Originally posted in August of 2004. Comic books were starting to enter a golden age around 2004, not only was there a lot of good stuff coming out from major publishers, a lot of great stuff from the past was being reprinted. Suddenly the standard of “average” went way up and what was better than average even 5 years prior had a difficult time finding an audience. Azad’s Sammy was one of those books.
Azad is an Image creator, one of many that is doing a great book that you probably never heard of. It’s called Sammy, about a cat burglar and his cat Lucky. With this interview we talk about Azad’s background, his book, using computers to make comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics and more.
Jamie: Okay lets start getting some background info from you. Where are you from?
Azad: I’m a born and milk-fed Montrealer. After doodling and taking art classes for years, I resigned to taking Illustration and design at Dawson College. I worked for a world renowned animation company, then apparently, went nuts and decided to draw funny books.
Jamie: What jobs did you have before you finally decided to do comic books?
Azad: I wish I had an interesting string of crummy jobs to complain about, but all my jobs prior to comics were drawing or print related. Graphic design, desktop publishing, and pre-press film outputing. Most notably, I was a storyboard artist for 4 years at CINAR animation working on such artistic paragons as Caillou and Arthur.
Jamie: You do everything for your book and it all looks very nice and professional. Did you have a mentor that taught you the ropes?
Azad: For drawing, I have a cousin named Haig Bedrossian (co-plotter on Sammy: Tourist Trap) who turned me on to the arts and encouraged me from a very early age to draw comic books. He’s now teaching animation at Max the Mutt animation school in Toronto and living a far more lucrative life than that of a comic artist.
As far as the technical side of things go, my sister (a desktop publisher) was my digital guru. She taught me how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXpress, and all other computer related aspects of art.
But mostly, I was left to my own devices to figure Everything else out on my own. I’m not a “gifted” artist by any means. I’m a studied, learned artist. I work really hard trying not to make a fool of myself.
Jamie: So why did you want to do stories about a cat burglar named Sammy and his pet cat Lucky?
Azad: I deliberately wanted to make a book that was both FLEXIBLE and FUN. I have dozens of crazy adventures I want to tell, and the only binding factor between them are these two characters. And it works. I wanted to be able to stick Sammy into any situation and any genre. With that said, there IS a balance, and I know where to draw the line. I can’t really verbalize it, but I know it when I see it. For example, I could have sci-fi elements in a story, but not so far as having Sammy go into an inter-dimensional portal. He could encounter a superhero, but not gain powers of his own.
Jamie: Okay, Sammy is a cat burglar with a pet Cat. Why is he not dressed up as Halle Berry?
Azad: Hey, great idea!! I could do stories about Sammy being involved in Hit and Runs, and doing bad movies! A goldmine, I tells ya! Thanksabunch!
Jamie: Do you even own a cat? Cause there is no way a cat would do the shit you have “Lucky” do in the comic.
Azad: Funny you should ask. I think of Lucky as a cat with a dog’s personality. He’s still aloof, but actually useful.
I used to think I was a cat person. I never owned one, but my best friend has three. I would go over, pet them, scratch them under the chin. They were okay… kind of cold, kept to themselves and meowed when they wanted food and swiped at me once in a while… “Hey, its a dumb animal” I told myself… these things happen, right?
Then, my buddy goes and buys a DOG. Holy cow! Big difference! Dog’s are playful, they can take orders, and are genuinely happy to see you when you come home. By comparison, the dog makes the cats look like strutting turds that do nothing but sleep, shit and turn their nose up at the food you bought them. You could feed a dog its own crap, and it’ll still look at you with love in its eyes.
Jamie: A significant part of the Sammy: Tourist Trap mini series is done in Spanish with no English translation. Why?
Azad: Sammy is a fish out of water… he’s in a country where he doesn’t understand what is being said around him. If HE can’t understand Spanish, and we the audience are supposed to be in his shoes, then logically WE shouldn’t be able to understand, either. It’s that way to heighten the tension. Putting the translations at the bottom of the panel would have defeated the purpose.
With that said, I fully realize that there are readers out there who just skip past the balloons, or groan at the plot device… but it’s MEANT TO BE READ! Perhaps I’m asking too much of the reader, but to me it was important to do it that way.
Jamie: Do you think you can keep doing Sammy forever or do you have an overall plan for the character?
Azad: As long as I can continue to keep publishing the character, yes. I do have other ideas I’m working on, but I’ve got dozens of stories already written for Sammy. Literally! I have the scripts on my computer as I write this.
Keep in mind, much of the Sammy stories (even Tourist Trap) aren’t so much about the character.. it’s about the situation. He’s just the excuse (or the vehicle) to tell the story.
