Category Archives: Artists

Bat crap crazy or just misunderstood?

Not long ago I mentioned that if a particular creator didn’t go bat crap crazy like Frank Miller, he should always be given the benefit of the doubt creatively.  That got me thinking about the various level of crazy in comics.  There is everything from the normal Human frailties like depression, so common in creative types to rabid nutbaggyness that only a special few endure.  Or are these people just misunderstood and disliked?

Al Capp as a younger, more likeable guy.

The classic comics equivalent to Miller’s increasingly extreme views was Al Capp.  Best known for the strip Lil’ Abner, Capp’s talent was matched only by his increasingly conservative and even hateful politics as he grew older.  He was universally loved as a cartoonist and nearly as disliked as a human being.  Deliberate clashes with people he viewed as liberal or too far left, sexual scandals (including criminal charges in Wisconsin), run ins with talk show hosts and even a confrontation with John Lennon and Yoko Ono captured on film from the “bed in for peace” ensured that anyone that knew more than just his professional work would find him hard to like.  In today’s media saturated environment it is unlikely he would have maintained his general popularity.  I am regularly reminded of him every time I drive in Arkansas.  In the largely nonexistent town of Marble Falls, stands the crumbling remains of Dogpatch USA, a failed theme park of his popular characters home.  Was he crazy?  I can’t really say, but he was clearly someone who was extreme and anti-social in many ways.  Extreme viewpoints are often branded as crazy to discount them, but Capp seemed to relish his status as a mean old man for much of his life.  Today his work is forgotten by all but serious admirers of comics and cartooning, which is unfortunate because he was a very talented man, just not a very nice one either.

On a sadder end of the spectrum was Wally Wood.  One of the finest illustrators in the medium, Wood suffered health issues that contributed to depression and alcoholism.  While never diagnosed with much of anything officially, many who knew him considered him a deeply troubled man.  Wood killed himself in 1981 after kidney failure and a stroke had left him severely limited.  One of the most admired names in comics and illustration, there are few in the industry that cannot claim some kind of influence by Wood on their work.

A stunning piece by Wood

General public perception weighs heavily in most creators life stories.  I doubt Frank Miller is anything more than poorly understood.  Like Capp before him, Miller’s opinions are not always popular, but they don’t make him crazy.  It is when the work is affected that fans look more harshly on the creator.  Holy Terror was just awful.  In every way it was just Miller venting fear and frustration.  This is nothing new in comics today since 9-11, but many creators have managed to do it so much better that Miller has begun to creep people out.

In a current context there is Rob Liefeld.  His recent tweets as he ran out the doors of DC in a huff are certainly adding fuel to the fire that there is something very off with Rob.  While you can debate the level of talent, I think anyone would have assumed he would always find work in comics based solely on his name, but the fervor with which he has burned bridges lately make many doubt his motives.  As of this writing he has tweeted that he is retired from comics.  For now sure, but he will be back, I’m sure.  The reasons for the departure are what have left many scratching their heads.

While there are many that question the sanity of Dave Sim, I have to say I am not one of them.  I question his give a damn.  I really don’t think he cares that much about what the world thinks of him and his lifestyle choices.  The religious stance he has taken in the last few years and his perceived misogynistic opinions have made him something of an outcast.  I think he prefers the solitude.  Based on his writings and interviews he has given, I think he would be fine having only the bare minimum contact with the rest of the world as long as he can still create comics and commune with his God.  Nothing wrong with that, if that is what fills your life and makes you content.  He is one that I met years ago at a signing.  His “rock star” attitude was not a nice thing.  I imagine he is a nicer and better person the way he is now.

Thanks to his interest in the “expanding earth” theory, Neal Adams is often branded as crazy, which bugs me.  Since when are contrary opinions and beliefs crazy?  At what point will we start considering anyone that believes in invisible sky Gods (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) crazy?  Having spoken to Mr. Adams at shows, he is in my opinion, no more or less crazy than any creative person I have met.  500 years ago, people who believed the Earth to be round were crazy.  While I don’t share Mr. Adams’ opinion on the formation of the Earth, and doubt that science will prove him correct, I don’t think calling someone crazy for believing in a theory is any better than calling them crazy for believing in a God.  His work in support of creators’ rights has earned him some enemies in the field, but I doubt anyone serious can fault him as a creator or a good person.

Then there is Steve Ditko.  Is wanting to be left alone and not in the public eye crazy?  Again as with Adams, I think the political and social views he once spoke of have condemned him to a degree.  Since he has not been a public figure and avoided interviews for the last 40+ years, Ditko has added to the mystery surrounding himself and added fuel to the fires of speculation.

A Chaykin B&W piece

I have even heard people call Howard Chaykin crazy.  I have begun to believe that just not following the mainstream is what gets many of these creators the looney label.  I have never met Chaykin, but I would love to get that chance.  There are few creators in the industry today as vibrant and creative, and I bet he is just a hoot to talk to.

It is amazing what one overblown story can do to a creator’s reputation as a person.  Mike Grell has never really been able to escape the gun on the table incident from his days doing books at First comics.  The story has been so over reported and so miss-represented that many seem afraid of him at cons.  This is the view that seemed to be in the line I was standing in at a con a couple of years ago, waiting for him to sign a book.  While it was only a small group, can it really be just an isolated opinion?  Having spoken to him, he is just a guy.  He likes or liked guns.  That is really all anyone should take from the story.  He was a very nice fellow and not all that scary.  Quite a small guy compared to what I had expected too.

There is also someone who has developed quite an odd reputation since his death.  William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, had an interesting outlook and an even more interesting home life.  He lived with his wife AND his mistress and the children by each.  Crazy?  Well, who knows, but it is interesting to me how he is spoken of almost entirely in the context of his marriage now, rather than his professional work.

I’m sure there are some I am missing.  If you think of any, speak up!  It might be fun to start a little debate here.

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Dave Stevens Stories and Covers review

Dave Stevens Stories and Covers

IDW

2012

272 pages $40

It has been a while since I had a big fat art book to review here.  I’m very pleased this is the one that I get to do next.  Since Stevens died in 2008 from complications due to Hairy Cell Leukemia, there has been an increase demand for his work, and IDW has been the one much of it has come from.

In 2011 IDW released The Complete Sketches and Studies, a compilation of the four convention sketchbooks he did in the 80’s.  With those original books now long since unavailable, and in some cases REALLY expensive to get, this book was a dream come true for those of us on a budget.  This is an even more impressive book than that fabulous volume.  Starting with the covers, this book has most of the covers that Stevens did for the various publishers through his career.  Shot whenever possible from the original art, this looks amazing.  There are only a few full color pages here and they are a nice contrast to the black and white with blue line pieces here.  The pages that are shot from the originals reveal detail that I could have never seen on the final printed books, some of which I fondly recall from back in the day.  Also revealed are hints to the methods used to produce the pages themselves, touches that were never meant to be seen by the public, but are invaluable in understanding an artist of Stevens’ caliber.

The middle section of the book is the stories section.  Some are not complete, as they are only there as a taste of work done early in his career (like the Star Wars pages he inked for Marvel), while others are the complete stories.  These in particular show just how amazing his panel to panel work was.  He did not do very much panel to panel work beyond his own Rocketeer creation, but what is here is beautiful.  The Rocketeer stuff is not included here as it was already presented in another volume, but it is not missed here as the included works are representative of every facet to his style.

The final section of the book is the pin-ups section, and OH.  MY.  GAWD!!  These are unbelievable.  As known for his mainstream good-girl art as anything else in his career, I have to confess that I had largely forgotten about the number of fetish art style pieces he had done over the years.  Selections from Verotik in particular are a real treat to see again after all these years.  The final section is more like a bonus; it is the con program covers and miscellaneous art done for various shows and events from early in his career.

There is one warning I would issue here for anyone thinking about picking this book up; the page formatting has some minor issues.  There are a few pieces spread over 2 pages, or as gatefolds.  This causes some of the art to be lost in the binding.  The selections in these instances are of a mixed source quality, so the loss is something of a mixed bag.  It is not a horror, but it does detract from about a half-dozen or so works.  This has become enough of a concern that as of this writing, Amazon has pulled the listing from their direct page, but you can still get it from some of their partners.

