Friday, June 27, 2008

Look: An Interview with Me

Here's something that was never published: a short interview Matt St. Pierre did with me a few months ago. Because even though I should post about how terrible Trinity is, I am at Six Flags the Children's Museum with my family today, and I have better things to do--like water slides!!! like puppets?--than worry about Bagley's mediocrity. So, here's the interview:

Matt St. Pierre: How long have you been interested in comics?


Tim Callahan: I've been reading comics since I was a kid, but I never really collected them or read them regularly until about middle school. What happened was that I had been buying "Web of Spider-Man" at the local grocery store, but I missed issue #1, and I was at some weird flea market place around that time and actually found issue #1 and when I got back to school--this must have been 7th or 8th grade--I told a friend that I found a place that actually sold OLD ISSUES OF COMIC BOOKS. And he was like, yeah, so what? There's a store in the neighboring town that does that. It was the now-defunct Imagine That on Dalton Avenue in Pittsfield, and once I saw their selection of comics both new and old, well... I've been buying comics on Wednesday ever since!

MSP: What about comics - the medium, superhero comics, graphic novels, and whatever else - is interesting to you? Why do you read them, follow them, keep up with them?

TC: Actually, the reason I even started buying scattershot issues of stuff like "Web of Spider-Man" back in the day was that I bought TSR's "Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game" and I liked reading about the characters so much in the guidebooks that I wanted to start reading the comics. I just didn't really know where to find them. Before the internet, information on comics and where to find them was scarce. And I pretty much bought all the "Marvel Superheroes" guidebooks and manuals and modules even though I never actually played the game ever. But I had a strange compulsion to learn everything about all of the characters, and then the "DC Heroes" role-playing game came out and so I got hooked on those characters too. I'm not even a gamer, really, but I liked reading ABOUT the characters and fictional universes. And once I found out about Imagine That, I was able to buy stuff like "Who's Who in the DC Universe" and "The Handbook to the Marvel Universe" and so I guess you could say that it was the vast array of superhero characters that fascinated me. I seriously read every single word of all of those character guides over and over. And traced the pictures, too.

All of this was coming out just as the big "event" comics were hitting -- stuff like "Secret Wars" or "Crisis" and then we got stuff like "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns." Basically from ages 12-15 I was exposed to all of this amazing new superhero stuff--arguably the height of the superhero genre--and I just loved the scope and tone of the stories, especially the darker ones I started reading, like "Miracleman" and, later, Grant Morrison's absurdist work on "Doom Patrol" and Neil Gaiman's "Sandman."

So at just the right age, superheroes were deeply lodged into my psyche. Now I read almost any kind of comic -- I've been catching up on Moebius's "Lt. Blueberry" work and I'm reading manga I've missed out on like "Lone Wolf and Cub" and "TekkonKinkreet" as well as the major work coming out from Top Shelf and Fantagraphics and Oni. But I prefer the superhero genre for its scope and beauty. When it works well, like Geoff Johns's recent work on "Green Lantern," or John Rogers "Blue Beetle," it's just great serialized storytelling that mixes the cosmic fun of sci-fi adventure with the humanity of an epic tragedy. The artists working in the medium are consistently amazing, and I just love stories that have words AND pictures.

Although I love reading literary novels, with my current teaching and writing schedule, and two young kids at home, I rarely have the time for the sustained attention a novel of any substance requires. Comics take about 10 minutes (at most) to read, and I can squeeze them into my life much easier, even when I'm reading 20 or 30 a week.

MSP: The book you wrote about Grant Morrison - what made you want to write about him, and how easy/difficult was it to get the ball rolling?

TC: I've told this story before, but one of the few fan letters I wrote as a teenager was in response to Morrison's first American work, and you can see my letter published in "Animal Man" #5. So I've been following his work ever since it appeared over here. I've tracked down pretty much everything he's ever written, even the more obscure British stuff (with the exception of the "Captain Clyde" newspaper strip he wrote and drew as a teenager), always with an eye on maybe writing a book about his work. I grew up thinking that he was the most interesting writer (not just comic book writer, but WRITER) ever, for the way he reimagined genre conventions and brought his unique voice to everything he did, and so I always assumed I would write something about him someday.

