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 04/23/2008
Joel Meadows on Studio Space and Tripwire Annual
As I've mentioned in this column and elsewhere, one of the best aspects of working in comics, even in an ancillary role as I do, is the abiding sense of camaraderie and fellowship which pervades the industry. Quite often, the people you meet while attending conventions, conducting interviews or gathering information for articles turn into very good acquaintances, and even close personal friends. It's really not unusual to learn of friendships that span years, or several decades, which have their roots in comics. And that's the case with today's guest and me.
I first met Joel Meadows while attending the 1999 edition of the San Diego convention. And, despite his being based in London, England, and my being sequestered in the Great White North of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we've kept in close contact-and even worked together on a variety of projects-over the course of the intervening ten years. [In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that one of those projects is Tripwire, both magazine and annuals, where you'll find a few of my graphic novel reviews.]
However, I've never actually talked on the record with Joel about his work, or the ever-evolving beast that is Tripwire. And, given the fact that Joel's about to move into a whole new arena with the publication of his first book, Studio Space, I thought it was high time that I made him sit down and answer a few questions about those topics, his career, and why he does what he does.
Bill Baker: For those who might have missed the solicitation, what is Studio Space?
Joel Meadows: Studio Space is a book that looks at the mindset of 20 of the world's greatest comic book artists including Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Joe Kubert, Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Tim Sale, Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin. It has a foreword by Guillermo Del Toro and an introduction by Michael Moorcock.
BB: What are some of the reasons that you chose to include those particular artists in the book?
JM: The reasoning was fairly clear as myself and Gary Marshall, my partner on the book, sat down and wrote a wish list of the artists we'd like to have in a book like this. That list got rewritten a number of times as artists dropped out and others appeared. From the start we wanted to have a mix of American and British artists and we even managed to get a European artist in there, the very talented Sergio Toppi.
BB: Well, how'd this project get started, what kind of development process did it go through and how long did that take?
JM: Studio Space grew out of Tripwire when, in 2003, we published three Studio Space interviews in the magazine (Phil Hale, John Bolton and Tim Bradstreet). We enjoyed conducting them and thought an entire book with this concept would be very satisfying to do. Gary Marshall was involved from the start but the list of artists altered quite radically: At one point we even had Matt Groening and Gerald Scarfe in the book. We had interest from a publisher who told us that they wanted it to be more focused on the comic artists and then, when we revamped the list, they told us that the book didn't have enough of a crossover appeal, even though we had changed the list at their suggestion. We had another publisher who agreed to pick it up back in 2006 but unfortunately our editor left, so we didn't have an advocate for the book anymore and they cancelled it. We got our actual publisher, Image, last Spring when Richard Starkings recommended them to us.
BB: Did it change much from the original idea?
JM: It certainly did. Our original list was far broader and perhaps a bit too scattergun to work. Focusing on comic artists has meant that all of these artists come from a similar form, even if the way they work and their subjects differ greatly.
BB: Now, I know that you're an accomplished designer yourself, and typically oversee all aspects of product on this kind of project, so I've got to wonder--how difficult it was to surrender that control for you in this instance?
JM: It was very hard at first. I have dabbled with design on 49 issues of Tripwire, a 10th anniversary book and the two Annuals, so to give it over to someone else to put together felt tricky initially. But Allen Hui at Image is a talented layout artist and now it's exciting to see chapter layouts as they come in.
BB: So, what's next? Do you have any promotional events planned to celebrate the book's release? How about convention appearances to help push it?
JM: We have a lot of signings and events lined up to promote the book. First out of the gate is at the Bristol Comic Expo, 9-11th May, where people will be able to pick the book up before anywhere else in the world and get it signed by some of the artists in the book. There'll be a Studio Space panel at the show featuring Duncan Fegredo, Walt Simonson, Dave Gibbons, Sean Phillips, Bryan Talbot and Dave Taylor. Then we have a signing at Forbidden Planet in London on Saturday, 7th June, with Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Fegredo and Phillips. We are also looking into a Forbidden Planet Manchester event with Dave Taylor, Sean Phillips and Bryan Talbot and even an ICA event in June and a Waterstones talk/ signing in London. We're trying not to neglect the US though as there will be a big presence at San Diego in July with myself and Gary on the Image stand. There are some other plans but they have to be firmed up.
BB: Is this a one-shot affair, or might there possibly be a second volume coming sometime in the future?
JM: Myself and Gary have already sat down and drafted a list that could work for two future volumes. We've been very happy with the way that Image has treated us but it all depends on the sales of this one. We are both chomping at the bit to get started on another one, especially with what we've learned putting this one together.
BB Well, let's move on to Tripwire. What is Tripwire today, and how might it differ from what it was in the past?
JM: Tripwire Annual is a different beast from what was Tripwire magazine. The latest incarnation of Tripwire came about because our original publisher had cancelled Studio Space and I was fed up with other people making decisions. So I looked at what worked with the original Tripwire and what didn't and so the Annual has high production values, designed to look like the sort of thing you could take to read on the Tube or the Subway without feeling embarrassed. In terms of its design, I looked at publications like Time and Empire for inspiration.
BB: And what lead you to create the magazine in the first place? Was there something specific you were trying to accomplish, or was it more of a lark that turned into a career for you?