This book cannot hope to include everything.  Rights and ownership issues aside, there would just be too much of his work to have in a book like this.  Additional volumes would ultimately dilute the special nature of this volume.  This is the best possible selection of the best possible sources from the entire career of a master artist, and this package is a fine addition to the bookshelf.

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The 44FLOOD interview

A quick content note:  This is the complete text of an interview that will be up at Bleeding Cool in a few days.  This version contains info not directly relating to 44FLOOD or TOME, but is nonetheless very cool and interesting.

On the hottest day yet, of the longest triple digit stretch in decades, I had the opportunity to sit down with the guys from 44FLOOD, with special guest and honorary 5th member of the team, Steve Niles (30 Days of Night). The core that makes up 44FLOOD is Nick Idell, Ben Templesmith, Kasra Ghanbari and Menton Matthews III (Menton3).  Their studio in Chicago is exactly what you would want it to be, full of art, smoke filled rooms and ideas.  Advance copies of books they are working on (Frankenstein, Alive Alive! and the Monocyte hardcover), and examples of art and creativity literally laying all over the place.  By now most everyone reading this is probably familiar with the Kickstarter campaign for the group’s new art book TOME.  If you are not, here are the highlights…

Started July 25th, the campaign is to crowd source funding to publish a 12″x 18″ hardcover book of comics, art, photos and anything else the guys want to put in.  The theme of the first of these annual volumes is vampirism, and with the horror pedigree of some of these creators, you would think there would be few surprises, but the list of artists involved continues to grow.  A mix of graphic storytellers, fine artists, sculptors and musicians are rounding this amazing group out, with the only real mandate that it be vampirism-centric material.  While the full list is available at the link above, a quick sampling here should tell you that this is NOT some fly-by-night deal.  These are serious creators…If you don’t know some of these names, consider it a challenge.  Go find out about them.

  • Alberto Ruiz (fine artist, art book maker)
  • Andy Belanger (artist, writer, illustrator) – Kill Shakespeare, Black Church
  • Ashley Wood (artist, writer) – Lore, Hellspawn, 3A Toys
  • Becky Cloonan (artist, writer, illustrator) – Wolves, Demo, Conan
  • Ben Templesmith (artist, writer) – 30 Days of Night, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, Fell
  • Bill Sienkiewicz (artist, writer) – Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters
  • Chet Zar (fine artist, SFX artist) – Tool music videos, Hellboy I & II motion pictures
  • Christopher Mitten – Criminal Macabre, 30 Days of Night, Wasteland
  • Collide (musical group) – Independent Music Award nominee, soundtrack of Underworld: Awakening
  • David Stoupakis (artist) – Korn album cover artist
  • Edith Lebeau (artist)
  • Edward Ka-Spel (musician) – The Legendary Pink Dots, The Tear Garden
  • Fink (singer, songwriter, DJ) – four studio albums, collaborator with Amy Winehouse and John Legend
  • George Pratt (artist, writer) – Enemy Ace: War Idyll, Sandman, Wolverine: Netsuke
  • Guillermo Rigattieri (fine artist)
  • Jill Thompson (artist, writer, illustrator) – Sandman, Beast of Burden, The Scary Godmother
  • Kasra Ghanbari (writer, art agent) – MONOCYTE, Drawing the Line Again Anthology
  • Kevin Allen (composer) – opera, chamber, orchestral
  • Matthew Bone (fine artist)
  • menton3 (artist, writer, musician) – ZvR, Silent Hill, MONOCYTE, Saltillo
  • Molly Crabapple (artist, writer, activist) – Dr. Sketchy’s, Puppet Makers, house artist at The Box
  • Monica Richards (singer, songwriter) – Strange Boutique, Faith and the Muse
  • Richard A. Kirk (fine artist, illustrator) – Korn album cover artist
  • Richard Walters (singer, songwriter, musician)
  • Riley Rossmo (artist, writer) – Proof, Green Wake, Rebel Blood
  • Saltillo (band) – solo music project of menton3
  • Scott Radke (fine artist) – Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland

The campaign went live July 25th and reached its funding goal in a few hours.  With more artists and backer rewards being added every few days, this is a project that certainly looks like the momentum and goodwill of the internet and fans of these creators will carry it through to be an immense success.  We talked about TOME, 44FLOOD, individual projects and even the industry as a whole.

Taylor:  Guys, we will jump right into the current info.  As of this interview you are 364% funded and well on the way to a great outcome.  I was a little surprised at the amount you were initially asking for, $18,500.  That does not seem like very much.  Was there a lot of debate and math that went into that number?

Menton3:  We initially had a backlog of investors for the book, and what the kickstarter has allowed us to do is not have anyone else have any control over anything.  So we are able to do the book the way we want to, 100% now.  But we were shocked, the reason we initially asked for 18k was that that was the money we legitimately needed to print the book.  We are talking about a 12 x 18 book, with 180 pages, it’s not a cheap thing to print in any way, so that was the reason, we tried to keep the number as low as possible since we had backing investors going into it, and we wanted to ask the crowd sourcing people for the least amount we could and get the book printed.  We were all shocked when we reached our goal in less than 4 hours.  Absolute shock and awe, there were tears, there was hugging.  We are completely in awe and stepped back by the response from people, it’s amazing for us.

Ben Templesmith:  But this means we can now upgrade the book in such ways that we couldn’t before that are…rather more expensive to do.

Mock up of the cover with the size comparison to other books.

Taylor:  One of the things that surprised me was the format itself.  Books of this size have a niche appeal from the perspective of publishers.  They don’t see the audience being there in a lot of cases.  Are you concerned that past those backers and people who are particularly interested in this that you will have a hard time reaching others with it?

Ben:  Well I can definitely say that we are not aiming at the gigantic bookstore market.  This is an exclusive book, with a very small print run compared to most.

Kasra Ghanbari:  We are not so much concerned as concentrated by that.  I think it is our goal to hopefully reach people who like books like this, but we consider this a very different book drawing from the comic book, illustration, art gallery and music world so we are getting this massive pool of talent from so many artistic platforms, so we ask can we take that and penetrate these new markets, and not so much assume who would buy it but look for new people to find it and sort of spread it out as far as we can.  With the numbers that we are dealing with that Ben alluded to, we are not looking to sell 20 thousand books; this is a very limited edition book.  So we are dealing with something of extraordinary quality that will hopefully have some longevity that people will cherish as an artifact and keep on their shelf to share with others.  I think we can reach those people.

Menton3:  Our interest isn’t selling a massive amount of books, what we really want is a direct connection with the people who want these books.  One of the things that have been great with kickstarter is that we are able to talk to almost everybody who is buying this.  Because in a lot of ways me and Ben and Steve, we do books and they go off into the ether or this black hole and we get a number back of how many we sold.  This we are actually completely involved with the people buying it, some people might call them fans, I don’t like the word fans like I like the word friends but we have a direct connection with every one of them which has been really amazing.  That’s kind of our business model.  We’re not as concerned about selling as many books as we can as we are about making something that we truly want and that were excited that other people would want that as well.

Kasra:  What we figured out is that between social networking and kickstarter with crowd funding, with all the creators involved and our websites, that what we do actively as artists, we are effectively hand-selling this book.  And it works.

Taylor:  Do you have an eventual price point in mind for the book after the kickstarter?

Kasra:  We’ve had a lot of discussion about that internally and we have an idea about how much a book like this would cost, but we have not decided on that yet because we were surprised and it was incredible.  We have it up there for $50 plus $10 shipping, which we think is a really strong price. That is a considerable discount off what retailers would expect to sell it for.  But we’re kind of reserving the setting of that price until we see a little bit more about how the book plays out on the kickstarter.

Taylor:  Anthologies are kind of a challenging format, as many people like it as are intimidated by it, are you concerned at all about the anthology format, or is the goal to have people step out of their comfort zone? 

