Okay, so this began as my “Speakeasy column,” before quickly turning into something else entirely…

If you’ve been living off grid the last couple weeks, you might’ve missed the news that another independent comics publisher closed its doors recently. Obviously, this is bad news for a variety of reasons, chief among them, the effects on the creators who were fully prepared to unleash their particular creator-owned visions on an unsuspecting world. These upcoming projects included a title called Half Dead, written by husband-wife tandem Park Cooper and Barb Lien-Cooper, who most of you know also write a column for SBC. Been doing it even longer than I’ve been doing mine, actually. So, you know, we scheduled some time to jump onto IM, and talk about their initial moves in finding their book a new home, and before long, things had moved almost completely off the main topic. Still, some interesting tangents were had, most of which are reprinted below. Certain details have been omitted of course, to protect the innocent and guilty alike, the innocent being us of course. The writers are always innocent, but I’m sure you all know that by now.

Let’s begin somewhere around the beginning. Thanks, and please enjoy with our compliments…

Park: So, how are things with you?

Thomas: Oh, I’m doing pretty good, had a really good January, followed by a not as good February, so March is all about finding a comfortable balance.

Park: Mm. Any advice on finding collaborators for future projects? God knows neither of us had that answer in previous chats.

Thomas: I’ve heard that prayer is good for that. Past that, the internet seems to be the most accessible option, and we all know that doesn’t ALWAYS work. If you are fortunate enough to find a really good artist though, willing to work for backend profits and/or ownership, it is your responsibility to hold on with a vise-like grip.

Park: Uh huh. So… what was your day like? Or maybe Friday would be a better indicator.

Thomas: Oh, it was cool. Spent a few hours at work, spent a few more working on a couple things. Trying to finalize the Miranda Mercury pitch, as the pages should get lettered soon, and wrapping up final revisions on the first Takeover script. Might only need one day with those, actually.

Park: What’s up with The Takeover?

Thomas: Well, it has a bit of a standing invitation from an indy publisher, and I’m in the process of revising the first script, before going out there, and praying to find another good artist for it. My original guy kinda lost steam on it, but that was mostly my fault. I think this one stops and starts so much, because I only recently realized that I’d been writing the book the wrong way, if that makes any sense. It’s much better now, and hopefully, it’ll keep me from being scared off it, every time some other company releases another “villain” book.

But enough about my stuff, what’s up with your Half Dead project, and what’s the first move now that Speakeasy will no longer be pubbing it. You might want to start on the intro tip, so I don’t have to write something too cheesy afterwards…

Park: Park Cooper, grad student, teacher, columnist, then stopped teaching for comics writing (not that that’s why I did it). Co-writer of Half Dead, which has found another company now and we expect the contracts to be signed this week. It’s a much better set up.

Barb: Barb Lien-Cooper, one of the original founders of Sequential Tart, later Managing Editor of the Eisner-Award winning print magazine Comic Book Artist for a 1-year stint… Writer of Gun Street Girl and co-writer on Half Dead.

Park: Half Dead is a series that blends horror with action, vampires and the government. We mostly focus on following around the characters in the government agency, trying to keep the tourism industry safe… there are sci-fi elements, but it’s set in the present day, with gas attacks, soldiers, suicide options, religious icons, and inhuman science used by both sides to keep their pawns alive and fighting whether they want to or not. A ballerina, Romany, comes back from certain death changed into a form to which a clean death might have been preferable. She’s just one of a number of people manipulated into fighting a covered-up war they’d rather run from or die than try to win — the good guys are the protagonists, but they’re certainly no moral angels… some of them are outright bullies.

The creators of Speakeasy’s former title The O.C.T. said Half Dead was “like Tom Clancy meets Wes Craven.”

Thomas: How did it end up at Speakeasy in the first place?

Park: The artist, Jimmy Bott, former penciller of Across The Pond’s Government Bodies, submitted it there and they took it. Jimmy’s art is great and he has been totally vital to the whole Half Dead effort. We couldn’t have done any of this without his involvement. The whole team has been vital, really — our colorists, our letterer, everyone.

GN cover art by Lakota Sioux

Park: Now then… have you read the preview of Half Dead #1 I sent you?

Thomas: Actually, I’ve only read the first couple pages, started the weekend before Speakeasy blew up, but got pulled away from it. And of course, after it did, felt more than a little depressed about the whole thing, which I’m sure happened to you as well.

Park: Were you depressed on general principle, or were you hoping to do business with SE?

Thomas: General principle, because in a sense, we’ve both come up and experienced some of the same disappointments and frustrations along the way, and I felt really good about your book having a reliable publisher. There are larger industry issues with any independent publisher closing its doors of course, but it was a personal thing here.

