04 October 2009

Five Questions for Tom Spurgeon

How much do I enjoy reading The Comics Reporter? Well, since the day it launched, it's been either my first or second stop on the internet every single morning, depending on whether Tom Spurgeon or Dirk Deppey have updated first.

Tom's breezy-but-blunt writing style pulls no punches, but casts a wide net over what he thinks is the important and interesting news relevant to comics readers. No one else alive writes quite the way Tom does, and every time I think I have him pinned, he comes at an issue from an unexpected and often revelatory angle. His reviews, along with Chris Allen's and Jog's, have never, ever steered me wrong; there are not many critics I can say that about.

In short, I love the way he thinks about comics, and I love the way he expresses those thoughts in words. At one point in this interview I think he's a little hard on himself vis a vis the content he provides on his site, so let me just say for the record that I would be lost without The Comics Reporter and the focus Tom Spurgeon brings to it. In a very real way he directs the attention of the smart people reading about comics right now, and for the past five years, and I hope to hell he never, ever stops.

Alan David Doane: You recently celebrated five years of The Comics Reporter, for which I heartily congratulate and thank you. As I recently noted, your site changed the online comics commentary game right out of the box. Could you tell me in what ways you think writing about comics has changed in the past five years, and in what ways it's stayed the same?

Tom Spurgeon: Thanks, Alan. Jog and the Comics Comics gang have come along since five years ago, I think, so that's where I'd start. If they came earlier than that, it's their improvement I'd cite. Jog is a better writer than he was two years ago, even, and he was good from the first post. I read him right now like I used to read Bob Fiore: as a well-informed, funny, fellow reader with a supple writing style that's in there doing battle with comics week after week, a constant companion. He's challenged me to be a better writer, although I haven't responded yet like I hope to eventually.

I like the overlapping approaches of the Comics Comics guys. There's some depth there, too, both in the intellectual firepower on display and in the approaches themselves. For instance, a surface reading of Frank Santoro's writing on comics might indicate that this is a guy obsessed, like so many others, with the comics of his youth. And yet I think there's something much more complex than that going on with Frank in terms of how he feels the fundamentals of comics language have been altered due to factors like changes in printing technology and the rise and decline of specifics sets of influence. The day I got your questions, Frank's initial post on the just-past SPX was simply a bunch of comics he received while attending. The older I get the more it's hard for me to give a shit about who sang karaoke with whom at these events. I just want to hear about the art, so Frank's ability to separate last weekend's event into art and scene and focus first on the art even in this rudimentary way really warmed my heart.

In a more general sense, I think the big change between now and then is that you simply have more writing about comics on-line. That's not to say that some writing hasn't cycled itself out, because some has. But on balance I think there's more work to consider, a metric ton of it now. A lot of it is at least pretty good, and the perception I think is that the main vehicle for coverage about comics is now the collective voices of those doing so on-line, which wasn't a done deal five years ago. You can talk about specific kinds of institutional voices not being developed yet, that we're only just beginning to see considered, documented reportage, for instance, but you can't deny people write the hell out of major events now.

You pay a great deal of attention on The Comics Reporter to conventions and other comics-related events like lectures, signings and personal appearances. What do you think these events mean to comics and comics readers?

First, let me suggest that your perception that a lot of time is spent on The Comics Reporter covering such things is mostly a failure on my part to publish as much as I'd like in terms of original content like reviews and interviews and longer essays.

As to why they're important at all, I go back and forth on that, Alan. I think that for a lot of people those kinds of things are simply a social outlet that connects them back to one of their favorite things and affords status to those who operate well in that sphere. That seems pretty obvious.

There's more to it, though. I think Tom Devlin has a point when he talks about shows like SPX or signings at your local comic shop being potentially important to both readers and artists in a developmental sense. I know that being able to go to the Chicago conventions when I was a kid was a big deal in my being able to find books that sustained my interest in comics, and to glimpse some of my favorite artists at work, and those shows were mostly awful. I can't imagine how mind-blowing it would have been to grow up near SPX or MoCCA. Holy crud.

