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Sunday, October 04, 2009

 
Five Questions for Tom Spurgeon -- My latest 5Q is up now at Trouble with Comics, Five Questions for Tom Spurgeon.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

 
I'm in Trouble with Comics -- The puns never end. I've got a piece in the new Flashmob Fridays segment, and also my latest 5Q is up now, Five Questions for Eric Reynolds. Click on over!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

 
New 5Q at Trouble with Comics -- My newest Five Questions interview is up now, and it's with former Galaxy writer and current IDW Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall. Have a look!

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Friday, June 27, 2008

 
Five Questions for Roger Green -- The one good thing to come out of Al Gore's creation of the internet is the fact that I am able to communicate online with great people like Roger Green.

I saw him almost every week back in the 1980s, when as a teenager I was buying my comics at the legendary FantaCo Enterprises on Central Avenue in Albany, New York, but I never really developed any kind of relationship with the great guys that ran that store -- I don't know why I never really chatted them up, shy, I guess, and maybe a little intimidated (hey, these guys were also comic book characters, in Smilin' Ed Comics!) but they were always professional, helpful and kind to my teenaged self, and I have fond memories of seeing Roger, Mitch Cohn, Rocco Nigro and the late and much-missed Raoul Vezina at the store on a regular basis.

You've probably seen a FantaCo publication or two (or twenty) from time to time in your comic book travels; it seems like the Chronicles series (of which there were five, plus an annual) remain pretty ubiquitous, and if the checklists are now charmingly outdated (imagine an X-Men checklist that includes only Uncanny and scattered appearances in a few other titles?), the interviews and articles remain great comics journalism that holds up well. So well, in fact, that Marvel appropriated the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson interview from The Daredevil Chronicles for The Frank Miller Daredevil Omnibus. Ain't that something?

Anyway, a few years back Roger started blogging, and we ended up in touch, bonding over our very different but very much-loved memories of FantaCo. I'm grateful beyond measure for having had the experience of being a customer at one of the greatest comic book stores ever, and even more grateful to know Roger and Rocco now, just 27 years after the first time I walked in the door at 21 Central Avenue and said to myself "Holy shit, look at all these comic books!"

And now, in the spirit of The Frank Miller Daredevil Omnibus, I present to you my appropriated Five Questions for Roger Green.

What is your favourite comic book story?

Yeesh. I must admit a fondness for the Defenders when Gerber was writing it, and I love a good origin story (Spider-Man, Hulk), but ultimately, I end up with Giant-Size Man-Thing #1.

When reading comics, do you focus on the writing over the art, the art over the writing, or both about equally?

Serviceable art will allow me to read a well-told story. The most beautiful art will not save a terrible story line. One of the comic books I hate the most has to be Spider-Man #1. The McFarlane art was tolerable at best, but the story was so gawd awful, I stopped buying the title after three or four issues. Given the fact that I LOVED-LOVED-LOVED Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it was painful, but necessary. This was NOT the Peter I knew. The Spider-Man was more like Spawn. Loathsome.

When the Pinis used to come to FantaCo to do Elfquest signings, Richard used to rail against the comic fanboys who cared about art to the exclusion of story, and I thought he was absolutely right.

That said, sometimes the art DOES move me. I was buying Sub-Mariner during Bill Everett's second run, and I loved the look.


Roger Green at the Saratoga Springs Comicon, 21 June 2008


Who do you think is the greatest comic book artist still alive today and why?

Well, besides Fred G. Hembeck, who should be considered just based on the sheer number of characters he's drawn? I'll cop out and say Art Spiegelman because he helped bring the comic form out of the comic book ghetto.

What's your happiest memory of working at FantaCo?

I almost always loved when our publications came in, but I'm going to pick something rather arcane.

There was a graphic novelization of Stephen King's Creepshow drawn by Berni Wrightson in the mid-1980s. Having connections in both the comic and horror markets we knew, both instinctively and from comic and horror film stores we dealt with that there was still a demand for this title. The publisher, we ascertained, still had many copies of the book. I wrote to the publisher- nothing. I called the publisher - I was told the book was no longer available, which I knew to be untrue. Finally, I reached someone who acknowledged that they had copies but that it was not worth it for them to send it out only to deal with a huge percentage of returns.

So I said, "What if we bought them non-returnable?" I thought the guy's teeth were going to fall out. "Non-returnable?" So, we took 100 copies of it at 70% off the $6.95 cover price, put them in the store and listed them in a Fangoria ad, and blew through them. So I called again and said, can we have another 100?" By this point other stores were clamoring for this book, so we ordered an additional 500, and sold it to these horror book stores, and a few comic book stores, at 40% non-returnable. The stores got to sell a book they could otherwise not get, we made a decent profit even wholesaling someone else's book, and we kept the Wrightson book from just being remaindered. My persistence in dealing with this publisher was, strangely, my favorite FantaCo moment.

Here's another: I just came across in the past week a letter that one of FantaCo's mail order customers sent to me. Why it should resurface now, I have no idea, since we've only been in the house since 2000. (A 1989 article about the comic book Shriek was also in the pile.) This guy worked for Ryko, and he would send me, his mail order purveyor, free music.

Roger-
Good to speak to you on the phone today (1-26-88)...I'm finding Ryko fans in the strangest places.
Hope you enjoy these guys - I chucked in a couple 3", too. The one with no writing is "They Might Be Giants", a couple of guys from Hoboken, NJ.


I like this not for the swag, but because apparently I was giving him service worthy of him sending me free stuff. Still have that unlabeled TMBG disc.

What do you think is the single best publication FantaCo released in its history?

While I have a strong affection for the Spider-Man Chronicles, which I edited, I'm going to say Gates of Eden, which Mitch Cohn edited. No, I'm NOT going to pick The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis and his World of Exploitation Films, no matter how much you beg, Alan.

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Gates of Eden #1 actually is my favourite FantaCo publication, too, it should be noted. It was decades ahead of its time and paved the way in part for the artcomix revolution that is still going on today. You can see Roger's version of this interview, and if you have any memories of or artwork by the late Raoul Vezina that you would like to share, please get in touch with Roger through this post.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

 
Five Questions from Roger Green -- You can also view this at Roger's blog, but I wanted to get these up here as well: Five questions for me written by Roger.

1. When you tell people that you do criticism of comic books, and they giggle or say something inane, after you sock them in the jaw, what quick-and-dirty response do you give to explain that comics are worthy of serious exploration?

Maybe I only tell people that already know or respect me, because I can't remember ever feeling I have to justify comics being worthy of criticism.

2. You used to listen to Q-104 in the day, didn't you? If you did, explain to someone who never heard it why it was such a great station? (And if you didn't, why the heck not?!)

I did. I think what made it a great station was the sense that the DJs had some input into what music they were playing. The closest I think any station in the Albany area comes these days to that era is probably WEQX.

3. You've been writing about customer service, et al., in comic book stores. How would FantaCo have fared?

I don't remember anyone ever being anything other than friendly and helpful at FantaCo, except maybe toward the very, very end of its run, when unfamiliar faces were manning the cash registers. Not a week goes by that I don't wish the store was still there, so that's got to count for something.

4. How many FantaCo publications did you own, and how many do you still have?

Whoo. At one point I probably had 75 percent or more of them -- I bought all the Hembeck, Chronicles, Gates of Eden and stuff like that. The horror magazines/books never really appealed to me. I still have most of the Chronicles, which I find to hold up really well, and Gates of Eden #1, which more than anything really takes me back to those days, when it seemed like anything was possible in comics. Kind of like now, except back then there was far less evidence.

5. Beside the counterfeit Cerebus story, what are two or three of your fondest FantaCo memories?

The first day I shopped there, I was 15 years old and my family had just moved back to upstate New York after living in Florida for most of the 1970s. When I told whoever was working that day (might have been Mitch and Raoul?) that FantaCo was the first place I wanted to go when we got back in New York, and that FantaCo had seemed like Mecca to me from the ads I saw in comics, I was more or less treated like royalty.