It’s such an incredible relief, when people are actually good enough to take a chance on you, so when it falls apart, it’s more than a bit deflating.

Barb: Back to what you said about us and you being on sort of parallel tracks… I wanted to say that you’re similar to us, too, and so we use each other to sort of judge by and all.

Thomas: I suppose my theme for this whole piece would be “false starts” and what keeps you going when it seems like (and often proves true) that everything is engineered for you to fail?

Park: Uh… the only thing that kept us going, was the fact that our two things didn’t crash at the same time. When we had ONE project, at every rejection it was always “Okay, we haven’t heard from these guys, not from these guys, please God these next guys…”

Now that we have multiple projects in development, it’s like… okay, but so-and-so seems stable. Oops, now A’s no longer stable, but B’s suddenly looking good. Frankly, that’s it. The promise of success keeps up going. These days, it’s all about Half Dead.

Thomas: Yeah, I feel you on that. I’m definitely trying to multi-task more this year, trying to do 4 things at once, hoping 3 of them catch on…

Park: So, what projects do you have that look like they are good to get published as far as you know (or being published as we speak) right now?

Thomas: God Complex should be coming in the summer, and I’m hoping the fall will see Miranda and The Takeover starting up. Only Complex has a signed publisher (Image) but we’ll see what happens with the other two. I admit I’m a bit more excited about Miranda, because it’s really a fun book, where Takeover is fun, but not the same brand of it, because it’s about villains doing awful things to people. Also, I think (I think) Ambi will be wrapped up by summer’s end…

Several months back, a writer much wiser than myself, said that the only way to write a really good column is to make enemies, and that’s the last thing I need as a new writer. And this came at a time when I was really feeling blocked on the column, because I’d wanted it to turn into something else, but it wasn’t happening. Combine that some really disappointing and borderline insulting e-mails I’d gotten about the Byrne column, and the Black Like Me piece, and I decided to start wrapping it up. Should be here for another few months still, but you know, the beginning of the end, it seems…

Park: Insulting from people actually in the business?

Thomas: Some yes, some no, but all of them involved the “black thing,” and let’s just say some of my worst suspicions about portions of the fanbase, and portions of the workplace were very much justified. It showed me that while there are people who honestly and whole-heartedly support and embrace what I could bring to the table, given the opportunity, there are some who are still a little “scared” of my voice, and who’ll use that fear as a weak justification to hold things back, but it’s hard to fight progress, so it’ll just take more time.

Park: That’s the appropriate attitude. Barb’s just like that, except she doesn’t really take part in the column much anymore.

Barb: It’s difficult when you see someone intense, smart, and very honest…

Thomas: And black. Here’s the thing that bothers me the most though; in my column, I have made a very intentional effort at embracing and conveying extremely positive feelings regarding comics, whether it’s me gushing about my love of Bendis’ DD, or Seven Soldiers, or whatever, or trying to bring well-deserved attention to indy books, etc., but anytime I get a little more aggressive, anytime I mention the “black thing” in relation to the comics thing, everyone gets all uncomfortable, and acts like I’m pullin’ their skirt up.

Park: I suppose it’s because they know they’re supposed to be ashamed of it…

Barb: ‘MUST I be the ONLY one who ever talks about this?’ (Me for with “the female thing.” you for “the black thing.”)

Thomas: Yeah, but seriously, all I want is for people to grow up and join us in the future, but not only do they refuse, they try to pick apart the reasons why I’m asking. I mean, OF COURSE I want to see more black characters, creators, etc., but people like to just point to that one thing, and say, “Oh, that’s all Brandon is” and the sheer number of columns devoted to other issues, I think would suggest otherwise.

Look, I LOVE comics, have for some years now, and that’s it. I want to create them, I want to push things forward, I want to contribute ideas, and I can’t believe that makes me dangerous in any conceivable way, but I can just feel people rolling their eyes when certain topics are brought up.

Barb: And that shouldn’t matter any more than my gender should. It’s just about talent. All I see is someone who can write… and someone with perspective… because as comics go on, we’ll all have to start realizing that it’s not just a bunch of white males 15-30 years old who’re reading them. I’m seeing more and more gender and racial mix at cons… gotta face the fact that the audience is becoming more diversified. At San Diego, I kept looking and saying, “Wow, there are a lot of non-traditional readers here.”

Thomas: I have noticed that. Seeing a lot more diversity in the con crowd, but some would chalk that up to the increased movie presence, and manga, which, as you know, aren’t really comics…

Barb: Well, what you know is that comics are changing, both in the readership and the creatorship. And if we want to get the readers, we have to change and evolve in ways that make readers want to read us. And, yeah, I agree, I didn’t get into comics just as some sort of a soapbox just to talk about issues, but they are there. We’re lucky, in a way, that we’re so much in flux.

