Tom Taylor and Colin Wilson are known locally as ‘The Star Wars comics guys’ because Tom writes and Colin does artwork for the official Star Wars comic books. Some of Colin’s artwork can be found here.
Talking to Tom and Colin I learnt about their contribution to the Star Wars universe and that there is much more happening for Tom and Colin, beyond the Star Wars universe. We started chatting prior to turning on the recording, which is why we start suddenly with DC’s reboot.
Colin – One of the big American comic publishers, DC, made a major announcement last week that they’re rebooting their superhero material, renumbering everything from number one.
Tom – They’re rebooting their entire universe to number one. So Superman, which is almost up to 900 comics is going to be number one. His origins are probably going to change a bit, the looks are going to change
Colin – It’s good news for the geek fans
Tom – it is. But the really big news is they are also going to have same day and date digital publication so we’ll see what that does to retailers and whether that brings more people to comics. This is Batman, Wonderwoman and so on. Star Wars isn’t on digital yet, there’s an extra licensing process to go through.
Colin – Dark Horse announced a month ago they were going to go digital as well, but not simultaneous, same day digital publication. They’re all progressing quite slowly and carefully. The DC announcement last week is going to be really significant and start the momentum going a bit faster I think.
Nalini – Straczynski apparently knew the reboot was coming, which may have factored into his decision to depart, because anything he did wouldn’t have mattered in the long run anyway. What do you think of that?
Tom – I haven’t heard that. It doesn’t surprise me though, because it must be incredibly hard as a creator to be working towards something … he was doing both Wonderwoman and Superman and he was doing 12 issue stories on that, and to know that what you’re trying to establish is then going to be revamped would be really hard. He had Superman Earth 1 which was an original graphic novel that sold incredibly well, it’s probably one of the biggest graphic novel sellers. I think it made number one on the New York Times bestsellers list, so I think he’s just focusing on original graphic novels, which is great.
Nalini – In his blog on Facebook he said he was supportive of it, and he thought the guy who was behind it could do it all well, but he left.
Colin – I think all the creative people have to be supportive of it because it’s going to be done no matter what and I think a lot of cases, from a writer’s point of view, I hope they don’t immediately get locked into another lot of horrible continuity constraints. Continuity is very important to so many of the fans, but it can quickly become very restrictive. It’s hard enough for us in Star Wars that we have to fit into the Star Wars continuity. In a lot of ways, for creators it’s an interesting reboot of the situation, and hopefully this was discussed with the creative people before it was announced.
Tom – Yes, everyone had signed non-disclosure agreements.
Colin – Most people had been consulted and knew about it, but obviously there were exceptions. Some decided that they’d rather not. Brian Wood for one seems to be losing a lot of presence at DC with this reboot.
Tom – I have to say I do think it’s a brilliant thing for readers. As someone who has worked at DC, I find it hard to pick up a trade paperback for something at DC because there’s all this continuity, there’s all these massive events and stories spinning off in every directions and you need to know who the seventh Robin is to understand what is going on in this story.
Nalini – There aren’t many entry points for the new reader
Colin – Superhero comics to the uninitiated are just impenetrable. It’s one of the things I can’t relate to at all because there’s just a wall of them and you have no idea, you really have to know what has happened to be able to pick up an individual story and make any sense out of it.
Tom – but in this instance, they are effectively creating a jumping on point for an entire generation if they get it right and that’s huge because our kids aren’t going to be reading books in a way. I think they’ll be reading books on iPad or on a little chip in their head. They have to compete with all the forms of entertainment out there. Colin said he lost power at home the other night and he had this great night sitting with candles and stuff playing battleships with his youngest on their iPhones. In a blackout, this is great, we’ll get together, light candles and play battleships on our iphones. This is the world now, and it’s going to be more and more so.
Colin – I was sitting there yesterday with the lights flickering when that storm first started, with the wind and everything, and I thought – shall I turn everything off? I can’t, because these days everything runs through the computer. It’s fun when it happens because it’s such a clean cut and you have no choice, but given a choice I’m hanging on there… The real significant news from DC last week was the same day digital. It really is going to change the way publishing is going. We’ve just got to go with it. It will be interesting to see how it changes the whole dynamic of the retail situation, both for the creative people and the retail people I think.
Nalini – I’m a fan of the electronic medium because there is so much control over magnification, which makes it easy to read. But to make a comic easy to read it has to fit the screen, it needs flow, so that’s going to impact on you guys isn’t it?
Tom – It depends if we’re working towards digital completely. Producing a conventional printed comic book you have certain parameters. If someone says we want you to create something for the iPad, that’s a different beast.
Colin – And that’s quite a new exciting thing. To involve yourself with the mechanics of electronic publishing and to do something specifically for that format is really interesting. I think our problem is that at the moment most conventional publishers are still locked into the same old way they’ve done business before, so you’re working towards the model of having a monthly floppy and a trade paperback the following year. That philosophy is going to be difficult to change. The mainstream publishers will need to be making a lot of money out of digital before the light will come on and they realise that this can open up a lot of possibilities. From their standpoint, the artistic possibilities are the least priority of the whole thing. They’re big companies and they have a lot of money at stake. They have a huge investment in distribution of printed comics. Big corporations with lots of money don’t re-adjust easily. Look at Murdock’s online daily newspaper it’s just been a joke for the last few years seeing what they’ve tried to do to get it established. They just don’t get it at all. I’m amazed. They’re still putting things behind paywalls. They just don’t seem to understand the world is passing them by. Big companies just don’t adjust very well.
Nalini – The New York Times just started putting itself behind a paywall.
Colin – In some ways the horse has bolted, because when it was free it was fantastic, to be able to read all my news on an iPad I no longer read newspapers, I don’t watch television news anymore, I get my news from a huge variety of “new” sources online. As soon as one goes behind a paywall, you just go elsewhere. It’s a silly decision for online news. Magazines are doing it better. Producing an electronic version of a monthly magazine, for half the cover price of paper, same day digital publication. I’m there. I’m already reading all my magazines like that now. Magazines actually have got it. They’re producing magazines that have a lot of “new” functionality, functionality that only happens on digital platforms. All those possibilities are now available. Big money doesn’t tend to want to risk it until they can see a big profit.
Tom – DC decided to risk it. They split the entire company in half.
Colin – Last year.
Tom – Yes, last year. There is an entire digital division of DC based in Burbank outside of LA.
Colin – And significantly, several of their top people have come up through the creative side of things. So they’re being much more adventurous because of those guys.
Nalini – I think it’s important to have balance on a team. If you don’t have creative people on your team, you’re in trouble.
Tom – And everything looks like it’s created by accountants.
Colin – Unfortunately the suits are always going to be in control, but it’s nice to see that the creative people can be consulted
Nalini – Have a voice
Colin – Yes, very much so.
Tom – You asked me about The Deep. And then we got side-tracked.
Colin – That happens when we get together, doesn’t it?
Nalini – You’ve had lots of interviews in the last week, so tell me about The Deep.
Tom –The Deep is an original graphic novel, hopefully the first of many, by myself and a guy called James Brouwer. It’s coming out from Gestalt Publishing, on August 4 2011, worldwide through Diamond distribution and hopefully in bookstores. It’s about a multicultural family of explorers who live in a submarine. When I say a multicultural family, it’s an Asian mother, a black father and their two children. We decided at the outset that not every family needs to look like The Incredibles.
Colin – There’s no explanation for that. They don’t need to frame it.
Tom – We don’t ever say where they’re from, we don’t mention a country of origin, we just say the sea covers the entire globe and so do the Nekton family and that’s it. It has been slightly refreshing to be able to write that and not make a statement about it, just have it there. It’s getting some fantastic quotes from nice celebs. We have Dileep Rao, who’s the star of Avatar and Inception and has just read the first issue and said it’s brilliant and you know… wonderful and witty and vibrant. We have some nice things being said and a lot of interest. We hope it will have a life outside of comics as well and just go on.
Nalini – When you say a life outside of comics, what do you mean?
Tom – Either a TV series, a film or computer games, who knows? We had early interest at San Diego last year, people coming up and talking to us having seen one image on the internet. It’s because of James Brouwer’s work on the art. He is incredible, you see the characters and you absolutely fall in love with them. The first issue of The Deep is 88 pages, it’s already available for pre-order over the internet. It’s fantastic doing interviews about this instead of a licensed property. This is something I’ve created and I’m very, very excited about it.
Colin – It makes a difference doesn’t it?
Tom – It really does. I’ve put so much into it. I didn’t write one paid word last week, not one paid word, I just spent the entire week writing press stuff for this and I was more than happy to do so.
Colin – Are you aware of Gestalt Comics publishing? The Perth publisher we’re both doing quite a bit of work with. Tom more than me.
Tom – They’re probably the largest dedicated graphic novel publisher in Australia and they’re getting bigger and distributing further. They’re distributing into Europe and America now. Two weeks ago they won the Aurealis Award which is the biggest SF and Fantasy award in Australia, for their graphic novel Changing Ways by Justin Randall. It’s an absolutely stunning book. It’s not just their content that’s really great, it’s their production values that are incredible. They’re pouring so much into this.
Colin – Choose really carefully what they produce and do it really well. And work each product, to expand themselves with the distribution. Tom and I started with Wolfgang Bulsma at Gestalt about 3 years ago
Tom – Yes that’s when they first published The Example.
Colin – They did an anthology with some of Shaun Tan’s work, some of our works, a lot of local talent
Tom – Christian Reed, Justin Randall and some really good creators…
Colin – About 3 years ago and have just started original material specifically under their letterhead, this is going to work really well.
Tom – The Deep in August is one of 4 trade paperbacks they have coming out that month.
Colin – Really?
Tom – You didn’t know that?
Colin – No. When is the next Changing Ways coming out?
Tom – probably next year. So Randall’s working away busily for them, and I’m working on 4 other projects that haven’t been announced. It’s exciting. I said from the outset that I want to do all my own creator work out of Australia rather than go through an American company. Yes I might get paid more and it might look bigger and it might get more PR or it might have a great big company behind it to push it, but if we can get quality out of Australia that we’re getting with this, and really solidify this company, it’d be fantastic.
Nalini – That’d be good. There’s the whole brain drain thing.
Colin – It is still important to go overseas, establish contacts and talk to people directly, and then maybe bring some of it back to this part of the world. But this is not as essential as it used to be. When I first left New Zealand in 1980 I never even imagined I could earn a living drawing comics. I went to London on a holiday and I was planning to be there a month and it turned out I’ve been away from New Zealand ever since
Tom – Because of the internet we can be based here. You do need the human contact with editors and stuff, but you can work from home. If I hadn’t gone to America I certainly wouldn’t be working for DC.
Nalini – So you’ve both gone overseas to establish your careers.
Tom – Yes. To a certain extent. But I wouldn’t be able to write The Deep if I hadn’t written for Star Wars first. A publisher wouldn’t have just gone ‘yes of course I’m going to invest in you and ask you to write this book’ because they wouldn’t have had anything to go on. But because I wrote two graphic novellas for kids set in the Star Wars Universe… Everybody knows what Star Wars is. It’s not this little underground thing that nobody’s heard of, so that really does help. Does it help you?
Colin – That everyone knows Star Wars? Yes. It can be a bit constraining sometimes as well, but it certainly opens doors! I was really lucky when I went to Europe because I got some opportunity to work on a really famous western comic series in France – Blueberry – that was originally created by one of my idols. Getting the opportunity to work on something like that opened a huge amount doors for me there, and one thing leads to another.
Nalini – So how did all this start? In 1980 you were living in New Zealand.
Colin – I went to London.
Nalini – What were your qualifications, what lead to you going to London?
Colin – I’d been involved in commercial art and freelance graphics. I was writing an art column for a friend’s science fiction fanzine in New Zealand and I discovered this whole fandom. Pretty quickly I started publishing a comic fanzine of my own – Strips. Then I went off overseas on a holiday. Because I’d also drawn some illustrations for fanzines in the UK and they’d been published, people introduced me to other artists, and I eventually got dragged over to the editor of 2000AD, the weekly UK comic that features Judge Dredd. They shoved me in front of the editor and said ‘you’ve got to get this guy to do something’. One job led to another and I started to realise that I could earn a living drawing comics, which wasn’t possible, and still isn’t, in New Zealand as far as I know. It went from being a holiday for a month or 2, to living 16 years in Europe. In New Zealand I had previously discovered French comics, and I had never wanted to go into American comics because I’m not a superhero fan, I wanted to go to France. I found that I arrived in France at a really good time. It was always one job after another, for 15 or 16 years.
Nalini – Who was your hero you worked for?
Colin – He was already very famous under his own name – Jean Giraud – in France drawing a western series, Blueberry, that I was a huge fan before I went overseas. In English language comics he became very popular using a pseudonym – Moebius – which he used for his more personal, experimental work. Before I arrived in Europe Giraud and Jean-Michel Charlier head created a parallel series to their hugely popular western series Blueberry , and it was this I was offered to work on. Are you aware of what European comic books look like?
Nalini – Not really, I’m on a sharp learning curve in the area of comics.
Colin – That’s understandable considering how difficult it is to find any European comics in this part of the world. Comics are a huge business in Europe, and are very different to comics in America. One of the fundamental differences is that in Europe they are author owned, author driven and the authors retain copyright. So the authors of a successful story can choose whoever they want to work on it, irrespective of who’s publishing. That’s a very fundamental advantage of European comics. They have a huge circulation; each year a book is published, it can have an enormous print run. With Blueberry, I did six for that series over a 10 year period. At the same time I was also working on various projects of my own, and so I was often alternating work from one series to another.
Nalini – So you were living in Europe until 1996. What brought you back?
Colin – Complications I guess. There was no one reason, it was just time for a change. My wife and I had bought a house in Provence, started a family, we were living the life in a 300 year old pile of rock surrounded by vines, it was fantastic. But at the same time, everything was becoming progressively more complicated because Blueberry was such a powerful publishing concern, there were a lot of big sharks in the pool . Although I was an author of the series I didn’t own the character – because I hadn’t created Blueberry – and so I was a small fish in a big pond of sharks and I didn’t really enjoy it. It was getting too complicated. I didn’t want to get involved in the business side of lawyering up. I preferred to have much more individual control over something. I was never going to get that with Blueberry, and never sought it out. So Janet and I decided we wanted a quieter life, and we moved to Melbourne.
Nalini – Is it quieter?
Colin – Oh yeah. At that stage I was prepared to give up comics and work in a supermarket if I had to. From a family point of view we had friends here, it was a really nice change. In the 16 years we’d been in Europe we’d lived in 4 different countries. For the first 6 years I, I was not allowed to work or live there officially. It was a huge job getting that sorted out. Coming back here is a much more enjoyable day to day life bringing up the family living in the suburbs of Melbourne.
Tom – He is still living here illegally though. But we don’t mention that.
Nalini – Well, he’s a Kiwi.
Tom – That’s right.
Colin – I’m actually Australian now, I’ve done my little bit. About 6 or 8 years ago we did the ceremony. There’s much less stress. My life in Europe was one crisis after another. We were always skating on thin ice with no resources, no family, no backing at all, none of that safety net, it was always a real problem. It was a really stressful way to work. Very rewarding, but after 16 years I needed a bit of a break from it. It just happily coincided with the start of the internet, and I discovered after a year or two of working in Australia and delivering work via the internet, that I could now live here and work for anywhere in the world. So I was back into comics in a bigger way.
Nalini – And you have the name.
Colin – Well I don’t rely on anything like that.
Tom – He forgets he has a name.
Colin – No. You’re only as good as your next job.
Tom – [leaning towards microphone] It’s not true, it’s noot truuuuueeee…
Colin – It’s the way I’ve always treated it. But the internet changes everything. In my case it changes everything in the most positive way possible. We can still go to San Diego, see our editors at the conventions each year, but I can also stay in contact with people in France and carry on working there, or contact people at 2000AD and get work there if they want it. All from Australia. You can do it all yourself here and send it away. It’s great.
Nalini – Do you go to ComiCon every year?
Colin – The last couple of years we’ve gone to San Diego. I’m not going this year, Tom’s going. I’ve got too much work.
Tom – Come! Play! Come ON!
Colin – They are an advantage, just as much as they are an advantage here in Australia. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know everyone else that’s doing a similar thing here in Australia, or who wants to do a similar thing. Having Supanova and Armageddon here in Australia has been a great step up for the local people as well.
Nalini – Before we get on to ComiCon, how did Tom get into this?
Tom – Do you want the real story or the fake one? The fake one’s really good. It was 1949 and I was on an architectural dig – archaeological dig, sorry. An architectural dig is like when you build something in reverse. An archaeological dig in Egypt. This mummy shambled out, and stabbed in the brain with a copy of Ashen Comics Number 1. Then a month later, the crazy doctor removed it but left a piece in my brain. So I’ve been doomed to write comics ever since.
Nalini – That’s great. What about the other story?
Tom – The other story is that I was a play write. From the age of 9 I was a singer and sang in lots of school things. By 14 I was in musicals and already writing musicals. That led to me writing more theatre and more musicals. Then I became script co-ordinator of a large full stage musical with a 160 cast. I also wrote a lot of little plays for 10 minute theatre that have shown all around the world. I’ve had plays on about 4 continents, which sounds impressive but remember that they’re only 10 minutes. My most famous play is called The Example, set on Flinders Street Station in Melbourne on platform 1. It’s about an unattended briefcase. 2 people who are slightly conservative, very young and liberal come across this case. This case comes to represent terrorism, fear and racism all in one little thing. It’s been a really successful play. Colin Wilson here adapted it into a comic book, which was the start. For me, comics have always been my favourite storytelling medium of any kind, better than books, better than film, certainly better than theatre. Theatre was really a stepping stone to get into comics. I guess I was a semi-professional fiction writer already, then comics came along thanks to Colin.
Nalini – The theme here is that everything you were writing was for a visual presentation.
Tom – Yes. Comics is about the most freeing storytelling in the world, because you can do anything. It doesn’t cost any more in comics to blow up a planet than it does to have 5 people sitting in a room talking. It’s incredibly freeing not to have to worry about budgets. I can’t say ‘and then the shark drops out of the sky and eats the guy and then the aliens come’ for stage, because someone has to work that out. But for comics, I can do anything. Sometimes that’s daunting, sometimes it’s freeing.
Colin – Rather ironically, with The Example, the first thing we collaborated on, was 2 people in one location, dialogue for 10 minutes. From my point of view, I was already drawing Star Wars comics for the states, and I met Tom in this very café. Tom gave me 2 or 3 short stories to look through. That was the one that really sparked it off because they were talking about it. But I was really concerned about how you could make 2 characters, one location, dialogue for 10 minutes, an interesting comic.
Nalini – What era was this? Pre or post 9/11?
Colin – 4 or 5 years ago.
Tom – I wrote it the week after the London bombing. It went on to win Short and Sweet, which is the largest short play festival in the world, it was on at the Arts Centre, went on at the Opera House and went on to Edinburgh. It’s done very well, but it’s probably done better as a comic. A number of websites have talked about it in really fantastic terms. It’s on its second print run already, and for an Australian comic that’s fantastic. It was the first thing we got to do together. And it was Colin bringing me into comics. Thanks, Colin!
Nalini – So you guys have been working together for 4 years now
Colin – It’s probably 4 years now.
Tom – Probably, yeah. Scary but yes.
Nalini – You were working for Star Wars first. How did that happen?
Colin – I don’t know directly but I have been told that the editor that we work for now on Star Wars was a fan of my work from the 80s. He saw some of my stuff in the UK while I was living and working in France. He said he wanted me to be working for him one day. He contacted me when there was a major relaunch of the Star Wars comic line being planned in 2005 and he contacted me at the end of 2005 to see if I was free to participate in the relaunch, and I wasn’t. I had a year’s work doing another American series at the time and I was in Europe on holiday. I contacted him when I’d finished what I was committed to, and said if there was still space for me I could do some work for you now. He said ‘yeah, sure’ and got me started on some Star Wars projects, and that was maybe a year before Tom and I met.
Tom – When you were doing Rebellion?
Colin – Yeah.
Tom – A couple of fill in issues of Legacy. It all started when our editor Randy Stradley, saw a picture Colin had drawn of Jeff Darrow, another artist, riding a triceratops. He wanted Colin to work for him from that moment. He’s told me this story twice.
Nalini – So how did you join?
Tom – I’d always wanted to work in comics but I didn’t think it was possible from Australia. It’s kind of like telling people you want to be an astronaut. There was probably only one guy working professionally in comics in Australia. One writer that is, there are a number of artists, but only one writer. When I say professionally, I mean consistently professionally.
Nalini – Paying the mortgage?
Tom – Probably. Yeah.
Colin – With difficulty probably.
Tom – Yeah, with difficulty. I posted on a comic book website, I said I’m a play-write and I’ve had a bit of success and I wanted someone to adapt my plays. I didn’t give my name because I didn’t want my name to show up on Google. I was a bit weird about it. I was just destroyed and taken down in this forum by people. Because I’d blundered in and probably seemed a bit high and mighty, and because I didn’t give my name they just didn’t believe me. While all of this was going on, Colin stepped in and said ‘hey guys, leave him alone.’ And ‘do you want to come and have a coffee?’ So that is how it started. Because he’s nice. And we met in this café. [singing] Mem-ries…
Colin – It turned out we both lived in the same area in Melbourne…
Tom – and lived 10 minutes apart.
Colin – I said to Tom at that time that I was busy on Star Wars at the moment, but let’s get together and talk about comics because I’m prepared to bore the tears out of anyone prepared to sit around and talk about comics all day. I quickly discovered that Tom knew more about Star Wars than I did, although I was working on Star Wars. So he immediately became a great source of material for reference and fire questions at. You know, the difference between a Sith and a Jedi, who’s going to win, those kind of details. At the same time we began adapting The Example as a side project for me, and it turned out to be really interesting, to the point where we convinced Dark Horse to take Tom on as a writer for Star Wars.
Nalini – So how has it all developed for you since then? You guys are known locally as the guys who are working on Star Wars.
Tom – Yes. Colin is also known for a whole lot more than that.
Nalini – That’s not what I hear about though.
Colin – Star Wars is a big banner name, for sure. And effectively that’s our month to month regular employment, but we need to not be completely subsumed by the Star Wars universe. We needs some side projects going along as well to take a breather every now and then, so Tom’s been doing a lot of work with Gestalt. I’ve done some work for 2000AD and some French projects as well. On a month to month, year to year basis it’s been Star Wars. Unfortunately I can’t produce work quickly enough. From a public point of view it may appear to be a little sporadic; big gaps between story arcs, but it’s because I can’t produce the work fast enough for it to be a regular monthly comic. Luckily our editors have cut us some slack, and are prepared to wait until we have each story arc on Star Wars almost finished before they start publishing it.
Nalini – So they’re working with you.
Tom – They’re doing a lot to accommodate Colin’s schedule.
Colin – At the moment I’m half way through the fourth book of the next story arc, Tom finished writing it several months ago, and that won’t start publication until next month.
Tom – And the last series probably finished in November or December last year. So it’s a good 6 or 7 month break between publications.
Nalini – So your fans have been hanging out?
Tom – Little bit.
Colin – I hope so.
Tom – I’ve had a few emails saying [squeaky voice] ‘Whennn?’ And they’re already talking about it, because little bits come online in previews and stuff, all the people at Force.net and the fans get on and say ‘what’s going to happen?’ It’s great. It’s nice having people in far off lands talking about you.
Nalini – Cool. ComiCon. What’s that been like for you guys?
Colin – It’s been fun.
Nalini – Maybe you should tell me about your first ComiCon.
Colin – My first ComiCon was in the late 80s as a tourist basically. I was living in Europe at the time and just happened to be in San Diego at the right time, visiting friends. My first couple were like that. We’ve only taken it really seriously in the last 2 years. Two years ago we went to meet editors and get a good feel for the place. Last year we had a stand with Gestalt at the convention itself and this year Tom will be working with Gestalt whereas I haven’t the time to go. It’s a really big adventure and it’s an unparalleled way to meet other professional people, both editors and authors, people involved in the industry. It’s fairly spectacular. I’d been used to doing huge comic conventions in Europe. In France at the end of each book I’d produce, I’d do a lot of book signings in specialist comic book shops and chain stores. And each year in January there is the big French comic convention in Angouleme. I’d got used to doing these kinds of things, but the American way of doing things is a little bit different. ComiCon is now a huge media festival dominated by the movie industry that tends to preview all it’s upcoming movie releases for the next 6 or 8 months. The good thing about the States these days is there’s a comic convention nearly every weekend at a different place, so there’s a real circuit of conventions. If you want to go to a specifically comic dominated convention you go to New York in October. If you want a media extravaganza, you go to ComiCon in San Diego in July. And they’re fun.
Nalini – Have you done many panels and speeches so far?
Colin – No, because it’s very hard to organise from this part of the world. In many cases they involve people who have been invited by the convention itself, while we’ve been fairly independent of that. Effectively we’re there under the banner of our editors.
Tom – I did a panel last year because I was writing a book called The Authority for Wildstorm, which was a DC imprint. I did about 8 issues. I sat down, got asked questions by the audience. And we do the panels here in Australia.
Colin – Tom loves performing in front of an audience, while I get very nervous.
Tom – I was a professional juggler for a lot of years. I used to eat fire and juggle knives. After writing musicals and acting in comedy festival shows. So I’m ok in front of an audience.
Colin – A Renaissance man.
Nalini – Tell me about your first ComiCon.
Tom – It was only 2 years ago.
Nalini – So your first one was with Colin.
Tom – Yes, with Colin, so we got to hold hands all the way on the plane which was nice. It was huge because I don’t think I’d been out of the country since I was 11 although I’d been interstate a lot. It was a really, really big adventure. A whole other country and go to this thing that was absolutely enormous. It’s in a building a kilometre long, it’s packed and it’s double story, so it’s packed on both levels. It’s incredible. It’s restricted to about 120,000 people. They’re talking about trying to add on about an extra half mile onto it, and if they don’t add that half mile, they’re going to lose ComiCon.
Colin – It’s sold out in February of every year… 5 months in advance.
Tom – It sold out in 3 hours when they put it online.
Nalini – I heard, they even had two or 3 different ticket disasters and they still managed to sell out.
Tom – Yes. They sold out in 3 hours. Now that so much of it is Hollywood, Warner Bros will book an entire hotel a year in advance. It’s impossible to get accommodation.
Colin – All the major comic publishers do that as well. Their bookings roll over every year for that same weekend, year in and year out. The entire city is taken over by the comic convention for 5 days. It’s just amazing. Size wise it’s fantastic, but it’s chaos.
Tom – I think my experience is a little bit different from Colin, because Colin is so much more established where for me the first year was meeting editors and signing with Dark Horse. You’re walking an entire kilometre of space, you’re exhausted, you don’t sleep, you’re in a different time zone, you’re excited, you’re adrenalised, you’ve slept 3 hours that night, you’ve been out late the night before, then you’re walking a kilometre long and doing job interviews for 5 days. That’s how it feels. It’s equal parts terrifying and exciting.
Colin – The first time we went I went through the itinerary and program for hints about what to do and what not to do at ComiCon, but I went through the schedule and cut and pasted, printed out, a list of all the things I’d like to go to see while I was there. There were discussions, people I wanted to meet and everything. I didn’t see one of them in the entire 5 days.
Tom – Not even one.
Colin – I didn’t get to one event that I was planning on because you get so tied up with being busy and encountering people who you wanted to meet or who wanted to meet you and it was just exhausting. Of course these guys were going out socialising. We rented a house in San Diego, the 5 of us, and I’d take a whole pile of books back to sign and do drawings for people. I can’t socialise at all, not like these guys.
Tom – He’s lying by the way. I reckon he’s done that taking books thing like twice.
Colin – Yeah.
Tom – Every other night he’s socialising.
Colin – I always wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning.
Tom – I know. Actually I was better last year. My first year I didn’t sleep at all.
Colin – Except on the plane coming home. I don’t like going out again for a day or two, so if we’re going to be there for 4 or 5 days you’re better to be there earlier and come away afterwards so you’ve got a bit of recovery time. So I put a 10 or 12 days’ gap in our schedule that you just have to devote entirely to going to San Diego. This year I just didn’t want to make that commitment. I’ve got this schedule on the Star Wars story arc, and taking off 10 or 15 days in the middle of it would be counter-productive.
Nalini – And your fans will thank you very much.
Colin – The Star Wars fans will certainly be happier, but I must admit I’m ahead of schedule at the moment.
Tom – Don’t say that. You’re admitting that!
Colin – The work I’m doing won’t come out until December. It’s going to be a shame not to catch up with all the friends we’ve made at SDCC over the last couple of years though, I’ll miss that.
Nalini – Do you think you’ll go next year?
Colin – Yes. I’d like to do something really silly and take 2 or 3 months off, start in San Diego and drive across America on holiday. If America’s still there next year, if it hasn’t broken out in civil war. And finish up in New York because I really enjoy New York as well, I’ve only been there once. I’d really like to go to the New York Con because it’s entirely comics.
Tom – I’d really like to go to the New York Con as well. And possibly Chicago.
Colin – Yes, we’ve got some friends in Chicago. It’d be interesting to catch up with them as well. They’re a fantastic resource, to get to meet people who are like minded. We’ve met some really interesting friends.
Tom – Yes. Even the conventions here, Supanova and Armageddon, especially Supanova, you get a real family vibe by the end of it. We get really close to a lot of the guests and especially the organisers. This year there was a group called Kirby Krackle, a geek rock band of two people, one of whom does most of the performing. The other guy actually runs ComiCon, probably the third biggest comic convention in the world and a chain of comic stores. He’s an incredibly lovely guy. It’d be nice to go to Chicago and know that he’ll look after us.
Nalini – So you’re planning to do some jetsetting.
Tom – I don’t know. I have a young family and I get very homesick, so we’ll see. If I did choose to do that I probably wouldn’t do San Diego next year. This year I’m doing San Diego because Gestalt have asked me to. So I was probably going to go to New York this year, but Gestalt said we’ve got all of this coming up and we’d really like you to be there. I said sure.
Nalini – And you want to promote The Deep.
Tom – Yes and some other stuff we’ll be able to announce by then. And I’ve got a series called Rombies. It’s a Roman zombies book, zombies in ancient Rome. That’s through Gestalt, currently being serialised online at gestaltcomics.com. We did the zero issue that came out last year and now issue one that is currently being released a page at a time on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week. We just cracked 20,000 unique hits, which is just great. That will be printed probably in the next couple of weeks actually, Supanova for the first issue.
Nalini – Who is doing the artwork for that?
Tom – A guy called Sky Ogden who is also the art director for Gestalt. He’s based in Tokyo for now.
Nalini – Tokyo?!
Tom – Yes. It’s been a very disruptive year I must say. There have been a lot of things we thought we’d have out a lot sooner, but the earthquakes got in the way. Sky came back to Australia for a time but he’s back there now. I think he’s looking to move to Australia because he’s just – he has a Japanese wife who’s sort of blaze about it because she’s lived with earthquakes all her life, but he’s a bit shaken by it all. No pun intended.
Colin – Once upon a time when you used to have a major earthquake you used to go to the bottom of the line as far as scheduled earthquakes go, but it looks like Tokyo’s still on top for the next big one. It’s not a fun place to be for the future I don’t think.
Tom – So hopefully he’ll be here soon. So Rombies has been pushed and pushed and pushed as has something else we’re working on.
Nalini – When are you going to be able to tell us about these announcements?
Tom – I don’t know. I can tell you I’m doing something for DC as long as you don’t publish until after next week. I’ve done a 2 issue stand alone story in a book called DCUO Legends, which is the Brainiac Semester core war where basically 3 of the massive villains of DC are coming together, including the Green Lanterns and stuff, so I actually got to write Phil Jordan. Everyone in the world will know this guy’s name very soon because the movie’s coming out in three weeks. So that was huge, to write such a huge character in DC and play in the DC universe, characters I read growing up.
Nalini – Have you already written it?
Tom – It’s written, ready to go, it’s coming out late in the year.
Nalini – So if you’ve already written it, how come it hasn’t been announced yet?
Tom – Because it’s not coming out until October or November, and comics work on 3 months. So what we’re hearing about now will be happening in September, so that’s the big reboot and this isn’t until after that.
Colin – Almost all professional comic people are involved with projects that they can’t talk about, especially with American comics. You’ve got to allow the least details, leave it up to the publisher because they have to slot the details in with things going on with them. We’re almost always working on projects we might have been involved in for a long time but we can’t talk about.
Tom – Also creating things that won’t hit the publishing ever. I wrote the first issue for Star Wars Invasion for the new series in November and it’s not coming out until July. Colin will ask me something, he might not see the script for a month or two, depending on how long it takes to go through the process.
Colin – I had a script and a contract sitting on my desk at home for several months for a book coming out in France. It won’t come out until 2013. I won’t begin work on it until the middle of next year.
Tom – And he’ll be asking the writer questions about it, like he asks me, and I won’t remember, I wrote it so long ago.
Nalini – And you’ve done half a dozen projects since then.
Tom – Exactly.
Colin – You’ve got to keep these balls juggling at the same time, which is really exciting.
Tom – Which, as an ex-professional juggler, is ok.
Colin – I can’t. I’m getting too old for this.
Tom – So I’ve done this DC book. I’m doing a series called Voice of the Dragon. With an artist called Chris Scaps. We also did this other Star Wars thing, with Bobba Fett and Jabba Fett in Blood Ties. We’ve announced that; I haven’t seen a single page of it yet, but we’re working on that together so we decided to announce it. That’s probably all I can talk about, but I’m working on lots and lots of things, which is good.
Nalini – When you can announce the other stuff, I’d be interested in doing an update.
Tom – Certainly. Another thing Chris and I are working on is hopefully going to be ready for San Diego, but we’ll see. He came off his bike a week and a half ago, was knocked unconscious and had concussion sickness for a week.
Colin – I saw a photograph of him, he didn’t look too happy.
Tom – He didn’t look well, did he? There was a big scare that maybe he hadn’t been knocked unconscious, that maybe he’d blacked out before the crash but the neuro surgeons came back and said he’d been knocked unconscious.
Colin – With the marks on his head, you’d think he’s been knocked unconscious. Push bike, not motor bike?
Tom – Yeah, push bike. He was riding at the time with his young son so it was a big scare for him too.
Colin – Showing his young son what not to do.
Tom – Yeah. It’s weird. We were talking about the internet before. I have all these relationships that only exist on the internet.
Colin – Yeah. Where does Chris live?
Tom – Chris is in
Colin – Wisconsin or somewhere isn’t it?
Tom – Yeah, somewhere on the East Coast.
Colin – Massachusetts or somewhere.
Tom – My editor at Gestalt, we chat every day via Skype. He called this morning, I was still in bed and we chatted about what PR we were doing, what he’d fixed up overnight. I have all these really strong relationships with people I never see. I’ve never met Chris Skape, and he and I talk probably 2 or 3 times a week via email. It’s bizarre. That’s why it’s so fantastic having Colin living around the corner.
Nalini – So you can actually have coffee together.
Tom – Yes!
Colin – I’ve been working on comics for 30 years, and this is the first collaboration I’ve really had, on Star Wars with Tom, where we’ve sat down and talked about comics together. We don’t do it so much now, but when we first talked about what we wanted to do, we sat round every week over coffee and talked about things, where we should go and what kind of ideas we wanted in the story and what we didn’t want in the story. It was a proper collaboration. Normally I work effectively as an artist for hire and I work with people I’ve never met, and in some cases in the old days I’ve never even talked to over the phone. I may have corresponded with. Of course these days, with the internet, you can be skyping people all over the world and getting to know them very well without ever actually meeting them face to face, which is very handy, it’s a great resource.
Tom – Or you can have the opposite where I was working on The Authority, and I was going through an editor in the States, who was going through a translator in Argentina to the artist in Argentina. So you can have all these divides or you can have a close relationship. There is no standard way of doing comics.
Nalini – How do you feel about these internet relationships?
Tom – Depending on who it is. Wolfgang, from Gestalt, is one of my best friends without a doubt. I don’t know how much time we’ve actually spent in the same room together, but we worry about each other, we talk about our lives via skype, I’d probably talk to him more in a day than anyone else apart from my family.
Nalini – The office is in the ether.
Tom – Yes, it’s the water cooler.
Colin – Writers are so gregarious. They’re all extroverts. Most artists have got to be slogging away at home, grinding it out, looking at the same bit of wall space over a table. I’m in the process of pulling back a little from the internet side of things, because it can absorb so much of my time that I need to use to produce the artwork. So I’m finding now I need to spend as much time as possible at the drawing desk because it’s really labour intensive. I use the computer more now for recreation, go and blow shit up, go and play Call of Duty for half an hour or something and clear out the brain cells before getting back to work.
Nalini – What is it about Call of Duty? Just about everyone I’ve interviewed, from Joe Abercrombie to you guys, Call of Duty.
Colin – A couple of years ago it would have been GTA4, before that it would have been something else.
Tom – I don’t play computer games I have a bad neck and I spend all day every day at my computer, probably far more than anyone I can think of with a full time job.
Colin – Writers are all terrified of RSI.
Tom – But Call of Duty, seriously, was fantastic. When Colin gave that to me, I was like this is brilliant.
Colin – Have you seen the new preview for Modern Warfare 3?
Tom – No
Colin – Take a look online. It just came out yesterday. It’s amazing.
Tom – It’s one of those games that even got through to me. It’s just a very well done game. As will be LA Noire that’s just come out, that a good mate of mine is a senior programmer for.
Nalini – Yes, I’ve been hearing about LA Noire for the last 6 months.
Colin – That’s the current game because it just came out 2 or 3 weeks ago.
Tom – It’s a really great game, it’s really well written. It’s immersive. It’s not a game you go from point A to point B in
Nalini – It’s gritty and it’s supposed to have state of the art special effects, like really good facial
Tom – Yeah, the facial expressions are what gets you over the line. You look at it and you’ve never seen that on a computer before.
Colin – It’s also the most immersive game from a story point of view.
Tom – The writing is fantastic.
Colin – It’s well plotted. In Call of Duty the plots don’t matter because it’s just sequential, you just shoot your way through the game and come out the other end. And then play online maybe, whereas with LA Noire they’ve suddenly rediscovered that you can use a good story. Well written dialogue.
Tom – Good dialogue too, so rare for computer games.
Colin – Really refreshing.
Nalini – My son has wanted LA Noire for months.
Colin – How old is he?
Nalini – 18.
Colin – That’s alright then.
Tom – He’s allowed to have it then. [laughter]
Nalini – Is there anything you’d like to tell people who are interested in creating comics?
Tom – At the moment it is probably the best time to get into comics. It’s never been easier than now because you can write something and get a friend to draw it, or even draw it in stick figures and publish it on the internet within a day. If it’s good enough you will get a following. It’s never been like this. It’s not like it was years ago when you’d print something that you worked forever on, you’d print it out and photocopy it in black and white and hand it to people and hope that they’d actually open it up. We live in an age where you can tweet it within 15 minutes of having finished it.
Colin – it’s also never been easier to meet kindred souls. You can find other people who are interested in the same topics. It’s so much simpler than 20 years ago to find those people to share what you’re doing with and get encouragement from. That’s one of the good things about Melbourne because there’s a great little comics community here now, and everyone is supporting each other in their projects. Printing is still inexpensive so you can still go old school if you want to. The internet is pretty straight forward, everyone is starting to understand how that should work, so it really is a good time to just find out more. That’s my major advice to anyone wanting to get into comics – learn as much as you can about the medium, and it’s never been easier.
Tom – Printing is inexpensive but the audience is moving. We had a choice today to give our exclusive to papers, and we didn’t want to give too many exclusive pages. So we’re putting out 10 pages to one website and it’s only an 88 page book. We had to choose between the New York Magazine and this website. We went to this because it will generate more interest. We’ll be able to refer people to this at the click of a button. It’s about the ease. If it’s not available at the click of a button it’s too hard. It’s a really really good time.
Nalini – How do you feel about being icons?
Tom – I’m not. Colin, how do you feel about being an icon?
Colin – I’m pleased I’m a 128 pixel by 128 pixel rather than 64 by 64 like I used to be.
Tom – That’s true.
Colin – And colour now is nice.
Tom – My son thinks when daddy goes to work he goes to a convention. He’s 5, and he’s been to 2 conventions and he thinks that’s what I do. He thinks I sit in a booth and people want photographs taken with me and ask me to sign autographs.
Colin – Pretty cool job.
Tom – It’s a pretty cool job. But really this is something I’ll do 5 or 6 times a year. The rest of the time I’m sitting just like Colin in a room by myself just working as hard as I can, working obscenely long hours, working until 4 in the morning if not later because it’s nice and quiet then and everybody’s asleep. So the glamorous side of it is a weird thing. It’s a strange sort of fame.
Colin – Yeah. You can be working 6 or 8 months on a project that won’t come out until the following year, by then you’re already doing something else. You’ve got to be really passionate about it, because there’s a lot of other people out there wanting to do it as well. You’ve got to get to know the medium as much as possible and find out whether you are really serious about making the effort. It is very labour intensive. It sometimes can get a bit dispiriting, which is why it’s good to meet other people and discuss things, talk things over at conventions. Otherwise you run the risk of slogging away at home and getting a little bit dispirited by it all. You shouldn’t because it’s such an easy, straightforward thing to do.
Tom – I was reading Shaun Tan in Melbourne magazine. He’s just received one of the biggest literary prizes in the world and he’s got $75,000
Colin – $750,000
Tom – $750,000, sorry, presented by the crown princess of Denmark. He’s onstage and winning Oscars and he’s just desperately wants to ignore it all and sit in his study and draw.
Colin – And do his next project.
Tom – And it’s all a bit alien. It is fun, no doubt about it, but you can’t just be doing that, especially in Australia. In America you can a bit more, because as Colin said earlier there’s something on every single weekend, so a lot of comic book artists go convention to convention
Colin – for the real creative people making a living at it, that’s the icing on the cake really, because the hard work’s done in your studio producing the work. It is very time consuming.
Nalini – How long does it take you to do a page?
Colin – It’s impossible to say because it’s all broken down so much. If I have to do one page possibly between 2 and 3 days. If I’m doing a cover maybe between 2 and 3 days. But it’s all broken down into stages. I might have to do little sketches, send them away, get them approved, chosen, come back, do the pencils, get that approved online, and then do the inking. I could be working on 3 or 4 things at the same time.
Nalini – So you draw at a drawing table and ink by hand?
Colin – Yes. Most still are. Some artists are now working with Waicom or Cintiq tablets and digitally inking a lot of the time but the bulk of the artists I know are still pencil and ink men producing art traditionally. I’ve tried the digital side of it, and it’d be interesting to explore those possibilities one day, but at the moment nothing is easier than pencil and paper at a drawing table.
Nalini – It takes time to learn something new and you’re busy.
Colin – We have to deal with the computer side of it anyway, so I could get used to the equipment fairly quickly if I wanted to, but I don’t see the need. For me I’d go digital to utilise the new possibilities that this would enable, at the moment I don’t see the need to go that extra distance because I’ve got enough commitments at the moment to work traditionally anyway. With the technology that’s available now, it opens up a whole lot of new things. If you’re creative and can use digital publishing, either via print or direct to website publishing, all sorts of new things are possible. I haven’t got the time to get to that level. I spend way too much time in front of the computer anyway, in Photoshop, scanning, retouching, corresponding with the editors and sending files away. If I didn’t have to earn a living I’d be very interested in looking at the digital opportunities for comics now.
Tom – Fortunately Colin doesn’t have to earn a living soon, because he’s got a movie coming out with Sylvester Stallone.
Nalini – Really?
Tom – Yes!
Colin – Maybe.
Nalini – Tell me more.
Tom – There’s no maybe about it. It starts shooting at the end of the month. He did a series called Flem de Tete – did I get it right?
Colin – No, Du Plomb Dans La Tete.
Tom – Du Plomb Dans La Tete, which means Bullet to the Head, which is being turned into a film with Sylvester Stallone.
Colin – It was a 3 book project I did with a French writer for a French publisher 6 or 8 years ago. It was optioned 2 years ago by Warner Bros. Because Hollywood takes a long time to move on these things, it looks like it might go into production in principle photography next month.
Nalini – Is this going to be CGI?
Colin – No, live action. It was officially announced in February with the working title Headshot, starring Sylvester Stallone. It has a $55 million budget, it now has a page on IMDB with the name of Bullet to the Head. Since February it has been cast, and a director has been attached to the whole project. This is a director who made a couple of films I really enjoyed when I was first in London, his name is Walter Hill. He did a terrific western called The Long Riders, and many other films, including 48 Hours, The Warriors. It might be quite an exciting film.
Nalini – Cool. Now I know that it’s based on something you’ve co-created.
Tom – That’s been the issue for me. Colin hasn’t whinged about it much but there’s been a lot of press about this movie and Colin’s hardly been mentioned although he’s the co-creator. So get on the internet and spread rumours – not rumours, truths! – a Sylvester Stallone movie based on Colin’s comic. Don’t even mention Matz (the writer) [laughter]
Colin – He gets a mention on the IMDB site
Tom – And you don’t! A travesty.
Colin – It’s funny, I was just over the road talking to “my” guy in the local video shop. When I was doing the artwork for the series, I needed some reference material for a cop funeral in New York, so I went in and talked to the guys in the shop to find out what films I could look at to get some visual reference material for a sequence I was drawing at the time. They suggested I watch a film called Copland with Sylvester Stallone in it, and now we’ve come full circle 6 or 8 years later, it looks like it might be a done deal. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Tom – But yeah. It’s funny. Colin’s working with Sylvester Stallone.
Nalini – I would see that Sylvester Stallone is working with you.
Tom – That’s a good point. Yeah.
Nalini – On that note, thank you very much for your time.