Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Page At A Time Interview...Jason Franks, part 2

And now...the conclusion of my interview with Jason.

DC: The Sixsmiths OGN, which you wrote, was just released through Slave Labor Graphics and is available at comic shops everywhere. Yet, you and J. Marc Schmidt have also kept up a regular Sixsmiths webcomic at the same time. How did this project come about? And are there plans to continue the saga of this unconventional yet entirely relatable family?

JF: Marc came to Melbourne for a book launch and while he was here he asked me to write a GN for him to do with SLG, who had published his two prior books. We'd previously worked together on about half a dozen short stories, as well and on the webcomic Nannah Laveaux. We bounced ideas around and before long Cain manifested in Marc's sketchbook, wearing a pentagram t-shirt. A kid from a family of satanists. Melmoth, the vicar, followed quickly. It just sort of rolled along from there. We decided to do a webcomic, because the discipline of producing something weekly is good and because it seemed like a good way to build an audience while we worked on the book. Free original content every week.

It took us about 3 years to get the book done, with the webcomic running for the latter two of those--it was a lot of work! I do know what happens to the characters next, but at present there's no more Sixsmiths on my schedule. I need a holiday!

DC: McBlack, another OGN that you released in 2010, is an all-out action-adventure page turner which you both wrote and illustrated. Where did that character come from and what's next for him?

JF: McBlack came out of a sketchbook. Many years ago, when I was young and stupid, I decided I wanted to do a crazy ongoing action series called THE BADMAN and I went through my old sketchbooks looking for characters and ideas. McBlack was a doodle that I decided would be a good design for a recurring antagonist. I pencilled most of what would have been the first issue, but I could see that I didn't have the chops for it, so I never finished it. Some years later, when it seemed like it was time to write a full length OGN, McBlack volunteered himself for protagonist duty. I guess he was getting bored. At the time, I was a bit annoyed by the way that classic crime noir stories are so obviously ripped off by comics writers in need of a plot, so that was where I--we-- started. McBlack wearily agrees to participate in a fairly derivative noir mystery. The situation gets stranger and stranger and McBlack's patience with the situation gets thinner and thinner, until he starts to shoot holes in the plot--not to mention the fourth wall. The Badman himself does make an appearance in the book, dismantling McBlack in much the same way that he dismantles the story structure.

I have written a second McBlack graphic novel, LADY McBLACK, but I'm not sure when it will be properly underway. In the meantime there will be a one shot, written by me and illustrated by Mike Athey, Tom Bonin and Trevor Wood.

DC: Does research play a big part in your writing (or in the pre-writing phase)? Do you mostly gather information on the net or have you ever improvised and done some "investigative journalism" for the sake of accuracy in a story?

JF: I do a lot of research if the story calls for it. I usually start out reading what I can online, then I go and find books for more detailed information. If I can go to actual locations, I will--the first time I went to Japan I traveled far and wide so that I could check out various castles, samurai houses, boats and other things that I felt I needed to add veracity to a project I was (and still am) working on. Couple of years ago I went snooping around a private estate that I wanted to use as a location for something I was writing; crawling in the bushes with a camera and hoping that nobody saw me and called the cops. (Nobody did). Next year I've arranged to conduct some interviews for what I hope will be a major new project.

The temptation is to defer writing until the research is 'done', but I think that's a bit of a fallacy. At some point I have to decide that you have enough facts to begin writing and just do the rest of the research on the fly.

DC: You've covered many genres in your comics and prose work. Any different genres or media you'd like to explore?

JF: I have been writing a lot of more straight-up crime stuff over the last few years, although almost none of it has seen print yet.... so expect more of that. I tend not to think of story first, genre second nowadays, and I just go with whatever I feel like writing.

Far as other media go, I would love to do some screenwriting. A few years ago I wrote a short film that I was going to shoot with some friends, but I wound up moving back to Australia before we got properly underway. It's still an itch I'd like to scratch.

DC: Do you have a set routine or schedule for writing? Or is it a case of fitting it in whenever you can?

