I’m a junkie for comics that are all about having a good time, a recapturing of the wonder and escapism of eras past, especially when its filtered through a unique lens. So when Tim got in touch with me about his book, GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT, a “smash-mouth urban fantasy,” I was immediately intrigued with the world he and his collaborators had concocted. It didn’t hurt that we had a shared passion for Hammer Horror and Universal monster movies.
In this interview, Tim and I discuss GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT and the inspirations behind it, as well as the hurdles and perils facing the independent comics creator.
Tell me the story of Gargoyle By Moonlight. What’s it all about?
GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT is smash-mouth urban fantasy. Think Hellboy on Yancy Street–a loveable brute who spends his nights punching out monsters while dealing with the consequences of a supernatural curse.Our protagonist, Gary Doyle, is coming to grips with a prophecy that says the curse of one man will be a blessing for mankind. But he doesn’t want to hear that. Doyle wants his old life back. And in the course of a night, he has just a few hours to figure out his destiny. Is he a hero or the monster the world sees him as? When faced with true horror–a demon tearing through the city, obliterating everything–Doyle comes to realize just how important he is to his city, to the world. This story is about him coming to terms with the situation he’s in–that destiny doesn’t always bring you what you want.
Luckily for Doyle, sometimes destiny also gives you a hand. Doyle is assisted on his journey by two strong women: Chloe and Drina. Chloe is no one’s damsel in need of saving, and Drina is more than she appears to be. One of the things that was fun with these two ladies was writing against type, playing with story tropes. At first glance, Chloe might be dismissed as the “babe scientist,” while Drina may appear to be a caricature. But as the story unfolds, readers see that both women are smart and capable–capable of saving a brutish gargoyle even!
At it’s core, GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT is a story about finding your place in the world. It’s about Doyle’s struggle to accept what he is, what he can do. Can he take up the mantle of the curse the way a hero takes up his cape? Can he accept the responsibility of doing something only he can?
But the gargoyle is not a brooding, moody guy. This comic is a big adventure story. It has a “throwbacky,” fun feel that makes classic comics comics, you know? There’s all the slam-bang action you want, but there’s also rich, real characters on the page trying to figure life out.
What were some of your inspirations for GARGOYLE?
I’ve always been a big fan of monsters and adventure stories. I love monsters, especially the old Hammer and Universal movies: Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf-Man, the Creature From the Black Lagoon. But I also love heroes. So as a writer, there’s always this tension between the darkness and the light in my work. And gargoyles are a perfect symbol of that.
Traditionally, gargoyles were posted to keep away evil, to hold the darkness at bay. But they’re also creepy and grotesque. So in GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT the protagonist is this monstrous thing, but we shouldn’t fear him. There’s a lot of great tension in that idea. But in the balance between light and dark, good and evil, I wanted to keep things heroic. I like a dark horror tale or a gritty noir as much as the next guy, but also, there’s fun, you know?
I’m a fan of reluctant heroes, characters who rise above their circumstance–even their better judgment–to do the right thing.
But more on influences: I think I unconsciously channeled Marvel’s great monster comics from the seventies. In the late 90s and early 00s, I wasn’t reading a lot of the then-current comic books. The so-called decompressed stories just weren’t working for me, and I didn’t find many of the characters particularly heroic or the storylines that compelling.
I found myself pouring through the back-issue bins, reading a lot of Silver and Bronze Age comics; Marvel and DC; IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, ATOM AND HAWKMAN. And of course, those monster comics: TOMB OF DRACULA, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT. A lot of those Silver Age comics can be hokey, but there’s an incredible sense of adventure in them, of possibility. And, despite the golly gee-whiz type of stuff, there’s a lot of high concept stuff to the stories.
Now, I didn’t write GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT until recently, but when I did, I knew I wanted to strike a tone that was heroic, that had that sense of grand adventure. In recent years, I think a lot of the fun has come back to comics, which is great to see. It never left, but I think we’re seeing it more.
While I’m not putting us in the same league as Mark Waid and company, I think fans of his recent DAREDEVUL run or his ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM mini with Chris Samnee are going to love GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT and its street-level Hellboy-type lead working his way to hero status.
What challenges do you see facing independent comics creators?
One of the biggest obstacles is that comics are created by a team. Yes, there are a lot of great works done by creators that do it all on their own, for example, Matt Kindt. His stuff is brilliant. But for most of us, making comics means finding talented people and working with them toward a common goal. It’s hard to do that.
As a writer, I have to find a talented penciler who shares my vision, or who can at least work with me to bring mine forward. Then there’s an inker, a colorist, a letterer. Everyone is crucial to the success of the final product. When it comes together, it’s magic. But many times… Well, all these people have day jobs. Usually. And your book might not be their number one priority. So you have to find a balance. You have to work well with people. Even in the best of circumstances, it can be difficult to put together a team of talented people, hold them together for months, and carry things through to putting out a book.
