following is an email interview that was conducted early in 2001 by
Joe Muszinsky of Modern Mythology Inc. I think the website has since
gone down, but I loved doing this interview. Some of the ranting about
Diamond Distributors came out of my frustration from them not accepting
Nether for distribution, so since their approval of Nether, some of
what I said here is no longer valid... but enough backpedaling...
MMI: Can you give us
some background on yourself and your involvement in comics?
CDR: I first was introduced
to comics when I discovered that a friend of my mother, who we would
visit every once in a while, had stacks of comics in he basement.
I always wrote and drew my own stories all throughout my childhood
(I was an only child and had to fill up my time somehow)but I never
really connected up with comic books until then. While my mother and
she would talk, I would be reading Batman, Black Panther, the Flash,
and the DC horror titles. I discovered Kamandi in my cousin's basement,
and I heartily devoured those stories and anything new I could find
whenever we visited them. Years later, in Junior High, some friends
got me into playing Dungeons and Dragons. I jumped into that world
with both feet, creating my own world (and gaming system - which was
a complete fiasco), the World of Cyyx, which was a combination of
Land of the Lost, the Hobbit, and Thundarr: the Barbarian. Around
that same time, the Road Warrior came out, and I wrote stories along
those lines, too. All for my own amusement.
Then, an friend of mine was friends with the owner of a comic publisher,
who took us on a tour of Comico, just when Comico was starting to
gain momentum. Mage had just been published. I saw some artists sitting
in a lounge area, sketching away (while watching the horror movie,
"Funhouse" on video) - I didn't get their names at the time,
but I know Matt Wagner wasn't one of them. I saw the entire process
of production in that little Norristown office, and I fell in love
with the medium all over again. Now it was accessible to me. Now I
understood how it all happened. I could do it! I will do it!
In the weeks that followed, a friend and I plotted out an epic science
fiction adventure series called the Straxxis Assassins, after being
inspired while watching "Captain Scarlet vs. the Mysterons"
on cable and following an idea for costumes for an upcoming sci-fi
convention. Then, the girl I was dating got me hooked on the X-Men
and then the New Mutants. Bill Sienkiewicz became a major deity to
me, as did Chris Claremont. I tried to emulate the art styles of those
books all through high school. Writing, writing, writing.
In 1988, I was home from college and I had a chance meeting with Bob
Schreck. Later, he offered me an internship at Comico. I spent a month
in the basement of that Norristown office, cataloguing all of the
boxes of "Jonny Quest", "Grendel", "Macross",
"Elementals", and "Gumby". Here I was in yet another
basement with comics... a recurring theme in my life. I also was the
human eraser for an issue or two of Elementals (erasing the pencils
from the finished inks), and xeroxed quite a few issues for their
editors, Mike Eury and Diana Schutz. Shelly Roeberg (now of Vertigo's
elite) was the art assistant there.
It was a lot of hard work, but very fun to be part of it all. Then,
my big break... "Maze Agency" needed a sketch of the scene
of a crime for issue 4. I got to draw the layout of the rooms where
the murder took place, all dropped into perspective with cutaway walls.
As I was finishing up my month with Comico, I begged Bob Schreck for
something to draw. They were planning to do a huge "fire sale"
of all their old stock. They were trying to set up a distributing
deal with DC. I drew a guy with a flame-thrower casually threatening
a mangled stack of comics, all hanging in various uneven piles. They
were very pleased with my tight pencils (which I slaved over for a
day and a half) and had the inker for Elementals finish the ad.
When my internship was over, I didn't hear anything from anyone at
Comico for a couple of months, until I came home again for Easter
break... I stopped by and found everyone packing up their things.
Comico was bankrupt. My first real illustration never got published.
That set the trend for me of many potential successes followed by
amazing disappointments. I have been published here and there since
1991, starting with Cry for Dawn 4, my first full-scale comic book
story to be published. I got irregular work from Caliber, starting
with my first try at my own book, Petit Mal (an anthology of stories
that I created), and spent some time with Comic Zone, and CFD Productions
(Joe Monks' company after Linsner split). A long line of bad management
and frustratingly bad sales, no pay... the comics industry sucked.