Menton3:  Well the whole idea here is that we are pitching this to people not publishers.  A lot of times publisher think that anthologies don’t do well but actually they kind of do do well.  I think if you look at a book like Spectrum, which is an amazing art book it does very well and that is the epitome of a crazy anthology.  I think one of the things about anthologies you’ve got to consider is that a lot of times they are not themed, they are just kind of chaotic stuff and TOME is a themed art book and there is an amazing array of artists–exclude me from that statement–doing something on the same theme.  This is pretty astounding.  Me as a fan of all those artists like Bill Sienkiewicz, and Ashley Wood, I get to see these guys do something with a particular theme.  Alongside of that, every artist is going to be interviewed by another artist, so you are going to get a very personal interview with some of your favorite artists.  This is something that we all just want to see on the shelf.  We all want to buy this.  So the anthology thing really never scared us and I think with things like TOME and Womanthology on kickstarter it’s kind of proof that anthologies DO work.

Steve Niles:  The thing with anthologies I think works for movies as well as comics, is that it’s a bad word until somebody does it right.  As soon as somebody does it right, then suddenly anthologies work.  We just had that with Creator-Owned Heroes, we were told that anthologies don’t sell and it did great numbers.  I think the same for this; it’s all about the content.

Kasra:  Frankly, I think a lot of publishers don’t like anthologies because they are a lot of work to put together.  Internally, to use corporate language,  “their resource allocation” for a project like that doesn’t justify the financial upside.  For us, we are not getting paid.  We are completely immersed in this and this is what we love, and we are putting 12 to 15 hours a day to put an anthology together.  We don’t have to worry about the inner corporate workings of a publisher putting an anthology together we are doing it because we love art.

MAID print by Menton3

Taylor:  The list of those artists is growing every day.  Have you had to do much recruiting or have they been lining up to do this with you?

Menton3:  Really both.  We are curating it; we are not going to put something in the book that we don’t believe in.  For me, the definition of art is, “does it move me?”  I don’t care if it is photography, a poem, a painting I don’t care.  It has to move us.  And the four of us, and really the five of us, have to really love what is going in the book.  We do have to like it and so in that way it is curated, and thus far we have been very lucky to get involved with some of the people who we like the most.

Taylor:  I was surprised to see the diversity of names.  When you put some of them, Jill Thompson comes to mind; I kind of had to do a double take.  Is it deliberate or just the way it has worked out?

Menton3:  Jill is amazing artist and an amazing person, and we are lucky enough to have her in the book.  We have hung out a lot, she lives here in Chicago, and I’m a big fan from way back.  It’s an honor to have her in the book.  There isn’t anyone’s name going into this book that we are not honored to have be a part of it.

Kasra:   Each one of them has a story too.  Jill has a deep story and she also has a particular Vampire piece that she has written and is pretty eager to do, and we were excited by it.

Taylor:  Is there any particular editorial mandate beyond “vampirism”?  Or is it “here is the subject-run with it.”

Ben:  Pretty much [run with it].

Meridiana of Pope Sylvester II by menton3. The original painting will be in a gallery show at Strychnin Gallery in Berlin this August.

Taylor:  Ben, you have said before that the concept of vampirism is deeper that the bloodsucking fiends idea, that it is more about the parasitic relationship.

Ben:  It’s a part of it, yeah.  That is what we are going for, is the overall.  You can pick and choose which you want.

Taylor:  Now included in the mix are some sculptors.  How will that be translated into the book?

Kasra:  It is a little bit of a trick to deal with sculptures, but if you can pull it off people have a novel experience.  And the artists are excited to make something based on a theme and have it appear in the construct of a book like this.  We dealt a little bit with that in Monocyte in how we had to capture the essence and the emotion and even the narrative potential of a sculptural piece, and we are going to try to carry that a little bit further with TOME.

Taylor:  I notice that there is now an accompanying CD included.  I loved the music that went with Monocyte.

Menton3:  Thank you very much; you have terrible taste in music. [laughter]

Taylor:  That felt like a soundtrack and flowed very well with the book, is that what you are going for with TOME?

Menton3:  Well, with the Monocyte soundtrack was particularly difficult to do because a lot of the stuff that I would normally like to do wouldn’t fit.  Like as soon as you put any lyrics next to a narrative, it can really come across very Disney very quickly, so that was actually one of the hardest records I’ve ever made.  When I made it, I tried to make the sound of that world that me and Kasra created and I feel like I did a decent job at it to a certain extent and I’d love to do it again, but I think music is always like that.  With the TOME, it’s not really a soundtrack.  We love art, and that comes in music, poems, storytelling, paintings and photography and music is a big part of the emotive process of externalizing the internal, which is what I’m all about.  So for us it was like a no-brainer to go immediately into music and some of the artists including the musicians are outstanding.  One guy named Fink I’ve been listening to him for five years straight and he is an outstanding musician.  We have got Richard Walters, Monica Richards, we’ve got a song from Collide we have Tony Wakeford of Sol Invictus so obviously we are curating as much as possible.  The music I want to put on it is music that I like and I think goes with the theme of the book.  A lot of the artists are very excited to do something in that vein and be a part of a project that’s about art and that showcases music as art.

Taylor:  Recent comic book history has not been real kind to the creators taking control of the business end of things.  In many cases the business side of things kept creators from doing what they set out to do.  Do you foresee the size of this project, and the logistics of it having a negative impact?

Ben:  I personally don’t think so because between all of us we have a lot business [experience] to bring to this.  Steve and I have been doing this, bringing projects to fruition, Kasra has a huge business background, Nick runs his own store, started from the ground up, and Menton has a huge background in the music business.  We are not just normal creators who just want to sit there, do some art and have someone else take care of it because we are too scared or bored with that side of it because we know we have to sell what we make which is different from a lot of artists I think that potentially just want to get some money for what they do and then sit in their studio and not worry about anything else, because we do want to get out there and sell to the fans.  To me that’s half the fun.

Taylor:  I have seen you guys at shows before and you do something that a lot of creators don’t do.  You interact and move your product.  A lot of creators are just interested in sitting there and signing books or they have no interest at all in interaction with the fans.

Ben:  To go to the heart of that, every single person that you meet should be a potential customer or at least like your work.  You have got an audience and building an audience is one of the best things you can do as a creative person.

Menton3:  For me it’s an honor.  Anyone that is even thinking about looking at my work, it is an honor.  Before I started making comics, I would go to conventions and I was surprised at how some of the artists and writers would treat the people who come up to their booth, and I would walk away from the booth and would have a bad taste in my mouth.  Anyone who walks to my booth, I never want them to feel that way.  I’m not above you or below you, we are on the same level and if you enjoy my work at all, that’s amazing to me and thank you so much.  It’s an honor to be able to make a living doing this.  Its hard work and we work long hours but I live a dream and the people who buy my artwork help me do that they are my bosses and they allow me to do this.

Steve:  I have a thing with conventions where if somebody brings up a long box full of stuff, as long as they are not a retailer, I will sign every single book.  But I have sat next to creators who the same person goes to them with a long box and they will tell them to pick two.  You can see it on their face that they have lost a little bit of respect for the creator.  My attitude is that if somebody brings up a long box, that is at least two months’ rent.  That they paid my rent for me, and if all they want is for me to sign their books and talk to them for a little while I consider that part of the job.

Menton3:  We all love doing conventions and what we are trying to do with 44FLOOD is turn the internet into a convention for everybody so that we are able to interact with those people at the same kind of level off our website.  To us, that is the goal with 44FLOOD; we are pitching this book to you.  Do YOU want this?

Steve:  That is something that you addressed earlier, that we are now dealing directly with our fans.  We are not dealing with publishers or distributors as much.  We WILL, but the main part of what we are doing is hand selling these to individuals.  That is the really exciting part of it actually.

Ben; To add to that, the whole reason I wear suits is because I respect the fans and want to give them this and provide them an experience.  Presentation matters and I think a lot of people forget that.

