Comic Creator Interview with Brian John Mitchell
City: Raleigh, North Carolina
Comics: Lost Kisses, XO, Worms, Just A Man, Marked, etc
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Brian – I was 8 (in 1983) & a big part of it was the original Star Wars franchise had just ended & so the money I earned doing chores around the house no longer went to action figures because they stopped making the Star Wars ones & I never got into He-Man or GI Joe. I got comics pretty solid until I was about 19 (shifting from Marvel towards indie books along the way). Then I started occasionally getting a trade or two around 2003 & it’s kinda stuck that way.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Brian – It was a three pack from Woolworth’s that had The Thing (I think it was #3) & an issue of US1 & I can’t remember the third comic in it, but it may have been crappier than the US1 comic.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Brian – I had a comic I drew & wrote when I was 20 called “Shimmer” that I’ve put on the web in the past & may print one day. The first one that I made copies of was Lost Kisses #1 & I think that was 2002 or 2003. I’d been doing zines since 1994 so it was a spin-off of that.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Brian – Maybe the 1960s? I don’t know. I really like the Golden Age stuff where people are still kinda experimenting with how storytelling & pacing work in comics. A lot of failures & a lot of successes. But I really like the 8-page format that was popular in the Golden Age. Not every storyline needs to be 1000 pages (though perhaps some do). A lot of the stuff I remember fondly from the 1980s has been unbearable when I’ve tried to go back to it.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Brian – I write stories that are pretty short & terse & leave a lot for the reader to fill in themselves. With a comic I get someone to help fill in a few of the gaps to improve the story. Also I think in comics you can tell a 250 word story with people reading it in a way where they pay attention & there’s no market for 250 word stories elsewhere. & I really love the ability to juxtaposition things that don’t intuitively go together (the first ten issues of Lost Kisses are incredibly bleak stories with jokes about those stories & XO has extreme violence drawn in a semi-comedic cartoon style) or alternatively you can use two styles that emphasize each other instead of playing off of each other.
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Brian – They can be both. I think some mini-comics & indie comics are definitely the minor leagues, but some Marvel/DC comics feel like the minor leagues too. I mean people can learn to be better storytellers (with words & pictures & panel designs) doing mini-comics & if they end up writing Captain America comics for a living instead of working at a bookstore (e.g. Ed Brubaker) good for them. Or you have someone like Paul Chadwick that left comics for Hollywood work & that’s fine too. People should do what they’re comfortable with & good at for as long as they are comfortable & good at it. I wish there were more people of the Dave Sim/Paul Chadwick/Ed Brubaker level doing mini-comics on the side, but I guess in a way that’s like asking a plumber to do some kind of experimental plumbing as his hobby.
QRD – How many copies of your comic do you print in your first run?
Brian – The way I lay out my comics (most of them are the size of a pack of matches) I print 12 at a time. I do send out 40-50 promos, so usually I start printing 96 & I think the ones that have done the best I maybe ended up printing 300 or so over the years.
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Brian – About $10 per hour of entertainment they provide. My comics read quick, so they’re a buck. Of course some comics really provide no entertainment, so those should be free I guess?
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Brian – I guess the past few years I’ve been putting out around ten a year. If there were enough interest (meaning money) I’d love to do 100 a year. But as “just the writer” I feel bad getting as many artists doing speculative work & earning between $0 & $5 per hour for their work. I’d need to be able to sell 1000 units to pay people something resembling a fair amount for their work. But maybe if I sell something for film development for a million dollars I’ll dole out $40,000 to artists & get 100 out a year.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Brian – I’m really torn on this. The way I like to read comics is to get the ten comics in a story arc & then read one a day. It allows some time in my brain to play with & ruminate on the story, but I get to read it before I forget what has happened. Ten books over a year doesn’t work for me, much less ten books over ten years as sometimes happens with indie & mini folks. At the same time, as a creator collaborating with other artists on no budget, it’s hard to imagine getting a comic done in a timely manner.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Brian – I think strips are great for the three-panel gag stuff even when telling a bigger story in that form. I also think the idea of consistency they require as either daily or weekly strips is really helpful to any creative team figuring out how to work together. All that said I don’t really read any strips. Comic books allow more space for story telling, but I think are a little less successful for telling jokes.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Brian – Probably anywhere from a week if I’m drawing it myself & know what I’m doing to a year (or more) if someone else is drawing it & gets backed up by their life. That’s saying the comic starts when I complete a script & completing a script can take a couple of years on its own because I do try to get the story right. So far Marked #1 holds the record as it was about 7 years before it came out with it having stalled out with several artists.
QRD – What do you better with your comics now than when you first started?
Brian – Worry more about what people will think in thirty years & less what they think today. But I also can do the layout much quicker than I used to & am a bit better at cleaning up the artwork.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Brian – I write the first draft (& sometimes a second) by hand, then I do a draft or two in Word & then I do a laid out draft in Pagemaker. Most of the artists draw in the panels & then they are scanned in & cleaned up & I lay them out in Pagemaker for printing. I think some of the folks might draw on the computer, but I can’t really imagine doing that myself.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Brian – I like digital comics as they don’t take up space in the house & I’m a comic book reader more than a comic book collector. Webcomics I’m not that huge on except for single gag oriented things. When people deliver a single page a week of a narrative it frustrates the hell out of me even if I do like it.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Brian – I have more or less only worked in black & white. I think its minimalism fits well with my minimalist writing style. But I just bought a CMYK laser printer to experiment with some limited color stuff.
