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Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Tom Beland -- One of the biggest success stories of the past few years in the world of independent comics has been Tom Beland's True Story, Swear to God. Unapologetically romantic, funny as hell and a joy to look at, Beland's comic book manages to appeal to a wide variety of readers by telling an intensely personal story. He wrestled the Five Questions to the ground.

As an autobiographical cartoonist, how do the people in your life react to being depicted in your work?

It's funny...the people who you'd think would be the most interested in this stuff, family and friends, are the ones who don't know what issue I'm on, or that there's a trade paperback or anything. When they FIND OUT, they're very supportive, but otherwise, they don't go looking for it. Which is weird, because these are the people who saw you drawing at the dinner as a kid and talked about how cool it would be to you to be a cartoonist one day. Then when it happens it's "oh, you've got a book out..?" [Laughs]. I compare this to the last Lord of the Rings film, where the hobbits save the world and are riding into the Shire, all decked-out in their hero bling and looking all proud...and to the older hobbit sweeping his porch, he looks at the four heroes and has this "aaahhhh those fucking kids are back" attitude. I nearly DIED when I saw this, because whenever I go back to Napa Valley (my Shire) I have to admit that I always expect people to be jacked about me coming home and wanting to see my work...and it never happens. It totally puts you back into reality. They also think that the Eisner awards are in honor of Michael Eisner. YeeEEeeg.

But when they DO find out a book is out, they're very cool about everything. My brother Joe is a great supporter.

True Story, Swear to God seems to have achieved universal acclaim...how has the book's success affected your life and your approach to your cartooning?

I think that it's allowed me to meet people I'd normally be way too shy to say hello to. In San Diego last year, I had Wil Wheaton come to my table and hang out there for a bit and I was like, "You're Wesley Crusher!!" I'm a Trek fan, so this was very cool. I mean, this guy's hanging at my table and telling me he wants to do what I do....and HE'S BEAMED DOWN!! Who else do you know that has BEAMED DOWN??

When Kurt Busiek walks over to say hello, it fucking blows my mind. Every time. Doing a panel discussion with Craig Thompson was a big thrill for me. Paige Braddock is great to panel with too.

But the absolute highlight for me was meeting Sal Buscema. Huge fan. Gigantic fan. I thought he cranked out more comics in the '70s than anyone when I was a kid. He was all over the Marvel books. I jumped from my seat, said hello and had a picture taken with him. I totally geeked-out. The photo is hanging in my ofice

The bizarre thing of the success is when other artists bring their portfolios for me to review. My style isn't in super-heroes, so I'm not exactly the place to go for advice. But I'll look at it and tell them if the anatomy is weak or they need to work on their perspective and backgrounds.

Do you have any ambitions in comics beyond TSSTG?

There's a project I'm really trying to get to that was written by Neil Kleid about a robotic boy on a quest. It's a great story and I'm sketching during my free time on it. I'm also working on a side TSSTG project titled CLIB'S BOY about my childhood leading up to my parents' death while I was a senior in high school. There's a lot of comedy, but also a lot of emotional pages that are very difficult, yet therapeutic at the same time.

You uprooted your life in the U.S. and moved to Puerto Rico to be with the woman you love -- tell me what that change has been like.

Best decision I ever made. Period. It allowed me to cut loose the anchor that familiarity can bind you to. I was able to live in a new place and take chances with my work. I hope that makes sense. Sometimes, your family, friends and co-workers only remind you of what you haven't achieved in life. The focus is more about "you should've tried this" or "why haven't you done that?" and when you leave that atmosphere, you begin to get it done. At least that's how it was done for me.

Lily. Jesus, where do you really begin with her? She's the one who told me to make my comic strip zines and when I told her I didn't know how to do that, she told me to go learn how. I did and then BOOM, we got an IGNATZ nomination for Best New Zine. When it came to printing my first comic book, again, I didn't know how to do it and she told me to just give it a shot. I did and then BOOM, Eisner nominations. Everything...EVERYTHING I've achieved in this business is because she told me to get off my ass and try.