Taylor:  Is 44FLOOD as a company an ongoing thing in its own right?  Or does it exist largely to serve TOME?

Nick Idell:  No, it is ongoing.  We have a slew of projects that we are going to be coming out with and this is basically a full-time job for all of us now.

Taylor: Does it supplant more of the existing properties like Wormwood or 30 Days of Night or is it an eventual vehicle for those properties to be released through down the road?

Menton3:  That is a dangerous, dangerous question.  [laughing]  Everybody please answer very carefully.  Oh please don’t print that. [more laughter all around].

Ben; You are asking about more individual projects, but ideally we would like to do new projects under a banner which is potentially 44FLOOD.  It is a new way for us to create a platform for us to reach an audience as much as anything.  That may incorporate other things, but it does not mean we are not doing anything else.

Menton3:  Even working with the best companies that are out there like IDW or Dark Horse, there are great companies, but even working with them with creator owned books, we come up with a pitch, we wait several months to hear back about it we then do the artwork, then it goes into a black hole.  We love working with them and want to continue working with them but we also want another situation where from pitch to your hands, we are involved with you.  While that does not exclude us from working with other people, we love working with other people, but we want that interaction.

Taylor:  That is clearly the impression that comes across with the kickstarter pitch.  The video was very well done by the way.

Menton3:  Thank you.  I have no idea what I’m doing with that by the way.

Taylor:  Is there a maximum size to the book?  There are a lot of people involved.  At what point to you lock it in and say “everything else is for next year’s book”?

Kasra:  Honestly, we have pretty much finalized the specs on the book.  It’s going to be 12 x 18″ and about 180 pages.  But TOME is going to be an annual book, and we want to up the ante every year.  Be it with the content or the structure of the dimensions or even the materials but this year we are pretty much set with the size and format.

Menton3:  When you have this book open it will be 18 x 24″ and that is up at the size of an actual painting or at the size they really mean something.  So when you have a double page spread in this, you are going to be able to see this like you would see a painting in a museum.  From a narrative standpoint, a storytelling standpoint, typically me and Ben work with basically 9 inches at the most and we have to tell a story within that.  When you are given this opportunity to use this large a format, it opens up enormous potential for storytelling, there’s negative space and an amazing amount of stuff you can do with that.  We want to print the biggest book possible.  This book is going to be very expensive to ship, so 12 x 18″ is about the maximum we can do without destroying people and ourselves with shipping.  I don’t think anyone realizes how big this will be until it is in their hands.  You are going to have to sit down with this book.  I don’t think there will be anyone walking around looking at this.

Ben:  The attraction of doing the kickstarter is that we can evolve the project with the amazing success of it.  We didn’t think we would be able to do that and now we can.  I don’t think in the regular way of doing business you can do that.

Menton3:  We are building our own website with these kinds of ideologies for 44FLOOD.  We don’t know exactly how it is going to work yet, but it is in the process of being made, so keep your eye out for that.

Kasra:  Facebook has been a positive for us too.  We had Monocyte up there for a year, Ben has used it for some time now, but we have never seen anything like this reaction before.  People are sharing this and if you look at the number of posts and shares, I have never seen this before on any page.  The number of people talking about the page, it’s kind of a Facebook metric, is just astronomical.  Maybe they are looking at the videos and they like the art or the ideology and see that we are totally into the project and they share.

Menton:  I know I can’t stop talking, but it’s like all of these people are a part of the book.  Every time you share one of these links, you are a part of creating this book.  It has given me faith in humanity again.  There are other people out there who would like this book.  We are not insane people just sitting in a room saying “this is what I would love” there is a bunch of other people who would love this too.

Ben:  People can smell authenticity.  We are not just trying to do this to make a bunch of money, we actually wanted to do this anyway and people are enabling us.

Menton3:  It would be nice if there was one publishing company out there that was not just trying to get rich off of publishing.  We are not.  We want to make a place where creators can come, make what they want to make and they get and own what they have and do.  We just want to know there is a thing like that in the world that exists.  We would love to become rich off what we make with the publishing company but we are not going to own any of the material that is coming out from 44FLOOD.  When you get the book from us, [the content] is coming directly from that creator.  Period.

Taylor:  Are the contributors getting paid in the industry standard way at a page rate or is it on the back-end or what?

Kasra:  TOME as a flagship project, it ties into the kind of ties into the ideology of the company as a collective, and building a collective across artistic platforms.  Everyone is actually contributing.  In fact a lot of them are emailing us and thanking us for considering them and that they would love to be a part of this.  They have tapped into the collective idea of the project and one of the things that kickstarter has allowed us to do is print extra copies that we are going to set aside and give as comps to all the creators.  So everyone is pretty happy with the collective model that we are using for TOME.

Taylor:  Nick, you have what to every fan-boy out there is probably the coolest job in the world.   From the purely romantic vantage point owning and running a comic shop is just IT for many of us.  Has that put you in a good position to work with the distribution model for this?

Nick:  Yeah, that is a lot of it.  A lot of talks have been centered on how this distribution will work.  Forgo the middle man and work directly with the fans and the people who want what we are making and so far that has gone really well.

Ben:  I have just done 3 conventions in 3 weeks and I have met a lot of retailers that are really open to working with us to get the material as opposed to going through the one distributor out there.  It’s more like the real world where you do source product from various places.

Nick:  And that is something that we are really going to shoot for in the future is get a hub of retailers across the country and some internationally, that we will work with directly, and have a really personal relationship with those guys.

Ben:  A good retailer knows their customers and their base.  They create an experience now, because you have to in order to survive as a retailer. So we really want to tap into that.

Kasra:  Comic book retailers are a cornerstone of our distribution model.  They are under enormous pressure to focus on a single provider of books and working outside of anything other than a pre-order catalog is hard for the retailers so one of the things we are trying for with 44FLOOD as we produce these books is to have tremendous transparency on the production of these books with the retailers to take that pressure off of them and have them consider these books on an individual basis.

Taylor:  Does TOME or any part of it translate into, or set to be distributed digitally?

Menton3:  No but we have talked about digital.  We like digital.  I worked in the music industry when digital kind of came over and ate.  I think that as there are more iPads, and I have one, are out there, the things like oil paintings are going to matter more, because they are going to become rarer.  The things that we want to make is about art, and the way you should experience that, at least initially is by holding it.  But we intend on doing straight up comics too, and we will do art books plus comics, but we are going to do those so that we can make them available to anyone that wants to read them.  Part of the business model we are trying if we can pull it off, is we are talking about making all the books we do digitally free.  Boom.  Again, we are not trying to become rich off this.  We are trying to make art.  What we are doing is a little bit rebellious and a lot crazy and we think that the people I refer to as friends, the word they use is fans, I always feel weird using the word fans because no one knows who the fuck I am, but hopefully these fans are able to have a direct relationship with it.  We don’t want to rape you.

Steve:  There are models in the music industry like this that have worked.  [Take] Dischord Records, a company that has existed now over 30 years and they still sell records for $5 apiece, and they had sort of accidentally become millionaires, and it can be done.  You can build a company if you stick with it and are slow and methodical.  You can do it; you are just not going to get that overnight cash flood.

Ben:  I don’t think we are trying to cannibalize one base for the other, which is kind of the trap that a lot of digital gets into, which pisses off a lot of retailers.  But we are really all about physical books.  That is what we want to make is artifacts.  But we hope the digital will serve to augment that, hopefully.

Taylor:  Are digital mediums reinforcing the perception that comics are trash?  They are every bit as disposable now and nothing like as precious as something that you can physically own.  Are we still at a point in the industry where we are still eating our own children?

Ben:  Well for a long time they were literally trash.  At ten cents they were every bit as throwaway as they are now.

