Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tyler James Interview/ How does he find the time?

Here is a interview I did with Tyler James. I first noticed his work as artist/writer of Super Seed in Zuda (and voted for it), since then he has gone on to do even more projects. Over, Tears of the Dragon.... -I'll let him tell you all about it. :)

1. Superheroes, fantasy, adventure, romance, humor do you consciously want to have a go at every genre to see what you can do?

Good question! I was thinking about this myself the other day. A quick glance at my various projects and you'd think I was paranoid of being typecast. Not that I should be can't be typecast if you haven't built a name for yourself yet! I am enjoying taking a stab at various genres, however, and I think it is a reflection of the fact that my tastes in comics have expanded. 15 years ago, if it wasn't a super hero book, I wasn't buying it. But over the years, I've expanded the scope of books I read. Frank Miller's Sin City stuff was probably the first non-super hero books I really got into. Now, a good portion of the books I'm most jazzed about don't have any guys in tights pounding each other. (That doesn't sound right.) But books like Scalped, The Walking Dead, and Y: The Last Man have really proven to me how capable the comics medium is at tackling all sorts of stories.

Don't get me wrong though. I don't want to stray too far from the super hero genre. In fact, it's taking a lot of restraint to not jump into a new capes idea that I think will probably be my most marketable project yet. Plus I still need to finish up Super Seed's fourth issue. But the big goal for me over the past year was to expand my brand, and start collaborating with some great artists to create new properties. When I was conducting my search for art talent, I played the "match the artist to a story" game. For example, when I first saw the work of Koko Amboro, it just screamed fantasy book, and forced me to dust off Tears of the Dragon, a story I had in the back of my head for years. Because I do teach some younger students about creating comics at one of the local middle schools, it was important for me to have an all-ages story in my portfolio, so it just clicked that now was a great time to do Tears. It's not a conscious effort to do a little of everything, but sometimes you just have to follow your inspiration. The cool thing is, by the end of this year, I think I'm going to be confident that no matter what type of comics reader passes my table at a con, I'll have something they might be interested in checking out.

2. Any concerns being a 'romance' strip might limit the audience of Over?

Actually, quite the opposite. While the summers are known for blockbuster action (and lately super hero) movies, every year there's at least one romantic comedy that hauls in $150 million. The rom-com is a genre that's here to stay. Granted, they aren't very well represented in your typical comic book shops. But that's okay. Because I think the target audience for Over is actually broader than your typical LCS goer. Over touches on some universal themes that could appeal to a very broad audience. Hell, everyone has had their heart broken. And a lot of people end up doing some pretty ridiculous things in the process of trying to get over a bad break up, so I think Felix's plight is very relatable. Because I made Felix a comic book writer, there are still plenty of inside jokes and comics industry references that I think the average comic book fan is really going to find funny. The biggest question I have is whether or not there's a market for a romantic comedy with a comic creator protagonist NOT written by Kevin Smith. Hope so.

And additionally, Over is an ONLINE graphic novel, and there are plenty of examples of successful webcomics that blend romance and comedy successfully (Girls With Slingshots, Anders Loves Maria, etc.) While I certainly think my story is unique, I don't think I'm doing anything groundbreaking here. Just telling a story, and hoping people will show up.

3. You wrote on the site you made an effort to identify and eliminate typical genre cliches. I tend to think of genre cliches as short hand that makes it easier for readers to follow a story. You don't want to go overboard of course, but they do have a purpose and to a extent are expected. Would you expand on what cliches you red lined out of the script, and what others (besides waking up) you left in Over?

[RKB], you make a great point about cliches. I've heard it said that what people want when they open a comic book, crack a novel, or plop down in a movie theater seat is something "the same, but different." An oxymoron, for sure, but it's true. When I read a Bendis book, I know I'm in for some sparkling dialogue and a few twists and turns I won't see coming. Now, the specific banter and particular plot twists are going to be different every time, but the general reading experience is usually the same. And that's why I'm willing to plop down $4 for his books.

After an initial false start with a story approach to Over that just wasn't working, I found a new direction, and crafted a beginning middle and end that I was happy with. However, the story I had didn't fit neatly into any one genre. If it was a romance, it wasn't romantic enough. If it was a dark comedy, it wasn't funny enough. I decided I wanted to tell a romantic comedy, and then really studied the structure of the genre. I read screenplays, watched flicks, and picked up the excellent book "Writing the Romantic Comedy" by Billy Mernit. And I realized that there were some rules of the rom-com that could be bent, and some that couldn't. So, over the course of several drafts, I feel I've managed to produce a story that hits all of the major beats expected in rom coms, but does so in a unique way with my own point of view. The same, but different.

