Comic Creator interview
with Terry Hooper-Scharf
Name: Terry Hooper-Scharf
City: Bristol, UK
Comics: Wow –so many. Check out my online store: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/hoopercomicsuk
Websites: I have a number but the main one, with links to all the others, is Comic Bits Online -- http://hoopercomicart.blogspot.co.uk
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Terry – Ohhhhh boy. You realise that I am very, very old, right? I used to have comics bought for me by my grandfather, Bill. Being in the UK & the 1960s we are talking British weekly comics. I began reading comics at the age of 5 years. Comics that I enjoyed ranged from Bimbo, Beezer, Topper, Lion, & so many others. When my family moved to Germany, my reading, naturally, had to change & I began reading comics from companies such as Carlsen, Disney, & Germany’s biggest publisher of European comics, Bastei.
So that’s 50+ straight years of reading comics.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Terry – When I got my weekly pocket money (allowance) it was not much. The family were typical working class so money was short. However, with money I could decide what I wanted to buy & read. I purchased UK reprints of the Dell Tarzan series, UK black & whites such as The Purple Hood & The Adventures of Mark Tyme, but what was the very first comic? That was over 40 years ago. I really cannot remember!
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Terry – Long story short. I put together a school magazine titled Starkers -- The Magazine That Tells The Naked Truth. The title came from the deputy head teacher & it was supposed to have cartoons, jokes, & a comic strip. Apparently one of the school secretaries who had to prepare all the pages for print objected to the title & the head teacher banned the mag. I had to wait until 1984 for Black Tower Adventure (volume 1) #1 to be completed & printed!
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Terry – The Golden Age period of the 1930s-1940s laid out all the groundwork & things got stunted in the 1950s thanks to idiots like Wertham. The 1960s I would say is a time when things took off more & publishers developed more originality. In the UK we had a long history of anti-heroes in comics. The Spider was a master criminal with a crime organisation, but he also helped out the law later on so you were never sure which way he might turn next. & the Bat by William Ward might be considered a freedom fighter or a terrorist (depending the side you were on) as he fought to liberate his country, Stahlia. We also, in the UK, had a long history of occult characters -- Dene Vernon who tackled violent ghosts, demons, cults & even aliens & subterranean foes in the 1940s-1950s. Too long winded? I’d have to say 1960s because the UK did see all these new characters appear & some were quite risky (we never had a Comics Code Authority), but then Marvel gave comics a creative kick in the ass. 1960s.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Terry – I do all. I write & draw comics & publish them -- I also wrote for Marvel UK & other companies -- but I also write as a comics journalist, but also on specialist subjects such as wildlife, but also about the strange & weird things I’ve investigated over 35 years. So I get to do all these things. Love it. Prose books on factual subjects are harder as you have to include lots of research references & notes. Now I do my comic journalism online!
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Terry – Not any more. A lot of the creators who are well known these days & who started in comics in the 1970s all began by contributing to fanzines as writers or artists & that gave them the experience they needed -- that applies in the UK & US.
Today, companies such as Marvel & DC are very restrictive about bringing in new talent & Dark Horse & Image can cherry-pick what they want. With print-on-demand most people like the creative freedom: you can write & draw what you want & publish it -- no editor or moneyman saying, “Well, okay… but maybe if you changed…” You also sell your own books -- whether for fun or to get the experience & feedback & make a few extra dollars -- YOU get all the money not a small percentage.
In the UK the entire comic scene now is small press & indie comics & a lot of those involved in the small press have never even read a comic book. It isn’t the same feel now & I think it’s easier to produce your own comic & try to get it to a company editor & see if they publish creator owned books because Marvel & DC do not.
It’s your choice which path you take, Grasshopper!
QRD – How many copies of your comic do you print in your first run?
Terry – I never discuss print runs. It is not important. Sales are. In the old UK comic days editors would tell you “We have a 120,000 copies print run!” or, later, a 60,000 print run. But that was print run not sales & when Fleetway still owned 2000 AD the editor & publisher told me “We have a 60,000 print run…it has a “cult” following,” which meant that the minimum number of copies a printer would handle was 60,000 but actual sales were maybe a quarter or half that -- & I may be being very kind with those figures!
