The writer of Xombi, from DC Comics, takes a seat in The Outhouse to talk about his work and career!
After a few years of writing and pitching comics, John Rozum's big break came about in 1994 with the publication of the first issue of Xombi, an off-beat series that was a part of Milestone Media's publishing line. The book came about largely due to Rozum's friendship with the late, great comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie, who co-founded Milestone. Rozum and McDuffie were college friends at NYU, and their personal relationship led to a professional one.
Rozum has also worked on Kobalt, also for Milestone, as well as The X-Files comics for Topps, Dexter's Laboratory and Scooby-Doo for DC, and Midnight, Mass for Vertigo. Now that the Milestone characters have been folded in the DC Universe, Rozum has started a revival of Xombi, picking up where the original series left off. Rozum talks to us about the book, new and old, as well as the evolution of his writing and his friendship with Dwayne McDuffie.
Outhouse (OH): Talk to us a bit about how the idea to revive Xombi came about. How long was the book gestating for before the first issue was published?
John Rozum (JR): There was essentially no gestation period between when I was told it was going to happen and when I had to put together a proposal for the first storyline. Dwayne McDuffie told me that it looked like it was going to happen a few months beforehand, but I sort of shrugged it off and didn’t give it much thought. He told me the same thing a couple years earlier, when the Brave and the Bold stories with the Milestone characters were written. I wrote mine with the idea that it would serve as something of a teaser to a new series that was going to launch a few months later. For whatever reason that launch never happened, so I refused to let myself get myself hopeful and excited this time.
Shortly after Dwayne later told me it was a done deal, editor Rachel Gluckstern called me to give me the news and to ask for a proposal for the first six issues, which was needed quickly, and once it was approved, I had to immediately work on the script for the first issue. It was very fast. I think I wrote the first three issues before Frazer came on board and there may have been a month for him to finish up some other work and to do some preliminary work for Xombi before he tackled the actual art. The speed of everything was why the launch was pushed back from the announced February debut to the end of March. Everyone wanted to make sure Frazer had enough time. I think the wait was absolutely worth it.
Dwayne had been talking to DC for sometime about possibly bringing the Milestone characters into the DCU, but the reason Xombi was picked out of all the possible choices was apparently because of the fans. In the years since Xombi ceased publication back in 1996, I receive more mail and email and questions at conventions about Xombi than anything else I’ve worked on. Dan Didio told me that DC also received a lot of requests to bring it back, and that had a big influence on the decision to do so. He also saw it as something that could cover an untapped vein in the DCU and to bring something unique to the line-up.
OH: What led to the decision to continue from the earlier series, rather than start over with a new continuity? Did you look back much at the first series to prepare for the current one?
JR: The option to go either way was made available to me. I decided right away to just keep going from essentially where I’d left off. The reason for this was that looking back at the original run I felt that there was far more that I liked about it than stuff that I’d have done differently, and I also thought out so much more of the story of David Kim that I really wanted to take the opportunity to move forward than start over. Starting over, in order to make it interesting for me, would have meant not simply retreading over what was already done, but completely redeveloping Xombi from the ground up with new characters, origin story, motivation, and essentially starting over from scratch with something entirely different. If it was going to be something altogether different from what I’d already done, then I didn’t see any reason for it to be me specifically writing it. I was part of the package. If I wasn’t writing it, then there wouldn’t be a new Xombi series. I really appreciate Dwayne sticking up for me on that as part of the deal.
I reread through most of the original run before I started the new series just the refamiliarize myself with the details of the various storylines and to put myself back in the mindset I had when I wrote those stories sixteen years ago. It was important for me to try and create a continuity of style in the storytelling. Hopefully my writing has improved in the intervening years, and I’m certain my overall outlook and approach to things has changed, but I wanted to take any new skills I had and apply them to the format I used on the the original run so that a reader could go back and read the original series and after finishing issue number 21, start issue number 1 of the new series and feel like they were reading something continuous even though the art is wildly different between the two runs.
OH: Do you see David Kim differently now than you did in the early 1990’s? How much thought have you given to David and the concept of Xombi in the intervening years?
JR: As I said, my outlook on life has changed in the intervening years, so it’s only natural that the way I’d approach a character would change as well, but I was determined to keep everything feeling continuous. A big asset to me in beginning the new series was that back in the mid 1990's I did map out the series really far ahead. As a writer, I tend to be more character-oriented than plot-oriented, even though “The Ninth Stronghold” storyline seems more plot-heavy. For Xombi, all of the storylines are determined by where I want David Kim to develop from the beginning of a storyline to the end of it. I then develop the plots to best serve that character arc or transition.