Also: Being amazed that cartoonist Raoul Vezina had to work in the shop; I thought he'd be living it up off the huge profits from SMILIN' ED COMICS. Little did I know what the realities of comics were!

Also: The copy of World War III Illustrated (#1 or 2, I would guess) that I had in my pile when I checked out on my first visit in 1981, only to find somehow I left it behind in the store. It would be nearly two decades before I crossed paths again with the work of Peter Kuper.

Also: Seeing Wendy and Richard Pini at a signing there and being surprised at how normal they were. It was as if the people who made comics were just, you know, people.

Also: The copy of Metroland I would always grab from the left side of the door on my way out every week; FantaCo is gone, but Albany's free alternative newsweekly is still chugging along. I wish I was still picking it up at FantaCo every week!

Thanks, Roger!

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

 
Five Questions for Ed Brubaker -- In the brief interview below, Ed Brubaker calls Sleeper "a challenging read." He doesn't mean it this way, but the challenge, in my opinion, was one to the taste and intelligence of the Direct Market, because Sleeper, by Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips, was one of the most brilliantly executed and tense, immersive comics ever created. It paid tribute to a number of influences and yet felt like nothing on the stands during the time of its publication, and its end has left a gaping maw in my reading habits that, thankfully, is about to be filled by Brubaker and Phillips's next joint project, Criminal, to be published by Marvel/Icon beginning in October.

I've bought and enjoyed a lot of Brubaker's recent work for Marvel, including Daredevil, Captain America and Books of Doom. But Criminal, set free of the constraints of the Marvel Universe (or any superhero universe -- this will be a pure crime book), promises to be a visceral distillation of everything Brubaker and Phillips learned from their Sleeper experience -- a delicious proposition as ever there was for readers who enjoy stories filled with compelling characters in tense, dangerous situations.

It's not often I go out on a limb and make predictions about books I haven't seen yet, but Brubaker and Phillips have earned my trust countless times, together and apart. Criminal is gonna be great comics.

1. I know from reading A Complete Lowlife that you may have (allegedly!) committed a crime or two yourself in your wayward youth. Certainly your portrait of an underground criminal organization in Sleeper was one of the most compelling and convincing in the history of comics. What so fascinates you about the criminal world?

I don't know, for sure. I grew up on military bases during the early part of my life, so maybe there's something subconscious about seeing this other world, that's so outside what I was raised in. But part of it, I'm sure, comes from my teens and early 20s, where I was basically, a lowlife, and knew a lot of small time druggies and criminals, and got a few distinct and memorable experiences with some more serious criminals and spent some time in jail. I don't want to be a part of that world, believe me, but it's a lot of fun to write about. I always want to write about the criminals who, as far as their morality goes, they steal, or kill, but they're good people somehow anyway. That's an interesting dichotomy, I think.

2. You spent a long time writing mostly for DC/Vertigo before moving to Marvel on such titles as Captain America, Daredevil and the forthcoming Criminal (among others)...what can you tell me about how different it is to work for these two giant comics companies?

Well, I think my experiences at DC really taught me a lot of things that have made my experiences at Marvel better, honestly. I know what it feels like to be in the trenches on a few monthlies, and I know how to deal with editors and letterers and the whole system. So, I think, because Marvel doesn't need to hold my hand, I've had a great time there. But this is not to be a knock on DC. I was always treated very well there, for the most part.

The main difference, looking at it, is that working at Marvel, I've just cut loose on the books more, because of the things I learned at DC. So I feel like I came in fully-developed and ready to go, and Marvel has allowed me to do that, to great success for me and them.

3. Sleeper seemed to go far into the extremes of human behaviour -- lust, greed, murder, betrayal. I'd expect we'll see more of the same in Criminal, but short of duplicating "The Sleeper Formula" (for lack of a better term), how will Criminal be different?

Criminal is casting a much wider net, in a way. Sleeper was very much about one man and the elaborate trap he was in, and Criminal is about a bunch of different people who all live outside the law, or under its radar, at least. And since they're all new characters, it's like I get to just unfold this whole new world in the pages of our book. But also, to go in a different direction than Sleeper, most of the characters are pretty realistic. I think even our first main character, Leo, is more realistic than most of the criminals you see in movies or comics, because he uses his head and doesn't want to be involved in violence, and he really doesn't want to go to jail.

CRIMINAL by Brubaker and Phillips; click for larger image.
CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE


4. I would have read Sleeper for the rest of my life, if you and Sean could have continued to produce it. How long do you see Criminal lasting, sales allowing, and what do you think is built into the concept to give it long-term potential?

Well, Sleeper was never designed to go beyond where it did. In fact, I originally intended it to only go 12 issues, but Jim Lee wanted us to do more of it, so I changed the ending of the story and came up with the twist of Lynch waking up, and then we had another run. The ending of the final issue was always the ending I was building towards, though; nothing was cut short, creatively.

But with Criminal, since the canvas is so unlimited, I could see us doing it for five or more years, at least, if it's successful enough, between US and foreign editions. I've got outlines for stories through to about 30 issues already, and more scratching their way out of the back of my mind all the time.

And honestly, I think the cast of characters and the 'world' of the comic is what'll give it those legs, if it gets them. I've been building up to this stuff for so long, so much of it is fully-formed in my head, and the characters in the first two arcs are so well-defined to me, that I think it's going to be a really unique comics experience. It's different than anything I've ever done before, I know that. It's this bizarre combination of twists on crime story plots, and this almost vťritť-style comic writing, watching these characters go through their lives, and really fleshing out this underworld they inhabit. It's been a lot of fun, and I hope it's as addictive to readers as it is for me and Sean.

5. Clearly part of the problem with Sleeper was that it was being mainly marketed to superhero fans -- what efforts are you and Sean (and Marvel, one hopes) making to get the word out about Criminal beyond the Direct Market? And how can readers help?

I don't know that that was the problem, I think the problem was possibly that it was connected to a universe. It was a challenging read, with a non-superhero style of art, in a superhero universe that was on the wane at the time. It had a lot of knocks against it, and all credit to Wildstorm, they kept plugging away and letting us do the book because they liked it, and it got nominated for four or five Eisners. I think just not enough people saw the book at their stores, that it got sort of lost in the shuffle of other DC and WS books. I didn't honestly see it being marketed to the superhero fans. The only ads we had were in other Mature WS books, and once in a few Vertigo books. I wish it had been that simple.

So, knowing that going in, and knowing the DM is my prime target for the monthly book, the main thing I've been trying to do is just get word out about Criminal any way I can. I'm using and abusing the internet. I've worked for the past two years, working my ass off, building a bigger name for myself. I'm very lucky that Sean is coming off Marvel Zombies, which was a huge hit, too, because between us, Sean and I are known by more retailers than we ever were before, so now is the perfect time to try something new, I figure. I've been trying as much as I can to remind retailers of what we've done for them lately, basically, and that our overall fanbase has increased considerably. I mean, both Cap and DD are steadily climbing up the charts by thousands at a time, not drifting down it, which is the norm, and I want retailers to be thinking about that when ordering Criminal. I'm even pushing Criminal in the letters pages of DD and Cap, to make sure my newer readers know about the book, too, because I've learned you can never push a book enough. Bendis tells me he still meet people who claim they're his biggest fans, and they never heard of Powers. "Aauugh!" right?

So I've been asking fans all over the place to print out the PDF teaser we made for the book and bring it to their retailer, and talk to them about it, and so far I've heard a bunch have actually done it. Some of these fans have been printing the teaser in their college papers, even, apparently, which is even better. Oh, and Kirkman offered to run the teaser in this month's Walking Dead, in full color, even, so that'll get us in front of another 25,000 people, a lot of them retailers.

