with Indie Comic Creator Wayne Wise
City: Pittsburgh, PA
Comics: Grey Legacy, Grey Legacy Tales, Chaos Punks
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Wayne – I learned to read from comics, so they have always been in my life. My mom read comic strips all of her life & when I was little read to me all the time. Comics were simply part of what she read to me. My reading tastes & the amount of comics I read at any given time has changed over the years, but I never left them.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Wayne – I have no idea. They were always there. Mom bought them for me & never said no when I wanted them. As far as when I first bought one with my own money, once again, no idea.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Wayne – I was in my mid to late 20s when I started publishing mini-comics. I did a few different ones on my own, but the big one I did with my collaborator, Fred Wheaton, was Grey Legacy. We put out four issues of this as a mini-comic, then in 1993 received the Xeric Grant from Peter Laird (one of the first 4 projects he funded) to publish it as a full size comic book. I was 32 the year that came out.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Wayne – I think every decade has its high & low points. I have a particular fondness for the 80s because so much was going on that had lasting impact on comics, in terms of storytelling, marketing, writing, creator’s rights... the whole thing. But you can’t ignore the brilliant work that has come before or since either.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Wayne – I write prose as well. In 2002 I had a Dark Fantasy/Horror novel called King of Summer published by a small press. I love words & prose. That said, there is a magic that takes place on the comic page when the words & pictures blend in an alchemy that can’t be duplicated in any other form. I’m a very visual thinker, so even my prose begins with very vivid images that I then have to describe. The discipline needed to produce every piece of a comic story is very different from writing or drawing alone.
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Wayne – Both. It depends on what the creator wants from the experience. Many of the most gifted creators working in mainstream comics today got their start & honed their skills in the indies. If you’ve been a fan of Marvel or DC your entire life then the opportunity to play in those sandboxes & add your voice to their history is very appealing. That said, the indies are still the only place where a creator can express their own specific vision unimpeded.
QRD – How many copies of your comic do you print in your first run?
Wayne – That varies with Print-On-Demand. The mini-comics in the old days were printed at Kinkos. We would run off five or ten copies for ourselves, then print more whenever we got orders or planned on taking them to shows. The Xeric-funded Grey Legacy, printed on a traditional offset press had a print run of 5000 copies. My latest, self-published Grey Legacy Tales started with a print run of 100 copies which disappeared pretty quickly.
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Wayne – I work at a comics shop (the Eisner Award-nominated Phantom of the Attic in Pittsburgh, PA), & every day I hear complaints about the $3.99 cover price. $2.99 seems more feasible for most people. The way comics are priced by different companies & the financial/business decisions for those prices is a conversation too big for this interview.
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Wayne – I produce slowly. There was a 15-year hiatus between Grey Legacy & Grey Legacy Tales. During that time I wrote a lot of articles, plus my novel, & a couple more unsold novel manuscripts. I was asked to ink a book called Chaos Punks that a couple of my friends were working on (Brian Babyok - writer & Scott Hedlund - penciler). We did two issues, 48 pages, at the rate of about a page a week. I would like to produce more than I do, but comics are a work-intensive & time-consuming investment. I couldn’t be happy with my work if I took shortcuts. I use pretty traditional methods. I pencil my stuff, fairly loosely, & then do a lot of the drawing directly in the ink, which is the part I’m most comfortable with & the part I most enjoy. I use a brush & a bottle of ink & can’t imagine doing it any other way.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Wayne – Both. What format serves the story better? What does the story require? That is the question that should be asked with every step of creation.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Wayne – They are essentially the same thing. The primary difference I see is that the strip is more limited in terms of layout than a full comics page can be. The pacing of a strip is very different than that of a comic book or graphic novel. The story beats fall differently. I’m currently doing a three-panel strip for the Chatham University newspaper (I’m teaching a class there on Comics & Pop Culture). This is the first time I’ve ever tried the strip format & even though I’m writing the same characters I have known for years I’m finding the pacing to be really challenging; it’s simply not the way I’m used to pacing my comics.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Wayne – Too long.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Wayne – Everything. People ask how to be a better writer or penciler or inker or whatever. The only answer I have is to sit down & write, draw, or ink. You’ll get better as you go.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Wayne – I’m pretty new to the whole digital process. As I said, I love putting actual ink on actual paper with a brush. I letter digitally because no one should be forced to read my hand-done lettering. That said, I prefer seeing hand-lettering by those people who have mastered it. Even more than inking this is a dying art. I’ve just started playing with digital color in the strip & I’m enjoying the process.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Wayne – It’s a valid format. Anything that allows people to be creative & express themselves is a valid tool. I admit I don’t read a lot of webcomics. I find the need to stop & load the next page, no matter what the connection speed is, to be distracting. Turning pages in a book happens very naturally for me, so I don’t even notice that I’m doing it. Having to wait for a page to load, or needing to scroll around to see a whole page interrupts the flow of my reading experience. But that’s just me.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Wayne – I tend to think & compose in black & white, & most of my work has been in that format (that’s the inker in me talking). Many of my all-time favorite comics have been black & white. I have however been coloring the strip I’ve been working on & I’m pretty pleased with the results. My basic rule of thumb is that the art needs to work in black & white first, in terms of composition & clarity. I love well-done color, but if the color is removed & the artwork is unreadable then there’s a problem (the exceptions, I guess, are fully painted comics that don’t have the underlying line art in the first place).
