I was able to snag an interview with Colleen Coover via instant message today and I learned many things during our brief time together: the benefits of digital publishing, how she got involved with Monkeybrain Comics, and most importantly that her initials are the same as Comics Crux’s.
Jess Pendley: Thanks for taking the time for this. I know it’s been a hectic couple of weeks for you.
Colleen Coover: Yeah, right? I didn’t know how big a deal this whole Monkeybrain business was going to be!
JP: Plus you had the con right before that.
CC: That’s like two years ago in my head!
JP: Well, let’s talk about the big, pink Monkeybrain in the room.
CC: Right on.
JP: How did you get involved with the project?
CC: Short story, Chris Roberson and Alison Baker laid out the whole idea for the digital imprint… when was it, maybe at Emerald City Comic Con? No, it was a couple of months before that. December, I think they asked me and Paul if we wanted to do something for it, and we said YES.
JP: At that point did you already know that it would be Bandette?
CC: No, I was working on a story with Jeff Parker for CREEPY, and another story with Nate Cosby for a Cow Boy-related thing, and Paul was in the middle of getting his novel Prepare To Die published, so the pie chart that is our creative energy was maxed out. I think we started brainstorming in early spring.
JP: How long did it take you to really nail down a personality and design?
CC: Almost instantaneous. I already had B.D Belgique of the Special Police nailed down in a sketch I did for my blog last year.
JP: That’s fantastic! I absolutely loved the first issue, by the way.
CC: Thanks! Bandette herself was pretty easy to come up with a visual for. All of the characters kind of fall within certain tropes in my head. Bandette is an Audrey Hepburn type, Monsieur is a Peter O’Toole type, B.D. is a typical band desinee character: a cross of Captain Haddock & Columbo.
JP: I have to say, Bandette is one of the most immediately charming characters that I’ve seen in a long while. After reading the issue I felt like I did the first time that I saw Paul Dini’s Harley Quinn. She just clicks.
CC: SWEET. That’s good company. There’s a reason people have gravitated to Harley.
JP: All of Dini’s original characters have the same type of…accessibility that your characters seem to have. You just know from the first time you see Bandette that she’s going to be a favorite. There’s a spark of authenticity.
CC: I think Dini and I come from very similar places, artistically. Saturday morning cartoons, mid-20th century illustration/pinup art, and adventure comic strips. There are other influences, but those are some of the real biggies.
JP: It’s apparently an amazing recipe.
JP: Very. That’s what immediately drew me to your art from the beginning. You bring this warmth and accessibility to everything that you draw. No matter the subject matter.
CC: Yeah, I like doing the occasional dark story, but I’ve never been interested in drawing in a way that offends the eye.
JP: Which of course brings the conversation to Small Favors. Which I’m sure you’re a little tired of talking about at this point.
CC: Hee hee! Not at all. Bring it!
JP: I actually have a funny anecdote concerning Small Favors. When I thirteen, I went to a friend’s house and her sister was visiting from college. While we were rifling through her things like raccoons, I found a copy of Small Favors #3.
CC: Uh oh! And now I feel old!
JP: No, not at all! It was the first time that I had ever seen a sexual act on paper that seemed…sweet. Not intimidating or terrifying in any way.
CC: Yeah, that was kind of the point of Small Favors. I was working in a comic shop at the time, and unlike most shops, we kept the adult stuff in a little space right up near the register, so the person running the till could keep an eye on it. (That was me.) This meant that I had to reorganize the adult comics every day, and a lot of it was just plain nasty. On the other hand, it was the section of the store most visited by woman customers who weren’t readers of superhero or manga titles. I wanted to make a comic that those women could read without any gross extras, like violence, drug use, rape, etc. I also wanted a comic that could be enjoyed by lesbian and bisexual women without having them feel like it was a “Girls Gone Wild” thing especially made for men to get off on, while at the same time not excluding male readers. That’s why there are no male characters in Small Favors. Bottom line, I figured sex is fun, why eff it up?
JP: The whole story reads like a love letter to healthy human sexuality.
CC: I never wrote down a mission statement or anything, but yeah. I wanted to make people happy.
JP: Topshelf is releasing the omnibus later this year?
CC: That’s the plan!
JP: Is there a time frame that we can look for or is it still up in the air?
CC: The latter, I’m afraid. Print schedules being what they are, it’s been a matter of getting all out ducks in a row, and there are a whole lotta ducks.
JP: Now, on the Monkeybrain website, Bandette is described as an ongoing series. Do you already have an exact ending and issue count in mind, or have you kept it a little looser?
CC: It’s pretty loose at this point. I figure on AT LEAST four issues, but there’s no reason it won’t go on longer. One of the great things about this digital-first model is that we are NOT beholden to print schedules, shipping, distribution, etc. So if it takes four weeks to do an issue, the next issue will come out in four weeks! And if I (heaven forbid!) sprain my drawing hand or something, I only lose the time it takes to heal. If we were publishing traditionally, a two-week delay in production could mean a delay of MONTHS in getting a book to the shops.
JP: Wow. That’s a pretty good pro on the side of digital publishing.
