Category: interviews

More fun with Rick Veitch

If you enjoyed my earlier interview with Rick Veitch or the accompanying preview of his new book Army@Love, you’ll definitely enjoy this little bit of bonus material.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFirst, Rick just sent a note saying Army@Love now has a web site with some bonuses (particularly there are some cool character sketches and bios). You can find it right here. And, for the real meat of the bonus feature, I also found an old interview that I did with Rick when his last book came out, that being Can’t Get No (which is a book you NEED to read). The interview never made it onto our site, until now…

Q&A: Rick Veitch

Following up on yesterday’s preview of Army@Love #1 (in stores tomorrow), we’re excited to give you a look into the thoughts of the book’s creator, Rick Veitch. A writer and artist who’s done superheroes, Swamp Thing and dream journals over his career, Veitch has focused much of his attention lately on the landscape of America in these war years. He had a lot to say on the matter and about his latest book. So, without further ado, Rick Veitch:

Jean-Claude Van Doom: First, how did this project start developing? From the first issue, it seems like the kind of story that could almost spark from just a quick thought, or a piece of a news report.

Rick Veitch: Like just about everything I’ve done, I’m coming at ARMY@LOVE from a couple different directions. The obvious one is the socio-political situation we find ourselves struggling with these days. That’s something you’ll see that in the plot set-up of this series, which satirically imagines what the current war will look like five years in the future. Along with that there is the human dimension; the psycho-sexual-spiritual qualities of modern life that the characters hopefully come to embody.

For me, character creation and development is an intuitive process, and I’m happy to report the extensive ARMY@LOVE ensemble has come alive in my head and are dictating their dialogue and parts. The third foundational element is the form itself. Like the title suggests, ARMY@LOVE mashes up two comic-book genres, the war comic and the love comic. What I find interesting about these two genres is how they both still embody a sort of simple, Roy Lichtenstein approach to panel art. I mean, Sgt. Rock only exists on the battlefield; he never agonizes over breaking up with his girlfriend. While love comics traditionally avoided any kind of meaningful social commentary. I’m trying to expand and explode them both in ARMY@LOVE.

JCVD: I don’t know if I interpreted the first issue right, or if the message of the series changes as it goes along, but what struck me was that you didn’t seem to make any direct moral statements about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe a better way to put it was that the story seemed to focus on the individual morality of the soldiers, rather than the war in general. What do you see as the message of the book?

RV: The characters always have to be out in front, with the “message” (if that’s what we must call it) serving as a motivational and defining backdrop. In this case, I’m looking at the situation we’ve got ourselves into in Iraq and imagining what comes next. Everyone seems to be thinking we are going to pull out in a year or two, but as sad as I am to say it, I don’t believe that is going to be the case. I suspect we are in for a decades-long conflict all across the middle east and southern Asia. ARMY@LOVE imagines how the powers that be might have to rebrand such an unpopular war, in much the same way consumer products are routinely rebranded, to keep it going. The second issue explains this in a lot more depth, introducing the idea of the “corporate draft”, while the whole satirical approach to marketing and funding war expands over the length and breadth of the series.

Q&A with David Peterson, creator of Mouse Guard

If you’ve read the site much, you know how much of a fan I am of Mouse Guard, last year’s surprise hit miniseries from Archaia Studios Press. Mouse Guard creator David Petersen was kind enough to answer several questions for our readers, sharing lots of insights on his background in art and writing, the creation of Mouse Guard, upcoming projects and even his old D&D habit.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingFor those who foolishly haven’t read this series yet, Mouse Guard follows a society of mice who’ve created a group of soldier mice, the Guard, to protect themselves from larger animals. In the first mini, three members of the Guard face an attack from within. The first Mouse Guard series, Fall 1152, will soon be available in collected form and Petersen is currently working on a sequel, Winter 1152.

Jean-Claude Van Doom: First, I’m curious about your background, getting into comics. I saw on your Web site that you’ve done some pin-ups of stock superheroes (Superman, Batman, Hulk, etc.). Was that the kind of stuff that you grew up reading? Did you want to try to break into writing or illustrating those mainstream books? Is that something you still see as a goal?

David Petersen: I am a fine arts graduate of Eastern Michigan University and have been interested in drawing characters and telling stories since I was a little kid. I grew up reading mainly X-men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but had a little bit of everything. There was a point where drawing the X-Men was the goal, but I was 13. I love iconic characters so doing pin-ups is something I really enjoy, but I don’t know that telling their stories is for me. I have my own set of tales that I need to tell and it only makes sense to do that with my own characters.

