Martha Thomases: Independents Day
Is that too obvious? Is it like saying, “I love breathing,” or “I love skin?”
But, really, I love them. I love the big, splashy comics from The Big Two, with their shiny covers and fancy computer coloring. I love black-and-white self-published pamphlets, loving hand-stapled by the creators as the pages come off the copier.
If it’s words and pictures working together to tell a story, I’m going to at least sample it.
Graphic storytelling, like rock’n’roll, is a uniquely American art form. Like rock’n’roll, it started out as throwaway culture, designed to be an impulse purchase for impulsive children. And like rock’n’roll, anybody can pick up a pencil and create comics.
When I was growing up, it never occurred to me to consider comic book creation as a career. It didn’t occur to me that humans created them, not anymore than it occurred to me that Oreos came from a baker.
Later, when I met people who wrote and drew comics for a living, I was in awe. These folks got to decide what Superman did! Unfortunately, they didn’t get paid a very large proportion of what Superman earned. I don’t mean as a comic book, because there is that throwaway economic model to which I referred above. I mean the value of keeping the property alive for decades.
That was then. This is now. Talented people can keep their own copyrights and trademarks. There are enough successful independent publishers like this and this and this, just for examples to create a competitive marketplace for writers and artists.
And yet, some people still self-publish. Maybe they do it because they can’t find a publisher. Maybe the story has no commercial potential. Maybe it does, but the only way to find out is to do it.
I met one of these people at the recent Reed Show in New York. He’s James Murray, and in addition to comics, he’s a novelist and a poet and he has a YouTube Channel. The comics I saw were about classic monsters and horror. Not my genre, but clearly one that absorbs his interest and channels his creativity.
I decided to ask him a few questions about why he does it. And I thought the Fourth of July was the right time.
When did you start reading comics? Did you always write?
I was fascinated by reading at a real young age. When I was really little I would sit with the newspaper and say out loud words and letters I recognized. My mom said when I was little and she’d take me to the store I wouldn’t ask for a lot of toys but I’d ask for books. I remember making this 32-page story called G. I. Joe vs the Moon Monster. This was before I was even in kindergarten, mind you. I drew a little bit but I was never that kid that was doodling in class all the time and stuff like that. I don’t really have that aptitude for drawing so other people drew my comics.
When I got older I didn’t write too much but in 9th grade I took a creative writing class and my senior year I took writing seminar. As a teenager I became a metal head, big Axel Rose and Ozzy Osbourne fan. I wasn’t a musician but got into writing poetry and was partly inspired by the music I liked. In college I started going to poetry readings at the local coffee shop. I really ran hard with poetry for a long time, and always sought out readings. At this point I’ve even read poems in South Korea and Australia.
As far as comics go when I was in college comics almost died. My freshmen year of college there were three comic stores in my college town, by the time I graduated there were none. A few years back Comics Experience with Andy Schmidt started offering online classes geared to writing comics. I took those and learned a lot about how to actually get stuff done. I’d been teaching in Korea for a while and had some money saved up and decided to go for it. In late 2011 I came back to America and took a year off. I self published my first comic, a short novella, and a collection of poetry. I also had some finite web-comics up and sold my books at conventions. In 2013 some stuff came up and I couldn’t do shows but I’m back at it now and hope to keep doing conventions and making books.
I liked monster movies when I was little. When I was starting to talk to people about making comics the advice I was given from people that made their own books was to do something different. I figured I didn’t want to plan some 60-issue epic. I thought if I could do a comic I’d want to do a one and done story, and I knew making a black and white book was less expensive than color. So I thought, black and white, one shot, and something different. Remembering how I liked monster movies I thought of Classic Horror Comics, the idea of mimicking seeing a movie during the Golden Age of Hollywood, complete with news reel footage before the film starts etc.
You write comics and poetry. Was picking up bottles at the side of the road too much of a high-profit business?
If that’s not bad enough, I teach for a living. Why do all my passions promise poverty? I’m a glutton for punishment I guess.
How do you find people with whom to work?
My first comic I found the artist on Digital Webbing. Sarah Benkin, I met at the New York Comic-con in 2011. It was at Creator Exchange, which is like Speed Dating for creators. We did a short webcomic called Shock Value and that turned out well so then we did my newest comic, Curse of the Mummy’s Stone. The cover for my Frankenstein Novella was done by someone I met through Concept Art.org. Pat Volz, who did the Phantom Flyer webcomic, is a friend I met teaching in Korea. I was at an open mic reading a piece about how awesome the Punisher is, and he made a point to introduce himself to me because he likes comics too.
What is your dream project?
I love crossovers, Superman/Aliens, Robocop/Terminator etc. I’d love to write some of those. My prose stories, which I call the Crosso-verse, are what I hope to be a life long project. My ultimate dream is that someday Disney buys Hasbro and that I get to write a massive Marvel meets Star Wars meets Transformers meets G. I. Joe in the world of Tron, with appearances by Gargoyles, Dungeons and Dragons, Visionaries and the Inhumanoids.
How can people buy your books?
My website is www.hardcoalstudios.com Through there print copies of my books can be ordered, My comics can be purchased there digitally as well. On my site I also have the two finite webcomics, Shock Value and the Phantom Flyer, and the sequel to my novella which is called Nemo: The Power of the Coming Race. My blog is linked there www.jemurr.wordpress.com on which I have the story Frankenstein: The Last Man. This summer I’ll be posting online my new prose story, The Last Vampire.