IF you don’t know Rick Veitch, you should.
Veitch came of age as a comic book fan in the heady days of the late 60s and early 70s, going on to enroll in the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art from which he was part of the 1978 inaugural graduating class. After making a name for himself with some mind-bending sci-fi fantasy tales at Marvel’s Epic imprint, he began collaborating with writer Alan Moore on Miracleman and Swamp Thing. He followed Moore as writer on Swamp Thing, carving out a 27-issue run which saw Veitch take the titular character into the realm of history and mythology, even meeting Jesus Christ himself in a issue that was canned by DC as being “too inflammatory”.
After Swamp Thing, Veitch turned to the thriving world of independent comics, doing work on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as his own stories with Maximortal and Brat Pack. HE re-united with Alan Moore in the late 90s to work on several series, including 1963 and Supreme. He later made his return to DC comics, writing several titles – chief among them being the Army@Love series which recently concluded its run. After an interview earlier this year about Veitch’s recent re-issue of the graphic novel Brat Pack, we checked back in with Veitch to talk about a wide swath of things from upcoming work, commissions, being a self-publisher, the state of the comic industry itself and word on a new collaboration between Veitch and Moore.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us again, Rick. Let’s start off with an easy one – what are you working on today?
Rick Veitch: I'm inking a commission of Miracleman and Miraclewoman.
NRAMA: How timely. Recently, you’ve been posting several great commissions on your website. Can you give us your thoughts about doing them – and what trends you see in that?VEITCH: I enjoy doing them quite a bit depending on my schedule. I usually don't take commissions when I'm on a monthly book since I just don't have the time to give them my full attention. But they are nice to do because there is no pressure, except to make the buyer and myself happy. And there is plenty of variety in the requests too. Trend-wise it seems that the internet is coming into its own for freelancers. Now with a simple blog or website you can connect with fans and generate a decent income. It's a win-win situation. NRAMA: Going to published work, what are the big projects on your plate right now?
VEITCH: The only one I can talk about is The Bumper Book, which is the grimoire Steve and Alan Moore are writing. It's going to come out from Top Shelf, but its still in the early stages so I'm not sure when. I'm illustrating the "Things To Do On A Rainy Day" sections Alan has written which I'm happy to report are hilariously brilliant.
NRAMA: Now that Army@Love is over – do you have some plans of doing another book where you write AND draw it?
VEITCH: I'm always open for anything. Working on your own stuff is great but when you've got the right team, collaborating can be a blast too. I've got three major proposals for creator owned projects I've worked up. And I can see a couple interesting things I'd like to try in the Marvel Universe if anyone there wants to work with me.NRAMA: Yeah, you had some recent blog posts concerning your work with Paul Jenkins on what would become the Sentry.
Moving on, looking over your body of work both work-for-hire and your creator-owned pieces, what works stand out as the ones you’re most proud of?
VEITCH: It's hard for me to be objective about my work in that way. My various projects represent an ongoing process to me; each one a sort of creative/emotional/developmental milestone in my life and evolution as a cartoonist. I guess what I'm most proud of is the many different types of comics I've done. I'm an experimenter; someone who you might find working on a mainstream superhero, or a dream comic, a horror comic, a romance or something really envelope-pushing like Can’t Get No.
NRAMA: Let’s go back to your early days – can you tell us about your first connection with comics?
VEITCH: I've been making my own comics since I was really young. I've been posting some samples of them every now and then over on my blog. Creating comics is a very organic process with me. Even if I'm doing a modern work-for-hire gig, some part of me is still that ten year old kid with a clipboard.As a reader, I learned to read as a preschooler on Donald Duck and Little Lulu. Then I caught the whole Silver Age thing as it was happening, starting with Flash and Justice League at DC and then the Lee and Kirby Marvels.
NRAMA: And what comics do you read these days?
VEITCH: I don't have a brick and mortar store within a hundred miles so I miss out on a lot. I get great service ordering on-line from paneltopanel.net, but I'm lazy about looking through the catalog. I've been following The Boys from Dynamite. Garth Ennis always cracks me up. DC sends the comp box and I've been following a few there. The Mighty has caught my attention. Grant Morrisson's All Star Superman was pretty much my favorite comic in the last couple years. I wish they would continue it. I just finished the collection of Paul Pope's 100% which blew me away.NRAMA: You’ve been in comics for many years, starting out way back in inaugural class of Joe Kubert’s School. With comics being primarily solitary work with creators working from home, who would you call your closest friends in the comic business?
VEITCH: I've been amazingly fortunate in the arc of my career. Ending up at Kubert School in 1976 was the best thing that ever happened to me. I not only got the education I needed from great teachers like Joe Kubert, Dick Giordano, Ric Estrada, and Hi Eisman but also bonded with a group of similar young artists like Tom Yeates, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Tim Truman, Tom Mandrake, Jan Duursema and Ron Randall. Tom, Steve, John and I shared an art crash pad out of school and formed a sort of flying V moving into the industry. I stay in close contact with all those guys. I also got to assist Al Williamson off and on over the years and he has been a great pal and mentor. And of course the Swamp Thing experience with John and Steve, Alan Moore. Karen Berger and Neil Gaiman was awesome. I'm a lucky guy to have known and collaborated with all those fine people.
NRAMA: Besides writing for other publishers, you also publish yourself under the name ‘King Hell Press’. You recently re-released Brat Pack – do you plan to re-release any other books or do new ones under that umbrella?
VEITCH: I'm in wait-and-see mode right now. I've got Bong!, which is a collection of my Underground Comix, in the pipeline but the rules of the distribution game have been changed significantly for small publishers so I've got to be careful about my next moves.
NRAMA: Can you tell us more about BONG! and the comics it contains?
VEITCH: I've got roots in underground comics, not only as a reader but as a creator. My very first paying job in comics was an underground for Last Gasp called Two Fisted Zombies. And over the decades I've done lots of other undergroundy things. There are the Kurtzman/Elder-inspired shorts like Nutpeas and Momma’s Bwah that were reprinted in a crazy color edition in Mexico. And a complete comic Steve Bissette and I did that never saw print. I made an insane wordless comic book as a prop for a horror movie version of Fahrenheit 411 that never came off. And there are the infamous Pud Pals. When I looked at what I'd amassed over the decades I had enough to fill a book.NRAMA: We’ve all read about Diamond’s new policy on minimums with some publishers been cut out of distribution – has this had any effect on what you do as a publisher?
VEITCH: Huge effect. Diamond's new minimums aren't a problem for King Hell, since our titles have always made those numbers. What's going to hurt us, all the small and self-publishers, are Diamond's new restrictions on relists. In my own case, Diamond used to regularly re-offer my backlist in Previews, one title at a time. These listings brought in fairly regular orders since it was the best time for retailers to buy my titles without having to pay the odious reorder penalty. So, under that system I would print enough inventory to feed demand over five years. About half what King Hell brought in each year was from sales of our backlist through Diamond.Under the current system, a new release from a small publisher might get one relist, if even that. So a large percentage of my market has been lopped off with that one rule change. This hurts the consumer too. As small publishers are forced to smaller print runs, their per unit cost is higher and so their cover prices will have to go up.
NRAMA: Before we go, you’ve gone on record numerous times about the state of the medium and the industry. Right now here in 2009 there’s a lot of things going on in comics – where do you think comics is headed?
VEITCH: I guess I am always shooting my mouth off, aren't I?
NRAMA: [laughs] Shoot away, sir.
VEITCH: For starters, I think the Direct Market has pretty much run into the ditch by a lot of bad decision making by the guys at the top of the food chain. Diamond has been putting the squeeze on small publishers since attaining monopoly status in the late 1990's. This year they've further moved to restrict access to market for all but their brokerage deals and exclusives. So the market is essentially denied the grass roots creativity which history teaches is what it needs to reboot itself.Marvel and DC have been flooding the market with their company-wide crossover events which are designed to appeal to the dwindling mainstream fan-addict audience. These comics are being creatively directed from the top down, so there is very little experimentation or passion coming out of the writers and artists who work for the majors. I came up during the growth surge of the early Direct Market, and fondly remember the wild creativity and experimentation that made it happen. Today we've essentially got a Comics Cartel; a monopoly distributor in cahoots with the biggest publishers. And they've forgotten the main ingredient that makes our art form great and self renewing. The future of comics appears to be in the digital environment, but no one's really figured out how to monetize it yet. I'm like everyone else, watching for promising developments in e-readers. Once we've got a low-priced color reader with 3G capability, I expect comics to explode on the net. For more from Rick Veitch, visit his website by clicking here.