Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 04/07/2004
Silver Tongued Devil
Johnny Ortiz on Silver Comics
Just so you know the title of this piece isn't hyperbole, I'm letting the short bio that Johnny sent along with his answers serve as this installment's introduction:
Brief bio: After graduating in 1985 from the School Of Visual Arts in NYC, I went to work in the licensing division of the Walt Disney Company. That began my 19 year stint in the consumer products world. Shortly after Disney in 1989 I began drawing covers for the Looney Tunes and Tiny Toons magazines published by DC Comics. The magazine was being edited by the great Joe Orlando at he time and being written by Joey Cavalieri. That made for a great experience. It was only natural that I ended up at the corporate offices of the Warner Bros. Studio Stores, drawing and designing items like Bugs Bunny lamps. I currently do a lot of limited edition cel drawings for the Clampett Studios. But my mind is in comic books. In 1990 I self published a comic called Rescue Comics. It was well received, but financially, I just couldn't continue. 14 years later, I'm at it again. Hopefully I'll be doing this for a long time to come.
Bill Baker: For those folks who might no have heard about the project, or missed your first issue, how would you describe Silver Comics, both the book and the company?
Johnny Ortiz: Silver Comics the book is a sincere attempt to embrace the fun and excitement of comics. The book is a 32 page, black and white anthology filled mostly with super-heroes at the moment. Although it's called Silver Comics, it's not really a Silver Age knock off. Our characters are as original and as current as today's comic heroes are. Maybe more so, because we're not fixated on the dark, tortured hero that the 80's gave us. That stuff seems older and more contrived to me than the timeless characters of the 30's-70's.
BB: The common wisdom in the direct market is that anthology books aren't viable at present. How would you answer that assertion, and what are some of the ways you might be working to put the lie to that idea?
JO: Having worked in the consumer products business for nearly twenty years, I can say with some authority, that the people that make those types of comments are out of touch with the consumer. It's very simple; a good anthology book will sell, a bad anthology book will not.
Personally, I don't pay attention to surveys or critics. I believe that the only relationship between an artist is the one between his or her readers. Some people are going to get it and others are not. If you don't get it, then don't buy it. It is nice to have a choice though.
BB: How would you respond to the charge that all you're doing is just trying to tap into the nostalgia market, basically operating as an attempt to re-live the glory days of yore?
JO: I think this has more to do with emphasizing the strengths of the older comic books, more than trying to transport you to 1950 or some given year . Right now there is a lot of psychological baggage that comes with most comic characters. A lot of comics are really "heavy," and draw upon social issues or other topical subjects, but the message is too obvious and direct.
What I want to focus on is the basic thrill of extraordinary heroes doing extraordinary things. For me, when I read a comic, I want to see something otherworldly. It's just more interesting. Super hero comics are about escaping. Therefore if you are going to deliver a message, you need to be able to entertain as well. Anyone that is up to date on current events will know that the conversation between Man-Star and Count D'sa in the first chapter of "Dr. Monster" is a conversation between our president and the UN concerning our war in Iraq. In "Cloud Buster" we have mankind fighting for survival. A plight much like the terrorist threat that we are all now living with. Genetic engineering is also in the forefront just as the atomic bomb was for the comics of the 50's and 60's. The world of Silver Comics is not perfect, but the characters do offer us hope.
BB: So who's the target audience of Silver Comics? I get the feeling that it's aimed at a general audience, and not just intended to appeal to an older crowd, or only those folks who might be into that era. True?
JO: You're right. I think that most people read comics to feed their imagination. We're aiming for a basic, thrill-seeking reader, and I don't think that's limited to a particular age group. Most people will tell you that children don't read super-hero comics anymore. Well, with good reason. Super-hero comics have become too dark, violent, badly drawn and over priced. Children after all are a viable consumer. Why they are ignored in the super-hero comic market makes no business sense at all. My goal is to sell enough copies per month where I can then bring the cover price down. Hopefully reaching a younger audience as well.
BB: Where'd this project originate? What sparked the initial idea for the anthology and company, how'd it get developed into what it is today, what was that process like, and how different is the final product from your original image of what you wanted to create?
JO: All of the characters in Silver Comics were created ten years ago. I sat down shortly after leaving my job at the Warner Bros. Studio Store and started banging out characters and plots. Two years later I went back into the consumer products business, but by then I had plenty of ideas to work on in my spare time. When I left the WB again in 2000, I knew it was time to get the ball rolling on my yet unnamed comic. I had so many characters and stories that I knew that the book would need to be an anthology. I also knew that each story had to have it's own look, so as not to bore the reader. Growing up, I would buy just about every comic that I could afford. That has given me an appreciation for many styles. Not only can I tell you who drew what, but I'm pretty good at recreating a specific look. The final product turned out better than I had hoped for. It runs the gamut from 40's to 70's. But it's not about copying styles. It's about honoring those responsible. That's why I needed to have cover illustrations by a lot of the artist that have inspired me. It's my way of saying thank you, and I think a lot of readers are aware of that. It's like going full circle.
