Weeks back, the DS Review Crew took on the Transmission X Sunday treat, Sin Titulo. It was universally agreed that this was a mysterious joy to read and that we would all be checking back regularly on this, the Lord’s day. We also unanimously decreed that we had a lot of questions about the strip, questions we wanted answered. Immediately.
So I got on the stick and started chatting with creator Cameron Stewart. Contained in this update is the first half of that conversation, with the second to follow on Monday. Disclaimer: After realizing that this is the Cameron Stewart who has numerous comic book projects under his belt, including some with the biggest names in the business, I kind of lose my footing and just give the rest of the interview away. Luckily, Cameron is a pro and takes up the slack aptly and readily.
Start the takeover after the break!
The Midnight Cartooner: So Cameron, how’s things on your end?
Cameron Stewart: Not bad thanks, very busy at the moment, I’m just finishing up work on my graphic novel for Oni Press, so it’s crunch time.
M: Interesting, what’s the title of that work?
C: It’s called The Apocalipstix. It’s best described as Josie and the Pussycats crossed with Mad Max. It’s about an all-girl rock band in a post-nuclear wasteland, going on tour and battling road pirates and giant mutant ants and stuff.
M: So, have you filed a lawsuit against The Black Cherry Bombshells yet? Because the recent Zuda Comics winner sounds just like that.
C: Really? Hrm. I’ll have to look at it. We’ve been doing these characters for a few years now. Ray (my writer partner) and I have done a few short stories that have appeared in various anthologies.
And anyway, Zuda. Who reads webcomics anyway?
M: Dude, I will print things like that and you will get flamed. Just fair warning.
C: Hahaha! I think given that the bulk of this conversation will be about my own webcomic, your readers should be able to detect the irony.
M: You’d think, but on these Internets, you just never know. Err on the side of caution, man. Always.
C: True dat.
M: Back to your collaborative efforts, do you and Ray team up often on stories? Has he had any hand in the creation of Sin Titulo?
C: The Apocalipstix is the only collaboration between Ray and I. He’s done a bunch of his own books, and was co-writer on Mnemovore from Vertigo. I really enjoy working with him, he’s a supremely talented guy, but for Sin Titulo (ST), I wanted to do something entirely on my own. I enjoy working with any of the writers I’ve been lucky enough to team with, but there comes a time when baby bird has to spread his wings and fly
M: As a currently solo creator, I can dig that.
C: One of the goals I have with ST is to hopefully convince editors that I am capable of writing as well as drawing. And it’s an exercise for me to practice writing.
M: Forgive the ignorance, but has most of your work to date been on the writer or the artist side?
C: ST is the first thing I’ve ever written. I’ve been working professionally in print comics for about 8 years, but always as an illustrator.
M: All others were collaborations or artwork-related?
C: Yeah, I’ve always been teamed with a writer. I’m new to webcomics, I’m primarily a print comics guy.
M: So list off a quick synopsis of your work, maybe four or five of your favorites.
C: Of my own work? I’m probably best known for my work on Catwoman with Ed Brubaker. I’ve worked with Grant Morrison a bunch of times, on The Invisibles, Seaguy, and Seven Soldiers: The Manhattan Guardian. And I did a graphic novel with Jason Aaron about the Vietnam War, called The Other Side, which was nominated for an Eisner in 2007.
There’s a bunch of other stuff too, but I think those are the highlights.
M: And pretty good ones at that. In fact, I now feel insignificant, and small.
C: Haha, don’t! Trust me, I feel the same way, even though I’ve got all these credits to my name. Whenever I’m at a show and socializing with all my comics colleagues, at the back of my mind I’m always terrified that they’ll discover I don’t belong there.
M: Well, I can at least relate to you there. If you take out the “comic colleagues” and insert “family members who support me no matter what.”
M: Do you have any quotes from Brubaker or Morrison to the effect of, “This guy really gets comics and is going to be a huge name someday”?
C: Oh I can’t remember them specifically, but Ed and Grant have been extremely kind.
M: We’ve been over your current life in the biz, but how did you first get interested in comics?
C: Well, I’ve been a comics reader for as far back as I can remember. When I was a child I read comics all the time. I grew up partly in
M: Anything notable from overseas that might’ve driven you, or mostly rip-offs of all the classics?
C: Well, I used to read 2000AD a lot. Judge Dredd and so on. I also read all the kids humour comics like The Beano, The Dandy, Beezer, Oor Wullie, and the rest. (Those names are likely meaningless to you.)
M: Quite, and I was concerned you may have fallen asleep on your keyboard for a moment. Thanks for clearing that up.
C: Kids comics in
M: So no Archie or
C: They’re imported of course, but I think kids comics in
M: Give it time, I’m sure ours will be full of murder, betrayal, and evil undertones before too long.
C: Ha! The difference there is that those are kids characters who have been misappropriated and turned into adult comics.
M: By which you mean titles like…?
