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Tyler James (@TylerJamesComic on Twitter) is a comic book creator residing in Newburysport, Massachusetts. Among his creations are “Over” (as writer & artist) and “Tears of the Dragon” (as writer). His work has been featured at Zuda Comics, DC Comics’ webcomics initiative, and includes “Interrogation Control Element” and “Super Seed”. Additionally, Tyler writes a few columns on making comics, including “Creating Comics! The Art + Craft” at the popular news and reviews site, “Comic Related”, and “The ComixStreet Recap” at his own site. He also teaches comics locally to adults and children. When not making comics, he works as a game designer and content producer for a software company. “Talk Nerdy To Me Lover” did a Q&A (Questions & Answers) with Tyler to peel back the layers of mystery and discover what makes him tick.
Q: Tyler, what are you currently working on?
A: I like to keep a number of plates spinning at once, and also enjoy exploring a number of different genres. For some projects, I work entirely solo while others are collaborative efforts with other talents.
Right now, my main focus has been producing “Over”, an on-line graphic novel that updates 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). It is sort of a “bro-mantic” comedy, a cross between “Chasing Amy” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. It’s the story of “Felix Hughes,” an indy comic writer struggling to get over an ex-girlfriend who broke his heart. After all the usual remedies (booze, other women, awful self-help tricks, etc.), Felix makes a graphic novel recounting every painful detail of the failed relationship. Half a year after the book is finished, Felix is convinced that he’s created a work of romantic brilliance, and expects the book to bring him fame, fortune, a visit to Oprah’s couch, and possibly even his ex-girlfriend back. Unfortunately, the graphic novel is completely unpublishable (re: crapola), and threatens to destroy his relationships, his career, and his chance of finding love again. “Over” takes the bulk of my time (since I’m writing and drawing it myself).
I’m also enjoying doing “Tears of the Dragon” (which I am writing and producing), an epic fantasy web-comic. Essentially, it’s my love letter to movies like “The Princess Bride,” Willow,” and “Lord of the Rings”. “Tears of the Dragon” tells the story of a well-traveled Old Man and his two young grandchildren making a long journey to the homeland of the old man’s beloved and children’s grandmother. To pass the time the children request a story and the old man delivers a grand tale that begins with two dragons in love, and a would-be king who slays one of the dragons to win the crown.
The first chapter of “Tears of the Dragon” has recently been completed and is now available in print. The second chapter is scheduled to start updating in March.
These are two projects that are currently out in the world for consumption, but I want to tease one more that’s in development, slated for a summer 2010 that I’m completely fired up about. I’m co-creating a comic called, “EPIC,” with Matt Zolman, an outstanding artist. “EPIC” will be bringing super teen hijynx to new heights, and we’re challenging ourselves to deliver a book that has everything that’s fun about superhero comics… zany supervillians, over-the-top action, bizarre love triangles and quadrangles, and a twist that to the best of my knowledge has NEVER been done (those are hard to come by these days).
Right now, pages are in production and we’re interviewing colorists to join our team.
Q: How did you get started in creating comics?
A: I’ve been making comics since middle school. I never really had any formal training as an artist. I just read a ton of comics as a kid, and one day decided I had my own stories to tell. I was pretty committed to it all throughout middle school and high school, churning out a number ofof full-length comics. Going to college, where the lure of girls and beer (oh, and class, too) took me away from the drawing table. And it wasn’t until several years later after college that I returned to making comics. It was slow going at first, but a lot like riding a bike. The old skills were still there, just a little bit rusty.
What really got me back into comics was taking a course on comic book scriptwriting. There, I wrote the script for “Super Seed” (my comic about the world’s first super-powered fertility clinic), which would later go on to become my first published work.
Q: Do you have a comic partner? If so, who?
A: I’ve done a number of collaborations and really enjoy the process. There’s something to be said for doing it all yourself, but very rarely is a successful comic the work of just one person. Right now, there are a few people I’m really enjoying working with.
There’s Matt Zolman, great artist with a very clean, poppy superhero style. I knew I wanted to work with him at some point when I first became familiar with his work. While I usually think of the story first, plot that out, work on the script and THEN go and try to find an artist to work with… this time I flipped the whole process. I saw Matt’s work and thought… hmm… “what book would he be great for?” And the result of the brainstorming would be “EPIC,” a new teen superhero book that we are co-creating. Working with him has been a blast, and I have high hopes for the series.
On “Tears of the Dragon,” I’m working with an Indonesian artist named, Koko Amboro, who is doing the drawing.
Q: What is your job for the comic? Are you just the writer, artist… or both?
A: It depends on the project. I spent three years working on “Super Seed” and in that time, I did it all… writing, art, colors, letters… the whole shebang. In 2008, I decided I wanted to expand my brand, and started partnering up with a number of incredible artists to get some new books off the ground.
