Dave Elliott is far too productive to be a veteran, and is far too humble to be a legend. While his experience as a writer, artist, editor, art director, and ideasmith speaks volumes, he was gracious enough to share words with LP readers on a startling array of topics covering past, present, and the future.
Dave, do you recall the very first comic strip you ever read? Do you still have a copy?
It’s funny how amazed I am when people can recall the first comic they read, like there was a time when they didn’t read them. I can’t truly recall the first comic I read although I have flashes of images of early ‘Boys Own’ and ‘Look & Learn’ going through my head. The saddest thing about the decline in comics reading is the loss of the true British weekly comic and the loss of quality in the content of material aimed at kids. I mean, who puts the quality of work into comics that Frank Hampson, Don Lawrence, Frank Bellamy and Ron Embelton did on Dan Dare, Trigan Empire, Heros the Spartan and Stingray?
For newspaper strips my strongest memories are of Jeff Hawke by Sydney Jordan, James Bond by ‘Horak’ and Garth by Frank Bellamy. I would read some of the funny strips like B.C. and The Wizard of ID, but it was the adventure strips I always really followed.
I no longer own any of those original comics but I do own some of the collections that have been produced over the years of them.
Was there a singular moment for you, where it just clicked that working in comics was not just the dream, but an attainable reality?
Yeah, very early on when I first started working in the industry. I was doing illustrations of video game magazines, editor and art director on several 2000AD reprint comics where I was also was also able to do the occasional pin-up and cover for and there was talk of producing new material. But dreams are always short lived and the reality of comics is like any other industry carried by freelancers, you work when you can and take breaks when there is no work. Vacations become comic conventions where you can hang out with friends.
Dreams never come true even when others may think they do. The dream was never to just work in the industry. The dream was to create. Many creators are ‘living the dream’ but still not doing what they want. Like the ‘real world’ we have families to feed, bills to pay, and these become more and more difficult to do when you’re at the mercy and beck and call of several employers.
Maybe I should have just left answering this question at “yes”, but I sometimes wonder if my dream ever did become reality.
No, I agree very much. One does not hear such things spoken enough. I know indie creators facing the expected troubles of breaking in, and so develop major inferiority complexes, as they don’t realize that the entire comic book industry has an inferiority complex. So nobody’s truly alone in that respect. Tell me a bit about your Deadline days. Did that time create a fondness in you for good anthologies?
If you were a kid in the 50s, 60s or 70s growing up reading comics in Britain you read good anthologies not only EVERY week but several times a week. It is such a shame that American comics lost the art to create a good anthology. None of the editors in the US have grown up knowing how to put one together. The best anthology recent was FLIGHT put together by Kazu Kibuishi (before I get flamed I am referring to somewhat mainstream tastes and sensibilities).
So really, to answer your question, I gained an appreciation for anthologies long before Deadline. What I learned at Deadline was how to create and achieve a more commercial look and balance within the format without hurting the integrity of the magazine. When Brett, Steve and Tom asked me to take over the magazine was selling less that 2000 copies and had almost zero revenue in advertising. In less than a year the biggest selling issue was 24k and they’d had nearly 10k in advertising in one issue. That’s with having less Jamie Hewlett covers and using Philip Bond, Shaky Kane, D’Israeli and Nick Abadzis instead. I also introduced Flaming Carrot and Milk & Cheese to a whole new audience.
Those were fun days.
How exactly did you fall in with the Tundra crowd? Speaking of good collections, that was a great time for the publisher, where every book- in my memory- was never a miss. Were you the one-man UK wing?
Ha! One-man UK wing? No, no, no… I put together an amazing dream team at Tundra UK. There were 10 of us in total.
But how I became involved? That’s down to MR MONSTER.
Between my time at Deadline and Tundra UK I worked for John Brown Publishing, best known as publishers of both VIZ Comic and HOTAIR, Virgin’s inflight magazine. John had recently bought a small comics news magazine called Speakeasy with the idea of using it as a platform for comics publishing. John was an ad sales guy. Never allowed creative to affect anything unless it was ‘advertorial’. The first thing we did was a new comics anthology called BLAST! that would include Speakeasy within its pages as an insert each issue.
For the first issue we had a nice line up, new stories by Warren Ellis and D’Isreali and Gordon Rennie and Martin Emond, Lazarus Churchyard and White Trash respectively. We also had a new Mr Monster story by Michael T Gilbert and Simon Bisley. From issue 2 Mr Monster would be reprint so Michael, who had just found a new publisher for all his material, said I would have to work with them for the rights. That publisher was Tundra.
