Image Comics Meltdown met with a lot of favorable reviews. The two-issue series tells the tale of superhero literally and figuratively having a meltdown. The art by Sean Wang was outstanding, and over the last several months, Wang and I have been sending each other e-mails about his upcoming and past work including the recently reviewed Runners and The Tick comics.
Major Spoilers: Tell us a little about your background. How did you get into comics, and how did Runners come about?
Sean Wang: Oddly enough, I actually went to school for architecture of all things! But I eventually realized that I just didn’t have the same passion for architecture that I did for comic illustration. So upon graduation, I started sending page samples to all the big comic companies, trying to break in as a penciler (as that was my sole comic ambition at the time). I got a lot of interest but it never translated into actual work, and after a while, I found myself drifting away from the kind of stories they were doing at the time. I realized that even if I landed a penciling gig with one of the big companies, I probably wouldn’t really enjoy working on the books if I wasn’t genuinely onboard with the story.
Having grown up on the original Star Wars trilogy, I was a big fan of sci-fi and space opera. And I also enjoyed a good adventure romp with a healthy dose of humor mixed in with the drama. I didn’t feel like there were any comics out there like that for me to read, so I ultimately decided to do one myself. I figured I wasn’t the best writer in the world, but I thought I could come up with something that I would at least like myself. And if others liked it too, so much the better! So I pretty much wrote the first RUNNERS story arc around 1994-95, and through that process, I discovered that I really enjoyed writing stories as much as drawing them.
Living in Boston, I approached New England Comics (publishers of THE TICK comics) to see if they were interested in publishing my series. As it turned out, they weren’t looking for new properties, but they did like my artwork and asked if I was interested in doing art for the TICK comics. I was a fan of Ben Edlund’s original TICK run, so I naturally jumped at the chance.
After starting out as an artist for a couple short stories, I moved on to become both writer and artist on four full-length seasonal specials: The Tick Big Yule Log Special 1998, The Tick’s Big Romance Special #1, The Tick’s Big Summer Fun Special #1, and The Tick’s Big Back to School Special #1. After that, I wrote and drew the six-issue TICK AND ARTHUR series, in which the Tick and Arthur joined a superteam of equally dysfunctional heroes.
To my surprise and extreme excitement, people really enjoyed those issues, but while working on the TICK was a lot of fun, I knew I ultimately wanted to get back to RUNNERS. So around 1999, I left the TICK series to start producing RUNNERS. The first issue of RUNNERS: BAD GOODS finally debuted in the summer of 2002, and the RUNNERS: BAD GOODS graphic novel (which collects the first 5-issue story arc) came out in the summer of 2005.
Happily, the series has met with extremely positive reviews, like the one right here on Major Spoilers!
MS: The design in RUNNERS reminds me a lot of Star Wars – any connection?
SW: Very much so! As I mentioned, I grew up on the original Star Wars movies, so I was naturally very influenced by the space opera feel of those movies. But at the same time, I’m very conscious about not wanting to just be derivative of Star Wars in my designs and storytelling. I think most readers can see the (obvious) influence but at the same time find RUNNERS to be its own distinct entity, and I think with upcoming stories, that will be even more apparent.
I think the biggest influence actually came from the peripheral elements in Star Wars. I loved the Cantina aliens, the bounty hunters, and the concepts of Han being a smuggler and Jabba the Hutt as an intergalactic gangster. So with RUNNERS, I wanted to build a series around those kinds of characters that exist outside of society’s conventions: the smugglers, mercenaries, pirates, and organized crime elements of the universe. While still maintaining a fun feel though! And I love interesting creature designs, which is why almost all the characters are aliens and not just the usual humans in space found in a lot of other sci-fi series.
For the record, the other major influences on RUNNERS include The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Smokey and the Bandit, Midnight Run, The Godfather, and The Unforgiven.
MS: The trade is black and white, was the original series in color or B&W? Personally I like the black and white look it works really well; especially in the flashback sequence.