I also think that Brian Hibbs makes a good point whenever he talks about signings and exhibits and store appearances as a way for the artistic community to keep vital a pair of markets ostensibly devoted to them: the Direct Market of higher-end comics shops, and the hand-selling market strung together wherever a comics-type person is allowed to ply their wares.

Marvel and DC publish many dozens of titles each and every week, and yet you usually highlight only a handful in your "This Isn't a Library" feature as being among the "well-regarded" titles shipping in any one given week; I'm projecting here that you don't think that the majority of corporate-published comics are more than average in quality, or at least aren't regarded as such by the average reader. What one thing do you think Marvel and DC could do to get more titles under that "well-regarded" heading on a weekly basis?

That's a tricky question, Alan. First of all, "well-regarded" is a relative term and an entirely subjective one at that: my 2009 of four or five books a week that seem to be liked more than others might be someone's absolute Golden Age of twenty titles a week that will be remembered for all time. Time will tell.

Second, I'm always reluctant to backseat drive the big companies, because according to the standards they've set up for themselves – making money out the wazoo – those companies are much better run than anything I've got going on. Whenever I hear someone say with such great, shaken-fist certainty that "Marvel needs to do this right now," I think of how much money the people at Marvel have made in recent years up to and including this Disney deal and it occurs to me the sound of their solid gold shoes clanking around is going to drown out any vocal criticism.

Third, I'm not sure that it isn't a miracle that we have any good books of that type at all, as a lot of the mainstream characters seem exhausted to me. There are just so many stories. I don't need any more Fred Sanford than the 135 or so television episodes that already exist with him in it; I could do with 50 fewer, in fact. And I love Fred Sanford. I'm not yearning for any more stories about Gulley Jimson than the book and movie I know about, and that's a wonderful character. And yet I bet there are about 200 comic book stories starring, I don't know… Deadpool. How can more than a fraction of those stories truly work? My friends and I joke that we've had our lifetime's allotment of Red Tornado. You know? I'm think I'm on "full" as far as the second most interesting red android superhero popular in the '70s goes. No entry on my bucket list will ever include the words "Man Bat." Whenever people talk about all those Spider-Man movie fans not reading the comics, they seem to presume that after the movies there's still a Spider-Man sized hole in these people's hearts. I'm thinking maybe not.

Let me try to answer the question, though, I'm sorry. I think the one thing that the mainstream companies could do to alter the landscape in favor of more highly regarded, well-executed series is to embrace as their primary goal publishing growth over a minimum five-year period. Once you push things to the corners of the drawing table like market share and month-to-month victories in the top slots and replace getting to those goals via exploiting the existing market via ingrained things like stacked weekly comics drop-dates with the pursuit of more general growth, it might free up your publishing efforts from a lot of the structural barriers that get in the way of talented creators doing sustained runs on a variety of characters and concepts. Might. It's hard enough for anyone to do any book well, but it seems like a number of good ones simply fade because the market's fundamental set-up, the market that the big companies have formed around themselves, doesn't give them a chance. The sales on such books spiral downward when they fall below a certain threshold; existing titles crowd the sustainable slots based on momentum rather than on quality or demand; publishers are rewarded for stuffing their line-ups with short-term tie-ins, better jobs await talented creators who given their druthers might make a go of it on the more obscure work. A bigger market might not float all boats, but it could possibly change some unfortunate habits and give better books a more expansive target area to hit in order to have a chance to develop into a long-term success story.

I feel like a lot of the conflict between comics generalists (those who love good comics of any genre within the art form) and hardcore superhero fans could be avoided (online and perhaps off) with more of a recognition of the difference between the two states of mind and an acceptance that the difference exists. But I do think the better future for comics lies in the hearts and wallets of the generalists, who have seen an incredible bounty of comics explode over the past decade. Do you think the schism between the two types of buyers is good or bad for the future of comics?

