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10 Questions for John Jackson Miller

John Jackson Miller is a man of words and statistics. As a scripter, he’s responsible for writing comics including Star Wars: Empire, Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Crimson Dynamo, and Bart Simpson. He’s now entering his fourth year of writing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. He’s also written other games and fiction for Lucasfilm properties.

He was also previously on the editorial staff of the magazines Comics Retailer and Comics Buyer’s Guide, and the Standard Catalog of Comic Books line of books.

Okay, that covers the words. The statistics? Well, besides crafting innumerable articles that count, sum, and generally number crunch comics for Comics Retailer and CBG, he now runs The Comics Chronicles (www.comichron.com), a resource for academic research devoted to the history of comics and comics circulation tracking.

Whether you’re interested in his abc’s or his 123’s, you’ll be able to keep up with his work on his website www.farawaypress.com.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

About the time that I started reading them, literally! At age six, I started writing and drawing my own comics — and I kept at it, even as my education took me down a different path. But I always kept an interest in comics — and later, edited books and magazines about comics collecting and retailing. That was so fun I decided to keep on working to get to another phase in my career, writing the comics themselves.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

That would have to be my mother, who didn’t throw my comics away. She was a grade school librarian — she made me put my comics in order!

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

I think working with Maggie Thompson at Comics Buyer’s Guide — and Don Thompson, for the brief time that I knew him — was invaluable. For years, I’d read their coverage of the comics industry; once I started working within it, I couldn’t have asked for better guides to how it worked. And Maggie is an exceptional editor, who really helped me improve my prose.

Question 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

When your hobby is your job, it’s tough — especially when the things you take on on the side, like the research site or my webcomic with Chuck Fiala at swordandsarcasm.com are also comics-related. I’ve taken up golfing badly when the Wisconsin weather allows — it gets me away from the desk!

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

Increasingly, I’m doing my website work, promotions, and e-mailing done in the morning, with most of my heavy-duty writing in the afternoon. Then more promotion at night. It’s when I let the various multiple tasks leap into the time set aside for other things that the apple cart gets upset.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

I write in Microsoft Word — and I keep a fairly-low tech system for doing my script breakdowns. Next to my desk is a dry-erase board with magnets — one for every page of a comic book — and I put index cards for the individual pages there, so I can shift them around and see what events are where, how I can make sure revealing moments are on the left so people have to turn the page, etc. There are higher-tech ways to do that, but this one works for me.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Getting the comic book in your hands is always good — but I also love discussing the process behind the story with people who really understand what you’re trying to do. That’s one of the reasons why when I started out, I committed to posting a “production notes” page for each of my projects — comics, books, games, whatever — on my site, farawaypress.com, to share a little bit of the creative process with readers.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?

It’s hard to choose between your babies, but I really think the Star Wars series I’m doing now, Knights of the Old Republic, has been a unique experience. I developed the series from the start and have written every issue, and Dark Horse has been great about letting us develop some themes and storylines that take a while to develop.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

Write — write anything. Blogging is fine because it gets your voice out there — but writing that involves working with an editor who can help you fine-tune your writing, whether it’s a article on a local basketball game or a movie review, is a valuable experience. So much of writing is solitary, but many hands go into making comics, so it helps to be able to collaborate well, and to understand that your editors have things they need to get done. Working as an editor myself all those years, I try now to see things from all sides. Everybody’s working to get the best project possible out there.

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

It’s intimidating putting yourself out there in a creative field, where your work can be judged — but you have to decide that you deserve to be there, that what you have to contribute is just as worthy of being seen as anything else out there. That doesn’t mean being overconfident, but if you don’t think you’d buy your own work, you’re not ever going to sell it to anyone else!

Want more? See the index of “10 Questions” interviews.

10 Questions for Buddy Scalera

Buddy Scalera is an accomplished comics writer, journalist, and compiler/publisher of photo reference for comics artists. In addition to writing comics including Deadpool, Agent X, Weapon X, X-Men Millennial Visions, Marvel Knights Millennial Visions, Necrotic, 7 Days to Fame, and Decoy, he has contributed to magazines including Wizard, Spin Online, Comics Buyer’s Guide, and Comics Values Monthly.

He was also the original online editor for Wizard Entertainment, and co-developed Wizardworld.com, Wizardschool.com, Toyfare.com, Toywishes.com, and Inquestmag.com. The Wizardschool.com site was so popular that Scalera hosted live events at conventions in Chicago and Philadelphia. For over four years, the New Jersey resident also hosted ComixVision, a cable-access television show devoted to comic book hobbyists.