Back in the 1990's, when I mapped out the series of Xombi far in advance, it was so I could work out how I was going to progress David’s development as a character. So his long range character arc was already worked out. This made it really easy to keep him consistent even after such a long period of time. The biggest obstacle I had was that when we closed the original series, I decided to give it some closure and end on an optimistic note with David Kim’s fiancée returning to America and reuniting with him. This made the next storyline the one where she had to discover David’s new nature as a xombi. In terms of the grand scheme of things, this is one of the most significant stories, with one of the greatest impacts on David Kim as a character and the series as a whole. Unfortunately this is also a horrible story to begin the new series with. It’s much more intimate and small scale, really two characters dealing with their relationship, and with no weird elements to speak of. So it’s more of a domestic drama than some large scale weird adventure, and wouldn’t serve as an honest way to introduce new readers to what Xombi is more typically like. Also new readers would not have any investment in these characters to really be able to appreciate the importance and the tension that would be unfolding. So I ended up sandwiching the first six issues of the new series into the last few pages that closed the original run.
Over the years I’ve given a lot more thought to this series than I really should have. As far as I knew it was dead and gone, and I never seriously thought I’d be writing again, especially after such a long time. Xombi is the project that I most enjoyed working on and the one I really longed to go back and finish. Because of the amount of unused material I’d generated for this series, I’ve on occasion looked through my notes to see if any of the unused material could be used on other projects. A couple plots I’d planned to try in Midnight, Mass., but never ended up being able to, and they may not have worked there anyway. Midnight, Mass. was originally created to be a spin-off from Xombi and would tackle the kinds of stories, within the same genre, that didn’t feel right for Xombi.
There were also previous notions of finding a way to do the series again. Dwayne McDuffie would bring it up with me periodically, though there were no concrete plans on how this would be done. Joan Hilty, one of my long-time editors, and I would also periodically toy with the idea of trying to start up Xombi as a Vertigo series, but again a secure opportunity for us to really pursue this never presented itself. This led me to think about the series in the intervening years.
OH: Looking back at the original Xombi series, what worked and what do you think didn’t work as well as it could have? How did that inform the revival?
JR: Like a lot of series, a number of elements, primarily supporting cast members, were introduced in the first few issues that never ended up being used again and I think that there were some other areas where if I had to do it over again, I would have streamlined, and there were other places where I would have expanded things. Issue #5 was my least favorite issue, and gave me the most problems while I was working on it, though I don’t remember why. All I know is that at the time I hated it and figured out what I would have done to fix it after it had already gone to the printers.
The one regret I had during the course of the original series was issue #0. Because of the company needs that accompanied it, issue #0 couldn’t be an origin issue. David Kim had to already have his powers and have some knowledge about what he was doing with them to fit into the needs of the story, which were mainly concerned with setting up a company wide crossover event. While I was writing it, that was my primary focus. The opening scene was created simply to set the scene and the mood, and was made up of random elements that had no overall scenario. I knew afterhand that I was going to jump back in time to start issue #1 with David Kim’s xombi origin story and work up to where issue #0 took place. At some point it occurred to me in doing it that way, I’d have to deal with the incidents that began issue #0, and so I retroactively created the whole second storyline, “The School of Anguish” with Manuel Dexterity and the cult that imprisoned the angel to fit into those few panels from issue #0. It ended up working out okay, but “The School of Anguish” remains my least favorite Xombi storyline, I think because I felt like I had to do it, instead of just skipping past of it.
Overall, I still think the original series holds up really well, and I’m pleased with the work I did on it. Planning the series out far in advance allowed me to avoid all sorts of pitfalls and enabled me to be able to drop in a bunch of seeds for things that won’t happen until much later. As I said when given the opportunity to start from scratch, I felt positive enough about the old run that I chose to simply build from it rather than start over from scratch.