I mean, it was getting so everyone saw comics as being DOOMED for awhile—so doomed that changes couldn’t even be whispered. But now, change is happening. It’s one of the frustrating things about a comic book company closing its doors because the readers think “Oh, we’re still doomed”, when in fact, up to 90 percent of ALL new start-ups in ALL industries fail. It’s not like comics are especially cursed, but sometimes we as the readers and publishers see things that way because it’s been so touch and go, any failure is seen as the death of comics.

As to manga, if it’s sequential art that tells a story and brings in readers, that’s comic book enough for me.

Thomas: Yeah, I was being highly sarcastic with the manga crack, but that’s interesting what you say about the “doom and gloom” aspect of comics. Seems to be a big part of our overall thought patterns, like no matter what happens, the sky is always falling…

Barb: Any type of comic, be it a web comic or manga or a downloaded comic or a mini-comic or a lulu.com comic is a comic as long as it’s read and has some type of artistic worth, IMHO. But, all the different ways of getting comics make a real challenge to the industry. I think it would be difficult to be any publisher right now, as there are so many ways to get comics. It’s scary right now for everyone, especially the retailers.

But I also look at how comics are now getting a lot of national press attention and I know that there are a lot of geek culture fans out there.

Thomas: Yeah, the press is still there thankfully. I know that doesn’t count as an accurate barometer of anything, but it’s still nice to see, that people are willing to give the art form the respect and reverence it deserves.

Barb: It’s also a real challenge to be a writer right now. Because the companies sometimes have to turn down even excellent comics, because either they’re booked up to capacity, or the comic doesn’t follow the rules of what they think is commercial or whatever. There are fewer risks being taken in an era where just possibly a little more risk taking might bring us a hit. I mean, who knew Sandman would be a hit?

You know a personal pet peeve of mine in comics? When they’re wall-to-wall white people. I mean, when there aren’t even minorities in LITTLE roles, let alone big ones. I used to review a lot of indie and self-published comics while at Tart and there weren’t even minorities as BACKGROUND characters. I know that I lived in a lot of urban scapes, riding on a lot of buses and stuff, but I sometimes wonder what world some writers live in that minorities aren’t even in restaurants eating sandwiches.

That’s changing, too, thank God, but it’s something I wish more writers would do. I mean, think of comics as having the same ethnic diversity as a real city. And obviously, that’s a BIG generalization. But, you know, you watch television, just for instance, and you see, even in commercials, people of all races, in all walks of life. And what does it HURT to question?

Thomas: That’s all I’m saying, and I feel you, even though I have been asking for a little more than black dudes eating sandwiches. Thing is, cats write their experience, hopes, etc. and the majority of the mainstream work force is white. So I’m thinking, man…am I the only one who notices, and even if, isn’t it almost my responsibility to ask that question, every once in a while?

Still, with me being just part of a handful who has, it makes it easier to marginalize the overall message. Like, this is something only a very small part of the readership even cares about, which is likely true to some degree.

Barb: I know, and it sucks. And you don’t want to just be like a broken record. Oh, that person’s on THAT again, when the majority of your columns are just about “hey, these are some comics I like.”

Thomas: Exactly. I’ve been doing just reviews for weeks now, and I’m loving it. I read books, get excited about ’em, and then write about it. That is what I believe is the purest essence of this column, and I’m going to do that until the situation changes…until it’s time for me to write a piece that’ll likely be called Once And For All.

Park: I’m trying to shift to mostly interviews… letting OTHER people get themselves into trouble… I understand about the column, but I like the forum for saying stuff now and then.

Thomas: As do I, which is the main reason we’re even here. No matter how much resistance I encounter, there’s always going to be more than 200 columns of my essentially undiluted voice, and that means something. You’ve been doing this longer than I have, so I’m assuming you both feel the same way too. And at the end of the day, what else matters, right? Everything else will work itself out in time. We hope, anyway.

Okay, I’d like to thank the Coopers for participating in this, and for letting me have the full piece, though we originally intended to split it between our two respective columns. I owe them one, and stay tuned for more info on the future of Half Dead.

Taking the skip week, but the one after, the April 3rd column, will be devoted to my official “report card” of the first month of DC’s One Year Later initiative. Reviews, reviews, and more reviews, which I’ve already started writing. Already up to eight thus far, and the number will really begin climbing this Wednesday, and the one after that.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll return soon. Hollah back on it…

B

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