Monday, October 14, 2013

Interview with writer, creative editor at Caliber Press and publisher at Desperado/Image Joe Pruett

Negative Burn - Paul Pope cover
Negative Burn - Bill Koeb cover

1. You were the creative director of Caliber Press and you were the main man working on Negative Burn. How did you feel while giving the readers short stories by the greatest comic book authors ever such as: Alan Moore (with his illustrated songs), Brian Bolland (with Mr. Mamoulian), Paul Pope, Michael Gaydos, Terry Moore, Moebius, Dave Gibbons, Jim Mahfood, Dean Haspiel, P. Craig Russel among others?

 My time at Caliber was the best time of my professional life. Caliber had already been around for about three years before Gary Reed (Caliber's founder and publisher) and I meet and instantly clicked. I was pitching my creator-owned series KILROY IS HERE at the time, which Gary had interest in, but when it out bogged down with rotating artists (until Ken Meyer Jr. came to the rescue and helped me get the series up and going) I partnered with my brother, Jim, and our friend Charles Moore and we came up with the idea of doing an anthology title that would allow us to create more stories for ourselves, plus give us the chance to work with a number of our buddies. Chuck came up wit the title NEGATIVE BURN, which I instantly loved, and we decided that Chuck and I would act as co-editors and start approaching our friends to provide content. I sold the idea to Gary and the rest they say is history.

Negative Burn - Issue one

It was originally just going to be a one-shot, but as we got going we soon discovered that there was a big demand from the creative community for this type of project. I reached out to guys like Brian Bolland, Bob Burden (who gave me my big break in the business by hiring me as his assistant on FLAMING CARROT COMICS), and others. Chuck brought in Mike Wieringo to do a cover based on a short story of his that was drawn by future WITCHBLADE artist Randy Green. I, in turn, got then Savannah School of Art and Design, student, Andrew Robinson to paint a KILROY cover and thus the flip cover format for the first couple of issues of the series was born. (Side note: please check out Andrew's INCREDIBLE work on the soon-to-be-released THE FIFTH BEATLE graphic novel from Dark Horse. INCREDIBLE work! ) Then Gary told me that there was an abandoned horror anthology at Caliber called SPONGE that Phil Hester was involved in and had a number of short stories sitting around unused. I talked to Phil about bringing his inventory into NEGATIVE BURN and since then Phil has remained one of my closest friends in the industry.   At some point, former comic hack and sometime comic writer, Malcolm Bourne, became our de facto British liaison and was able to send over established guys like David Lloyd and up-and-comers like Laurence Campbell and others. 
David Lloyd - Kickback

Andrew Robinson  and Kyle Baker - THE FIFTH BEATLE

Before we knew it, the one-shot that we had envisioned had become an ongoing series. Chuck got busy with other things (day job and his own writing career), so after a few issues I took over the full editorial job and put all my energy and effort into making NEGATIVE GURN  the best damn anthology out there. I became obsessed to see who else I could get into the series, so I began reaching out all the comic creators I enjoyed and, to my surprise, got more an amazing response. I didn't get everyone I targeted, but I got most of them. The weirdest one I targeted but didn't get was John Mellencamp. I found that Mellencamp was a painter so I thought why not try to use one of his painting as a cover? Some distant relative of my wife had played in his bank during his early years, so her grandmother in Indiana hunted down Mellencamp's address for me. I sent him a comp package of issues with a letter (this was pre-email days) trying to convince him to let me use one of his paintings, but, alas, I never heard back from him. Oh well. It was worth a shot.
John Mellencamp - Painting