I think the biggest impact that the old run had on the new series was that during the course of writing the original series, I figured out that traditional costume wearing superheroes and villains just felt out of place in Xombi. This wasn’t my intent when I started it. A huge number of the planned storylines that were to follow what was published involved costumed supervillains. David Kim was going to learn how to fight from a costumed superhero. When we did the crossover issues where David interacted with other Milestone characters, even though I tried to choose characters that closest fit the series, it still seemed jarring. It was like seeing Mr. Spock in his black and blue Starfleet uniform co-piloting Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon in Star Wars or working with the Marines in Aliens. The character of Spock might work in those other properties, but the aesthetic of Spock’s look doesn’t belong in either place. This is what it felt like having traditionally costumed superheroes in Xombi. The Brave and the Bold issue where David Kim meets the Spectre simply reinforced that for me. As a character type, the Spectre seems like a natural fit, but aesthetically speaking, they seemed at odds with each other.
This forced me to rethink how I was going to tell certain forthcoming stories. David will certainly not be learning how to fight from a traditional superhero; and while I still plan to have antagonists that are definitely supervillains, they will not only feel like the type of supervillains that could only appear in Xombi, but their look will also have to mesh with the aesthetic of Xombi. It’s the sort of thing that never occurred to me until I actually put superheroes in the series.
OH: What kind of pressure did you feel when preparing for the new series? What do you think will be the biggest challenges for you going forward?
JR: The only pressure I really felt was time. From the moment I was told that Xombi was coming back I was told that I needed to provide an outline for the first six issues immediately, with an overall plan for what I wanted to do with the series.
Reconnecting with the material was far easier than I thought it would be. Generating the first storyline happened in a rather peculiar manner. In an obvious and straightforward manner, I began by thinking of what needed to be included to let new readers know what Xombi was about and what it was like in terms of its sensibility. This included any exposition I felt I had to get across about David Kim, and picking the kind of story that really felt the most like a typical Xombi story with the craziness, adventure, humor, and periodic horror moments as well as the quiet parts. After I did this I knew what things the story needed, but not the story itself.
I then used my old reliable method of deciding where I wanted David’s character to be developmentally at the beginning of issue one, and where I wanted him to be at the end of issue #6. After looking through my old unused Xombi material, I determined that nothing I’d planned would work for a variety of reasons, whether it was the length of the stories, where they had to fall in terms of David’s development, their mood, or something. None of them were exactly right, which meant coming up with something altogether new.
During this whole process I was jotting down everything that occurred to me while I was figuring everything else out. These were the detail bits; the opening scene in issue one, the new creatures, the giant skull with the castle on it, the prison of industry, deciding I not only wanted to bring back the old supporting cast for the new story, but wanted to finally introduce Nun the Less and finally get to use that joke about “none of your business.” There ended up being pages of this stuff, but I still had no plot for six issues, but slowly I was able to connect some of these threads into something nebulous, until I finally had that eureka moment of seeing a common thematic denominator between many of the characters and concepts for this one, and it really came down to that first two pages of issue #1 about things escaping from their containers and winding up where they didn’t belong and that tying in with David’s determination to keep a place for himself in the life he had before he became a xombi. If you read the first six issues, you’ll see that this theme keeps cropping up in different forms with a number of the characters. Some of that turned out to be a happy accident where I didn’t realize how extensive it was until I finished all six issues and looked back at them.
From here, I don’t know what challenges I’ll face. I know where I’m going with the story. I expect that the biggest challenge will be in maintaining and building its audience. The overall enthusiastic reaction to issue #1 completely floored me. I knew it was a good issue, but I thought it might be too different from what else was being published that it might be a challenge to hook new readers, but that aspect seems to be what everyone latched on to. People reacted to it in all the right ways and completely got it for its absurdity and intent which really pleased me. I think it really succeeded because for most people it really came out of nowhere and took them by complete surprise. Of course that can only happen once, and now that that’s passed, and everyone’s seen all the bells and whistles. I have to be sure to move forward with a consistency in quality and stories and characters that will keep the reader invested in what comes next.
OH: What do you think makes Xombi stand out amongst all the comics on the stands today?
JR: I think it really is because it is so different from anything else that’s being published right now. Xombi continues to be compared to Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol. I think that’s a fair comparison, but for clarity, Xombi was not inspired by Grant’s work on that title except in one less direct manner. Before I ended up writing Xombi for Milestone, I pitched a number of series that were similar in tone, including material using existing Marvel characters, who at the time didn’t have their own series, and was always told that the material was too different from anything being done and that they didn’t know how to sell it, or if they could, or if anyone would read it. This was extremely frustrating for me, since this was the type of story I liked writing, and had done so since I was a kid. Then I came across Grant’s Doom Patrol and thought here’s a guy who is not only writing the same kind of stories I’ve been pitching, but he’s actually getting them published, so there is a market. It made me determined to try again. This didn’t help me whatsoever, and I even campaigned pretty hard to take over Doom Patrol when Grant left, because I really felt I was the only person who could, not only because the material really felt close to my own sensibility, but I also had read most of the same books and watched the same movies that Grant had been reading and watching while he worked on that series. It wasn’t until Dwayne McDuffie gave me Xombi as an opportunity to tell the kind of stories I’d been trying to do that I was able to. He knew what he was getting into because he read every one of my proposals that went elsewhere and listened to all of my frustrations as well.
I think the real connection though between Xombi and Doom Patrol was this idea of putting fun, crazy ideas back into comics. It used to be said that comics had an advantage over movies, because if it could be drawn it could be in there, with the same expense in depicting an alien fleet decimating the earth as depicting two people in conversation. If you look back to the 1960's, comics were crazy. Heroes were turned into actual marionettes and you had all that wild Jack Kirby stuff, which even if it had just been his choice in depicting helmets would have been wild enough. Now, the landscape of superhero comics has become really dull to me for the most part. People used to complain about how the 1966 Batman television series ruined comics by making them something that was perceived as campy, and that the Tim Burton Batman movie combined with The Dark Knight Returns ended up being the salvation of comics, but I think that period is what ruined them. Sure, Watchmen, and other books led to better writing, but everyone seemed to take the wrong lesson from those examples and even now, everything has to be grim and serious, and somehow come off as if it could happen in our world where we now have to explain why Flash’s shoes don’t wear away from friction, instead of simply experiencing the joy of seeing an artist figure out ways to get across the visual idea that he is running incredibly fast and able to take apart an entire jet plane with a wrench and a screwdriver before the first screw falls to the ground. Xombi is my attempt to put some of the awe and craziness back into comics and to give the reader a truly enjoyable experience that’s as fun to read as it is for me to write, and hopefully for Frazer Irving to draw. The fact that you can’t get this kind of story in another comic or a movie I think really helps give it that sense of freshness.
OH: The first two issues of Xombi feature a lot of fun characters, some old, some new. What goes into creating a great character, which you’ve done so much of?
JR: I think a lot of it is really simply trying to put yourself in that character’s situation. Once you do that so many questions start forming about everything; how you would do things, how certain things would affect the status quo of your life. All of these questions need answers and those answers give your character direction. When you bring in your supporting characters, the same thing happens with them as well.
As I mentioned, I’m more of a character-driven writer than a plot-driven one, so what’s interesting to me is how the situations of a given story would affect the people involved. In the case of Xombi, given the premise of a man who can’t be killed and also seems to be a magnet for all sorts of bizarre phenomena, I wanted David Kim to really be an everyman so that the reader could experience these things as he did. This is why information is only provided in the stories as David learns it himself. I approached everything from him being an ordinary person, who can’t really fight, but is really smart, and trying to imagine what it would be like to be him in the situation he finds himself in.
His supporting cast was developed with the same thing in mind. David was being thrown completely clueless into a new world and he needed guides to show him what to do. The Nuns, Catholic Girl, Rabbi Sinnowitz, and Julian Parker all grew out of that need. In writing a supernatural adventure series, I decided that in a world where all of these strange phenomena were real, that the world’s religions would probably have their own staff who were specifically trained to deal with the weird stuff and investigate it. It seemed obvious. I was surprised that this was something that ended up being pretty new. While the nuns and Rabbi Sinnowitz represented particular religious groups, Julian was meant to be an independent agent, a magician who’d suffered from the darker aspects of what was out there and served as more of a cautionary figure. Again, I simply built these characters from their backgrounds and imagined how they would interact with their world and each other.
In comics, particularly in a shared universe like the DCU, where so many characters have been around for so long and handled by so many writers, it’s a matter of taking an aspect of that character and shining a spotlight on that aspect, or finding something about that character that’s true to them that no one else has thought of before. I think if you can make a character as interesting, or more interesting, in their civilian persona as their superhero identity, then you’ve succeeded.
In the work that I do, my goal is always to make any character as fully realized as possible in the space given to them. No one should seem like a throwaway character whose sole purpose is to get killed off. If there’s a character I plan to do away with, I try to write them well enough that when that moment comes I really don’t want to go through with it myself.