Now, cliches...Generally, I think writers fall prey to the scourge of cliche when they go with the first idea that comes to there head. For example, in Over, I had a story beat, one every rom com needs, "the cute meet." You know, that romantic chance meeting that kicks off the love affair. So, I wrote what I thought was a funny little scene where Felix and Faith meet for the first time. It was the first scene that came to mind and it took place in a bar. Unfortunately, you can't get much more cliche than "man and woman meet in a bar." And there were some other elements that were too familiar to other movies. This is what happens sometimes when you go with the first idea in your head, what may seem like "your idea" is just a mish mash of stuff you've already seen or read. To a certain extent, that's okay, but do it too much, and it's trouble. I recognized I could do better than the scene I had written, and a few drafts later, I changed the setting of their "cute meet" and created a scene that I haven't seen before. And I think it's funnier as a result.

4. You don't just have your comic on the site, you have a great deal of extra content, parts of a film script/ play lists and the like. How important is it for you -and web comics in general- to reward readers like this?

I think it's very important. To build an audience and grow readership for a webcomic, you need to create a habit in the reader of visiting your site. The average white collar 9-5er might have 5-15 "non-essential" sites they visit as a part of their daily routine as a break from the daily grind. As a webcomics creator, the goal is to make your site one of those destinations. This is why the number one rule in webcomics is to establish an update schedule, promote the update schedule, and STICK TO the update schedule. The best update schedule is a daily one. This is part of the reason for the success of PVP, Sheldon, Evil Inc, etc. A reason to visit a site every day is an effective way to build that habit in a potential reader, and turn them from a reader to a fan. Think about the early days of Zuda. Despite having the backing of DC/Warner Bros. and a tremendous amount of interest and coverage, when they launched it was great for the first day, and then it was a ghost town for a month, waiting for new content to show. Now that they've built up their offerings to offer new content every day, I expect we'll continue to see Zuda's readership grow.

While I'd love to update Over every single day, I simply can't draw that fast. Even though I've stripped down my art style to a more cartoony, minimalist style than I'm used to, and abandoned color for gray-scale with tones, three pages a week is about all I can produce. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is an ambitious, but achievable update schedule that I can stick to. But, learning the lesson from other successful webcomics, I still want to provide a reason for people to visit the site every day. That's where the extra content comes in. All of it is tailored to the theme of Over, and while I'm sure some readers will ignore it, others might end up being just as interested in things like Felix's Playlist than the actual comic. We'll see how it goes. They say content is king, and I'm trying to provide a reason to for my readers to put my site in their rotation and give me 15-30 seconds of their time each day.

5. With Over/ Tears of the Dragon/ Counter Terror/ a comics related column/ and I believe still set to teach another course on comics creation, how big of a worry is it for you that they're not enough hours in a week for all this work your doing?

Busy is good, [RKB]! Better than the alternative, anyway. Now is my time to give this comics thing an honest try, and that's just requiring me to put my head down and bust it for a while. I don't have any kids yet, and the only woman I'm beholden to is Sallie Mae, so now is probably the best time in my life to try to get some traction with my creative endeavors. The Creating Comics! classes are just a once a week thing, and a ton of fun, so I hardly even count those.

6. What other projects might be in your future readers could expect to see?

June was a big month for me, with the launch of both Over and my Creating Comics! The Art + Craft column at Comic Related. But July...July is going to be nuts.

Tears of the Dragon kicks off it's run online on July 14, and will update weekly on Tuesdays. Tears is my all-ages fantasy tale, and it's been a blast to work on. I'm writing it, it's drawn by Koko Amboro and colored by Paul Little. And though I'm hardly objective, Tears will be one of the prettiest damn comics on the internets. Hope you'll be checking it out.

I'll also be running the "Poster Child" storyline of Super Seed on its website for the first time starting in July. This has been the most popular story arc of the series, and it'll be good to have it on the site for all to read. I will also start posting some pages of CounterTERROR, an action/horror mash up I worked on with artist Stefano Cardoselli, another former Zuda contestant, as well.

Over will continue it's thrice weekly updating and the story will really get moving. And every Monday, my column will continue to run over at CR. The best way to keep up with all of these projects is to check out my website or to follow me on Twitter @tylerjamescomic.

And you know what the cool thing is? I haven't even mentioned the BIGGEST thing I've got cooking comics wise in July...but my lips are sealed on that one, and not even a waterboarding by Dick Cheney could get me to talk.

I want to say thanks again to Tyler for taking the time to answer some questions, and doing the title banner to this very blog. You should really check out all his various projects regardless of what your go-to genre is, you should find something to entertain you. You may even find a new appreciation for a genre you have over looked.

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