BB: How's a typical issue of the series created? Does it all originate with you, strictly, or is it more of a collaborative effort?
JO: I'll come up with the story. The way I work is I'll draw the first and last page, that way I'll know how it ends. Then I'll draw out the rest. I allow the story to tell itself. Each panel tells me what the next one should be. If it seems wrong, I'll know it immediately. It's like playing music. You know when you hit a wrong note. Once the pages are done I'll do my script or I will go over the drawings with Dan Beltran, who is my head writer. Sometimes he will add to what I've already written or I will ask him to do all the writing based on my plot. As for the art, I like to tell the story with story boards, then I'll lay out the pages. I then do the finals or I'll hand it off to another illustrator to clean up.
BB: Well, how much input does your editor, Keoni Beeyok, have in all of that?
JO: Keoni's job is to make comments or suggestions. I know that traditionally the editor is in control, but I have too much at stake personally and professionally not to have final say.
BB: As you mentioned above, you've got a great set of artists lined up to create covers for Silver Comics -- Brunner, Cardy, Vince Musacchia. How'd you get these folks involved, and what's it been like working with them?
JO: I've known Vince from my days at Warner Bros. Brunner and Cardy I found through connections. I also have covers by other great illustrators, such as George Tuska, Jim Starlin and Dick Giordano, just to name a few. It's a thrill to see my characters drawn by people whose work I have admired since childhood. It's a dream come true in itself. John Buscema was slated to draw the cover for the first issue, but sadly, he passed away before he could begin work on it.
If you don't like what's inside Silver Comics, the covers alone are worth the purchase.
BB: How long are the typical arcs for each of the characters going to be running? Are these basically a series of short adventures, or are they more installments in an enormous, ongoing tale?
JO: I enjoy working in chapters. One story can have as many as ten chapters. This may sound like a lot, but considering that each one is only about 5-10 pages long, it only adds up to 1 or 2 complete issues. Most of the stories will end after a few chapters. Making room for new characters. In the case of "Cloud Buster", we have a world war going on. Therefore the war itself is the story. "Cloud Buster" may just be the hook to hang plots on. "Dr. Monster" is also an ongoing tale. But the real story doesn't begin till after his origin. In the future you will see more complete stories per issue and less of the "to be continued" stuff. I want each book to be able to stand on it's own.
BB: You've mentioned introducing new characters, with their own tales, in the future. What can you tell us about these other characters?
JO: We have well over 20 characters in the Silver Comics universe. Each one viable on their own. But it will take some time [to premiere them all]. Meanwhile, I do intend to introduce some of those characters within some of the story lines that are currently running. I want the reader to feel as though this universe has been around for awhile. It certainly does seem that way to me.
BB: So what's next for Silver Comics, both in the near and far terms?
JO: At the moment, it's all about the comic. I do have one foot in the door for animation, but my feeling is that the comic has to be first. Everything else comes second. But I'm keeping an open mind.
BB: What do you want your readers to get from your work?
JO: It's entertainment. A window into another world. Hopefully the reader will have as much fun reading my stories as I've had creating them. It's a shared experience.
BB: How about you? What do you get from doing all this hard work?
JO: It's fun for me. I enjoy telling stories and creating characters. It's something that I've been wanting to do all of my life. At 41, I'm starting a bit late, but I've got a lot of stories to last the rest of my life. Jack Kirby is a strong influence. He was in his fifties when he helped to create the Marvel Universe, and older still when he gave us the Fourth World. So I still maintain hope for me and my dream.
BB: How can people get copies of Silver Comics?
JO: Just ask your comic shop owner. He or she can order them through Previews. If anyone knows of any other way, I would like to know also. I will begin selling signed copies on my web site. Some signed by me and or by the cover illustrators. Signed Frank Brunner copies of issue number one will be available at the same time issue number two will be in the stores, sometime in May. The signed copies will sell for two dollars more to cover the cost of shipping as well as Frank's fee. Anyone is welcomed to reserve a copy now at www.silvercomics.com.
BB: Anything you'd like to add?
JO: I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that have contributed in the making of Silver Comics. Without whom it would not have been possible. Thanks to Scott Seeto, Mark Prudeaux, Ruben Procopio, Vince Musacchia, Chris Roberts, Bryan Mon, Ed Murrieta, David Harrison, Frank Brunner, Keoni Beeyok and a special thank you to Dan Beltran, whose writing took my gibberish and turned it into poetry. I also want to thank those that picked up the first issue, your feedback has been uplifting.
And of course, thanks to you Bill Baker, for giving me this opportunity to be heard. I and others in my position are extremely grateful for this forum. Thanks!
You're welcome Johnny! Well, what are you folks waiting for, an engraved invitation for pure adventure? Get up and get out right now and order a copy of Silver Comics #1 [still available] or #2 [due in May '04] at your favorite comics shop ... or click on over to www.silvercomics.com, the official online home of Johnny Ortiiz and Silver Comics. and grab a signed copy for yourself and some action-loving special someone you know. It'll do you both good.
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