So,yes, to answer your question, it was an honor to work with and publish so many of the established stars and future stars in the industry. It was a dream come true for this life-long comics fan.
2. Negative Burn on my opinion was the best antology ever. Did you think at the time that this could be a big oportunity to expand reader's personal views of those great comic artists?  
Negative burn - Moebius cover
First off, thanks for the compliment. Secondly, I don't know if I thought about trying to expand reader's personal views of the creators. I just wanted to let the creator express their own personal views and to just give them an avenue to truly do whatever they wanted, without restrictions. I wasn't able to offer page rates as such, but I was able to offer pure freedom of expression. I think that's what most of the creators and most of the readers all related to and what gave NEGATIVE BURN such a voice.
3. In 2004 you created Desperado and partnered with Image Comics. Was it difficult to start your own publishing company?
Desperado publishing logo
 Yes. Very difficult. I didn't have financial investment at the time and I was independently wealthy, so took out a second mortgage on my house and got took out another loan and a modest credit-line at the bank to get up and running. Like NEGATIVE BURN, I had envisioned starting small, but as Desperado was announced and my partnership with Image was cemented I was offered all these really great projects and such that Desperado jumped out publishing a lot more volume that I originally anticipated. I moved in with Gaijin Studios (which at the time was Cully Hamner, Karl Story, Adam Hughes, Brian Stelfreeze, Stine Walsh, and Kelsey Shannon) and hired my right-hand "man," April Doster. In looking back, I expanded too quickly and the money flowed out too rapidly without getting the return I needed. The back-breaker though was that when I left Image to go off on my own in 2006 the economy almost immediately tanked and our sales dropped in half overnight and never recovered. I eventually partnered with IDW in 2009, but by that time we were only able to really focus on the art book line and our days as a comic book publisher were pretty much in the past. 

 4. You also created amazing artbooks by people such as Brian Bolland,(that won an Eisner), P.Craig Russell (Eisner nominee), Jeffrey Jones, Tim Bradstreet, Joe Jusko, among others. Do you feel proud on these Editions?
The art of P.Craig Russel

The Art of Brian Bolland

The Art of Joe Jusko

The Art of Timothy Bradstreet
The Art of Jeffrey Jones
I feel VERY proud of these editions. The art book line was something I wanted to do from day one, but it took a little bit of time to get them up and running. I didn't originally plan on "doing" them myself. After all, I was running the entire company and putting out 5-7 titles per month and didn't have the time or know-how to do the work.  But after going through a few graphic designers who either wouldn't or couldn't get the work done,  I threw up my hands and jumped in headfirst and taught myself how to design and create the books myself. To be honest, they are a LOT of work. But it turned out to be a creative outlet that I hadn't had since I was a full time writer a few years back in my X-MEN days. Plus, I love learning new things, so learning how to design these books was not only challenging, but rewarding. When the work is done I can hold up one of these five pound volumes and not only see the result of my creative endeavors, but FEEL the weight of it. :-) Plus, working with all these truly legendary artists and putting their life's work into a massive tome that, hopefully, they can be proud of is a reward in itself.
X-men - Joe Pruett
 5. I remember reading your short stories of the saga KILROY IS HERE and loving them a lot. Were you inspired on some TV series or movies to do this saga?
Kilroy is here - GN
 Not really. KILROY IS HERE is something that just came to me one day while I was working as Bob Burden's assistant and learning all about this industry. I had in my mind that I was going to be an artist at some point, but after working in the industry and meeting all these truly great artists I began to realized that I didn't have the talent (or speed) to be an artist, so i turned my attention to becoming a writer. The first thing I needed to do, of course, is come up with something catchy. Unlike most want-to-be comic creators, I didn't want to work at Marvel or DC. Sure, I grew up a Marvel Zombie, but by the high school years I had been introduced to all the great work going on in the independent market of the 80s. PC Comics, Eclipse Comics, CEREBUS, First Comics, Dark Horse, Caliber, etc. I wanted to create my own stories with my own characters.