I think it's good to have both kinds of buyers, and it's a situation pretty typical to most art forms. I don't know that one has to be prioritized over the other. I'm not even sure there's still a lot of conflict, Alan, above the level of annoyance, not since the bookstore market and direct sales methods were opened up a bit for non-mainstream works. Superhero comics' place in the overall comics world is probably closest to the musical's place in the world of theater. If you like Tom Stoppard and Rebecca Gilman, you're probably annoyed when your friend talks about seeing a show in New York and you know they only mean a show with people singing in it. But your friend's devotion to The Lion King isn't stopping you from seeing Arcadia or Spinning Into Butter, except maybe in the broadest sense. Again: annoying, but not fatal.

Comics doesn't have enough patrons that it can afford to piss off any of them for the sake of making a point or fostering any one person's ideal industry set-up. I'd like to see five times as many casual readers of comics have a chance to fold more comics over into their overall reading, but I wouldn't mind three times as many hardcore superhero comics readers, either. Why would I?

What do you think comics journalism is doing right, and what is it doing wrong, both in print and online?

I don't read any comics-related print magazines anymore, so I couldn't tell you there. The last print journalist I thought did an admirable job covering the comics industry was Greg Stump when he was full-time at the Comics Journal in the mid-1990s. (I worked with Greg.)

As for on-line journalism covering comics -- that's hard for me to say because I'm a participant in that world. Not only that, but I'm discouraged right now at what a terrible job I've done covering the rapid succession of big news stories that have hit the comics world recently. I think I've managed a decent editorial or two, but the newsman in me went straight to the basement and hasn’t been seen since late August. I was clearly not prepared to handle stories like that, and I need to figure that out and fix what needs fixing as soon as I can.

Although I find my own progress disappointing, especially in light of my Roberto Duran-like response to recent challenges, I'm actually not dissatisfied with the overall level of development regarding industry coverage on-line. It's coming along. Whenever I used to be on panels on this subject, people talked about doing more extensive journalism like it was a switch that you could be expected to flip, or a lifestyle choice that could be embraced. In fact, the lack of a certain kind of journalism became kind of a two-edged excuse platform. On the one hand, there was this criticism that people weren't doing it because they didn't have the will power; on the other hand, the fact that there wasn't extensive reportage meant that you were kind of justified in running press releases and kowtowing to pressure from marketing people.

It's both easier and a lot more difficult than that. The easy part is that you can blog or write commentary or do your reviews or choose your interview subjects as if you're an independent newsperson whether or not you're doing involved, investigative journalism. A lot of journalism is attitude and curiosity and applying standards. The hard part is that it takes time to develop the resources necessary for some of the more involved journalism that all industries need. I think when one sees significant, prepared journalism from a news organization, it tends to come at a pretty late stage in that entity's development. That was certainly true with comics on the print end of things. So I think we're seeing more and more sophisticated coverage as on-line entities ranging from CBR to Michael Cavna's blog mature and become better-run and have more on-hand in terms of personnel, money, time and know-how to throw at those kinds of gigs. That should continue. Hopefully, we'll value it when it comes.

Read Comic Book Galaxy's previous interview with Tom Spurgeon.

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01 October 2009

Five Questions for Eric Reynolds

I've internet-known Eric Reynolds for about a decade, although we've never met. As publicist for Fantagraphics Books, he has been absolutely invaluable to me in getting me access to great cartoonists to interview on the radio and online, and I have known no more passionate advocate for good comics in my life. He recently got kicked upstairs at Fantagraphics, so I wanted to take a few minutes to pick his brain about what he's seen so far in comics, and where he, and the art form, are headed.

Alan David Doane: You spent most of the last decade as publicist for Fantagraphics Books, one of the fastest-growing and most diverse comics publishers in the world. I'd argue that this has been the most interesting decade in the history of comics, and obviously your position in that time gave you a front-row seat at changes in both the industry and the art form. What would you say has been the most surprising development in comics over that time?

Eric Reynolds: I suppose it's been twofold: the solidification of the 'graphic novel' as the delivery format of choice over the periodical comic book, and the mainstream acceptance of comics in regard to the reading public and media. I suppose neither of those are very surprising answers, but I'm not sure I could have believed how far both have come when I started at Fantagraphics over 15 years ago. Close third: the slow, sad erosion of the direct market in spite of everyone's best interests.

