Comic Creator Interview
with Tom Arvis
Name: Tom Arvis
City: Rockville, MD (20 minutes north of Washington DC)
Comics: Sureshot Comics (currently includes: Mercenary Pig, Wayout West, Adolescent Power Fantasies, & XRQ24- The Pandimensional Man)
Websites: sureshotcomics.com & arvtoon.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?
Tom – I was reading comics in first grade, but didn’t start saving them as a collection until about 5th grade. By the time I went to college I had over 3,000 Silver Age Marvel, DC, Archies, Charlton, Gold Key, Atlas - most of the key stuff. While I was at school my collection was in storage & got auctioned off to pay storage costs. I read Heavy Metal & Marvel’s Epic Magazine through college, then in ‘82 got back into comics when the direct market evolved. I’ve been collecting ever since & have spent a small fortune recouping most of my Silver Age collection.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Tom – Probably a Superman comic, but the first I really remember was paying $1.00 for a year’s subscription to Detective Comics in ‘66 just before the TV show debuted.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Tom – I have 4 or 5 three-ring binders of my own comics I started drawing & writing around age 10 up until college, including a Spider-Man swipe called The Magnificent Moth, an Avengers/JLA swipe called The Crusaders Against Crime, & a Green Lantern/Green Arrow swipe called Metal-Man/Bow-Man. I produced 50 issues each of those titles & many others, created in pencil on notebook paper, but never really “put out” anything until 1995 when I published my first B&W xeroxed & hand-stapled ashcan, Cowboys & Aliens, which I currently still publish as Wayout West, due to selling the rights to the original title to Scott Rosenberg of Platinum Studios. I have no affiliation with & made no money from the movie that ruined my idea. I currently have a Wayout West Trade Paperback available on Amazon.com, which is a compilation of issues 1-3 of the full-color comic book series & issue #4 is on the way.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Tom – The mid 60s through the mid 70s without a doubt, what with the Marvel explosion & then DC changing to keep up - creators like Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, the Buscemas (John & Sal), Nick Cardy, Gene Colan, Jim Aparo, Mike Sekowsky, Barry Smith, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, & so many others from that period. You just can’t touch those guys & what they did. That includes your Frank Millers, Jim Lees, Rob Whofield & Todd McWhatevers. They may have sold more books, but those comics are all too dark to me (story & art wise). They just don’t have the magic, excitement, flair, or the fun of the Silver Age stuff.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Tom – I love doing both, but creating a comic book is like creating movies or TV shows for those who can’t afford, or don’t have access to, camera equipment or a studio. In fact most movies start out as sequential art in storyboard form, so it’s a natural first step in the process. I started drawing at age three, but even then I was telling stories. The picture always had something to say. Even today, I’m no pin-up artist. I draw best when I have a story to tell. It’s all about story-telling to me.
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Tom – I think if you’re lucky enough they can lead to mainstream work & notice I did not say good enough. There’s tons of artists out there who are every bit as good as the guys working for the big two, but haven’t gotten the chance or don’t have the connections. In the real world the cream does not always rise to the top. Mini & indie comics provide a venue for those of us who just do it because we love it &/or can’t NOT do it, like me.
QRD – How many copies of your comic do you print in your first run?
Tom – Most of my releases these days are print-on-demand, through KaBlam.com or CreateSpace.com, so there is no print run. I just order as many copies as I want to have on hand & repeat orders as needed. In my arrangement to publish Mercenary Pig #1: Meatcutter with nationwide distribution through Gary Beatty & Aazurn Publishing I am required to order 1,000 books minimum for Diamond to be willing to carry it.
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Tom – I think whatever the market will bear & depending on what printing &/or publishing processes are available. Obviously these days digital comics should be priced at far below hard copies, because there’s no labor or materials involved to print those, but the creators still deserve to be paid for their time & there’s also time involved in generating, disseminating, & promoting downloadable digital copies. These days formatting & promoting your comics can be a full time job all by itself.