I don't remember why KILROY IS HERE came to me, but I remember that I was thinking about the old World War II tag "Kilroy was here" and thought, hey, what if there was a character actually called Kilroy? And instead of signing he "was here" that he's cross out the "was" and add "is" here. I thought, hey, that's pretty catchy and then started coming up with his character and his story. Being heavily into what Vertigo was doing at the time, I went with a supernatural "feel" and tried to channel Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, etc.  and then tried to mix in my love for history and obscure current events around the world that escape most everyday attention. I probably wasn't too successful, but I'm proud of the series and would really love to return to the KILROY world at some point. In fact, I already have started to flesh out some notes and ideas that may lead to Kilroy's return in the near future. More on that as it becomes more of a reality.
Kilroy was here - Graffiti

 6. I really loved a book that was released by Desperado that caught me completely off-guard at the time and that was BLUE by Elizabeth Genko and Sami Makkonen. It was mind blowing in my opinion. Do you think that it could make a good movie if it was adapted into cinema?
Blue by Elizabeth Genko and Sami Makkonen
 Sure, I think if had the right screenwriter and director attached to it, it could make a fine film. BLUE is a book that I remember feeling the same way as you do when I first saw it. I honestly can't remember exactly how it came to me. I think Elizabeth and Sami had done something in the second series of NEGATIVE BURN I had started up at Desperado and Elizabeth had perhaps sent over BLUE to see if I was interested. Both the story and the art were captivating to me so I offered to publish it as a stand-alone graphic novel, something I would never usually do with two unknown creators, as it is such a financial risk. Later, when Frank Beddor was looking for a replacement for Ben Templesmith on his HATTER M graphic novels, I suggested Sami to him and they ended up working on, I think, four graphic novels together. Also, when we were doing a relaunch for DEADWORLD, I thought Sami would be perfect for the job and Gary Reed agreed. So, BLUE, while not being a money maker, was one of my favorite projects and really set Sami up for quite a while. :-) Good for him.
Frank Beddor - HATTER M - Ben Templesmith

Deadworld - Gary Reed and Sami Makkonen

7. Your path and Gary Reed one was really similar. You started together at Caliber (the best comic publisher on my opinion). Then later at Desperado you continued NEGATIVE BURN and even published DEADWORLD. What I find unique and uncommon is that besides you being divided as publishers you never had a rivalry or competition among publishers (Gary promoted your books and you promoted Gary's ). How did you managed to follow different paths without competition and being friends all this time even on business?

Negative Burn 21 - Desperado

Well, Gary and I have never actually been competitors. We worked together at Caliber (with Gary being my boss while I was Creative Director there) and then when I started Desperado Publishing up I went to Gary for advice and properties. Gary, while never actually on staff per say, has been a big part of Desperado since I started it, helping out in numerous and important ways. DEADWORLD, which Gary owns the copyright too, was one of the first comic series I went after, even brining back the original DEADWORLD artist Vince Locke to work with Gary on the series. Desperado reprinted a number of old Caliber series: ST. GERMAINE, RED DIARIES, KILROY, UNTOUCHABLES, BLACK MIST, etc. If anything, Desperado has always been an extension of Caliber. Gary and I have always worked together. I help him out as needed. He helps me out as needed. Actually, there's something else that we're currently working on together that will be exciting if it ultimately happens. Crossing our fingers. More on that later.

Gary Reed and Vince Locke - Saint Germaine

Red Diaries by Gary Reed

Deadworld - Gary Reed and Vince Locke
8. Who are your favorite comic book authors that appeared at Caliber? And which one are your favorite ones ever?
I'm going to do this off the top of my head, so my apologizes to any creators that I might miss.

These are some of my favorite creators that either started at Caliber or came there near the beginnings of their career: Michael Lark, Mike Allred, Phil Hester, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Paul Pope, Scott Morse, Laurene Campbell, Mike Perkins, Ken Meyer Jr. Vince Locke, Guy Davis, Gary Reed, David Mack, Brian Bendis, Nabiel Kanan, Budd Root, Andrew Robinson, Garth Ennis, Ed Brubaker, and a host of others. 
David Mack - Kabuki - Caliber comics
Airwaves by Michael Lark at Caliber
Ed Brubaker - Monkey Wrench - Caliber