Why couldn't they see that I was a genius? They should be showering
me with money to produce my own project! I should have my own action
figure by now!
The last project I did was with the comic book retail company I worked
for, called Legends. They hired me with grand ideas to go into publishing.
Three years later, we went ahead and published "The Confessor",
under the imprint Dark Matter Press. Rave reviews from pros and fans.
Letters from England compared us to Clive Barker and Chris Carter.
I loved it! The story was co-plotted by three other guys, and I arted
it all up. A sweet deal, I was paid to draw! All day, I drew and drew
You just know that had to end.
Creative differences arose, and I had a new family that I had to support.
The Confessor died, and with it, every chance of making a name for
myself in the comic book industry.
Well, five years later, I just bought a house with the money from
a great job, a "real" job, designing websites. My fiancé
is very supportive, my skills have improved after illustrating for
White Wolf Games for 3 of those years, and I had been writing feverishly,
plotting out the details of the world of Nether.
With this new foundation, I decided to try again to get into comics.
My experiences have taught me a lot about the industry, and about
creator rights, and about storytelling. I think I needed to go through
all that I did to get to where I am now. I'm going to do it right
this time, I thought. Then, there is Diamond...
MMI: You submitted
"Nether" for distribution by Diamond Distributors, which
is the major, to the point of almost being the exclusive, comics distributor.
It was rejected. I am surprised it was because it has a great look
to it. Can you explain the process of submitting work to Diamond and
also why they actually rejected "Nether"? What are your
future plans for resubmitting"Nether"?
CDR: My naiveté
got in the way. I contacted Diamond for their procedures for submitting,
and they gave me a contact. He told me to send him a copy. I sent
him issue 1 and began making plans with my printer. After a month,
I contacted my contact again and he told me, flat and informally,
that it was rejected, but there was a "retailer review board"
that was looking it over. If they liked it, Diamond would accept it.
Okay... I was shocked. I mean, sure, I had been out of the comic book
loop for a few years (I was on the pulse when I was working for a
retail chain, all the industry news passed our way) but I didn't consider
that rejection by *the* comic distributor would be possible. When
I asked for the details, quite diplomatically, why Nether was rejected
and what I could do to improve my chances, I got a message back that
the files containing the comments were lost. And after another month
had passed, I returned to ask what the Retail Review Board said. "They
still are looking it over," was the response. That was two months
ago as I write this.
So, unless a publisher has a track record of positive sales and momentum,
Diamond has the right to dismiss them outright. I can understand that.
Why take a chance on a publisher that will never publish their issue
3? But what I don't understand is what they have to lose. Diamond
gets their money for ad space. All they have to deal with are the
retailers who want to know why issue 3 didn't ship. Is it really such
a burden on them to put one listing in their catalog?
I spoke to a couple of comic pros who said that, despite their elitism,
Diamond is afraid of the Feds looking at them too closely, and the
"M"-word, monopoly rising upon them. They said that all
I had to do was get some retailers and potential customers to write
letters to Diamond, requesting that they reconsider carrying Nether.
That's part of my plan. That, and sending finished issues one through
three, along with the 90-page plot continuation, and probably a printout
of all the background information on my website. I have a preview
that I have been sending around to pros, getting some very enthusiastic
reviews which I will also include in the resubmission. I hope that
changes their minds... and I don't piss them off with overkill. I
will to do that at the end of this year, with plans to publish in
is obviously a long term series, not just a one shot story or mini-series.
Do you have a long range story plotted out? Or have you worked out
a good portion of this world as a background on which you can play
out any number of stories?
CDR: Oh, jeez. You could
say I have a story plotted out... right now, ignoring the 40-page
prologue I am putting up semimonthly on the site, I have 90 pages
of screenplay-formatted script up to issue 15, and a loose plot outline
that will carry me to issue 30 or so. This story arc started out as
a one-shot when I began writing in 1995. I kept adding details, history,
and characters, until it became this ever-expanding world that I can
take in many directions. I want to keep it accessible, but I also
want to make it as realistic and detailed as possible, without becoming
burdensome to read. I want these characters and the world to be a
complete reality. The comic is just one window into that reality.
