Tagged: Dark Horse

Mike Gold: Archie’s Thyroid

Gold Art 130626When I started my first term at DC Comics back in 1976, DC’s then-VP of production Jack Adler told me the story of the biggest comic book the company never published: Blockbuster. It was purported to be a mammoth reprint book, not unlike their 100-Page Spectaculars but maybe five times bigger.

But it was a set-up. Jack said there had been this young artist – now a major comics legend – who had been coming into DC’s bullpen towards the end of the day to work at space vacated by one of the production artists. When nobody else was around, he’d poke around the production product to see what was happening. He would then leak noteworthy events to the fan press… and this pissed DC off. So in order to confirm their suspicions they mocked up a gargantuan reprint book called “Blockbuster” and left stuff lying around when only said leaker was around to see it. He did, he ratted the company out, and DC confirmed his guilt.comicscavalcadetb

I won’t tell you who this artist was for two reasons. Number one, I was young once myself (I am now a 14 year old boy trapped in the pathetic body of a 62 year old who deserves it back). Number two, were I in that position at that time, I probably would have done the same. Actually, I might do that today as well, but I’d do it for ComicMix. The title name was later resurrected for a weekly title featuring revivals of the Charlton heroes, but they changed it to Comics Cavalcade Weekly and commissioned a lot of work before deciding not to do it after all.

You might ask what this has to do with Archie’s thyroid. A couple weeks ago Archie Comics came out with a digest comic with serious glandular issues entitled Archie 1000 Page Comics Digest. This book, of course, reminded me of Blockbuster – except it is real.

Don’t go expecting it on the checkout racks of your neighborhood supermarket. The book is an inch and three-quarters thick. In comic book terms, that’s about, oh, 1000 pages. It retails for $15.00, which is quite a bargain, and places like Amazon have it for a hair over ten bucks. It’s also available digitally in three parts for retail price which, given the cost of printing and shipping and returns, is comparatively a rip.

Unlike Archie Comics’ other recent, slimmer tomes, Archie 1000 Page Comics Digest is mostly limited to fairly recent stories. I enjoy the early stuff quite a lot, but Dark Horse and IDW have been covering those bases with several coats of paint. No cover repros, no intros, the only additions were creator credits. 1000 pages of pure story.

I’m reminded of a time when I was even younger and the saints were battling dinosaurs. My parents would buy me one or two of those Harvey 25-centers (thinking the Archie annuals were gender-inappropriate) or maybe one of those Dennis The Menace or Disney vacation specials, plop me in the back seat of the car next to my sister (who did get those gender-inappropriate Archie annuals, which I also read) and drive off to visit my grandmother in Indiana or maybe to a wooden vacation shack in western Michigan alongside the Burma-Shave signs. They were right: those big bargain books kept me quiet for most of the trip.

If I were in my parents’ position today, I’d buy my kid this Archie 1000 Page Comics Digest in a heartbeat. Evidently Archie thinks highly of the format: they’ve got sequels set for October and December.

More power to them. At this price, you just can’t go wrong.




Mindy Newell: Duck And Cover

Newell Art 130610The bullshit never stops.

What is it about some men? Did Mommy keep obsessive charts about their every urination and bowel movement during toilet training, marking down the time and size and color and form? Or did Mommy skip the toilet training altogether and they went to kindergarten still wearing diapers? Did Daddy take little Tommy into the shower and soap the penis just a little too much? Was Uncle Ernie just a little too friendly? Did Great-aunt Myrtle catch little Hank masturbating in the bathroom while drooling over the Playmate of the Month?

What is it about some men who feel the need to piss and shit on any woman who dares to display talent, smarts, ability, and imagination?

Why do they do this?

Last week, here at ComixMix, Sara Raasch wrote about the latest attack on a woman who works in comics. This woman dares to display talent, smarts, ability, and imagination. Her name is Kelly Sue DeConnick and she is the writer of Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble, Ghost, Sif, Captain America and the Secret Avengers, just to mention a few. She was attacked on Tom Brevooort’s Tumblr site, New Brevoort Formspring in a statement by Anonymous.” His thesis is that Kelly only got to write for Marvel and Dark Horse because she is married to the guy who writes Fantastic Four and Hawkeye. (Kelly’s response is on her own Tumblr site, Digital Baubles. Neil Gaiman also posted it on his Tumblr site, and several others did so, as well.)

The women in this industry respond to this crap in several ways – laughter, anger, ignoring the attack, blogging about it, writing columns about it, and sometimes taking the pusillanimous putz head-on (even notifying the police, in one case), depending on their mood and general disposition.

