Thursday, March 10, 2011
At first glance this probably will not look like its just 5 questions, I have to give Vince all the credit in the world for taking my meager questions and turning them into something really worth reading. So without further ado, here we go!
For people who may not be familiar with you, could you please give us a quick introduction?
My name is Vincent S. Moore, oftentimes shortened to Vince Moore. I’ve been involved with comics most of my 40 plus years on this planet. I started as a reader and collector. Then in my early 20s I started working at a comics shop in Culver City, CA named Comics Ink. I worked there from about six months after the store opened in 1991 until July 2000.
I left Comics Ink to pursue writing full time and promptly starved and struggled for a few years. I had one writing opportunity for a comics company (folks may still be able to find which one if they look hard enough) that fell apart due mostly to my own unprofessional behavior at the time.
From there, I ended up as editor for Astounding Studios and DarkStorm Studios, the comics publishing entities created by Kevin Grevioux. I worked behind the scenes on projects like Valkyries, The Hammer Kid, Alius Rex, and ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction, amongst others. I also co-edited the Comicbook Artists Guild’s Iconic anthology. Along the way, at Comic-Con 2007, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Marc Mason to contribute a column to his then new website Comics Waiting Room. Thus was Omnium Gatherum born.
I’m still writing that column even though it doesn’t look like it. Omnium Gatherum has really taught me a lot about writing and my own skills, what I still needed to master and what I do well.
At this time, I’m putting together a few creator owned projects as well as a couple of things I can’t talk about right now.
So much for quick, huh? I’m a pretty long winded guy. Guess that’s why I’m a writer.
Total Recall is billed as your comic writing debut, how did you land such a notable gig for a first time writer? How long have you been trying to become a comic writer?
Answering the last question first, I’ve been trying to become a comics writer for the last fifteen years or so. I mostly focused on creator owned projects that for a number of reasons didn’t seem to go anywhere or that fell apart through my own fault.
The story of how I landed Total Recall is an interesting one that has to be somewhat edited for broadcast.
I found myself at the beginning of the summer of 2010 going through a number of challenges. One of which was trying to find a new home. Another was making ends meet. When I learned of the Total Recall gig, I found out I opened escrow on the new place and had a number of financial issues coming to a head that same week. Like all good writers, I knew I needed some money coming in and soon. And here was a chance to pitch for Total Recall. I hadn’t planned on pitching it but I had no choice. I couldn’t pass this opportunity to both earn some money and to forward my writing career go by like other chances.
So I spent a weekend watching the movie multiple times. As I watched, I made notes about every aspect of the story, looking for every angle which I could turn into a story idea. At the time I knew I wasn’t the only writer pitching this project and that I wasn’t really a name. I even wrote myself a note in my notebook saying I didn’t have a chance in the world of getting this gig, so I should just have fun with the process and look for every opportunity to learn something. What a way to think, huh? However, making that honest admission of my fear to myself allowed me to move forward with my efforts and ideas instead of giving in to that fear and simply quitting.
Not entirely knowing what Dynamite was looking for, I acted as if I was pitching for a series. Once I felt I had enough ideas, I started putting together the pitch itself. (To let out a secret that might get me killed at comics conventions, Total Recall was only the second formal pitch to a publisher I’ve put together.) I organized my ideas with the help of Dwayne McDuffie’s website, sad to say now. On Dwayne’s website, there are a number of his pitches, both successful and not successful, posted. I studied a couple of these, to get the idea of the format. I also looked at Mark Waid’s Hunter-Killer Scriptbook. For the opening concept structure, I reviewed the sentence and question structure in Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. I followed the advice of these mentors and put together my pitch and sent it off to Joe Rybandt of Dynamite.
I actually goofed up a bit on that, though. I was so used to using Google Documents with different people for editing reasons that I first sent in my pitch that way. After getting it straightened out with Joe, I resent my pitch the proper way. I even asked if Joe could tell me what was wrong and what didn’t work about the pitch once he bounced it. I wanted the gig naturally but was trying to realistic about my chances and sticking to my pledge to learn all I could the process.
So imagine my surprise when Joe emailed me back a day or two later and he told me that, initially, I had the job.
I was floored. But it wasn’t official yet. I still had to wait for nearly a month before I would learn if I had the job or not. It was hard to keep it quiet but since nothing was finalized yet, I didn’t want to jinx the deal either.