Menton3:  That is a very hard question to answer.  I think that almost anything that is too easily said almost sounds offensive.  I know we want to make books that are art.  A Chet Zar piece or a Steve Niles book, that’s a piece of art.  And we are talking about one of the most prolific painters and one of the best writers of our generation doing a book together.  As a fanboy, I can’t wait to see that.  If you want to get that digitally, fine get it digitally, but to hold that hardcover with the paper stock we choose, looking at Chet’s art and Steve’s words in that way, those are the kind of people we are trying to attract.  The other thing is that comics, and I am not naming books, are a very incestuous thing as an industry.  We basically sell comics to the same people.  Trying to make books for people who like X-Men is impossible, and there is enough people doing it.  We are not doing that.  If those people like what we are doing, that’s great, but there is a whole other generation of people out there who buy High Fructose and go to art school and spend 25 grand on a painting that walk into a comic book store and say, “this is crap, I don’t want to read about spandex”.  I have met people who only know Bill Sienkiewicz from New Mutants and they didn’t even know about Stray Toasters, and I say stop what you are doing, don’t walk, run and go buy a copy of that, it will change your life.  Comics can be art. But if you want to preview our book digitally, go for it.  It will not be anything like holding it in your hands.

Ben:  There is that strange growing trend of the people who only buy hardcovers.  They want the physical, big “proper” version as opposed to the floppy or the digital.  But that does not really fit the current model in the industry of distribution.  We are trying to say something about that with this book.

Taylor:  Is the current state of the market such that any new readers have to come from other things, like art books.

Steve:  Well we have been losing readers pretty much since the advent of the direct market.  What we did was we made it so that people had to go to a comic store to get the books and we have learned that very few of them do that, unlike video games or something like that. [The publishers] wanted to get away from the returnable market because they were getting crushed by returns.  When the direct market started there were 13 distributors and it has shrunk.  Now when you see a report of market share, it is the same people on the pie, all just taking different chunks back and forth in a tug of war.  It is an absolute necessity that we bring in people from the outside.  Menton and I were talking about this, that there are a lot of people that are out there that want comics, that are open to it, that just have not been exposed to the right material.

Menton3:  Add to that there are a lot of people out there that want comics that don’t know they do.  If you showed a lot of people Stray Toasters, they would freak out, they just didn’t know that is exists.

Steve:  Most people think that comics are Snoopy or Spider-Man, and we have had that experience with just our stuff.  To this day I have people go “30 Days of Night, I had no idea comics looked like this” they had no idea about the language, the content, whatever, they think comics especially American comics are one thing basically Superheroes.

Kasra:  So if you have a book that has a painting by a fine artist who is telling a story through full-page oil paintings, next to a comic book artist, next to a photographer, nest to a galley represented artist who is using panel storytelling and prose and black and white sketches to tell their story and you have these all together and they work, you are starting to break that perception barrier.

Ben:  There are over 300 million people in America, and less than 1% of them currently read comics, so it has to be pretty easy to just boost that slightly.

Taylor:  People tend to forget, back when the direct market started; a book that sold “only” 100 thousand copies was on the bubble.

Steve:  I remember having a book cancelled because it only sold 70,000 copies when I worked for Eclipse.  I remember getting that phone call and just now thinking back, I’m shocked at 70,000! From an independent, an indie publisher.  It was M, the Jay Muth book.  It came in on the 3rd issue at “only 70,000.

Taylor:  It must have been something to work on.

Steve:  It was on his Dracula book that he used a shot of Peter Lorre looking back over his shoulder from M so I already knew he was a fan, so I just went to the Library of Congress and secured the rights, went back to San Diego and told him I have the rights to M and then it was just cut him loose.

Taylor:  Is it a deliberate goal to put out something really special in a presentation sense?  There are a lot of great looking books out there.  Once this comes, are they all going to look like crap next to this?

Menton3:  We are just making stuff that we really want, and we don’t know if there is a market for it or not.  It is just like music.  There are a lot of bands out there trying to write songs that they hope people will like.  There is enough of that.  There is enough of that in comics too.  We are trying to make something that we would love and we hope that you would love it too, but that’s it.  There is not going to be one book that comes out of 44FLOOD that all of us don’t love.  If we are going to go out, we would want to go out on our feet, not on our knees.

Taylor:  So if you are not deliberately going to cater to a market, and the subject is vampirism, there are people out there that will ask, “Are there going to be sparkly vampires?”

Menton3;  This is where I start sounding like an old lady with red hair who collects cats, but this is a subject that is very close to me.  I have a friend who went through some insane events in his life and he was an older gentleman, he was in World War II and was not the kind of guy who would play around.  He legitimately believed in something that lived for a long time.  He wound up calling them vampires, but these experiences that he had floored me and some of the evidence that he had was actually fairly compelling.  That’s what this is about.  It is not about the Rainbow Bright version of these things.  We are presenting artists saying “what if vampires were actually real, all bullshit aside, what if this was really?  And in some cases it is.  There are certain governments that surely look like a vampire, and treat us like a flock or like cattle. There are situations that we are put in on a daily basis, that make us feel less than human.  Everyone has the right to a great life and vampirism explores the misuse of power and the things we do to each other.  Comics are a great example.  Coming from the music industry, I was shocked at the pretension when I would meet comic guys that had done a few issues and they would act like they were in the Rolling Stones.  You give somebody a little bit of power and they misuse the crap out of it.  That is a very compelling place to start with for art.

Taylor:  Do you think of art as a form of power?

Menton3: I think it’s a power, but I think that if you forget what an audience is for you immediately lose.  Kings make shitty music.  Throughout history we have had kings listen to Beethoven or Bach and they go back and think they can be a composer because they are inspired, because they are so up on themselves they are not allowing themselves to see.  So they make really bad music.  When I make a painting that’s good, it’s not just me, its everyone that had any influence on me.  It is a set of synchronistic events.  It is also part of the people that get to look at it.  There is no point in making art solely for yourself.  Art is for us all to experience, if you look at modern advertising, they are using ancient iconography and symbolica to entice you to buy something.  Van Gogh didn’t do that, he used that to make you feel.  That’s what we are trying to do.  We want to move you while with what moves us.  One of the things that we have done with are is we have shoved it into a corner, made it expensive, made you have to wear a suit to go into this gallery, or in comics you have to really love spandex.  I think that what we have not done is humbly say “here is some art, what do you think?”  I want someone else to start talking!  We have gotten narrowed views and allowed forms and people who get really anal about stuff to dictate what we get from comics.  Take Ben’s stuff.  I have had people look at his art, and it’s phenomenal, look at it and not understand it because it is not what they think of as comic art and that should never happen.

Ben:  That happens in a lot of ways.  Everyone on the planet wants something creative.  If they cannot create it themselves, they look for it.  Everyone consumes music, every culture has something that they come up with to entertain themselves, everyone needs that, so we want to tap a few of those people and hopefully they like our stuff.  Menton Matthews III has just gagged himself [laughter].

“I will stop talking now.”

(It was at this point that Menton3 got up from the table we were at, walked behind me and across the room, got out blue painters tape and covered his own mouth to keep himself quiet and calmly sat back down.  After we were all done giggling—but the other guys were not at all surprised by this, we continued.)

But the tape didn’t stop him…

Menton3:  There is one other thing with TOME to say, we are going to make a full length feature documentary about TOME, 44FLOOD, art in general and the comic book industry.  We are going to start making it immediately after the funding is done from kickstarter.  We have some compelling, amazing people working with us that we can’t announce just yet, but we legitimately want to make a documentary that explores this entire thing, because it’s very complex and that I don’t shut up in these questions because I’m very passionate about this.  I’m cutting over everyone and being terribly rude but the documentary is something that we will release and we are very excited about it.  One of the things we figured out when we were doing the video for the death tarot was that it helped people understand what we are doing and makes it look important.  We want to show people what Bill Sienkiewicz does.  He is a compelling guy.  Ben Templesmith is a very compelling artist.  It will show what kind of people we are; we are not just our work.  Our work is a product of what comes from our life and if you think about other documentaries like the one about Anvil, it showed you what it was like to do what they do, and we just want to show that with this.  Steve in particular knows a lot about some things that have happened in this industry that shouldn’t and there is nothing to stop us from just going ahead and talking about it.  I think the public at large should know the positive stuff and the negative stuff.  People don’t know that as creator owned comics, we don’t really get paid for that.  People think that you made a book so you’re rich, but none of us are rich.  People don’t realize what goes into it.  I’m going to shut up after this.  You do not know what it takes to make a comic until you have made one.  We want to show people who.  When you pick up any book after this documentary you are going to appreciate it more.  I’m going to shut up now.