When I was a kid and saw Star Wars, it was a complete world to me.
That two-hour film told me enough about the world that I could explore
it on my own. I am trying to make Nether that way, too. I don't know
if I will succeed, but the day that some 9 year-old in Saskatchewan
writes to me and tells me that he made up his own Nether story, I
will know that I have succeeded.
I know that, to me, writing this story is like exploring the world,
and I am writing something that I would want to read. It's all the
stuff that interests me: altered states of being, parallel dimensions,
transformations of the spirit, and mystic martial arts all come together
in a fantasy adventure with demons in and apocalyptic, "neoprimordial"
(to use my own adjective) world.
I'm tapping into my love of Anime and horror films, the occult, mythologies
from around the world... everything that I would want to read. I'd
like to be able to just do this for a living someday, but after 17
years of trying to break in, I'm in no hurry to get it out there -
just doing it for the fun of it is rewarding in itself, with just
a potential audience in mind. Once Nether gets rolling, there will
be plenty more to be told, especially when I start getting feedback
from the audiences that I do reach. It's a tribal thing.
MMI: How does Diamond
being the only distributor used by the major comics publishers effect
the comics industry? Is the audience hurt by this, or does it serve
the purpose of getting comics to where the audience is (direct market
CDR: When I was working
for the comic store, I know there were lots of debates about what
was going on in the industry... monopoly was used loosely five or
six years ago, now, everyone seems to accept it as the way things
are going to be. With the Internet the way it is, every new publisher
can advertise their own comic for direct distribution. If someone
is actively searching for a comic (genre, artist, writer, etc.) they
can probably find it. But for the general audience at large, who may
not know they would like a particular comic unless they happen to
glance through it while browsing at their neighborhood comic shop,
their chances of buying it are impossible unless a) their local comic
shop is indy-friendly, and b) said indy-friendly store happened to
find and order a few copies direct from that publisher.
It would be a lot easier for those indie publishers to get into their
potential audience's hands if there was more support from the distributor,
sure. If there was more support, that would allow for a greater growth
for the medium. That is, if the distributor recognized that the future
of the industry cannot rely on recycling the same art and stories
indefinitely, there would be an investment in new publishers, and
new talent. The medium would grow. As it is now, if you consider the
industry in Darwinian terms, there is way too much inbreeding going
on. Too much of the same overused elements... and the distributors
are leaning in that direction of "if it sold well last year,
it will sell at least as well this year", having no opportunity
for the medium to evolve.
It hurts the audience, only in the respect that they may never come
to understand just how many options they have. They might love to
read a copy of Eightball if they ever saw one, but if all they are
exposed to are spandex and muscles, they will forever continue to
buy spandex and muscles.
MMI: You have stated
that "Nether" has, in part, grown out of your past experience
with role-playing games, namely Dungeons & Dragons. The idea of
fantasy and adventure worlds, regardless of the actual milieu, seem
to me the ideal settings for comics. As I have heard Marv Wolfman
say, "In comics, the budget for special effects" is endless.
However, the fantasy titles that are regularly published are not that
many, and a lot of attention is paid these days to real life stories
in comics form. What place do you see for fantasy in comics? Is there
potential for fantasy comics to reach out and find a new comics audience,
or is it just a specialized market?
CDR: Maybe the genre of
"fantasy" allows for much more flexibility in the physics
of the world. Maybe it is more difficult for creators to pull off
a believable reality, and that is why there are so few fantasy comics?
I pulling stuff out of my butt, I think. I don't know why there are
so few fantasy comics. I do know that it is more important HOW you
tell a story than WHAT story you tell. Genre almost doesn't matter.
You could have page after page of cool stuff in a fantasy comic, but
if there is not investment by the audience in the characters, the
whole story falls flat. Do they care what happens? Has the creator
given enough details and insights into the characters to make it all
believable? This may be the backlash of the "Lee and Liefield
Era" of storytelling, where you had page after page of pinup
artwork with no connection to the people who are doing the posing.