But beyond that, I'm lining up a lot of print and online interviews. I've got a big feature set-up with a pop culture journalist for the Seattle Times, and his stories often get picked up and run all over the country. With the way articles about comics go lately, I'm optimistic about those chances. And I'm working to get a lot of the weekly papers around the country to write features around the time we publish. It's a lot of hustling really, and asking readers and friends to do some hustling too. I honestly think we're going to do pretty well with the book, and I've already been fielding a fair amount of interest from Hollywood , but I figure better safe than sorry. So, if there are any journalists out there reading this, contact me at: edbrubaker@gmail.com and give me some coverage, man. ;)

Criminal #1 is listed on page 80 of the current Marvel Previews catalog. The Diamond order code for #1 is AUG06 2090 D4. It will arrive in comic shops in October, but to be sure you get a copy, tell your retailer NOW that you want Criminal. You should definitely check out the gorgeous preview art all over Sean Phillips's blog, and of course, many thanks to Ed Brubaker for taking part in the 5Q..

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

 
Five Questions for James Kochalka -- I last interviewed James Kochalka in January of this year, and while updating some stuff on my Kochalkaholic! blog, I noticed just how much has happened in Kochalka's career in the short few months that have passed since then. So I decided to once again ask him a few -- five to be precise -- questions about what's happened and what's about to happen in his life and career as a cartoonist and musician.

1. It's been announced that the long-awaited James Kochalka Superstar CD Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly will be released this August 29th. You and the band are planning a tour to coincide with the release of the CD; give me your best and worst-case scenarios for how the tour might go.

We're really planning a couple long-weekend length mini-tours. The first one, we'll do four days in a row nearby here... maybe Boston, Providence, New York City, and somewhere else close? It's amazing that we've never done anything like this before, and simple and pedestrian as it is.

For the second mini-tour we're looking for some insane fan or comic book store or college to front us the money to fly wherever they are, and then we'll build a tour around it. Similar things have happened before. A fan in Norman, Oklahoma flew us down there for his birthday one year, and last year a comic book store in Houston, Texas and the college radio station at Rice University teamed up to fly us down for
some show.

Best case scenario? This is all I'm really looking for: we all have a great time, band and audience. I'm hoping just to break even, but we expect to actually lose money.

I guess... worst case scenario... I can't take the strain of playing four shows in a row and I lose my voice, the shows are poorly attended and we lose money on the trip, and then while we're sleeping on the floor of some insane fan's apartment and they kill us in our sleep.

2. The song "Hockey Monkey" by yourself and The Zambonis was the theme song of a Fox TV series called "The Loop" that debuted this year, and the song has gone on to gain significant radio airplay. How this experience has affected your life and your work?

It has not really affected my life and work in any way whatsoever, that I've yet noticed. We got $25,000 for the song, but we split that five ways. Certainly the song was heard by millions and millions of people, but it hasn't led to huge sales. It did give us inroads to commercial radio. Up until now, my stuff has only been played on college radio, but after the show premiered we took a chance and sent the Hockey Monkey single out to 400 commercial and modern rock radio stations. Of those, I think about 20 or 25 started playing it. Most significantly, the SIRIUS satellite network started playing it on their most popular music channel, Alt Nation. It quickly climbed the charts there, eventually becoming the #1 most requested song. It's still way up there, it's been high on their charts for a couple months now. They've played the song HUNDREDS of times, it's unreal.

Now, I will get money from BMI for all this airplay and television play eventually, but I don't know how much. BMI's payment schedule has like a one-year delay. So this time next year I should know what it all adds up to.



3. This week sees the release in comic shops of the third issue of your teen superhero team comic Super-Fuckers. What can followers of your comics work look forward to in the next few months?

Oh, other than the third SuperF*ckers (#277)? Nothing, I guess. I'm working on the fourth issue right now, I'm halfway done with page 12. It's too early to tell with issue 4, but issue 3 is absolutely gruesome! Gruesome is my new cool word I'm going to start using to replace "awesome."

I forgot, there's a great comic in the booklet for Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly. That comes out August 29 in the USA, and a day earlier in the UK. Anyhow, the comic is titled Genius in the Basement, and it's about a monster living in my basement. But it's really about me.

In the fall, Book Two of American Elf will come out, unless Top Shelf goes out of business before that. It will collect all my diary strips from 2004 and 2005, in full color no less.

I'm also just finishing up my first children's book for Random House. It won't come out until August 2007, and we're not sure what the title will be. It juxtaposes alternating pages of verse and comics. The editing process is really intense, but we've hammered my usual loosey-goosey storying-telling style into something as solid as the great classic childrens books, I think. Here's a few of the titles we're looking at: Squirrelly Gray and the Magic Nut, Squirrelly Gray's Rainy Forest, or When the World Was Gray. Actually we've got a list of dozens of titles, so many it's impossible to choose. I think we'll go with the most simple... just plain: Squirrelly Gray.

4. For the past year or so you've been an instructor at The Center for Cartoon Studies. Tell
me what you've learned about cartooning and cartoonists as a result of your work there?


Here's what it really takes to be a great cartoonist: You've got to have the fire and the will-power and at least a little spark of genius. I knew that before, though. It's exciting to be a part of the school, though. It's just fun to teach. It's fun to help them become better cartoonists. I'm not down there a lot, but I love it when I am. It's inspiring.

5. A few years back you quit your job at a Chinese restaurant (and even did a comic about it, coincidentally enough called "Quit Your Job") to devote yourself full-time to your comics and your music. If you could go back in time to your last day at that job and tell your younger self what the next few years would be like and maybe give him some advice, what would you say to that younger James Kochalka?

That would be weird and scary, to meet the younger me. Meeting an even younger me than that, maybe college age would be the scariest of all. But I suppose the younger me would be scared too, so it would all even out.

Anyhow, I had no idea making a living as a cartoonist would be so goddamn easy. I didn't need any advice, all I needed to do was work hard and hustle, and I did that. Now... if I could go back and meet the much-younger me instead, maybe I could teach the much-younger me how to knuckle down and how to hustle and I could've jump-started my career a decade earlier.

Visit James Kochalka's americanelf.com.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 
Five Questions for Jason Marcy --Jay's graphic novels are autobiographical, blunt, occasionally dirty, and funny as hell. He's a keen, often furious observer of human behaviour, but his love for his family and his affection for the work of James Kochalka both speak to a more whimsical and human side that was on spectacular display in his well-received third book in the Jay's Days series, Pasta Shop Lothario. That most recent of his graphic novels delved into both his fascination with his s teenage co-workers and the birth of his son -- see, the guy's a perfect example of the dual nature of man.

Jason Marcy's a buddy of mine, so there's your disclaimer. No, wait, there's even more self-interest at work here, I have a story in his forthcoming book MY DAY IN THE LIFE OF JAY, a mostly-true recounting of the long weekend my family and I spent with Jay and his wife Kris and son Xander last year. Not that I expect to get anything back from my participation in the project except the pride of being a part of a book by one of my favourite cartoonists. I caught up with him this week to get the scoop on his new books, and to tip you off that these are going to be fun, entertaining volumes you'll be glad you picked up.

Cover art to MY DAY IN THE LIFE OF JAY by Jason Marcy and Friends.1. What did you learn about yourself from the stories turned in for MY DAY IN THE LIFE OF JAY?

That people seemingly like me more than they hate me! I was really okay if folks wanted to go open season on me in a bad way, and it didn't turn out like that at all. Not that people didn't get in their licks mind you, but I was touched by the feeling expressed in some of the works. Ron Gravelle's comes to mind, and of course Joe Meyer's. Jeremy Kaposy handed in a top notch dissection of the "Jay experience" in my mind, kind of an eye opening thing really.Even Andrew Foster came through in the end with a bitingly real Jay moment.