JCVD: When and how did you decide that comics was what you wanted to pursue?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingDP: Until I was in college I thought comics would be a good home for me, but I looked at my stuff and I looked at what was in comics and the two didn’t gel. I thought I would take a shot at children’s book illustration and started work on a portfolio to do so. It was then that I set up at the Motor City comic con. I had never given up a love of comics or the desire to do them and I thought I’d set up selling paintings and illustrations of both comic characters and fantasy illustrations. There was some interest in my Mouse Guard images, so I made a promise to myself to do the story as a comic.

Chris Gumprich and Dennis Culver of “Undercard”

Some weeks back, I posted this review of Undercard, a new self-published book written by Chris Gumprich and illustrated by Dennis Culver. Gumprich, who can be added to the list of creators who’ve encountered our site via Google, and Culver were nice enough to answer a few questions on the making of their book, which takes a completely unexplored path into the heart of boxing, a genre that’s been done, done and done.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingJCVD: So far, what has been the most rewarding part of having this book
published? And how long/difficult was the process of seeing it published?

CHRIS: It’s always nice to see a vision become a reality, but this is really just a waypoint on the journey. Getting the first issue completed and out there is a nice feeling, but there’s a lot of work still to be done — we have to get the book into people’s hands. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there hasn’t been any time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished.

JCVD: How did you two come to know each other and work together?

CHRIS: Dennis denies this, but we met in 2004 at APE in San Francisco. Shortly after that we worked together on a graphic novel pitch that went nowhere. We enjoyed working together, and he was the first guy that came to mind when I scripted UNDERCARD. We subsequently put together a mini-comic called ROUND FOUR, which was relatively successful (both artistically and commercially) and served as a nice lead-in to UNDERCARD.

DENNIS: Yeah i just thought Chris emailed me out of the blue and liking his writing, I decided to give collaboration a shot. I think our work together keeps getting stronger. (more…)

Robert Venditti (The Surrogates) interview

Recently I brought you a review of The Surrogates, a hell of a sci fi story from first-time comics writer Robert Venditti. Today I spoke with Robert on the phone from his home in Atlanta about the book, how he cracked into comics and his future plans.

Jean-Claude Van Doom – You majored in poli sci at the University of Florida, right? How did you go from that to working in comic books?

Robert Venditti – I majored in political science and English. Then I got my masters in creative writing at Central Florida. I never read comics my whole life growing up, then in grad school I had job at Borders [the bokstore]. I knew a guy who worked there who’s a big comic books fan. He kept bugging me to read stuff. I was always the snooty literature kind of guy.
He finally convinced me to read something. Astro City was the first comic book I read. I was like, Wow, that was really good. It was not at all what I expected. I, like everybody else, thought comic books were juvenile. But there were literary elements in there.

JCVD – So you started to see it as an option…

RD – I thought maybe I wanted to take a shot at writing those. I had just published one short story. I decided to change gears. My mom thought I was nuts. My wife – she was my fiance at the time – also thought I was crazy and slightly nerdy.

JCVD – Yeah, it can be a little tough to convince the significant others that comics are cool.

RD – She’s very supportive. I was going to be a high school teacher in Florida. [They had moved to Georgia] I had an application in, had gotten all my ducks in a row, we were ready to move. But I was looking for a way to get into comics.
Then Top Shelf [based in Atlanta] had an event in April 2002, their distributor went bankrupt. Top Shelf had published thousands of copies of From Hell [the film version was being released]. But the distributor went bankrupt after delivering the books to bookstores, so Top Shelf never got paid. They didn’t have the income and couldn’t pay the bills for printing the books. Chris Staros [publisher of Top Shelf] sent out an e-mail just asking if 200 fans could buy $50 worth of books, it would get them through this crisis. I got that mass e-mail and called him up and asked him if he needed any help.
I just wanted to volunteer and get to know somebody in comics. I went up there that first day and helped him pack boxes. We were just married. I told my wife this was a great opportunity. I knew [Staros] was going to be very generous with his time – a mentor. He’d be able to give me an opportunity. We just kind of decided to stay.

