Last week, I started a conversation with writer/creator Joseph Patrick Gauthier, who was on the verge of launching his Lazarus: Immortal Coils mini-series from Markosia. Now, we continue with launch-day thoughts, the influence of religion, the hazards of online columns, and a few other things we hope you find particularly interesting…
Ambi: So, how did it feel to launch your very own comic last week?
Gauthier: Good, but not as good as I thought. It’s hard being ecstatic when you know this is just the beginning of a process that will continue for God knows how long. It hit me two months ago when we, my partners and I, were promoting the first issue and gearing up to add the second book to our efforts. I’d gone 48 hours with no sleep, working at the hospital and coming home to search the net, make cold calls, and do back & forth with pre-press. I was telling myself I couldn’t wait until it was over, and then I could relax. But, if things go my way, it will never be over. This will be my life.
Plus, I’m plagued by the “What’s next?” question. I’ve published a comic book. Technically, I’m a professional in this industry. I’ve accomplished my dream. What’s next?
Ambi: There are obviously some heavy religious influences at work in Lazarus. How have your own beliefs played into the creation and execution of the series?
Gauthier: I bounced around from religion to religion when I was younger because my mom was a bit of a “thumper.” I was devout most of the time, but always kept my head clear. I followed teachings because I believed they were right, but never let faith blind me. In comics, when it comes to religion and the Bible, you’re either a preacher or a rebel. You’re afraid of it, ignore it, or play fast and loose with whatever you need at the time. It is mostly an either/or scenario.
L:IC is different because it doesn’t preach, nor does it condemn. It doesn’t pull punches, but it doesn’t go out of the way to piss people off for shock value. It walks that middle line like I do. A religious person will read it and say it’s about a blessed man killing demons. A non-religious person will say it’s about an immortal hero killing monsters, kicking ass, and taking names. They’d both be right.
Ambi: Is this a perspective you want to reflect in most of your works, or is it just specific to this particular book? As you said, religion often turns into a “controversial” topic, depending on how it’s expressed, but there is a definite lack of that kind of material in mainstream comics. What do you think makes comics a unique vehicle for portraying aspects of religion and spirituality?
Gauthier: This perspective is unique to L:IC. I wrote Lazarus: Immortal Coils knowing people would either like it or curse it. They would get that it’s a straight action story despite the Biblical foundation, or not. It wasn’t until it was done that I saw the duality.
I actually believe comics today are too limited. There are too many barriers to what you can and cannot present to a comic book audience. I remember jamming with my studio partner about different ideas one night. To appease the fangirls, I thought up a male vigilante whose origin is rape, to even out all the sexual or sex charged violence towards females in comics today. That led to an idea where Tim Drake questions his sexuality as another teenage boy has the hots for him. By the time we were done, I was wishing Marvel would do a SHIELD book like Tears of the Sun, taking action against tribal wars in Africa. I was told all would never get done because the majority of comic fans are oversexed, homophobic, and obsessed with costumes. Meanwhile, the graphic novels that do break the mold are somehow kept separate from the general readership.
Persepolis is a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about her life in the Iran War between Iran and Iraq, called the “Imposed War” from 1980 to ’88. I was at a friend’s party celebrating his PHD when he told me about it. He has never stepped foot in a comic store, but he knew about this book. Meanwhile, I live in comic book stores and haven’t seen it.
Ambi: Now, somewhat similar to how I’ve used my column over the years, your Speaking in Tongues over at Comics Village has hosted features on the influences of the series and other creative elements going into it. You also devote some space to your thoughts on the industry, in a decidedly unrestricted way, and I wondered if you think your column has helped or perhaps even hindered your efforts to advance within the comics industry? Also, how much does this become a real concern as you continue forward?
Gauthier: Good question. I have no idea. I’m still new and in my first year. I call the column “Speaking in Tongues” because I want to talk about life and comics honestly. No bull. The real deal, based on my experiences. There are lots of things wrong with this business that no one addresses or cares about. I do, and I want to talk about them.
I want to talk about what it means when Marvel kills Captain America while young men and women are dying on foreign soil, while patriotism and faith in our government is low. Is now the time to replace the “Spirit of America” with an ex-soldier and KGB assassin who sports a Cap suit with a gun and knife on his hip?
Through Wanted, Millar calls us suckers he’s riding to a payday and we still vote him one of the top writers in this business. Have we become so accustomed to being screwed we don’t clench-up anymore?
Artists are screaming, “No more backend deals! No more free work!” Meanwhile, writers are having their deposits stolen by out of state or overseas artists using PayPal and Western Union.
No one is talking about these things. That, hopefully, is where my column comes in.
Ambi: Please elaborate on that last bit, if you can. I’ve heard some pretty awful stories about how stuff sometimes goes down behind the scenes, but people actually stealing money from writers is a new one to me…
Gauthier: It has happened to me three times. You hire an artist for a gig, you agree on the price, you pay a deposit, give directions for whatever the gig is, they do the first round of sketches, designs, whatever the job requires, and when you give notes and directions is when they either bolt, slowly pull away, or their style isn’t what was submitted.
I had one artist who answered my ad on Digital Webbing, he was overseas, and agreed to do two designs for fifty per. He submitted great work and claimed to have worked for Marvel. I questioned if the Marvel part was true, but based on his samples, I believed him. They were really good. I paid for the work, he signed a contract, I gave him notes on the characters and how they should look and he gave a one-week deadline for the roughs. Two weeks later, I still had nothing, he’d gone silent, and I was getting nervous. He came back, said he was sorry, offered an excuse, and said he’d have the roughs in 24 hours. Three days later, he submitted roughs, they looked nothing like the characters I described, and his art was completely different. It was literally like going from David Finch to Tex Avery. I called him on it, cancelled the job, asked for my money back, and he claimed it took him hours to do the work and these situations are why he wanted half upfront. He agreed to fix the problems. I said fine, and I haven’t heard back from him since.
I also commissioned someone from Deviant Art just last year or less for a logo. We discovered the image he used was from the internet, copyrighted, and he had to do it over again. That was when he became increasingly slow. After a week, he vanished. I still see him on Deviant Art. I still send him notes. He ignores me every time.
Not every artist out there is like these two. I’ve worked with some incredibly professional artists, both in America and abroad.
Ambi: Wow, that’s amazing. Now obviously, I asked that question because of my own personal experience where certain columns or point of views have gotten me in trouble with the same folks I intend to one day solicit work from. It’s a balancing act where you occasionally have to just risk it and say something “unpopular” because it needs to be said by somebody. This is probably why creators are often encouraged to limit their public commentary on things in general, especially on the ‘net where comments live on forever. But at this point, I have trouble separating the fan from the “pro,” and I’m either naïve or egotistical enough to think there’s something to be learned from displaying this in public. Is there a point where you think you’ll leave your column behind, or does Tongues go where you go?
Gauthier: Speaking in Tongues may change locations, but it will always be with me. Before Comics Village, it was a blog on Blogspot. Before that, it was the title of my emails to friends.
I have the same fears you do, but the minute I let fear dictate what I do and say, the game is over. I stop being an artist. People think writers are professional liars. We’re not. We’re soothsayers. We teach important life lessons and alert people when they’ve gone crazy. Sure, we add sugar so the medicine goes down easy. That doesn’t change the message. Geoff Johns is killing on Green Lantern because at the core it’s about conquering fear. Chris Claremont will forever be remembered as the best X-Men writer because he wrote about acceptance and not giving in to hate or let your need for survival overwrite your humanity. The exact opposite of what happens in those books today.
I want to take the next step where I just don’t write about things, but take action. My dream is to organize the first boycott in comics. If a publisher does something we don’t like, we don’t buy the book. Some publishers say they care about the fans, but they don’t and their actions prove it. Why should they care? No matter what they do we still buy their books regardless. We’re junkies and the publishers know it. The quality of the drug may change, but we’ll still shoot it because we need that high. A bad high is better than no high, and we’ll run the risk of shooting junk mixed with rat poison to get it.
Publishers will only listen to us if we screw with their cash. How different would this industry be if we took a stand against something instead of just talking about it to retailers and their clerks while spending $2.99 on the very thing we’re angry about? How can retailers respect us when we do that? Too often I’ve seen a retailer listen to a fan speak their mind about comics, take the person’s money, and talk crap about them when they leave. The more the person cares about comics, the more passion they have, the worse the jokes are at their expense. I’ve seen it happen, and I’m sure it has happened to me.
Ambi: I’ve always wondered if this kind of behavior is really exclusive to the average comics fan, or if it’s something other mediums also deal with. I suppose that with industries like TV and movies they really don’t have to worry about the long-term effects of losing 50,000 customers, where in comics something like that would be devastating to the entire industry. Do you think that’s why it’s difficult to mobilize a “boycott,” because the most hardcore fan feels some kind of strange obligation to keep things going, even if they don’t necessarily agree with everything going on? Why can’t people just buy the books they like and ignore the ones they don’t?
Gauthier: I think the problem is we don’t think that much of ourselves. No matter how many speeches we hear or read about how better and deserving we are, we don’t believe it. There is still that voice in our heads telling us we’re geeks.
Comics are one of the few media with a strong “geek” factor still attached to it. You’re not a geek if you watch a lot of movies. You’re not a geek if you like video games. You’re not a geek if you watch too much television, listen to too much music, or wear a rock band t-shirt. If you buy comics, you’re a geek. Unless the comic book you’re reading spawned a movie franchise and then, maybe, you’re okay.
Comics are enjoying mainstream success right now, but did we take it or was it given? In Buddhism we have a concept called the ten worlds, six lower, four higher. They are life conditions we experience daily. The idea is to reach the higher realms and remain constant, the highest being enlightenment. One of the lower realms is called Humanity. In a nutshell, it’s false happiness. It’s when you think you’re happy, maybe even enlightened, but it depends on other things. For example, you wake up feeling good, you find five dollars on the street, a pretty girl gives you a wink, and your boss says you can leave work early. You’re having a great day. On the way home, you get in an accident and total your car. Suddenly, what was a great day isn’t, and that feeling you had disappears as if it was never there. Next, you’re depressed, nothing goes right for you, and you’re drowning in beer. False happiness. What will happen when Hollywood has plucked the comic book tree bare?
Hunter S. Thompson writes about the sixties, how they hit a point where they could feel and see their ability to change the world, but bottomed out before it happened. Comics could have achieved something greater than what we have now, but we got sidetracked.
Like The Call song, I still believe. I still believe in what comics can become and achieve. Despite the efforts of publishers and writers who continuously try to beat “with great powers comes great frailty” into our heads, I believe things will return to normal. Our heroes will inspire us again. I believe Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns were great beginnings, but the question “What’s next?” lingers. I believe the answer will come someday. I believe comics are literature to be respected for more than their monetary value. I still believe in comic books, plain and simple.
Ambi: Well said, sir. I’d like to extend thanks to Joseph for stopping by and encourage you all to check out the first issue of Lazarus: Immortal Coils, in stores now. We wrap things with the Five (okay, last week’s Five, given our slight delay this week), as usual. Enjoy and back soon.
5. Eternals #1 (Charles & Daniel Knauf/Daniel Acuna)
“If I have to cease existing in order to save the humans, save the Eternals, save you, I will not hesitate to do it.”
Don’t know the first thing about the Eternals, but thankfully, my eyes still work pretty well. Recruiting Daniel Acuna always felt like it’d be a huge deal for Marvel, and his gorgeous artwork was really the only reason I needed to give this a shot. The initial premise is actually quite similar to what’s happening in Thor now, but just as Coipel’s visuals are a huge part of that book’s success, I predict the same situation here. The Knauf’s do take full advantage of this and get you fully up to speed (and onboard) within 22 pages, and end with a clever turn that you probably should see coming, but likely won’t anyway…
4. Wonder Woman #21 (Gail Simone/Aaron Lopresti/Matt Ryan)
“I need a bastard, Tom. I need someone who would give up his own mother to serve the mission. Congratulations. That bastard is you.”
This storyline continues and continues to be good. The freaky hand on the cover shows up here and Diana begins to feel a little “off” while pursuing the increasingly ominous Black Horizon. But Gail packs everything into this one: magic, demons, amazons, conspiracies, monkeys, etc., yet the focus never strays far from the title character, whose lasso is now ignoring her, and who is finding herself cursed with the strange, overwhelming compulsion to kill anything that stands in her way. Lopresti also continues to impress and deliver exceptional work…
3. Amazing Spider-Man #562 (Bob Gale/Mike McKone/Andy Lanning)
“Why are you looking at Spider-Man’s butt?”
As promised, we meet the “other” Spider-Man here, and the reveal has nothing to do with clones or Skrulls, and is instead a little closer to home. The “Parker luck” also returns, as Dexter Bennett has effectively blacklisted Pete at every newspaper and mag in town, so he’s already worried about next month’s rent on his new apartment, despite his brief turn as a paparazzo. Gale’s new villain The Bookie is heavily featured, and I have to admit that he becomes much more interesting once we meet his parents, and learn that hustlin’ runs in the family. McKone is yet another welcome addition to the artistic ranks of Spidey’s Brand New Day, a tagging I’m hoping will be officially retired soon…
2. Action Comics #866 (Geoff Johns/Gary Frank/Jon Sibal)
“You’re from another planet, Clark.”
Johns is at it again. The same kind of vibe that he produced in his initial work on
The Flash and Green Lantern continues to be channeled here as he plays to his very obvious strengths---distilling a character down to their purest essence and showing you why they are and have always been cool. Every storyline builds up something else important to the idea of Superman, whether his standing as the “last son” of Krypton, his relationships with his greatest friends, and here, another thrust at redefining one of his greatest villains. This Brainiac seems to be a mashing of the versions seen in the comics and in the animated series, and he appears incredibly capable (and creepy) at initial glance, so I’m expecting big things from this storyline. I think it’s charming the way Frank draws Lois and Clark in their Reeve/Kidder incarnations, and I hope Johns and Robinson are able to make Superman really vital again, as All-Star isn’t going to be running forever…
1. Trinity #2 (Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza/Mark Bagley & Tom Derenick/Art Thibert and Wayne Faucher)
“I do not swoon over costumed acrobats.”
Another fine installment as Bagley gets to draw big robots, a Green Lantern, and a dwarf solar system that’s somehow fallen onto Metropolis. This last bit provides a great moment for Superman (who managed a couple this week) and is the kind of big threat or idea that Grant Morrison often tosses out there and discards within a few pages. Dropping a dwarf system onto a city and having Superman push its sun into space, before it can grow to full size is a lovely high concept, and it’s fun to see those sorts of notions presented in the initial ramping of this series. Think many of the criticisms of these things is that not enough happens, so I’m glad that Busiek is pushing the action button as quickly as possible. Nice bit of characterization concerning Diana, as well. Brains, brawn, and pretty pictures…what else are comics supposed to be about again?