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Tom – Because I’m a one-man show & nobody pays me to create comics, plus I have a full-time job, as well as freelancing for paying work, I’m only able to produce two or three, 32-48 page books a year, all on a totally back-burner basis. I also get bored just working on one book at a time, so I’m usually working on several at once. I’ve spent the past 3 years working on about five different projects, all of which are coming to a head at the same time, so I hope to be releasing at least 2-3 new books by the end of the year.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Tom – That depends on the story &/or the character. I tend to create my ideas with the intention of them working as an on-going series, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a complete, stand-alone story within a series. For Aazurn to run Mercenary Pig in their Indie Comics Magazine Presents title I was required to add an altered ending to what was originally a continued story. This involved combining two existing pages & a new page that wraps the first story up nicely, while still indicating that there will be future adventures to follow. If I like a character I like to see them again & again.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Tom – I love both. I produced a 4-panel humor strip while in college, called Roommates. I created about 105 strips over 4-years & am currently coloring & re-lettering those strips to be published through CreateSpace.com as a compilation. I love the simplicity of the comic strip, cartoon art & gag writing, but I also love the complexity of drawing realistic muscles, anatomy, scenes & extended complex plot lines. Is there anything that says I can’t do both?
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Tom – As long as it takes. Because of my situation I work in catch-as-catch-can increments, but if I could boil it down to start & stop time frames, I could probably crank out 30 pages a month, pencils, inks, lettering, & colors - once I have my plot outline.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Tom – I struggled with perspective when I first decided to draw professionally, but I buckled down & stuck with it, reading & studying whatever I could find on the subject, & not just in comic books. Nowadays I have a start to finish process I’m comfortable with. The whole process comes easier to me, & I’m far more confident with what I know.
QRD – Do you do thumbnails?
Tom – Absolutely. Thumbnails are essential. You don’t want to be left guessing what goes where or how best to depict a scene when you go to pencil your pages.
QRD – At what size do you draw?
Tom – What size you got? Just kidding. I prefer to draw my pencils on legal size (8.5” x 14”) xerox paper these days. It’s just quicker than filling an 11” x 17” page (pencil & ink-wise), & it helps me keep the layouts simpler & not crowd the page with too much detail.
QRD – What kind of pens do you use?
Tom – Anything that puts the ink on the paper where I want it. I used to try inking with a jar of ink & an expensive sable brush like the old pros, but that’s too expensive & messy, & I have a heavy hand when it comes to inking, so these days I stick to Pentel Arts Pocket Brush Pens for outlining larger figures & filling in black areas & permanent fine-line markers for the line work & ruling.
QRD – What does your workstation look like?
Tom – Like an organized mess. I have my Mac computer & a monitor on one old drawing board & then my very first drawing board I bought right out of college for about $100 next to that. It’s a steel frame with a linoleum surface & will last forever. I have a carousel of scissors, xactos, rulers, etc., old school stuff, then a large (12” x 18”) flatbed scanner & a Canon inkjet printer, & finally a light box to ink my pencils onto Bristol board or vellum.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Tom – I still pencil & ink by hand, then scan those in & color & letter digitally, using Photoshop layers to color & FreeHand or Adobe Illustrator to do the word balloons & letters. Then I paste the lettering into Photoshop to add them to the final colored page.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Tom – I think any medium that brings or allows new &/or younger fans to love & enjoy comics is a good thing. I also love how sharp & bright comic pages look on the screen, but personally I still prefer to hold a hard copy in my hand & turn the pages myself. I get a big kick out of thumbing through my own comic books, & I also still love the smell of old comic books.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Tom – Full color comics are always a luxury when you self-publish & it costs more, so I try to create all my B&W art to hopefully work without color if need be. Many of my books were published first as B&W ashcans, then later as color comics. So unless I want to redo all the art, the B&Ws need to work for both.
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Tom – I don’t think there’s a set rule, nor should there be. Whatever arrangement achieves the desired results. I know the big two & other companies split the writing, penciling, inking, etc., etc., to be able to crank books out on a monthly basis, but I have a fondness for those guys who can do it all. I myself can’t afford to pay others to work on my books, plus the whole point of my books is that they are a singular vision - good, bad or indifferent. I know I dissed Frank Miller earlier, but that’s only as far as comparing him to the great Silver Age artists. He & Jack Kirby (of course) are my two most favorite when it comes to guys who can do it all. Them & Jim Steranko as well - nobody can touch Jim’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. work!
