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Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

JIM MASSEY: Maintaining Maintenance
Interview conducted by Ed Mathews

Jim Massey lives in the wooded hills outside Seattle with his wife and four dogs. When he's not writing comics, he designs interfaces, runs his dogs over jumps and through tunnels,and helps his wife make wine. He is the creator of the humor strip DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, which has so far been published in two collections. MAINTENANCE is his first ongoing comic book.

Laughter has been referred to in positive terms over time, often with phrases like "Laughter is the best medicine." What is your goal with MAINTENANCE?

Laughter! Joy! An attractive licensable property!

Actually there are a couple of things I want to accomplish, and they go hand in hand. Obviously, I want to make people laugh. I've always loved getting laughs. So yes, MAINTENANCE is a flat out humor book. But I also want people to care about the characters. I've grown quite fond of Doug and Manny, our two protagonists.Humor is more effective, and more deeply appreciated, when it involves something you have some emotional investment in. To that end, I'm trying to be a funny as I can without tipping too far into the cynical, mean-spirited side of comedy. Don't get me wrong -- there are monsters, and wacky adventures, and an occasional rude word. It's not namby pamby, and it's not for children, although I think anyone from teens on up can enjoy it. I just want the reader to come away from each issue thinking, "Okay, that was FUN".

What is it all about?

At the risk of sucking all the fun right out, I'll say that I wanted a story platform that was easily understood (janitors cleaning up after mad scientists!) and infinitely expandable (it's mad science, anything can happen!). I'm not worrying about world-building. What's outside the TerroMax complex? I don't know, I haven't written about it yet. I know there's a bar nearby, because we visit one in the first issue. But that's it. I'm concerned with the characters. I know who they are, and where they're headed, roughly. There's no bible. The MAINTENANCE-verse will have consistency and internal logic, but the details are going to flesh themselves out organically as we tell the stories.

Are you practicing medicine without a license?

Based on what's on the shelves, I find it unlikely that anyone needs any sort of academic credentials to write a comic book.

Will there be any dogs or monkeys in the book?

I'm still waiting for the perfect story to share with the world the glories of my dogs. MAINTENANCE isn't the one. And no monkeys! A few years ago, you couldget a laugh just by saying "monkey", or "pirate", or "ninja". I think that well has been sufficiently drained. I'm sure there are still some gags to be told about simian ninja pirates, but I don't feel like pursuing them.I will confess to having a kitten in the book, though. Briefly.

Watch me avoid bad cat jokes here. TerroMax complex? Mad scientists? I'll grant that the name doesn't sound like a place for rational scientists, but what will the readers see to convince them that they aren't just misunderstood geniuses?

Manshark, lazy aliens, toilet-dwelling micro-soldiers... Oh, and that kitten? Zombie. And it's stuck in the vending machine. TerroMax is the world's leading supplier of evil science. When a megalomaniacal despot or supervillain needs to terrorize the citizenry, they come to TerroMax. The scientists are geniuses ,all right, but they're not misunderstood. They make nasty monsters and lethal gizmos, and they're proud of their work. Of course, they also make messes. That's when Doug and Manny come in to clean up.

"Humor is more effective, and more deeply appreciated, when it involves something you have some emotional investment in. To that end, I'm trying to be a funny as I can without tipping too far into the cynical, mean-spirited side of comedy. "
Is this label of "mad scientists" coming from outside the complex or is this something that employees, like say the janitors, pin on the bosses?

I don't think the term "mad scientist" is ever going to appear in the book. They can be arrogant, they can be devious. But they're not mad. TerroMaxis a corporation, complete with career climbers, office politics, and morale committees. Its product just happens to be evil science. The scientists don't stop and debate the morality of what they do. They're just proud to make the best, most reliable monster for the client. Doug and Manny work at TerroMax, but they are so far below the morality radar -- they don't unleash horrors, they don't even take a detached approached to building evil technology. They're just average working stiffs who want to do their job and clock out.

Ok, so they don't make monsters; their bosses make monsters. They just cleanup after the monster making and the monsters? And their bosses aren't evil perse, but are in the service of evil? Like Microsoft?

I have close personal acquaintances who may or may not work for a large software firm in Redmond, Washington, and I cannot possibly comment on part of this question. But yes, that describes Doug and Manny, and reveals the deep subtextual questionsof ethics and philosophy I cleverly hid under the zombie kitten stories. MAINTENANCE works on so many levels!

Does Death make a cameo?

No plans. I'm a little down on wink-wink cameos and references, or breaking the fourth wall. That kind of thing has to be done very deftly, or you pull thereader right out of the story's universe. I do use some names that I've borrowed from people I know, but nothing that would be noticed by the general public. And for me to include Death, fond as I am of my version of that character, seems a tad arrogant. "I'm so clever, remember all the clever things I've done, look at me and my clever things."

Are there any current plans for more DEATH books?

I have the third 48-page DEATH collection finished. But I'm holding off publishing until I get some MAINTENANCE out in the world. With luck, MAINTENANCE will elevate my profile a smidge, and make it a bit easier to get DEATH noticed. I'm also still deciding whether I want to release a third volume, or go ahead and compile all of them into a complete collection.

What's it like working for another company instead of on your own withVarmint Press?

An established company handling finances, production and marketing? A fantastic artist turning any old crap I jot down into a great story? It's torture.

Sounds like it. How long is MAINTENANCE planned to go? Is it a finite seriesor an ongoing or one graphic novel that we can look forward to for the holidays?

It's ongoing. Forever, and ever, and ever. Or thereabouts. We kick off in early December, and go monthly for three months, take a month off, monthly for three months, take a month off, and so on. The three-issue blocks will be collected.Sometimes it will be a set of three standalone stories, sometimes a three-partarc. So, by this holiday season, you'll just have the first issue. But next year? Hoo doggies! Singles, collections, action figures, poorly conceived computer games... Actually, not sure about those last two. But lots to read, certainly.

In the past, the level of networking to get a notice from a publisher wouldhave been contained to comic conventions and fanfic circles. Would it be fair to say that the internet changes that equation significantly?

Oh, jeez, absolutely. I've been to three comic conventions in my life. The first was APE a couple of years ago to promote DEATH, which I self-published and never even discussed with any other publishers. The second was in Seattle earlier this year, to meet James from Oni for the first time. By then, we already had a working relationship with MAINTENANCE. The third was San Diego this year,to publicly announce MAINTENANCE with Oni. So physical networking, even phone calls or regular ol' mail, never entered into it.

Through the internet, I had a platform for distributing my work, for creating awareness of it, for contacting people directly, and for generally maintaining a presence on forums where I could make jokes and post the occasional random cartoon. James contacted me and we started talking about working together based entirely on what he knew of me and my work on the internet. So, yay internet!

MAINTENANCE is available at finer comic shops as of December 20, 2006! Ask your retailer for a copy or give them these Diamond order codes-

Issue 1: OCT06 3599
Issue 2: DEC06 3806

Ed Mathews is Co-Editor in Chief of PopImage.

Varmint Press

Oni Press

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