A Monstrous Talent: an interview with Steve Bissette, part5.

To finish, Steve Bissette speaks about a new book on Neil Gaiman's works and also his plans for the future.

Wellington Srbek: It seems to me that your dearest creation, your “pet” project is Tyrant, a comic book series about the life and death of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. You have put lots of love and research in that one, haven’t you?

Steve Bissette: Yes, sure did. I loved doing it, and I'm still mighty proud of what was completed. I hope to return to it one day, though I'll never again be at the creative peak I was at in 1994-97 when I was doing Tyrant. Such is life.

WS: Your last work for a mainstream publisher was the Swamp Thing-related “Jack in the Green” short story, written by Neil Gaiman and inked by John Totleben. I think you have partially answered this question already, but please explain to us why you had announced your retirement from the comics industry after that work in 1999.
SB: Well, the long answer is already online -- go to: http://albert.nickerson.tripod.com/creatorsbillofrightsbist8.html.
Some of that reiterates the whole 1963 debacle, which I've just articulated anew for you above, Wellington; forgive the redundancies, please.
Since that all emerged from my old friend Dave Sim challenging me, note that Dave Sim's response is buried here (scroll down a ways, it's there): http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cerebus/message/103644.
Beyond that, there's also some follow-up on http://www.creatorsrights.com/. Go to: Creators Rights Forum Index -> Creator's Rights Discussions on the discussion board. And then: the thread entitled: "Post subject: Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963..." -- my letter, and Dave's reply, are there complete, followed by some conversation about relevant issues.
The last straw for me in 1999 was the realization comics was a dead end professionally. I won't go into the particulars, beyond the larger issues addressed in my letter to Dave Sim. It's not important any longer.
To touch upon a key point in my letter to Dave Sim, linked above, I'd arrived at a point in life I saw my teachers at the Kubert School reach in their late 40s. As a result of seeing my own situation as a life cycle issue in part, I didn't take it personally, but it was clearly time to leave the room for good.
My farewell signature at the end of "Jack-in-the-Green" really was my farewell. I'd had it with the comics industry, and nobody cared I was leaving, really. Neil's script summed up all my feelings about the community I'd once been part of: the village was ravaged with plague and there was nothing left to 'live for' there. Torch it. So, I did -- I torched it, via the story, and I left. That last page spoke volumes for me, there was and would be no better grace note to depart with.

WS: In the last decade, you have worked as a teacher and also written short stories, essays and critics. There’s for instance a new book on Neil Gaiman’s works to be published later this year. But you are also preparing a comeback to the comics medium, right? Something involving Tyrant and the 1963 characters you own. What can you tell us about that?