OH: There is a ton of information and huge concepts in the first two issues of Xombi alone. Also, you recently said in an interview that you have Xombi plotted out to over a hundred issues. What is it about this concept that provides so much fodder for you to work with?
JR: I think it’s the combination of the man who can never die and the notion that he’s a weirdness magnet. Between those two things I feel like I have so much territory to explore than I could never possibly run out of material.
Our own bodies have been a staple of horror and fantastic fiction since the beginning - whether it’s determining a connection, or separation, between our consciousness and our physical aspect, or reacting to the way our body changes as we age and sometimes betrays us through disease or other factors. David embodies every body horror idea imaginable. He can be endlessly maimed in the most horrific way and always return to an ideal form, but more interesting to me is what it means for him to have a body that is essentially infested with microscopic machines that perpetually keep him healthy and whole. How are these machines determining what his ideal condition is? Does this mean they are thinking on their own? If so, what happens if they develop some new ideas of their own? How much of David is still David, and how much of it are these nanomachines? As the series progresses I plan to really dig deep into what’s going on inside of him.
Because of the side effect of David’s transformation where he’s perpetually finding himself in the midst of all manner of strange happenings, I can also tell pretty much any story I can think of, so this gives me license to really go wherever I’d like to, so long as it suits the story of David as a developing character, and I’m willing to go pretty far out there. Xombi has really become a pretty perfect playground for me to try out all sorts of ideas no matter how strange, or even ridiculous, because they all seem to fit in so naturally with the overall material.
OH: You have a lot more experience as a comic book writer now than you did when you first wrote this character. How has that helped you in writing the series?
JR: Beyond just the obvious ways that experience in anything makes us better at it, writing comics for so long in particular has allowed me to be able to to conceive of stories that fit into their allotted page amounts. This first story line was a bit trickier, because when I planned it out, comics were still 22 pages long, but starting with the second issue they all had to be 20 pages long. Two pages might not seem like a lot, but it really makes a difference, especially if you try and pack in as much material as I do. This forced a few minor changes in issues #2 and #3.
I have to say that my long stint on the various all-ages titles, such as Scooby-Doo and Dexter’s Laboratory, really came in handy as well. In replicating the feel of moving cartoon series - which rely on things such as sound effects and music in their storytelling, distinctive voices, and a rhythm developed in the animation between movement and lack of movement for comedic effect - in a medium where none of those important elements are available as part of tools you can use, led me to spend a lot of time thinking about ways to use the visual storytelling strengths of comic books in ways to make the comic book counterparts feel as close to the sensibilities of the show as possible. Because, for the most part, adult readers ignored these books, I got to experiment a bit more and try different things out that I might not have been able to do on something like Batman. I think it really strengthened the way I pace things, impart information, and develop the characters in a more immediate shorthand manner.
My goal is always to tell the best story I can, but I’m more willing to try different things and push the content further, because I’m only really worried about whether I like it or not. I don’t expect everyone else to like it. If it makes me happy though, it’s pretty likely there will be other people who enjoy it. If I’m unsatisfied with my output then I can’t expect anyone to like it. Xombi’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the least I can do is make the people who do enjoy it feel like it was money and time well spent, and to do that I have to be true to the material as I see it. I’m much more relaxed as a writer now, maybe because I feel like I know what I’m doing, so I think that helps too.
OH: Frazer Irving has a very distinctive style. From the point of view of the writer of the series, what is he doing well to effectively visualize your story?
JR: Frazer’s style has really lent a rich visual structure to the series that’s so unlike anything else out there right now. It brings a credibility to all of the far-fetched ideas that are happening in the story by grounding them in a visual look that is simultaneously realistically rendered, but also singular and otherworldly in his choice of color palettes. He’s been game to draw a lot of stuff that no one has ever had to render before and to do so in a manner that makes them seem entirely plausible.
His greatest contribution, even beyond his terrific visual sense and storytelling ability, is in the performances that he’s given each of the characters in order to make them distinct individuals. He asked me a lot of questions about the characters and how they interacted with one another before we ever started, so that he could develop performances for them. Even looking at the first issue, when David first joins the nuns, Catholic Girl, and Father Maxwell, you really get a sense of what each of those characters are like just by looking at how they are all standing in that one panel.