As for those who either only know me through my comics or through cons, well, they were great. Chip Zdarsky, Kagan McLeod, Ben
Shannon...hell they were all great pieces. In the end it was an amazing experiment, so much so that I've now turned my attention to a book with my scripts/other folks art, like a Harvey Pekar project.

2. You've recently been working with cartoonist Chip Zdarsky on your book design, what have you learned from Chip?

Chip is very much a perfectionist, and he's been hard on me, y'know? "Why did you do this like that?" and "How come you don't know this stuff, Jay?". He's been great actually. In fact, all the guys from the Royal Academy of Illustration and Design have been awesome in their support of my little efforts. No doubt I've
exasperated Chip a lot, but he's been very patient and helpful. I'm miles ahead with my understanding of Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign because of him, and in a very short period of time.

3. You're going the Print on Demand route for your two new books after working with a number of small-press publishers. Tell me what brought you to POD.

It's really how the other books were done too. I decided on POD because right now it facilitates my immediate needs, which is low print run graphic novels at reasonable prices. I don't need say a minimum of three hundred books for a couple of thousand dollars. If and when I solicit these books, I'll go from the orders and print exactly what I need. A lot of people have been haranguing me on this, but riight now, it makes financial sense to not over order a book, and POD gives me the freedom to order whenever I need product with minimum hassle.

Cover art to JASON MARCY'S BOOK OF HATE by Jason Marcy.4. Your other new book is JASON MARCY'S BOOK OF HATE. Tell me what fills you with hate more than anything else in the world.

Huh. It's hard to say really. I often get filled with petty jealous feelings over others success. I really hate that part of me. In the big wide world, I'd probably say general intolerance, and again I cover my own times when I feel that type of thing too. The book really covers a lot of what HATE can mean to me, I think.

5. I get as excited about a new Jay Marcy comic as I do about one by Harvey Pekar, James Kochalka or Robert Crumb, just to name three creators whose work, I think, has been an influence on yours. And yet, you haven't achieved the readership levels of those perhaps better-known cartoonists, and you've talked about that on your LiveJournal and in your comics. Yet here you are with two new books on the horizon, plugging away. What keeps you making comics after all these years?

What else am I gonna do? If I keep plugging, maybe someone'll take notice and say,"Hey, that bald guy ain't half bad." and come and rescue me with a book deal or something.

Comics are in me to be done, so to speak. Gotta create, gotta use my voice to let the world know I'm here in a way I can. It's this or catching chickens as a side job. Hey, that may pay better.

Visit jasonmarcy.com.

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Friday, October 22, 2004

 
The New 5Q -- If it's Friday -- the every-other-one, that is, it must be time for the new Five Questions. This time out, it's writer Steven Grant. Clickity-click-click, already!

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Friday, October 08, 2004

 
Five Questions for James Sturm -- It's over at Newsarama. Enjoy!

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Friday, September 24, 2004

 
The New 5Q -- Up now at Newsarama.com is my new Five Questions for Jason Marcy, whose new autobiographical Rise and Fall of the Pasta Shop Lothario is solicited in the new Previews. Read the interview, read my review, tell your retailer you want it now! Well, in December.

And thanks as always to Matt Brady for hosting the 5Q at Newsarama and for using my new-and-improved (I think?) 5Q logo.

Go, click something!

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Friday, August 06, 2004

 
It's The New 5Q -- It's the first Friday of the month, so head over to Newsarama for my Five Questions for Mike Wieringo.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

 


Peter Bagge -- One of the most prominent alternative cartoonists of the 1990s has reinvented himself recently with investigative strips and essays that see print annually as Hate Annuals, always one of the most dense and interesting comics in any given year. He spared a few minutes to answer the Five Questions.

Your alternative comic Hate is now a series of annuals, one of the most fascinating aspects of which is your political, cultural and social commentary and journalism. What do you get from those efforts that you didn't get from plain ol' cartooning?

It allows me to run off at the mouth in a way that I can't do in a comic strip. I currently am doing regular strips for REASON Magazine, and it's very hard to get my point across sometimes in a comic strip format. I wish they'd let me just write an illustrated article sometimes like I used to do for Suck.com!

With Hate only appearing once a year these days, what's a day in the life of Pete Bagge like?

I'm still trapped in my dungeon/studio all day working on countless projects -- the latest being a regular "Bat Boy" comic strip for the Weekly World News!

Which presidential candidate would Buddy Bradley be voting for, and why?

Seeing how he has a brain, Buddy would vote for whomever the Democrats wind up nominating to oppose President Bush, even if that means going through the trouble of registering.

What's you take on the overall state of the comics industry at the moment?

While I'm pleased to see that comics are making inroads in books stores via the graphic novel route, I'm very upset at the shrinking demand for the traditional comic book format, which is by far my favorite medium to work in.

What does the phrase "Make Mine Marvel" bring to mind?

A paycheck.

Get the lowdown on Bagge's comix at Fantagraphics.com.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

 


Colleen Coover -- Small Favors is the most fun pornography money can buy, so over-the-top in its exhuberant sexuality that it comes back around to innocent again. I was delighted its creator decided to answer the Five Questions.

Is doing a magical lesbian comic a lifelong dream come true?

Doing a comic is, yes! The rest came later.

Iíve always wanted to do comics; one of my earliest memories is drawing scribbly little ďBatmanĒ strips at my Great-Grandmotherís house. It just happens that the first major work Iíve done in comics is an erotic romantic comedy.

Small Favors came about at a time when I was ready to start working on comics seriously. I looked around and saw that there were damn few adult comics for women to enjoy. I prefer all-girl action in my porno, but with very few exceptions Sapphic sex is generally treated as voyeuristic entertainment for men. The whole ďlooking through the keyholeĒ thing. So I would often find myself, a woman watching or reading girl/girl porn, being addressed by the director or creator as though I were a man. I felt I could make a book that women like me would like, without alienating a male readership.

But my first priority has always been not to create a porno comic but to create GOOD comics. My next project, which Iím working on now, is for readers of all ages. Itís called Banana Sunday, written my boyfriend and creative partner Paul Tobin, with all the art by me. Itís a high school adventure with comedy and romance and monkeys! Iím really excited about it.

Have you ever thought up a story or scenario for Small Favors that you decided was too wild to print?

Well, you know, itís all stuff that I find sexy, so I donít ever have to stop myself and go ďWhoa! Too far!Ē After all, my main character is a young woman in love with her own personified conscience, who varies between being six inches tall and normal girl-size, and sports absurdly large pigtails!

I do have criteria for what can and cannot go into the book. I made a decision early on that I wanted women who identify as lesbians to have the same personal access to the fantasy as bisexual women like me. So there are no men in the book. Again, this is not in order to alienate male readers, but to avoid creating that Peeping Tom sort of feeling I mentioned before.

I never include any sex play that would turn me off, just for the sake of including extra kink. Activities that normally involve the use of a toilet, for example, hold no appeal for me sexually, so you wonít see them in Small Favors!

Finally, I feel strongly that there in a book created to celebrate the joy and laughter that good sex is all about, there is no place for the darker side of sex. So no jealousies, diseases, unplanned pregnancies, drugs, and ESPECIALLY no violence or rape.

What do you think is behind the near-universal appeal of two cute girls together?

I donít knowÖ I know sex experts have offered all sorts of theories about why straight men like all-girl action, and people say that the majority of straight women admit to being bi-curious, but I donít like to think too much about it. I feel like too much analysis would ruin the fun, you know?

Now, the whole premise of Small Favors is what has become almost a mantra for me: Pretty Girls Make People Happy! And really, itís just TRUE, you know? Iím not talking about sex, here. If youíre walking down the street and see a really pretty girl with a zillion-watt smile, it just makes you feel good! You donít have to be consumed with lust to appreciate that.

So itís not surprising that when you put pretty girls in a sexual situation, those same good feelings get sort of transferred over. I think you would need some awfully powerful hang-ups not to get some pleasure out of it!

What's the reaction to Small Favors from your family and friends?

