INTERVIEW: Sean Wang, Part II

Republibot 3.0
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REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Wecome back to our two-part interview with Sean Wang, Writer, Comics Illustrator. Part one of the interview is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/interview-sean-wang-discusses-%E2%80%9...

So, Sean, you were self-publishing it right? That can’t have been easy in those days. How did that come about?
 
SEAN WANG:
The self-publishing was more out of necessity, since many comic publishers at the time, like a lot of comic readers, had a strong aversion to sci-fi comics. Historically, they haven’t done well as a genre, so most publishers were unwilling to take a chance with RUNNERS, despite really liking the story and art. The actual self-publishing wasn’t too difficult, but it’s certainly gotten more difficult in recent years, which is why I decided to go online with the series. As a small press title, it’s very hard to compete with Marvel and DC. A lot of stores just don’t have the money or space to order everything, so, understandably, they stick with what they know. But that sort of thing also hinders me from ever building up a sizeable audience. But by putting the entire series online for free at www.runnersuniverse.com, I’m making it available to everyone, everywhere, so hopefully there will be no impediments to people checking it out. Unless your internet connection goes down!
 
REPUBLIBOT:
When I first introduced Runners and your website to our readers a little while ago, I mentioned how your fictional universe seemed very fleshed out. There isn’t a need for a ton of exposition, things are consistent enough that readers can pick them up through context or inference, and get a small sense of how the larger Runners Universe works. I like that you’re not talking down to your audience, there’s no “Here’s how it goes: Long ago there was a war between the koozbanians and prosthetic forehead peoples of blah blah blah the treaty of hoobajoobah.” That kind of thing gets tedious really quick, but they way you’re telling the story you’ve set it up so you don’t *need* that sort of thing. That’s pretty clever. Was it fun ‘world building’ and setting up the rules the Runners Universe runs by?
WANG: 
Ha ha! Yeah, in my initial drafts of the first story, back in 1994-95, there WAS lot more exposition, with characters explaining things to other characters who should have already known better. That was bad. So when I revisited the scripts in 1999, I cut a lot of that out. I realized that as the writer, I needed to know the mechanics and history of the RUNNERS universe, but the readers didn’t need to be let in on everything.
For story delivery, I was very influenced by the early issues of the comic series Bone. That book eventually built into a big epic story, but it started out very light and very accessible, which was great. So I planned for the first RUNNERS arc to be a light romp, a fun introduction to the universe, while still planting some of the seeds for the bigger story to come. I figure an epic story is much more engrossing when you start small and eventually build the situations around the characters, rather than just dropping them into the thick of things right away.

REPUBLIBOT:
Sometimes it’s good to have a long gestation period like that for a story. It lets you prioritize it and give it that lived-in feeling, like Runners has. Without spoiling anything, or letting any cats out of the bag, can you give us any hints about what lays ahead in the story? Are there any other projects you’re working on?
 
WANG:
There are always other freelance projects here and there, but I’ve always intended for RUNNERS to be my life’s work. I’ve got a very big epic story planned, which is why I’m really anxious to start cranking it out much more regularly. I’m just really excited about the overall story that I have planned, and I think other people will really enjoy it as well.
As for hints, I’ll say that the ending of the first story feels like a victory for the RUNNERS crew. But in achieving their objective, they pretty much set things in motion that will eventually lead to escalating conflict between some very powerful forces in the universe.

REPUBLIBOT:

Ominous. Jumping back a ways, your first professional comics gig was doing some specials for New England Comics, right?  I think I must have bought a dozen copies of the “Yule Log Special’ and sent them out to my friends. That one just killed me. How did you land a gig like that, and what was it like working in “The Tickiverse?”
 
WANG:
Awesome! It’s always nice to come across people who know my TICK work, as I’m still quite proud of it. As I mentioned above, I landed the work after approaching NEC with my RUNNERS series. After initially doing just the art for 2 short backup TICK stories, NEC threw me into the deep end of the pool by letting me write and draw an entire issue, the Yule Log Special 1997 (by the way, all my TICK work can be found on my website www.seanwang.com). After that, I did 3 more seasonal specials: Valentine’s Day, Summer Camp (my personal favorite), and Back-to-School. Even back then, I was a big fan of epic storytelling, so I tried to tie the specials into one another, and the TICK AND ARTHUR series, with a lot of tangents and bits of continuity.
 
REPUBLIBOT:
I have to say “The Tick and Arthur” is beyond question the high-water mark of the whole Tick franchise. Just endlessly hysterical from start to finish, and I loved the new characters you introduced. They had such great pacing, the sight gags were great, the writing popped, the art was surprisingly subtle in places. I just loved it. I was heartbroken when that series ended. What made you leave NEC when you did?
 