CC: I could go on! Paul and I were talking about this last night. Say you have a new book. You don’t know how well it will sell, but you have to sink your money into getting it published, so you go conservative and print 2000 copies. Then, BOOM! It’s a hit, but there are only 2000 copies! Shops want 10,000 more, so you go to press! But it takes months for those reprints to hit stores, and in the meantime, everyone has forgotten you, and you only sell 2000 of those new books, leaving shops stuck with 8000 comics nobody wants. So when it comes to ordering issue 2, those shop owners go, “Well, hell! I lost a ton on issue 1, so I don’t feel like ordering a bunch of #2.” So an indie book can get sunk by the financial woe of being WAY MORE POPULAR than you thought it would be. But in digital, you have INFINITE product. It never goes out of print. And you have ZERO extra inventory. That’s my spiel. :)
JP: It’s a great one, I’m sold.
CC: There are drawbacks, which I have seen some consumers express online. The DRM thing is a problem for some, but if you think about it, when you buy an app like Angry Birds or whatever, you can only play it on the device type you buy it for. It’s the same deal with comiXology, except that you can access your comics across all devices as long as comiXology exists, and I frankly don’t see where they would go.
JP: So it’s safe to say that you fall on the “Pro-Digital” side of the print vs digital debate?
CC: I’m a big convert to digital since I started reading books in the Kindle and Stanza apps. I think there’s a big shift of consciousness from thinking of books and comics as objects to collect, to stories you can enjoy. It allows genre-bending in a way that no traditional publisher would be able to take a financial risk on. I should add that I’m not DRM’s biggest fan, but I have yet to see a business model that would allow non-DRM comics to be monetized.
JP: The digital comics medium opens up a lot of opportunities for independent creators. That’s why indie creators seem to be the ones pushing digital forward. There’s a synergy.
CC: It’s the lack of financial overhead! I’ve seen people comment that they hope Monkeybrain does well, doesn’t go belly-up, and I just want to take them by the hand and say “No, honey, you don’t understand. There’s no belly, here!” The only cost is time and some negligible licensing stuff.
JP: I don’t think that there is any reasonable doubt at this point that Monkeybrain will do well.
JP: Outside of Bandette, are there any other projects that you currently have in the works?
CC:: In comics, no. I’m focused entirely on the next issue of Bandette. I am writing a follow up to my first gay romance prose short story Home Port, which I self-published (digitally!) in February. It’s taking a lot of time because it’s longer than the first story and I have this entire other creative career.
JP: How would you say the creative process differs between prose and comics?
CC: Oh my god! It’s totally different! I have to remember that I can’t just SHOW what’s going on with pictures, and if I get stuck on a description, I can just spin my wheels for an hour. I do love writing, and I want to work those storytelling muscles, both in comics and prose.
JP: Well, for what it’s worth I think you’re doing a great job.
JP: You participate online in Sindiecate, regularly.
CC: I do!
JP: Would you mind explaining what that is and how it came about?
CC: It’s a group sketch blog focusing on indie comics. Each week we have a single title as a theme, chosen by one of the group. David Lafuente asked me to join when Mike Choi had to take a break, and I was all, “hell yeah!” I love seeing what the other guys come up with every week, and it has the nice by-product effect of forcing me to come up with SOMETHING for the Internet on a regular basis, even when I’m tired and don’t wanna. The other guys are, Jorge Munoz, James Harren, Matteo Scalera, David Lafuente, and now Mike’s back, too! Ryan Ottley used to be in the group but he had to bow out.
JP: There has been some consistently fantastic art spinning out of that blog.
CC: Indeed. Next week is my pick, by the way: Love & Rockets, and it just happens to coincide with L&R’s 30th anniversary!
JP: OH MY GOD!
CC: I know, right?
JP: My heart just stopped. I am devoted to L&R. Any idea what you’ll be contributing?
CC: Dude, I am done! I needed to do up a piece in advance so I wouldn’t be rushed by San Diego Comic Con. Los Bros are one of my most important artistic influences. I did a Heartbreak Soup piece.
JP: I can’t wait to see that. It will literally cause me physical pain.
CC: The good kind, I hope. :)
JP: I always like to ask this question: what comics are you reading right now? Anything coming out that you’re really excited about?
CC: I just saw the listing for The Lookouts on the comiXology store, and I’m really interested in it— it looks gorgeous. And of course I want to see more of all the other Monkeybrain titles, especially the upcoming Wander by Kevin Church & Grace Allison. Oh and I’m freaking out about the complete Carl Barks from Fantagraphics. It’s gonna look AWESOME.
JP: It does look pretty. I just bought the Ti-Girls compilation from Fantagraphics. It came with a mini-comic of Jaimie Hernandez’s punk posters.
JP: I really appreciate your time today.
CC: Hey cool! I enjoyed it! Hopefully my typing skillz don’t translate into incoherence
JP: I’ll make us look classy. Any pearls of wisdom you’d like to drop for your Comics Crux fans?
CC: Just this: if you want to do comics, DO IT. Don’t worry if you “can’t draw”, just put it down on paper or post it online and everything will be OK.
JP: Those are beautiful words, Madam.
CC: I thank you.
JP: It was a pleasure talking to you. Hopefully we can do this again sometime!
CC: Any time! If you’re at SDCC, the only place I’ll be for sure is at the Monkeybrain panel on Friday. If not, I’ll see you around the Internets!