If you have a person in your life that wants you to succeed, you have to listen to them. I don't care if you're depressed, can't draw cars, no one else is buying your work, whatever...that one person believes in you. They want to see you do the best you can do...and the one thing you should focus on is making them proud they believed in you. It's that easy.

You have your muse.

Clib's Boy is a one-man show so far. Tell me about the hazards and advantages you see in self-publishing.

Hmmmmm...okay. Issue #1 is the easiest thing to publish. I don't care HOW MUCH blood, sweat and tears went into completing it. It's the easiest book to publish. It's new. It's your first work. There's energy to burn in that issue and it's great to see it hit the stands and see people buying it in conventions.

But then you never see issue #2. The writer's still working on the story... even after a year. The artist is dragging his ass or doesn't like the next script and wants to have a bigger say in the plotline. It's evolved into a job. And if you're doing both, it's a huge load.

By issue #3, the drive is hard to maintain. Sales aren't the same as Batman, so you get bummed out and want to quit.

The thing that you have to do in self-publishing is get the work done. Period. Get it done. Getitdonegetitdonegetitdone. Because issue #1 looks retarded sitting by itself after a year and a half. Any reader you obtained has moved on. There are lots of other great books on the rack and if you can't get the job done, they'll move on. They don't want to know what the excuses are...especially if they keep piling up.

And this is what you've always wanted to do! Never, ever underestimate that...doing what you want to do. Quit putting everything off and get it done.

This can also be said for the bigger publishers. How anyone can invest in a Kevin Smith comic book these days is baffling. He never finishes what he starts, but when it's announced he's writing a series, everyone's all ZIPPIDYDOODAH!! And when he's on Leno, he's going on about his love of comics. But how many series has he finished? Good lord. He gets issue #1 and #2 out, then he pulls a Nightcrawler act and BAMFS out of the schedule. Do a completed series, THEN solicit it THEN get it out. Kevin should know better and so should Marvel.

Brian Bendis writes a BiLLION titles a month and they hit the stands when expected. If not, he's right there to tell you why and it's there a short time later. Look at his workload, the quality of his stories and give props to making his deadlines. He's Stan Freakin' Lee.

So get the work done. Get the books out. A page a day. That's what Terry Moore told me. That's what I do.

The advantage is you're the boss. You decide how it reads and how it looks.

But because of that, you make sure that the buyer is going to like this book. Make the book, wait a day, then reread it from a BUYERS point of view. Here's the thing: someone goes to the store on a Wednesday and they have twenty bucks. They buy their Spidey books, Fantastic Four, Batman, Powers, Gotham Central, Promethea, New X-Men and that leaves them about three bucks left. Out of all...ALL the remaining comics on the rack, this person can only afford ONE BOOK. So you have to make them want to give up Runaways, Rose and Thorn, Arrowsmith, Bone or any other impossibly cool book and buy yours.

If after reading your book again, you see flaws the reader will see...you have to fix it. You have to be totally honest with yourself on your work. You have to know it's worth if before they do.

I have to say, Alan, that there's something else that sucks about self-publishing. You make a book, call it "Super Hero Happy Hour"...it's a hit...you're on a roll...and then you get a legal notice from Marvel and DC saying that they own the rights to the term "Super-Hero" and now they want you to change your name to "Hero Happy Hour." I've never seen a more asinine thing in my life than this. Buying the trademark on this term does absolutely fucking nothing to help comics. Nothing. It's nothing more than a way to bully the smaller indie publishers. And then they won't even comment on it...but will go on and on about how their companies are "indie friendly." It's a load of crap and I'm embarrassed for Marvel AND DC for doing something so ridiculous. They should focus their attention on getting books out on time and getting their talent to complete mini-series that are a year late.

When you're a small press publisher, you don't have the money to take on larger publishers and so you're forced to change the name of your book because of two moronic publishing companies can't find any other way to ruin the industry. There was nothing positive to come out of owning a trademark on such a general term.

That's why I love APE and SPX and MOCCA. The big companies aren't there and it's the real deal. People making their own comics because they LOVE COMICS.

Thanks to Tom Beland for participating. Visit his website and the TSSTG page at AiT-Planetlar.



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