The whole speculation market that crashed a few years ago was making
the storytelling in comics even less important - shiny, glitzy, flashy,
special covers were more important than the interiors of the comic.
Maybe the focus in recent years on "real life" stories in
comics is the backlash of the speculator market. People want stories
now. They want to connect to the characters more deeply. This may
not be just a phenomenon in the comic market. Look at all of the television
shows that rely on the "real" elements, like "Survivor"
and the copycats in its wake. Maybe the culture in general is looking
for something more...
Whether it be a fantasy, sci-fi, retro fifties humor, or anthropomorphic
sex comic, there will always be an audience tied to specific genres.
To connect to people outside of a genre, THAT is the big challenge,
and I believe if you tell a good story with good characters, any comic
has a greater chance of finding a larger audience.
MMI: The major publishers,
while they are becoming more diversified, still rely on a lot of superheroes.
Do they need to expand genres even more?
CDR: Everyone needs to
feel like a superhero every once in a while. The genre is legitimate,
and deserves to have its following, but again, it is the storytelling
that is important. The genre itself needs to grow up. The anti-heroes
of the late 80's and early 90's was a good start at balancing out
the heroes as having human frailties inside of the spandex. It's just
that the frailties just became misplaced anger, and no growth in the
characters. I would love to see an issue of Batman that just had his
day-to-day living, so I could be a voyeur for 24 pages. You know,
what kind of breakfast does he eat?
Is it frustrating trying to get his costume cleaned without too many
people asking questions, and does he have contacts in the manufacturing
field to make all the gadgets? Does he order a part here and a part
there and assemble it himself? You get the idea.
What the superhero genre presents are perfect beings that have no
ties to the real life that we can relate to. One exception that I
have found was Dave Yurkovich's work under his "Sleeping Giant"
imprint. That world had accessible, if not surreal, superheroes. The
best superhero stories are the ones that don't take themselves too
seriously. The "Watchmen" is the classic example of real
MMI:. You told me that
you did your college thesis on the "heroic figure as an archetype
(following Joseph Campbell's work) and how it could manifest in the
medium of comics." I would be very interested in what you actually
worked on and with. Can you summarize your work for me? Was this focused
on superheroes? Do you see comics, both today's and yesterday's, as
being a part of the mythology of our times?
CDR: His writings have
been a major part of my storytelling development - particularly his
outline of the hero's cycle and how it can be applied to almost any
story or myth.
My senior thesis was a 30 page comic loosely based on Plato's Allegory
of the Cave, in a science fiction setting. In the paper, I walked
through Campbell's hero's cycle, connecting it to the elements in
my comic story. The gist of the cycle is that a potential hero is
called to adventure, usually by some oddity from his normal perception
of the world, and follows the oddity into another world. This other
world teaches the hero something fundamental about his role in the
world that he came from, and then he returns to teach what he found,
or try to make changes to his world based on what he learned.
Well, I got an 'A' on my thesis, despite the fact that I didn't finish
the comic. I still have it sitting in a drawer in my studio. When
I do finish that project, I will have completed my own hero's cycle.
Joseph Campbell said that all artists are the mythmakers of society,
and that includes comic book creators. Any creator that effectively
communicates some insight they have into the human condition is actively
taking a role in shaping society. Stories are a metaphoric road map
for daily existence to the audience. More creators, however, need
to have something to say, or something to teach before the medium
can grow beyond the power fantasies of mainstream comics.
Scott McCloud made a wonderful analogy about the creative process
in "Understanding Comics". All creators begin on the superficial
layers of an apple, creating their story-apple from the outside appearance
when they first begin storytelling. The more they learn about themselves
and their craft, the deeper and more substantial their story becomes,
the more "real" the apple becomes. Most comics today lack
that fundamental core - the seeds that insure a future generation
of the ideas in the story.
Without a core, a story is just a pretty shell that leaves the audience
unfulfilled. The "core" to good stories is a truth that
resonates on a mythic level, something that reaches the audience's
pre-language parts of the brain. Creators have to know how to reach
inside themselves to find those mythic elements, because they are
universal truths that people want to get in touch with, and audiences
will recognize those truths, regardless of the genre or the medium.