John Layman is making fun of me.
Oh sure, the former Wildstorm editor appears to have stopped by to chat about his current life as a freelance writer, but I’m sure that’s just a cover. What was meant to bring additional focus onto the upcoming Stay Puffed one-shot dropping in January from Image Comics, quickly degenerated into something about late night tickle fights, bong hits, and Thundercats…which actually doesn’t sound that weird, now that I think about it. Hmm…
Anyway, here’s the entire sordid account for your official review. If you ever catch Layman online, ask him what the hell the Ruthless Reality is supposed to be…he never answered me. Enjoy.
Brandon Thomas: You started your career in comics as an editor at Wildstorm. Do you ever miss editing comics?
John Layman: I miss the good parts. The getting the book out to the printers that you are really proud of, that in some way you made a contribution to, however major, or however slight. More than that, I miss the daily interaction between a lot of people I became very good friends with, like John Cassaday, John McCrea, Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Doselle Young and Garry Leach. Really more people than I can name, since most everybody I worked with were really good people, and I think I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends as a result.
Thomas: Did editing make you want to write, or was freelance writing something you always intended to get into?
Layman: Writing was always the goal, from when I was still in short pants going to elementary school. Editing, I thought, would simply be a good way to “get in the business”. And though it’s arguable whether it’s actually helped making comic writing headway, the best part of it is, like I’ve said, the friends I’ve made within the comics community.
Look at us for example, Brandon. If it wasn’t for comics, I’d very likely hate you, and want to tear your stinkin’ throat out. Instead, you’re my very bestest friend in the entire world. Oh, how I’ve grown to cherish our regular Saturday night tickle fights!!
Thomas: I thought we discussed all that tickle-fight nonsense, Layman. Keep it on the down low, man. Shit. Anyway, isn’t breaking into the industry by gettin’ a gig as an editor one of the harder ways to do it?
Layman: I guess it is. I just stumbled into it. I was working at the San Diego Union Tribune and would cover the Comic-Con that is held there every year. And, since Wildstorm was local, I got to know Jeff Mariotte and human resource madwoman Nicole Huntting, and that led to a job as an assistant editor, then a job as editor. Had I actually sought to be an editor, it probably would have been tough, if not impossible. As it was, I just sorta fell into it.
Thomas: Are the comics you liked to edit different from the ones you like writing?
Layman: Absolutely. The comics I enjoyed putting together the most were the ones I considered “important”, like Planetary, The Authority, and Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Comics I thought were a cut about the average. Which isn’t to say I want my comics to be average or sub-par, I just don’t think of Puffed as Capital-S Serious like I do Planetary or certain others.
Thomas: I think Puffed was definitely your breakout project. What told you this was a story that John Layman needed to tell?
Layman: What a magnificent kiss-ass you are, Brandon. Actually, I wasn’t kidding when I said I got stoned to the gills on amphetamines and wrote Puffed. I actually wrote it to avoid writing something else. I think I’m like a lot of writers, in that I don’t like actually writing, as much as having written. And I procrastinate like a mother fucker. So, I’ve found, the best thing to do is fool yourself, and if you can actually accomplish something while you’re procrastinating, that’s the best of both worlds.
My next creator-owned project, Feeney, was like that, written to avoid writing a scarier, much more intricate and involved story. And, perhaps not so strangely, the two serious and elaborate projects are STILL sitting there, unfinished.
Thomas: So you’re holding out on us. What are these two elaborate projects you speak of, and why don’t you have the stones to write them now?
Layman: Well, I’ve alluded to them in the past. One is a prison/parolee mindfuck thriller, the other is a quirky foreign film about food critics starting a war on a Polynesian island. And the savage reality is, comics being what they are right now, and selling what they do, and with me having the “name” I have, it’s pretty much a money-losing guarantee in doing these projects. Each would be between 5 and 8 issues, and neither are wildly commercial, so I have to slowly pace out what I finance and produce. Something like Puffed, three issues and with an easily explainable hook, is less of a risk than something that requires an 8 issue investment and needs to be summed up in three dense paragraphs. So I’m waiting until the time is right, I suppose.
Thomas: I really, really, really dug the multiple epilogue gag you pulled at the end of the Puffed series. How’d that idea come about?
Layman: Another Thomas softball! You ought to get that move patented, Brandon. Seriously.
I guess I like writing endings most of all. And I just kept coming up with different endings, so I just put them on top of one another. After you read Stay Puffed, you’ll see it’s just (another) big epilogue to Puffed, and even Stay Puffed has about three consecutive endings.
Thomas: Why do this as a separate one-shot, and not Puffed #4?
Layman: Well, initially, it started as a deleted scene we were going to add to the TPB (assuming there’s going to BE a TPB). But the more I thought about it, the bigger the scene got, and then a friend of mine jokingly suggested the title Stay Puffed, which I loved. I brought up the idea of a one-shot to Dave Crosland, even though he already has his next Image project on his plate, and he went for it, and found time to slot it in his busy schedule.
Thomas: That’s probably one of the only comics that’ll have Saddam Hussein on the cover next year. What’s up with that?
Layman: Well, a lot of people have said that Puffed was my excising my demons from being shackled to the working world, and I guess that’s not completely untrue.
Stay Puffed was written when the war was starting up and though it’s not an anti-war comic per se, I think it was a way for me to psychologically deal with it. An equally disgruntled friend sent me a link to an article with your president’s administration’s latest daily monstrous outrage against humanity, and he put a little note, “if I don’t get a hobby pretty soon I’m gonna start shooting these fuckers”.