The thing about my family and friends is that they KNOW me! Two weeks ago, Paul and I went to a burlesque show in New York with my sister and her husband. My mother loaned me my first erotic literature (Delta of Venus by Anais Nin) when I was fourteen! (I never gave it back, so Iím not sure ďloanedĒ is the right wordÖ) Nothing I do in a comic book is going to really shock them, and theyíre very proud of the attention Small Favors has received these last few years.

Most of my friends and associates are either comics professionals or customers at the comics shop where I have my day job, so again, not likely to be surprised by any of the wacky highjinks in my cute little sex comics. And people who have problems with the thought of ladies having happy fun sex together are not people Iíd be likely to be friendly with.

When I do get a weird reaction to Small Favors, itís usually from total strangers. Iíve occasionally heard the comment ďyou donít think of a woman doing a comic like thisÖĒ at conventions and such. I really have no answer to that. They donít mean it to be nasty, I think that sometimes people just forget that girls like to think about sex! And thereís a common idea that all porn is exploitive of women, so that can be a tough concept for them to get over.

Who are your favourite comics creators and what about their work appeals to you?

Milton Caniff. All-time favorite. I especially love Terry & the Pirates. His work was so rich; even an expository ďtalking headĒ strip would have depth and drama. And action scenes were full of motion and excitement! His cartooning skills gave his adventure-strip realistic style life and dimension. I could write a five-page essay on all the stuff Iíve learned from studying just one daily stripís original art. As a sucker for romance, I consider him to be one of comicsí greatest masters in building romantic suspense.

Los Bros Hernandez. A lot of people have remarked that they can see an influence in my art from either Jaime or Beto. Honestly, I couldnít tell you which of them has influenced me more. I tend to think that itís pretty even. I deeply admire Jaimeís technical skill and clean lines, and Betoís more organic art is full of character. The great thing I look to the Bros for is their brilliant sense of design. Iíve never seen a page from them that didnít work as a complete work of comic art, independent from the rest of the story.

Guy Davis. Heís always been so good, and lately he seems to have blossomed into a one-man Art House! I liked his issue of Hellblazer (the young punks of London hearkened back to his lovely Baker Street work) and Deadline was one of my favorite superhero-type stories of the last couple of years. Just this latest issue of Metal Hurlant alone has him doing two completely different, totally brilliant short pieces! I especially liked the Tardi-esque ďPhoto-takerĒ story.

Ai Yazawa. Her Paradise Kiss is currently my favorite manga by far! Her art is so pretty and her character designs are so varied and the storytelling is great and clothes clothes CLOTHES! I want to go shopping every time I read!!! More shoes! More skirts! More hair dye!

I could go on forever. Darwyn Cookeís work is so yummy; like Caniff, his illustrative art is rooted in strong cartooning skills. Also Javier Pulido, Jordi Bernet, Cameron Stewart, Dean Haspiel, Craig Thompson, Clifford Chiang, and on and on and on.

Thanks to Colleen for tackling the 5Q -- be sure to visit her Live Journal.

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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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Monday, March 08, 2004

 


Damon Hurd -- The writer of My Uncle Jeff and A Sort of Homecoming last week entered the battle over equal marriage rights for all by offering up his comics as a premium in a fundraining effort to support embattled New Paltz, New York Mayor Jason West. West is the first elected official in New York State to recognize the equal marriage rights of gays and lesbians. Not coincidentally, Hurd is a resident of New Paltz. He tells us about his career as a comics writer and his efforts in support of equal marriage rights in his responses to the Five Questions. Special thanks to Shawn Hoke for transcribing this interview.


Your first graphic novel, My Uncle Jeff, was released last year to no small bit of acclaim. Tell me a little bit about how you got started writing graphic novels.

Well, Iíve been writing since I was about five and I used to do a lot of comics and such with crayons and the like as a kid. And then I realized I couldnít draw, so I turned, focusing just on writing and Iíve always been in love with the comics medium. So I tried my hat at that and after a stint of doing some bad Vertigo rip-offs in college, I decided to move towards more serious graphic novels. And after spending a weekend in Pennsylvania with my family, the weekend thatís detailed in the book My Uncle Jeff I came home and wrote it in about two weeks. When I did the book, I actually did it rather quickly and hired an artist to draw it and thatís how I began my professional relationship with my artist Pedro Camello. And at the time, I printed up about a hundred xeroxed mini-comics that I sold and it sold out pretty quickly at the MOCCA art festival that year. Thatís what prompted me to go to a larger print run on my own.

Iíve actually done about four books now and Iíve worked with three different artists. Each one brings something different to the table. In the case of Pedro, he really was mostly just interested in drawing the script as it was. He didnít really want to change anything or contribute anything graphically that way. For him it was a little bit more of a job, but he did such amazing work and actually with my second book, A Sort of Homecoming, I think that he enjoyed that story a lot more and I think that he put a lot more of his own personal touches into it. So that is where you see a little bit more of him in the project. Whereas, my other books that are yet to be released and are coming out this year, The White Elephant and The Strange Day, both of those artists really took on much more of a collaborative role and kind of shaped the way that the book is presented.


As a resident of New Paltz, New York, youíve certainly been witness to some chaos and controversy over the past few days, in kind of an interesting way too. If you could relate the story of how you found out about mayor Jason Wet performing same sex wedding ceremonies in New Paltz.

Yeah, actually I had been in San Francisco for the previous week leading up to this event. I was attending the Alternative Press Expo, which was held on February 21st and February 22nd and then my wife and I spent the rest of the week in San Francisco for a vacation. We had an incredible time. Itís such an amazing city and as we got off the plane at JFK and were collecting our bags, all the different TV stations were set to CNN and lo and behold, there was our town hall. It was very strange, since we live in a very small, upstate village that doesnít normally get such media coverage. That was how we found out that those wedding ceremonies had taken place that day.

I donít think it should have come as a complete surprise to anyone, considering that New Paltz has always been, I mean itís a college town, there is a university there. Itís a very liberal town, which is kind of strange given the political makeup of the Hudson valley, which is primarily Republican. But, itís always been labeled as a "hippie town," and such, due to the residents, its proximity to Woodstock and the like. But I donít think it should have been a surprise, simply because I think someone standing up for an issue is always important.

Having this go on in your hometown, how is that affected your life since youíve been back?

Well, Iím very proud of it. Iím proud to live there and Iím proud to live in a town where someone is trying to make a change in this issue. In terms of traffic, itís always traffic-y there, so that hasnít changed much. Thereís a lot more news vans and coverage, but other than that it hasnít changed my life too much, simply because Iím gone twelve hours a day, between my commute and working.

And youíve undergone sort of a grass roots effort to raise funds to help Mayor West in his effort in recognizing equal marriage rights for same sex partners. Tell me a little bit about that.

Iíve been thinking about it for the last few days and I really wanted to do something to help this cause in any way that I can. Like I previously said, Iím at work a lot of the time and donít have a lot of time to donate to helping with any of these efforts and I donít have the financial resources to donate a large portion of money. So what I decided to do was to appeal to the comics community, of which Iím a member, in order to hopefully raise funds to help with Mayor Westís legal defense fund if necessary, or his personal finances, which are going to take heavy hits due to all these legal challenges against him. Iíve set up a donation system through my website origincomics.com, where people can come and make donations of any amount they wish. If they make a donation of five dollars or more, Iím going to personally send then a copy of My Uncle Jeff, or another one of my comics if they choose a substitution, as a personal thank you for their support.

Do you have any concerns that your efforts may cost you readers, among those that are opposed to same-sex marriage?

Actually, Iím not too concerned with that. I would hope that my readers could separate my work from my own social and political beliefs. I understand that this is a polarizing issue in our country, but our country was founded on the principals of freedom and equal rights for all citizens. We cannot allow civil rights to be suspended based on religious principals. I think that we must maintain a clear separation of church and state, so that everyone in this nation can enjoy the same rights and freedoms, regardless of their race or their sexual orientation.

