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    10 Questions with A. David Lewis

    By Tim Leong

    CHAMBER OF SECRETS
    A. David Lewis has his fingers crossed. His last book, The Lone and Level Sands, won the Howard E. Day memorial prize and garnered three Harvey Award nominations. The writer is hoping for similar success with his next project, Empty Chamber, when it hits stands this September. Lewis talked with CF about the book and his secret plan to be the only doctor in comics.

    1. The Lone and Level Sands received crazy amounts of praise and awards. How did that feel?
    It felt great, of course. I would like to say that I don’t care about praise or accolades, that it’s all about the art to me, but I’d be lying. I care a great deal about the story, about the art, and about the “act of creation,” yeah, but getting response to the work is sensational as well. Positive reaction, especially, only makes it better!

    2. Empty Chamber and The Lone and Level Sands are both published through the Caption Box imprint you started. What’s been the toughest thing about starting and a publishing division and keeping it afloat?
    I’d say that both perseverance and publicity are the two most difficult elements. That is, staying in the public eye while pushing forward a project that is largely your own responsibility can be demanding. It may sound nice, to be on your own timetable, but really, for an imprint or creator to be taken seriously in any way, there’s some level of visibility and dependability that’s still required.

    3. What has been your personal marketing strategy for your books?
    Oh, I can’t claim to have had too savvy of a master plan. As I said, remaining visible is important, even if it’s not for one’s own work, so taking an active interest in other projects through message boards, conventions, and blogs is always smart. Also, maintaining a database of retailers and alerting them to new products (and providing them with previews) is excellent. Lastly, it’s best to sow the field early, releasing early sketches and vignettes from a book long in advance of selling or soliciting it.

    4. You founded Ever-Ending Battle, a research study focused on the relationship between superhero comic books and mortality. What do you hope to learn from it? What have you discovered so far?
    I discovered that there are a lot of people thinking the same thing: What’s the deal with death and superheroes? Moreover — and a little disconcertingly — I’ve also found that a lot of people take resurrection and the afterlife as pretty normal in storytelling. It’s kind of extraordinary, if you ask me, yet remarkably pervasive in the superhero genre. So, I founded Ever-Ending Battle to begin amassing data on the phenomenon. Both Infinite Crisis and, to a lesser degree, House of M began to address the issue of superhero over-resurrection, but it continues to be a bizarre convention of the cape-and-mask set. So, I hope to continue adding to it in 2007 with my time at Boston University.

    5. Sands obviously has a strong religious connection. Considering there aren’t too many religion-based comics out there, were you worried from a sales/marketing point of view?

    I wouldn’t say we were worried, but Marv (Perry Mann, artist) and I knew it’d be a tough sell. If anything, we hoped that there would be a nice crossover effect – that religious youth groups, educators, historical fiction buffs and graphic novel readers would all be intrigued by the book. Archaia Studios Press certainly was, and they’ve made a good deal of headway into all of those markets.

    6. Speaking of, why don’t you think there aren’t more religious-themed books out there?
    Again, they could get pigeonholed, limiting their sales to a more secular base. But, you know, while I’m a farily secular guy myself, overall, I’m actually surprised by the surge of religious comics entering the mainstream lately. There’s Testament at Vertigo, Chosen by Mark Millar, a great Samson: Judge of Israel graphic novel, Marked by Steve Ross, Megillat Esther by J.T. Waldman, and so on. I mean, not all of it is for me, per se, but there’s at least variety out there. Frankly, I think Kingdom Come demonstrates a really nice religious influence without being heavy-handed. So, it’s definitely out there, but whether it will appeal to mainstream readers really depends on the delivery.

    7. Your titles aren’t exactly coming out at record pace. What is your prep/production process like?
    Ha! You noticed, eh?

    Really, I only move on concepts that really interest me; I’m not impulsive in choosing a project to develop. It has to not only speak to me but also have a reason for being told as well as some sort of market viability. If that all manages to line up, then I have the three-pronged process of researching the story, creating a narrative outline and contacting various artists with whom to potentially work. Fortunately, this process has been accelerating over the years, allowing for there to be less and less interim time between publications. And, ultimately, I may be able to step out of the “producer” role entirely and just focus on the writing — in fact, I’m thinking that this shift might be coming sooner than later.

    8. Is your schooling just a plan to be one of the only comics writers that can be credited as “Dr.”? How is your post-graduate work helping you as a writer/creator?
    Wouldn’t that be funny, if I was going for the PhD just so I could create a great supervillain name: Dr. Comic-Geek!

    No, in all seriousness, I’ve always enjoyed balancing my creative life with my academic life. That is, I knew a while back that, as an adult, I hoped to write and teach — I just never knew which would pay the rent. For that matter, I never really keep them that far apart. Whether it’s the Ever-Endingly Battle project or research for The Lone and Level Sands, there’s a definite overlap. What I learn in school is definitely enriching for my writing, whether it lays the foundation for a story idea or simply exposes me to other literature. Conversely, the arena of the graphic novel is becoming increasingly interesting to the scholarly community, especially when it can be tied coherently to something like the traditions of literary theory or narratology.

    If anything, I’m surprised there aren’t more folks walking this dual tightrope of creative and academic output. Scott McCloud is obviously a forerunner, and certainly people like Danny Fingeroth have made the transition. I think more creators, mainstream and indie alike, should get involved with organizations like the National Association of Comic Art Educators (ww w.nacae.org), the Comic Arts Conference held annually at the San Diego Comic-Con, or the International Journal of Comic Art (ijoca.com). Rather than choose a side, I’d welcome people to come walk the line with me.

    9. Mortal Coils and Sands were both graphic novels while Chamber is serialized. How did your writing approach (pacing) change?
    Well, Mortal Coils wasn’t originally a graphic novel. The first bit of it was serialized, but then I collected it with additional material for the trade paperback (later followed by the FCBD edition of further new material). Still, formatting the stories as stand-alone yet interconnected anthology stories definitely required a different pacing than either Empty Chamber or Lone and Level Sands.

    For Empty Chamber, I suppose I saw it more as a movie. I’ve said before, this is eaily my most mainstream project to date: an action-espionage adventure, fully of explosions, quips, and shoot ‘em ups. It’s not my standard arena…but, then again, I’m okay with the idea that I don’t actually have one easy genre.

    Essentially, I wrote my outline, as I normally do, and then matched it to an act structure. There were roughly four distinct acts combined with a Prologue and Epilogue. I knew I could either deliver it as a standalone graphic novel or break it cleanly in half, which is what I ultimately decided to do. When Jason Copland officially became part of the project, I showed him a page-by-page outline (keeping it to, say, only one sentence per page), which we agreed worked best to keep things active and exciting.

    10. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the comics industry?
    I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as an overnight success. Except my friend David Petersen with Mouse Guard. He’s the exception that proves the rule.

    Posted by Tim Leong on July 6th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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