Print On Demand means that you do not have to store thousands of copies of books -- just the original art! With an online store or via Amazon or one of the other outlets who sell Black Tower Comics, what happens is that someone orders a book & that goes through to the print company who process the book & send it out. That simple. For comic events you order as many as you think you might be able to sell -- so I have two big boxes here full of books for the next event. Print runs mean nothing now.
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Terry – Are we talking Marvel & DC? They charge what they want & make up an excuse as to cover prices (read Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics The Untold Story!).
If you mean small pressers & indie publishers… there are a number of factors. First is that, unlike mega big corporations like DC or Disney/Marvel, small publishers cannot call the shots on cost of printing. We have to go by what the deal is we get offered. With print-on-demand black & white comics are cheaper. If you had a 24 page b&w comic but decided to add 4 colour pages your cost goes up. Printers charge so much per colour page but with print-on-demand all the pages, even if they are black & white, are charged as colour pages so your cover price has to reflect that.
You then, if you are buying in copies to sell at events or via mail order, you have to cost based on how much per copy & then add in postage of the books to you & then what it will cost to mail out a book someone orders from you. Publishers get a small discount, so if you add together cost of postage of items to you, table costs & then divide it by the number of books you have to sell you ought to at least make some profit on each book. I dealt with this in more detail in an online article: http://hoopercomicart.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/uk-comic-events-hate-me-for-who-i-am.html
I do not think there can be a standard cover price -- that went out the window when producing your own comics got easier.
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Terry – I don’t go by a schedule. For instance, Ben R. Dilworth, who drew Mark Millar’s The Shadowmen back in the 1980s, sent me a completely drawn 28 page comic. I read through it. I then scanned & edited it & published it. Small pressers & indie comics do not get picked up by Diamond & we do not appear in Previews & store owners really do not give a flying crap about us or our books -- they will when the mainstream industry implodes, which probably is not that far off &, as with the “black & white comics explosion” of the 1980s that saved all their businesses, oh they’ll love our books then.
But at the moment scheduling a book to be ready by such-&-such an event is done by many, however, we are our own bosses & so we can make our own schedule. At the moment, the online store lists 85 books -- these are prose books, comic albums of 24-70 pages, collected editions, & so on. These have all been produced since I went to print-on-demand in 2009, so if you want a statistic that breaks down to 12.25 books per year! I have enough material to continue publishing for a long while!
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Terry – I was brought up with British weekly comics so a series would run 2 or 3 or 4 pages in a comic each week. You might have to buy 12 comics to get a full story. We never had monthly US comics in the UK, just the occasional copies that found their way here, so The Avengers, Fantastic Four, etc., were serialised. So when I found colour Marvel & DC comics it was like “Wow -- it’s all in one book!”
I think indie comics have the choice of a trade or serialised. I have always said that I would never publish or start publishing a comic until I had every part in my possession. The reason is simple: I collect all sorts of odd comics from companies & people going back to the 1960s & you find part 1… part 2… & that is it. With the internet, IF you can find reference to those titles you can find out what happened, but a lot were just cancelled -- never sold many copies or whatever. So you have two parts of a series that goes nowhere.
If you have parts 1-4 of a series, then you have no real problem. I, like many other comic fans, wasted so much money getting into & buying a series that, “Don just didn’t want to draw comics any more so that was it,” which is an excuse from a moron. I think that if you are going to ask someone to buy your comic, then you owe it to them to make sure there is a complete series or else you are just making a fast buck & running off.
Black Tower Adventure had series divided into parts such as Return Of The Gods: Twilight Of The Super Heroes. But I knew there were people who would only want to buy the super hero series or the fantasy series, but did not want the rest. Whereas others wanted the whole contents as a series of books. So, the various strips were taken & put into collections – Return came to 135 pages, but I then expanded that so the book came to over 300 pages -- but was still cheaper than buying all the issues with the original story parts.
Other books I bring out as a single book. A fairly priced book packed with goodies. To me it made more sense. People might buy a book so they can read a story from start to finish (we do NOT have ads in our books). Paid for & there to read over & over if they wish. For those who like the anthology title I began publishing Black Tower Super Heroes so they can still enjoy that “part works” experience.
