

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.