10 Questions for Sam Costello

Sam Costello is a Rhode Island-based writer whose work can be found in places like the webcomic Split Lip (www.splitlipcomic.com) Cthulhu Tales #9 (Boom! Studios), Negative Burn #13 (Desperado), Tales From the Plex (Futurius), Variants Anthology #2, (Variance Press) and the upcoming anthology of folk song adaptations, Work!

To find out more about Sam Costello and his work, check out the appropriately named www.samcostello.net.

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

The first time I can recall having thought that was probably age ten or eleven when I decided, perhaps in an unusual aspiration for a kid, that I wanted to be a comics editor. Over time, that changed to being a writer, but by 16 or 17, that idea sort of dropped away as I stopped reading comics. I pushed ahead on writing, but mostly in journalism and short fiction. It was only around the end of college, when I came back to comics through friends introducing me to 100 Bullets, Sin City, and a few other titles, that the idea of writing comics returned.

After college, I wrote short comics for a few years that never saw the light of day. I tried submitting a few things, but didn’t get very far, so about mid-way through 2005, I decided to take my career in my own hands and self-publish Split Lip online. It debuted in October 2006.

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

That’s a hard question to answer, as I don’t tend to think of my personal influences very often — they’re just such an integral part of my makeup. I’m not sure I can give a single name. A cop out, I know, but there are a handful of people who all influenced me in related ways: my parents, for instilling a sense of hard work and dedication in me and for nurturing my interests; Paul McBride, Bill Brown, and Bill Savage, college professors who taught me how to truly write well, persuasively, and with style — and only one of them was an English professor!

Without those people, I’d be neither the person nor the writer I am — and I’m grateful for all their guidance.

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

I don’t know many comics creators personally or via email — more and more all the time though, which is a welcome development — so these influences are more about how their work affected me and my work:

Neil Gaiman, for opening new comics vistas to a teenager who’d only ever read superheroes and expanding my sense of what comics could be about

Warren Ellis, for getting me to think more deeply about genre, format, business, and the medium

Junji Ito, for creating some of the most perfect horror comics and setting the bar high

There are others, of course, but these three come most immediately to mind.

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

Not any specific thing, really. There are times when I’m more productive or less, of course, but there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I just keep my eyes and ears open, keep filtering my life experiences through my creativity and things pop out – sometimes fast, sometimes slow. But, fundamentally, it’s not just about being creative; it’s also about keeping at it. Lots of writers write every day. I don’t, though I wish I could. Still, I’m writing comics at least a few days every week – and reading them regularly, too — and not just comics. If I’m not reading all kinds of things, watching TV and movies, reading magazines and zines and the web, I’m not keeping up with the culture, and it’s hard to do good work — for me, at least — otherwise.

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

I’ve got no typical routine for writing comics, really. I write a few days a week — always Fridays, but also nights and weekends when I can carve out time — and whenever an idea really grabs hold of me. Sitting down to work is almost always a struggle between trying to do anything else and actually committing words to the page, but they end up there eventually. When I’m really in the groove an idea, it’s not hard. The rest of the time, it’s really like trying to move the world.

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

Pretty much just Microsoft Word and my fingers.

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

The constant output and being surprised by my collaborators. As a person fairly driven to achievement and thus very results-oriented, just producing a lot of comics pages is a reward in itself. Of course, being happy with them matters, too. Producing a lot of crap doesn’t have much value to anyone. Split Lip’s got over 250 pages online, and another 100+ in production now, which feels pretty great.

Another great feeling is seeing new pages come through my inbox and discovering the new and wonderful ways in which my collaborators have interpreted and improved my scripts. The collaboration process is always thrilling and sometimes even reveals things I wasn’t even aware of in the scripts.

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

Split Lip, because it started entirely from scratch. It was nothing and then it was something. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, so creating something from scratch and making it go and keeping it going requires a lot of energy — mental, creative, physical — and seeing it succeed to whatever extent it’s succeeded is very fulfilling.

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 don’t know that I’ve heard a lot of advice given, but something I always remind myself of is “remember who you owe.” In everyone’s life, there are lots of people who help us out in ways large and small. As time goes on, sometimes we’re able to repay help given to us directly to the person who once helped us. We have to remember their kindnesses and repay them.

Other times, we just end up in situations or positions to help people in ways similar to how we were helped. We have to always remember that we were once starting out, knew less than we do now, were less connected, and help those just making their way in the ways we can.

There’s a cycle there and while I don’t necessarily believe in karma, I do believe in making positive contributions.

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?

There’s only one maxim that I believe to be true in every instance: treat others as you’d like to be treated. It’s a little third grade, I know, but I can’t think of a more true philosophy or a more useful one. I can’t think of any circumstance in which following that rule has led me astray. Some times it’s harder to follow than others, but always worth it.