JF: I try to squeeze in as much as I can nights and weekends, because I work full time--which makes it hard to keep a schedule. But even when I'm not working I don't really have a routine. I try to do a bit in the morning, a bit in the afternoon, a bit after dinner and squeeze in chores, email etc around that. This changes if I have a deadline approaching, in which case I just spend every available moment working furiously to get the work work is done. In this kind of cycle there's no time for second-guessing, so I like to make sure there's a clear path to the endgame well before that.

DC: How do you combat writer's block?

JF: I've never suffered from writer's block, and I believe this is due to me pursuing so many projects at once. If I don't feel like working on something one day I'll work on something else. This does make it difficult to focus on one thing, but, as I just mentioned, once the end is in sight I'm usually able to turn my whole attention to it. It's a great feeling to knock one off and then look at everything else I have lying around with fresh eyes. "Which one will I do next?"

Writer's block isn't a problem I worry about, but I do stress that I'm not getting enough of everything done. I guess I'm a bit of a workaholic.

DC: I love reading interviews with creators, and one of my favourite aspects of it is advice they have for people who are starting out, or want to start out, in the industry. It's really interesting to see what experienced pros view as important in that regard. So...what tips would you give to someone who wanted to be a comic book creator?

JF: First: read. Not just comics--books, films, non fiction... read anything you can get your hands on. If you don't read you've got Buckley's hope of becoming a good writer.

Second: write. Every day. You have to do the work if you're going to break in.

Those are the easy steps. The rest is down to luck and perseverance. Keep working, keep meeting people, keeping getting work out there. I don't think, for most creators, there's one point where they can say "I've made it! I'm a pro!" It's a scale--you build up to it with small steps. Sometimes you have bad luck or you screw up, and you get sent to the back of the line. That's okay, it's not a race. Do you talk about giving up? Do you bemoan the fates for not giving you a break? Do you believe there's a conspiracy trying to keep you out of the comics industry? Well, guess what? There is. If you can't hack it, it's best you quit now and save the rest of us having to listen to it.

For the rest of you... stick with it. I'll see you in the funny pages.

DC: You've lived in North America and Australia. What's your take on the difference in their "comic book scenes"?

JF: Access.

In the States you have easy access to editors from dozens of comics publishers, dozens of conventions and trade shows every year. You can get out and meet people and network, you can find an audience for your work if you hit the road.

In Australia, everything is local. The scene is going a bit more national now, thanks to the internet, but our cities are so geographically remote that even that is difficult. There's currently one publisher with direct market distribution, one with newsstand distribution, and a few traditional publishers who provide a very small amount of work for the bookstore market, but that's it. These days we have a few options as far as the circuit goes, but that's a very recent thing. Five years ago there was one per year. If you want to seriously do comics, you have to look overseas. Our population is small, and domestic sales are proportionately low. Also, it's hard to get out of the slushpiles without some facetime. Facetime costs thousands of dollars in airfare and accommodation. It's a battle!

I think the spirit is quite similar, amongst creator groups over here and in the US. People are enthusiastic, they want to do the work, they produce excellent work... but it's hard to get seen where it counts. I think there is a lot of hope being put on the digital publishing revolution as a way of leveling the playing field a bit--I am certainly keen.

DC: Sometimes I feel a bit of reluctance to fully embrace the coming "digital revolution" as you put it...but I'm getting over it. What does "digital revolution" mean to you as publisher, writer and fan?

JF: I think this digital revolution is more or less inevitable. They've been threatening for years, but finally I think there's enough publicity and enough devices on the market that consumers and publishers have to take it seriously. Like most people of our generation, I prefer to read books on paper... but the fact is that younger people not only expect to read everything off the screen, they prefer it. For me, as a creator... having an audience is the main thing. I don't care how they want to read my work, so long as they want to read it.

Traditional publishers are panicking, but I think they're finally catching on. For smaller publishers I think it's a great deal--all of those economies of scale, those unbreakable distribution monopolies are destroyed when you go digital. We have the largest possible audience ever and our works are becoming more easily accessible and available than ever before. Creative media will never again be so easy for so few organizations to control. That's exciting as hell, if you ask me.

DC:Thanks so much for all of your time.

JF: My pleasure, Dino. Thanks for having me!

Here are a few websites to check out for updates on Jason's work...
Blackglass Press:
Jason's blog:
Jason's site:

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