In the first of a series of “in-house” interviews leading up to the release of the Other Worlds anthology, A Wave Blue World chats with Justin Zimmerman, creator and writer of the title.
Justin is a nationally recognized writer, filmmaker and professor. He has taught in multiple colleges and programs and his production company, Bricker-Down Productions®, has been the recipient of many grants, film festival honors and awards.
AWBW: Your background is mostly in filmmaking, an area in which you’re still very much involved. Tell us a little bit about how you first started to transition into comics and why?
JZ: My MFA is in Film, and I’ve been heavily invested in filmmaking for as long as I can remember, it’s true. But even that’s been incredibly diverse. From socially-oriented docs to narrative indies, from corporate work like teaching at four colleges and shooting for fortune 500 companies like Getty Images and Cisco Systems to writing a feature-length Stephen King adaptation, I’ve always tried to stay as malleable as possible with my creativity. Basically, I get bored easily…and I love to work. And I’ve always been fascinated by the scope, scale and autonomy of independent comics. So I decided to make some. Fortunately for me, I landed in the independent comic capital of the country, purely by luck, and was able to jump in with both feet. You can see a lot of this stuff on my website, www.brickerdown.com
AWBW: What were the first comics you ever read and/or which ones were the most influential to you growing up and becoming a creator yourself?
JZ: When I found ElfQuest at a local library as a kid, it was over. I was blown away. Then, still pretty young, my local comic book store owner handed me Miracleman, V for Vendetta, Season of Mists, Watchmen, Swamp Thing and Arkham Asylum over a brief period of time. SHAZAM! But anyone who knows me will tell you I love comics of all kind. There’s a space in my brain where calculus should be that’s filled up with my favorite comic stories and creators. As a writer and world-builder, I will never get to the heights achieved by my faves Ellis, Morrison, Aaron and Moore.
AWBW: The first comic you made was The Killing Jar, which was one single story, whereas your next work, the upcoming Other Worlds anthology, is a series of short stories. What was it like transitioning from one to the other and how were they different?
JZ: For you burgeoning creators out there, I would not recommend for your first comic creator experience single-handedly writing and producing a 240-page graphic novel. It’s just not a smart idea. That said, I had an entire feature-length script I was working from, though I rewrote over half of it when I was finished transitioning it into serialized comic format. And I had a hell of an indie artist in Russ Brown, and the help of my graphic designer wife, who helped get me up and running with the ol’ Photoshop and Illustrator and fonts and the like. And I had 4 years, which was good, because that’s how long it took.
Other Worlds was in many ways a reaction to The Killing Jar. I wanted to tell short and concise stories and I wanted to work with a variety of artists and styles. And that’s exactly what I did.
AWBW: On The Killing Jar you worked with one artist, Russ Brown, but with Other Worlds you worked with many artists (one of them being Russ again). How was your process different, and what were the challenges of working with so many different artists on one project?
JZ: It was actually pretty amazing tailoring scripts to different artists and their styles. But I had my pillar for Other Worlds, and that was Mike Lawrence. I met Mike at Stumptown several years back and was simply amazed by his work. And he came out swinging for Other Worlds, jumping into stories and covers with both feet, using completely different styles and tools and always making truly phenomenal choices. I hope to blow you away someday with a joint project we’ve been working on for years, but hey, I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have worked with him on Other Worlds.
And while Mike crushed three stories in the graphic novel, other fantastic folks turned in what I consider game-changing work. Writing for someone truly experimental like Tym Godek and pushing Russ in an entirely new way through a silent script were completely different processes. Man, I want to do it all over again, it was so cool. Everyone just turned in great work.
AWBW: In general, what do you think the challenges are for a writer who relies on an artist to bring his or her work to life in a comic?
JZ: For me, part of the process with working with artists has always been a work-for-hire scenario. Unless it’s a joint copyright situation, every artist who draws for me gets a mutually agreed upon page rate. And as I’m a working guy, this means that instead of going on a vacation or buying a new car, some portion of my income goes to paying folks for independent comic art. The good news is there’s a long tail: I’ve made money on every story I’ve ever produced through direct sales and, most impressively, several successful Kickstarter campaigns. Furthermore, I’ve been able to produce the printed copies of my work locally and sustainably thanks to those drives. So it’s one giant creative process that has rewarded me in multiple ways as both a creator and a writer. But it takes time, and there are a number of long hours, and it’s you and you alone putting this stuff together and sending those checks. And that better be worth something to you, personally, because there’s zero certainty that it will pay you back that month, that year or even that decade.
I believe I’ve been lucky to have worked with some of the best independent – and not so independent – artists in the business, and though I’m obviously biased, there isn’t a story I’ve ever had illustrated that I’m not proud of and that I haven’t learned from.
AWBW: What are you looking forward to the most about the debut of the Other Worlds anthology at Rose City Comic Con on September 21 & 22?
JZ: It’s amazing to just be at the point where I have two graphic novels finished. Rose City is a new – and great – local fest, and it’s only proper the print version of this largely local book gets to launch there. It’s also great to be with A Wave Blue World, a new local and creator friendly company helping me get my books out to a larger audience through ComiXology. But to tell you the truth, I’m usually working so much that festivals sneak up on me, and become kind of a welcome break. So I’m looking forward to that too!
AWBW: What other projects are you currently working on, or that you have coming up?
JZ: Well, I’m always doing work for Getty Images and Cisco, but on the artistic front, I’ve been directing a documentary in LA that should wrap next year, I’m in preproduction on a short narrative film and comic (in the Other Worlds universe) and my last doc is still making the rounds at fests, so I have a couple more showings before the year’s done. So it’s busy but good.
AWBW: In 5 years from now, what do you see yourself working on, or what do you hope to be doing?
JZ: Making things on my own terms, paying my bills, working with great people and causing trouble.
The Other Worlds anthology makes it’s digital debut on ComiXology on Sept. 4 and then its print debut at Rose City Comic Con on September 21. Copies will be available for order on this website.