Once Kevin and myself started talking a few times he brought up his plan for an office in the UK and asked if I’d be interested in manning it. Once I got a better idea of where he was going with the company I agreed. It grew a little from the initial concept of just being a liaison with the UK creators to actually producing the comics top to bottom there. It made good sense to have an art director and production manager being on hand to sit down with the creator to walk them through the whole process so everybody in the company knew what the creator wanted and the creator knew what could be reasonably achieved.
I had one of the best teams EVER there. I stole NIGEL MACKAY from Toxic as our production manager, MARK COX from Titan as art director and STEVE WHITE from Marvel UK as managing editor. Steve then brought with him ANDY SEDDON, another great editor (who very wisely disappeared from the comics scene). FRANK WYNNE handled promotions and RICHARD BARKER working on making sure retailers never went out of stock of our titles. My old ATOMEKA partner GARRY LEACH also was constantly around to consult and help out.
We put together some really kick-ass projects, many of which we never got to actually publish ourselves such as the LORDS OF MISRULE mini-series that was a follow up to the graphic novel we did publish, PALE HORSES (that saw print at Dark Horse as Hypersonic, along with the Lords mini-series), KINGDOM OF THE WICKED (that was then published by both Caliber and Dark Horse), MR MONSTER AND THE NAZI FROM MARS! (which was printed by Penthouse Comix and later reprinted under Atomeka) and HOTWIRE (which I eventually published at Radical but was completely rewritten and reworked by Steve Pugh from Warren’s original script).
Your resume does show a steady stream of following creators and specific projects, even from one publisher to another. Black Bull was another example of something really great but miserably short-lived. And Penthouse too. Penthouse fascinated me (aside from the obvious reasons) because it really seemed like a great startup that was standing down the expected censorship-enthusiasts, but ultimately collapsed do to its own inner workings. Much of that, of course, was attributed to George Carragonne, who would sadly kill himself quite violently. I know he had sold stories to Marvel, and assisted Jim Shooter early in Shooter’s post-Marvel career. He had the talent assembled. What do you think happened, from your own perspective and experience in the matter?
Well the Blackball part of the question is easiest to talk about first. This was right on the end of Tundra UK and I’d been talking to guys like Keith Giffen, Michael T Gilbert, Kevin O’Neill, about doing a real fun line that would fit within the Monster Massacre brand I was building. It was going to be part of Tundra UK/Atomeka but as that plug got pulled I came up with the idea of calling it Blackball because this was going to be the type of material you weren’t going to be giving little Johnny to read before bedtime. But as the fates would have it, the entire industry got hit by the implosion, and having the double hit of paying for some of the deals like rent that Tundra had left me with I had to bail out.
Blackball put me into the red and Penthouse put me back in the black.
Back when George had first gotten the Penthouse Comix gig he’d called me up offering me a position but I’d turned him down. George was someone I had known years earlier who Scott Dunbier had introduced me to. Back then George worked in Big Apple comics for Pete Koch on the upper west side. George was the biggest Marvel Comics fan I had ever met (and I mean that both figuratively and literally). He was over 300 pounds of pure Texan fanboy. Comic fan during the week and church choir boy at the weekend. When I first met him Scott got him to recite the entire contents of THOR #125 (which he had completely memorized) AND act it out in the middle of the store. Really something to behold. George was in his early 20′s at this point. Two weeks after I met him we all went out to dinner as part of a larger group of retailers, dealers and comic creators. After dinner we went to what was fast becoming my local bar when in NY, Brats on 101st and Broadway. As it turns out, this was to be George’s first visit to a bar and he really frowned on us all for drinking. He stuck to his diet Coke. One dealer, and Englishman we’ll call “Stan” for now started taking drugs in the bar in front of George. This was someone George had up until this moment, had held the utmost respect for. George was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe that someone he trusted would do that. He looked like he was going to have a breakdown. George’s faith in someone was being questioned. I asked “Stan” to tell George they were candy. George readily believed him because he needed to.
I mention this because the George I met at Penthouse was nowhere near the same person.
The first time I met George at the Penthouse Comix offices he had a full wet bar behind him and his desk was covered in white dust. He offered me a drink which I wisely declined. I instinctively lied and said I had given up drinking. George had a tumbler sized glass of bourbon, a balloon full of nitrous oxide and a line of coke. Who was this man before me? Other than the man who flew me over on an all expenses paid trip and the best money I’ve ever made on top of my debts being paid up.