I think Iím doing this because I feel that this is, if not the most important issue before our nation, I think we are in the edge of what could be the last civil rights movement in this countryís history and I sometimes think that actually people have forgotten that women couldnít vote eighty years ago, and that African Americans were segregated forty years ago. I think one could easily make the argument that both groupís fight is far from over, even in the year 2004. I think my greatest fear is that this movement for marriage rights for same sex couples is going to die out and less people like Mayor Jason West can emerge from this legal battle victorious. Thatís what Iím raising money to insure.

Learn more about Damon Hurd and his effort to raise funds in support of equal marriage rights at the Origin Comics website, and learn more about the battle for equal marriage rights here.

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Monday, March 01, 2004

 


Dave Sim -- I first started reading Cerebus in its first two or three years, when Sim was casting off his Conan/BWS influence and beginning to explore a deeper sociopolitical sphere, reaching creatively but always staying funny no matter how complex the series became. Over time I lost touch with comics -- pretty much all of them -- including Cerebus. Nearly three decades later, Sim is just days away from fulfilling his promised 300 issue goal, and Sim has become a polarizing force among comics readers, some of whom continue to love Sim's work, others who are disturbed or angered by his outspoken, iconoclastic views on sex, politics and religion. I had a hard time trying to come up with Five Questions to sum up a very complex creator and his three decades in funnybooks, but he was extremely cooperative and I think his answers represent him well.

In just a few weeks the goal you've worked toward for decades -- 300 issues of Cerebus -- will be realized. As you look back over your time spent creating this landmark series, what do you think were your biggest creative successes in the series, and was there anything you wish you had conveyed better or differently to the reader?

I'm not sure that I had any creative success in the series. The biggest potential creative success, I think, will be the integration of large blocks of text into a comic book story. Certainly Steve Gerber pioneered the use of text with his "Dreaded Deadline Doom" issue of Howard the Duck, but that was really a replacement for formal comic book pages, not an integration with them. Personally, I'm not sure if it's a success or a failure. A lot would depend on how much you think a creative work has to have a pleasing effect the first time through. I think it takes a number of readings of Jaka's Story to come to the conclusion that it functions as a coherent unit. The first time through the text is just off-putting, an impediment when what you want to do is read the actual comics.

The biggest success I could hope for is to have made a place for large, self-contained graphic novels in the comic book medium, as opposed to open-ended, iconic, trademark-based creativity. No sequels, no prequels. Beginning, middle and end.

What was the biggest challenge you faced over the course of the 300 issues, and what would you say was the prime creative engine that kept you moving forward?

The biggest challenge was resisting the lure of conventional life -- marriage, children, family, friends and other frivolous diversions -- and to basically live my life on paper for the better part of twenty-six years. Fornication was the most problematic. I traded a lot for the fornications I participated in. The prime creative engine -- at least until I discovered God -- was the awareness that anything less than actually finishing the 300 issues would make the book a failure. Literally, "300 or Bust."

Two of the best interviews I've ever read were the ones you did with Chester Brown recently, and the one you did with Alan Moore a few years ago in regard to From Hell. What did you take away from those and similar experiences, and how important do you think it is for cartoonists to discuss creative and other issues with each other?

Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the dialogues with Alan and Chester that much. I found that extended, exhaustive, on-paper communication helps reinforce what a marvelous tapestry human experience is. When someone else shapes as exact a description of their own beliefs and ideas as Alan and Chester are -- it helps you define your own beliefs more clearly and to avoid the generalized "I don't know where you're wrong, but I disagree with you" which seems the universal lowest common denominator in a world gone mad with political correctness.

I think it's important for the sorts of cartoonists for whom thinking is an important part of life. Thinking is very much out of favour in our society, so it isn't just a matter of cartoonists, I don't think. I think the vast majority of cartoonists and people in general would "strongly agree or somewhat strongly agree" (as the pollsters put it) with the view, "It is a bad thing to think too much." Needless to say, I strongly disagree. I hope I've given aid, comfort and reinforcement to the minority viewpoint which, I think, is going to be under seige for some time to come. We don't want to pass a law forcing people to think, but we do hold rigorously to our opinion that thinking is a good thing and that you can never have too much of it.

Your views on the differences between males and females has certainly had an impact on the way people perceive both you and your work. How would you say the rather public development of your philosophies impacted Cerebus, and yourself?

How my views on gender relationships impacted Cerebus and myself is impossible to say, because I don't have a "control group" Cerebus and Dave Sim who went through the entire 300 issues without once raising gender issues. That hypothetical Cerebus and Dave Sim might have been wildly successful or they might have long ago vanished into obscurity. In the former case, I have made a terrible, life-diminishing error in judgment in addressing gender issues in my work. In the latter case, I have saved myself from the yawning face of the abyss in addressing gender issues in my work. I'll just have to see how it all hatches out and try to preserve Cerebus as best I can.

What would you say the most important thing individuals should realize/study/discover in order to make peace with and live more ideally with themselves, humanity, and God?

The five pillars of Islam: Acknowledgment of God's sovereignty everywhere and over everyone and over all things, giving alms to the poor until it hurts and then giving some more, praying five times a day, fasting on a regular basis and in the sacred month of Ramadan, and (if the United States and other freedom-loving people are able to overturn the corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia in our lifetimes) making the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once if you can afford it.

I can vouch for the efficacy of the first four of those five.

My thanks to Dave Sim for taking the time to answer the Five Questions, and congratulations on reaching his 300-issue milestone.

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Sunday, February 29, 2004

 


Johnny Ryan -- Angry Youth Comics almost defies description,
but I always find it funny, defiant and outrageous. Its creator took the
Five Questions and took 'em like a man.


What's the value of anger in youth?

It's always been the natural way of things. Young
people reach a certain age when they look around at
their world and see how boring and shitty it is. They
want to destroy it. All the great movements in art
were a result of this.

Is there any subject you've ever considered doing a strip on but decided
it was too controversial to tackle?


Usually, if I second guess an idea as being too
controversial then I know for sure that I should do
it. I think part of a "comedian's" job is to get
people riled up.

What's the last really disgusting thing you did or saw in your personal
life?


My girlfriend's brother came to visit last night and
brought along a "co-worker." The "co-worker" smelled
like ass so bad I thought I was going to faint. Before
he left he left a big black loogy in my sink.

Who would you say are your biggest influences, and what did they
contribute to your style?


There's a lot, but I'll try and comment on a few.

Robert Crumb: Probably my main influence. His
sketchbooks are filled with lots of funny, wacky and
terrifying stuff. If people think I'm disgusting and
retarded they need to read this shit. This guy's the
master!

Peter Bagge: The best writer in comics ever. His
dialogue always seems so natural, sharp and real. I
try to aspire to that. I also worked on a couple
issues of the now deceased SWEATSHOP, so I'm sure a
few of his "tricks" rubbed off on me.

Kaz: This guy's been doing his weekly strip UNDERWORLD
for over 10 years and it's still fantastic. I love
his stubble-covered urban landscapes. When I'm drawing
the garbage strewn all over Loady McGee's shack I
usually use Kaz strips for reference.

Ernie Bushmiller: NANCY is probably my favorite comic
strip ever. I love the way it looks. I love the way
all the gags are completely retarded and simple. It's
just the way a comic should be.

Gary Panter: This guy's a madman. I love the way he
combines high-brow and low-brow art. I recently got
one of his mini-comics in which Henry "The Asshole"
Webb is trying to escape from a crazed squirrel that
really really wants his "nuts". It's such a brilliant
yet simple idea. A tale as old as time. Man vs.
Nature. I wish I thought of it. I often find myself
reading his stuff and thinking that.

Some others are Dan Clowes, Charles Schulz, Tony
Millionaire, The 3 Stooges, Sam Henderson, Ivan
Brunetti, VIP, Little Rascals, Mad Magazine, etc...

