The 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from them not accepting Nether for distribution, so since their approval of Nether, some of what I said here is no longer valid...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 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 early 2002.

MMI: "Nether" 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 comic shops)?

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 superheros.

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.

all contents © 2002 CD Regan and Maelstrom Graphics. All rights reserved.