As fortune would have it, on the afternoon of Preview Night for Comic-Con 2010, sitting at my hotel just checking my email on the laptop came the word that I would indeed be the writer of Total Recall. I think I went through the rest of the show on Cloud 9. I had done what every fan dreams of: I had become an official comics writer.
It was only a month later that it dawned on me that I had to actually write the thing!
Without giving too much away, what are some things fans can look forward to in Total Recall?
The main thing the fans can forward to is action and adventure.
I wanted to keep the feeling of the movie in the comic, so I played around with some pulp storytelling choices. Action, moving the characters around, threats to life and limb, that sort of thing.
The fans will see Douglas Quaid, a man who isn’t real in one way or another [depending on whether you’re a fan who thinks the movie is all a dream or not], struggling again against the odds and trying to the hero of his own story. The fans will see some familiar faces and some new twists on elements from the movie.
The fans will see truly awesome art by Cezar Rezak. When I saw the pencils for issue #1 I was blown away. He really captured the look of the original film while doing some great storytelling.
And of course, the fans will see some new mysteries introduced. After all, this is a new story so there has to be troubles and mysteries a’plenty.
Many fans undoubtedly know you for your columns and commentary on Comics Waiting Room (http://www.comicswaitingroom.com/vince.html) and Silver Bullet/Comic Bulletin (http://www.comicsbulletin.com/panel/). In that role, you addressed the issue of race within the comic book industry a time or two but now that you have something of an official insider's perspective. What are your thoughts on the current state of racial diversity in the comic book industry? What, if anything, have you seen and/or experienced that encourages you for the present and the future and in what areas do you feel the industry in general still has room for improvement?
Well, I would say I have a couple of different insider perspectives on the issues of race in comics, coming from both a comics retail and now a comics creative background. Both of those viewpoints color how I see racial diversity in the comics industry.
First, naturally, the simple act of walking into a comics shop can many times feel like stepping in another world. One where most of the faces seen on the shelves, walking the aisles, and working behind the counter are white. If a person is black or hispanic or asian, or is female, this can feel like a daunting place. This is not to say there aren’t characters of color on those shelves but many comics do not reflect the real world with all of its diversity.
Here is a good example. I attended Comic-Con 2009 and was amazed at all of different kinds of folks in attendance. Black, brown, and beige. Interracial couples. You name it. Then I went to the “Bar Con” after show hours at the Hyatt next door to the San Diego Convention Center to hang out with a few industry friends. At one point we moved from a smaller bar to a room and crossed the lobby. There I saw a sea of white faces. Crossing this sea I realized most of these people were the creators and power brokers of the comics industry. In that moment I could see why some but not all comics lines are not very diverse, because when it’s time to socialize and the real deals are made, it is amongst the nearly all white creators and publishers themselves.
So it is easy to see why diversity in comics is an issue that gets handled in an ‘After School Special’ kind of way. Diversity is an issue that doesn’t necessarily live with the decision makers the way it does with black fans. Walking into a comics shop is simply walking into a familiar world. Add into the equation the prevalent view that ‘black books don’t sell’ and you have a perfect storm that leaves us where we are now in terms of diversity.
It isn’t racism, per se, it is actually ethnocentrism. Just as black fans probably feel a lift when they see a book with a black character or by a black creator, white fans feel the same way, even if it is on an unconscious level. Some of those fans become creators and publishers, and well, they find it simply natural that the bulk of the heroes they create are white. It is human nature at work. We cannot fault it but we can help to change it.
In contrast to this, though, is how many friends I have made in this business that are white. I’ve never felt like the token black guy with these people. I am one of them, a peer and a friend.
I see and meet more and more black creators every year. We are growing.
I feel that those two factors, moreso than anything else, will help to change the diversity in the comics industry.
Black creators and fans have to engage with the comics industry, not simply bitch about it amongst ourselves. We have to talk with the writers, artists, editors and publishers via message boards, email, snail mail, and at conventions. We have to become intimate with the workings of the comics industry, how a good book sells, what attracts fans, etc. We have to engage the comics industry in a dialogue about race, not simply settle into old patterns of complaining and bitching, trying to pressure the industry to change to suit us, and failing that, going into our own little world of creating for us by us.
Simply by being there, in an engaged fashion, black fans and aspiring creators can change the comics industry. My own experiences are proof of that.
Can the comics industry improve how it handles diversity on the comics page and behind the scenes? Of course. But the comics business doesn’t owe us anything. It’s a business. If those of us who are black creators don’t bring anything of value to the game, then how are we supposed to play? If we have the ideas and the chops--the writing skills, the art skills, etc.--then the industry will have a harder time ignoring you. Once we are in the game, then we can help to shape a more diverse line up of product and get more black characters on the comics shop shelves.