C: Well the majority of output from Marvel and DC. I think the readership of these comics are adults now, not kids and the content reflects that.
M: Sadly, yes. Not to stray too far from the webcomics focus, but then again, webcomics had to start somewhere, right? What comic book titles do you currently read?
C: I always blank when I’m asked this question. I honestly don’t read a lot of monthly comics. Right now my front runner is All-Star Superman, which I think is just a magnificent piece of work. I read the occasional Vertigo book, and a lot of Euro stuff, or books published by smaller publishers like Fantagraphics or D&Q. I’m more into comics as books, rather than as monthly pamphlet series.
M: Interesting take, I can see what you mean. And yes, you are right, All-Star Superman is one of, if not the best book DC is putting out right now.
C: I think it’s just that the monthly superhero comics aren’t particularly to my tastes, and the work that is relevant to me is more the kind of stuff that comes out less frequently. I think All-Star Superman is possibly the best Superman comic ever written. I’m really impressed by the depth of it.
M: I bet that quote will be coming from Grant Morrison [writer of All-Star Superman] any day now.
C: And I think it’s one of the few books to really understand the character. And it’s not some hopelessly misguided image of Superman standing in the rain, grimacing.
M: Considering the humanity and power both come through flawlessly, yeah, I’d have to agree with you. So would you say working with guys like Morrison and Brubaker has helped prepare you to take on a writing gig of your own?
C: I’ve definitely learned from them, yes. I haven’t solicited direct advice from them but I learned things about writing effective dialogue from reading theirs.
M: Judging from the dialogue in ST, I’d say you soaked things up well.
C: Thanks! I appreciate that.
M: Shifting to that particular work, what made you want to throw your first writer’s credit into the webcomic ring?
C: Well, to start we should talk about Transmission X of which ST is a part. TX was borne of discussions that a bunch of local comics artists here in Toronto were having about being frustrated at the inability to be able to do their own work, instead always having to do work for hire to pay the bills.
M: I take it that’s the usual line of things in comic books?
C: For the most part, yes. If you want to make a living. There are greater opportunities now, I guess, for a new writer or artist to break in doing their own material, but its still far easier to make a living doing contract work. So all of us were working on various contract jobs and realizing that we all would be far happier if we were doing our own stories.
I think there was a time when we were considering doing a line of print comics, but that was quickly abandoned. With webcomics gaining in popularity and credibility, it seemed like that was the natural way to go. It’s far easier and cheaper to create a website than it is to print a comic, and your potential audience is much larger.
And it’s clear that entertainment en masse is headed to the Internet. Movies, television, music – the Web is the hub for all of this stuff, and increasingly so.
M: So would you say exposure was your main drive, even the reason to start up Transmission X?
C: Well, primarily the motivation was just to do our own work and doing it on the Web seemed to be the lowest-risk venture. Also, since I have no formal experience in writing anything, it would be difficult for me to convince a publisher to take a chance on me. So this is a way for me to write something, unfettered.
We were fortunate that our circle of friends includes a startling number of really talented cartoonists, with various degrees of professional success. Ramon [Perez] also already had a few years of experience with his own very successful webcomic, Butternutsquash. He’s our web guru.
M: Yeah, when I heard Karl Kerschl was doing a webcomic, I swallowed that thing hook, line, and sinker.
C: Yeah, Karl is just stratospherically talented and it really shows in his strip. The love he has for it is apparent in every drawing.
M: I could stare at a single panel of that strip for days.
C: I think that’s the other motivation for doing your own material – when it’s something that you’re creating from whole cloth, something that you’re really passionate about and engaged with, it shines through in the work. I think all of us have, at some point or another, done work that we would consider to be fairly uninspired. And it’s a drag having to spend time producing something that you’re not happy with.
M: You just wish you could cut your losses and move on, I bet.
C: Sure. It’s far more creatively rewarding to work on something of your own creation. Previously in my career, I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable labeling myself an “artist”. I always felt that term was a little inaccurate. I was an “illustrator.” I wasn’t really creating anything, I was illustrating other people’s ideas. Now that I’m creating this story entirely on my own, I feel like I’ve earned the right to call myself an artist.
M: I just can’t wait to tack “professional” at the end of whatever title I end up with.
C: Ha! You’ll get there!
M: That’s a very different twist on that, I’ve never seen it that way. But you’re right, an illustrator is the method by which the writer gets his ideas onto paper. An artist is doing it all him/herself.
C: When I was in school my teacher always made the distinction, and I always thought she was full of shit. But now I realize she was right.
M: Sucks to realize that, huh?
C: Ha! I suppose. I know now that I was an arrogant punk kid. And I feel like I’ve gained a lot of wisdom since then.
M: Ah, the real world.
C: And I’m glad of that. A late epiphany is better than no epiphany at all.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, Cameron! In fact, I didn’t! Stay tuned for the rest of the interview tomorrow, where we’ll find out a lot more about ST and maybe even discover that it’s not really what you thought it was at all. Come back for the revelations tomorrow!