This has been a real benefit to me as a writer, because I don’t have to spend a lot of time in the script explaining to him how a character should be reacting emotionally to what’s happening or what’s being said. Frazer already knows how they’ll react. Likewise I don’t need to provide the reader with a lot of exposition on how the characters relate to one another, or have them verbally express themselves because that information is conveyed beautifully in Frazer’s artwork.
OH: What has the collaboration been like with Frazier? How much are you guys communicating on any given issue of the series?
JR: Collaborating with Frazer has been a dream. I think we make a really strong team and hope that we’ll be working together long into the future. It really is a collaboration, too. Even though our labors are really split into writer and artist categories, this isn’t like a lot of pairings in comics, where you often find yourself writing a script which is illustrated by someone else with varying degrees of how well their artwork serves what was written.
In our case, because Frazer took so much time before he started to ask questions about the material, and the characters in particular so that he could get inside this world I’d been inhabiting for so long and he was just coming into, he was able to do an amazing job of breathing life into the story.
It’s been a real education for me on how our two worlds can mesh in a way that’s creatively satisfying for the artist. I tend to write pretty detailed scripts, and often provide the artist I’m working with with a lot of visual reference, and it’s something I’ve always felt guilty about, because I always felt like I was maybe micromanaging things and that didn’t really allow the artist to be fully creative. Frazer is paying a lot of attention to my script, and the visual reference I’ve provided him with, but he’s finding a way from within the material to be inventive with how it all unfolds on the page in such surprising and creative ways that remain very true to the script, it’s pacing and overall intentions, but while being incredibly innovative and improving everything with his inventive solutions to conveying the visual part of the story. It’s really clear that he cares about what he’s doing.
His art really contributes to the telling of the story and doesn’t merely illustrate it. Everything from his inventiveness in page layouts, to his sense of color and depiction of the environments, to the way he gets the characters to perform has been a gift to this series. in some ways it makes my job a lot easier. But in the best way, he’s pushing me to deliver my best writing, because I don’t want to let his marvelous art down.
There’s a bit of a time difference between where Frazer is in the U.K. and where I am in the U.S., so all of our interaction has been through email. Most of our communication happened before Frazer began working on the artwork. This was familiar territory for me and something completely new to Frazer, so he began with asking me a lot of questions in order to get oriented. Because of the kind of smart questions he was asking, I knew that this was going to turn out to be great collaboration even before I saw the first drawings he did for Xombi.
Since then, most of our interaction has been me sending off visual reference to let him see a bit better inside my head on how I’ve visualized certain things and to give him something to build from. We sometimes have a bit of back and forth with that, or will ask each other quick questions, or suggest alternative approaches to something in the script if a better idea occurs to us. We’ll also talk about what could be on the covers.
Overall though, I completely trust Frazer with any approach he wants to take, even if he decides that he wants to shuffle around the way I’ve laid out a particular scene. We both have the same goal of trying to produce a first-rate comic book. It’s a really exciting for me, as well as the editorial staff of Xombi, whenever new art arrives from Frazer, which is a wonderful feeling to have as a writer. What’s truly amazing is how much he grows and improves with each issue, which doesn’t seem possible given how gorgeous his work was to start with.
OH: What is the future of the Milestone characters and concepts at DC? Will we be seeing more of that universe soon?
JR: I really hope so. Everyone who worked at Milestone was really proud of the work they did there, and it would be a real shame if it remained a relic of the past, and not a living legacy. They were some really good comics with strong characters and I feel they could only benefit the DC universe. I believe a Static comic is forthcoming. I don’t know what, if any, other plans there may be for the other characters.
OH: What else do you have coming up that we can expect to see?
JR: I am working on a number of things, most of which it’s too early to announce yet. Here’s what I can tell you: In comics I have contributed a piece of art to the Dwayne McDuffie tribute issue of Static which is out in June. On television my third episode of Super Hero Squad should be airing soon. This episode features a great many of Marvel’s monster characters including Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, and their version of Dracula among others. I also co-wrote an episode of the new Femmes Fatales show which airs Friday nights. It was written under an alias, but the subject matter and alias should make it pretty easy to determine which one it is. I think that episode also airs in June.
I also have some artwork featured in a trio of gallery shows in the Los Angeles area later this spring and summer. The first is a Haunted Mansion themed show at the Parlour Gallery in Burbank. This show runs from June 4 - July 3, 2011. I’m also participating in two themed shows at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The themes have not been publicly announced yet, so you’ll need to check their website periodically for details, but I’m excited to be a part of them.
OH: Are there any websites, blogs, etc. that you’d like people to check out to learn more about you and your work?
JR: My website itself is pretty out of date and needs to be refurbished, but my blog is where I announce any news about upcoming projects and the place to go for anyone who wants to ask me any questions or comment on my work. It also has a link to my online art gallery as well as a page of some work I have for sale .
Because I wrote so many all-ages titles for such a long period of time, I’ve made a lot of guest appearances at schools to talk about comics and what goes into making them. I get asked a lot of great questions, which I never have time to answer in detail. This led me to create a blog aimed primarily at kids where I write about everything that goes into making comics, and visual storytelling in general. This is still developing, and I really only work on it when time allows, but I’m hoping that more teachers, librarians, parents, and especially kids will use it as a resource, so I’m really trying to get the word out there about this blog. Even adults may find some value in it.
OH: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we didn’t address?
I’ve noticed a trend with comic book readers for a number of years now that I find entirely understandable, yet I think needs to be discussed. This is the practice of not buying comic books in individual issues but waiting for the trade paperback collections. I don’t see a fault with this in itself. I prefer reading many of the comics I enjoy this way myself. This applies to many other comic book series other than my own, but many series need to have those individual comic book sales to survive. If the sales are low because a large number of interested readers don’t buy the individual issues, instead waiting for the trade paperback collection, sales may not merit a trade paperback collection. Then you are out of luck.
If you read a lot of comics and need to wait for trade paperback collections to budget in everything you’re interested in, then wait for the trade paperbacks of the books that aren’t likely to be affected by this, such as event books, Star Wars, or any bestselling title. The more niche interest and smaller press books on your list are the ones you should be buying in individual issues. Even better, pre-order them through your local comic book store. This lets the stores know there’s interest and they may decide to buy more copies for the shelves if they see that interest.
Finally, along the same lines, if you’re not buying a title because you have a preconceived notion that it’s doomed to cancellation because it can’t possibly sell enough copies to merit sticking around, then you are creating that situation you’re prophecizing. These comics are not selling enough copies because you’re not buying. It’s also weird that people would deny themselves something they might enjoy because it might not be around forever. I assume these people don’t have pets or friends for the same reason, or watch movies that might only stay in the theater for a week or two. It’s doubly puzzling because they’ll choose not to buy something they may enjoy, but will continue to buy a title that they haven’t liked in some time. Just as purchasing a title lets the stores and publishers know that it has an appreciative audience, no longer buying one that is not delivering quality stories lets them know that something has gone wrong with that title.
OH: Lastly, you knew Dwayne McDuffie very well, and worked with him a lot. If you don’t mind, can you share a few thoughts about what he meant to you professionally and personally?
JR: I knew Dwayne before either of us got involved in comics other than as readers, and he was one of my closest friends for over twenty-five years. The idea that he’s gone still hits me hard and seems unbelievable. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of something I want to tell him, or ask him.
He was always my sounding board when I was developing ideas, even things I wrote back in college just for the hell of it, and that continued through our professional lives, whether it was work I was doing for him, or not. He was also incredibly well-read about what seemed like anything, so he was always a great resource when I needed information. He was always incredibly helpful, even when he wasn’t trying to be. Something he’d say would usually trigger a solution to overcoming some hurdle with a project I was putting together. He wasn’t the most sharing person a lot of times when it came to talking about himself, and he’d often resist advice, but he was always really good at listening and dispensing it.
I have him to blame, or thank, for my career in comics, for inviting me into Milestone and asking me to write Xombi, which led to everything else. If we hadn’t known each other so well by that point I don’t know if that would have happened. Before that I’d really only written a handful of things at Marvel, most of which were not the sort of thing that could indicate one way or another whether I had any promise. But, he’d seen a bunch of my non-comics work, and knew what kind of stories I was interested in telling and that was enough. When I came to him and told him that I didn’t think the concept that he’d come up with for Xombi was going to be something that was sustainable beyond a few issues, he didn’t get mad, or take it as criticism of him, he generously listened to what I had to say and then told me to take the concept of a character who could never die and to do whatever I want with that and use it to tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell. At the time, to me it just seemed like part of our usual back and forth of freely giving each other whatever the other needed to tell a better story, but this was an amazing, trusting thing that he did for me as my editor, and just goes to demonstrate what kind of person he was.
Xombi #3 comes out tomorrow, May 25th from DC Comics.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch