Comic Creator Interview
with Jeremy Whitley
Name: Jeremy Whitley
City: Raleigh, NC
Comics: Princeless, The Order of Dagonet, GlobWorld, Werewolf D.A., & more!
Websites: www.firetowerstudios.com, www.actionlabcomics.com, www.twitter.com/jrome58, princelesscomic.tumblr.com
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Jeremy – I was very young when I first got into comics. My dad was a huge comics fan & he used to take my brother & I to the local comics store in Livermore CA, “Fact Fiction & Fantasy”. When we moved to western North Carolina, I lost touch with it for a while, but in the process I got into creative writing. It took me a while to put the two back together.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Jeremy – The first comic I ever bought with my own money was Gambit & the X-ternals #2, of the much loved & hated Age of Apocalypse.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Jeremy – I believe I was 25 at the time. I was working at Blockbuster & Jason was making signs & we just started putting together Order of Dagonet in whatever time we had.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Jeremy – It’s really difficult to say. When you talk about superheroes there’s a lot of debate, but I think as a whole, the best comic books are coming out right now. There are more creator owned books & more small presses doing their own thing than there has ever been before. Last decade had some amazing things in it, so we’re going to have to live up to that, but I think right now comics are as good as they have ever been.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Jeremy – Well, the drawing part is easy, I’m a terrible artist. As for writing. I don’t see it as an all or nothing situation. I can write comics & non-comics, but comics take a huge focus in my life because I think they live & breath unlike any other form of writing. I also love working with a partner or a team to help a vision become a reality. I really believe there are things you can express in comics that you can’t put together any other way.
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Jeremy – They are both. It is quite difficult to make a living on just mini-comics or indie comics, but it can be done. At the same time, there is something to be said for making your mark in a universe the size of the Marvel or DC universes. I really want to try my hand at that world, but I wouldn’t want to do it at the cost of my creator owned projects.
QRD – How many copies of your comic do you print in your first run?
Jeremy – With book that go through Diamond, we usually print just a few hundred more than we have to have. We make sure to keep around enough for signings & conventions; but we ALWAYS have a limited budget, so we can’t afford to overprint & therefore overpay. When Jason & I did print on demand, we had constant debates about how many to print. At most we would print a hundred or a hundred & fifty.
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Jeremy – I think comics should cost as much as they’re worth. For example, indie books cost more & that’s a fact of life. We don’t have sponsorships from car companies & fast food chains. However, when you look at some of the big money books out there, they are half ads & still cost four & five dollars. We sell our books at four dollars each for 20 odd pages of content. I think that says a bit about what comics with ads ought to cost.
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Jeremy – Personally, it’s been two or three at most to this point, but mostly that’s a question of having a day job & only working in a limited indie capacity. I’d like to do a lot more. The nice thing with being part of Action Lab is that I get to have a hand in putting out so many books. Action Lab solicits an average of one new book a month. For small time indie publishers that’s a pretty big deal.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Jeremy – It depends on the story. Some lend themselves well to being serialized. I, for one, can’t imagine absorbing Sandman or Y: The Last Man or Preacher as a single book. However, a book like Asterios Polyp would have been awful in a monthly form. I think you need to have a feeling for how a story wants to be told & follow your instincts. That being said, I hate it when comics stretch out one issue worth of story for four or five issues.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Jeremy – Comic books are more like prose & comic strips are more like poetry. Strips have to be strong & pack a punch. Space is at a premium so you have to make every bubble count. Comics have the gift & luxury or being able to unfold gradually. Comic books allow you the chance to have fun & play, but strips demand structure & rhythm.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Jeremy – I write way ahead, we’re usually talking about at least a year, but it has been much shorter at times. The Princeless short story collection I have coming up may be the fastest. I finished writing in March & the book will be done by the end of May. That’s pretty amazing.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Jeremy – I’m better at two things. I pace my book better & I have a better idea of what will fit on a page. It takes practice to remember the measure of a page as you’re writing it.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Jeremy – Ummm... I get the feeling this isn’t really meant for me, but I’ll answer it anyway. I usually spend a lot of time doing plotting & character sheets before I ever sit down in front of my computer. The reality is, I treat writing a book like starting a D&D quest. I draw up character sheets & do my best to examine my characters from every angle. Some of the best & most organic stuff comes from knowing your characters before you start your writing. So, it takes a lot of hammering out details before I start. Even then, the actual script usually ends up somewhere totally unexpected anyway.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Jeremy – I love them. As a creator I really love the freedom to get work out there without needing an entire studio behind you. I also love the fact that people who want the book can get it even if their shop decided it wasn’t worth ordering. As a comics reader, however, I still prefer the actual book in my hands. I know that’s supposed to be the reverse of how everyone feels about it, but it’s a fact. I love that it means other people can read the book, but I have no interest in reading them that way myself.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Jeremy – Color. Always color.
