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True Interview, Swear To God! - Part 2

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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.

Part One

BROKEN FRONTIER: What would you say, having written both fiction and autobiographical work, is harder to write?

TOM BELAND: Well, I think Web Of Romance was almost autobiographical…  I’m not sure. There’s stuff for Swear to God that I’d love to do, that I’m not sure what the reaction would be.

There’s one where I went to the SPX convention, and it was my first indie convention, and I just pictured them all being French and smoking cigarettes in front of brick walls. There was an ultra-coolness about it, and I wanted to be part of it. What if it was just a bunch of cool people standing around, drinking, smoking weed, and talking about comics?

So, I was with a friend, and he was like, “Oh, man the convention is great, but later on, we’re going to go upstairs and we’ll have the indie crowd up there. And they can party.” Now with me, at conventions, at 9 o’clock, it’s time to take the leash off the dog. So we go, and get on the elevator, and we’re going, “Yeah, let’s get crazy!!” Well, we get up there, and there’s people sitting around talking and drinking beers watching a baseball game. My friend looks around and asks, “who’s got the weed?” and gets the answer: “Oh, we’re not doing that in here.” We looked around, and found Heineken in the bathtub in ice, and that was it. It was so prepped out. My friend is like, “This is it? No weed? And you’re watching baseball? What is that, the Padres? Robert Crumb would be embarrassed to know you people!”

Then all of a sudden a friend of his – who hasn’t said a word all day – pulls out a doobie the size of a pencil. So we just start passing it around, when someone comes up the hallway and points at me, as if I was getting busted by my mom – and says, “You can’t do that here. There’s no smoking!” And I come back with, “Well, if there’s no smoking, why don’t you have a fucking sign?” And then she points behind me, and I look at my friend and ask, “There’s a big fucking sign behind me, isn’t there?” To which he answers: “It’s like a traffic sign.”

See, to do that story, I’d have to let my nieces find out what I do, but they’re teenagers, so that’s cool. But I’d also have to use the other people with me, and that’s the tricky part about autobiography, you want to use all the names.

BF: So how often do you get asked not to use names?

TB: Actually, most people have been really cool about it. I think there’s a trust issue that has to go into it. I think the only time I’ve used anything without permission was a scene in the newsroom where the writer comes back with 92 inches of story and the photographer comes back with the photo of a house. And it was a story about teaching guide dogs for the blind, and the picture didn’t even have a dog in it. And I just told myself, “Boy, am I going to write about this one day.” But I did change their names around. Still, I did feel, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.”

BF: Do you feel the inverse is true, that people go out of their way to make a spectacle to get themselves into your comics?

TB: Only a few times have I come across this. One guy, when I worked at the newspaper, used to always come in, put one foot on the chair, and say, “Hey, funny story.” Then tell a story not funny at all and tell me: “You should use that.”

There was one guy I always thought would be like that. In the comics I write about a guy, Fanboy David. David’s never been one to go, “Check this out…” David’s always been a big fanboy. It reminds me of the cartoon with the two bulldogs, where the little one is always jumping around, “Hey boss, Hey Boss, what do you want to do boss.” And yet, David’s never tried to push himself into the comics, which is really cool. And yet, I did eventually do some strips about him. I guess the best way to get into the comic is not bring it up.

What’s great about this industry is the camaraderie. I walked by Scott Morse’s table – and I’m so scared to ask anyone for a sketch – and I said, hey Scott, how much would you charge for a cover, and he said, “For True Story? Nothing! I love that book!” So he did the cover (to issue #12) in two hours. He nailed my character, and then sent me the sketch, a disc, and the original art. I couldn’t believe it!

The people who don’t take advantage of the camaraderie are usually just so anti-convention. I once had dinner with Sergio Aragones, who was one of my father’s favorite artists. And everything he said just bounced off my forehead. Another person is Matt Wagner. Someone went from my table to his, and he told them he’s a huge fan of me!

And that’s what is cool about this work. Those kinds of moments. That’s what’s great about this book: it’s a love story, but it is also a love of what I do.

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BF: How about influences?