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Brian – To me, one or two. One of the things I like about comics is the collaborative process & I think when you get too many folks you start to lose something. So to me it’s a writer & visual artist, but some folks could use an editor if the creative team isn’t doing that for each other. I understand the need to add a colorist & a letterer for books with a monthly deadline, but I am really confused by the idea of letting too many people touch something. The more people that touch it, the more chances to get it screwed up.
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Brian – I found a few through Comicspace before they changed their format. Others have been folks I made friends with along the way. It’s hard to find someone that I think their style matches what I’m doing & has time to do a book for free, even if it is only 40 panels.
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Brian – I try to keep it super loose as far as telling someone what to draw. If I wrote a super tight script I would feel like it’s no longer a collaboration. I do however give them all of the words that are going to appear in the book. Sometimes some words get taken out because the images make the words redundant. Sometimes I’ll include a photo reference of a type of plane or something just so the artist doesn’t need to look up the photo.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Brian – I get Stan Lee a lot, which I do think is incredibly flattering. But of course I want to be Will Eisner or Carl Burgos or Bill Everett or Jack Kirby. I take anything as a compliment.
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Brian – Those that know them seem to like them. When people first read them they are always surprised by the amount of emotional content in the majority of them. They also often assume things are autobiographical if there is any possibility it could be, which is interesting. My favorite is when people say in a shocked voice, “These are really good!”
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Brian – I like them fine, but they do over dominate the “mainstream” comics industry. I’d like to try my hand at writing some superhero stuff at some point. I’d like to try to write some four-issue limited series like Marvel did in the 1980s. I think the idea of deconstructing superheroes or making “dark” superheroes has been over done the past thirty years. I wish more superheroes had the ability to die &/or age & not crossover with a thousand other characters.
QRD – Marvel or DC?
Brian – Marvel. I grew up on Marvel mainly because the Super Friends cartoon seemed too kiddy to me. I bought two or three DC Comics in 1984 & I thought they sucked, but the Marvel comics I re-read suck & I don’t know if those DC books would be better now or that much worse…. I do have to give a nod to the Vertigo stuff, though I actually maybe preferred the pre-Vertigo versions of Animal Man, Shade, Doom Patrol, & Hellblazer. I’m really shocked Vertigo has been able to continue. When it was happening I thought it was going to fail like Epic did.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Brian – The Joker, Grendel, Grim Jack, Cloak & Dagger, Doctor Doom, Starbrand, Kraven the Hunter, The Sub-Mariner, The Angel (either Golden Age or the X-Man), Rom, Ex-Mutants, The Thing, The Hulk, I could go on forever I suppose. I have a nine panel short I’m working on with the original Human Torch & I’m theoretically working on a Deadpool thing (though the only Deadpool comics I’ve read were research for writing it). The hope is those two things will generate interest instead of lawsuits.
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Brian – If someone else were willing to do the format that I want & sell more units, I’d be okay with that. But I wouldn’t want to be in a work-for-hire contract for my whole life.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Brian – So far just SPACE. I ended up going to SPACE because of the Dave Sim connection to it (though he stopped conventions before I made it out) & I made friends there. It’s super affordable & I’m strapped for cash.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Brian – I send out about 50 books to reviewers. I also am a musician & when I go on tour I have them on my merch table & they sometimes bring more income than the CDs. I’ve sold 100 in a night at a rock show before. People will lay down twenty bucks to get twenty different books & when a couple people do that it feels really good. Especially when somebody buys one at the beginning of the night & comes back for ten more.
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Brian – At the size of a pack of matches, they really could only make sense at a shop with a lot of tiny books. Ideally I think I would sell them in vending machines at art galleries.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Brian – I think a lot of them would work well for TV as the ten-minute episode format on Cartoon Network. I don’t know how well they would translate into other formats & to be honest, as anything else I would have to take the money & not be involved or I’d be incredibly disappointed with the results. I had a screenplay made into a short film a few years ago & I figured out that the volume of compromise & collaboration can really frustrate me.
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Brian – A reader. All the comics I have are because I bought them to read. I don’t understand the whole thing of wanting to spend a couple hundred dollars for a comic when you can get it in a trade paperback for $20.
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Brian – I think in ten years time there will be a shift with more comics designed to look good on mobile phones & people will pay $1 to read a comic while waiting in line at Starbucks. At the same time I kinda hope technology collapses & we only have physical books.
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Brian – I’ve kinda been into silent comics lately. I like the idea that you can do a silent comic & it will be readable by anyone in the world. I would like to see someone who makes their millions off of a movie deal set up a little artists’ colony residency where comic book folks could live for three months with ten other comic book folks free of rent & distraction.
QRD – Anything else?
Brian – Lately I’ve been thinking about writing 250 word narratives for friends’ paintings in art galleries as a form of collaboration. I’m not sure if that’s a comic or not in the end? Also, I’m always looking for artists to collaborate with. Give me a shout if you want to draw 40 panels & I’ll get you a script - firstname.lastname@example.org.
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