Comic Creator Interview
Name: Michael San Giacomo
City: Cleveland, OH
Comics: Phantom Jack (Image), Tales of the Starlight Drive-In (Image), Phantom Jack: The Nowhere Man Agenda (IDW), & Chalk (publisher to be determined)
Websites: www.talesofthestarlightdrivein.com, www.cleveland.com/comic-books
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Michael – I started reading my older brother’s comics way before kindergarten. I used to look at the pictures before I could read & learned to read using them by the age of 5. I never stopped.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Michael – The first comic I remember buying was Superboy No. 68, the first appearance of Bizarro. It was at a local grocery store in 1958 & cost a dime. I was six.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Michael – I put out my first comic (Phantom Jack) when I was in my late 40s after more than 25 years of writing about comics for newspapers, magazines, & websites.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Michael – That’s an easy one, the 1960s. You can’t deny that Stan & Jack changed everything & DC eventually followed.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Michael – Actually I do both. I’m a reporter for The Plain Dealer newspaper in Superman’s hometown of Cleveland. I write all the time. I’m the worst artist in the world & would never attempt to draw.
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Michael – I see them as both. They can be a unique media on their own. I’ve seen some amazing ones & some that are pretty awful, but they are a learning tool at the very least. Sometimes they can be a path to the mainstream comic media, as Brian Bendis can attest. But, it’s not a guarantee by any means. It’s very difficult swimming upstream to the DC or Marvel pool & there isn’t really any good way to get there. They are the best looking girls at the dance & everyone wants them. You have to figure out a way to get them to come to you. & when you do, let me know.
QRD – How many copies of your comic did you print in your first run?
Michael – I believe the first run of the Phantom Jack from Image was going around
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Michael – I think the going price of $2.99 to $3.99 is a fair price. It’s easier when you’re a Marvel or DC & you’re putting out strong books that can support the weaker ones. With an independent publisher, you sometimes have to sell a book for a higher price, like five bucks, so you can pay the printer, the artist, & all the people involved.
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Michael – I produce perhaps one book every one or two years. It’s very slow because of the costs involved paying artists. The more popular artists are busy & there’s no way for small time writers to compete with DC or Marvel rates. I’d like to release a book every month or two, if I were able to hook up with a major company that would take over the arduous task of handling the art & production & just let me write.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Michael – This is sort of a Sophie’s Choice question that comes from a false premise. You don’t have to choose. You can do both. Comics can be bought every month or, if someone has the patience, can be picked up as a trade paperback. While I prefer reading a whole trade, I lack the patience to wait & pick up the books I like every month.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Michael – Strips are definitely a medium under themselves. It’s damn hard to tell a story in three or four panels. I read ‘em every day.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Michael – Personally it’s been as long as three or even four years from start to finish. My latest book, Chalk, started in 2003 & it took until 2013 to get together. Even now, with the book completely drawn, I have to find a publisher. So it could be yet another year.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Michael – I think now that I have a few books behind me I have a better understanding of story flow. I’ve realized the importance of inserting clues early in a story that foreshadow coming events & gives the sharp readers a little thrill when they catch the nuances.
QRD – Do you do thumbnails?
Michael – Yes I do sometimes draw thumbnails, much to the chagrin of my artists because they’re pretty primitive. My thumbnails that is, not the artists.
QRD – At what size do you draw?
Michael – I take a regular page 8 x 10 sheet of paper & divided up like a comic book page.
QRD – What kind of pens do you use?
Michael – Nothing fancy, any pen will do.
QRD – What does your workstation look like?
Michael – I have a very cool workstation in my house. My writing desk is surrounded by music: cassettes, CDs, vinyl, & even hundreds of eight-tracks. I popped in the eight-tracks when I was writing Starlight Drive-In to get that period feeling. Gotta love that buzz & click.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Michael – I’ll let my artists answer that part because I’m such a luddite.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Michael – I enjoy digital comics, but prefer real comics because I’m old-fashioned. I need to hold a comic in my hands to appreciate it.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Michael – I prefer color, although my latest book, Chalk, is going to be in black-&-white because, well, it just needed to be in black-&-white.
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Michael – Well that’s pretty easy, you need a writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer & editor. These days you need someone to help you digitize the work & get it out there.
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Michael – I try to use the same people over & over because they’re good & reliable. Artist & technical director Sean McArdle is basically a genius & has saved my ass many times. Artist Dexter Wee can turn around a page faster than anyone I know. I’m lucky enough to know some fine artists & can usually find whomever I need through word-of-mouth.
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Michael – I think it’s important for a writer to trust his artist to interpret his vision. I give my artists a lot of leeway & always write descriptive panel-by-panel scripts as say “here’s how I would do it, but if you can think of a better way final means try your way.” Nine times out of ten, I prefer their way.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Michael – I’d be extremely flattered if anybody compared my work to anything by Alan Moore, Geoff Johns, or Brian Bendis (who I used to buy comics from when he worked at a shop in Cleveland).
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Michael – My family & friends enjoy my work, at least they say they do. I always use their names as characters, which is an incentive for them to enjoy the work. They seem to particularly enjoy the text pieces that I have in almost every book.
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Michael – I have taught a course at Case Western Reserve University about superheroes & comics for six years, so obviously I enjoy superhero comics. Like ancient myths, they show us the human drama expanded to its extreme.
QRD – Marvel or DC?
Michael – Both. Both have great books & a few sucky ones. Buy what you like, regardless of popularity & whether they will increase in value. Assume they won’t & enjoy them.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Michael – Believe it or not, my dream book would be Hank Pym of The Avengers. This character has gone through so many incarnations from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Yellowjacket & has proven himself to be a little bit crazy. I’d love to get my hands on him.
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Michael – The problem with self-publishing is promotion. It’s great to have complete control over a comic, but it’s a little pointless if no one ever sees it.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Michael – I go to shows all over the place. I’ve been to San Diego many times, Toronto has a particularly great show & I love going to Philadelphia because I’m originally from that area.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Michael – I found the best way to promote books is to talk about them. I try to be interviewed in newspapers, magazines, television, & websites. It’s a challenge because there’s only a limited amount of time you can spend promoting, so I do everything I can to try to spread the word. I have never turned down an interview with anybody & have been pretty successful. I’ve been interviewed by, not just one, but two puppets.
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Michael – Again I think both are the way to go. I’d love to see my books in comic shops as well as Barnes & Noble’s.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Michael – I’ve always felt Tales of the Starlight Drive-In would make an amazing HBO or AMC 13-episode series. The beauty is in its very simplicity: A series of related stories set in a drive-in theater over a 50-year-period. It has an ending guaranteed to make you cry.
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Michael – I am both the collector & reader & have been most of my life
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Michael – Ten years seems like an eternity, but I do agree with the obvious conclusion that there will be a lot more emphasis on digital comics &, sadly, less emphasis on comic book shops. I think that’s terrible because I value my weekly visits to the shop.
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Michael – I would like to see more people reading comics with a greater amount of respect. It bothers me that with these great movies like The Avengers & Batman, movies function with little recognition of the comics that started it all. Would it be so hard to include a promo with each film saying, “If you enjoy this movie check out the comics it came from such as...” & why not sell comics in the snack bar for those shows in association with a local comic shop?