This interview originally appeared in two parts on our web site and in the print version of our DRAGON'S BREATH newsletter in April and June 1997. For the sake of nostalgia and good clean fun, we've preserved the interview in its original two-installment form.
When did the character traits of Francine and Katchoo coalesce?
Um, October, 1984. I don't know!
I don't know. I've been working on them in my head for years. And by the time I started the book, I pretty well had them figured out. They were done by the time I had started the series.
They kind of originated in separate comic strips, is that right?
Yeah, they did.
Obviously I was doodling around, and I went through a ton of characters when I was trying to come up with a newspaper strip, and I kind of drew from all the different female characters I had looked at and kind of pulled out all the things that I really liked and put them into just a couple of main characters. Somebody told me one time not to spread your ideas around too much, so that's what I did. I tried to put a lot of good character traits into just a couple of main characters.
It's often said that the comics industry has trouble attracting a female audience. So what did you take into consideration when creating the whole storyline to attract a wide audience of both males and females?
Well, I didn't start drawing it to do that. I just meant for SIP to attract a wide audience. I thought it was just going to be a little cult thing and only people like me would like it. But I was very surprised when I got the reaction from it.
Very happy about it. But surprised.
One of the things that all the editors will tell you, whether it's in newspaper strips, or in comic books, or movies, or whatever, is to have characters that everybody can relate to. And so I've been hearing that for years. I finally gave up on trying to do it on purpose and just sat down and drew what I wanted to draw and it just happened.
You get a lot of letters from people that say—from women that say their boyfriends showed it to them.
Yeah, I do.
What do you think would make a woman pick up this book of her own
Has she heard about it or not? I get it both ways.
I get letters from female readers that say, "I've never heard of this before, but I saw it and either I ignored it for a year or I finally picked it up and started looking through it and read it, and now I like it, and I'm writing to you."
Or people write and say, "I have friends who tell me about this, and I don't read comics, but all these people tell me about this." And I stuck [out] in a comic shop [where they went] with their boyfriend every week for a year before they finally talk to somebody or pick one up, and they try mine. I hear from people that do that, and they seem to like it.
I worked in the advertising business for 12 years, and I don't think it works.
I haven't seen a lot of advertising about it. It seems—
There is no advertising. I've never had any advertising. I've never had the money for it. And I've never really believed in it either.
Yeah. I mean, I worked in the advertising business for 12 years, and I don't think it works. [Laughs.]
You know, Hershey's chocolate doesn't have to advertise. Coke doesn't have to advertise. If it's good, you don't have to advertise. Obviously, I could do with some advertising, just so that people could know about it, or hear the name, but it's just a lot of money. I've never had any money.
So it's gotten out pretty well so far by word-of-mouth, hmm?
It's totally word-of-mouth. It's like a little independent film. That's one of the reasons I went to Homage, hopefully to get more exposure. I may not have an advertising budget, but Image does. So we'll see if that can help.
The main theme that stays constant throughout STRANGERS IN PARADISE is the relationship between Francine, Katchoo, and David. What sort of new devices, I mean other than the main theme, do you see coming into play?
I can't tell you.
Or you'll have to kill me?
That's been a huge conversation here for three months. And you can't really see anything that's coming until issue 4, which I just finished. Issue 6 will be completely— [pause] a whole new world.
I am working on new devices—that's an ugly word, it sounds like you're being manipulated. What I mean is, I am working on bringing in new elements that you haven't been exposed to yet.
So do you plan out stories far in advance, or do you play it by ear?
A lot of times it's just been a wing and a prayer, you know. Just write and let go, and not sit down to write a script. And then I wouldn't draw it, so it's a waste of time.
The only thing I've found out is that I'm one of those people that—I don't do my best work right off the bat. I have to keep working on it, refining it, keep redrawing it and all that. So the longer I have to work on an issue, the better it is. So it's been kind of a learning experience for me.
It's been tough on the new Homage series because it started late, and now I'm having to do them monthly, and I've done 5 in a row, back to back, on that kind of schedule, and it's difficult to feel that you've spent enough time on it, to do the story you wanted to do. I like for a book to be full of ideas and full of good-looking visuals, and if you're in a hurry, that's tough to do. So now I'm just getting ahead of the schedule, and I'm really happy about that.
So how many ulcers would you develop if it had to be a monthly comic?
[Laughs.] I don't know. I probably wouldn't be around to talk to you next year.
Don't ever go monthly then.
Don't ever go monthly.
Yeah, but look at the monthly books, though. They're done by teams. CEREBUS is done by a team, and it's hard. The other Homage books have 3 or 4 people working on each book so it's a load of work. It's not real glamorous sitting in a room by yourself all day.
So it is just you?
Yeah, just me and a colorist, and that's it.
You and a colorist—who is the colorist?
Right now it's two different people at Wildstorm. James Rochelle has been doing a lot of it, and there's a girl named Laura who's helping.
So now that it's in color, how do you use the color to enhance the story? Do you have any techniques on setting the mood? How much advice do you give on the colors?
I'm real opinionated on it, but because I'm not there, it's difficult to communicate.
Ideally, what I would do is sit down and hand the book over, and I would spend a day and just tell them what I had in mind here and there. But I can't do that, so I just turn it in, and every now and then I put in some notes.
But they'll basically color it in and then send it to me, and I revise it from there—and say I'm looking for this here—
It's a system that's not really finished yet. We're still trying to find the best way to work.
And I would really like for the color to be distinctive. And I would like for it to really enhance the story and make the world look magical. That's what I'm looking for, and we're not there yet, but we're working on it.
How do you feel about it so far? Of course, in the long run you want it to add to the story, but how do you feel about it so far? Are you still ambivalent?
I don't know. I'm probably my hardest critic. I'm not happy with anything I've done.
Yeah. Some of it I'm actually ashamed of. And I just have to keep working and get what I'm looking for out of my brain. I'm not getting what I'm after. It's something I'll just have to keep working on.
Do you like it better in color or black-and-white, so far?
There have been several panels that are gorgeous, but there hasn't been a book yet that has it all together, in the color stuff.
But there have been pages at a time—entire sequences—in the black-and-white series that I have been happy with, as far as the art and the way it looks. It's easier, because there's nobody else to coordinate with when you're doing the b&w. But if we can ever get the color right, I think the color will be good. I look at the books, then I look at the original art, and it's difficult; it's strange. Once you're used to looking at the black-and-white art, then you see color all the time, it's an adjustment for me.
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