SB: Ah, let's see what happens. I have plans and hopes and dreams, like anyone, but as the old joke goes, "How do you make God laugh? Make a plan." We'll see what really comes to fruition in time.
I'm DONE in the American comics industry. That's over. Nothing has changed there in the years since I announced my retirement in 1999, except for the worse. Don't bother looking for me there.
But that hardly means I've been unproductive. I'm drawing some new comics for publication these days, and enjoying it. I'm being selective about doing it pretty much exclusively for venues supporting younger cartoonists -- the Accent UK Zombies anthology, Trees & Hills (a local New England coalition of cartoonists), and CCS or CCS-related projects, like Sundays, Dead Man's Hand and the upcoming Secrets & Lies. I do it only if I'm invited. That's worthwhile to me just now; there's no money in any of it, so fuck it, I do it for love only, in part to support the new generation's efforts.
Any fantasies you may harbor that existing publishers want my work can be easily remedied by the hard reality of the situation. I've had plenty of fruitless, time-wasting tangos, from a year of dancing with the late Byron Preiss over an aborted trio of Swamp Thing novels (Byron would not negotiate the contract, and then refused to pay the advance) to the various 1963 reprint ventures, including two overtures from Image and a rather hilarious exchange with DC Comics. As I've noted on my blog in the past, the only offers I've fielded in the past seven years in comics were from publishers fishing for free Bissette work. That, I can do myself, thank you; I've published, co-published, and self-published. If there's no money in it, I'm quite capable of doing everything myself, thanks, and choose not to, especially in the current market.
Let's see, there's other things: I've done some illustrations for friends's book projects and magazine articles, and I wrote a book-length essay for Rick Veitch that may see print later this year. There's a t-shirt company that's licensing my art, which is cool, and a cell phone game of The Fury was licensed in 2007; I've got my own projects with The Fury, N-Man and Hypernaut underway, and posted some new material on those on my blog. If it's fun and personally satisfying, I'll do it; otherwise, life is too short.
I occasionally get to dabble with the wedding of comics and cinema, which I enjoy. My son Daniel and I drew up a dummy Christian comic tract for my friend Lance Weiler's Head Trauma (2007), and that was great fun; Lance involved me creatively in the process, and we crafted individual panels and pages to resonate with the film after Lance showed me the rough edit of the film, which was a very satisfying collaborative venture. I subsequently packaged a "Jersey Devil" mini-comic for the DVD re-release of Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos's seminal digital feature The Last Broadcast, working with some of the pioneer students at CCS. I'm presently working with a couple of filmmakers on short film adaptations of some of my own comics stories; I can't say much about that now, except to note I've seen the rough edit on the first short film, and that's fun for me, too. There's no money in any of this, either, which is fine -- I retain legal rights to my properties, and co-own the films with the filmmakers, so it's all good. As long as it's pleasurable, I pursue it.
I've got a few irons in the fire with the book industry; the grass isn't any greener there, I've no illusions about that, but it is where comics have gone and where my passion as a writer is most relevant. I've had some luck, good and bad, over the years. It's going well of late. Most recently, I co-authored The Prince Of Stories: The Many Worlds Of Neil Gaiman for St. Martin's Press, working with Hank Wagner and my dear friend Chris Golden. I'm illustrating the limited hardcover edition for Cemetery Dance right now. I illustrate a book a year, and have since 1988, but nobody in comics notices or gives a hoot about that. My pal Joe Citro and I are working on a new project, a companion to our still-popular regional book The Vermont Ghost Guide, and that'll be fun, and I'm working on a graphic novel anthology project based on swamp monster stories I penned over the years. But we'll see what find a home, and what doesn't -- I've little control over it, save for my own investment of love, time and work.
I occasionally try to get some fire going for Tyrant again. Nobody in a position to help me is clamoring for it, though, and I can't afford the enormous investment of time and energy I once gave to it sans a venue -- and so it goes. Before beginning work full time teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies (back in 2005), I approached Chris Staros at Top Shelf with Tyrant -- his response: if I'd had a SECOND full volume of NEW WORK ready to go, Top Shelf would be interested. If not, no go. Since my whole overture concerning a Tyrant collection of existing material being published was to fire off a 'signal flare' to see if it's financially viable to continue working on the project, having Chris expecting me to have one-to-three years of NEW work in hand first pretty well defeated that proposition. If I had that, I'd still be self-publishing. As it is, I just can't afford the time -- though I hope to change that in the near future, if I can find a perch anywhere in the book industry for the project.
For now, though, CCS and my family are all that matter -- and the most rewarding places to put my energy. At CCS, I am creatively engaged in the next generation of cartoonists, and I get to share some of what I know; it's important that each generation passes on its knowledge to the next, as Joe Kubert did for me. That's a real strong drive for me right now, far more important than almost anything else -- except for my relationships with my now-adult children, my beloved wife Marge, and my immediate circle of friends and family. I'm happy to stay close to home these days, and invest my public life 150% into CCS. No more conventions for me.
But that doesn't mean no more comics. I draw for myself all the time, and some of it sees print. CCS has rekindled a lot of old flames, and I'm drawing more new comics for myself than I have in years.
Who knows? Someday, a rich publisher who happens to be a Bissette fan may make it possible for me to continue into my sunset years, if I'm not too old to hold a pen and a brush. If I'm too old then, well, c'est la vie. For the time being, I'm plenty active, and have plenty to do and more to look forward to.
It's been a great run, all in all, and some of my work is still in print around the world. I still get fan mail and letters expressing how my work touched people's lives, changed them for the better. I'm thankful, I've been pretty lucky over the years. That's more than a lot of cartoonists get in one lifetime.

WS: Thank you a lot for this interview, Steve!

SB: I'm constantly amazed how global the readership for some of the work I've done truly is. My deepest thanks to all in Brazil who may have laid eyes on Swamp Thing or something else I may have had a hand in, and I hope it repays in some measure all the pleasure I've derived over the years from the doing of it.
I should also add that I'm a huge fan of the José Mojica Marins films and comics, particularly his Zé do Caixão character, films and comics from the 1960s. I was privileged to meet, interview and dine with José when he first came to America's 'Chiller Theatre' convention in New Jersey over a decade ago, and thanks to DVD have managed to see all his extant films since then.
I also love many other Brazilian films and comics, though it's the more unusual films -- like Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's adaptation of Mário de Andrade novel Macunaíma, and the marvelous Como era gostoso o meu francês, which was made around the same time (1969-71) -- I tend to gravitate to. Thanks to a number of fans in Brazil, I've been able to trade for copies of the Brazilian DVD releases of these films recently, as well as a few of the recent low-budget zombie films made in your country. I love it all!

2 comentários:

Amalio Damas disse...

Wellington, está parte também terá tradução, ou eu me confundi com os números?

Wellington Srbek disse...

Não, ela não será traduzida. Só a última parte, que tem a ver com o Brasil, entrou na Parte 4 em português.