INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Anyone who has had the displeasure of editing or reading poorly executed copycat literature is likely entertained by the core premise of writer Andrew Foley & artist Fiona Staples’ Done to Death trade collection: an editor who sets out to kill the writers of bad literature. This trade collection, which was released by IDW on September 21, had quite a six-year journey to get on the shelves, as Foley explained to me in this email interview. My thanks to Foley for his time. Once you’ve read this interview, be sure to read the late September interview that Foley did with CBR’s Shaun Manning.
Tim O’Shea: How long have you been developing Done to Death and how did it come to be at IDW?
Andrew Foley: It’s taken a little over six years to finally get this collection on the shelves. The original five issues took a little more than a year from to get from the initial pitch to publication. After parting ways with Markosia Fiona and I spent quite a while looking for the right publisher for the collection. In the early portion of my career, I had publishers I was working with: abruptly go out of business; unilaterally break contracts they’d agreed to; elect not to publish several graphic novels (at least one fully illustrated) I wrote for them while being constantly reassured they would see the light of day; stiff dozens of creators when the publisher decided the moment for their wildly ambitious anthology series had passed; and just generally try to advance themselves on the backs of passionate (if naïve) creators.
There are some great indy publishers out there. Red 5 springs to mind. But there are also a distressingly high number of predatory companies around whose sole purpose is to acquire or control as much intellectual property for as little as possible in the hopes that one will become 30 Days of Night or Cowboys & Aliens and get optioned for millions of dollars. It’s a bit like playing the lottery, only each ticket represents hundreds of hours of labour on the creators’ parts.
Anyway, at a certain point I’d had enough of that sort of thing, and was ready to sit on the book until a company Fiona and I were 100% comfortable with agreed to publish it. I was confident they would, eventually, just because it was clear Fiona was destined for great things. Sooner or later someone would see the wisdom of getting her first major comics work back in print.
IDW gave us the thumbs-up around the middle of 2010. Then we started going through the previous version, looking for things that could use a little tweaking. I haven’t made a big deal about this being a “remastered” version of the story because the changes are the sorts of things that probably aren’t going to make much of an impression on people casually reading the thing. But we were working on pretty tight deadlines the first time around, and we did what we had to to hit them, and there were a few little things I always wished could’ve been done a little differently. Now they have been, and I couldn’t be happier.
O’Shea: What is it that made Fiona Staples a perfect match for the project?
Foley: She’s a fantastic artist, and she was willing to spend several months working with a pretty much unknown writer for not a lot of money because she liked the story. She’s just a great collaborator and a legitimately nice person. As any writer with minimal financial resources can tell you, finding an artist with all those qualities is like winning the lottery and getting hit by lightning five minutes later, only the lightning is magical and instead of frying you it makes you look like a stunningly attractive person.
O’Shea: Do you ever edit people’s work and do you think after reading this story they’ll be scared of you being an editor?
Foley: Well I hope they will…
I have done some editing, and what I learned from the experience is that I’m a decent editor and that I should avoid doing it again for my own emotional wellbeing. Successful editors compartmentalize things in a way I can’t, I think. They have to be able to put 100% effort into making a story the best it can be inside externally imposed limitations (deadlines, flaky creators, upper management, etc.), they have to do that with multiple projects at the same time, and they have to keep an emotional distance from it all to make sure they’re seeing things clearly and also so they don’t end up being gunned down in a McDonalds after having gone on a bloody murder spree. And then creators get pretty much all the credit and editors all the blame. It’s grueling work, and I’ve nothing but respect for the editors I’ve worked with. If I was in their shoes, I’d spend the bulk of my waking hours sitting on a toilet sobbing pitifully.
I can only imagine it’d be slightly less grueling work if the creators of a project were a little afraid of their editor. Anything that streamlines the process and makes for the best work (which I naturally define as work done the way I want it) has got to be a plus, right?
O’Shea: How much input did you have on the look of Andy, or did you defer to Staples completely on that aspect?
Foley: Aw, man, I can barely remember what happened last week, never mind six years ago. I think I wanted him to be overweight…? In any event, I don’t believe there was much additional input of Andy’s design on me after Fiona’s initial character sketches.
O’Shea: In this digital age, how much of a priority was it for you to see this in print?
Foley: I’m not actually convinced we’re in the digital age yet, at least not for creators. There are some making a living doing digital comics and a few making a very, very good living doing it. As far as I can tell, most of those use the comic strip model, presenting new material daily or close to it and using a standalone set-up/punchline structure. While more extended narratives have been monetized to some extent, I can’t think of many commercial success stories in that vein. Freankangels, maybe.
Speaking from my own experience, I’ve had two of my previous works, Parting Ways and The Holiday Men in The Massacre Memorial Day Sale Massacre, up on Graphicly.com for a few months now, and they haven’t received a whole lot of interest. In fairness, I haven’t spent a whole lot of energy promoting them, either. I’m an old dude who still tends to regard computers as glorified glowing typewriters more than anything else. I understand people are making real, tangible connections both personal and professional via social media–I’m not one of them. I’ve tried, but I just don’t have the online social or technical skills necessary to effectively pull eyeballs to my material.
Given all that, it was very important to me that we end up with a printed version of the complete story between two covers. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to diminish digital or deny its growing impact on comics. I’ve little doubt that in five, ten, or twenty years from now, digital will be the primary delivery system for comics and printed books will be quaint relics of a bygone age, for environmental reasons if nothing else. I’m of a generation that grew up with print and isn’t willing to let it go. But my generation’s getting older and kids these days are far more accustomed to reading stuff on a screen than I will ever be.
O’Shea: OK, clearly I think it’s safe to say you don’t think much of the Twilight trend (correct me if I am wrong). What kind of vampire stories do you enjoy?
Foley: Honestly, with the exception of Twilight I can enjoy almost any vampire story if I come at it with the right mindset. The film Near Dark’s probably my favourite. I liked the Buffy and Angel TV series. Nosferatu. The Blade movies (I even managed to enjoy Trinity, largely because I went in with extremely low expectations.)
O’Shea: If it sells well enough, do you hope to write a sequel to this?
Foley: Oh yes, several, in fact. I wrote a blog post about it on my tumblr account.
O’Shea: What did it take to get to Steve Niles to write the foreword?
Foley: Fiona drew a wonderful series Steve wrote called The Mystery Society, so she was the one who asked if he’d be willing to do it. Done to Death’s editor Justin Eisinger knows Steve well enough to be comfortable, uh, nudging him a few times about getting it done in time for print. Steve’s so passionate and prolific, he writes more in a day than I do some months, but he’s got so much on his plate at any given time that I imagine it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks when deadlines for paying work loom. I was thrilled when I finally got to read the foreword; it’s hard to describe how it feels to have a horror creator of his caliber praise something I’m involved with. Someday he will ask me to kill a man, and I totally will.
O’Shea: Not everybody lives with a book designer, how much fun is it to be able to collaborate with Tiina Andreakos of Edmonton’s Diva Designs on the cover design?
Foley: “Fun” isn’t necessarily the word I’d use to describe it. I love Tiina and I love her work (I loved her work first, actually, we met when I tried to get her to draw something I wrote). But being around her while she’s working is kind of terrifying, and never more so than when she’s working on something with me. When she gets really engrossed in designing something, her expression changes, she puts on what she calls her game face. Unfortunately, her game face makes her look as though she’s about to murder the next person she sees. She isn’t doing it on purpose, but usually we’re so comfortable and content in each others’ company…it’s incredibly unnerving for me to be around her in that situation. I kind of wish she weren’t so damn good at her job, so I’d have a legitimate excuse to go to someone who isn’t in a position to divorce me. But she is so good. I still feel Done to Death’s original covers (repurposed as chapter title pages in the collection) were really interesting and unique and Tiina’s design work was a big part of that. I’ve been shouting about how Fiona should be a superstar artist for years, but I also believe Tiina’s work on D2D deserved more recognition than it got.
O’Shea: Any questions you’d like to ask Robot 6 readers?
Foley: Why yes, yes I do. Hello, Robot 6 readers, how’re you doing today? Gotta say you’re looking mighty fine there, mighty fine…Let me ask you a question: Do you think vampires should glitter? No? You positively loathe Twilight and the glut of poorly written derivative vampire novels that flooded the bookstores after it became a success? Great, that’s great. So listen, maybe you’ve heard I’ve about this book I’ve got out from IDW Publishing right now, Done to Death? Art by Shuster Award-winning Fiona Staples, foreword by 30 Days of Night creator Steve Niles? Yeah? OK, great. Now what will it take to get you to buy a copy, or several copies (as you are obviously incredibly popular and have dozens of friends who share your impeccable taste when it comes to all things bloodsucking)? Because whatever it is, there’s a good chance I’ll do it. So just let me know, will you? I’d be forever grateful if you did.
Also, does anyone have something to eat? I’m starving here.