SW: Since I was self-publishing the series, I opted to go with B&W, but not just because it’s cheaper to print. I’m also doing the series as a one-man show (writing, penciling, inking, shading, and lettering every issue myself), so I found that doing the art in B&W was much quicker for me than working in color. I also really loved BONE and several manga series like BATTLE ANGEL ALITA and GUNSMITH CATS, so I knew that a B&W book could be every bit as compelling visually as a color book. And I think the use of grayscale in RUNNERS helps to flesh out the look of the book, so that in most cases, people don’t mind (or even notice) that it’s not in color!
MS: The trade was released over a year ago, the original issues presumably long before that – are there any other Runners stories coming our way?
SW: The answer to that would be a very emphatic YES!! Since I first developed the series back in the mid-90’s, it has gradually snowballed into a much more epic story (which explains that Lord of the Rings influence). I have a lot of the broad story events of that epic planned out and have every intention of seeing it through as I think it’s a very compelling story that a lot of readers will really enjoy. Since the graphic novel collection, I’ve gotten a little sidetracked with other projects, like the Image series MELTDOWN and a few recent TICK projects. But now I am getting back to work on RUNNERS and plan to release new story arcs on a very regular basis, with the next arc planned for release early next year!
MS: You mentioned your work on the Tick, Meltdown, are there any other projects you are working on?
SW: The MELTDOWN graphic novel collection comes out this month in comic shops and bookstores. It’s chockfull of special features including sketchbook pages, a feature on designing the superhero costume, the original series pitch by writer David B. Schwartz, and a pinup gallery. And best of all, there’s an extensive page-by-page behind-the-scenes creator commentary with me and David, where we look back on the process of creating the series, including alternate endings, deleted scenes, and changes to the art and story that happened along the way!
On the TICK front, I recently contributed a short story to the all-star TICK 20TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL, which just came out this month. And I wrote and drew a one-shot special, THE TICK COMIC-CON EXTRAVAGANZA, in which the Tick and Arthur (and their dysfunctional superhero teammates) get invited to a comic convention as special guests, only to cause all sorts of geeky con hijinks to ensue.
Other than those projects, I’m just working away on the next RUNNERS arc and the long-term plans for that series. I’m sure I’ll have more news to report on that front in the near future. In the meantime, please feel free to check out my website (www.seanwang.com) for updates and my gallery of comic and pinup artwork!
MS: Any tips for those wanting to get into the business?
SW: Since I haven’t really done much work for the big companies, my advice pertains more to creators and self-publishers.
As a creator, the most important thing is that you have to offer something new and believe in your work. I end up seeing a lot of self-published books that are rehashes of other superhero titles like X-Men or Batman. If you’re not offering something new or something different from the hundreds and hundreds of other comics out there, you’re going to have a really hard time getting people interested.
There are also those self-published titles that fizzle out after a couple issues or a single story arc as the creator decides to move on to something else, never to return to that series. This is something I’ve never really understood. If you, as the creator, don’t even have the passion or invested interest to stick with a title beyond a few issues, how do you expect an audience to embrace it? As the creator, you have to believe in your project and be firmly committed to it before anyone else will. But if you do, I believe that passion will come through and others will recognize that, which will only help you in selling the series to people.
But just believing in the project isn’t enough. You have to market and promote the hell out of it. This is something I learned from doing my first RUNNERS arc…the wrong way. With the release of those issues, I was under the naive and mistaken notion that if something is good, people would find it. To some extent, that may be true, but it’ll take a hell of a long time that way! Reviewers may love your book (which they universally seemed to with RUNNERS…yay!), but that doesn’t mean much if stores don’t know about it, as those are the guys who will ordering it for their customers.
So you need to come up with a promotion schedule and marketing plan to get the word out IN ADVANCE of the book’s solicitation. That means sending preview copies out to reviewers, sending postcards or ashcans to retailers, posting on online forums, sending press releases to all the major comic news sites, posting preview pages online, setting up at comic conventions, etc., etc. Anything you can do to build buzz (positive buzz, anyway), you need to do.
So that’s it. Have a deeper passion for your work than just wanting to just do a superficially different take on something else that’s already out there. And market the hell out of it.
Oh yeah, and buy the RUNNERS: BAD GOODS graphic novel, the critically-acclaimed sci-fi action comedy about alien smugglers that earned several reviewers’ BEST of 2005 awards! See?…marketing!
MS: Thanks Sean.
SW: Thank you!