I got hit with this stuff, too, back in the day when I was writing in the industry. Someone accused me of getting assignments by “strutting the hallways in fish-net stockings and fuck-me pumps.” I was once told by someone at Marvel that, when I started working there as an assistant editor, it was assumed by most that I had been, uh, “especially nice” to Tom DeFalco, who was then Marvel’s editor-in chief.

I started working at DC in 1983 – thirty years ago!!!!

I was hired by Marvel in 1990 – 23 years ago!!!!!

You’d think by now, 50 years since Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published, that the guano would have stopped falling from the sky onto our heads.

You’d think, right?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013. The Fox Business channel. Lou Dobbs Tonight.

Erick Erickson of www.Redstate.com appears along with FOX newsman Juan Williams to discuss a just-released Pew Study that found that mothers are now the primary breadwinners in 40% of American households. Lou Dobbs finds this “troubling.” Juan Williams thinks “something is going terribly wrong in American society.” And Erickson says:

I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology – when you look at the natural world – the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role. We as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complementary relationships in nuclear families, and it is tearing us apart. Having mom as primary bread winner is bad for kids and bad for marriage.”

And the shit just keeps on coming.




Marc Alan Fishman: Coming Soon…Gimmick Month!

Fishman Art 130608There’s a great website I stumbled on (thanks, Nick!)… hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com. Strange, but a subsequent Google search did not turn up any similarly named sites for Marvel, Image, Boom!, Dynamite, Avatar, or Dark Horse. To be fair, I didn’t search that hard. But I think the point is fairly straight forward. DC can’t get a win to save their lives these days. The worst part? There’s no silver lining to the clouds. No distant light off towards the horizon. Just bleak, bleary, predictably banal gimmick after gimmick.

First up? This summer, DC unveils its first epic-mega-crossover since the New 52 was unleashed with Trinity War’! Now, I’ll be fair: It appears this crossover is contained only to Justice League, Justice League of America, and a handful of character-specific tie-ins and mini-series. So, hey, it can’t be that bad, right? Well, according to a hype piece from Newsaramal, I could probably lay waste to the remainder of this column picking it apart. But I digress. No need to get too assy too quickly. You know what, I completely forgot! It’s get assy fast month here at ComicMix. Sorry, kiddos. I have to!

Once again, the whole shebang will start off with a death of a major character. Straight out of the gate, Trinity War aims right for the most predictable plot point to churn up the drama. Even if it’s handled as beautifully as, say, Ted Kord’s demise a few major crossovers ago… it’s still old hat. Combine this will all the preview art throwing all Justice-level leagues into a fracas. I’m sorry, it may be “new” in the New 52, but I’m terribly sick of heroes fighting heroes. While the JLA was formed specifically for this, having it come to a head amidst what will likely be a by-the-books tete-a-tete just seems like brilliantly lazy plotting. Maybe I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. But nothing suggests I am.

And beyond that? Well, one gimmick deserves another. DC announced that following in the aftermath of the Trinity War, the world will largely go unprotected. While Marvel apparently has the same thing happening in their Infinity crossover… seems Luke Cage was smart enough to stick around and make himself a make-shift mini-series. I mean team. So, Trinity War will begat Villains Month. Just as DC went back to all issues 0s a year into the New 52 (yet another immensely successful artifice – successful in having me drop five series simultaneously…), so too will all of DC’s publications be taken over by villain-specific issues, and a glut of mini-series.

On paper (pun not intended, oddly enough), this actually sounds pretty interesting. I’ve long felt DC has trumped the House of Mouse when it came to the quality of their ne’er-do-wells. Giving them the spotlight could be an interesting move. But taken at the mass quantity of 52 one-shots, and three five-issue mini-series? It’s overkill. So much so, that as a reader? I outright can’t afford to enjoy the glut of the releases. Whatever market research DC did that proves its fanbase can purchase 55 issues in a single month (and likely forego all other comics in said month…) is as skewed as their also-announced 3D motion covers. Wait. What? Yeah.

In a bold move, DC will debut 3-D motion covers on their villainous volumes. I say bold because silly, a waste, novel-at-best, or dumb-dumb-dittay would be too mean. Feel free to peruse a few sneaky-peaks, and tell me how they come across to you. Just as I’d thought we moved past holofoil, gatefold, reverse-colored, and secret-message-hidden-between-the-lines-if-you-look-close-enough covers… the industry I love so much chooses to continue to deluge the marketplace with wastes of ink and paper. I’m all for a striking cover image – don’t get me wrong – but every aforementioned stunt does nothing for me as a fan. Never once in my fandom have I purchased a comic because of a special cover. While I know there’s a variant collectable market… when your entire line is being fitted with such an over-the-top Look At Me! construct? It reeks more of desperation than celebration.