I promised to work for 3 months on a trial basis for him. Two weeks of each month I would be in NY, the other two weeks back in London inking for PCX. I made more in that 3 months than any other time I’ve worked in the industry. On top of what he was paying me editorially I was getting $400 a page for inks! Crazy time.
But like the others working around him I could see the cracks appearing in his behavior and that the drugs and over eating were taking their toll physically and mentally. Buzz Dixon, who was on a trail plan similar to mine tried to do an intervention on George, but George wasn’t having any of it. When I spoke to him the following day, my three month tenure was at an end, I told him he needed help. He said he didn’t and that he could stop taking the drugs if he wanted to. I said I wasn’t going to watch him go down like this, and said I’d help when I could but couldn’t work any more for him under these conditions. The following weekend George was walked out of the offices after Bob Guccione’s son, who was partying a lot with George, had to go into rehab. Something else had occurred while George and Nick Guccione were under the influence that would take a lot of time, money and effort to sweep under the carpet. George could get away with most things as Bob really liked him, but some things are too much.
Three days later, on the evening of my daughter’s birthday I received a phone call that George had thrown himself off the atrium of the Marriott Marquee hotel in Times Square.
Many people will tell you stories about George, about the drugs, about his demands on them, but I will always see the young idealistic, very naive, choir boy who was out of his depth. All he ever wanted to do was write Marvel comics. Only Jim Shooter gave him the time of day and any respect. It was all too easy to judge him by his size, his nervous chatter, and that loud booming voice…but he really was just a big kid at heart, as many comic creators are. He deserved better.
I later ended up getting offered his position and it was Penthouse who paid for me to fly over, and they paid for my Green card. I worked for them for 7 years and saw the company kill itself from within. Penthouse killed George, really. Every department at the company was like its own little fiefdom. Looking back it was just like Game of Thrones. Backstabbing and corruption all around. You’d never have thought everyone worked for the same company. Penthouse Comix was sabotaged by their CFO, a douchebag who wanted to do less porn and more golfing magazines or car books. He’d completely forgotten what was paying his salary. He made it clear whenever he could that he hated George and couldn’t hide his happiness when he died. I found out 6 months into the job, after moving my family over from England, that Pat didn’t want the magazine to continue after George’s death, but Bob did. Bob was a real comic fan and really wanted us to make a go of it. I got them up to 12 foreign editions at one time but was not allowed to put the revenue under my own department because the licensing department treated all the magazines that way. I had a HBO series shot down because a guaranteed $1 million a year wasn’t enough. But in the end they got the magazine cancelled while I was on vacation. Bob wouldn’t let them fire though. He made me Humor editor for Penthouse magazine.
So many stories from that time…I remember seeing the Twin Towers fall from my office window. It was an interesting time, but not one I’m eager to repeat.
Thank you for being so eloquently candid about that. From what little I’ve uncovered of his story, I always had the impression that he lived a rather extreme example of what many creative minds go through. I don’t believe any life should be summed up as a cautionary tale, but if it does spare others from learning from the same difficult mistakes, then such stories need to be shared, I think.
There are just so many stories I know, and too many of them I can’t tell, that would be cautionary tales about the industry and the people in them. When we’re younger we look at things and projects like “how could they not do this?” or “this is awesome, they’ll definitely do that…” and everybody’s favorite, “he seemed so honest…” only to find rejection or failure. It is the human condition. We are all human and all fallible.
Now, even before and after your more recent time clocked in with Radical, Atomeka is what you’ve always returned to- and generally with the same names in tow. Is Atomeka in fact your pride and joy, or the red-haired bastard stepchild that just won’t go away?
I don’t think Atomeka fits totally in either of those categories. I think I have come back to Atomeka because it’s who I am and I felt has always stood for what I believe. I’ve worked for many other companies and clients who I’ve tried to change when I can. I worked for Tundra because Kevin Eastman and myself had the same beliefs as to who should own and control a creator’s material. The creator should. At Penthouse Comix I immediately started to do creator owned material and even managed to get some of the creators their rights back on material they had already produced as work for hire.
I’m always asked by publishers about collecting A1 and I tell them we don’t have the rights. The art is all owned by the creators. We just bought a one time use, plus twenty years on I am sure many don’t want their old material reprinted anyway. A1 was all about experimentation. The creator given the freedom to explore themselves. Artists taking their first steps in being a sole creator, doing the writing as well as the art. A creator doing their first creator owned work is always a great thing to see and be a part of.