Q&A with Frank Espinosa of “Rocketo”

I caught up with Frank Espinosa over the phone at his California home today. He’d been busy this afternoon mailing out thank you notes for the people who helped him publish the first Rocketo trade, which is just hitting shelves. It collects the first seven issues of Journey to the Hidden Sea, the story about an explorer (Rocketo Garrison) setting out into a future world that’s been torn apart. Rocketo is one of the most different books out there, and in the best possible way. It’s fun, interesting and the art is like a Darwyn Cooke acid trip. We talked for about an hour, in part discussing the recent closure of Rocketo’s first publisher (Speakeasy) and the move to Image, but mostly we talked about the creative background of the comic.

Image hosting by PhotobucketQ – Where did the story come from? What were the influences?

Frank Espinosa – You know, Rocketo’s inspiration, in my head, started with everything I ever liked as a kid. Flash Gordon serials, “The Thief of Baghdad.” Everything that had fantasy and sci fi I picked up. Rocketo is kind of a thank you to that.

Q – How did it develop from there?

FE – I still am a big mythology buff. I started to figure out, if the world was destroyed, what kind of new mythology would take it’s place?
Influences? There’s a lot. I’d been reading a lot about explorers: Marco Polo’s travels, Shackleton. I had been reading those guys and how the world … we don’t seem to have that freedom … to look at a map and have all those exes [unexplored areas]. Rocketo’s mission is to re-explore this planet. My first thought was to put it in outer space. That seemed kind of hokey. And “Star Wars” sort of did that already.
I wanted to build the earth as the center of the action. Once I destroyed Africa it was all easy. Then the world was really interesting. I started at year zero.
And I kept a sci fi injection. (more…)

Q&A with Alex Robinson of “Box Office Poison”

Alex Robinson worked in a big-city bookstore for seven years after graduating from high school in 1987. After reading his first graphic novel, “Box Office Poison,” it’s very clear that he didn’t enjoy the job. Now, Robinson is the creator of two highly regarded comics (“Tricked,” his second effort, is available now) that are sold in bookstores like the one he used to work at.

While “Box Office Poison” (BOP, for abbreviation’s sake) is a story of pretty average folks struggling through the daily grind in New York, “Tricked” is a pseudo retelling of the John Lennon story. Both intricately weave together the lives of several people. Robinson’s black and white art that’s more reminiscent of newspaper cartoon strips than the latest issue of X-Men pulls readers into an intimate relationship with the characters.

I had a chance to e-mail some questions to Alex recently, and below is the transcript.

Me – I just finished Tricked. I’ve read some reviews and interviews with you, and it seems like some people were disappointed by it. I liked it. It’s a completely different kind of story from BOP, and I imagine that threw a lot of readers off. Did you know, going into the project, that you might disappoint people looking for more of the same?

Alex Robinson – Huh, I didn’t know that a lot of people were disappointed. Image hosting by PhotobucketI don’t read reviews so my only impression about how the book is received is from e-mail and when I go to shows, so I guess people are too polite to say anything. I did get one e-mail from someone who didn’t like the book.
But yeah, BOX OFFICE POISON did pretty well so it’s only natural that some people are going to be disappointed, especially since I wasn’t doing a sequel to the first book. It’s a compliment, in a way, because it means they liked the first book so much, but of course you want everyone to like your stuff. I’m actually shocked TRICKED has done as well as it has! One of the working titles for the book was SOPHOMORE SLUMP so part of me really expected the audience to be disappointed, but I’m a pessimist by nature.
I’ve started working on an idea for a new book and I’m already preparing myself for it to be despised and unpopular.

Me – The plot of Tricked had a lot of influence, it seemed, from John Lennon’s murder. Was that a subject you’d been interested in? It came to me partway through reading that in BOP, Sherman’s stories were often on the Beatles. Tricked almost seemed like something Sherman might have written.

AR – I never intended it to be about John Lennon but originally it was going to be even more Lennon inspired. I’ve always loved his work and found his life interesting but I don’t really like the whitewashing Yoko Ono does. Her version of his life–and their life together–has sort of become the accepted myth. I finally read Albert Goldman’s vicious bio of Lennon and I don’t think I believe that version either, so I wanted to present a fictional version that was somewhere closer to the middle, something I thought was closer to the truth
In one early verison of the story, the assassin was played by me–that is, he looked like me. It was my way of sort of confessing that I was engaged in character assassination. Yes, very clever.

Me – BOP didn’t have an extremely obvious central theme, but it did (as I interpreted it) share with Tricked the idea that people get what’s coming to them. “The love you take is equal to the love you make”? – sorry, had to throw another Beatles reference in there. What do you think were the “big ideas” that influenced the stories?