As Marvel continues to dominate the sales charts and Image continues to win the hearts of all who seek originality, DC seems to be thrashing on the deck of the USS Fanboy. What hurts the most is that so much of it could be prevented. Long before the New 52, in between too-many crossovers and events, was a line of comics that knew that their strength came through solid runs and potent creative teams. At the end of the day, when we fans describe those “must read” moments of our favorite characters, it’s few and far between where you’ll find us reflecting on the machination of the month.

When DC can return to just telling great stories that depend on nothing more than the power of their brands… they’ll realize they don’t need anything else to be successful. And that my friends… is no gimmick.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Captain Midnight #0 Free Preview

Dark Horse Comics shared a free preview of the new CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT #0 comic book.

Piloting a World War II dive-bomber, Captain Midnight—fighter pilot extraordinaire and expert inventor—hurtles out of a freak storm in the Bermuda Triangle and into the twenty-first century, where he’s in for more than one surprise as he enters the modern era! Collects the three stories from Dark Horse Presents #18–#20.

Joshua Williamson (Masks and Mobsters, Voodoo,Uncharted), Victor Ibáñez (Rat Catcher, The Spirit) and Pere Pérez (Aquaman, Detective Comics)!

Cover by Raymond Swanland!

Grab your decoder rings!

Read the free preview here.

Dark Horse reimagines radio, television, and comics’ legendary hero in an all-new ongoing series!

“Dark Horse and writer Joshua Williamson are reaching a bit further back, pulling the titular Golden Age hero from his roots in World War II and post-war America into contemporary culture.”—Comic Book Resources

Mike Gold: How The Rest Was One

GOld Art 130501Remember crossovers? Way back in the day, they were the biggest deal in comics.

They were so rare that, in Marvel’s earliest days, a crossover between Iron Man and The Angel was “by permission of the Uncanny X-Men.” The whole Earth-One / Earth-Two thing at DC was breathtaking, a fan’s wet dream. Heck, we even thrilled when Blackhawk simply mentioned Superman.

Maybe the most significant crossover of that time was when The Fantastic Four encountered The Hulk. It was published the same month that The Incredible Hulk was cancelled… but it was so successful that a year later The FF brought in The Avengers to help in their rematch with Bruce Banner’s alter-ego – in a two-parter, no less!

(Yes, back when crossovers were relatively few and far between, two-part stories came about as often locusts.)

Today, crossovers are no longer a big deal. Actually, they’re no deal at all: continuity is so tight and the universes are so integrated that each character’s individuality is subservient to the fabric of its universe. If there was a crisis so big that it attracted the entire Marvel or DC universe, the bigger crisis would be the resulting traffic jam.

Now before you think this is a “Hey, kids, get off my lawn” moment, please rest assured I enjoy the current tightly integrated universe approach. By and large, they do a great job of it over at Marvel and I suspect DC would do a pretty good job as well if they ever decide to go three years without a reboot.

Recently we’ve been experiencing the merging of both approaches over at Dark Horse. Back when, they had themselves a line of superhero comics called “Comics Greatest World.” I enjoyed much of it: they were well done (some, of course, more than others) and together they expressed a different worldview. This is the critical element often lacking in many “new” superhero universes.

But what’s cool is that they’re slowly reasserting Comics Greatest World. Not rebooting it, and barely relaunching it, this effort mostly focuses on their new series bringing back their character Ghost. It’s clearly still set in the CGW universe and characters from that universe appear in the series… perhaps, and presumably, as a launching pad for future series, mini and otherwise.

Seeing as how I enjoyed that worldview and the original CGW launch, I wish them luck. And it would be pretty cool if these current efforts don’t overplay that tightly integrated universe thing and restore, in a small way, the uniqueness of the genuine comics crossover.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Set Sail for the Pulpy Shores if Venus!

Cover Art by John Coleman Burroughs


Breaking News from EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, INC ~ Tarzana, CA
To our Loyal, Steadfast, Patient Subscribers – We’ve got Great News for you!

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is substantially expanding its Sunday Comic Strip Subscription website. Over the next several months, at no increased cost to you, we will be adding four or five new exciting comic strip series for your enjoyment. Beginning June 1, we will be adding a CARSON OF VENUS comic strip written and drawn by extremely gifted and experienced professionals to complement our existing TARZAN strip.

With Martin Powell as our Writer and Tom Floyd and Diana Leto as our Artists, CARSON OF VENUS will begin with the story of Carson Napier’s “The Greatest Wrong Turn in History” and take off from there. Be prepared for an exciting journey.