It takes two to tango. The comics industry will improve its levels of diversity in concert with how we black creators bring the A+ game. We can get more characters of color on the stands when the power brokers see and hear us, both in terms of buying the product and wanting to make it.
Piggybacking a bit off of the previous question to close things out, what do black comic book fans and creators (professional and aspiring) need to do on our end in order to help move things forward?
As I started to say in my longish answer above, black comics fans and creators need to play the game differently.
For black fans, the internet is the great equalizer in media terms. We have to create more of an engaged fandom. Look at the recent feminist fangirl movement online. Sites like When Fangirls Attack have provided a voice for a group of female fans (albeit mostly white female fans) that is changing the comics industry. I can speculate that one of the reasons Marvel did the whole ‘Women of Marvel’ initiative was to respond to this movement. Fangirls made their voices heard and won at least a token effort at increasing the profile of superheroines and the presence of female creators at the number one comics publisher in America.
We can do the same. Sites like blacksuperhero.com can become more powerful voices by discussing issues of race in the open instead of only on the message boards. When I wrote pieces about the lack of “cool” black supervillains or covering The Black Panel in 2009, my goals were to start dialogue and not simply let things go on as they are, not to have all the answers myself but to start a process of asking questions in public that engaged readers. Any fan can do that and should, by doing so with thought and passion.
Also speaking with editors and creators at comics conventions is another way of changing the industry. Just being seen by these folks, speaking with them, will help to change their views. Some will listen, some won’t, but until we make our presence felt, these people won’t know.
For black creators, and I would aim this more at aspiring creators than professionals although it does still apply, we have to bring our A+ game. We have to learn everything we can about our craft.
As writers, we not only have to read, we have to read things outside of comics. We have to learn about different styles of writing and study the masters. I’m a firm believer in applying the idea of mentor and disciple in this area. I’ve studied the masters and continue to do so. For example, when I found myself stuck writing one script, I looked for inspiration from old Stan Lee comics and Don MacGregor’s Black Panther stories. Those mentors helped me to find my own solutions. So writers have to learn about good writing.
The same thing applies that much more to artists. Comics are a visual medium and my retail experience has taught me that attractive visuals will more often get people to try and stick with a book for that initial period before the writing hooks them. So black artists need to be at the top of their game because the competition is fierce. Knowing what’s selling currently is one way to start. Another is to study the best in the history of art. African American artists have the wonderful opportunity to mix styles of art, to pull from African traditions while mastering Western ones. Learning from folks like Bridgman, Hogarth, Loomis, and the like is a way to go. Seeing and copying the artists you admire is another. On top of that we can bring in jazz influences and graffiti as well. Anything as long as the goal is excellence. Artists have to develop the ability to be their harsh critic as well as biggest fan. They have to look at what’s selling and compare their work to that. If there’s something lacking, then that artist literally has to go back to the drawing board until the work improves.
We also have to be careful that the lack of diversity doesn’t force us to get into the game before we are ready for primetime. By that I mean, some but not all black fans and creators can feel so starved to see heroic and fantastic versions of ourselves that we put out lackluster product before its time. And then, to further compound the error, some of us embrace that work because there is nothing else that reflects our images and values. That doesn’t serve us as a people. I don’t have a problem with someone trying to make comics but they should try to be the best and not simply to be there.
Thank you for your time Vince, it's been a pleasure. Do you have any final thoughts you would like to leave our readers?
First off, thanks for giving me this platform. It wasn’t until I looked at your questions that I realized how long I’ve been at this or what impact I might have had. Writing is an isolated business. And I haven’t made much of a noise at conventions promoting Omnium Gatherum, so I’m not aware of its reach. It’s kind of frightening and fulfilling at the same time. Keep checking Comics Waiting Room for updates soon. I need to keep that forum alive and it is my growing awareness of its impact that makes me want to get back to Omnium Gatherum.
Second, thanks to the readers. I hope you liked what I had to say. More important I hope my words and ideas get you to think. The readers don’t have to agree with me. In fact, that might be more interesting if they don’t. That will give us something to talk about if you see me at conventions.
Third, I want everybody to give Total Recall a shot. I had a blast writing it and I hope that translates onto the pages. Go to your local comics shop and order a copy today.
Lastly, I wish everyone well. I hope to see y’all at a convention some time.