Stay Puffed , I guess, is my “hobby”.
Thomas: Are you saying that you want to shoot your president, John Layman? Is this treason I read in Ambidextrous?
Layman: Jesus, no! No, no, no, no, no. Are you trying to get John Ashcroft to whisk me away in the night? No, I’m not saying that at all, and don’t want to remotely imply that. I’m pretty sure my friend was being facetious, and I certainly am too. All I’m saying is that there’s a lot of frustration with what’s going on in the country, and the fact that many people are not frustrated by what’s going on, is even more frustrating.
Stay Puffed was initially a way for me to address and deal with these frustrations, but once it got through the filter of my sense of humor, I defy anybody to out-right label Stay Puffed an anti-war comic. It’s got a rampaging grizzly bear, for god’s sake. What does that have to do with the Iraqi war?
Thomas: You just finished up the Thundercats: Dogs of War mini, and here’s what some of the critics said about a couple of your last issues:
“This comic is simply hilarious at this point. That’s not to say that it’s bad, it’s just totally ridiculous plotwise. Surprisingly irreverent, this comic never takes itself too seriously…Even though this book is absolutely bereft of any sort of intelligent social commentary and completely lacks meaningful dialogue, it is still an incredibly fun and entertaining read.”- Strafe Maru (Gamepro)
“…22 pages of bad plot resolutions, puns, and references that should have John Layman hung in the streets as a human pinata. I’ll even provide the sticks.”- Erik Valentine (MediasharX)
Which one of these guys is right, and is the Layman that writes T-Cats the same Layman that writes Puffed?
Layman: My friend Ford Gilmore, a big Thundercats fan, wrote the first two minis and still a lot of people raked him over the coals. There are fans out there that are utterly maniacal about Thundercats, and take it very seriously. Disturbingly serious. Trekker serious. Ford warned me many would eventually turn on me, and some did.
Thing is, I can take my work on Thundercats seriously, and respect the concept, but I’m not so big a fan that I can’t admit that there are elements in Thundercats that are a bit on the silly side. Or that bits of it were kinda stupid, like everything written for 8-year-olds. I wasn’t about to pretend otherwise, which left some really hardcore fans aghast. Something like Thundercats, for me, is probably the most entertaining after a couple of bong hits, and I think I was writing it for that mindset. I’m hoping that it’s true enough to the spirit of the cartoon that fans could enjoy it, but somebody who is a more casual fan, or even a non-fan, who’s willing to take it a little more tongue-in-cheek, would get a lot of enjoyment out of Thundercats: Dogs of War.
(Of course, Brandon, I recognize you probably don’t even know what a bong hit is. You’re so square, kids take you to geometry class for show & tell.)
Thomas: That is true. What’s a bong? And have you just told the public that narcotics are necessary to enjoy your Thundercats story?
Layman: Not at all, though a good buzz certainly couldn’t hurt (and this applies to Puffed and Stay Puffed and Species and even The Art of Sam Kieth).
I just meant that Thundercats: Dogs of War might be best enjoyed by a more relaxed mindset. And maybe people who can’t find even a bit of humor and ridiculousness in a mummy continually fighting a bunch of talking kitty-cats might be ones who could conceivably benefit from some form of relaxant.
Of course, I could be simply trying to rationalize criticism by dismissing it as “those fuckers need a bong hit.” But it’s a great philosophy, and can be used to apply to most things. Paul Levitz wants to pulp Planetary #18? “That fucker needs a bong hit”. George Bush wants to invade Greenland? “That fucker needs a bong hit!” The Fourth Rail gave Bay City Jive II a 0 out of 10? “Those fuckers need a bong hit!!!” Try it.
The mantra itself is even more relaxing than any drug. (Oh, and for the record, this was just to illustrate a point. I am almost positive that Don, Randy and Paul are not actual “fuckers”.)
Thomas: You’ve got some Avatar stuff coming out next year. What’s the status of it?
Layman: Well, Species had a few false starts with a couple artists, but is finally making some headway, and I’ve got already got a proposal for a second Species series on Avatar Publisher William Christiansen’s desk, for when the Species ball really gets rolling.
William is somebody I didn’t know before I went freelance, but he’s now one of my favorite people in comics. Partially, he was the first person willing to take a chance on me when nobody was returning my calls, but secondly, he is a no bullshit guy, that doesn’t mince words, and publishes what he likes, and what he believes in.
I’m doing a series of Jungle Fantasy“Fauna” stories for him, too. Initially, I think the story was just an excuse to put a girl in a leopard skin bikini, then get her out of it, all while running around with dinosaurs, but William has really allowed me total freedom to turn it into a really hilarious and bizarre sci-fi sex comedy. And for something that might be perceived as being on the lowbrow spectrum of things, it’s some of the funniest and best stuff I’ve ever written.
Thomas: And finally…what the hell is the Ruthless Reality?
Layman: I’m sure I have no idea, Brandon. I bet you are just trying to befuddle me with more of your crazy teenage hip-hop lingo. Is this the some new comic you’re writing with Rob Liefeld? You’re shameless, Brandon! And what’s the point? I’m pretty sure nobody reads this little Ambidextrous column thingie anyway.
Is anybody actually out there?
(Layman’s voice echoing into distance, followed by the chirping of angry crickets.)