I met the Sequart.com guys at the first New York Comic-Con and I e-mailed them about doing a column on Morrison's work. They liked the idea, and as I spent literally 10-12 hours a week on the column, I knew I wasn't just writing a column--I knew I was writing chapters of a book. And then when they said, "hey, we think this might make a good book," I said, "I know. That's how I've been planning it." Originally, they wanted to wait until I was done with Morrison's entire career, but I had written so much about his early work--from "Zenith" to "Doom Patrol" that we all agreed that we already had a book on just that section of his career. And, frankly, I was burned out on Morrison and burned out on spending 10-12 weeks on the project, so I wasn't really going to be able to write about his later stuff without a break. (I'm still on that break, by the way, and although I tried to begin the proposed sequel to the book last year, I just don't have that much ambition to continue down that particular road right now. I began listing all of the allusions he makes in "The Invisibles," for example, and it was well over 120 references in just Volume 1, and although I'd planned on reading, or watching, or listening to every single thing he alluded to, I ultimately decided that I just wasn't that interested.)

MSP: Why did you start the blog and why do you continue with it?

TC: My writing career really began with the Sequart column. I had written a couple of online things before -- reviews for "Grayhaven Magazine" and other sites you've never heard of -- but I only started my GeniusboyFiremelon blog because I knew I was going to the first New York Comic-Con, and I wanted to do a report on my experiences. So I started the blog a couple of weeks prior to that, just playing around without much direction. It's hard to write a blog when you know you aren't going to have any readers. So I updated it sporadically, and when I posted my convention report a few people linked to me, and I got a few readers. And then I started the Sequart column and started to update the blog a bit more regularly, but not much.

Then, a year later, once the book hit Amazon, I made a concentrated effort to make the blog really work. I posted every day, knowing that, as a reader, I only read blogs that were updated regularly. I thought of my blog as a comic book and pop culture magazine, with me as the sole contributor, and that helped me stay focused. Plus, I was on my summer break, so I could devote the time to it. Since my book was getting some press and I was being interviewed at various places online, I was also picking up more visitors. Since I knew people were reading it, I had more motivation to keep posting. I also thought of it as a promotional tool. I advertised my book on the site, and I could trace a pretty direct correlation between how many hits I was getting and how much my book's Amazon.com ranking was improving. Of course, when school started back up in September I had to cut back, and my stats dropped accordingly. But after I got settled in with my new classes, I returned to a more regular blogging schedule and my blog actually landed me a job at Comic Book Resources where I now work as a regular reviewer, and I'll have a weekly column starting at the end of July. I was really hoping all of that work I was doing for free would pay off somehow, and it's starting to. Of course, now I have less time to write anything substantial for my blog, but that's okay. Each month the hits increase, and my added exposure elsewhere, plus my archive of material, has brought more people to check out what I'm doing.

Between the Comic Book Resources stuff, my Morrison book, my work on the "Teenagers from the Future" book, upcoming articles for "Back Issue" magazine, and my blog, I'm actually starting to get noticed a bit, and I'm starting to shop some work around to the bigger publishers. But I'm just getting started, honestly. My plans for world comic book domination are far from reached.

4 comments:

Ultimate Matt said...

Congrats on all the success Tim. Thanks for continuing to respond to the peons like me. Out of curiosity, have you ever read the Disinformation Guide to the Invisibles?

Timothy Callahan said...

I have, and I like the interviews and some of the annotations are helpful--a few--but the commentary is TERRIBLE. It's like, "Oh, I really like this issue. It's a good one. I didn't like it at first, but now I do."

But the interviews are worth the price of the book, I think.

Have you read it?

Ultimate Matt said...

Yeah, and my opinion is pretty much exactly the same as yours. The annotations are really interesting and the interviews are great.

matt st. pierre said...

I'm famous!