It is up to individual publishers & as a rule I go for all in one book.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Terry – That’s confusing. You need to define what you mean. Comics are comic strips -- Love & Rockets is a book with a comic strip by Jaime, another by Gilbert, & maybe one by Mario. Anthologies are made up of a series of comic strips. Monthly comics such as from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse & Image are single stories or a main story with a back-up strip. In either case I like them -- I’m a comicker! If you mean as in a newspaper comic strip, then I do not buy newspapers but I used to enjoy Garth, Axa, & a few of the other old newspaper classics.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Terry – Again, it depends on how you work. When I worked for Eros Comix on Two Hot Girls & Maeve I would sit down &, in the case of the former title, I would type up the script for four issues starting from 8 a.m. & working til about 2 a.m. & then that would go to the artist -- Art Wetherell -- & to Eros’s editor & once the editor approved, I had to wait for it to be drawn & the publisher to print it (I had no say in anything after the script!) & that took six months?
Now, if I want to sit down & draw a comic (I do not use scripts for myself, so it’s straight to work) of, say, 24 pages; then I would do that in two weeks -- pencilled, inked, & lettered & then publishing it would take a day so it can be that fast. These days, as no one is paying me, I can take a few days off.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Terry – I draw better than 30+ years ago when I was trying to work in comic publishing or as a scriptwriter. I don’t use the computer for any part of the creative process other than lettering, which in my case is heaven -- my lettering was bloody awful. Making a PDF is the main use of the computer after that, so I’d guess lettering & drawing.
QRD – Do you do thumbnails?
Terry – No. Never have done. I just draw straight to paper & if it fails dismally I chuck that out & start again.
QRD – At what size do you draw?
Terry – A3 which is twice the size of the printed book -- our standard size is A4. A3 measures 29.7 x 42.0cm or 11.69 x 16.53 inches & A4 measures 21.0 x 29.7cm, 8.27 x 11.69 inches.
QRD – What kind of pens do you use?
Terry – I use a variety. As a jobbing artist you have to use what is best & achieves good results at the cheapest cost to you because those pens are coming out of your paycheque! At the moment I am using Uni Pin Fine Line pens with tip sizes from 0.05, 0.1, 0.2 up to 0.8. I’ll also use other fibre tip pens & to speed up work I’ll not use a brush & ink for large areas of solid black, but a thick tipped permanent marker. I still use brush & ink for some work & I also use hard bristle toothbrushes for ink spray effects -- a very old technique used by artists going way back.
QRD – What does your workstation look like?
Terry – HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…oh, you’re being serious? Well if you are a working artist & deal with paper, pens, brushes, ink, & glue -- yes, I still use cut & paste -- then your “work station” is going to look like a bomb hit it. I have a photo if you need to see the “tidy” area? Most artists you’ll see Facebook posts from reading: “Took hours, but the room that looked like a hurricane hit it is now tidy. Now back to work so it will all be a mess by tomorrow!”
It’s how it goes. You work & things mount up. I make hot cups of coffee put it on the desk & start work then remember the coffee… with now has ice on it! Artists tend to live in degrees of mess, filth & total chaos -- people know where I work is called Room Oblivion.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Terry – I use my digits (I am sooo clever at times) all the time. No, as I wrote above, I letter my computer & then the scanner to make the PDF. I prefer the ink stains on my hands & fingers & the smell of paper & crisp ink. Digital is a rude word.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Terry – I work too much, so I’ve only seen a few web comics such as the enchanting Donna Barr’s Desert Peach After Life…. web comics are okay if you like them, but I really am the sort of person that will not read comics via the computer. I love books & comics in print.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Terry – Black & white. For UK weekly comics the format was 79% black & white. I have done some colour, but I prefer black & white -- you see the old Marvel Essential or DC Showcase Presents titles where the art is in black & white & it looks superb. Colour is okay, but hides a lot.
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Terry – One. Seriously? If someone can write & draw their own comic & do the covers, then just one. If it’s a writer who cannot draw, then there has to be an artist… who generally does pencils & does not letter… see, we old school were taught to pencil, ink & sometimes letter (mine was too bad) & these days I get looks of shock when I say I pencil, ink, letter by computer, & if I colour a cover I use inks or paints. They keep calling it “old school”, but you had to know your job. “Ken has fallen & broken a finger -- we need pencils fast!” so no problem. “Hey, Ron just got diabetes in his inking fingers!” No problem. You had to be a jack-of-all-trades.
