True Interview, Swear To God! - Part 1

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Six Eisner nominations should let you know what kind of quality you can expect from “True Story, Swear To God.” Soon, thanks to a partnership with Image Comics, you’ll be able to find out for yourself just how great the comic really is.

BROKEN FRONTIER: To start off, can you give a summary of your series, True Story, Swear To God!, for those who may be unfamiliar with it?

TOM BELAND: It’s about how I met my wife at a bus stop in Disney World. She was with a Puerto Rican radio station and I was with my newspaper in Vallejo, California. We were both around to see a Stevie Wonder concert and we met there. She lived in Puerto Rico and I lived in Napa, so we had a long distance relationship. Then, in the book, there’s a Cat 5 hurricane that hits the island, which prompts me to move to Puerto Rico.

At this point in the book, I’m living in Puerto Rico, and trying to get paid for work I did months ago, and get accustomed to life on the island. So, that’s where we are right now. Oh, and I started making my mini-comics from her push.

BF: How are things in real life compared to the book? What time frame does this take place?

TB: Oh, this is like ten years ago. It’s a long ways ago. That’s why a lot of people ask how long I can take these stories for, well it’s like ten years! So, there’s a lot of stuff. As long as people want to read about it, I’ll have [material]. You never want to be the last guy in the room saying, “Let me tell you about the time…”

BF: How do you feel about the way the books been received so far?

TB: I know that when we made the book, that first issue was a gift to her. I never intended on publishing the book, but Lily kept pushing me to publish it. I thought, “Who wants to read about me and my wife? Who gives a crap?” When we put in the print order, I only wanted a couple hundred… The numbers from Diamond were only about 400. And so, they said we had to print at least a thousand. And I remember looking at Lily and saying, “I don’t know a thousand people. If we have to give these all away.” We thought it was insane to order 1000 copies. But we did. Then the numbers [from Diamond] went from 400 to 750 with the second issue, and then up around 800-900. Now we’re up to about 1100, self-publishing. And I’m thrilled. If you told me I would have sold that many when we started, I never would have believed it. These are complete strangers, too, not, “I really love your book. Love, Mom” Some people who live in Germany and Australia. How’d I end up in a German bookstore? I just got a copy of the book written in Japanese.

BF: That’s so cool, being in different languages.
I’d love to do a four-issue series that has my title in different languages.

BF: Germany and Japan are huge. Is there any other country you’d like to see your book published in?

TB: Napa Valley, California would be nice! My hometown doesn’t carry my work. There’s nothing more embarrassing than going into my local store and asking if they have my book. “Yeah, let me check… um, no we don’t.” Oh really? It becomes like an Albert Brooks movie:

“You know, it’s funny it takes place in this hometown, I thought you’d carry it. You know it has six Eisner nominations.”

“Oh really? No, we don’t have it…”

It just boggles my mind. I can be in Barcelona, walking into Norma’s comics, and there’s my book. They’re standing around saying “Que Bueno Comico!” But in Napa they’re trying to pronounce my name correctly.

Unfortunately, then the exit becomes a mile long.

BF: This is going to be your last self-published issue (issue #17 – out since August 16th) before switching over to Image?

TB: Yeah. I believe it will say number one on the outside, but inside it will say number 18. So readers won’t be totally confused.

BF: What was the big decision, why did you decide to switch over to Image?

TB: Well, for one thing, when I advertise in Diamond – we have zero budget for advertising – we’d go with that little tiny blurb and a picture in the middle of the magazine, it would be buried. Even though they’d tend to give us gem of the month. For all that people say about Diamond, they were so cool to us. I was completely nurtured by Diamond.

So, to go to Image now, I looked at last month’s Previews, they had a two-page ad plastered in the front of the catalogue. I was so intimidated by that. I freaked. When you have your book in Diamond, you know how much ads cost. And that ad… I was like Tex Avery for ten full minutes.

And then I sat down at my drawing board and had nothing. I was so intimidated I couldn’t draw for a week.

BF: I’ve noticed the ads; they’re doing a great job with advertising the book.

TB: Well, I think if you look at the big three: Marvel, DC, and Image, there’s nothing to counter it. It may be Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, which I completely love. You know how you have your stack of books, and you have your top 5. Well, that’s in it. I’d say that, Conan, the Civil War stuff I’m loving, and even 52. And I’m not even a big DC guy. 52 has been really cool to read.