What do you see as "The Johnny Ryan Legacy" to the
comics artform?


Comics don't have to be serious, meaningful,
award-winning objects of art. They can be infantile,
ugly, retarded and stupid.

Stop by Johnny Ryan's website
and get a load of Loady.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

 


Chester Brown -- One of the best and most unique graphic novels of 2003 -- or any year, for that matter -- was Louis Riel. Chester Brown's insightful biography of one of Canada's most iconoclastic historical figures was also a huge leap forward for Brown, and for comics as an artform. This particular Five Questions originated as an interview for the radio station I work at, and can be heard through the station's website. My thanks to Chester Brown and Drawn and Quarterly's Peggy Burns for helping arrange this interview, and special thanks to Broken Frontier's Chris Hunter for transcribing the audio.

Many of your earlier works focused primarily on stories from your own life, autobiographical stories. What did you learn from autobiographical cartooning and what caused you to shift gears into this latest mode?

I learned that when you do stories about your own life, the people around you get mad at you for depicting them wrong. So, doing someone else's life is safer...they tend to think that I've gotten certain details wrong and don't like the clothes I have them wearing or the opinions I have them proclaiming or whatever...

Louis Riel is a key figure in Canadian history, but most Americans, I don't think, will be too familiar with him. Can you tell me a little about what attracted you to him as a subject?

Well, when I began the project, politically, I was an anarchist, and so I was attracted to the story of someone who had tried to, or who had led two rebellions against the Canadian government. That was probably the primary attraction, although, also I've had an interest in issues about mental health and schizophrenia. My mother was a schizophrenic and so the whole part of the story that dealt with Riel's own craziness and his incarceration in a mental institution, that part appealed to me, too. I felt that I'd be able to do something interesting with that. He considered himself a prophet. He called himself the "Prophet Of The New World" and he basically tried to setup his own new religion. And that had people thinking he was crazy.

You had to compress certain events and characters in telling this story...tell me why that was necessary and what kind of judgment calls you found yourself making in the process.



It was necessary because I wanted to limit myself to about two hundred pages and comics need more space than prose does. You know, in prose, you can describe something quickly in a sentence, but if you're to depict what happens in that sentence, it might take a page or more. So, to really tell a biography fully, you'd need maybe, like, a thousand pages to tell it rather than the two hundred that I gave myself, but I wanted to limit myself to around two hundred pages because I knew that it would take a while to do even that much because comics are kind of time consuming; it took me about five years to do the project as it was and if I'd have done a thousand pages, it would have been that much longer, so, yeah, I needed to kind of compress events and combine characters and all that kind of stuff...

The book was originally serialized in pamphlet form as a series of ten comic books before, ultimately, being collected in this hardcover graphic novel. Since the book holds together so well as a single lengthy work, how do you feel about serializing it? Would you follow that format again?

I originally wrote out a script for the book beforehand and I thought it was going to work well as just a single work and I didn't really want to serialize it in comic book form. That was done at my publisher's suggestion because it did help finance the project as it went along, but, probably my next work I'm not going to serialize beforehand, I'm just going to release it as a graphic novel and that'll be the first that the public sees of it.

This project took a long time to do and it may be some time before your next graphic novel appears...how does a cartoonist support himself in these periods, when you're working on these really lengthy works and you don't have regular work appearing on a regular basis in the meantime?

I do get royalties from my older books, the money still does come in from that and sometimes from unusual sources, like foreign editons and that kind of thing. And, also, while doing the book, I did get a grant from the Canadian government, so that helped, too. I think this might have been the first graphic novel that did get a grant from the Canada Council For The Arts, but it kind of opened a door there because now they have an official category in their grant system for graphic novels.

Learn more about Chester Brown at the Drawn and Quarterly website.

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Monday, February 23, 2004

 


Paul Hornschemeier -- The creator of the recent graphic novel MOTHER, COME HOME, Paul Hornschemeier is one of my four or five favourite cartoonists of all time. With a new issue of his FORLORN FUNNIES comic coming up from Absence of Ink and a number of other projects in the works, Paul took some time out to answer Five Questions.

What spurred your interest in comics?

The first thing I drew, at age 4, was a cartoon. What spurred my interest in comics as a viable medium to tell something beyond a cliche was reading Ghost World one Christmas (1997) and realizing that this thing I had done since before I could spell my own name (which is a hell of a name to spell, let's face it) could be something so incredibly significant and stuffed with meaning and beauty.

What do feel you've gotten out of the artform, and what if anything would you like to give back to it?

I can't say what I've gotten from it, Alan, beyond intellectual excitement and some insight into other people's lives and beliefs, but I hope to give examples of different ways things could take shape, and, the BIG HOPE, a few good stories that escape simple gesturing and experimentation.

How have your artistic influences impacted on your development as a creator?

I think I have been very influenced by the film Yellow Submarine (yes, The Beatles cartoon), and by Jim Henson, as well as Maurice Sendek and Edward Gorey. There is something in the sad, drooping, floating worlds, sprinkled with explosions of manic color and heat, that seriously colored the ways I expressed things, even at a very young age. I think these people influenced the method by which I translate the world into images, even in my mind, before any paper is brought into the equation.

Why is design so important to you? What do you think the elegance your work and its presentation possesses conveys to the reader, if anything?

A cartoonist is a designer, if s/he is anything. A designer is simply taking elements and employing those elements to convey a message, bringing separate components together to form a unified voice, to play upon the mind of the readers in a certain way. I believe every element of the book needs to be analyzed: it is what carries and contains the story. And I think every element (paper color, paper weight, colors of ink, line quality, page layout, etc.) all serve as ingredients in the larger cognitive experience. Nothing should be ignored out of laziness. If you do not choose to address certain issues, let that be by choice, because it will certainly play a role in the perception of the audience.

What kind of relationship, if any, do you see yourself having with your readership?

In all honesty, very little. I see myself producing the stories to take care of something in myself, which is horribly selfish, and I can't understand why people support these sorts of things, but I thank them profusely for it. I care immensely for people and am very appreciative of any praise or criticism I receive, but I can't stop writing these things down. It's sort of awful, really.

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Thursday, February 19, 2004

 



Jim Crocker -- I first made the acquaintance of Jim Crocker on The Comic Book Industry Alliance's Delphi Forum, a discussion group for retailers, creators and other industry figures. I found his posts there to be insightful and intelligent, and was very interested in watching his experience as he guided what was then a new business, Modern Myths, a diverse and incredibly well-stocked comics shop in Northampton, Massachusetts. I've visited Jim's store a few times and gotten to know him in person and by e-mail, and have developed a great respect for his approach to comics retailing and life in general. I've visited only a handful of truly progressive comics stores that try to serve a full range of customers with as wide a range of comics as possible, and Modern Myths, as far as I can see, points the way to the future of comics retailing. After you've read Jim's answers to the Five Questions, see if you don't agree.

What drives you to be a comics retailer, and what would you say is the primary mission or vision that informs the way you manage your shop?

Like many careers, itís something I ended up doing sort of by accident. In college, I was convinced I was going to take my theater degree on to New York and direct plays. A job on a small used bookstore that sold comics sidetracked that and I eventually figured out I really enjoyed the job more than the plays I was doing in the evening, and, possibly more significantly, was better at it.

The major motivating force behind my doing this every day boils down to the best effort to reward ratio of any job Iíve tried, including theater work. I work as hard at this job as anyone else does at whatever else they do, but retailing, or at least good retailing, means that a complete stranger walks into your place and leaves happier than when they walked in. It happens dozens or maybe even hundreds of times a day, and every time, itís a reward for doing what I do, parceled out throughout the day. Whatever other petty hassles or daily grind I have to push through to get my work done is paid off by that particular dividend.

Itís also nice to see my cube-drone buddies sigh with wistful envy when they ask what I do for a living.

First and foremost, I want to run a store that looks and feels like a well-run independent bookstore youíd find in any relatively progressive college town or small city. We can write and speechify and blog until weíre blue in the face that comics are Ready for Prime Time, but if we donít have places that women, kids, and new readers can feel comfortable and welcome, weíre not going to make much headway.

I spent several years working for the Borders mass-market bookstores, and after that it became pretty clear to me how a specialty store could succeed in their shadow by taking page from their own book, which was to look at what worked in independent bookstores and then replicate it on a mass scale using their size as an advantage. So we looked at mass-market bookstores and replicated what we could while using our size as an advantage. We offer everything they can that weíre able to: liberal return policies; no-obligation special orders; convenient operating hours; parking; clean public restrooms; racking by genre including a dedicated section for young readers; gift certificates; credit card acceptance; computerized inventory; and offset what we canít with the advantages traditionally touted as the ways for comics shops to compete: a wide selection that includes used and O/P titles and a knowledgeable staff. Hopefully, the balance will appeal to both longtime fans and new readers, which is what weíre shooting for.

More generally, weíre an independent bookstore that happens to specialize in sequential storytelling, so we look to other successful independent bookstores for ideas about advertising, community outreach, and how to deal with competition from the chains, as well as cherry picking the best ideas from the Direct Market. Itís a genuinely mixed blessing when people walk in and remark that ďI didnít realize this was a comic shopÖ it looks like a regular bookstore.Ē

What is the biggest challenge facing you as a retailer?

In a nutshell, and not to be obtuse, itís whatever I didnít expect to be a challenge, because that means I wonít be prepared for it. The deck is stacked heavily in favor of large chain businesses in our economy, and every indication is that this situation is getting worse as opposed to better. Thereís a reason that small businesses have such a high modern failure rate, and itís that even the well-funded ones donít have the capital to make too many mistakes or endure more than one or two unexpected sales-impacting events. Add on necessary but uncontrollable costs, particularly health care and weather-related stuff (our snow removal will cost a small fortune this year, for example), and thatís a lot of pressure that doesnít have anything to do with actually selling comics.

The challenges inherent in the DM I deal with daily and they donít frighten me because I can plan for them and have great resources (like the CBIA, Comics & Games Retailer Magazine, and private industry e-mail lists) to consult for help and bounce ideas off of. Itís the issues outside the purview of those discussions that cause the most trouble.

Or, with apologies, ďItís the economy, stupid.Ē

What do you believe the best method is to develop a growing customer base?

There are a number of ways to do this, and other retailers recommend many of them to me. Iím not nearly as good at guerilla marketing as I probably ought to be. We advertise less than we should.

Ultimately, my belief is that if I run the best store I can that word of mouth will go a long way to helping drive new customers to the store, because once theyíre in the door, weíll secure their business if theyíre even remotely interested in what weíre selling, and that the viral nature of people with common interests will help without too much active intervention from us. When we ask how people heard about us, we get a majority answer of ďa friend told me about you/I heard about you online/etcĒ over all the other responses. (My very favorite response is actually ďI saw you when I drove byĒ, because it means someone stopped just because they saw ďComic BooksĒ on the sign, without knowing anything else about us specifically, and theyíre often the most pleasantly surprised.)

I am one of the people who believes that while we certainly need to expand the scope of our ambition beyond just our traditional fan base, chasing a mass audience like the kind enjoyed by, say, sports, or mainstream movies is not an efficient use of our time. We need to target the folks most likely to spend money in our store, as opposed to throwing ads at the wall to see what sticks.

That said, itís my belief that the best effort that can be spent in Ďmarket developmentí is in getting out of the store and into the Community to make your presence known in places where youíre likely to have an impact. One of the reasons we decided early on that we would have a staff is so that we could do just that. By attending conventions, especially Ďnon-comicsí conventions like local SF and media Cons, we can actively go to potential customers rather than waiting for them to find us. Active participation in the local college events and various fandom groups means a potential pool of new customers every single semester, already predisposed to explore new stuff.

Separately, but related to this, is the fact that we sell graphic novels online. Itís a pretty simple site but it lists everything we carry new, and every sale we get through it helps support the larger mission of the store. Right now, itís a very small portion of our sales, but it just about pays for all of our internet-related expenses, and is growing slowly. Internet outreach like our modest little proto-blog on LiveJournal and updates to our own website are particularly cool because they help keep in contact with both sets of customers at once and serve to reinforce the mission I mentioned above, but in a different context.

Tell me about the last great graphic novel you read.

The great GN I read most recently was Pedro & Me, which I reread in its entirety as a result of a contentious discussion regarding content advisories and warning labels on comics thatís going on in another forum. It holds up as one of the more human, affecting, and uncharacteristically emotionally vulnerable comics I can think of. Anyone who thinks that gays are somehow different than the rest of us should be tied to a chair and forced to read this book until they get it.

I read so much stuff thatís so different itís really hard to nail down a single choice. Off the top of my head, Iíll say: LoEG 2 for collected GNs of genre stuff thatís appeared in periodical first, Planetes for manga, and Real Stuff for Literary/OGN.

I also just had a chance to really thoroughly read Peanuts: The Art of Charles Schulz, the retrospective by Chip Kidd, and I have to say it was like an epiphanyÖ I havenít gone back and read Peanuts in over 15 years, and rereading them now in the artfully designed context this book places them in left me nearly speechless with how genuinely seminal that work was. I was certainly looking forward to Fantagraphicsí forthcoming Complete Peanuts, but now Iím actually hungry for it, which is a good thing, because I think itís a project that has a real possibility of generating some renewed popular interest in the classic comic strips more generally.

You live and work in a community (Northampton) that welcomes and embraces diversity, and in a state (Massachusetts) that is about to grant equal marriage rights to all, gays and lesbians included. I'm wondering how you feel about this and what impact you think it will have on your store and your community.

The specific issue of Massachusetts affirming equal rights for all citizens will have a pretty significant impact on my store in particular. Northampton has the highest concentration of lesbian citizens outside of San Francisco. This and the presence of the "Five Colleges" in the area make for a pretty progressive viewpoint regarding literature and the arts, and offers our store a unique opportunity to get comics into the hands of readers who are ready for them but would probably never have cause to enter a "traditional" comics shop.

We currently have one employee who is a lesbian in a long-term relationship who plan to get officially married when the state has worked out all the details, and two of the major stakeholders in the store are also a lesbian couple (who just celebrated their tenth anniversary!) living in Vermont under the auspices of the Civil Unions there who also plan to wed in Massachusetts when the option becomes available in May of this year.

Modern Myths specifically includes sexual orientation and gender status as protected classes (along with race, religion, physical handicap, national origin, etc.) in our diversity policy for hiring as well as companies we do business with, and has a standing company policy of offering benefits to domestic partners. Obviously, we're personally interested in the advancement of equal rights for gays and lesbians, but from our perspective it also makes very good business sense. We don't wear our political affiliation on our sleeves, and we do our best to leave discussions of contentious subjects like politics, religion, or the Red Sox at the door when we enter the store, but the obvious presence of a lesbian working in the store and a good selection of GLBT-friendly comics make it reasonably clear what our position is, and the community notices.

I think it's not unreasonable to expect that this situation will also mean a further influx not only of GLBT people seeking to gather in a region that respects their rights, but will also help to further build the larger progrssive community that will grow up as a consequence of the influx, as the friends, family, and support networks of those folks move to Massachusetts along with them in some cases. That we're set up to welcome them is not a coincidence, and a strategy that is not only in keeping with the spirit of the community of which we're a part, but also a sound business decision likely to help us secure new readers in a generally affluent, literate, and progressive customer demographic willing to spend significant entertainement dollars with businesses who welcome them and offer them something that speaks to their issues.

Stop by the Modern Myths website, and thanks to Jim for taking the time to wrangle the Five Questions.

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