My favorite classic creators: P. Craig Russell, Brian Bolland, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Bob Burden, Tony Harris, Butch Guice, Moebius, Jim Starlin, Dave Stevens, Dave Sim.
Alan Moore's Songbook - Caliber
Alan Moore song drawn by Neil Gaiman
Negative Burn - cover by Bob Burden
Dave Sim - Cerebus
 My favorite contemporary creators: Brian K. Vaughan, Jerome Opena, Rick Remender, Jonathan Hickman, Scott Snyder, Amanda Conner, Esad Ribic
Amanda Conner
Thor by Esad Ribic
9. How does an American publisher sees the European market? ( I remember El Catalan, publishing there Hugo Pratt, Jordi Bernet, Carlos Sampayo and José Muñoz, Caliber publishing Moebius and Fantagraphics publishing other European Indie artists like: Trondheim, Joost Swarte, Jason, Tardi among many others as well)..
Hugo Pratt - Indian Summer - El Catalan
José Muñoz - Joe's Bar - El Catalan

Joost Swarte - Fantagraphics

Jacques Tardi - Fantagraphics

Speaking for myself, I admire the variety and production values of the European marketplace. I think I have a lot of the same sensibilities as a lot of European publishers, and, in fact, have always seemed to have a large fan presence in my work at Caliber and Desperado from foreign markets, probably as a result of the shared sensibilities. Plus, I've always worked with creators from all over the world, (England, France, Norway, Croatia, etc.) so that probably helps as well. If I had my way, we'd do all our projects in the traditional European Album format, but it's not financially feasible as that ties the money up for a long time before you start to see a return on your investment. If I had a lot of money in the bank though that would be the way I would publish.

10. Do you see the European comic book market as a confusing one with the several languages here or is it easy to understand this market nowadays with everything online?

  The language is not a a barrier for me as for as understanding the marketplace. It is a barrier to me in terms of being able to read the work though. :-) I wish that the American marketplace would except the European work in translated editions much more easily than we do. We're missing out on a large inventory of truly beautiful work.
11. On 2009 Desperado partnered with a huge company in IDW. Do you think that you lost a bit of your independence while joining them?
Well, we had partnered with a large company in Image Comics when we first started publishing, so it wasn't that much of a difference. If anything, IDW helped me in terms of realizing the difference between publishing from your heart (taking chances on projects that I personally love) and publishing from a business point-of-view (doing a better of job of forecasting profit/loss margins). I learned a lot on the business side of things while with IDW that I wish I had had when I was just stating out. Probably would have made a difference in the health of Desperado. But, yes, you do lose some independence when partnered with a larger company. As long as it allows me to continue doing the things I want to do though it evens out. My ego isn't so big that I can't take feedback. In fact, it's less stressful when you have a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. IDW (and Image, for that matter) were always great in that regard. I enjoy working with others. 
12. How do you see the future of the comic books with ebooks, ipad's and digital Comics?

I'm not going to stick my head in the ground and say that comics aren't changing and I'm  not going to say that it's changing for the bad. Whatever can move this industry forward and keep it viable is good by me. Of course, I'm a traditionalist and I like having a comic in my hands to read and don't really read comics digitally, yet. I don't think it has to be either one way or the other. There's room for both platforms and I hope they both continue to succeed. 

13. Are you also an avid World History reader?
I wouldn't say I was an "avid" world history reader, but, yes, I love history and always like learning or discovering something new. I easily get hooked on documentaries or TV specials or a news report on the internet or whatnot. I find knowing what has coming before and what is going on in today's work (information you don't usually get on your network news programs, as it seems to be focused on hating on the opposite political party of your choosing or on what the name of the newest Hollywood baby happens to be).

14.  What are your favourite comic book series ever?
Off the top of my head, I'd probably have to say WATCHMEN. THE ROCKETEER and the first half of CEREBUS being two others. Of course, FLAMING CARROT. I'll actually say that FLAMING CARROT is what not only got me back into reading comics toward the end of the my college career after I had fallen out of the comic collecting habit, but it also is what got me my start in the comic industry as a career. Thank you, Bob Burden, for answering my letter about breaking in tot he business and then having the wisdom of offering me a job!
Bob Burden - Flaming Carrot

Flaming Carrot comics by Bob Burden

Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Dave Stevens - Rocketeer
Dave Sim - Cerebus