On the Creative Life Lived Untethered to a Big Publisher
PM: One of the highlights for my students in our previous interview was how you responded to my question about the male gaze and SiP, that it is “one long male gaze”. It’s not denying that you’re a man who loves drawing women, but a way of saying that the approach to the characters is what matters.
TM: I really think that the attraction and the fascination between men and women is organically proper. The reason why our culture has to say, “Back off”, or “Don’t look right now”, is that the lingering gaze can also be a threat. But if you’re talking about love and the gaze that goes with that, then you’re back on my side of the coin.
The male gaze is just one of many hot-button topics in SiP, but I approached all of them with respect and love for humanity and for what people are dealing with in their lives. I think, I hope, we can talk about anything so long as we talk about it with respect and love. Gazing at people with admiration or empathy is different from looking at a woman like she’s your next meal.
You can make these choices in your writing, too; to write about people’s lives with honesty and understanding, or attack their failings with venom and bitterness. Even the best and worst of comic books do this.
PM: When I was a young reader, I certainly never thought comics could do that, and I don’t know if the industry thought it could do that.
TM: It’s so ironic because I really think the best stories that have ever been made in comics are coming out right now, but the world has turned away. I hope it’s not a matter of too good too late.
PM: The world’s been turning away from literature in general. The book industry has changed so much.
TM: It’s like there are only 12 known fiction writers and everything else is a mosh pit. The book industry did it to themselves several years back when they announced they were eliminating their midlist books. Since then it’s been a shrinking industry of blockbusters and self-help books. It was a devastating thing to do, like announcing all medium height people must be executed.
PM: What comics series before your time would you have liked to have worked on?
TM: Spider-Man of the ‘60s was one. I also loved all the comics at the back of National Lampoon. They were very influential to me. Before comic books, all I wanted to do was draw comic strips and underground comics and draw satire like I saw in National Lampoon. That’s what I was into, from Feiffer to Playboy cartoons. P. J. O’Rourke was my hero. I didn’t give a flip about comic books. That’s where Batflap was.
The only reason I ended up in comic books was because of the independent movement. After that zeppelin burned, I stayed on because comic books are a great way to tell stories without going to a lot of trouble. When I finish an issue of a comic, it’s in the stores in two weeks. That direct pipeline was not possible in the book industry. Their system was built a long time ago and it is so outdated, it just doesn’t work anymore.
I’m so glad I’m not tethered to one of those big publishers. They’re in a lot of trouble.
PM: As an independent publisher, you seem to have weathered the financial storm pretty decently. You have a lot more flexibility than a big publisher.
TM: So far. You know, all the bad news you read is about the big publishers. It’s not my fight. On the other hand, I’m like that little country between them, so it does affect me. I need all those big giants around me to be healthy and happy. I want a healthy book industry. So far, just by having some name recognition of my own, I’ve been able to continue to sell books, but there’s no security in that. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
I’ve always described myself as the little bird on the back of the rhino. I don’t want that rhino to die, but if he dies, it won’t be the death of me. I’ll just have to find another rhino.
PM: That’s the thing, the small presses—the little birds—in the book publishing industry, at least, have been doing relatively well in the past few years.
TM: Well, think about it: if publishing decides to make a left turn this afternoon, I can do it. I don’t have to talk a lot of people into it. I don’t have to answer to anybody. Whatever the big answer is to digital, for instance, I can adapt quickly. That’s the key to survival right now.
Unfortunately, what’s scaring the hell out of everybody is that there are no solutions being offered for publishing right now. But from the people I’m meeting and talking to this year on the road, I have a lot of hope that some good ideas are coming down the pike. I think things will be different by the end of the year.
PM: Why is that?
TM: I think the route from individual to iTunes is going to be made viable by a cheap, affordable global app. That’s a big stumbling point right now. And the appeal of the iTunes/iPad route is that the material on it will be proprietary, so people cannot clone it and rip you off. Nobody can put anything on the Internet and sell it more than once, so the ‘Net has proven to be a commercial bomb to all of us. The only people who made money off the internet were the porn industry, Apple and a handful of code writers. The “pads” show promise of being able to generate some kind of business model off of digital work and actually generate unit sales. That’s what we need: a way to generate and bill unit sales.
When I was at a convention not long ago in Orlando, we did a panel on digital comics, and I swear half of the people in the room were software programmers. They were grilling us about what we need. So, finally, we have the attention of the people that are needed to come in and write this stuff. And I bet you the breakthrough program will come from an 18 year-old kid somewhere. Personally, I don’t care where it comes from, so long as it gets here.
PM: It seems like the movement in the past decade or so toward “art should be free” came from a lot of younger people with a lot of romanticized notions attached to it. But if you get to the point where art’s what you want to do, how do you support yourself if it’s free?
TM: You don’t. If the age of classic commerce is over, then artists will go back to being invisible members of society, making art because they must, not because anybody cares. Which is the way it’s been for the arts often throughout history. Sometimes the artist works for his generation, sometimes he can only work for the generations to come.
PM: When I asked my graphic novels class to bring in some of their favorite works, only two brought in digital or web comics.
TM: Digital comics are not as pervasive as digital media would lead us to believe. In fact, when I’m on a plane, I notice most everybody is reading a book or magazine, not an eReader. But it’s early yet. eReaders will get better and so will the path to making products for them.
PM: With that in mind, what are your thoughts on DC’s recent “52 titles” announcement, and the digital day-and-date rollout?
TM: I hate to sound like the old guy on the block waving at cars to slow down, but DC’s mainstream publishing makes me uncomfortable. It’s like a runaway train. The digital day and date program feels like a stopgap measure, but at least they’re doing something while many are still talking. It’s all a movable feast right now. I think we’ll see numerous ideas over the next few years as publishers try to figure out what to do.
PM: You mentioned in our previous conversation that you’d like to do digital work. You said: “the classic page format and old school rules of fiction can go jump off a cliff, as far as I’m concerned.” What kind of work have you envisioned doing in an all-digital medium?
TM: (laughs) That quote is just me mouthing off. Honestly though, you saw what I did in Strangers in Paradise—I’d love to do that in digital. In SiP there was music, celebrities, poetry and fictional books within the series. In the digital version, you would be a click away from exploring those tangents fully. The fictional musician releases a song. Click and hear it. Katchoo reads a book. Click and read it, too. The SiP story would be like a horizontal line, with deep vertical tangents to explore all along the way. That’s my idea of digital book, and I think I’ve proven with the book version that SiP is a good candidate for a complex digital read. Personally, I can’t wait to make that book.
Terry Moore (photo by Robyn Moore)