Monday, June 18, 2018 • Morning Edition • "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Interview: Michael Alan Nelson

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Wednesday, January 04 2012 and posted in Features

OH: Switching gears to you personally, I'm glad I was able to read Valen the Outcast before you had a chance to burn it.

MAN: [laughs]

OH: I know you went into it on your blog, but can you talk a bit about that incident? Was it a way to kick up some dust and get people talking a little bit?

MAN: It wasn't even my idea to do that. For people who aren't sure what's been going on, I have a new book, Valen the Outcast, and part of the promotion of that was for the publisher to have variant covers. One of the covers, you could only get if your retailer ordered 200 or more copies of that one issue. In order to make that particular variant truly special, Boom! wanted to make the copies of that variant that were already ordered by retailers the only ones in existence. In order to do that, they had to destroy all the other comics. I think [Boom! Studios co-founder and CEO Ross Richie] had mentioned a couple of weeks beforehand that he was going to burn them. So they contacted me literally the hour before they did it and said "hey, we're going to destroy these books, why don't you come on over?" And I ended up being the one on camera burning them. It's a thirty second clip of what went on for however long it took to do that. It's my book so I feel a little weird doing it, and the optics of burning books, it's obviously not a good one. That being said, I think that people can see the difference – whether or not they agree with it as a marketing ploy or not, that's a separate issue – but as far as the optics go, I'm sure people can see the difference between zealots and extremists trying to eradicate the knowledge or existence of something so that it doesn't pollute their ideology, is completely different from maximizing the rarity of this special cover of a book. Some people are going to be upset just to be upset, and there are some people who were genuinely disturbed by it, and I can understand that. I can appreciate that. I just hope they can look at it for what it truly was, and not as an act of hate or anything like that. I mean, it was my book, for crying out loud, and yeah, I felt weird doing it, but it's not like we were destroying all of them. It was just that particular cover.

The reason it was done, a lot of people were asking "why not print just twenty-five copies and let it go at that?" Well you can't do that. Printers have a minimum print run, and I think the lowest number of books you can print with that particular cover is 500. So you have these retailers that have this special cover, and you have the other 475 sitting in the warehouse and it's taking up space. Not only that, but it sort of undercuts the value for the retailer. The retailer's taking a chance when they say "ok, we'll buy 200 of this issue to get the special variant cover." We don't want to cut their feet out from under them by saying a year from now "well, we've got this extra 475 copies sitting around, lets take them to a convention and sell them." It undercuts the investment they made to get that variant cover in the first place. So what we did to make sure that didn't happen was to destroy the leftovers. Obviously, in hindsight, it probably would have been better had we found a more creative way of destroying them. Some people had mentioned lawnmowers or chainsaws, or encasing them in ice and dropping them off the building. There are obviously a lot of things we could have done, but if we were really looking to make it a big marketing thing, we probably would have done something like that, but it was the rarity that was supposed to get people talking, as opposed to how we disposed of the extra copies. I was actually surprised at how many people were upset by it and bothered by it. Obviously, that's my fault simply because I should have been know, we should have known better. We should have done something differently. I can understand people going "you should have done something different" and people getting genuinely angry.

But there are a lot of readers out there who just don't like variant covers. They just have a visceral hatred of variant covers. I'm not particularly sure why that is, but they do. Like I mentioned in my blog post, the idea is that they feel that publishers are trying to get them to buy the same thing twice, which I disagree with because you don't have to buy more than one copy. A lot of people say it's reminiscent of the 1990's and the craziness that went on then. I can see the correlation, but we're not trying to bring back that. When you have an independent publisher with me writing the book, we have to do everything we can to get people interested and to get people to take a chance on it, so we thought by making this particular variant cover as rare as possible, it would interest retailers who would pass that interest onto their readers and their customers. That's what the goal was. It wasn't living out any morbid fantasy. That wasn't it at all. It's interesting, though because people are obviously not talking about it in the way that I would like, but they are talking about it. I read a comment somewhere where someone said "well, why don't you write a better book?" The thing is, it's a good book! It's a really good book and we're really proud of it. But writing good books doesn't always matter. I've written a lot of good books, a lot of books that I'm really proud of. But again, we're a small independent publisher competing with massive companies like DC and Marvel, and especially in this economic climate where you have retailers that are afraid to put anything on the shelves that isn't going to sell because they can't afford to not make money, so they're taking a big chance. All these things are stacked against us, so we're trying to do whatever we can to get people interested. We firmly believe that if you buy the book, you're going to want to continue reading the series. We believe in it. We put a lot of work into that book and we're very proud of it. We didn't destroy those extra copies because we think it sucks. Not at all. It's just what we're doing to basically show our support for those retailers who supported us by making those copies as rare as possible, and hopefully to get the word out to as many readers as possible to give the book a chance.