Our intent is to bring new life to the many classic literary creations of Edgar Rice Burroughs and honor his writing career that encompassed such a great variety of genres. We intend to build the finest comic strip site of highly entertaining stories not be found anywhere else in the world. Our writers and artists are committed to bringing their best ideas to you because they truly enjoy their subject matter. They will help us visualize what was in the vivid imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and we will all be truly entertained.

Below are brief bios of our new writer and artists that will describe the tremendous talent and experience they will bring to our comic strip subscription service.

Thanks for continuing to be a loyal Subscriber!

Best regards, Jim………..

James J. Sullos, Jr. | President | Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
PO Box 570277 | Tarzana CA 91357 |

Art: Tom Floyd

Martin Powell has been a professional writer since 1986, having written hundreds of stories in numerous genres, for Disney, Marvel, DC, and Sequential Pulp/Dark Horse Comics, among others. Nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award for his work with Sherlock Holmes, he has written for some of the most popular characters in the industry, including Superman, Batman, Popeye the Sailor, and Tarzan of the Apes. He’s also the author of many children’s books and is co-creator of the acclaimed Halloween Legion, with illustrator Diana Leto. Powell’s The Tall Tale of Paul Bunyan won the coveted Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Best Graphic Novel of 2010.

Tom Floyd is a self-professed jack of all trades. He has been everything from a Texas oilfield roustabout, a mechanic, a soldier, a printer, and a public school art teacher. Finally settling down some 14 years ago as a graphic designer-illustrator-animator for a PBS station. He has worked on productions from local programs to Reading Rainbow, NOVA science NOW, and American Experience. But throughout all of this he remained a comic fan, artist and writer working for companies such as Elite Comics, Eternity, Moonstone, and Marvel. He was honored in 2010 to receive the Burroughs Bibliophiles Golden Lion Award for his illustrations for new Bison Books editions of the Moon Maid, Pellucidar, The Eternal Savage, and Pirates of Venus. He has also written and illustrated an on-line web comic Captain Spectre and the Lightning Legion, which is a pulp/serial/adventure comic. Captain Spectre is located on the web at http://www.captainspectre/. com. You can also follow along with other of his projects at his sketchblog (http://www.lightning/legionblogspot.com) .

Diana Leto has been a professional artist and graphic designer for over a decade. Her illustration has illuminated projects at institutions including The Jim Henson Legacy, Sesame Street and Sequential Pulp/Dark Horse Comics. She is co-creator and illustrator of the Halloween Legion, a critically acclaimed all-ages mystery/adventure series featuring “The Worlds’ Weirdest Heroes.” Presenting contemporary design at Adobe MAX, addressing teachers and children about being a woman in the arts at KIDS’ COMIC CON and helping refresh beloved characters for a cultural institution, Diana’s artwork stands at the intersection of education and inspiration.

Copyright © 2013 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc, All rights reserved.

Eisner Awards 2013 Nominations Announced; “Hawkeye”, “Fatale”, “Building Stories” Lead

Comic-Con International is proud to announce the nominations for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards of 2013. The nominees, chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of judges, reflect the wide range of material being published in comics and graphic novel form today, from crime noir to autobiographical works to cartoon adventures. Three titles lead the 2013 list with 5 nominations each.

Marvel-Disney Connection Now Includes Once Upon a Time Hardcover Graphic Novel

OnceUponATimeThe connections between Marvel Comics and its sister divisions within Walt Disney continue to evolve. After the success of graphic novels tying in the quasi-related genre of ABC’s Castle, now the company is about to launch a graphic novel based on another ABC property, Once Upon a Time. It’s fully expected that in 2015, Marvel will once more publish Star Wars comics as the relationship between Lucasfilm, now a Disney vassal, and Dark Horse, comes to a conclusion. Should this continue, we can expect a continuing line of comics tied to other Disney properties, both film and television.

New York, NY (March 28th, 2013)—Dive into the immersive world of ABC’s Once Upon a Time like never before as Marvel Entertainment and Disney-ABC Television Group are proud to announce Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen, an all-new original graphic novel hardcover inspired by the popular series. Plotted by series writer & co-producer Dan Thomsen, and co-written by Corinna Bechko (Planet of The Apes), this landmark release fits into the official continuity of Once Upon a Time and features the lush art of Nimit Malavia, Vasilis Lolos, Mike Del Mundo, Stephanie Hans and Mike Henderson.

Welcome to Storybrooke, a small New England town where seemingly regular people go about their everyday lives with no idea who they really are – the fabled storybook characters we all grew up with! It’s real, all of it! But Fairy Tale Land is not the “happily ever after” you may have heard about – their stories continued, and the Evil Queen cast a Dark Curse over their homeland.

In Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen, the Evil Queen has, quite literally, captured the Huntsman’s heart. With the Huntsman a slave, experience the never-before-told tale behind their twisted relationship—and what happens when a good man is forced to do bad. And when Regina cooks up yet another devious plan to capture Snow White the Huntsman comes face-to-face with his past — including an independent spirit in Red Riding Hood that just may match his own.  Can these two break free of the forces that bind them and save Snow White?

The release of Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen marks the first official graphic fiction tie-in to the hit ABC Studios series.

Once Upon a Time fans are in for a treat with this incredible story that reveals some shocking secrets about Regina and the Huntsman”, said David Gabriel, SVP Sales, Print and Digital Media. “It’s been a pleasure to work with ABC to create a line of high quality original graphic novels that bring new fans into comic stores and also allow us to introduce great franchises like Once Upon a Time to our die-hard fans.”

Shadow of the Queen will bring fans a whole new thread of the intriguing backstory between Regina and the Huntsman – in a uniquely Marvel way”, said Adam Sanderson, SVP Franchise Management for the Disney-ABC Television Group.  “We hope this brand extension will further deepen the engagement our viewers have with one of ABC’s signature series.”

When put to the test, where will the Huntsman’s loyalties lie?  Has the Evil Queen stolen his heart in more ways than one? Find out in Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen available on September 4th in book stores, comic shops, the Marvel Comics app (for iPhone®, iPad®, iPod Touch® & Android devices) and online in the Marvel Digital Comics Shop.

John Ostrander: Getting Old in the Comic Industry

Ostrander Art 130310On his blog last week, Jerry Ordway wrote bravely and feelingly about being a pro in comics when your age is over 50. Here’s a man who has been a comic book star of long standing and now finds it hard to get any work. His skill, ability, and desire haven’t diminished; he’s just older (and more experienced) than he was back then. He had an exclusive contract with DC and, in its final year, the company treated him deplorably, not giving him any work but not letting him get any work elsewhere.

I completely sympathize with him and can echo many of his statements. Is there ageism in comics? Demonstrably, at least for talent. On The Other Hand… some of the top editors at both Marvel and DC are around our ages. If the theory is that the talent needs to be younger in order to “get” or appeal to the younger reader, why are the editors immune? I sometimes feel like I’m in the “Bring Out Your Dead” segment from Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

Me to editor: “I’m feeling better!”

Editor to me: “You’re not fooling anyone, you know!”

I can’t claim that it’s universal. Dark Horse has been very good in giving me work and, in turn, I think I’ve given them good work in return. But I don’t seem to get any replies to e-mails that I send to the Big Two. OTOH, there are writers my age (or thereabouts) who do get work. Often they’re good friends with the given editor or Editor-In-Chief. I can’t complain about that, either; it’s worked in my favor in the past and can still work for me. Randy Stradley over at Dark Horse has been a friend as well as an editor and I get work from him.

Editors are also under far more pressure these days to produce higher sales. I and others used to nervously kid that, even with companies that were large conglomerates, comics were relatively free to do what they wanted because the money their sales brought in were chump change to Corporate Masters. That’s changed; superhero movies and games and TV shows are all big business and rake in tons of money and with that comes greater corporate oversight. With that comes the desire for more sales (How do you determine if you’re successful in corporate America? If you sell more of whatever you make than you did before and/or more than the competition). With that comes other problems.

The comic book market has a finite number of buyers with a finite amount of money to spend on the product. Digital sales might change that and expand the market base but I don’t know if the figures are in on that yet. So – how do you increase sales in a finite market?

One of the truisms of Hollywood is that “Nobody Knows Nuthin’.” Often, the folks in charge don’t really know what sells or why. Oh, they have theories but most often they look at what’s sold and try to do more of that or see who sells and try to hire them. You might think, if that held true in comics as well, that guys like Jerry Ordway would get more work.

Ah, but in comics, they believe the fans have short attention spans and what works in “new.” Not new characters or concepts but new variations on what you have, i.e. Superman minus red swimming trunks on his costume. That’s new, right?

I’m not dissing the notion. Fans, especially male fans, get bored after a few issues. They want something they haven’t seen before. That’s where folks like Jerry and myself run into problems; it’s assumed by editors and perhaps by fans that they’ve seen all we have to offer. Doing something well is not the point; giving the fans something new with which to get excited is the point.

OTOH, the fan base is the fan base. It’s getting older as well and, from what I’ve seen, it’s not growing. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that they would want to see an old favorite like Jerry Ordway? The object of the game is to get the reader to part with their hard earned money to buy a given book; Jerry’s done that. Combine him with a writer like Gail Simone or Geoff Johns and you think that wouldn’t sell? He knows how to do the work and how to please the fans.