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Jeremy – No less than two & no more than six. I think you need an editor even if you are your own illustrator. Somebody needs to look at your work other than you before it hits sunlight. As brilliant as I often think I am, my wife always catches me being smarter than I ought to be or dumber than I thought possible. Beyond that, it’s up to you how you structure the creative process.
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Jeremy – Luck. I pick up other people’s books. I pay attention to what people are doing. I read other comics & watch other creators. I ask people to introduce me to other people. There is no one in the comics world who is not worth knowing. Everybody got to where they are a different way & everybody has something unique to offer. Collaborators are everywhere, just as long as you pay attention.
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Jeremy – I think you should express what’s very important to the narrative & give generalizations about everything else. Artists are creators too & holding the reins too tight limits the sort of wonderful things you can get from them. I believe that if you find the right artist for a book you should be able to give them location, stage direction, & dialog & they should be able to intuit most of the rest.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Jeremy – Neil Gaiman or Brian K Vaughan. I can never decide. Both of their work is so amazing & so different from everything else. I’d be perfectly happy with either.
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Jeremy – My friends & family are incredibly supportive. They buy every issue. My grandmother has every issue I’ve written so far on a shelf in her living room. My mom & dad buy copies to give to friends & their children. I’m really fortunate to be surrounded by the people I am.
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Jeremy – I like them, very generally & in some cases quite specifically.
QRD – Marvel or DC?
Jeremy – Marvel without question, although I do really love a few DC-ers.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Jeremy – I want to work on a Storm book. Storm has always been one of my favorites & I don’t think she gets the attention she deserves. I would also love to write an old school Heroes For Hire book with Luke, Misty, Danny, & Colleen.
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Jeremy – Self-publishing is nice, but working with a small press like Action Lab has opened my eyes to what a group of motivated creators who are 100% behind every book they produce can really do. I think small press is the way to go for at least my creator owned stuff.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Jeremy – SPX is currently top of my list. Everybody there has a book that they made, that they believe in, & that they love. Nothing is better than the sense of community when you know everybody else in the room is sweating just as hard to make their book as great as you are. Beyond that, I love Heroes & NC Comicon, which are both in my neck of the woods. I’m also really looking forward to Denver this year, as they really seem to have some amazing stuff planned.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Jeremy – Network tirelessly. I contact reviewers whose reviews I like. I watch small press creators like myself to see what they’re doing & who’s reviewing their books. I send hundreds of emails, hundreds of which go unreturned. I volunteer to do signings at stores that support me & carry my books. I get on Twitter. I get on Tumblr. I get on Facebook. I Google our books to see who is talking about them unsolicited so I can make them a new contact. I ask people if they’ve heard of the book. I offer free issues or pages when possible. I respond to fanmail on the infrequent occasions that I get it. Nothing that gets even one person to pick up your book is a wasted effort.
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Jeremy – I think my comics are suited for the comic shops that are willing to carry & promote them. For example, on Free Comic Book Day, two stores in the DC area sold a combined 80 copies of Princeless. They did this by not being afraid to talk to customers & not being afraid to talk about a book that doesn’t feature a superhero. Comic stores get a bad rap. There are bad stores & bad salesmen out there, but that’s true of any type of store. Some stores are amazing.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Jeremy – I would love to have a Princeless cartoon out there on TV. That is my dream. Films, action figures, bedding sets - these are all fine & dandy, but a Princeless cartoon would make me a very happy man.
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Jeremy – Reader definitely. I give comics away to people I think will be able to appreciate them. A lot of the time I end up buying the same book again just so I can have it, but I’m a sort of comic book evangelist. I believe that there are comics out there that everyone can enjoy, they just don’t know about them yet.
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Jeremy – Hmmm... it’s hard to say. Digital may be the way, but I don’t see paper comics going completely out of style any time soon. I’m personally a fan of the trade paperback. It’s so much easier to store, share & save.
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Jeremy – I’d like to see more people making a statement with comics. I’d like to see more people treating comics like literature & giving them the respect I think they are due. I don’t think we need such a hard line between the monthly books & the “important” books. I want to see more of what comics can do when creators decide to push themselves.
QRD – Anything else?
Jeremy – If you want to make comics, it’s no different from writing. The only way to do it is to do it. Keep at it. Go to conventions, go to meet-ups, & talk to people who are doing it. Oh! & read comics! I don’t understand people who want to make comics & don’t read comics.