Pug, T. Runt!, and More: A Derek McCulloch Primer
A Derek McCulloch Primer: Pug and
Derek Mc Culloch: Pug is the story of Jake Mahoney, a boxer who was an up-and-comer in 1956 but a down-and-outer when we meet him in 1962. He’s lost his wife, his family, and his career, and is living on the kindness of his girlfriend, a burlesque dancer with probably my favorite name I’ve ever come up with for a character: Kitten KaBoodle. Kitten’s dreaming of white picket fences with Jake, but he’s too hopelessly damaged by his past to think more than one day at a time. In a misguided effort to salvage a little of his self-respect, he starts working for a small-time loan shark, unwittingly putting himself on a collision course with the past he can’t stand to face. NRAMA: How did this project come about, and what kind of research did it require? DMcC: Along with Stagger Lee and Displaced Persons, Pug is a story I started thinking about in 1999 when I first decided I wanted to get back into comics. I call it the last of my cold-storage projects. My original concept for it was less noir-inflected, more of a minimalist Raymond Carver-type character drama, but when Greg Espinoza came on as the artist, my thinking started to go in other directions. Greg and I share an enthusiasm for hardboiled b-movies, and I began to think of Pug as a b-programmer from the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, something that would have starred somebody like Sterling Hayden. Once we had that in mind, it became a whole other thing – less Raymond Carver, more Budd Boetticher.
Compared with Stagger Lee or even Displaced Persons, I did practically no research. My dad was an amateur boxer in the ‘50s, and I used little bits of things he’s said to me about boxing. I did some specific research into boxing and horseracing in the city and period where the story’s set. I never name the city, but there are clues, so I’ll be curious if anybody bothers to guess.Greg did a lot of visual research. He dug up old copies of Ring Magazine, and I found him a bunch of Sears catalogs and things from the years in question. That sort of stuff gets easier and easier every year. What used to take you a couple of months in the library can now be accomplished in a few minutes on the Internet.
NRAMA: It looks like the art is done in a widescreen style, a la Matt Fraction and Keiron Dwyer’s Last of the Independents. Why did you go this route?
DMcC: I thought of making it a square book, to reflect the shape of a boxing ring…but Displaced Persons is square, and I’d worked on Comic Book Tattoo, which is square (as is This is a Souvenir, which I’m also in), and I figured I’d be asking to be known as the guy who does square books if I did another one.I was in the Image office one day and saw this French edition of Liberty Meadows that was rectangular, oriented horizontally, with dimensions kind of like one of those old Garfield books from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I can’t say why, but it just looked like the right shape to me. I showed it to Greg, he agreed, and off we went. NRAMA: Moving to other things on your plate, tell us a bit about T. Runt!. DMcC: T. Runt! -- the exclamation mark is very important to me – is an old-fashioned children’s book about a baby T. Rex who’s the runt of his litter and always being picked on by his bigger siblings. It takes him a while to understand that while he feels small and puny and put upon within his family, pretty much every other creature in the world is terrified of him because he’s so big and scary. The art is by the astonishingly talented, versatile, and prolific Jimmie Robinson. I’ve known Jimmie for somewhere between 10 and 15 years and have wanted to work with him the whole time. Now we finally have two projects together in the same year – he also drew my story in This is a Souvenir, Image’s Spearmint anthology, which I hope to see very soon. NRAMA: T. Runt! is more of a straight-up picture book. Why did you want to do a story in this format? DMcC: I have a four-year-old daughter, and I’ve been itching to have some published work that was suitable for her to read. I actually wrote the script for T. Runt! on spec, hoping to shop it around to some established kid’s book publishers. That didn’t work out, and I stuck the thing away in a drawer, chalking it up to experience…then I saw that Shadowline had started up a new imprint, doing what looked suspiciously like children’s books. I contacted Kris Simon at Silverline and asked her if she wanted to see my kid’s scripts. She liked the script from T. Runt!, and said all I had to do was line up a suitable artist, and they’d do it. I knew Jimmie also has a jones for all-ages material, so I said, “I believe you know Mr. Robinson’s work?” Kris is Jimmie’s editor, so it wasn’t a very tough sell from that point.
The production of the cards involved a lot of hard work from some of the too-often unsung heroes at Image – fantastic production and design work by Drew Gill, logistical and marketing support from Joe Keatinge and Tracy Hui and Allen Hui (no relation), indispensable plain-old grunt work from Tyler Shainline, and the overall good stewardship of Eric Stephenson.These folks and others at their Image office quietly leave their fingerprints on every book that goes out, every piece of promo that goes out, and they don’t get thanked often enough. So thanks to them. And… Cry me a river, but I have chronic lower back problems, and I was having a bad week in that regard when these cards had to be put together. Every step of the project, it turns out, was bad for my back. Shifting boxes, hunching over a computer compiling a mailing list, signing cards, shuffling around bundling sets, and on and on. By the time Greg and I were signing, I was aware that my back was hurting and that I should probably take it easy, but a deadline’s a deadline. I worked through the pain and then the next day I realized I couldn’t stand up straight anymore. I ended up mostly on my back for four days and am just now starting to be mobile again. So retailers…when you get those cards, give a moment’s thought to the sheer amount of effort and even pain on the part of so many people to get this silly promo thing to you. I wouldn’t put myself out of commission for four days if I didn’t so strongly believe this book was worth your attention. Make sure Derek McCulloch’s back problems weren’t for nothing by checking out Pug and T. Runt! From Image Comics this June.