Jamie: Y’know, in the late 90’s comic books sucked so bad that Sammy would have been considered a GREAT book. Today it’s considered very good for a non- Marvel/DC comic. As such, the bar has been raised. You are now competing against Bendis, Millar, Ellis and Morrison on big name books and they’re selling like mad. How does that affect you?
Azad: If anything, I’m going head to head with indy books and smaller press. Sammy is in B&W, so immediately it’s ordered more conservatively by retailers because B&W tends to sell less than color. Plus the content is hardly spandex friendly.
As for the Big Two, I don’t see Sammy in direct competition with Marvel and DC. Different readers for different types of books. I don’t suspect I share the same readership as Hawkman lovers or Ultimate X-Men, so I don’t really worry about that.
The way I AM affected by Marvel is some of their crummy business practices. Namely trying to gobble up market share by dumping piles of unreadable books they know wont succeed into the marketplace, knowing retailers have to buy it for the rabid Marvel Zombies, all the while stretching the retailers’ purse strings until they order fewer copies of smaller press titles (including my own). THAT affects me. That affects everyone, and from the retailers I’ve spoken to, they’ve reached their boiling point.
Shit! I just killed my potential for freelance Marvel work didn’t I…Dang!
Jamie: Sammy is one of many Image books that is suffering the same problem of being good, but not getting any major promotion. What do you think has to be done to fix that?
Azad: Well, the responsibility is on US, the creators, to do our own promotion. Image Comics does what it can. We are treated as equal separate companies publishing under the banner of Image, thus, it’s up to us to take care of ourselves. For its part, Image gives us ad space, does our press releases and gives us a forum on their site to help gain a footing online. That’s about as much they can do for the fee they take.
The rest is up to us. I personally, did everything in my power to get the word out on “A VERY SAMMY DAY” this past May. I had a Press Release, Did 10 interviews on the net, started an ongoing online original Sammy serial called Subway Stories, and flooded internet forums with announcements and promos.
In the end, it didn’t amount to much. I’ve learned that online buzz doesn’t always translate into real world buzz. Sometimes, it’s having good word of mouth, sometimes it’s luck. You just have to keep going to cons, and plugging away until someone notices. It’s a lot of hard work.
I’m not sure what ELSE to do. Buying ads in trade papers? Calling retailers ahead of time? Emailing and mailing retailers previews ahead of time? It all costs more and more money. You can buy your way into Wizard with ads, but I don’t know if that makes a difference. I’m guessing it depends on your material. In my case, I doubt it.
Jamie: On your website, Guerrilla-Comics.com you use some online comics to promote your comics. Has that helped?
Azad: Marginally. In fairness, I haven’t used the site to its potential. I could have brought in other online cartoonists, maybe had some contests and promotions to go along with the website…Part of the original intent of the site was to have some activism. To get people pumped about doing comics. But life has gotten in the way of myself and my webmaster. We’d like to change that. We’re having a major Pow-Wow for a week this August. Hopefully, we’ll get things up there that should have been up last year. 3D animation, web docs, more comics, more features… hopefully, it’ll build some interest in Sammy and other future projects.
Jamie: I’m surprised I haven’t seen you offering Sammy: Tourist Trap as a TPB yet. Are you planning on doing this?
Azad: SALES! Sales dictate everything. The book is still a bit in the red. With that said, I’ve got a great TPB planned for it with TONS of extras. I just hope I get the green light. We’ll see.
Jamie: You mentioned in the back of Sammy: Tourist Trap #4 that using computers does not speed up the process of making comic books, instead it slows it down. If that’s the case, why do you use computers?
Azad: In all honesty, it’s become a bit of a crutch for me. I like the way my stuff looks better with it than without it. But it has afforded me the ability to make my artwork look as good as it is. It would NOT have been so otherwise. I’d like to change that though. J.Bone has challenged me to do a computer-less comic one day. We’ll see.
Jamie: How has Image changed for you since Erik Larsen took over as head honcho?
Azad: Not in any obvious way, so far. All my contracts and such were signed under Jim Valentino, so they had to honor them. Hell, I have no idea if Erik even likes my work or would have signed me at all, for that matter. I guess we’ll see how this affects me when I ask for a TPB or a sequel.
Jamie: When you get a fan following and respectable Sales, will you drop everything and work for Marvel or DC when they offer you lots of money and a title?
Azad: A title with the Big Two would not change my plans for world domination. Especially considering the fact that I’d want to WRITE, not draw for the Big Two. I can write fast. Real fast! Drawing takes forever and I’d never be able to maintain a monthly schedule. But then again, who wants to write pajama-boys when I get to find new ways to abuse kitties on my own book?!