TB: The Flinstones, definitely. When you look at True Story #1, it’s a lot like the early Flinstones. Lily was almost a complete rip-off of Wilma Flinstone, that’s how into Hanna-Barbera cartoons I was. Yogi Bear was comedy gold to me. I just laughed at that. Even now, I think you can definitely see some Flinstones expressions in my work. It’s a combination of that and Al Hirschfeld, they’re my two biggest influences.

BF: What do you think of the romance comics industry right now?

TB: Well, I think when I first started doing True Story, there wasn’t a whole lot out there. The most common thing I heard was “there’s really nothing out there like this.” But I think with Blankets, and anything by Andy Watson, they really brought it back. I just kind of rode the wave a bit. One of the best compliments I ever got in my life was by – I think John Romita Sr, but I’m not sure – said, “If written like that back when I was drawing romance comics, they’d still be around today.” And it was just such a great compliment.

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BF: The Eisners: how does it feel to be nominated so often?

TB: The first time I got nominated I was at a table with Carla Speed McNeil – who I began ripping off; her crosshatch skills. If anyone’s not reading Finder right now, shame on you. People complain that there’s nothing interesting today, and here’s this excellent book. So, Lily’s sitting in the audience, I was bummed because I didn’t know I could take her to the table with me. And there’s this old guy sitting there, and he asks me if I’m a nominee, and I tell him yes. And I realize it’s Will Eisner! It was like, “I think that’s Jesus Christ!” So, I told him about my book, which was utterly cool. Eventually, I told him it was what my dad always wanted me to do, and how it was a shame he wasn’t there to see it, and Will just said, “He knows. He knows what you’ve been doing.” So, I was hyperventilating, because I was up against so many people I loved, like Bendis, and then the image of my comic’s cover comes on the screen and everyone starts clapping. And Will turns around and points up a little bit. And you can’t write that! If you could, it would be the sappiest Disney story… and then I lost. But I didn’t care, I was up against so many great people.

This year, I was on the cell phone with Lily, and they announced the nominees, and they announced “Embroideries” by Marjane Satrapi, and Lily just said, “oooohhhh…” You know, this was a book that my wife would put down my book to pick up that book.

It’s like having the San Diego chest-punching contest. On one side, you have Tom Beland, he has a bit of a chest you can punch, and on the other side you have Hercules, Thor, and the Hulk. You know you’re going to lose, but what a great way to go.

What was really weird was when they talk about the people who passed away. Like the young guy that fell out of the building. Oh, man, it was just so freaky. What a happy note.

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BF: So Lily is in Puerto Rico, and you’re in Napa Valley. How is that all working out?

TB: Well, since our divorce, I’ve been living here. There’s a 90% chance I’ll move back to Puerto Rico in December. You’re actually the first person I’ve ever told this to. She’s coming here for my birthday in September. My apartment looks like a dorm room, everything is packed up. I just don’t want to unpack if I’m moving again. We talk about four times a day.

Even during the divorce, we just never got mad at each other. I had to sign for her house, in fact. In Puerto Rico, wives can’t own houses. So I said, sure I’ll do it. I mean, while she didn’t make me a cartoonist – I did that on my own – she was behind me. It’s like a Disney cartoon where they say: “Once upon a time in the forest”, and the paintbrush goes across the page and there’s a forest? Well, she was that paintbrush. She completely teleported me into the world of comics by letting me know everything would be cool, that no matter what happens the sun will come up.

So right now, it’s like we have a long vacation, the whole thing is to just be cool with each other.

BF: That’s all I have for you right now, anything else on the horizon you’d like to mention?

TB: The current issue is out August 16th, 2006. The first issue for Image is out in September. There won’t be one in October, because I messed up the Diamond schedule, then it’s monthly starting in November. I’m also working on Postcards, that’s being put out. And I’m doing a tribute for Stan Lee, a two-page story for Marvel Comics. Some Amazing Spider-man stories, and some Simpsons comics as well.

Check out the latest copy of “True Story, Swear To God” in stores now, and watch for the published series from Image in September. To learn more about Tom Beland, check out his website at: www.TomBeland.com.

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