I think it’s important for a creator to know his or her strengths and limitations, as well as the requirements of the project at hand. For example, for a book like, “EPIC,” to succeed in a crowded market place, it needs outstanding art. So, I recognized that this would call for me partnering with a great artist (Matt Zolman), with a strong style that suits the content.
On the other hand, some projects (ones that are more story driven), don’t necessarily need set the world on fire to find and an audience and resonate with people.
Q: What comic company are you currently working for?
A: Right now, I’m doing it “independently” (creator owned work). In the past, I’ve had work featured at Zuda comics, DC Comics on-line imprint. Cashing checks from DC Comics was definitely a cool milestone for me.
Q: What is the favorite comic that you’ve worked on in the past?
A: While I love what I’m working on now, last summer, I wrote a “political thriller” called, “ICE: Interrogation Control Element,” about a military interrogator tasked with training the next generation of interrogators how to break the world’s deadliest terrorists, and do it legally. It was an absolute joy working with Damian Couceiro, an outstanding artist, on that project. It was in the running for a contract with Zuda Comics, and while it came up a little short, it was extremely well-received.
Q: What kind of comics did you read growing up as a kid? Which ones were your favorite?
A: Growing up, I went through phases. There was my “Superman” phase, where Mom had to constantly remind me not to jump off the couch because I could not in fact fly. Then in pre-school, I spent my days making “Batman” utility belts out of construction paper and tape. And I finally settled into a “Spider-Man” phase for a while (he was my absolute favorite). But I became a serious comics fan in the early 90’s when Image Comics exploded onto the scene. The problem I always had with DC and Marvel was that there was decades of backstory to all these individual characters. I’d never be able to read it all. But with Image Comics, I was getting in on the ground floor with a new universe. It was great. And its cool to see that many of the movers and shakers in comics today were also really into comics around that time, too.
Q: Which comic character do you currently like? And why?
A: “Red Crow” was from Jason Aaron’s “Scalped”. I’ve always been fascinated with bad guys/villains who we gradually come to root for.
Q: Which comic films really impressed you and which ones just disappointed the hell out of you? And why?
A: The Good — “Iron Man”, “Dark Knight”, “Watchmen”, “Blade” 1 & 2″, “Spider-Man” 1 & 2″, “X-Men” 1 & 2″
The comic book movies that seem to work the best are the ones that stand up perfectly as films, too. “The Dark Knight” was a great crime story. “Iron Man” was a killer action flick with a great sense of humor. Comic flicks that respect the source material but at the same time follow the rules about what makes things work on screen seem to come out best.
The Bad — “Daredevil”, “Electra”, “Ghostrider”
Q: What do you think the future is for the comic industry? How do you see it evolving?
A: The writing, art, and coloring of comics have never been better. Combine that with the fact that mass audiences are increasingly becoming aware of comic-related properties due to the success of big-budget Hollywood films. I’m optimistic about the future of comics.
With web comics, it’s never been easier for new comic creators to publish work and build an audience. The barriers to entry are so low, there are really no excuses anymore for anyone with a desire to create comics not to give it a shot. At the same time, the print media industry is on shaky ground all over (text books, paperbacks, newspapers big time) and comics are not immune to that either. So, major publishers are probably less likely to take chances on new talent.
Plenty of people are looking for the magic formula to “break in” to comics. I think “breaking in” is increasingly becoming a meaningless phrase. You want to become a comic creator, its pretty simple. Make a comic. Publish it. Build an audience. Don’t be a jerk. Make more comics. Get better. Build a bigger audience. The creators I admire are the ones in the trenches, putting their heads down and doing the work.
Q: Which artist/writer in the comic industry influenced you the most growing up?
A: It’s hard to say. Growing up, I was a sponge, and my style has been influenced by so many artists. I will buy anything that has Frank Miller’s name on it.
Q: How often do you go to comic conventions? If you do, do you dress up in costume? Have you gone as a “fan” or a “vendor”?
A: Last year, I did four comic conventions as a creator in “artist alley,” mostly attending the Baltimore Comic Con. I also attended the New York Comic Con as a fan. No, I don’t dress up, but occasionally I’ll rock a “Captain America” shirt if I need to get my con game face on. I really enjoy doing shows. Creating comics is such a laborious and often solitary process. Conventions are the time to be social, interact with current fans and meet new ones, talk shop with other creators, and just celebrate comics.
Q: What do you think about “nerds”?
A: While no one was looking, “nerds” took over the world. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, James Cameron, Mark Zuckerberg... these are the guys that set the table today. They’re the ones making things happen, driving the conversation, changing the status quo. And by all definition, they’re all “nerds”.
I really think “nerd” could be used to describe any person who is shamelessly passionate about something. I mean, even the guy who was your high school quarterback totally geeks out over fantasy football stats for fives months of the year. Is it really that much different from your gamer nerd or comic geek?
And the cool thing is, I think it’s become more and more acceptable to get your nerd on about things you love. What’s not cool? Apathy.
Q: Are there any websites you shamelessly want to plug?