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Wayne – There are no “shoulds” in creating comics. There are great comics by auteurs who can do everything & these critically-acclaimed works get a lot of press (Maus, Persepolis, etc.). There’s something to be said for the undiluted vision of a single creator. But Watchmen could not have been what it was without both Moore & Gibbons. Sandman would have been a lesser book with only one artist’s point of view of these characters. Once again, what best suits the story you want to tell?
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Wayne – My only regular collaborator has been Fred Wheaton, my partner on Grey Legacy (& currently an artist & gag-writer for Topps Wacky Packages & Garbage Pail Kids). We met in our teens & developed a friendship based on out interest in comics. Grey Legacy developed between us as a natural extension of that friendship & interest. These days I encounter lots of people at the store I work at, many of whom want to make comics. That’s where I met the Chaos Punks guys.
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Wayne – It depends on the relationship between the writer & artist & the nature of their collaboration. I think the artist should be given a lot of leeway to interpret things. The visual end of things is his responsibility. That said, the writer includes the things that he believes should be a part of his story. Both should do what best serves the story they are telling & any major deviations on the part of either of them should be discussed between them to determine what that is.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Wayne – Jaime Hernandez or Jeff Smith.
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Wayne – Everyone has always been very supportive of what I do, whether they really understand it or not. I’ve been blessed with a lot of good people in my life, both family & friends (& especially those who have become both).
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Wayne – I love them. I hate them. I grew up with superheroes & will always love the genre. They are perhaps the single most formative influence on my sense of right & wrong & morality. But like any genre, there is so much repetition & nonsense it’s hard to just love them unconditionally. I believe there can still be good work done in the genre. I think they are the modern iteration of mythology & that we can learn much about ourselves & our society by looking at these larger-than-life characters. But, much of what comes out feels like the same-old, same-old.
QRD – Marvel or DC?
Wayne – I grew up reading both pretty democratically & have tremendous love of certain characters at both companies. I do tend to be a little more emotionally attached to the Marvel characters.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Wayne – I think anyone who grew up with Marvel & DC would love a chance to add their voice to the history of these characters. I would love to do a Hawkeye story. Or an Avengers story. Or a Legion of Superheroes story. Or a Thunderbolts story. Or...
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Wayne – Been there, done that. I love the freedom it gives you. I hate the amount of work it entails. When we did Grey Legacy I contacted the distributors, the printers, did advertising, went to cons to promote the book, took care of the finances & accounting (we were officially a business & had to deal with taxes), answered correspondence, etc. (& I should mention that Fred did all of these things as well). Self-publishing is a business & to do it well involves a lot of skill-sets that have nothing to do with writing & drawing. While it’s easier than ever, thanks to Print-On-Demand & the internet, it’s also difficult to get noticed among the hundreds or thousands of other self-published works out there. Books of lesser quality than many self-published products get published by Image (or Boom or whoever) every month & get full-page ads in the Diamond catalog. So there are benefits to being published by someone else.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Wayne – I don’t go to many these days, expense & time being the main factors. I’m usually at the Pittsburgh Comic Con in my role as a retailer (& sometimes in Artist’s Alley). Fred & I set up at the very first SPX & I’ve gone a few times since. I am making a trip to SPACE this year. I went to San Diego for the first time a couple of summers ago. My first Con was PittCon ‘81 in Pittsburgh & I’ve been to many over the last 30 years.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Wayne – Not enough.
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Wayne – Grey Legacy has always been a difficult-to-describe independent book. Comic shops that cater to the mainstream superhero audience (which seems to be most of them) wouldn’t know what to do with my book. But, other than the internet & comics conventions, there’s really not much of another outlet for that kind of work. Unfortunately, there’s not much of an “elsewhere” to sell comics. Some graphic novels can find their place in bookstores, but good luck getting shelf space if you’re not published by a major publisher or carried through a book distributor.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Wayne – I don’t know that my books would really translate well into any of these. I would love to see it, but Grey Legacy was designed to be a comic. Translation into any other media would change what it is. I’d still take the cash though.
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Wayne – I’ve always been a reader first. I used to joke that I had a collection simply because I’m a packrat. I’ve never had a list of back issues I needed to fill to complete my collection. I’ve bought back issues, but usually these were because I had discovered a series I missed when it first came out & wanted to read them.
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Wayne – The world is going digital & I think that will continue. I’m a fan of print & many of the things I love about the experience of reading comics are lost in the transition. I think lots of people still love print & want to own & collect their favorites. Some happy medium needs to be found. Comics distribution has changed many times over the years, & every time it has changed the industry, but comics continue.
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Wayne – Reading them. Buying them. Creating them by bringing in their own unique vision rather than rehashing what has gone before. Find the thing that makes you come alive & work that into your art. Find your original voice. That’s true for an artist in any media.
QRD – Anything else?
Wayne – There’s so much good work being
done in the industry right now, both in the mainstream & the indie
scene. Comics can be anything. Get out there & find the books, strips,
or webcomics you like. Support the scene.