Our first numbers tripled. Now we have three times as many people looking at our book. Plus, we don’t pay for printing anymore. It allows us to just work on the books. The only weird thing, is that going monthly now, we do those covers four months in advance. It used to bug me that super hero books always had covers that didn’t match the stories inside, have generic covers. But I barely know what my story is going to be two months down the road. So, I’ve been creating generic covers, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with them.

BF: It gives you an artistic license.

TB: Right. Every now and then if I know what the story’s going to be about, I can make it about that. Lily’s writing a two-part story about her trip to India, and you get to see her spiritual side, but there’s a lot of comedy there as well. Plus, you get to see my complete atheist side, where every shot of me I’m playing Playstation and blowing bubbles.

BF: So, do you feel you’ll ever address, in your comic, the move to Image?

TB: Oh God, yes. There are a lot of things that have happened to me that I just can’t wait to add to the comic. I can’t wait to get to the part where Tom Brevoort asked me to write a Spider-Man story.

It was Christmas time, and I was at a signing at Jim Haley’s Universe. Lily had her aunts and Uncles with her, and we were all looking around and this guy walks up to me, and says, “Hi. I’ve been wanting to meet you.” And he hands me his card, and its got this giant spider on it. And I’m just, kind of freaking out. I’m looking for some kind of comic shop, or something, I just didn’t associate him with Marvel Comics. Then it hit me, I knew who he was and everything.

[Brevoort] said, “I really like the way you write couples. Maybe you can write a Spider-Man and Mary Jane story some time?” And I was like, “I’ve been reading Spider-Man since I was 6, and you’re asking if I want to do it?” Well, he didn’t stay long, and when he left, Lily – who was standing across the room – looked at me and I flashed her the card, and she saw the spider on the card, and mouthed, “No way.” The coolest scene of that story was that it was snowing outside, and Lily woke up and saw me sitting on the windowsill, just staring at that card. It was just an amazing night.

And then it broke off from there, and then I wrote Web of Romance, and that was such a joy. People really loved that book. It took me a long time to log onto any forums, I was just expecting to see: “Web of Romance…SUCKS!” Finally, I did google the reviews, and everyone seemed to love it.

To me, Peter Parker gets treated like a loser, but I see him more as Marvel’s Charlie Brown. In the days I read him, he could save the world from Galactus single-handedly, and then he swings down, and changes into Peter, and gets to his motorcycle, and there’s a parking ticket on it. And that ruins his day. Whenever I think of Peter, I just think “Good Grief.”

BF: Would you say that’s the highest point of your career so far?

TB: Oh, god yeah. Although, I did just do the Simpson’s book: the Super Spectacular. And that was a lot of fun. But as far as comics, that was the first dude I ever read in tights. I think it was Spider-Man #112, and I think it was the birth of the Gibbon. Romita was drawing, and Romita was just soooo… god. I came on right after Kirby left the book. And Romita and Kane were incredible.

And they came to me and said, take care of our baby for a few days. And that was the first full book I wrote – I had never written a full book before. So I sketched up the issue – that’s how I work. I draw it all out, then I go to my computers and I describe everything I see. And then I just let the artist take over. I can’t draw buildings to save my life, so in my writing I stay away from buildings.

It was like the 49ers giving me a helmet and saying, “Go run out and Montana will throw a pass to you.” Or like, “Hey, why don’t you go play catch with Willie Mays.”

My love for that character goes far beyond the comics. When my parents were sick, those comics were my escape. It was just so cool.

BF: Ok, so that’s your highest point, what’s the lowest point of your career?

TB: Ok, I’ll be honest with you. When I was first doing the comic strips online – and this is a pretty good lesson for people just starting out – I used to go on the Wizard World boards. I was stressed out from living in Puerto Rico, and there’s something about being new to the message boards, you just want to be an asshole. So, Daredevil was a late – by a lot – and I made a comment that we should boycott it. And Quesada came on, and told us what the deal was. Well, we went on a 300-post flame war, telling him he wasn’t doing his job, saying things I had no fucking business saying.

At the time I thought I was a comic strip dude, but at that point in my life I think stripped off a lot of my credibility. And now, the reason that those two books [I did] came about, was because – look who’s in charge now – Joe Quesada. And yet, I called him out, and had a big flame war, and still the dude let me write two stories with a character I love. When you first start, you think who gives a shit, but the dots do connect eventually. I have a huge respect for Quesada. He could have just blown me off. People say he doesn’t care about Marvel, but he just forgot his anger and let me write.

So that’s my lowest, me acting like a douche bag.

Our interview with Tom Beland concludes on Wednesday.

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