His Comic Artist’s Photo Reference book series (Impact Books) features models in hundreds of poses, ranging from the dynamic to the mundane. The three books, People & Poses, Women & Girls, and Men & Boys, also include illustrated examples of how the photos can be used and modified for various purposes, plus a CD-ROM with hundreds of additional photos.

He’s just wrapped up planning and hosting the comics education panels for the 2009 New York Comicon. He recently written several licensed properties, and is self-publishing two new graphic novels through his After Hours Press imprint.

You can find out more about this very busy man on both his personal (buddyscalera.com) and publishing (ahpcomics.com) websites.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

In college. I worked on the student newspaper and one of the editors mentioned that his internship was going to be at Marvel. It never dawned on me that you could work in comic books, but at that point I just knew I wanted to do it. I got a degree in Journalism, so I sort of broke in as an industry reporter.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

That would be my father. Even from a young age, he tried to get me to understand visual language. He was an artist, so he taught me how to tell a story with pictures.

I don’t draw much, but I use what he taught me to take photographs.

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

I’m lucky, I have a good group of people who have influenced me creatively and professionally. The Godfather of Comics, Jimmy Palmiotti, was one of the guys who really helped me the most. He taught me a lot about the kind of discipline you need to work in this business. Mike Marts was my editor at Marvel and he taught me a lot about dialogue and pacing. And a former Marvel editor named Glenn Herdling taught me a lot about story structure. I’m close friends with Chris Eliopoulos, who really helps me stay focused on the core story elements. And, finally, Darick Robertson has helped me a lot, since he’s such a visual thinker. We only worked together a short time, but the influence remains.

Everyone you meet influences you somehow, but these guys have left a lasting imprint on who I am as a writer.

Question 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I try to get out and do things. Too many writers are insulated. You need to have experiences, so you have things to use as a foundation for your stories.

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

There is none. As a freelancer, I am usually reacting to work that comes in to me. And for the most part, I work in surges, so I don’t have steady projects.

But I will tell you, when I work, I have to focus. No instant messenger, no email, nothing. I just turn on iTunes and work. If I am on a serious deadline, I cant even relax, so I don’t read or watch television either.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

When I write, I just use my Mac with Microsoft Word. When I write for video or television, I tend to use FinalDraft. As a photographer, I use a nice dSLR camera and Photoshop. I also carry around a digital audio recording device to save ideas.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Like a lot of writers, I am very critical of my own work. But when I meet a fan or get an email, it’s worth all the time and effort. If you can entertain or influence someone through your creativity, it’s really fulfilling.

Most of my work has been in doing photo reference for comic artists, so I get a lot of email regarding my pictures. Artists sometimes send me art that they’ve created from one of my photos, and that’s really exciting for me.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?

I think my most rewarding was my first CD-ROM Visual Reference for Comic Artists: Vol. 1. This project was rejected by several publishers and even by Diamond. Nobody wanted it. So I took a risk and printed them myself and sold them directly at Wizard World Philadelphia. And I completely sold out.

That led to a lot of interesting opportunities, including a three-book project for IMPACT books.

Sometimes you have to ignore the critics and experts and do what you think is right.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

“Treat it like a real job.”

I’m amazed at how poorly people present themselves at conventions or over email. You may just be breaking in and there may be no money, but that’s not a good excuse to present yourself or your work in a sloppy way.

Dress, speak, and act as professionally as you can, and people will treat you as a professional. Even though comics may be a dream for you, it’s still a business.

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

For me, it’s a simple idea: “You can pay now or pay later. But you always have to pay.”

I learned a long time ago that there is a price for everything. It usually means that you have to spend time to get where you want to be.

If you try to skip that time — specifically in how you practice your craft — it will come back and haunt you. You have to practice and work at your craft before you progress to the next stage. It is true for writers, artists, and anyone who wants to work in a creative field.

Work hard now, benefit later.

Want more? See the index of “10 Questions” interviews.

Discuss “10 Questions” in the ComicsCareer.Com Forum.

10 Questions for Andrew Wales

Andrew Wales is the creator of T.A.I.L.S. (Traveling Adventurers in Laboratory Science) for Boy’s Quest magazine, and a similar comic for their sister publication Hopscotch. In addition he’s also creates comics and illustrations for Fun for Kids magazine. He’s currently working on his self-published comic book, Eclectic Comics.

He lives in Athens, Pennsylvania, and teaches art to elementary kids by day. You can find out more about Andrew on his blog.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

Can we make comics and even make a little money at it without quitting our day job? I’d like to think that my story suggests that it’s possible! I am an elementary art teacher, which is a very rewarding career. I think that in making comics I’m being an example to my students. I encourage every one of them to find something creative that they really enjoy and I hope that they will always make time in their lives for creativity. Making comics is the thing that I do for myself. I make a little bit of money from freelance jobs, which finance the self-publishing ventures I want to do.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

There have been many, but one book I read was called Creating a Life Worth Living. This book encouraged me to be diligent to always make room in my life for creative pursuits. These creative productions will have immense value, whether they are shared with a few friends — or become blockbusters.

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, and Jack Kirby. I cut my teeth on Aragones as a kid. Sakai has been a real encouragement and an online mentor through his website and forum. His Art of Usagi Yojimbo is a helpful resource that shows the steps in making a comic. Kirby has always been a constant source of fascination — his innovations, his wild imagination, his dynamic art.

Question 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Reading and sketching. I like to read and look at comics of the Silver Age. I like that simplicity, goofiness and the iconic nature of it. I like to use writing prompts and sketch games, like the one at the Gurney Journey.

When I feel like I have a really good idea, it’s hard to keep me away from the drawing board.

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

During the school year, it’s difficult to find time to work, but I do find some time on evenings and weekends. During the summer, it’s easier, and I almost accomplish the “page-a-day” goal. I first start with the idea. Then I make very rough thumbnail sketches. The writing is done during this stage. Then I sketch them out on comic boards. I do pretty tight pencils of the foregrounds, and then ink. The erasing is my least favorite part! Then I add background details, and a little texture with Micron markers. Then come the scanning and computer work, which is also not an aspect that is enjoyable.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

I do the thumbnails in my sketchbook with a fine point gel pen. I draw on Canson comic book art boards with pencil and ink with Speedball C-6 pen and crow quill pens. Then I finish up with the Micron markers.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Seeing it in print – holding in my hands that final product. Getting feedback from readers is also great.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?

Most of my work has been work-for-hire that I’ve been pleased with to varying degrees, but what I have really found rewarding is making Eclectic Comics. For this project, I give myself permission to do anything at all within the comics art form. So far I’ve done autobio, superhero slapstick, biography — but you never know what you might find when you pick this up.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

I’ll try to paraphrase what I heard from many sources: If you want to make comics, make them. Just get going. Your first several pages are not going to be that great, but don’t be discouraged. Get those bad pages out of the way and keep going. Find the style that is most comfortable for you. If you make something that you enjoy and ten other readers love — would it be worth it to you? I think it would. If it snowballs into something beyond that, so be it!

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

I think every person is an original work of art from The Greatest Artist ever. I think each of us should be ourselves and not try to be like someone else. Here’s a quote from The Message Bible: “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” [Jeremiah 29:11]

Want more? See the index of “10 Questions” interviews.

Discuss “10 Questions” in the ComicsCareer.Com Forum.

10 Questions for Ray Friesen

We’ll get to Ray Friesen in a moment, but first we must confess that the ComicsCareer.Com minions have made a grievous error. Ray’s interview was slated to run yesterday, and Kevin Mellon’s was supposed to run today. I know that nobody probably noticed this, and you’re wondering why we don’t just on with talking about how wonderful Ray Friesen is and stop the yammering. Okay.

Ray Friesen is quite particularly wonderful. In fact, he’s even more wonderful today than he was yesterday, so it’s actually a good thing we held his interview that one crucial extra day, right?

Ray is a California-based cartoonist who has created some self-published comics — which he says he don’t count anymore. What he does count are his graphic novels, which include YARG!, Another Dirt Sandwich, and A Cheese Related Mishap, which was named one of the American Library Association’s Top Ten Graphic Novels of the Year for Kids.

His brand new graphic novel, Cupcakes of DOOM!, has just been released. In addition to all that graphic noveling, he also does a daily strip, The Rambunctious Ramblings of Tbyrd Fearlessness, on his website www.DontEatAnyBugs.com.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

When I was about eleven, when I drew my own comics, made copies of them, and made my friends buy them, and realized this was pretty darn cool.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

Does the animation or film industry count? Probably not. Howzabout… My Mom! She’s a sculptor, and has always encouraged me to follow my creativity and work hard, but also if I’m not having fun, than what’s the point?

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

I was fortunate enough, when I was twelve, to have a fan comic I wrote and drew published in Futurama Comics by Bongo — they invited me to their studio, I got to meet Matt Groening and some of the voice actors — who in fact, acted out my comic for me! — and then the Bongo Guys themselves, Bill Morrisson, Terry Delegeane, Bob Zaugh, Jason Ho, Nathan Kane, mostly, but some of the other guys and gals were floating around too — they showed me some lettering and coloring tipniques, and were so incredibly nice, I knew I wanted to be in comics surrounded by fun people like them forever, plus three extra days beyond forever.

Question 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Sit in my underwear, eat candy and watch cartoons, sometimes for weeks. Doesn’t everyone?

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

I wake up whenever I feel like it — because I also go to bed whenever I feel like it, usually this is 10:00 AM and 2:00 AM respectively — and forage for breakfast. I drive to my studio, which is the back of a t-shirt shop, I do graphic and web design for them part time — I want comics to provide my entire income, but sadly it’s not enough yet — and work on various projects, drawing comics, or doing boring business stuff like phone calls and emails and shouting.

I go to the gym every day, because of all the aforementioned candy eating, then come back to the office, and work until I can’t stand it anymore — 2:00 AM again! I don’t have much of a social life; my girlfriend is online. She’s awesome, we’ve visited, and I have plans to relocate to the geographical location in which she lives. And all my real life friends have either ,one, died in mysterious circumstances, two, joined the army, or three, grown a beard and pretend the don’t know me, so it all works out.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

Paper, pencils, pens, computers, pixels, rams, megs, erasers, silly hats and the occasional lobster. For lobster related reasons.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

When I hold the first copy of my brand new book in my hand, the culmination of all those months of work, and I can just sit around grinning and revelry-ing in my own smugness.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?

Well, if you’re considered a professional artist when you start getting paid for your work, I’ve been a professional since I was four-years-old. There is a big wind energy company where I live — its very breezy — and when I was four, they had me draw for them a cutesy scene of animals and windmills and the legend “clean energy for everyone” They used that image for promotion everywhere. T-shirts, posters, banners, really fun inflatable hammers that you could whack people with and it wouldn’t hurt very much, the sides of all their truck, for about a year, I could see something I had done all over the place. Boy, that inflated my ego a bit, I’ve been trying to top that success every since. Reputedly, Vice President Gore even had a big print of my image framed in his office.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

Besides drawing or writing as much as you can — practice makes better! more practice makes more better! You’ll never be perfect, but you can become 99% perfect! — do everything you can to get people to read your work. With the Internet, its very cheap and easy to actually get your work out there where random people can stumble across it. They’ll criticize things — hopefully constructively — but the fact that your work is making some sort of mark on the universe will make you hungry for more and keep you motivated to keep drawing, which as I mentioned, you should be doing as much as you possibly can. Doodle, doodle, doodle! If your teacher says, “More math problems, less doodles on your paper,” buy a sketchbook!

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

I’ve always been a rather solitary person, I’m not shy, I’m just not very outgoing. Trying to promote my works, book signings and conventions, has really helped me learn how to interact with people and be friendlier. I haven’t entirely got the hang of it yet — it still takes me 5 minutes to psyche myself up before making a phone call; what if I misunderspeak and they hate me forever? — but getting out in the open has really helped rub off raw edges.

Also, it never hurts to try and make the world more interesting — I’m in favor of interesting things. Never be afraid to look silly! Giant pirate hats are cool! Although that’s my thing, find your own shtick!

Want more? See the index of “10 Questions” interviews.

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Kupperberg: What’s the Story?

Paul Kupperberg’s latest column has just been posted here on ComicsCareer.Com. Today’s column is titled “What’s the Story?” and features on the critical relationship between character and plot. “Always remember that, like Soylent Green, ‘Story is People,'” Kupperberg writes.

He also takes on Frank Miller’s use of cursing in All-Star Batman and Robin as an attack on the character of Batman. “The actual point,” he says, “is that those words — not even hidden behind black bars that really are black — have no place in a Batman and Robin comic book.” Read it in full here.

Daniel Spottswood’s Disquietville

Disquietville

Cartoonist Daniel Spottswood has agreed to allow us to share a number of his cartoons here over the next several weeks. His strips often deal with cartooning and comics related subjects. Spottswood’s work has appeared in the Kansas City Star and his self-published Disquietville books. You can check out his work at his website (www.disquietville.com/index.html) and the work blog — Comic Strip Joint — that he shares with J.W. Cotter, Hector Casanova, and Travis Fox.