JM: The magazine started life as a bit of fun. My former neighbour, Simon Teff, pointed out that there was no interesting comic magazine around at the time and so we published a few issues in the fanzine format.
BB: Would it be fair to say that it's had a pretty big effect on your life?
JM: It was something that started as a sideline, and which has shaped my career, I would definitely say that's true.
BB: What kind of changes did you institute over the years, what forces lead to those decisions, and why go with the current format at this time?
JM: The first issue way back in 1992 was an A4 black-and-white stapled magazine, photocopied at a local copy shop but with each year, we got more proficient and began to know what we were doing. I'll never forget insulting Peter Milligan in the pages of the magazine around the second issue back in 1992. The magazine started off with music in its pages but that was dumped when Simon Teff left back in 1998. When I met Gary Marshall at the first Bristol comic show in 1999, we introduced the film and TV content, something which continues to hold us in good stead now. I'd like to think that we were ahead of the loop with our mix of comics, Film and TV and we had a graphic novel column, "On The Shelf," almost from the start.
The current format was dictated partly by pragmatism: we lost our collective shirts back in 2003 when we launched it briefly on the newsstand, so I didn't want to go down that road again. A lot has changed since 2003 and I thought a full colour, glossy 132 page magazine with a spine and a card cover would attract the right sort of audience in these days of increased reader sophistication and media-savvy audiences. If we had published the very first Tripwire now in the same format as we did back in 1992, we wouldn't have lasted very long. The Annual allows us to cover subjects with depth rather than breadth and the only thing I miss is being able to publish monthly. But that just isn't practical at the moment.
BB: Well, given that impulse, do you have any plans in the near term to increase the frequency of publication in the future, or will it remain strictly an annual for the foreseeable future?
JM: We have already decided to dip our toe very gingerly back into an increased frequency with the publication of our Hellboy Special, which will be out in December this year and that will represent the various Hellboy-related stuff from the magazine over the years but will also include a lot of new material including concept art from the two movies, Guillermo Del Toro interview and new chats with Mike Mignola, Guy Davis and others. Then we shall be publishing a Heroes one-shot in February next year, which will act as a guide to the show. The Annual will be out in July 2009 as it will do this year in July.
BB: What's in this year's Tripwire Annual?
JM: This year's edition is even more exciting and varied than 2007's one: We have a brand new Doctor Who cover by Tommy Lee Edwards to tie in with a big feature looking at the history of the show and its comic book spin-offs. That feature will be accompanied by a look at the boom in British genre TV with shows like Primeval, Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars. Plus Matt Groening and David Cohen have given us an exclusive interview to discuss what it felt like returning to Futurama. Posy Simmonds, graphic novelist creator of Gemma Bovary and Tamara Drewe, will be discussing her career, Michael Moorcock will be looking back at his amazing and varied writing life and there's a Superman 70th anniversary feature that chats to James Robinson, who has taken over the title, and looks at the history of the character. You'll also find a feature looking at the plans for Pinewood Studios to expand, we talk with the UK's premier movie storyboard artist Martin Asbury and there's an examination of the infrastructure and ethos of ILM. There's lots more but I don't want to use up all of this space.
BB: Is Tripwire easily available in the US? And what about past volumes of the magazine; are those available at this time, and are they going to be kept in print?
JM: Tripwire is available through Diamond to the direct market plus it is on sale at Barnes & Noble bookstores throughout the US. This year it will also be on sale at Borders in the US, too.
Past issues are unfortunately out of print, but I believe the 10th anniversary book is still available. We have the odd copy of that. If the Hellboy special does well, we may consider doing some other volumes making the huge library of material available again. After all, we interviewed everyone in our 11 year publication, including Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller, Jamie Delano, Brian Vaughan, Peter Milligan, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison and many others. We could always republish the 10th anniversary book on the mag's 20th in 2012...
BB: What do you get from doing this kind of journalism, personally and professionally?
JM: I feel lucky that I have been able to meet and interview many artists and writers whose work I admire and I also feel privileged that it has garnered me the respect of people in the industry because I haven't given up, even though it has been tempting on a number of occasions. Where else could you find yourself of an evening drinking with Tim Bradstreet, Steve Niles, Joe Jusko and Berni Wrightson or having a meal with Mike Carey? The film journalism that has come about as a result of working on Tripwire is also something I really enjoy as I got to interview Ridley Scott last year.
BB: What do you hope your readers, whether they're looking at Tripwire or Studio Space, get from your work?
JM: With Studio Space, I am hoping that we expose readers to new work from artists they are unfamiliar with, as well as new work from artists whose efforts they admire and hopefully give them a small insight into the way that these subjects work. We have a similar remit with Tripwire as we want to highlight the careers of creators whose work readers have seen but may not be aware of, and we also want to examine and investigate trends in the comic and graphic novel market and the film and TV industry too.
BB: Anything else you'd like to add?
JM: I'd like to plug my personal blog where I talk about comics and anything that interests me, which is Walls and Bridges, URL: http://joelm1-joelmead.blogspot.com/. Last year's Tripwire Annual is still available from Diamond in Previews May 2008 on page 400 and Studio Space is also available to order from Diamond in Previews May 2008 on page 146. I'll be at Bristol Comic Expo from 9th to 11th of May, 2008
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