R. A. Jones is a Tulsa-based writer and editor who got his start in the comics business in the 1980’s. During that time he served as Executive Editor of Elite Comics, wrote for a wide variety of comics news magazines, including Amazing Heroes and Comics Buyer’s Guide.
He wrote a tremendous amount of comics for Malibu Comics, including Dark Wolf, Fist of God, Scimidar, Merlin, Sinbad, White Devil, Protectors, The Ferret, Pistolero, Prototype, Night Man, Air Man, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
He also wrote for other publishers: Dark Horse (Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor), Image (Bulletproof Monk, Automaton), Innovation (Straw Men), Humanoid (Metal Hurlant), DC (Showcase ’95), Marvel (Weapon X, Wolverine & Captain America).
R. A. is also a long time friend of ComicsCareer.Com. He was interviewed with Rob Davis in Comics Career Newsletter #21 way back in the Jurassic era. We’re delighted to have him back with us here in the 21st century.
Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?
I knew I wanted to create my own comics shortly after I first began collecting them – at age twelve. By age 14, I was writing and drawing my own comic book stories, and had written an ongoing comic strip for my school newspaper.
Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?
On a personal level, my greatest influence would have to be my father, James Francis Jones. Mostly by example, from him I learned what it was to have a dream; the importance of honoring obligations; how to age without growing old; and how to try your best to do what’s right.
Professionally speaking, but from outside of comics, my biggest influence probably came from the action-adventure authors I was drawn to as a boy: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Robert Louis Stephenson, Jack London and the like. My life-long love of movies also influenced my approach to storytelling.
Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?
As far as my influences within the comics industry, first and foremost would have to be Stan Lee. It was his work – and his contagious, boyish enthusiasm – which inspired me to want to tell stories of my own. The very first comic book I ever purchased for myself – Avengers #17 – was written by Stan and immediately hooked me on comics for life. I still possess that worn, tattered, well-read and well-loved comic.
After Stan, Roy Thomas had a deep impact on my approach to writing comics. He brought a literate slant to his stories such as I had never seen in comics before – and his evident love of all things mythological matched or exceeded my own.
It could be said that Stan and those who followed him changed the entire course of my life. Before them, I had not yet developed any particular yearning for a specific career path – and without them, there is no telling what other path I may have followed instead.
Question 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I am extremely lucky in that — knock on wood — I have never, ever experienced a serious case of writer’s block.
As for “recharging my creative batteries”, it has always been my experience that virtually everything I encounter – a comic, a book, a song, a movie, a woman glimpsed in my rearview mirror – can be the catalyst that sets my mind spinning in a new direction that will usually lead me to my next prospective story. And nothing recharges the batteries like the prospect of taking on a new project.
That having been said, it is also undeniable that both mental and physical fatigue can set in when you have been going at a fast pace for long periods of time. When that happens, you just have to do what any other sort of worker would do: try to find some time to just relax, unwind and get your mind off work for a few days. Then you’re usually ready to get back in the saddle.
Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.
One of the things I like about being a writer is the fact that you don’t really have to have a “routine” – unless that it what you find works best for you.
For myself, if I produce six pages of usable work, I would usually consider that to be a good day’s work – regardless of how much or how little time it took me to do so. At the moment, like many writers at many times in their careers, I have a “day job” outside of writing, so I have to fit the writing around that; I often write on my lunch hour, for example, and in the evenings at home.
But the bottom line for me is: what is the deadline on this particular project? Knowing that, I do whatever I need to do, for as long as I need to do it, to meet that deadline.
Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?
Being a writer, the main “tool” I use is my mind, my imagination.
In terms of physical tools, like pretty much every writer today I use a computer. I don’t, however, compose on the computer. Maybe it’s just because of my age – my first scripts were produced on a manual typewriter – but I still insist on writing my first draft longhand; I like the feel of a pen in my hand, and the feel of that pen sliding across paper.
Research materials are a must. Again, nowadays much of that can also be done on the computer, via the Web, but I also make frequent use of books, magazines, newspapers – and even videos and television.
Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Mark Waid once told me that he loved developing the idea for a story, and he loved having written a story – but he hated actually writing the story! Any writer could empathize with that, and probably agree with the sentiment.
Given that, it probably won’t be surprising if I say the satisfaction tends to come after the work is not just finished but actually published. Seeing your name in print is great validation of your efforts. And the knowledge that thousands, or even millions, of people are going to read what you have written and be touched by it in one way or another, produces a high that never grows stale and that no drug could ever hope to match.
Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?
The most rewarding aspect of my career has not come from any professional project alone, but rather from the opportunities that this career has afforded me to use my talents and contacts as tools to aid in various fundraising efforts.
In the years since I turned pro, I have been able to help raise thousands of dollars for everything from the Shriners’ hospitals to college scholarships for deserving young men and women.
I’ve always felt that if your life and/or career puts you in a position to give a little something back to the world – you should feel obligated to do so.
On a purely professional note, it gave me tremendous pleasure to write the Wolverine and Captain America series – both because it was for Marvel, whose books are what sparked my desire to be a writer, and because Cap was one of the characters in that very first comic I ever bought!
Outside of comics, an especially rewarding project, was a book entitled 2001 Memories: An Actor’s Odyssey. This was actor Gary Lockwood’s [Star Trek; 2001: a Space Odyssey] memoir, which I helped him write.
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?
The first, and possibly best, advice you should give to anyone who aspires to a career in comics is: Run away! Don’t do it!
If they follow that advice, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have made it anyway. If they ignore you, there’s hope.
The best advice I’ve ever heard, because it holds true for every discipline, is simply: Do the work. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be an artist, draw. Repeat as needed. And network as much as possible; it’s as important in comics as it is in any other 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?
Like most native Oklahomans, I’m part Indian, and have read a fair amount about them and their historical way of life. One philosophy, which was certainly widespread among the tribes of the Plains, is one that I have tried to embrace in my own life. Simply phrased, it is this:
A man should be measured not by how much he possesses – but by how much he gives away.
I believe it is an idea that if striven for, in all cultures at all times in history, can’t help but lead to a better life for all.
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