Death Tarot print by Menton3 and Ben Templesmith.

Taylor; Are any of you going to be deliberately working outside your comfort zones at all with TOME?  The difference with say, Ben between Wormwood and Fell.  On Fell there was a huge difference in the storytelling with the 9 panel page structure, and that was clearly something different for you.  Will you be challenging yourself to bring something else to the book?

Ben:  That was in service of the story structure that Warren (Ellis) put in place.  It was Matt Fraction who got me started with an 8 panel grid format, and nearly broke me and I nearly gave up because it was so restrictive but in that you find a new freedom of a pacing and a way to tell a story and comics isn’t just about pretty art, it’s about telling a story.  If you place constraints on yourself it challenges you to rise above that and find new ways to do things.  It trains you.  I think a large part of this book is about perception changing and challenging.

Taylor:  Is the mix in TOME going to be fairly even or we will see more comics versus other mediums?

Nick:  I think we are going to have a pretty even mix.

Taylor:  One last thing on TOME;  the structure of the kickstarter is unusual for a project of this type.  Most of the levels that backers can support at are completely different from each other.  There is very little stacking of incentive.  What made that the way you were going to go with this?

Kasra:  Most kickstarters are structured where the next reward up you get everything that came before it and one new thing, the next up, everything before it and another new thing, but we felt completely limited by that kind of structure, which is as non-dynamic as it comes.  We wanted to add more things.  We wanted to be creative and respond to what people wanted, and the work around is basically 24/7 customer service Nick especially and the three of us as well respond to everybody’s emails and we figured out a way for people to get exactly what they wanted.  The easiest solution is to just add the additional funds for the things you specifically want, and for us to just add that in by hand.

Menton3:  The other reason was that Ben and I were offering original art too, and when you get to that level, and stack everything up, you are paying too much money in my opinion for something.  We wanted to let people support the book but get a painting if they wanted.  We are not trying to become rich.  We wanted to add original artwork and sketches from George Pratt and Bill Sienkiewicz for people who might want that, without just destroying people’s pocketbook, and because we have to pay George and Bill and the others for that, we felt that adding that would put it at a point where the cost would be almost rude.

Kasra:  We got advice from one crowd funding expert who said that if we didn’t go stepwise up like that, that the entire kickstarter would fail.  Our response to him was that we care and we are going to talk to every single person that emails and wants something and respond to them, hopefully within five to ten minutes.  He scratched his head and said “oh, I guess you could do that.”  People don’t even consider that and really strikes back to what 44FLOOD is about;  we care about what we are doing, we want to engage people.  If there is cracks in it, people will tell us and we are going to figure it out and grow as individuals.

Ben:  Social media is crucial to sell and to connect with people who like your stuff.  What I find amazing is that a lot of creators have more of a presence and more followers than the publishers that are meant to be selling the stuff you do in the first place.

Menton3:  I think that a lot of publishers and other companies just see the internet as a way of making more money.  Our dream is for more of a collective community of artists and fans.  People that can bust each others chops and support too.  We want to be closer to the people, not further away.  We are getting a phone installed today and the number will go up on the kickstarter.  When you have questions or problems, you can call us directly and probably get Ben or myself.  We want to be connected to you.  Will that be a problem?  Maybe will the phone not stop ringing some days?  Yes, but what an honor that is, that so many people want to contact us.  We are not rock stars;  we make art, and we want to be connected to the people who enjoy that art.

Ben:  And I will talk dirty one the phone to people if they want. [laughter]

Nick:  For an additional pledge.  The Templesmith Hotline!

Taylor:  1-900-tentacles?

Ben:  If it’s not taken, yeah we should get that!

 

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Eric Powell and The Goon or Why was I not reading this all along?

The cover to issue # 34–and yes, they are picking on the Twilight films.

At this year’s C2E2, I made a point of looking for books and creators I had previously not seen.  Sometimes it is just that I had not been exposed to them, but more often it was something that most fans of comics can identify with:  the “I really should give this book a read SOMEDAY” syndrome.  There are lots of great books that manage to survive because of a core following and the fact that they are a labor of love for the creators.  They can last for years sometimes and never sell more than a few thousand copies an issue, never getting the chance to be seen by a wider audience.  Others are popular enough to survive comfortably, but never really take off to a level that the book deserves.

One book that had been on my personal “SOMEDAY” list was Eric Powell’s The Goon.  Eric was there this year, so I made a point to go over and talk with him about The Goon and see if it was something I should be reading.  I spent several minutes speaking with him about the title and found out things that the anal fan-boy in me needs to know before jumping into a new title, particularly a creator owned one.  We have all been burned by creators that fail to live up to the promise, or simply fail to put out the book.  James Owen’s Starchild is a great example of a creator that had a great book and failed to keep it up.  Sometimes he would manage only an issue or two per year, even leaving the book hanging in the middle of an ongoing arc. as far as I could ever find, the series most current arc, ended in April of 1998 with issue four, part one of a new arc.  We all have stories like this in our reading history, so I am quick to see if there is a good track record of the creator sticking to it and wanting to tell stories.

The Goon first appeared in Avatar Press’ Dreamwalker #0 in 1998, quickly making the jump to his own eponymous title in a few months.  There were publisher related delays at first, but landed at Dark Horse in 2003.  While Powell does step away from the book periodically to work on other projects, he always comes back to this title.  Up to issue # 39 so far, this title is released a little irregularly, like most creator owned books.  There have been a few years where only a couple of issues have come out, due mostly to other projects like Chimichanga, an odd little story more for younger readers.  The Goon is up to ten collected trade editions with number eleven coming in a couple of weeks.

The book is continuity soft, meaning that the trades can really be read in most any order (another anal fan-boy question I asked Mr Powell when we spoke), but I am still doing them in release order.  The title is all about the daily adventures of The Goon and his pal Franky, two tough guys living in a dark town infested with zombies (slack jaws) and other slimy undead creatures.  Combining equal parts horror and humor, this violent book, while rarely excessive, is definitely not for younger readers, but it is some silly fun reading.  It is an adventure comic with lots of odd characters and history being told along with the main stories.  One of the faults that many creator owned books have is a lack of depth.  The characters are one-dimensional or just under developed, showing that very little thought went into the book’s creation.  This is not the case here and the world seems fully formed almost immediately.  Things start off right away neither assuming familiarity with the world, or spoon-feeding you everything.  You get what you need to know as the book flows.  If you don’t need a bit of the back story for a particular book, you are not given it.  If you do, even if it was covered in a previous issue, it is worked in to the current story in a fresh way that works well and keeps the interest of even the long time reader.

Issue # 39. Freely abusing everything stupid about comics.

An example of books with a similar feel would be Atomic Robo and Nextwave (for the silly adventure aspects) and Paul Chadwick’s Concrete (for the surprising depth and intelligence the book is written with), there is a little of everything here.  There are monsters and genre parody, the recent issue picking on the Twilight franchise was a real treat.  Industry satire (see the cover at right) and monsters getting splattered!

With a huge supporting cast and piles of undead mayhem, this is a great book that will have me as a fan for as long as Powell keeps giving me stories to read, and anyone that likes fun, silly and violent books that never take themselves too seriously and don’t abuse the reader will love this book.

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C2E2: An interview with Franchesco!

I made sure to sit down with another great artist at C2E2 this year and find out what ever I could about his methods, convention appearances and how working digitally has changed the way he does things.

Franchesco! (The ! is very like Elliot S! Maggin or Scott Shaw!) has become a regular face at comic conventions in the last few years, doing commissions, panel appearances and selling prints and sketchbooks.  Like most in Artist Alleys at all of these conventions, there is a tough balance between meeting and talking to the fans and getting down to the business of drawing for them and selling his many wares.

Taylor:  How many shows to you get to each year and what keeps drawing you here when it is easier to just stay home and work?

Franchesco!:  Somewhere around five, maybe?  I think that five is a safe number.  There is the big shows like San Diego, Chicago and New York and there are some of the middle size shows that I really like.

(It should be said at this point that Franchesco! is wildly popular at the shows that he regularly attends.  As we spoke there were several interruptions by fans and friends that cannot wait to get a chance to speak to him.  He is one of the most approachable artists at these shows and always has time to say hello.  So if at some point, we go off the rails a bit, that will be my fault, as it can be difficult to keep the thread going.  But watching the way he interacted with people was every bit as telling as specific answers to questions.  He truly enjoys meeting people.)

The sizes of the shows really exploded when Image came into the picture.  The size of the halls had to increase and the crowds were out of control.  At one show a Fire Marshall had to come in and close the place down, because the isles were not wide enough, so they increased the size of the isles, so now that this (referring to the width of the isles at C2E2, which seem much more spacious to me than at Wizard and other cons) is now the standard.  So the fact that this is not enough is a testament to how much the hobby has grown.  I assume that you and I have been doing this for more than a day or two, so we remember that there was a moment there that people were saying that comics are dead, it’s over, its finished, so I would get the “so what am I going to do” flash.  I love it so much and it was going to go away.  Now things are as good as they ever were.  Can you imagine if it was just the two of us that showed up?

Taylor:  Well, we could have a wicked game of handball.

Franchesco!:  Glass half empty, glass half full.

Taylor:  I have watched you in recent years changing over from traditions all pencil and ink to a mix of traditional and digital techniques.  Has that been a big adjustment of is there a steep learning curve?

Franchesco!:  The switch to digital, the actual mechanics of it, is simple but I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it.  For me I love, love love the idea of pencil on paper because that is how it has always been for me from when I first started.  So that is where I imprinted on the process.  When I started doodling, there was not option.  Now I can see kids in grade school doing this digitally, they could do whatever since it is just the way it started for them.  The Mechanics is not as challenging for me as the mindset.  The technology has evolved for me, to the point where it mimics the same motion and feel that you get when you are drawing traditionally.  The tool itself is not the issue, I just have a real love for traditional.  I have a love for original art, as you know, I don’t part with my original art.  Most people sell their art, but I don’t.  I hold on to everything I do.  The closest I come to parting with my original art is the sketches I do at conventions.  So I find that digital streamlined the process to the point where it is much more efficient, much faster and it gives the client something they can use and hit the ground running as opposed to having to incorporate an additional step,  like coming in and doing more prep work or preparing to make changes to a physical original.  Just scanning the artwork alone, which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but you multiply that by how many pages and if it is a big publisher, they have to hire someone just to do that for all the projects, just to get the images ready for post production, so when you don’t have to do that, it is a lot better for time and costs.

Taylor:  So are you working from the start of something in digital more and stay there through the full process or is it always graphite, then digital?

Franchesco!:  That is what I am doing for the Anarchy Girls project.  When I started it was the way I had always done, with paper and pencil, then after drawing it, I would scan it and send it to my publisher.  Then it got to the point where I was making so many changes to the image once it was scanned in that it seemed redundant to the process.  The digital became an “and” to the process.  Not so much taking stuff out, it was altering the artwork to where it needed to be to appease the client.  The client has a certain vision and I always enjoy being able to make the client happy.  So now when the evolution happens, it happens with one person whether it is my art director or my editor.  But for this, I am not working with one person, I’m working with a team of people and you can please all of the people, all of the time…sometimes, but that is not always the case so even when everybody is happy, some has a requirement and says, “can we do this?” and the answer is yes with digital.  Because you don’t have to now take the artwork and erase and redo it traditionally and scan it in, which causes other issues, like never being able to get it to line up or match other parts of the project just right, so that impedes the outcome.  If the changes can be done digitally, on a digital original, then everything is easier, matches correctly and the colors don’t shift etc.  So I realized that instead of doing the sketches digitally, printing it out and light boxing in for a physical original, I didn’t need to take it out of the computer then change it and put it back in because, I could now do it all in there.  Long story short, the computer has been a Godsend to the process. Sometimes it is not a perfect process.

(At this point someone handed him exclusive copies of a book for Zenescope with one of his covers on the front.  He lit up like a kid on Christmas and was thrilled to see for the first time, the finished product of this book. The book was for the Grimm’s Fairy Tales series and had a stunning cover of Alice in Wonderland, in the Franchesco! style and really was something to see.  This caused him to recall a different, not so positive experience.)

Recently I had an experience with one of my pieces.  It looked like it had been put through a meat grinder by the client after I handed it over, and I was like, “are you kidding me?” It was like someone kicked me in the nuts.  There is always the need for interpretation.  Some people see things a certain way, but this was just sloppy at best.  What made it even harder to accept was the individual that I don’t want to name, was surprised and shocked that I was upset.  I was not used to that.  Usually I work with top-notch people who do phenomenal work like this book.  This is a joy to see! Thanks for making me look so good. I really enjoyed working on this and when we started, we were going to go in a completely different direction with what we wanted to do and this one image, done just for us for fun, is what we kept coming back to.  This one, (as opposed to the other meat grinder experience) was a real fun one to do.

Taylor:  Outside of comics there has been a lot of ad work like the Axe comic.  It seems like it would be a little out of the ordinary for them and you.  How did that come about?

Franchesco!:  It was a kind of unusual thing to work on, sure.  We know what comics are like and how they come about.  You draw them, print them and go to the store and buy them.  This project is available digitally and free.  So it makes me feel good to put a comic out there in front of people who might not see them otherwise and say “check this out!”  I love doing this with Axe, because it is everything that I love to do, but it allows me to be a kind of ambassador for comics.  It sounds like a big word, but I hate the fact that we can trip over comic books anymore, We all discovered comics because we saw them on the newsstand spinner racks and that does not happen anymore.  This project makes me feel good that people who would not normally set foot in a comic shop are going to get to see this, and hopefully say “hey look, comics books”.  The fact that the people I work with, love comics as well, and they are all doing everything they can to make it the best that it can be.

Taylor:  One of the questions in these kind of interviews is the influences one.  The answers are all fairly pat.  So I want to come at with a different sensibility.  If you art was the bastard love child of any two other artists, who would they be?

Franchesco!:  (laughing)  I love that question, but I think someone else would have to answer that because I’m too close to it, I don’t see it.  I always am wishing I could do better.  I am never quite happy with it.  I always wish I could draw better.  I love lots of other people’s work, but I am too close to what I do to look at it like that.

Taylor:  Are there any things that you have done in the past that you would like back to do again now that you have grown and know what you know?

Franchesco!:  The blank page is scary enough.  It is easy for everyone else to be an armchair quarterback, with this suggestion or that and you want to ask them “where were you five minutes ago with your ideas?”  There is a 101 decisions that you make with every line.  Is the hand going to be this way or that way?  Worm’s-eye view or bird’s-eye view?  Every artist brings their own personal take, from panel layouts to vantage points, so it is always changing for them too.  To answer that directly…every single piece that I have ever done.  I never stop wanting to make it better.

A lot of artists are the same way and that comes from making it their own.  The best ones, you don’t have to look for the signature.  You see it and you know exactly who drew that.  It’s a John Byrne or Art Adams.  That is what I love about comics, the eclectic nature of the medium, that allows so many singular voices to come through.

I have not reached the point yet where the job gets old.  One of the things that I am very fortunate about is that I haven’t lost that lovin feeling.  It doesn’t feel like work.

Taylor:  You have made a name for yourself with the “good girl” art.

American Dream by Franchesco!

Franchesco!:  I wish I could say that was by design.

Taylor:  What I would ask then is, do you ever think to yourself, “Man I wish I could just do a damn landscape!”?

Franchesco!:  I’ve done that and people don’t even recognize it.  I love to draw, so if I had to draw paperclips all day long they would be the most fun paper clips I have ever drawn.