Part of the problem also is, to get more sales, you need either a) for the fans to have more disposable income to spend on comics and/or b) bring in more new readers, preferably younger readers. On the latter, I’m not so sure that ship hasn’t sailed. The time to bring in new readers is about when they’re ten. Comics didn’t do that; they didn’t produce kid friendly comics (they still don’t) and would-be readers got lost to the video game market.

And don’t get me started on how they’ve ignored female readers. That’s a column right there and Mindy and Martha write about more knowledgably than I. That doesn’t mean I won’t add my two cents as well at some point.

In fact, this whole topic needs everyone’s two cents. I picked this topic up because I think it needs to be pursued. If you want folks like Jerry (or, yes, me) to get more work, say so in letters, in blogs, in other columns. If you think that comics are stories, not just product, and who does them are not just widgets, say something. If the conversation dies, if no one cares, then there’s no reason for the companies to care, either.

Keep the discussion going.




Emily S. Whitten: Chu’s Day with Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex

Whitten Art 130305Last weekend, I was in New York City with the ever-wonderful Neil Gaiman and the extremely personable Adam Rex. Bestselling author and illustrator were in town to do a marathon signing at the delightful children’s book store Books of Wonder for Chu’s Day, their new children’s book. Although it was planned as only a signing (seeing as a million-billion people showed up), they did, in fact, decide to stand up on stepladders and do an impromptu reading of Chu’s Day first. It was exceptionally fun, with Neil, writer of the story, narrating the story and some illustrations, and Adam, the book’s illustrator, expertly doing Chu’s sneezes. (He’s very good at dramatic sneezing.)

They also answered some questions from the crowd, which is how we learned that Neil’s favorite picture books as a child included The Cat in the Hat Comes Back: “I didn’t have the first one, just the sequel,” he said, “so I thought, “‘Comes back?’ This is the first time I’ve met him! This is weird.” He was also a fan of the English Ladybird books, including Robin Hood, Snow White, and What to Look For in Autumn. Adam’s favorites included The Monster at the End of This Book (a favorite of mine, as well), which he proclaimed “an excellent postmodernist story, years ahead of its time;” as well as The Bike Lesson, a Berenstain Bears book; and Where the Wild Things Are.

I spoke with both author and illustrator during their NYC visit, and happily, have the pleasure of sharing those conversations with you now.

Interview with Neil Gaiman, author of Chu’s Day

On Twitter, the excellent cartoonist John Kovalic was saying it would be interesting to hear about the process of working with Adam Rex on Chu’s Day, and I agree. Please tell us a little about that.

Chu’s Day began when I was in China. It began with the Chinese telling me that none of my children’s picture books were in print in China, because they showed disrespect for authority, and children doing bad things and not being punished for it, and children being wiser than their adults; so they couldn’t be published in China. And I thought, I want to do a story that has all of that – and that the Chinese will like.

One of the things I’d loved most about being in China was actually having a panda sit on my lap, and going to a panda facility. I’m a sucker for pandas. So I was sitting around chewing this over in the back of my head, and then I pulled out a piece of paper, and wrote a story about a baby panda, using pretty much the words that are in the book. Then I got it home, and thought, “I don’t know how to write a children’s book, because the only way that I know how to do one of these normally would be like a comic script. But if I do it as a comic script, then it’s long and it’s big and it’s complicated and…let me do this the easy way.” The easy way for me was, I got a pen brush and a little book, and I drew the story out. Beat by beat, with the words that I wanted. Because I thought, “If I’m pitching this to a publisher, I want them to be able to see what it is.” So I did my drawings and they said yes, and once they said yes, then we had to find an artist.

And how did you end up with Adam?

Adam had been sort of crossing my path vaguely for many years, so I was kind of aware of him. In fact, he even crossed my path before I was aware of him crossing my path, because when he was an art student he gave me a Morpheus meeting the Kirby Sandman painting. After we were working together, he sent me a jpeg of it and said, “Do you remember this?” and I said, “Yes! That was in my house for a long time, and then it was auctioned, for the Fiddler’s Green (Sandman) convention, for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.” So he’d crossed my path, and every now and then I’d get a book from Adam, for a blurb, so I knew who he was. And I liked him. I’d never actually met him, but I liked his style and what he was doing.