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Tom – I don’t. If someone wants to collaborate with me, they’d need to find me & offer to pay me. I’m always open to work with or for others if they can pay a respectable rate, but I simply can’t afford to work for free. I started publishing my own book because I couldn’t get anyone else to pay me to do so. At least not on a regular basis. Lately, though, I have used Gary Beatty to color some pages for me. He’s very good, very quick, & his prices are very reasonable.
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Tom – When I have worked from other’s scripts I find I prefer a general outline of what each page is to depict, then leave it up to the artist to determine the number of panels & how best to get the visual info across & fit the dialogue in. Working from a script where each panel is described in minute detail robs the illustrator of some of his creative input & ties his hands to a degree.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Tom – Jack Kirby - not that I think my art looks anything like his, but if that comparison is ever made I could not be more flattered.
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Tom – They think they are great & support me whole-heartedly. What else would they do?
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Tom – I don’t know any superheroes, so how can I judge? As for those in the comic books, I think most of them are too dark & disturbed these days. I love drawing superheroes & plan on reviving my aforementioned Crusaders & the characters I drew as a kid in upcoming issues of my Adolescent Power Fantasies anthology comic.
QRD – Marvel or DC?
Tom – These days I seem to buy more Marvel than DC, but I don’t really have a preference company wise.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Tom – I’ve always wanted to draw Batman, but who doesn’t? I actually prefer doing my own characters more at this stage. I enjoy having complete control over my own stories & characters, & besides, no one’s breaking down my door to beg me to do their books.
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Tom – Ideally, yes I would & have & will continue to do so for as long as I’m able & willing.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Tom – I attended the 1988 San Diego Comic Con & managed to shake hands with Jack Kirby. I told him he was the reason I do what I do & he said, “Next time put a beautiful babe in there for ol’ Jack!” I also have attended the Baltimore Comic Con a few times & hope to be an exhibitor there this year. Other than that I attend & exhibit a couple of smaller local comics & card shows a couple times a year, & have done the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD three times, once in ‘95 where I sold about 100 copies of my Cowboys & Aliens ashcans, then again in 2005, & 2010, but barely sold any books because it’s grown so large.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Tom – I have my sureshotcomics.com website & as I mentioned I do local shows. Other than that, not much. It’s not my favorite part of self-publishing, as I’d rather spend that time creating new material. I’ve learned a whole lot though publishing Mercenary Pig with Gary Beatty as to how to utilize FaceBook & other social networking, which I plan to employ for my future publications.
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Tom – I’d stand on a street corner & sell them if I thought it would work & I started publishing through CreateSpace because it gets your books on Amazon, which is practically like having it in a bookstore - once there it stays there. Otherwise, there’s no kick like seeing your comic on the shelves or racks of a comic shop.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Tom – Yes, yes, yes, & yes! All my characters are created with the hope of them one day being marketed to their fullest extent. Cowboys & Aliens proved that I have what it takes to create a concept worthy of a feature film, even if the idea was stolen out from under me.
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Tom – I consider myself a comic book creator first & foremost. If it weren’t for my desire at an early age to tell stories through pictures & words, I’d have never been attracted to comics in the first place & would not be collecting or reading them now.
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Tom – Digital, I guess. At least until those are replaced by hollow-graphic comics, which will probably happen sooner than we all realize.
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Tom – I’d like to see everyone buying hundreds or thousands of Sureshot Comics & rolling them up & building houses with them. Who wouldn’t?
QRD – Anything else?
Tom – Yes! I’d like everyone to go to your local comic shop TODAY & DEMAND they stock lots of copies of Mercenary Pig #1: Meatcutter! Then go back in April & buy every copy in stock so I can make more.
But before you do that, check out the Mercenary Pig FaceBook page link below:
then check out the Mercenary Pig video on You Tube: