STEVEN GRANT: DA MAS-TER, DA MAS-TER…
interview with Steven Grant by Jonathan Ellis
Grant is the writer behind the enigmatic and powerful X-MAN. Steven
Grant runs the @tventure website, thee outlet for comics writers.
And Steven Grant writes a weekly column for comicbookresources.com
as The Master Of The Obvious, where every Wednesday he lets you know
just what’s wrong with the industry, and if you’re smart, you’ll listen.
Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Steve attended the University of Wisconsin.
Steve likes to eat Tex-Mex and drink Coca-Cola, and of course chose
comics because… “Comics chose me, really.”
got his first break into the industry with:
Stern, who I'd met through fandom and stayed with when I visited New
York during college, had just been promoted to editor at Marvel and
desperately needed an issue of MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE done to get
the schedule up to speed. I happened to be the warm body who walked
in at the right moment. (I was already writing professionally as a
film and music reviewer by then, and had done a few stories for Mike
Friedrich's books and a few other places.)
Steve, let's play: make a company that works.
So here I am, mister rich, and I want to form a comic company and
I want you to run it, but of course it's not that easy, I have a few...
rules. Now I'm willing to put the cash out there, but 1)I want you
to get me certain talent, Warren Ellis, Kent Williams, Grant Morrison,
Ted Mckeever, Jamie Delano, Bill Sienkiewicz, and other big names
which I'm sure you can anticipate, But. uh-oh, I also know a few up
and comers I want to do some work, they may be good, but they aren't
guaranteed sales. 2) Before a series even hits the stands I want (considering
this is an on going series) at least 6 issues done before hand, thus
ensuring the series runs on schedule- and as the money guy I intend
to be a real asshole about this. Once again the cash is there, but
you gotta convince the talent to get their work done- or whoever you
hire to take care of such concerns. 3) I want diversity and quality,
I want all sorts of stories, this may involve hiring more talent-
or less. 4) I want to see art from unknowns to the sequential page,
I want tattoo artists and CD cover artists getting their art printed
in our books, hell even on our covers. 5) I also want a heavy web
presence, that means our talent will have to participate in that sense.
6) I want a publicist with the specific intent of getting our properties
to other mediums, cartoons, movies, but once again the creator will
have to be involved to a certain extent to make sure their characters
(they'll own all their creations BTW- But I do want a clause in the
contract making sure they remain with our banner for a certain amount
of time before leaving) are being treated properly. 7) I also want
subscription packages made up, with a copy of the first issue and
all sorts of previews and news about the company and titles, and I
want them sent all over to try and encourage sales in different places,
whether it be music stores, book stores, convenience stores, tattoo
parlors, arcades, cycle, skater and boarder shops, art supplies shops,
cigar shops, barber shops, the body shop, whatever. Now after hearing
my rules, do you decide to go with me (assuming you have the time)
or not, why? Why not? If so, what else do we need to cover to make
this company work, to make it one of the best out there? If not, which
of my rules should we do away with?
I'll go with you. If you've got the money I can put it all together
no problem. But you have to take some things into consideration: nobody,
known or unknown, is a guaranteed seller. It has to be the right talent
on the right concept. If you can afford it, getting six issues done
is a good idea and I don't think anyone would have a problem with
that, but here's what I'd do: I'd have them do the six issues not
as a single arc but as a single story so that they're doing a graphic
novel, not a comics run, then I'd add pages to break the material
into a six issue arc. This way you're not only promising them a comics
run but practically guaranteeing book publication and a backlist,
which is what authors want. As far as tattoo artists and CD cover
artists go, if they can produce workable comics art, mazetov. If they
can't, forget it.
prongs of the comics pitchfork are talent, editorial vision, adequate
marketing, and sufficient distribution. This presumes the end material
is well done, interesting, and distinctive. But, sure, if someone
wants to put up the money and go for the right talent, there's no
reason it couldn't happen.
Master of the Obvious, if all these problems with the industries
we see are glaring us in the face each day, then why do you suppose
we're not really doing that much about them? Or are we?
When there's no money coming in, no one wants to risk throwing good
money after bad to fix things. When money is coming in, they figure
there's nothing to fix. Companies are taking little measures, but
they're basically trying to put Band-Aids on gaping, gushing head
wounds. The general presumption is that we can somehow force the market
back to what it was, but those days are dead and gone, and until at
least one funded publisher starts looking ahead - positively - nothing
constitutes a truly good comic?
drawn, interesting read. It's a subjective judgment, but there's a
line from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE that makes the whole movie for me,
when James Dean's sitting in the planetarium and they're showing pictures
of the stars, and he says, "When you're up there, you know you've
been someplace." That's how it is with a truly good comic: you know
you've read something.
an indy stand point, how should one break into the field with their
own title? What if it's one of the best stories around, but the art
sucks, or vice versa. How do you think one should represent ones self?
represent one's self as what one is; if you don't, it'll come back
and bite you sooner or later. Truly bad art will prevent anyone from
reading a comic even if the story's brilliant (of course, there's
art that strikes you as hot when you first see it and only after you've
been exposed to it awhile do you realize how bad it is, but that doesn't
count here) and a truly bad story will keep people from coming back,
unless the art's so brilliant it's worth having on its own merits.
But even great stories and great art in the same package are no guarantee
of anything, if it doesn't get decent distribution or if you can't
convince people they must read it.
breaking into the field, that may not be the same thing. It depends
what your goal is. If you want to work for Marvel or DC ultimately,
just getting your own title out there with as good material as you
can muster is adequate. It's a loss leader for your career, something
you lose money on in order to interest a specific audience: in this
case, editors at major comics companies. That kind of book isn't done
for a wide audience, even though it's usually marketed that way. If
you're looking to be an indy success, that's a lot more work and risk,
and the current system, which is heavily weighted toward major comics
companies at the expense of small players, is very much against you.
People wanting to be indy successes with their own creations need
a lot of perseverance, funding, creativity, patience and luck.
you are familiar with the comics code, and by being familiar with
it you also know that it's absolutely pointless and serves no purpose.
So how do we get rid of it?
easy: let publishers just stop paying for it. It exists off funding
from the client publishers. It'll exist as long as they let it feed
off them, and they'll let it feed off them as long as they delude
themselves that it accomplishes anything. Newsstands won't stock comics
without the Code seal? Newsstands don't even know what the Code seal
is, and they don't stock comics anyway.
you know how to get in contact with the code people, I mean in my
mind I see the code as one guy in an office with a coffee machine
and a stack of comics, who sits around reading and scratching his
balls all day. What I'm trying to do is make PopImage the site that
kills the code, the creators seem to agree with me (even Stan Lee
said it won't go away until the readers demand it), we can start a
petition and let it go from there- I'd just like to get some info
on their set up.
basically what it is, yes: a grubby little office in midtown Manhattan
somewhere. I don't think it's hard to find, I never had any reason
to go there but Marvel would mule pages over for them to check out
all the time. Traditionally the Code is run by people from Archie
Comics. The readers aren't going to demand the end of the Code, because
almost none of them realizes it exists.
in one of your articles you examined the hero in comics, lets examine
the plot in comics? It was once suggested by someone who I unfortunately
can't recall, that there are really only 22 plots in movies, I believe
that the same applies to comics, maybe not necessarily 22- movies
never had Jack Kirby, but a limited number none the less. How does
one stay fresh and original in the biz today?
think the best thing one can do is just keep looking ahead, not
at the past, not trying to relive your childhood through your
work or trying to recapture lost glories, or play to the market,
but just do the work the best you can.”
up this aphorism years ago: there are a million stories in the naked
city but only eight basic plots. Plot should ideally develop out of
character, how characters interrelate. To a certain extent, plot is
almost an outdated notion. Certainly in comics, far too much emphasis
is placed on it (largely because comics are dominated by superhero
comics, and superhero comics don't allow enough variety for a lot
of dependence on character to carry the ball, since the genre demands
great limitations on character as well). As for staying fresh and
original, that's all tied up in one's specific worldview. Either you
stay fresh and original or you don't, but that's not something you
can really worry about on a conscious level. It's like once you know
you're being humble, you're no longer humble. I think the best thing
one can do is just keep looking ahead, not at the past, not trying
to relive your childhood through your work or trying to recapture
lost glories, or play to the market, but just do the work the best
you can. A lot of things like that come down to the same thing: you
do the work the best you can and throw your bread upon the waters.
It's not worth worrying about.
journalism, in any form, how important is it?
Most of what passes for comics journalism is reprinting press releases.
I think for the image of comics in the wider world, a certain level
of critique of the comics form and content is necessary. It gives
it a patina of seriousness. I think comics journalism should be more
investigative, not of personalities (it tends to focus way too much
on personalities) but of the processes of comics, which are still
pretty mysterious to a lot of people outside the business. (A lot
inside as well, it seems.) But I don't know that any comics journalism
has really influenced the direction of the business significantly.
Right now, in the industry we need more... daring
and less...looking wistfully backwards
those interview games, this ones called: Of choice;
IE. Restaurant of choice: Amigo's.
Movies: Touch Of Evil; L.A. Confidential; Go.
Books: William Gaddis' THE RECOGNITIONS.
Music: Dave Alvin, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Diamanda
Galas, Holly and the Italians, Cabaret Voltaire, Dwight Yoakam.
Artists: Comics artists or otherwise? Too many comics artists
to name, but I'd be remiss if I didn't say my pal Mike Zeck.
Past time: Excuse me?
your new site for writers? Why? It's entertainment, but what do the
writers get out of it. How has exposure increased for them? (Did you
have a mission statement in mind when you decided to start this up?
if so can we hear it?)
a mission statement per se. It's simply an outlet for comics writers
to get material out they don't get the chance to do in comics, and
to show they can do it. I know a number of comics writers who've wanted
to try their hand at prose but needed an excuse and I've given them
one. Nobody, including me, makes any money off the site, though that
could change. Hopefully it will open new markets for some of them.
I can't really judge how much exposure has increased but the night's
X-MAN, for those who haven't picked it up yet, why should they? Where
will the life of this young near god lead? Will absolute power corrupt
absolutely, or is that story do over used? Personally, once I saw
the new age shaman reference, I was convinced to pick it up.
outsider who is not only not alienated but enjoys being an outsider,
who knows what his role is”
don't see Nate as being corrupted, nor does he have anything vaguely
resembling absolute power. He's nowhere near godly proportions, though
we have played up that angle so far. Why should people pick it up?
Because they'll enjoy it. To the extent the book forces us to work
within the superhero genre, Warren, Ariel and I are trying to mold
a new style of hero: someone genuinely heroic, an outsider who is
not only not alienated but enjoys being an outsider, who knows what
his role is. And who has no interest in any sort of status quo. He's
quite fun to write, and my hope is that he's fun to read as well.
how ‘mystical’ will the book get? Is it just for a storyline or will
it be ongoing? Comics really haven't had a wholly mystical character,
CEREBUS and DRUID have had their periods, hell even the HULK has but
it doesn't last forever, and even DR. STRANGE is always drawn back
isn't going to be mystical per se. Everything takes place in what
can roughly be considered the physical universe; even the psychic
plane Nate often operates on is an aspect of the physical universe.
It's very rational-humanist in nature. We sort of parallel Dr. Strange
territory but it's not our intention to cross onto it.
it won't be too long till the second storyline of X-MAN: 'Further
down the spiral' comes out, can you tell us a little about what's
in store for Nate?
in store for Nate in the second arc. It's the story of what has already
happened, how he turned from the X-Man everyone knew and yawned at
into this one. It involves Maddy Pryor, shamans, the Forge character
who was murdered in #63 and his murderer, more on the nature of the
spiral, and all kinds of ugly events. It's not a pretty story. (Though
Ariel's art is deceptively pretty.) Also, it introduces, in cameo,
a major new villain for Nate.
long have you planned to stay on the title?
I run out of ideas and interest or Marvel kicks me off.
Characters? Heroes? Villains? Mad scientists whose heads look like
cauliflower and are intent on burning the world to a crisp using some
giant radioactive robot dog?
Hmm. I missed that one. My original favorite characters were Green
Lantern and Adam Strange. Later Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. For villains,
I liked the original Green Goblin, and was always drawn to villains
whose true identity was a mystery. Now all my favorite characters
are my own: Whisper, Enemy, Connie Bremen, Mick Thorne. I really don't
think in terms of favorites anymore.
old school artist? Writer?
What means old school? Gil Kane, Harvey Kurtzman.
This always gets me in a lot of trouble, but I never much liked Kirby's
work. I respect it, but I don't like it. I'd have to say his best
creation was the Challengers Of The Unknown.
under appreciated creator currently in the biz?
Oh, that'd be me.
Since fanboys don't pay much attention to me, I've never really had
a bad fanboy experience. AS a fanboy, my worst experience was being
harangued by Jim Steranko when I had acute laryngitis and couldn't
smart mouth him back, so I think he thought I was a simp.
body of work?
BADLANDS and DAMNED.
to those trying to make it in the Biz today?
Be tenacious. REALLY tenacious. You'll need it. And have a fallback
has been your favourite book to work on?
BADLANDS, no question.
titles everyone SHOULD be reading?
I don't get a chance to read that many anymore, so I can't state anything
categorically. Of the books I read, I'd say PLANETARY and ASTRONAUTS
IN TROUBLE. And X-MAN, of course, but I'm biased.
character(s), title(s) to hopefully some day work on?
Y'know, I don't give a rat's ass about anybody else's characters or
titles. Creatively, I mean. I like reading them, but I'd rather work
on original material.
you would most like to someday work with?
If I had to pick one, Frank Miller. Frank and I have been friends
for over 20 years and we've never worked together. I'd love to do
just one eight pager with him somewhere once. Of course, I realize
that, creatively, Frank doesn't exactly need me for anything...
I'm in discussion with a lot of people about a lot of things, but
until someone actually gives a go-ahead, nothing I can talk about.
your dream project? If you could work with any companies, characters,
writers, artists, no restrictions, no rules, complete creative freedom,
crossover as many characters from as many different companies as and
if you wanted without any complaints, put together whatever creative
teams you wanted, and no one would stop you, what would you do?
told him I knew what I wanted to do: whatever I wanted, whenever
I wanted, and get paid for it. He just stared at me for a few
seconds, and never spoke another word to me.”
always ask questions like this, but every project is a dream project
until you actually have to do it. Then the nightmare sets in. Again,
I wouldn't care to work with anyone else's characters. I'm tempted
to say I'd do a line of crime comics, but anything you're boxed into
becomes tedious after awhile. When I was a senior in high school,
we were supposed to go talk to the guidance counselor to discuss our
futures. I thought that was a colossal waste of energy so I never
bothered. The counselor stopped me in the hall one day because I hadn't
been in, and said it was important that I know what I want to do with
my life. I told him I knew what I wanted to do: whatever I wanted,
whenever I wanted, and get paid for it. He just stared at me for a
few seconds, and never spoke another word to me. The answer still
just been given a chance to rework the industry, starting with the
major publishers and distribution companies, what do you do, what
DO you do?
it all to the ground and start over. And get a lot of publicity doing
we go, tell us something no one else knows. Something you've never
to, but there really isn't anything no one else knows. My life is
interesting enough to live through but remarkably dull to talk about.
I usually get up around 10:30 AM, eat breakfast by 11:30 (oh, here's
something: I use soy milk on my cereal. Not exactly a stunning revelation.
I've never told anyone because it's not worth talking about). I'll
get in the office between 12 PM and 1, deal with any mail or phone
calls, usually start work between 2-2:30. I work until around 6. Dinner,
then go shopping, watch TV, take care of household chores, whatever,
until 10 PM or so, then I go back to work around 10:30, usually until
4 or so AM, usually with a half hour to hour break in there somewhere.
Then I go to bed. That's a typical day, and I usually go like that
six or seven days a week. It's not a particularly exciting existence.
time! This is where you plug as many things as you want, comics, websites,
movies, old 8mm home films of you running around with a Superman cape,
home made jugs of 'Steve-O Cola' , novels, anything old, new, current
and upcoming, and crackers, mmmm, crackers, where to buy your books,
scripts, and whatever else. Anything that could somehow lead to you
getting lots and lots of money. LOTS. An immense amount, a huge amount,
tremendous, colossal, enormous, gigantic, vast, extensive, great.
AN infinite amount of cash, infinite I say, INFINITE, BWAH HA HA HA!
Enough money to rule the world! The World!!!!!!!!
All I really want to plug is my weekly column on the state and nature
of the comics profession, MASTER
OF THE OBVIOUS and @VENTURE.
It would be lovely if everyone bought lots of X-MAN. I'd especially
like it if everyone demanded their dealers get them a copy of the
BADLANDS trade paperback from Dark Horse. And if people just
want to send me random bundles of cash (in well-sealed, opaque packages,
please), that would be grand, and they can get my mailing address
from my Alleged
Fictions website. Thanks.
and I would like to thank Steven for participating in this interview
and recommend you pick up X-MAN and follow whatever instructions THE
MASTER bestows upon you.
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