Experimentation! I really think that is one of the secret magic words in sequential art. But aside from self-publishing, it only really happens when shepherded by proper editing. With your experience in the field, what are your biggest qualms among the practices of other editors? Or to be PC, regarding nuances of editing in general?
I think the title “editor” can have multiple meanings now. It has changed so much over the last 30 years. I feel the title of editor is a little similar to the producer’s credit on a film. An “executive producer” might be the owner of the project, the person who discovered it, the person who did the majority of the project’s actual development, the person who introduced the creator to the producer, the person who wanted in on the project and because he knew the parties he threatens to sue if he can’t get a piece of the pie; it can also be an investor in the project or a partner of the producer. Any of these. You just don’t know. I feel it’s gone the same way with editing today.
The days of editors like Julie Schwartz, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas and Mike Carlin being the norm have gone. The industry has changed, especially so in the last 2 years. Books for the Big Boys are either edited by committee or a need for a corporate identity that needs to be adhered to. Some creators only have editors that make sure they stay on time and have an editor in chief or managing editor to go to should an issue arise. I’m not saying that this way is bad, it’s what is necessary sometimes to remain profitable.
There isn’t the room for experimentation anymore unless the creators are willing to bear all the costs themselves and self publish. Those costs can quickly put many off of the desire to ‘experiment’ and seek refuge in movie pitches turned comic books.
Low sales on comics has meant that any and all cutbacks have to be made. Trim all the fat off and then some. Investment in creators that need less editing means a faster turnaround of product. To some publishers and creators editors were often in the way of getting books out sooner. One perk on getting a certain level of success for a creator might mean less editorial interference. As a publisher you might want to be able to just go to people that will give you what you want for the least amount of trouble, even if that means the final product might only be 80% of what it could be.
To me the secret of getting a good product is by hiring the creators that you know will give you 100% because you’ve just handed them their dream assignment. That can also save you money as well. A creator might take on that dream assignment for less money than a bigger named creator who is just doing it for the money. Give a writer or artist an assignment they’re going to love and they’ll give you better work. Makes perfect sense right?
Most of the time I prefer to hire the right person at the beginning and the project is the better for it. Occasionally I don’t get that choice and you have to make do. It makes it harder for me as I have to get more involved with the writing and the production isn’t so fluid.
I should also point out that there is so much more product today than there was 30 years ago. Marvel are no longer publishing just 30 odd books a month.
I kind of miss that time, when guys like Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Steven Grant, etc, were both writing and editing their own books, or even editing books written by each other. I think it made for a more sustainable unit for creativity (in a mutual destruction kinda way), and nobody was spread as thin as seems to be status quo with the larger publishers nowadays- the worst example being Marvel’s multiple editors in chief of the mid-90s. Is this similar to your own seeming preference for smaller, more independent publishers? Is it an ongoing struggle finding the (profitable) balance between quantity and quality?
I don’t think it fair to compare any longer how things used to be and how they are now. Comics weren’t the huge money generator they were then. Not in sales of course but as properties for other media. Big companies who have paid a lot for some properties can’t be expected to take a back seat as much as we’d like them to. They have shareholders to account to. They’re going to want to see a return on their investments as soon as possible. It’s just the way it is. I know people say that Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada saved Marvel comics from going down the toilet but people forget the incredible pressure Bob Harras was under at the time. I had a lot of friends up there at that time and almost every week had a pink slip Friday. Those times did a lot of physical and mental damage to a lot of people. Keeping that machine going must have taken a Herculean effort no matter what you think of what was coming out of it at that time.
As far as preference for smaller publishers I’m steered by the subject matter most of the time. When I started work at Tundra I was hoping that we could get more sophisticated, mature and just downright fun titles into bookstores. Watchmen was never going to hold up the industry by itself and we needed more than a few well acclaimed high brow comics to get us there. It’s funny when I hear a comic creator or publisher talk about aiming for the mainstream because usually that just means a bigger superhero fight comic. The only publisher that has really hit the “mainstream” consistently over the last few years is actually Marvel and it hasn’t been any of its superhero comics that have done it. It’s all the classics illustrated comics and comics tied into books like Dark Tower and Ender’s Game. They have been done with a lot of great talent like Peter David and Jae Lee.