Then I was talking to my agent, Merilee, and I said, “I have to find somebody who can draw really good animals. I have this vision; I know I want to do the world populated by animals, and I know they have to look like real animals. They can’t be cartoon animals; but they also have to do very funny, sort of human things.” And she said, “Well why don’t you go and look at Writers House [which is my agency]. We’re also representing illustrators these days. See if there are any illustrators on the website that you like.” So I looked, and thought, you know, Adam’s stuff is brilliant, and that’s absolutely perfect, so I asked Harpers if they’d be okay with Adam, and they loved the idea and said they’d ask him, and he said yes. And when he finished the book, we all looked at it and went, “Ohmygosh, this is great!” and I said, “Can I do another one?” and they said, “Sure,” so I signed a contract and Adam signed a contract to do another two Chu books.

The next one, which is already written, is called Chu’s First Day at School. And for the third one, I have two different ones in mind. I might want to do Chu Goes to the Beach, and I might want to do Chu’s Very Bad Day. The beach has some really surreal stuff in it. They’d both be a little bit older than the first Chu book, because the first Chu book is for kids who can barely read. You know, kids who get stuff read to them.

Are they being published in China?

There is definitely interest in China. I’m very much hoping that Chu’s Day will be published there. And that nobody’s actually going to notice that Chu doesn’t get punished, and he actually does kind of know more than his parents.

Where does Adam live, and how does that work when you’re working with an illustrator at a distance?

Arizona. It works pretty well. For Sandman, over the years, I would talk to people on the phone, and talk in email, and that all kind of works. Adam and I have actually never met. We’re meeting tomorrow morning for the first time, and then we’ll go over and start signing books and posters and things.

Since we’re speaking of Sandman; tell us about the new one. I just saw that someone has been reading the script for it, so I guess the first part is written now?

Yes, the first episode has finally been finished…probably about eight months late! Because I kept getting scared.

Well, it’s been years since you wrote the original series. I don’t even know exactly what this new story is about; do you want to talk about that?

No! I’m not telling anybody what it’s about! Other than, well, it begins before Sandman #1. Sandman #1 opens with Morpheus being captured; he’s traveled unimaginable distances, he’s dressed for war, and he’s exhausted. And one of the things that is kind of strange about Sandman is, I always thought a lot of people would want to know: why? Why was he dressed for war; where was he coming from? I kept waiting for people to go “Why? Why, tell us, for God’s sake!!” But nobody ever did! So I will be telling that story.

Well I will be excited to hear it, because when I first read it, I didn’t know you, so I couldn’t ask, but I did always wonder, “How did he end up there? You know; he’s Sandman, he’s Dream!”

He should not have been captured, exactly. And why was he dressed like that, and what was going on? So now people will find out.

Excellent. I can’t wait! So one more Chu’s Day question. The story is filled with talking animals. If you were a talking animal, what animal would you be and what would you talk about?

I would almost definitely be a large black cat. But what I would do is never talk when anybody had a microphone or a camera, or there was more than one person around; so it would always be deniable. Because the last thing you want to do if you’re a talking animal is talk in public, because at that point suddenly you’re a celebrity, and they’re taking you apart and they’re examining your brains…

What you want to do is just drive people nuts, by sort of padding over to somebody as they’re sitting there, you know, looking at their computer, and getting really, really upset about something not working; and you just sort of walk over, and you just say: “Ctrl+Alt+Delete.” And then you walk away. And they go, “What? What!! The cat is saying Ctrl+Alt+Delete, oh my God!”

That is truly Machiavellian. And awesome. (And thank you for the interview, Neil!)

Interview with Adam Rex, illustrator of Chu’s Day

Adam, tell me…is your last name really Rex?

It really is, yeah; I think I kind of lucked out. Everybody asks me if it’s a pen name; because it sounds like a pen name. Growing up, I didn’t think it was anything special, because I don’t think anyone ever thinks their name is anything special at that point, but now I realize it sounds kind of like a superhero alter ego.

It does! So when did you first start getting into drawing in the professional sense; and when you were a kid, were you always drawing?

Yeah, but you know, all kids start drawing at about the same age. I think all little kids are illustrators. They all draw, and they all draw to tell stories; so when people ask me, “When did you start drawing?” I feel like the real question is actually, “When did you stop drawing?” – and I’m good at it because I didn’t stop at the age of ten or twelve or fourteen like everybody else does.

At a very early age I decided I was going to be an artist when I grew up, because when I was about five years old, I overheard my older brother, who was eight at the time, complaining to our mom that it wasn’t fair that “Adam draws better than me even though he’s younger;” and I wasn’t at better than him at anything, so I just decided right then and there that this was what I would do. I don’t know that everybody gets that moment of clarity when they’re five! So I always wanted to be an artist. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I worked at a Waldenbooks when I was a teenager and kind of fell in love with picture books all over again. In my teen years I wanted to either do comics or picture books; anything that would let me synthesize telling stories and doing art.

When you first got started, did you do some work for comics, or did you start in picture books and stay there?

I never really did a whole lot of comics work. Where I actually got my start was in role playing and trading card games. I did a ton of stuff for D&D, and for Magic: The Gathering, and that’s what paid all my bills while I was trying to get into the kids’ book industry. Those were great clients to have, but what I really wanted to do was the kids’ stuff.

How did you end up doing the kids’ books?

It was persistence; but it was also lowering my bar a little bit. When I realized that nobody was giving me a book to work on, I started looking for work from the kids’ magazines, like Cricket and Spider, and that got me refreshing my portfolio with new pieces. I always think it’s important to refresh your portfolio with assignments that other people are giving you, because otherwise, you just tend to play to your own strengths, and you can be lazy with yourself. But it was actually a piece that I did for Cricket magazine that led directly to my getting my first picture book assignment. That was a book called The Dirty Cowboy, published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, and written by Amy Timberlake.

And when was that?

That came out in 2003. I got that assignment in 2001.

So you’ve been doing picture books for about twelve years now; and the latest is Chu’s Day, and you’ve signed on for two more Chu books?

Yes; Neil is on the short list of people I would drop everything for.

When you first got the job with Neil and Chu’s Day, what was the first thing you did when you sat down to think about how you were going to approach it?

This was kind of an unusual case, because Neil had actually sort of made a book dummy himself, where he had given some indication of where he thought the page breaks would be, and I don’t think I really messed with that too much. I may have stretched it out a little bit; or condensed certain parts. But usually when I sit down with a manuscript, I’m going through and drawing brackets around the sections of text, and deciding, “Okay, that’s a page; that’s a page; that’s a page,” and then I review it the first time, count them all up, and see if I actually ended up with a viable page count. All kids’ books are pretty much either 32 or 40 pages, so if you can’t make it work in that format, then you have to go back and try again. So I do that, and then once I figure out what text is going to go on each page, that’s followed by a bunch of really messy thumbnails; planning the whole book out on maybe one sheet of my sketchbook. Those sketches are so messy that really only I can tell what I’ve laid out there. And then it’s just refining from there. Larger messy sketches, and then a good sketch that goes off to the editor, and then the comments back, or lack of comments; and only then do I actually start painting.

I think my favorite part of the process is figuring out what all the characters are going to look like. So there are a lot of totally self-indulgent days of just character sketches. I realize I can spend way too much time doing that; so at some point I have to cut myself off.

When you got to the destruction scenes in Chu’s Day, what was your favorite part to draw?

I think I really enjoyed, not so much the actual action scenes, but the aftermath. Just the shell-shocked employees of and audience at the circus, with their various expressions. There’s a lion-tamer in the crowd who just has this soul-searching, thousand-mile stare. It’s clear he’s just, like, re-evaluating everything he ever thought about life and the universe. I think it was actually the reaction shot of everybody afterwards, after the dust settled, that was my favorite thing to draw.

I liked the gumball machine that was in mid-explosion. I like little details like that.

It’s funny you mention that, because I think my wife said the same thing. “That’s the sort of thing,” she said, “that I would have obsessed over. I would have wanted those gumballs as a little girl. I would have spent a lot of time looking at that gumball machine.”

Do you prefer drawing people or intelligent animals?

A little of both, really. I don’t know why I dig drawing animals in waistcoats and hats so much, but I really seem to enjoy it. It’s a total pleasure, because if you take certain liberties with panda bear anatomy, people are very forgiving. If you take the same liberties with a human being, people say, “That’s not right.” So it’s all the fun of drawing characters and getting at what’s important about each character, without having to worry too much about whether or not you got that perfect anatomy down.

You said you had originally been interested in comics. Do you want to stay with picture books? Do you want to keep branching out and do other things? And what’s your newest project? Well; I know you have the next two Chu books…

Right, another Chu project is coming. My first novel that I wrote actually has about fifteen pages of comics in it, that I just sort of shoehorned in there, and so one of my upcoming novels, which is a sequel to that one, will probably be the same way. Whether or not I actually ever commit to doing something like a genuine graphic novel, I don’t know. It’s really daunting. Although because I happen to be friends with Scott Allie over at Dark Horse, I did end up doing a cover to the Free Comic Book Day issue of The Guild.

Last question: One line of advice for young illustrators.

Keep your receipts.

That’s excellent advice. (And thank you for the interview, Adam!)

Well! I hope you all enjoyed these interviews…

But wait! There’s more! I also interviewed Neil regarding his myriad of other exciting projects! So if you’d like to read the rest of the Neil Gaiman interview, head on over to the DC Books and Authors Blog, an affiliate of The National Press Club, and check it out!

And until next time, Servo Lectio!