Taylor:  Sexiest, boobiest paper clips ever!

Franchesco!:  Right, they would have all kinds of curves!  But it was not by design, I just enjoy drawing the way I draw, but when I draw women, people seem to sit up and take more notice of that.

Taylor:  You said you don’t sell your originals.  What is it that is so different about the commission sketches that they can be let go so much more readily?

Franchesco!:  That is because I know from the beginning that this is not going to be for me.  Right from the beginning, before I even put pencil to paper that it is not for me.  That is the only way that I can make the distinction and cut the umbilical cord, because it was not there to begin with.

I love that I am very fortunate that I can do what I love to do for a living.  When I first got in, it was hard.  I didn’t know that I was not ready.  It was like learning every step of the way.  Portfolio review after portfolio review, and editors would say things that I shouldn’t do, but that were still evident in the books they were publishing.  It was a perspective thing.  They were looking at things differently and had a set of skills that they were looking for.  I had a lot of puzzle pieces that were missing.  I’m still trying to figure them out sometimes!

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Must be something in the water.

The issue of creator’s rights has been a sacred subject for years.  Since the Siegel and Shuster fight in the 70’s, it has been a real issue for fans and creators alike.  Without getting specific about any one fight, it is clear that the issue is a tough one, and the farther away we get from the early battles, the more divisive it is.

Which is why I find it odd or maybe hypocritical that it does not get brought up much when it is creator vs. creator rather than creator vs. “Evil Corporation”.

There has been a lot of jerk-like behavior lately on the creative front.  Disputes of every kind have been cropping up.  Most like the above creator vs. “Evil Corporation” is Gary Friedrich vs. Marvel over the credit and money etc, involved in Ghost Rider.  Marvel has won both the original suit against then and their countersuit and now Friedrich is on the hook for $17,000 for money he made selling Ghost Rider prints.  Legally, Marvel is 100% in the right.  Based on what I have seen of this, it was the textbook definition of work for hire, and Marvel has every right to protect profits by preventing Friedrich from selling their prints.  (If they were original sketches by him or someone that gave him explicit permission to sell their work, this would be different).  But Marvel is just making an example of him, and being dicks in the process.  Friedrich can now no longer claim to be the creator of Ghost Rider for any kind of personal gain.  They didn’t even do that to Kirby!  With a movie coming out with the character, Marvel needs to back off if they want to save face, however since it is Disney, now really and truly protecting their house; they are likely to grind Friedrich into powder because they legally can.  They have ever legal right to do so.  But this is just piling on.

Then there is Static Shock from the New 52.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this book has not been great, so much of what has been said publicly may be pointing the blame for a failing and now cancelled book.  John Rozum was the writer that decided to leave, citing the old chestnut “creative differences”.  He claims he was being pushed aside for Scott McDaniel and the editor to have greater story input.  They in their turn have said that they were just trying to make the best book possible, and they thought everyone involved was on board.  I think the only real jerk here is DC editorial for bringing on a very talented writer, known for odd, introspective and intelligent work to write something completely out of his wheel house.  Not that he couldn’t have done it, just that they didn’t want that.  If what you want is a book with all the hallmarks of “X”, you hire “X” or the nearest available equivalent.  You don’t get Shane Black or Paul Verhoven to write a screenplay adapting Pride & Prejudice, so why expect Rozum to write this book when he clearly had a different direction in mind?

Next up  is Robert Kirkman.  He has gotten his fair share of bad press lately and is rapidly on his way to becoming the Dave Sim of the 2010’s.  First he had a very public break with Rob Liefeld over The Infinite.  With very little actually done on the series they have cancelled it because they cannot agree on what sounds like some pretty simple stuff.  Again, I think that one party (Kirkman in this case) just did not adequately express what he was really looking for.  If you bring a guy like Liefeld onto a book, you are going to get some pretty specific things.  Like him or hate him, Rob’s stuff is very distinctive and has a very specific style that cannot be confused with anyone else’s.  Sounds to me like someone who is a little too full of his own success and thinks that he is infallible.  Because he and Rob were more or less equal partners in the book, it is easier to kill the book than buy out one partner.

In what sounds more like 2 people that really need a time out, Tony Moore is suing Kirkman over payments he says he is owed for The Walking Dead.  I’m sure there IS money there, but at issue are the terms of the contract that was signed between the two of them.  Sounds like Kirkman feels he more or less bought Moore out and owes him no further money.  Moore for his part states that the deal was pushed on him and misrepresented. To be blunt, much of what I have seen and heard from Kirkman himself in video posts, about his view of things in general, leads me to believe that he is being the jerk here.  This is strictly my impression on this, and is just my opinion.

Many people look at the original Image revolt of Lee, Larsen, McFarland etc, was about creator’s rights.  I’m sorry, but that really is oversimplifying it.  They wanted THEIR rights.  As they felt they were being denied.  Were they correct?  Probably.  Were they interested in improving things for ALL creators?  As a secondary objective, yes.  Did other creators benefit from their actions?  Eventually, yes.  Who gained the greatest benefit?  They did.  But ascribing this noble goal and lofty visions of equality is not correct.  In much the same way that Kirkman, Moore and even Alex De Campi and Jimmy Broxton/James Hodgkins (if you have not heard about the Kickstarter hassle on this one—look into it.  It is fascinating) all want their own rights protected, they will, at times damage other creators to get them.  It is all a long way from Neal Adams fighting for Jerry and Joe with DC over Superman.  Was Neal 100% right and pure in his motives?  I cannot say.  Surely he knew if he won, things would be better down the road for him and others, but I really don’t think that was the main motive.  There was a wrong, and he wanted his voice heard.

All creators have rights.  The trick is to know when those rights begin to trample on the same rights of others.  Let’s all keep that in mind before we run screaming into the hills in outrage.  Neal Adams is a legend in the industry.  And all legends, like everyone else I have mentioned here, is human.  They are not perfect, and sometimes they make questionable choices that are in their own interests only.  Other times they make altruistic choices with no clear benefit to themselves.  Putting on the blinder called creator’s rights, just does not allow you to get deep enough into the issue.  Look closer.  Look seriously and without undue passion.  Sometimes these are legal issues only, and others they are moral issues of right and wrong.  It is sad that the right and wrong are rarely decided fairly, and often we need to “think” solely with our emotions for the right side to win.  Just remember that in creator vs. creator, there really ARE two sides.

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Something you should look into…

This is the advance image for the cover.

This is a site you should check out, Eliza Frye is scary talented and this looks to be a great project. I am absolutely on board with my pledge!

Most of the stories are available to read on her site and are really something special.

The stories are odd little things with stunning and subtle art.  Her training and background are evident at all times and the style is loose without being a mess.  The result is a group of stories that flow easily from start to finish and can sometimes leave you unsatisfied, like many good stories.  It is not always a good thing to have a narrative that ties itself in a neat bow at the end.  Sometimes stories are messy things like the lives they describe and sometimes they end in a sad manner.  Not to call these stories depressing in any way.  Sometimes they feel cathartic and others they are light and fun (wistful might be a better word here), but always personal and penetrating.  Dark is part of the sensibility that comes across.  If you are in the wrong frame of mind, these can be very dark indeed, but to others in a more relaxed mood, there is a certain black humor in some of these.  Maybe that is an impression unique to me, but these are quite a variety, in my mind.  The Eisner nominated story, “The Lady’s Murder” was a clever look at an unfolding mystery, the art for which sets the tone as powerfully as the text.

I was lucky enough to speak briefly with Eliza at Wizard World in Chicago and found her clear minded and very focused on getting her work out there for as many people to see as possible.  I feel bad that i was unable to get anything at the con from her, but by the later part of the day I was pretty punchy and failed to find her again. 

Fortunately I happened upon her Kickstarter page for this great looking project and as a way of  making sure everybody that can see it does, I alert you to this book now.

An original piece called Puffy.

Take a look at the comics on her site.  If you like what you see, then contribute to the project before the end of this month and all manner of treats will come your way!

 
These pictures and links are included here without permission and if asked I will remove them.

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