Outcast_01_rev_CVR_HOH: And it was only the one variant that was destroyed, right? The Joe Jusko variant?

MAN: Yeah, just the Joe Jusko one. There are other variants, but the extras of the other variants were not destroyed.

OH: To get back into the book itself, how long has this idea been gestating?

MAN: It originated with Ross.  Ross had the idea of an "undead Conan."  I think he's been sitting on that idea for a couple of years.  Several months ago, actually the spring of this year, I think Ross and I were sitting down and having this conversation and he was like "yeah, I've got this idea of an undead Conan," and me being me, I started pitching all these ideas to him.  He said "why don't you write it, and we'll make it happen."  That's kind of how it came about.  We spent a lot of time trying to perfect it and made it as good as it can be.  The first issue, I probably wrote six different drafts because every time a draft would go in, I would have my editor and the editor in chief and Ross basically all giving me notes like "this works, this doesn't work as well, can we fix this up," you know, to perfect the pacing and everything.  So it took several drafts to get it where we wanted pace it correctly, to get across the information that we wanted, and to lay in the mysteries that we wanted.  It's an ongoing series with a huge mythology and we didn't want to do the death-knell for a lot of fantasy fiction which is just to do that huge info dump at the beginning.  It's like reading an encyclopedia.  No one wants to read that, and I certainly don't want to write that.  So even though we're building that large mythology, we're divulging that information as it's needed.  That way, the reader doesn't feel lost, and they know exactly what's going on, who the players are, and as the story unfolds, the world gets bigger and bigger.  So it's been in the works for several months and it took a lot of painstaking effort to hammer it out and make it as perfect as we possibly could.

OH: You've said that you're a big fan of sword and sorcery fantasy stories, and you recently worked on an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's The Hawks of Outremer.  Did that in any way prepare you for fantasy writing?  Did you need preparation for it?

MAN: When I did the adaptation of Hawks of Outremer, that really whet my appetiteOutcast_01_rev_Page_01 for the chance to write that kind of violence and choreograph those kinds of fight scenes.  There's something that's so much fun about writing a story about a big guy with a big sword killing things.  It sounds kind of mindless, but it's a lot of fun. I've been reading fantasy my whole life.  In fact, it was Fred Saberhagen's book Swords, which I read when I was eleven years old, that made me want to be a writer.  Fantasy has always had a special place in my heart.   When I was in college, I wrote this god awful fantasy novel that was just horrible! [laughs]  I was just learning how to write and how to tell a story, and there were a lot of things I didn't know, but it was something I'd always wanted to do.  Now, with Valen, it gives me the opportunity to scratch all those itches that I wasn't able to before.  It almost feels like coming full circle.  All the years that I've spent writing all these different titles in different genres has basically prepared me...I've been learning all the techniques and skills needed to tell this story.  Being a fan of the genre helps a lot too, but I'm just excited about thinking about all the different directions I can take this story, and all the things I have in store for all the characters.  I just have so much fun with the story, which I hope comes through when the readers read it.  That's the nice thing about working on a story and genre that you really enjoy.  You can tell when a writer enjoys the story, and when they're just pumping it out.  I think as a reader, it's more fun to read a story that is written by someone who actually loves the story they're telling.  Hopefully, everything I've done up to this point has prepared me to write this story, and it comes through as you read it.


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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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