From porn to classic newspaper strips and from Los Bros. Hernandez to R. Crumb, Fantagraphics really does seem to publish a more diverse line of comics than any five other companies combined; what do you think is the unifying philosophy that defines Fantagraphics as a brand?

Well, first, thanks. But the overriding philosophy has always very simply been "good cartooning." Maybe we don't see as much difference between Schulz and Crumb and Jim Flora and the Hernandez brothers, et al, as most people. As we've broadened into even more diverse areas of art and prose, we've really just trusted our instincts and pursued our own tastes and interests, collectively and individually. Gary has always led the charge on this front. If he likes something and thinks we should publish it, he'll be damned if anyone is going to stop him.

This has probably changed over the course of your career at Fantagraphics, so could you talk a little bit about what the challenges were in promoting the company's comics at the start versus what the challenges are now?

There's simply more competition. When I started, we were probably one of fewer than five comics publishers sending review copies to places like Publishers Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, etc. Now everyone does. I'm grateful that we established ourselves when we did, because it would be difficult to break into the business as a startup with no reputation at this point in time. Also, as larger publishers have entered the field, it's been more difficult to get yourself heard above the din of corporate publicity efforts. Ten years ago, I never felt that by us being in Seattle, we were marginalized in any way, but sometimes now in spite of the ease of communications via the internet and email, I feel like we suffer a bit because we aren't in New York City, which is a surprising development to me. It's not a major hurdle, just an observation, really.

You recently were promoted to associate publisher, and Jacq Cohen is taking over your role as publicist. What goals have you set for yourself -- or had set for you -- in your new position?

Basically, between Jacq and I, we simply want to promote our books better. We needed the extra person, and I'll be working closely with Jacq and supervising her efforts, and focusing on more specific and special projects and books. I hope I'll also have more time to focus on the publishing side, acquiring and editing more books. I think my tastes are different enough from Gary and Kim's while still complementing what they've created with Fantagraphics that I can be of value on that front. They've always trusted my instincts on that front and given me a lot of freedom but I've had to limit myself to one or two projects a year as an editor the last few years because of too much other work and I'd love to be able to do a bit more. But I also want to be able to focus more concertedly on certain books and projects that really could use the extra promotional push, and extra marketing efforts that reach beyond traditional comics audiences. Jacq will be a tremendous asset on that front.

What do you think are five outstanding comics not published by Fantagraphics?

I like a lot of what Picturebox and Buenaventura and Sparkplug do, in particular. Off the top of my head, I thought Lisa Hanawalt's new comic was really, really great. Recently, I loved a comic called Sausage Hands that Sparkplug put out recently and seems to have flown completely under the radar. I think the creator's name is Andrew Smith. I look forward to anything that old school D&Q guys like Adrian Tomine or Chester Brown or Seth or Joe Matt do. I think Ben Jones is amazing, Leif Goldberg, too. I think Will Sweeney's Tales from Greenfuzz is one of the greatest comics of this decade; I wish we published it. Sammy Harkham is a brilliant and can do no wrong as an artist or editor. Those are just off the top of my head -- the fact is, there's a ton of great cartoonists out there beyond what we publish. I think my favorite comics-related book I've read recently was The Art of Harvey Kurtzman from Abrams. That book kills, and is a must-read for anyone who enjoys good comics. And Matt Furie's Boys Club is awesome.

For more information, visit Fantagraphics Books.

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23 September 2009

Five Questions for Tony Isabella

Tony Isabella is the creator of Black Lightning, the writer of Tony's Tips for Comics Buyer's Guide (and Tony's Online Tips), and one of the nicest guys in or out of comics. He's also a staunch defender of the rights of comics creators, as you'll see in the interview that follows, a thoughtful and eloquent writer on social issues, and most relevant to this discussion, the author of the cool new book 1000 Comic Books You Must Read. My thanks to Tony for taking a second spin around the Five Questions block.

Alan David Doane: Tell me how your new book 1000 Comic Books You Must Read came together?

Tony Isabella: For some time now, having written thousands of columns on comic books, I was trying to come up with some sort of "ultimate" Tony's Tips column in book form. When Krause Publications came up with the initial idea for this book and determined I was the only writer crazy enough to write it, I saw an opportunity to write the book I wanted to write and combine it with the book they wanted to publish. So we have my personal take on the history of the comic book in America wrapped around my comments on over a thousand great comic books.

I have a feeling you easily could compile a convincing list of 10,000. What was the process you used to pare down your list to 1,000?

The hardest part of writing this book was selecting just 1000 comics for inclusion. From the get-go, I knew I didn't want this to be the most "important" 1000 comic books or the "best" 1000 comic books. I wanted it to be representative of the variety that existed in the mainstream from the start of the American comic-book industry with, at least, a smattering of alternative, underground, and manga titles.

I wrote well over a thousand separate entries, but I left out a lot of great comics. Some because we couldn't find good cover scans, some because they got overlooked, some because we already had too many issues of some titles or writers or artists. This project was much more work than any of us anticipated and some decisions were made at the last moment because of that. At the end of the day, it is a book of which I'm very proud. I hope it sells well enough to justify a sequel.

What good comics have you read recently?

Via trades borrowed from my local library system, I've been reading some truly great comics: Barefoot Gen, Fables, Ex Machina, Usagi Yojimbo, and others. Some of these are stories I'm rereading and others are stories I never got around to reading when they were originally published.

Having borrowed thousands of mainstream comics from a good friend, I'm catching up on things like Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Panther, and Daredevil. Much to my delight, I found some done-in-one Spider-Man stories, one by Paul Jenkins and the other by Marc Guggenheim, that are shoe-ins for my sequel to 1000 Comic Books You Must Read.

My pal Thom Zahler's Love and Capes is my favorite current super-hero comic. I'm also enjoying Marvel's 70th anniversary specials and the first volume of the Essential Sub-Mariner. The Sub-Mariner feature wasn't a favorite when it ran in Tales to Astonish, but, in rereading these stories, I discovered they combined into one heck of an exciting movie serial style adventure.

You caught me in a super-hero mode this week. It's the equivalent of comfort food after dealing with some demanding, even frustrating work and household projects. Once I get back into the groove of writing nigh-daily reviews for TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, which will happen after Mid-Ohio-Con, I plan to read as many and as many different kinds of comics as I can.

You've been an outspoken advocate for comics creators for many years. If you had your way, what changes would you like to see in the way Marvel and DC treats its freelancers and employees now that they both are facing serious changes at the corporate level?

I'm pretty far out of the loop when it comes to the Big Two. What I have always believed is that treating freelancers and employees fairly is not just the right thing to do ethically, but the smart thing to do from a business standpoint.

I'd love to see DC/Warner stop screwing around with the Siegel estate and come to an agreement that both parties can live with. My understanding is that DC had actually accomplished this, only to have Warner refuse to sign off on it. Ironically, DC/Warner has probably paid out as much or more in legal fees than they would have paid had they cut the deal back then...and, at the end of the day, they will still have to write some big checks to the Siegel family.

There's a reason no one is creating the next Superman or Wolverine for DC or Marvel. The rewards for doing so simply aren't there at the present time.

In 1976, I was way too trusting to get my Black Lightning deal in writing, but that deal -- a partnership between DC Comics and myself in which each party was supposed to have an equal voice in business and creative decisions -- would be an excellent model. If DC had lived up to that agreement then and since, I'd be the company's biggest booster now.

Finally, I know you and I see pretty eye-to-eye on politics and social issues, but I am wondering what you think of the Obama era to date and the current political climate in the United States?

While I don't regret voting for him in the slightest, I am disappointed by Obama's reluctance to do some of what needs to be done. I commend his attempts at bipartisanship, but it's time for him to realize they failed. The Republican leadership cares about winning back their power and that's all they care about and that, in turn, makes too many Democrats quiver in their boots and fail to do what needs to be done for fear of losing their power. When the Democrats fail to do what's right, it emboldens the worst elements of the right.

We need universal health care in this country. We pay more for our health care and get less bang for those bucks than just about every other industrialized nation on the planet. A more efficient system will pay for itself and deliver more and better care to everyone.

