Most people get into comics because of a lifelong passion for the medium, and a dedication to continuing the rich heritage of some of our culture’s best beloved characters, like Superman and Spiderman.
I got into comics because I got kicked out of a band.
It’s sad but true. There I was, my final year of college, bandless, aimless, contorted about the future, when Billy K. entered my life.
The first time I spoke to Billy was to compliment him on the tennis ball-yellow fleece vest he was wearing. Billy K. was (and still is) a lot cooler than me. He can pull off things like a tennis ball-yellow vest. I can’t.
The “K” is for “Kartalopoulos”.
Billy’s passion for comics was virulent. Sure, I’d read comics in high school. I’d witnessed Todd McFarlane’s run on Spider Man with awe, just like everyone else. I still bought comics now and then. But for Billy, comics were a religion. He converted me.
Billy had a great idea: we could form a student organization, a comic book club… but instead of just talking about comics, we could create one! We could even get our school to pay for the production and the printing.
And that’s good advice for people in school with a dream of doing something creative for a living: see if your school will support in your first efforts. You see, your school actually wants you to succeed – the more you do, the more they can guilt-trip you about donations.
Billy amassed about a half-dozen disciples, including me, and soon we were official. Soon we had our own production space!
Except we didn’t. The powers-that-be ordered the college humor magazine to share their room and equipment with us.
Predictably, a turf war erupted.
Looking back on it, I can’t blame the humor mag guys for being a little territorial. It certainly didn’t help we were total jerks sometimes. But all the clandestine, electronic warfare was in good fun.
Most of it, anyway.
Putting together our comics anthology became the sole purpose of our existences. We’d stay up until four in the morning, and then groggily return to our labors around noon the next day, when we regained consciousness.
Billy even drew a script of mine, about a mentally unstable government lab escapee with superpowers. The art was wonderful, but the story was every bit as awful as you’re imagining it.
And I didn’t just help make the comic, I was in it! One of our crew, David, did a story called “Arvid and Tequila”, in which I starred as a mentally unstable college student with a predilection for amplifier-enhanced public speeches, vegetarianism, and handguns.
I admit to being a vegetarian.
Computers were absolutely critical to us then, and they’re even more important now. That’s another piece of advice for young creators: master computers the way a Jedi masters the Force. Comics are lettered and colored on computers. One of my later comics, Zero Killer, was even drawn on one.
Back in college, our final product was a little raw – it was very raw – but I’m still proud of it.
On the night we sent the thing off to the printer, we were all feeling pretty high. And why not? We’d were all jacked up on caffeine and high fructose corn syrup.
But some of us were graduating. What the hell were we going to do with ourselves? A question no college senior likes to think about.
Billy, of course, had it figured out.
“Why can’t we do this?” he said. “Why can’t we do comics?”
Everything fell into place for me, like Tetris.
That summer I went to the San Diego comic book convention for the first time. There I met EricJ, who was destined to become the artist and co-creator of Rex Mundi, a comic I’ve just now finished, after ten years.
Rex Mundi has been a labor of love. I blame it for the loss of all the hair above my neck and the growth of all the hair below it. There have been more than a few times when I considered dropping it altogether.
But there’s a happy ending! It’s now published by Dark Horse Comics, and we’re hard at work on a film adaptation at Warner Bros.
And while Rex Mundi might have been a struggle, twenty years ago it would have been simply impossible. With the technology available now, anyone can create a comic.
The Internet has shrunk the world into a golf ball with time zones – I’ve worked with artists as far away as Argentina and the Philippines – and with computers, one or two people can do the work of a dozen, in a fraction of the time. There’s never been a better time to be a creative person.
Arvid Nelson, comic book writer best known for his work on Rex Mundi, can be found online at http://www.arvidland.com