Which brings me to quantity versus quality. The big companies are pushing the talent as hard as they can to get both. The talent on both the writing and drawing for comics is rising all the time. The bar gets lifted every month. For the smaller companies its still about making a comic look as good as possible by paying artists peanuts. The constant promise of better paid work after they do 12 issues of licensed comics is in reality the new breaking in system. If you’re good you can hone your craft by getting $100 a page (or even less) by penciling a film/TV tie-in in the hopes that your work will get the attention of Marvel or DC.
When Garry Leach and myself were publishing A1 in the early 90′s we paid £150 a page (that was around $270 at the time). That was for script, art and lettering. We would always apologize profusely for the rate but the upside was this was 100% creator owned. We took one printing only and no collection rights (which is why we’ve never collected the material). Today I get approached by companies who are looking to pay $150-$200 dollars per page on a licensed title. That’s Work For Hire, no royalties or payment for further use of material. Fully painted covers for the same rate. And of course they want samples…
I just think as an industry we’ve been driving down an alleyway for too long and that alleyway is getting narrower as we go down, but no one ever comes out and says, “Hey, we’re going the wrong way!” So we’re like Austin Powers in his golf cart stuck in a spot where we’re trying to go forward and back at the same time.
I like to believe that if more persons try to set a positive example themself, then others will follow suit. You are really doing that now, wearing so many hats at once. You’re the editor in chief for Benaroya Publishing. You’re involved in both DeviantART and the Heavy Metal magazine, as well as freelance art directing. Not to mention the flirtations of an Atomeka revival. I’m sure that, along with everyone else, all the multi-tasking may have some roots in economic necessity, but are there more personal works that you’ve been quietly eager to write and/or illustrate yourself?
Damn right it’s economic necessity!
I’ve been mainly a freelance editor/packager the last several years. The bulk of my work comes from private companies who have an idea or concept that want it developed so it can work to promote or market something to another medium. I try and give them something that will work for many other media by building an entire world around that idea and concept, so should they be in a position or have the opportunity the concept can work elsewhere, be that film, TV or videogame.
For Michael Benaroya, while I was effectively Editor-in-Chief, I was a freelance editor working on other projects at that time. I also developed THE VAULT with Sam Sarkar at that time which also came out from Image Comics. I worked with the amazing creative studio IMAGINARY FRIENDS STUDIOS to put out last Summer’s HEAVY METAL special and I have edited, packaged the same issue for this year. The two issues are going to be combined as a single volume with some new material under the title MONSTER MASSACRE.
For deviantART I started my dA page 3 years ago but didn’t really get active there until early 2011. I’ve found it a great way to connect with artists and to help with advice while at the same time getting feedback on my own ideas and creations. It’s really a great way to interact with people whilst getting instant feedback on a piece of art. People don’t even need to comment on it. I can tell how many people like it by the views and ‘favorites’ it gets.
As I got to know the people at deviantART and the amazing technology behind and driving the site I started to get more active. Then once you really start to experience and feel the spirit of the community there you know there is no turning back. It truly is a wonderfully positive community of people. For the second year running I have judged their scholarship competition that enables artists from the community to have the chance to attend San Diego Comicon and I ran a competition where I offered the opportunity to have their art on the back cover of Heavy Metal magazine. And I want to do more things like this. I know none of these competitions put money directly in these artists’ hands but it does give them a chance to get their work in print and hopefully have their work seen by not only their peers but hopefully someone that can hire them to do some work.
Whether it’s an established artist or someone brand new but with real talent I still get a little buzz off seeing someone taking their first steps to doing creator owned work.
But now I want to focus on my own projects. It’s strange, A1 started as a project where Garry Leach and myself were going to do our own comics and at the time true creator owned comics were pretty much unheard of, so it wasn’t before long that many people we knew wanted to do a strip or contribute in some way. It ballooned up so fast that before we knew it Garry and myself had relegated ourselves to the sidelines. This time A1 will regularly contain three strips, each one an ongoing series. Two are by myself while the third is by the studio STELLAR Labs. Stellar Labs is a studio based in Jakarta that was a satellite division of Imaginary Friends Studios that has spun out into its own entity run by the amazingly talented SUNNY GHO. These guys have been doing stellar work on books like Fall Out Toy Works, Power Girl and Voodoo so I wanted to give them an opportunity to do and own their own material. They’re also doing the artwork for the two other strips that I am writing.