So number of people on a comic varies -- as does any profit from sales when it needs sharing.
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Terry – I don’t. Not any more. I used to get one artist after another contact me &, quite literally, beg for a script (I used to be a creators agent from 1985-1995) & a project to work on. I used to go through every aspect of a project with them & I got the commitment to draw the series, which would be completed & more sellable to a publisher. I wrote so many scripts that I still find them & can’t remember them. But I also have a huge box full of part or full issue art that was done before the artist either changed their minds because they had no idea how hard it is to draw a comic or they were simply “play-at-being-comic-artists”.
In 2009 I stopped doing scripts for other people -- unless it was a publisher paying. Someone who shall remain nameless, but went on to do work at Marvel, kept pestering for a script. I relented & wrote one & sent it to him. “I’ve changed my mind,” he then wrote back.
There are only two people I’ve cooperated with as writer -- Gavin Stuart Ross, who drew the Chung Ling Soo & Dene Vernon books & Ben R. Dilworth who I have worked on-&-off with since the 1980s. A superb & vastly underrated artist.
So I no longer look for collaborators on books.
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Terry – I tend to write tight scripts when it comes to dialogue & descriptions of scenes but I always allow an artist I work with a certain amount of a free hand. If action involves something taking place that is important to the plot, I’ll write that tightly; but action scenes apart from “the two fighting move from the castle keep down onto a steep winding stairway” I leave drawing the action scenes to the artist --they have to draw it!
I have, however, several times, had to write a tight script, but also provide art breakdowns & even character illoes for artists. You need to be flexible & if you are a good writer or know how artists work then you should be fine!
QRD – Do you think it’s important to have a full story arc completely written before starting to draw?
Terry – Absolutely! As I wrote above, you absolutely must have that story completely written because artists may need to do research work on things like weaponry, uniforms -- if that is needed I have a big stack of those books so I’ll include references -- or even vehicles or locations mentioned. The artist also needs to see the complete script from start to finish because if she/he sees script #1 then something may be drawn in a certain way, but script #3 gives a description that makes the previous interpretation wrong -- it can happen for various reasons.
An example: I was in a meeting with about twenty artists & writers & we were told the theme of an anthology book. We all had to write our own chapters, but we all had to have an old airship somewhere in the background. I asked, “What type of airship --there are many different types & we all need to be producing the same thing in our individual chapters?” Without hesitation the editor waved his hand & said “We’ll sort that out after all the chapters are in!” Now that made no sense. He should have decided the type of airship & supplied a copy illo to each of us, but he was saying “draw it all & you can change the airship to what I decide later” -- & this was on a tight deadline.
So full story & all the reference the artist will need.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Terry – I seriously cannot answer that. It’s been said over-&-over that I have no ego to speak of. With comics I do the work that needs doing. My artistic influences come from all over -- Europe, the United States, UK artists, & even the Spanish artists that worked for the UK industry. We should -- should -- have our own individual style as writers to a degree, but as artists definitely our own styles.
I think it utter egotism & arrogance to say or write “I’m more a Sal Buscema type artist” or “Well, I like to think I draw more like Gene Colan”. I’ve had young artists say, “I’m going for a Dave Gibbons look to the art,” or a Finch style & I say, “NO! Draw in your own style & unless it is essential to the book you are working on, develop your own style!”
I would never, ever compare myself to another comics creator.
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Terry – Well, my main supporters were my grandparents, who are long dead now but they used to encourage me to draw & -- to my utter embarrassment -- tell people how good I was. My parents are dead & what’s left of my family I never get feedback from about my comics.
I think artists or writers who have partners who support them & realise being a creative person you need to concentrate & be left alone a lot of the time & you’ll be very messy, miss meals, or leave them til they are cold -- & still want to live with them -- they are very lucky.
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Terry – Real life ones or in comics? I’ve met some of the “real life” UK superheroes & they are lovely, but I wouldn’t trust them to cross the road. Comic book super heroes I love. I’ve been collecting The Avengers & Fantastic Four & Justice League & so on since the 1960s (no new Marvel or DC, though). So long as people remember that super heroes are not all comics are about, then no problem -- there are many great indie titles out there covering many genres. People need to realise that & support indie publishers.
