My friend and fellow teacher Lisa McWain retired a few years ago. (I took her room when she left. My previous room had no windows and a flimsy partition dividing my class from the one next door. It was a nice step up.) Last year, Lisa took some college courses, one of which was on comic books. She interviewed me for a project. I stumbled across the interview while organizing my desktop, and thought I'd post it here.
Your blog is really interesting; my favorite part is the Kennedy poop story.
Thanks. I probably spend too much time on my blog. I've been blogging for six years. It's a terrible distraction from actual writing. The Kennedy poop story was hilarious. She’s at an age where she says the funniest stuff without realizing it. A few days ago, she told me I should buy a Toyota Spyder. I told her I didn’t have enough money, so she said April, my girlfriend, could buy it for me.
The comic in D magazine – great!
That's been a good deal for me and the artist, Paul Milligan. I got involved with D Magazine through Trey Garrison who read my Superman essay with the Man from Krypton Smart Pop Book and thought I had some potential. The comic idea was proposed one afternoon, and I made a good impression on their editor Tim Rogers. Our fifth installment of Souvenir of Dallas should be in the August issue. (UPDATE: We're on our 10th installment as of June 2009.)
The Art Conspiracy idea is wonderful.
Sarah Jane Semrad and Jason Roberts are the two people behind Art Conspiracy (http://artconspiracy.org). I’m proud to have been involved with it over the years. Recently, I was asked to contribute a journal to auction for their summer fundraiser. That has taken most of my time recently, working on the journal.
Have you ever done any work in KC?
Not in Kansas City, but Lawrence, Kansas is one of my favorite cities. I’ve been there. I have some friends who live in Lawrence, and I did a store signing at Astrokitty Comics. Great store.
My dad worked as a mechanical engineer for the space program; we lived in Hunstville, AL during the late early sixties, and followed all of "his" launches.
That's really cool. The NASA space program had to be one of the proudest moments in U.S. history. We attempted something great that didn’t involve killing lots of people in another country. However, it was still part of a "war" I guess, the Cold War. I speak through Jimmy in chapter two about that. We’ve been better at bombs than rockets. I was born in 1977. Our last moon landing was in 1973. I hope I live to see us attempt another moon landing. If we wait too long, no one from the original Apollo program will be around to assist. That would be a mistake.
Background Questions: When and how did you start?
About six years ago, my friend Aja invited me to write a stage play for a production opportunity she had at UTA. I thought I’d need a few months. She gave me a few weeks. While writing it, there were many nights that went until four in the morning. In the end, I spit out a semi-decent play. Opening night was a proud and awkward moment. I wore my wedding suit, which felt oddly symbolic. The play itself was a difficult experience to watch. Afterward, I went to my apartment, determined to never write another stage play. However, I had been bitten by an urge to write and comics seemed like a natural fit. It took me awhile to get comfortable with the format and the medium itself. I want to say the more you write the easier it gets, but that's not true. You learn how to be challenged at a higher level than you were before. Hopefully.
Your biggest influences:
I don't know if these influences are all that obvious, but novelist Douglas Coupland and director Wes Anderson have made a huge impact on me. And hey, Wes Anderson and I share a birthday. The influence question is a tough one, because in the end, people are influenced by so much more than the sum of their favorite books, films, and songs. I would love to be called "Coupland-esque," but I never sit down in front of my computer trying to figure out how to write like him. I struggle enough as it is to find my own stories; let alone figure out a way to channel other writers. I like what Alan Moore once said in an interview about being influenced by hundreds of writers, instead of just one.
Advice to future writers:
The best advice isn't all that new. I've heard people say it over and over again: Writers write. They don’t sit around talking about what they want to accomplish some day in the hypothetical future. They do it. Because while you are sitting around thinking about it or attending conferences on how to do it, someone else is out there working harder than you, stealing your dream job. Lots of people want to be writers or say they have a "million dollar idea," but they don't do anything. Start today or don't do it all. People need to stop romanticizing the writing profession, and just put words on paper.
On your site, I see at least 6 different publishers as well as at least 2 works that are self-published. How do you work with the different companies?
All those companies are small operations. Often, you build a professional relationship with those people through mutual friends. I got involved with Viper and Silent Devil via some short stories I contributed to their anthologies. Over the years, I've become good friends with the editors. As their company grows, they stay loyal to the talented peopled they've worked with along the way. That's ideally what happens. Of course, comic book conventions tend to be the place where everyone meets everyone.
I have dipped into the SmartPop books before, the Harry Potter one, the Grey’s Anatomy one, etc. I read the beginning of your essay on Superman – good stuff. How did you get involved with them? Do you like writing essays?
Actually, I hate writing essays. Hate it. It does not come naturally at all. Whereas I've developed a certain pace with script writing, those essays feel like pushing a boulder uphill. I cringe when I re-read what I've written. It’s a skill I need to develop, so I force myself to get better. From a freelance perspective, the pay is much better than comics. I made more money with one 500 word essay for D Magazine than five years worth of comic book publishing. Sad and true. Essay writing can pay a few bills. I got involved with Smart Pop, because I was a friend in high school with one of the editors. We touched base when I lived in Dallas. She gave me a shot at the Superman essay, and her boss gave me the green light.
Do you share your work (and/or its process) with your students? I think they would be fascinated to hear from a real writer.