The first is WEIRDING WILLOWS, a LOEG styled mash-up of popular characters from the 19th century. It focuses on a location in Britain that is a magical nexus of at least 8 different dimensions with doorways or “burrows” as they are referred to in the story that open to Earth. The magic has another side effect in that it artificially evolves most life forms within the area to our level. They have created a town and life for themselves between the Wild Woods where the Burrows are and the Weir. While none of the creatures know exactly what happens if they leave the Weir they all know that no one comes back. It takes the worlds of Wonderland, Oz, and several others and brings them together. The main characters, Alice, Mowgli and Frankenstein’s monster being the core of them, to create a team who takes on the defense of this area and peacekeepers between the worlds.
The second story is about one man’s voyage of discovery. The ODYSSEY is about a soldier from World War 2 who gains immortality and super strength. Even 70 years on he doesn’t truly know what he is capable of. Now imagine working in the military for 70 years, constantly active in every major engagement, living on military bases, never knowing a real life or having a family and then being discharged. No real explanation, just ‘services no longer required.’ What do you do? Where do you go? Your home town isn’t recognizable anymore. You start to hit up your old friends and realize that they have all become old while you haven’t. They’re suffering with disabilities or diabetes while trying to hold families together. The world has changed and he hasn’t. But is there still something he can connect to? He decides to travel across the country to find out if there is. As he makes that trip we also find out why he was discharged, why the government isn’t finished with him yet, what did give him immortality and how many others have it? What gives the immortality and at what cost? To get in the mindset for this rewatch some old Kung Fu and Twin Peaks episodes as that’s the territory we’ll be traveling in.
Stellar Labs are wonderful- I’ve noticed some of their number behind some of the best colouring about right now, like the new Boston Metaphysical webstrip.
Both Stellar Labs and their parent Imaginary Friends Studios are amazing in their talent for design, concepts, artwork; and they also share my core beliefs of treating people as you’d wish to be treated yourself. They’re collectively some of the genuinely nice people I have even met. You made a comment earlier about how there is a core grouping of people I go back and work with again…These are those types of people. People who have a genuine love for what they do while caring about those around them. At Pop Con in Indonesia recently both Stellar Labs’ Sunny Gho and Imaginary’s Kendrick Lim were doing workshops to help the next wave of talent. I don’t see that so much in the US. I recently went to a comics festival in Derry, Northern Ireland called 2D Festival, where it was founded by David Campbell on those same beliefs and brought in creators willing to share what they’ve learned. Creators like Jock, Rufus Dayglo, Mike Collins, Will Simpson, Cam Kennedy and co-organized by me old chum Garry Leach. Garry Leach is another of those creators who constantly bends over backwards to help others and offers leg-ups to the next crop of artists. Someone needs to give that man an award or better still a check for services rendered on behalf of the industry. Many talk but Garry does the walk.
Going back to IFS for a moment, I first met them when they approached me just before the first San Diego I attended after co-founding Radical. Their artwork blew us all away and it was their style and design that branded the company. They created all our initial designs, logos (except HERCULES which was designed by JIM STERANKO), concept art (except again HERCULES which they worked on with Jim Steranko and WETA WORKSHOP of New Zealand), and all the first year’s comics. They also created FREEDOM FORMULA which was sold to New Regency for Bryan Singer to produce and possibly direct. They’ve been doing some amazing covers for DC Comics such as GREAT TEN, DANCE, WEB, SHIELD, BIRDS OF PREY, BATGIRL and variants for FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, JLA, SUPERBOY, etc. Their president Stanley Lau (better known on deviantART as ARTGERM) constantly makes time out for new artists even doing live video feeds of himself drawing covers.
I gather that you have also explored possibilities in film, from a story concerning George Carragonne, to even something involving Mick Anglo’s favorite son? Would you care to expand on these nuggets of awesome?
A couple of years after George died I decided to try my hand at writing a screenplay. I didn’t set out initially to write one about George but many people close to me suggested I should. It was when a friend told me George’s story sounded like a dark reversal of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ that the story I wanted to tell started to crystalize. I originally wrote it as a live action feature with about 20-25 minutes of animation in it. For a while I was in talks for it to be a Japanese anime feature with the directors of Escaflowne and Heat Guy J. We’d raised half of the money but just couldn’t close the other half. I’d probably be able to do that with the contacts I have now.