28QRD – Marvel or DC?
Terry – Up until about 2005 I was a Marvelite from age 6, so a lot of my life invested in Marvel comics & characters. I did read JLS -- loved the JLA/JSA team ups, read quite a lot of 1980s DC books. Over all it used to be Marvel.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Terry – Only if the original characters not the rebooted & rebooted & rebooted ones… uh, I was going to say JSA since Avengers will never happen (like JSA would!). Hmm. I have to say a good few of the old US Golden Age characters -- not Timely or National. So much potential there. Or the more obscure Marvel characters like Wood God & so on.
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Terry – I do.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Terry – Conventions in the UK tend to have the same old guests, exhibitors, & creators which is stale. I’d like to, one year, go over to Europe for a couple conventions -- maybe Erlangen in Germany. I would certainly love to go to a couple of small US comic conventions… but money!
QRD – How do you feel about doing work for anthologies?
Terry – Done that all my life. For other people, if I get paid I love them!
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Terry – Wow. YouTube videos, postings on Comic Bits Online (almost 2 million views so far & 2-3000 views a day to which you can add almost 2 million on Google+) & Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook -- I have Yahoo groups I post to & various blogs, so I do a lot!!
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Terry – Comic shops are not interested. It doesn’t matter if there are super heroes, horror, or whatever. They are indie, black & white, & NOT DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, or Image. Shops don’t care, so I no longer consider them.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Terry – I wrote scripts for a couple of UK TV series but they never came to be as it was at the time how TV was run changed –de-regulization. I worked with an animator in South America on a project called The Paranormals, but I think that studio went bust. Not lucky, am I? I think an animated series where gradually a rotating cast of characters could be used. TV -- well, how many British or European live action shows are there? It’s very unlikely but a bit of fantasy now & then helps!
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Terry – I read comics & I try to find missing back issues & whereas I cannot afford issues 1-60 of Marvel’s The Avengers, it doesn’t matter as the Masterworks editions fill in the gaps. It isn’t about value, bagging, boarding & boxing or even having comics graded.
I know people who have 4, 6, or even 10 (TEN!) copies of one comic; not because it is important, but because they want to get a better & better grade that gets graded, slabbed in plastic & hidden in a box somewhere. Until I was in my late 40s I had no permanent home, now I can sort things out & when I finish current projects I intend to sit back & read The Avengers from #1 up to the end of volume 1 -- 400… no, 502(?) comics.
When I slip this mortal coil, all the books will be sold off or dumped, so I enjoy reading them without the collectors mania -- I have the complete Silver Age Sub-Mariner series now & it’s lovely to read.
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Terry – Well, hopefully, Diamond’s monopoly will be shattered. It tends to make the rules which are: “You WILL buy what makes US money!” It does not care for the small press or indie publishers. In the UK it has the monopoly as all other distributors have been forced out (monopolies are supposed to be illegal in Europe). Basically, most storeowners do not either.
I think that, so long as postal services do not get any more expensive, comic buyers for indies & small press will do business online unless some distributor comes in & treats us fairly without robbing us -- & they can get stores to treat these books with respect. I would like to see that, but will it happen?
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Terry – Making more for youngsters, to get the next generation of comic readers in. Not Marvel or DC, but indie publishers need to be trying to do this, but most want to publish exactly what they want -- “Ain’t our business to bring in new kid readers!” But it is. In the UK there are far more small press events organised locally, but they tend to all be people who know people & friends -- almost little cliques. These could do a lot more to bring readers in; but, as I wrote, most small pressers have never read comics. At one event no one knew who Jack Kirby was. No one knew of Steve Ditko. John Byrne? No. Stan Lee…”Oh, that old guy from The Big Bang Theory!”
We need to get comics -- free comics -- to groups who help kids from poor families because a comic can provide hours of escapism, maybe even be a way out of poverty by encouraging these kids to create comics. Hold free comic open days (not Free Comic Book Day ) to encourage families to get into the medium. Comics could do so much for kids -- & adults -- but everything at the moment seems to be self, self, self & “let’s grab those dollars!”
That would make comics a very soul-less medium.
QRD – Anything else?
Terry – Yes. Please buy my books. Make me rich. Other than that, enjoy reading & making comics.