AR – For me the theme of BOX OFFICE POISON had to do with making difficult choices. Both Ed and Sherman are in unhealthy relationships, but they both handle them in different ways. So in a way you’re right, that you could see it as them getting what they deserve, but do you really think Sherman deserved to wind up trapped in an unhappy relationship? A friend of mine pointed out that what makes Sherman’s story so sad is that he seems to make all the right decisions but somehow winds up miserable. I guess, to paraphrase Jerri Blank, he was making the right decisions for all the wrong reasons.

Me – I’ll admit that I did like BOP more than Tricked. I say that as a compliment to BOP, more than an insult to Tricked. In BOP, there were these extremely subtle plots in the story that I didn’t notice until it all came together. The big example of this is the way that some very ugly characters are subtly built up, and then an emotional punch comes along that turns them from demon to human. The two that struck me the most were the landlady and Hildy’s little sister. Is that something you’re conscious of, trying to make all the characters relatable?

Image hosting by PhotobucketAR – That is something I like to examine. One of the things I thought was interesting was that, when BOX OFFICE POISON was serialized, everyone said they either loved to hate Dorothy or just plain hated her. Maybe it’s just the way people are conditioned, that there has to be a bad guy in the story, but I never really saw her as a bad guy. She had her problems, as we all do but I don’t think she’s genuinely bad. The only two real one dimensional villains in the book I can think of offhand are LeBlanc, the publisher of Zoom Comics (though I could’ve easily told the story from his point of view and made him more sympathetic–but somebody has to be the bad guy!–and Mako, who murders someone in cold blood.
I generally try to find the humanity in all the characters. When you spend so long on a graphic novel, thinking about it for years on end, you almost can’t help but give characters depth and backstories of their own.

Me – Another of the interesting twists of BOP was how the main character slowly shifted from being Sherman to Ed. Was that the intent all along?

AR – No, not really. I never script out or tightly plot my stories out, so I like to leave myself a lot of room to play around. I know how the story will end and what things have to happen before then but beyond that I like to be very flexible and sort of let the characters guide what happens. That sounds very writerly and pretentious but it’s true for me.
By the end of the book, I found Ed to be really blossoming and Sherman was on the decline, to the point where I was nearly disgusted with him, so if I wanted to book to not be a total downer I couldn’t end it with Sherman Throughout the book, different characters sort of narrate the action (Stephen in the Christmas story, Jane when she’s telling us how she and Stephen met, etc) so it didn’t seem too outrageous to have another character take over.
Some people didn’t like it, though. They thought it was unsatisfying.

Me – With Tricked, since you knew you were doing something pretty different, did you ever consider going in a different direction with the art as well?

AR – I actually switched to these Japanese pen brush things for TRICKED, but other than that I never thought about making a dramatic change in my art. I’m okay for what I do, but I’m not a versatile chamelon-like artist who can change styles easily.

Me – On the topic of art, when I read your books my first impression was that your style has the most similarities to newspaper comic strips and some of the stuff in Mad Magazine. Who, if anyone, do you think yourself to be similar to?

AR – I did enjoy MAD as a kid and the first comics I read were newspaper strips, and ARCHIE. The single biggest artistic influence I can think of is Dave Sim and his work on CEREBUS. I started reading his stuff when I was fifteen or so and it had a huge impact on not just my storytelling and art but on my attitudes about comics and the industry.

Me – Now the easier questions: Who are the artists/writers out there now that you make a point of checking out?

AR – There are the usual stars, of course, like Chris Ware, Chester Brown, Crumb, etc. On the less well known side is Tony Consiglio, who isn’t nearly as productive as he should be but he finally has a graphic novel coming out this spring called 110PERCENT which is terrific. Another guy you’ll be hearing big things from is Mike Dawson. He’s currently working on a big autobiography called FREDDIE & ME which will I think will put him on the map. I also enjoy Tim Krieder’s weekly comic THE PAIN:WHEN WILL IT END?

Me – What projects are you working on now?

AR – I’ve just started working on a story that I hope will turn out to be my next graphic novel. I say “hope” because there’s always a chance it could fizzle out, so I don’t want to say too much about it. I will say that it will probably be shorter than my two other novels and I’d like to have it out for summer 2007. Keep my fingers crossed!

Me – Top Shelf seems to be a good fit for you. How much have you enjoyed working with them?

AR – It’s been pretty nice. One of the big appeals of Top Shelf was that they said they were really going to make an effort to penetrate the bookstore market. That was a big incentive to give them a shot and I’m happy with the results so far.

Me – Ultimately, what do you want your readers to get out of your work?

AR – Obviously on the most basic level I hope they find it entertaining or interesting at least. Beyond that, it gets harder to say. Kurt Vonnegut once talked about something like this and he said part of the reason he wrote was sort of a way to offer comfort to his readers. The world was a screwed up place and sometimes awful things happen but the good news is that you’re not alone. You hope that someone will read your book and think to themselves “There’s someone out there who sees the world the same way I do” and take some comfort in that. I guess that’s as close as I’ve gotten to a good justification for what I do.

Q&A with Eric Powell, of “The Goon”

I recently had the chance to email back and forth a little with Eric Powell, creator of the Eisner award winning “The Goon,” which is published by Dark Horse. I’ll be writing my usual comics column on this for the Arkasnas Democrat-Gazette. But I’ll post some excerpts of our online discussion below.

ME — The first thing I wanted to ask about is this feel I get from The Goon, that it’s just completely unfettered, for lack of a better word. There aren’t really “rules” at play, you don’t seem to be making any huge metaphoric statement, the characters are very over-the-top, and you don’t even label the city where all this happens.

ERIC POWELL — The entire reason for me creating this book was to play. I wanted to do anything I wanted. To experiment. I wanted no restrictions or limitations. I wanted to draw only the things I wanted to draw. Best way to do that is to create a book with plenty of nonsense.

ME — Along the same line, the characters are just a smorgasbord of inanity and insanity. Do you base any of them on real people?

EP — No, they aren’t based on real people. But they are people I’d like to have a drink with.

ME– I read somewhere that you’ve been writing and drawing stories since you were fairly young. What were some of the biggest challenges in getting a book onto shelves? And when did you realize you’d “made it?”

EP — The biggest challenge is simply not giving up when you hit the hundreds of road blocks along the way. And I’m still not secure. I’m still frightened that the rug is going to be pulled out from under me.

ME — Getting to work with Marvel on Devil Dinosaur and the covers of the other Monster books has to help you feel established. How did that partnership come about and how do you think it turned out? Do you plan on continuing to work with Marvel, or DC?

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EP — Marvel asked if I wanted to do it as a miniseries. Unfortunately I could fit it into my schedule. But then the idea for the monster book one shots game up and that was easier to fit in with the help of co-writer Tom Sniegoski and inker Mark Farmer.
It really depends on my schedule and the project. I’m really having fun with the Goon right now.

ME — A local comic store owner mentioned that he stocked you before you were at Dark Horse. How important was that kind of support?

EP — Immensely important! The retailers that supported the book in the beginning have a hand in it’s success. If it hadn’t started to gain some underground momentum, I doubt any of this would have happened.

ME — It seems like Dark Horse is a great fit for you, and they really seem to support you with trades – including the new Fancy Pants one. What are the advantages of DH as opposed to Marvel or DC, or to a smaller publisher like Speak Easy?

EP — You work for Marvel and DC if you just want to draw Spiderman or Batman. If that’s your life goal to draw a super hero comic, you work for them. You will make good money working for those guys, too. If you’re more of an outside of the box creator that wants to do their own thing, Dark Horse or a smaller publisher is where you go.

ME — A friend of mine has published a few comics, and he always has been interested in your art. He wondered about how your style changed from your early work to now (he says you are much more distinctive now).

EP — I’m restless when it comes to style. Or technique, really. Not style. I love to experiment. Every issue is going to be different. That may hurt the book, but it’s the way I want to work.

ME — Any new projects, a Goon movie, etc. that you’re working on?

EP — Maybe.

ME — Out of the mass of books out there now, what do you read? Favorite
writers/artists? Do you get into “events” like House of M or Infinite

EP — To be honest, I so rarely get to pick my head up from the table that I really don’t know what comes out any more. I miss a lot.

ME — When it comes to art technique, what’s the strangest thing you’ve incorporated?

EP — I did do a photo segment with my son as a little runaway hillbilly.

ME — Is there any hero out there in the mainstream you’d love to take a swing at (figuratively or literally, I suppose)?

EP — There are a lot of characters with the big two I’d like to play with. But who knows if I’ll have the time or ever get the chance.

ME — How gratifying were the Eisner awards?

EP — Last year was very gratifying because I had convinced myself that the year before was a fluke and it was never going to happen again. It’s very humbling.