Rarely, if ever. I like to keep the two areas separate. I’ve never wanted to be "that teacher" who is continually trying to impress the students. I mean, just because you play guitar does not mean you should perform camp songs for your students. If the students discover my work on their own, that's cool. Otherwise, my writing wasn't intended to cross over into my teacher career. Although in my Creative Writing class, I will talk more openly about my process, because there is a logical application.
Why is your site named as it is?
www.davidhopkins.com was taken. I like the term "antihero." It does tend to fit the majority of my characters, especially in Karma Incorporated.
How did you become associated with the Zeus Comics Store? (and its prestigious Eisner Award)
When I lived in Dallas, Zeus was the comic book shop I frequented. It's a really well run, indie-friendly store. I wrote the nomination letter for Zeus. Lo and behold, they won the Eisner Award for best retailer. It was a proud moment -- and well earned.
When did Amazon begin selling your books?
Amazon sold my books whenever Emily Edison first came out. Viper Comics manages all that. The book has its ISBN number, which makes it easier to distribute to regular bookstores. Without much promotion, the bookstore orders were almost as high as with the comic book stores.
Which book is your favorite so far?
I like them each for different reasons. That's the diplomatic parent response, and it's true. I most enjoy writing Karma Incorporated. If the audience were there to support the series, I could keep writing about those characters indefinitely. When book two of Astronaut Dad comes out, collectively, I think that's my best written story.
How well do you draw? Do you ever send sketches with your story ideas? Do you “see” the story as you write your idea?
I used to be a good artist in junior high, but not anymore. No, I never send sketches. If I can’t use my words to describe a scene, then I've done something wrong. Plus, it’s the artist's task to create the visuals. I don't want to micromanage his or her process. I always see the story in my head as I'm writing, but it doesn't always look the way I thought it would, whenever it's all finished. And that's part of the fun.
Antigone -- You are right that I probably would not be able to use it for school. You said your illustrator took some liberties with your script. Could you tell me more about that?
The artist should take some liberties with the script. That's not a bad thing. It's part of the collaborative process. In the Antigone script, I never mentioned Eurydice being topless in her death scene. Tom Kurzanski added that, and it's chilling in its own way. However, that along with some other things made it not appropriate for a younger audience. Personally, the violence is more objectionable than partial nudity, but I'll admit I asked for Tom to make it brutal. And he did.
How do you resolve disputes like that? Do you ever have to completely change your ideas?
We were under such a tight deadline with Antigone I couldn't ask Tom to make those changes. And even if we had more time, I still probably wouldn't say anything. The artist has a right to his own vision too, and sometimes the best writers step out of the way. Very rarely is a dispute so extreme that it means completely changing or compromising your ultimate vision. There's always some wiggle room for disagreements, you just have to pick your battles. A good artist will honor your story as best they can. In the end, the goal is to have the best story possible.
I loved the opening page and the final quotes last. I thought you did a great job of using Sophocles' words. You skillfully employed all the important lines and really did justice to the work, one of my favorites.
Thanks. I tried. It was a tricky copyright issue. Antigone is public domain, but the translation itself is not. Even then, I wasn't using the entire Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald translation, only excerpts – sometimes out of order and sometimes tweaked slightly. We concluded that comic book constituted as an adapted "performance" of the text.
Where did you get your idea for opening 4 panels?
I wanted a contemporary parallel to big mythic events in a culture, just as the Oedipus story was part of the cultural consciousness of Greek society.
As far as the dialogue goes, who makes the decisions as to how to punctuate and which words to bold in the speech bubbles?
I make the decisions on punctuation. Very rarely do I use bold or italics to emphasize a particular word in the dialogue. I try to leave the emphasis to the reader. Occasionally, the artist will take that liberty and that's okay.
The epilogue was interesting. Who is that writer?
The epilogue was written by my friend Aaron Thomas Nelson. I needed a Greek scholar to double check my adaptation, make sure it would stand up to any academic scrutiny. Aaron's notes were helpful. I asked him to write an epilogue to give an opportunity for a deeper look into the story.
Astronaut Dad What a great idea! The story is wonderful. I think your characterization is especially strong here. Having lived in the times (albeit barely!), you captured them well.
I'm happy with how the story came together. With both volumes one and two, I think it's the best comic I’ve written.
When in 2007 did it come out?
It came out in November 2007.
When did you start it?
I wrote the first draft in the summer of 2003. This is one of those scripts that gathered dust for a while, because I couldn't find the right artist until Brent Schoonover was available. He was exactly what I wanted. The script went through two complete re-writes. Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir came onboard as story editors. In exchange, I helped design their website. Nunzio and Christina are very talented career writers. Their feedback has made me a better writer.
How many volumes do you anticipate?
It's a two-part series.
Do you already know the ending? (a la J.K. Rowling and the Lost creators)
Yep, it's already written and everything. I love the ending.
Which character is your favorite?
I love writing the mom characters, especially Faye. She goes through a lot in this story and it's interesting to watch as a reader. The voices for the mothers came easily, so dry and cynical.
Did the illustrator do the lettering as well as the art work?
Justin Stewart lettered Astronaut Dad.
Do you plan to keep the same illustrator throughout the series?
Definitely. He's finishing it right now.
What does Miss Kennedy think of your work?
I don't know if she really cares one way or the other. Once she realizes I dedicated Emily Edison to her, someday, she'll read it a little more closely.