I’ve been blessed to work with great collaborators, but I’ve also had some things fizzle out or get delayed again and again. You’ve got to keep plugging away, eyes fixed on the goal. This is indie comics, there’s no big payout waiting for the team when you’re done. If you want to make comics, you gotta love comics. You have to want to make them. Holding your book in your hand is likely to be the only reward you’re ever going to get. If that’s enough, go make comics.
What has been your greatest hurdle?
The biggest hurdle I face is getting the word out about GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT and my other comics. Getting exposure, getting people to notice your comic is very hard. You’re competing with everything: movies, TV, games, other comics. And just in comics, there are so many choices. That’s great for the industry, for readers, but having so many comics out there makes it hard to get people to focus on your book.
We have a great book. GARGOYLE BY MOONLIGHT is a cool, fun concept. It has a great story, and an excellent art team. But how do you convince people of that? You go to Cons, you network, you advertise. But it’s still hard to break through. Even if I could afford a full-page ad in Previews, I don’t think that it would matter. People are bombarded by all kinds of ads and noise–it’s very hard to break through.
As a creator, you find yourself having to reach out in an almost 1-on-1 way. It’s like old-fashioned retail: hand selling your product–even if you’re doing it over the Internet.
I spend hours each day contacting people, reaching out. The Internet makes this easier than ever–but it takes time. A lot of time I should be writing or sending feedback to my collaborators gets spent hustling to get the word out.
Hopefully, though, somebody takes notice. They like your book, they tweet about it, post to Facebook, whatever. You break through and you make a sale.
And that sale isn’t about money. It means someone read your book. And that’s an awesome feeling. Hearing from a reader is the best reward. It keeps you moving through the tough times.
Let me just say to anyone reading this: If you like something, a comic, a movie, an app, whatever, tell people. Tweet about it–not just once but several times. Share links. Write product reviews. Tell the world. All these things are of great service to independent creators no matter what industry they’re in. We depend on you to spread the world about the cool stuff you love.
A filmmaker wants to try their hand at comics – what’s the one piece of advice you’d give them?
Become familiar with the visual vocabulary of comics and the economical way of storytelling. Comics can look easy: it’s words and pictures, right? But it’s not film. In comics, you’re limited in many ways. It’s a much tighter format, both in action and dialogue.
Action-wise, you get one action per panel. In panel 1, you can’t have a guy open his jacket, pull out a gun, put a character in his sight, and fire. That example, that’s four panels. Do you want to take up most of a page with that sequence? Is it that important? Or can you focus on what’s important, perhaps the guy looking down the barrel of the gun at his target? When you write comics, you’re not really writing a scene, you’re writing slices of a scene. You need to be very particular about what you show the characters doing.
When it comes to dialogue, awesome monologues that might work in film as dialogue or narration won’t work in comics. You can’t fill up pages with word balloons–you’ll cover the art! So you need to learn to pair it down. Say what’s important in as few words as possible.
The other big difference is that your story pacing has to be different, at least in monthly or multi-part comics. Your screenplay probably breaks into three acts, but that doesn’t translate to three issues or even six. It’s not about dividing your story up in chunks, but about reframing how you tell that same story.
What I mean is, each issue of a comic has to contain a full story in and of itself while still being part of a larger story. It’s serialized fiction. You need to introduce characters, move them through a dilemma, and leave it so that readers are (1) satisfied with this issue but (2) want to come back for more. Issue 1 can’t just be the inciting incident (to pull out some screenplay jargon). A first issue has to introduce the world, make us care about the characters, tease what’s coming, and grab hold of our imaginations. That’s a tall order in 22 pages. But it can be done. If you learn how the medium works.
Where do you see the mainstream comics industry going?
In a sense, Marvel and DC have never been stronger. They have corporate backing, vertical integration of everything from movies and TV to toys, toothbrushes, and theme parks. They dominate the comics industry. The super hero genre dominates the industry. But at the same time, they’ve never been more vulnerable–and that goes for all content providers, in any field. Anyone can become a publisher–a creator of content–today. There is and there continues to be upheaval in all forms of media.
In comics, specifically, I think the roles are pretty well cast. Marvel and DC will continue to market their hundreds of characters, they’ll keep attracting the best talent, and they’ll continue to do big business and tell fun stories with super heroes. Image, IDW, Dark Horse, and others, they’re going to continue to expand the market with different types of stories, taking chances, trying new things, banking on the next big thing. Whether the bigs or the smaller companies, good stories will find an audience. But with competition from games, apps, movies, and whatever, it’s just harder to find those good stories.
What is the main thing you want readers of GARGOYLE to take from the story?
First and foremost, I hope they’re entertained, that for a short time they get transported to a world where supernatural heroes smash monsters. But I hope they take away from it that there are situations in their own lives that they can master. Life isn’t going to take you where you want to go. Don’t go along for the ride; drive the car.
I know that sounds like something out of a motivational speech, or maybe it’s more of that Silver Age golly gee-whiz stuff, but I really think people can be heroes. Wherever you are, whatever your situation, just try to do the right thing. That’s what heroes do. It’s easy to go with the flow, to pretend you didn’t see something or to say it’s not your job. But do the right thing. Maybe life’s as simple as that, or maybe it should be.