Mike Gold: Creating Creations Over Michigan Barbecue
Things usually wind down as we get towards the end of the year, but this is not necessarily true for most freelancers, and this year it is certainly not true for me. However, I am not complaining in the least.
Last Friday I found myself scarfing down absolutely fantastic barbecue at a place in Corunna, Michigan. If you don’t know where that is, well, it’s just southeast of Owosso. My lust for great Que is perhaps legendary, but to actually get me to Corunna took some additional bait: I met up with my old and dear friend and ComicMix comrade John Ostrander.
Not wanting to destroy our mood, we didn’t talk about the Cubs’ prospects for the new season. We did open with our other usual talking points: politics, weird Chicago history, comics industry gossip, and comics industry fact that we could never utter in public. Then we got down to work.
We discussed a project we’ve wanted to do for almost a decade; one that we believe will finally get off the ground in 2014. It’s funny – I can’t remember what happened last night (maybe for a reason), but I remember a brilliant pitch from Paleolithic times. I’ve got enough brilliant and worthy pitches rattling around in my brainpan to start Second Comics, Third Comics, and π Comics. All it takes is an infinite amount of time and about 40% of Uncle Scrooge’s money bin.
Working with first-rate creators in plotting a new story or developing a new series is, for me, the best part of the job. I truly enjoy the catalytic role of making things happen. My working relationship and methodology differs with each creative team, and quite frankly working with John on a new project is very different from working with John and Timothy Truman on a new GrimJack story.
John and I have known each other since around 1971 and we’ve been working together in the comics racket since 1982, so we collaborate like an old comedy duo, like Crosby and Hope, Letterman and Shaffer, or the Smothers Brothers. Whereas I might start with a suggestion based upon my knowledge of John’s creative strengths, my job is to collaborate, reality-test, and polish – and not to create. In other words, John – and, later, the artist we entice onto the gig – do all the heavy lifting. I’m there to bounce around ideas, to represent the reader in making sure the story is getting across the plate, and to represent the business interests of the publisher. If the latter sounds anti-creative, well, it doesn’t have to be – if you’re working with a good publisher who also has a good marketing department. And good luck with that.
Because writers can write faster than drawers can draw, I got to ask John about starting another project, one we can get to once the new one I just alluded to is in the works. Of course we’ve got at least a half-dozen other concepts we’ve been wanting to do forever, but this time we thought it might be fun to start with a blank sheet of paper. Such a conversation focuses on several questions, such as “What would you like to do?” “Why does that excite you?” “How does that differ from (fill in the blank)?” and “What reference and research do we need to do?”
John and I have been swirling around a couple of specific themes for years, all born from mutual interest. He told me what he really wanted to do next – not an actual concept per se, but situations, environments, time frames, and character bits; the meat and potatoes of any story. Then, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we take those potatoes and mold them into the shape of a… thing. Nothing too specific – that’s up to John when he spaces out in front of his computer and starts creating magic.
We finished our barbecue, made a lot of cheap jokes at the expense of friends, fools and politicians, paid the bill, and went our separate ways. Usually it’s kind of sad to separate from an old friend whom you might not see for several months, but this is the comics world. We will be working on both of these projects via ridiculously frequent emails and phone calls. We will be in constant touch – just as we have been for about 42 years now.
Damn, I’ve got a great job.
THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil
THURSDAY AFTERNOON: The Tweaks!