As for Marvelman, my history with him started when Garry Leach and myself had to reproduce the art that was used in the Miracleman 3D comic. It was my first professional comic work, recreating several Don Lawrence stories from old photocopies. Years later it would come back when I started discussions with the supposed rights holder for the material having struck a deal with Mick Anglo. A team of people I was working with put together a package that would involve doing two editions of Alan Moore’s material. One a completely new version redrawn from his old scripts while we worked to negotiate to sort out the rights for the older material. We received Alan’s blessing on shopping a film of the material as long as his name was left off it and we raised $70mil to make the film. Unfortunately we were being used as a stalking horse so that Marvel would raise its bid. So despite all the hard work we’d put in it all came to nothing. Marvel acquired the rights and we didn’t. It’s funny, but this was the same time that Watchmen came out so if the deal wasn’t scuppered we’d have probably released both the comic and film by now.
Oh sweet christmas, what could have been! Marvelman may be the finest example of a property yet loaded with potential that has been completely lost to corporate workings. I just cannot imagine any recovery for the characters, in any recognizable manner. But I hope the experience didn’t ruin motion pictures for you. I recall, in the years before crowdsourcing really exploded, a documentary about the great Jeffery Catherine Jones finding public funding assistance. Not to downplay the work or aesthetic of Jones (one of the first artists whose imagery compelled me to learn about the name in the credit boxes, incidentally), Carragonne’s story does touch upon more easily identifiable icons. And really, any of the Benaroya books could also easily serve as screenplays as well. Could you see yourself ever taking on the additional mantle of ‘director’?
I’ve had enough experiences to ruin several people’s lifetimes in film, thank you very much.
Marvelman would have had a few tweaks to it. I think the first book in particular was pretty much ready to go, I did want Liz Moran’s role expanded making her more important to the progression of the series. I always saw her as the stronger personality of the two. She’s brave without any powers and Mike panics when he doesn’t have his. The other stuff was minor things like instead of a simple bunker where Gargunza kept everything it was beneath a movie theater in a completely mock town they created to give the young Mike, Dicky and Johnny a sense of reality when they weren’t plugged into a machine dreaming. We even considered creating another scientist who was behind the initial experiment, who put himself in their minds as the Astrophysicist (Guntag Barghelt). He was the one who put Gargunza in as the bumbling villain, something that pushed Gargunza over the edge and arranged for Guntag to be killed so he could take over. But in the end we all felt we didn’t need to add anything else to it.
As for being a director, that’s a dream for when I ever win the lottery. While I think many creators potentially have it in them to be one, I don’t. I’d love to be able to but realistically it’s a dream best given to others. I have enough in my life to deal with.
I remember being especially excited when I first heard of the formation of Radical. So many different finite titles, and with top-notch production values. When you left the company, did it at the time feel like a personal defeat?
I’d be a f###ing liar if I said no.
I’d come up with the initial idea and business plan for what was to become Radical back in 1996. I wanted to create an Intellectual Property Development House that would be an incubator for creator owned projects. Once funded each project would then be co-owned but the creator would continue to be involved if they wanted to. By having the creator in on the projects like this they would at least get a chance to be heard and they’d be guaranteed to make more money off their property than they would normally have done on a straight sale. Once successful the creator would not have to go anywhere else and they’d at least have the satisfaction that their comic came out the way they’d planned.
I’d shown it to Barry Levine in 1998 and we partnered then to try and get it started, even working with Avi Arad at one point with whom we nearly sold “The Inhumans” and “Damage Control” with. Shame The Inhumans couldn’t be completed because they were under the Fantastic Four film deal with Fox along with the Skrulls. The Inhumans would have been awesome. Characters to be designed by Mike Mignola using the story by Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby and Neal Adams where Black Bolt gets lost in New York without his memory.
Sorry, off on another tangent there…
So, to get it funded, to bring in so many projects and creators I know to then have it pulled out from underneath me was probably more a confirmation of how Hollywood affects people (or maybe just humanity in general). Fortunately I still know more than enough people there who I can trust but it carved away seriously at my eternally naive spirit. I’m still in contact with Radical especially as some of those projects I started are moving forward and we may actually be working together on a deal that we hope to announce after San Diego. It isn’t “personal” is it? It’s “only business” right?
As weird as the Weirding Willows premise is, the Odyssey does sound potentially more topical. How important is it for you, the representation of the real in these funny books? I always thought that the best fiction can trace its lineage back to an Aesopian aesthetic. The Marksmen series, which you co-created, co-wrote and edited, certainly seemed to have one step firmly planted in current events.
Just because Weirding Willows is set in the 19th century doesn’t mean it won’t be topical. I hope to tackle some issues in this society that will rear their heads in a not too dissimilar way to ‘Animal Farm’, I just won’t be in your face about it. Odyssey will be more in your face about questioning everyone’s place in society now and what we as a race face now there are too many people living on a planet for it to support.
I think with any project I feel that there has to be a jump on point for your audience to connect, that no mater how fantastical your story you need to bring in a level of ‘reality’ to help make it believable. With Marksmen I wanted its origins based in something that wasn’t an alien invasion or zombies, something that was more believable and if you follow what is going on in the world you can see how close we are flirting with the type of disaster I was predicting. In Red Spike I pushed to have the biggest enemy be our own governmental bureaucracy rather than a single foreign villain. With Hercules I didn’t want to see the Gods. In Steve Moore’s scripts he only describes scenes of their actions and only when people are telling stories. We agreed to tell the stories of Hercules like someone would of Jesus. We are taking his word and the stories of his actions as our basis for faith in what happened. Steve took it one step further and created a rich tapestry where he mixed myth and reality, giving us an ensemble cast pulled from both fact and fiction.
The other thing that you can’t escape when telling stories set now is the effects of both politics and religion on the world. I won’t be ignoring the elephants in the room (or asses either). The main character of ODYSSEY is the so called superhero General Blazing Glory. His real name is John Wilson and the origin of his powers come from an experiment started before World War One by a scientist who used his son as his first subject. His son was born with amazing strength but was killed by a bolt of lightning just as another scientist was planning to make more superhumans like him. With only the blood of a deadman, this professor finally had some success. But the success came at a price. Very few reacted to it, but to work at all, the subject had to die first. He brought it to the military who were already conducting similar experiments. They had discovered there were a few cases around the world where people died but quickly came back to life and when they did so they had changed. They had powers and abilities no one could explain. America did what they could to locate and bring back as many of these subjects as possible. Some came willingly, some not.
John Wilson is one of the survivors of these experiments. Without giving too much away, these ‘survivors’ start to fall into two camps and it’s not long before an unseen war starts across the country. Wilson was hoped to be on one side but he took neither. He stayed true to himself and neutral. The only one of his kind.
With Odyssey I hope to keep the story grounded as much as possible. It will be a story about people and very character driven. With Weirding Willows it will have more of a balance between characters and events, but all the events will be character driven. The two series will blur the lines between good and evil and strive to make even the most darkest characters relatable.
Your Odyssey descriptions make me long for the days when Captain America purposefully did not use guns- which really wasn’t so long ago. And as much as I’d love to bug you further about editing Steve Moore’s final comics work, I think we of the LP have commandeered much of your time as is. Thank you so much for opening up and and walking the talk, Dave. And on a parting note (at least until next time), I ask this:
What advice would you give, not just to those comic book hopefuls starting out, but rather to those already published who may be feeling a bit lost in the shuffle and growingly embittered as this industry we all obsess over seems to exponentially change itself more and more?
Firstly I’d like to say that once the direction was chosen there wasn’t much to edit on Steve Moore’s scripts. He has always been one of the most eloquent and well scripted writers I know. He should be every bit as successful a writer as Alan Moore.
On Captain America, you either have to go with him as a gunslinger because he was a soldier or have him never having used a gun and stand up as being pretty much a pacifist. You can’t really have both. For me with Blazing Glory, he was always a soldier. At the beginning of the story he isn’t a leader like Rogers. He’s a good boy and always follows orders. He’s like an artist, constantly plagued with self doubt, that doesn’t exactly make him leadership material.
For creators already in the industry? I’d say it’s never too late to start to do your own material. These days you don’t have to wait to be asked or find a spot in a magazine. Create something and release it a page at a time whether that platform is Keenspot, Twitter, Facebook, Comixology or deviantART. I would suggest deviantART, especially as there are some initiatives underway there to give you opportunities to monetize doing your own material. Create your own market and then publish the material in print form once you have some awareness for it. But don’t do it in a vacuum. Talk to retailers. Call your local retailer and reach out to ComicsPRO and NECRA. If you’re not already on Twitter, do so then search for the hashtag #comicmarket and start a dialogue with the retailers there. Those retailers are very pro creator and will help and encourage you to go creator owned.
I see a lot of experimentation being done over the next few years, especially as new digital platforms and initiatives are launched. All these platforms need content but as more and of the established content becomes inaccessible to new readers here’s hoping they struggle through the morass to find the wealth of creator led material that’s there ready and waiting, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.