When it comes to the military, there's no reason to continue the absurd "don't ask, don't tell" policies of past administrations. We have ample evidence from our own history -- the integration of our armed forces after World War II -- and from other nations that openly gay men and women can serve in our military without adverse effects on that military.

We have to figure out how to curb the excesses of Wall Street, the old industry, and big business to stem the loss of jobs overseas. We should reward companies who keep good-paying jobs here, who keep their profits here instead of in tax shelters, and who rein in the salaries of their executives...and penalize companies who don't do these things.

Vote for me!

Whoops. I guess I got carried away there. I'll settle for being named Czar of Comics.


Buy 1000 Comic Books You Must Read from Amazon.com, and you can also read ADD's previous Five Questions for Tony Isabella by clicking here.

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17 September 2009

Five Questions for Chris Ryall

When Chris Ryall first started writing for Comic Book Galaxy nearly a decade ago, I don't think either of us ever quite dreamed where his interest in comics was going to take him. Chris has to be the comics internet's greatest success story, going from weekly columnist on Comic Book Galaxy in its early years to the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of one of the most prolific and best-selling comic book companies in North America. I'm thrilled beyond words for Chris at how he's built his career over the last decade, and grateful to him for taking the time to tackle the Five Questions.

Alan David Doane: When you and I first worked together on Comic Book Galaxy nearly a decade ago, you weren't working in comics yet. Can you tell me when you became interested in comics, and how you went from writing about them to being the publisher and editor of IDW?

Chris Ryall: I can tell you I became interested in comics when I was 4 or 5, when an older neighbor let me read his copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #130 (which sounds like the start of a disturbing story, but isn't). It was a Steranko cover, and you saw all this crazy shit on there--a giant rocky guy, a guy with a stretchy arm, a guy made of sand, a guy on fire. I was 5 -- I was helpless to resist (the comic, I mean -- not my neighbor. It really wasn't that kind of story!). So I've been into comics since I could read, and had aspirations to write them but not to realistically pursue a career working for one of the publishers. The chances just seemed so remote, you know? And I was never too caught up in fandom, but I did hang at Brian Bendis' Jinxworld board back, what, 10 years ago? And got to know some really great people on there, many of whom are now doing nice things in comics. So it was there that I met you and Chris Allen, and started writing reviews and other such things for the Galaxy site. That got me to know people like Steve Niles, and indirectly at first, Kevin Smith. It's too long a story to bore anyone with here, but I started working for Kevin, running his pop culture site, Movie Poop Shoot. Which turned out to be good experience for this gig. When Niles called me up and asked me if I'd consider moving from LA to San Diego and taking the just-vacated Editor-in-Chief gig at IDW, I was currently working as an advertising copywriter and running the site for Smith at night. And it was being the editor-in-chief of that site that helped land me the gig here more than my actual job experience.

When Kevin asked me to run his site for him, I had no idea how to go about running a Web site. So of course I said yes. And when Niles asked me about the IDW gig, I had no idea how to go about being the editor-in-chief of a comic publisher. So of course I said yes. And luckily, both crapshoots seem to have worked out. I stopped running the site in 2006, but just finished my fifth year at IDW.

IDW has a hugely diverse line of comics, and new areas seem to be expanded to all the time. I remember the early days of IDW being mainly horror books like 30 Days of Night and such. Can you tell me how the company's publishing plans and philosophies developed?

When I started, we were very much considered "the horror publisher." But even then, we were doing things like CSI comics, about to kick off comics based on Joss Whedon's Angel, and did a number of art books and other things. So the perception at large was that we only did horror, but there was already some nice diversity in their approach. And that has been my goal since, to continue to diversify and offer up nice alternatives to superhero comics. Even the few superhero-type comics we've dabbled in, like Savior 28 or even reprinting good books like Love and Capes, have a worldview different than the normal capes comics.

The thing that really changed the way we operate here was signing on to do Transformers comics. Some of the hardcore horror comics fans viewed that signing as a real betrayal, like we were turning our backs on them. Which wasn't the case, but in an increasingly conservative and shrinking business, having some big titles with name-recognition behind them, especially projects that then became big movies, was just sound business.

Now, I think we offer one of the widest, if not the widest, slate of comics and books of anyone out there. And our audience is definitely fractured now, but not in a bad way. What I mean is, fans of the old Library of American Comics newspaper strip reprint books know us as the publisher of those books. They don't care about Transformers or Angel. And so on down the line. I've had people say they don't know what IDW's identity is, that we do so many diverse things, they can't pigeonhole us as this or that. Which is the whole point.

IDW is hot on the heels of Marvel and DC in terms of sales these days, can you tell me in what way that changes the game for the company and its creators?

Well, none of us, DC included, are really hot on Marvel's heels right now. It's basically them and then the rest of us. But to be at a point where we're able to regular compete with Dark Horse for the #3 spot, and to consistently stay ahead of Image, that feels nice. For IDW's entire existence (hell, for most all of Diamond's existence), it's been those four publishers as the top four "premiere publishers." And we're forcing some rules to be rewritten, which is very gratifying. It changes the game in that we got approached first for many projects now, and don't have to prove why we're the best ones to handle a property. It's always a nice feeling when I see something announced somewhere else and I think "oh, yeah, we got offered that first and passed." Unless said project turns out to be a huge hit, in which case I self-flagellate myself for hours...

Chris Ryall tells me he is in this picture somewhere.

Forgive me, but you're the only person I know who's been to the Playboy Mansion. Tell me a story about you being there.

I spent my third time there just two days ago, but it was the lamest of the three visits, I'll say that. The very best story about me being there is one I can't share here, but let's just say if the monkeys in the cages nearby could talk, they'd be able to tell a good story. Although so would whoever was manning the camera bank that night, since we didn't happen to notice the camera right nearby until... um, anyway. But a story I can tell and was amused by was a boxing match that was being held there. Hef and his girls were sitting in the front row, and there was three identical girls on either side of Hef. He kept each hand resting on the bare upper thigh of the girl next to him. The funny part was, whenever one of the girls next to him would get up to go walk around, another would slide in right under her, so his hands were never *not* on a bare upper thigh. It was like the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, except instead of a bag of dirt subbing for a gold idol, it was one tanned leg subbing for another, over and over.

And I don't think he ever knew.

What do you want to accomplish, in or outside of comics, that you haven't yet?

Oh, so many things. First of which is just a never-ending list of creators I'd love to work with, but also so many different goals for IDW, things I'd like to write... I've got lots of plans for the business as long as it'll have me. I did always set the goal for myself to publish a prose book, too, which happened this past summer, but now it's just made me want to do more. I was also able to publish a children's picture book and since I have a 3-1/2-year-old daughter, that was especially nice since I can read it to her and start her comic book indoctrination that much earlier.

My secondary goal in all of this is to be able to keep up my workaholic ways and sleepless nights without either my body or my marriage completely breaking down as a result. I've so far found that equilibrium point and am just trying to be wary of not over-extending...


For more, visit Chris Ryall's blog and the website of IDW Publishing.

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12 September 2009

Five Questions for Ron Marz

This interview with writer Ron Marz was originally conducted for my free new eBook, Conversations with ADD. In the eBook, you'll find an interview I conducted with the prolific writer back in 2000, as he was gearing up for the debut of CrossGen Comics. This new interview, also included in the eBook in a longer form, acts as a nearly decade-later follow-up, looking at what Marz is up to now as well as looking back at his experiences with the short-lived, Florida-based CrossGen.

Alan David Doane: I first interviewed you nine years ago to talk about what, at that time, was your new gig writing for CrossGen and your part in creating the universe the company's comics took place in. When I asked you if you'd like to update that interview, you mentioned that people seem skittish about talking to you about CrossGen, and I'll admit I was afraid I might be opening up old wounds, but you seem pretty much at peace with the subject. That surprised me, so I'll ask you, why do you think people expect you to not want to talk about CrossGen?

Ron Marz: I think people expect me, and other ex-CrossGen employees, to be mad or skittish about the whole thing because it was ultimately a failure that ended badly. Yes, everybody got dinged for some money, some people for a considerable amount. But I think there was a lot on the plus side of the ledger too. I was generally very happy and very invested in the work I did, and it was a great experience to work in the same studio with the rest of [my] creative team. It was very collaborative, with quite a bit of creative freedom. The creative teams were in charge of their own books to a great extent, which is a luxury you don’t often get from the Big Two in the current all-event-all-the-time climate. More than anything, the friendships that were made or continued there are really important to me. No job is perfect, but being able to work with your friends everyday was pretty cool.

Do you think most creators who worked for the company are as easy-going about the topic now, years after it shut down?

I think more are than aren’t, but that’s just my sense of things. It’s not like I took a survey. I know Mark Waid still seems to have some anger over it, but he butted heads with Mark Alessi on an almost daily basis. Waid was more confrontational than I was. I was a little more pragmatic, because I learned early on that Wednesday afternoon’s stupid decision or dictate was very often forgotten by Thursday morning, so I didn’t waste time and energy arguing them with the boss.

Each person’s experience was different, of course, but on the whole, I think the more you look at things in the rear-view mirror, the easier it is to see the good. And it doesn’t hurt that most everybody on the creative side has flourished post-CrossGen. Marvel’s publishing line would look a lot different right now if they hadn’t scooped up most of the CrossGen artists.

Any regrets at all about your CrossGen experience? Anything you'd have done differently?

I regret the way it ended, obviously, and the fact that people got hurt financially. The real problem was that the company expanded too quickly, growing much more rapidly than our audience. Almost all of us who had management-type positions advised against it, but ultimately those decisions were made by Alessi. It’s more complex than that, and personalities and office politics and all of that come into it, but the short version is “too much, too soon.” He wanted to be a big player, competing with Marvel and DC, within a few years, and it wasn’t realistic. In fact, when Alessi started talking publically about his intention to take down Marvel and DC, everybody on staff was going, “Um … what?” We had all signed on to be more of a boutique publisher, maybe be #3 in a decade, so this was all news to us. Alessi tried to compete and grow by spending money, and ended up blowing through all the dough a lot faster than any of realized. The promise was that we had enough operating capital to run a zero profit for five years. Obviously that turned out to be not the case.
It’s a shame. It could have been something. It could have worked, especially in light of how Hollywood fell in love with comics shortly after CrossGen’s demise. We had what I think was more art talent in one place than ever before. But a combination of hubris and foolishness took it down.

Has there been any long-term benefit that you gained from your CrossGen experience?

Supervising an issue from start to finish, and being hands-on with the whole process, was a great learning experience. The chance to see the art being generated, and work with the rest of the team, instead of just being part of an assembly-line process, was tremendous. The chance to do non-superhero stuff was great, and the chance to work alongside guys like Brandon Peterson, Jim Cheung, Bart Sears, Greg Land and everybody else was great. As I said, the friendships that came out of the place are very important to me. Something like Samurai: Heaven and Earth would never have existed if I hadn’t met Luke Ross during his time at CrossGen. I feel like I gained much, much more than I lost.

What advice about the comics industry would you give creators just starting out in their careers?

Do what you love. Sounds trite, I know. If your dream in life is to work on the same Marvel and DC heroes you grew up reading, go for it. But these days the industry has a lot more opportunities than rehashing the same old superhero tropes. It used to be that you made your bones at Marvel and DC, and then went off and got the opportunity to do your creator-owned work. Now it’s almost the reverse. Guys make their mark by doing an Image book or something with a small publisher, or even online work, and use that to get in the door at the Big Two. I think it’s ultimately more satisfying to do you own thing, rather than just work-for-hire. Figure out what really matters to you, what inspires you, and pursue that. Being the next guy in a long succession of creators to work on a particular character is a pretty cool thing, but it’s not the only thing.

Thanks to Ron Marz for taking the time to talk to me, to John Belskis of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, New York for his help in arranging the interview, and to Fred Hembeck for kindly allowing me to use his photo of Ron Marz from the fall, 2008 Albany Comicon.

For more of both my 2000 and 2009 interviews with Ron Marz, please see Conversations with ADD, a free, downloadable eBook collecting nearly four dozen interviews with comics creators, editors, publishers, retailers and bloggers.

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