WANG:
I have to say I still love my TICK AND ARTHUR run. I’m a big fan of what I call “puzzle-plotting,” taking lots of little complicated story pieces and getting them all the fit together nicely. In this instance, I wanted to create my own story, while bringing in a lot of story elements from Ben Edlund’s original run and also tying up a lot of loose ends from Eli Stone’s Luny Bin story arc, which preceded TICK AND ARTHUR. I think it all came together nicely in a way that’s complex but still very entertaining and funny.
I also liked that I was able to develop some of the threads from the various specials I had done, notably the Greased Pig from the Summer Camp Special, and the Dire Wreath from the Yule Log Special.
TICK AND ARTHUR was a lot of fun to work on, especially since I’m a big fan of team books, and I was able to get the duo into a team of very colorful personalities. Interestingly enough, NEC was initially against the idea, since they thought the other characters would take away from the core duo. I eventually won them over with the argument that the cartoon was big success in large part due to the fun supporting characters of Die Fleidermaus, Sewer Urchin, and American Maid. Plus different characters could bring out different aspects of the main characters’ personalities and give them more to play off of. NEC eventually came around, and it seems the characters I created are still around in the Tick universe, which is cool to see.
Anyway, as much fun as the TICK was to work on, I really wanted to get RUNNERS going, especially given the big story I knew would take a long time to tell. I wasn’t sure when I’d make the transition, but NEC told me they wanted to stop the TICK AND ARTHUR series at #6. They loved the book and wanted me to keep telling stories, but they just wanted to keep doing miniseries. I think it had to do with the idea of trying to keep putting #1 issues out there. At the time, the idea didn’t sit well with me. I’m a big fan of continuity and big stories, and sequential numbering was a part of that. I would have loved to build TICK AND ARTHUR into a very long-running title, but the start-stop nature of re-numbering every year with a new series felt wrong to me. So I decided that since I wanted to get to RUNNERS anyway, they were providing me with a stopping point by ending the series at #6.

Ironically, I am currently doing RUNNERS as a series of miniseries. Go figure!

REPUBLIBOT: 
I never quite got the logic behind that whole “We need a lot of ‘First Issues’” thing. If “The Tick and Arthur” had been given a longer run, where would you have liked it to go? Were there any stories you had in mind, but never got a chance to tell? What would we have found out about, say, Bumbling Bee and Crazy Blue Rocket and the rest?
 
WANG:
I actually had a lot of ideas in the works for the series. I just thought it would be very fun to chart the genesis and early days of a super-team, covering a lot of minutia that only something in the Tick universe could. Stuff that readers would have no interest in seeing in a traditional superhero comic, but something that would be a lot of fun to explore in a more comedic book.
For example, I thought it would have been fun to show them struggling to come up with an actual name for the group, possibly going a long time without a name due to their indecision. I thought it could have been fun to see them actually visiting a number of potential locations for their headquarters, possibly getting evicted due to constant damage being done to the sites. I thought instead of having the typical wealthy benefactor, they’d continue to run up Barry’s stolen credit card, with Barry (the NY Tick) eventually catching on and reacting in typical crazy, drooly Barry fashion. Maybe a rival superhero team would constantly be competing for exposure. Merchandising deals, which I eventually did squeeze into the Comic Con Special, with them having a canceled action figure line. The possibilities were pretty much endless, but ultimately, RUNNERS was calling.
 
REPUBLIBOT:
I loved the one when Barry sees all those Ebay charges and then goes to their HQ and beats ’em all up. They’re reprinting ‘em all, right? In a trade paperback?
 
WANG:
Yes! This year, NEC is releasing a number of supersized trade paperback collections. They’ve already released the complete Ben Edlund series, which is the starting point and HIGHLY recommended. The complete Big Blue Destiny/Luny Bin (Eli Stone series) is also out, which is very enjoyable. The complete TICK AND ARTHUR should be out soon. The only bummer is that it’s being collected with the Heroes of the City series, which I didn’t work on. I really wished they paired it with the four seasonal specials I did since, story-wise, they all interconnect and would have made for a better collected volume. But I think all the specials are also being collected into a separate volume.
 
REPUBLIBOT:
Is the “Comicon Extravaganza” going to be reprinted along with the older ones?

WANG: 
I don’t know, actually. I would think they’d include it with the Specials collections, but I can’t say for sure. That story, by the way, was a lot of fun as I returned to the Tick universe a couple years ago to do one more full issue of art and story. The special had Tick and Arthur (and the superteam) being invited to a comic convention as special guests, where the other heroes plot to kick the Tick out of the group when they see that he’s getting all the adulation from the fans. Plus, a surly Arthur cosplayer and a convention floor fight with a pro-wrestler!
 
REPUBLIBOT:
You also did “Meltdown” a while back. Tell us a little about that.

WANG: 
That was a straight-up superhero story I did with writer David B. Schwartz, a friend of mine from high school! He landed the book with Image Comics and needed an artist. The pitch, about a dying superhero whose fire-based powers are killing him, was intriguing to me, especially when he told me he wanted the story to be told in several different art styles. That was an artistic challenge I couldn’t pass up! Basically, the hero’s childhood days are done in a much lighter, cartoonier look, but as his life starts to fall apart, the art slowly devolves into a darker, grittier, and more realistic look. It was a lot of fun to work on (again, sample pages can be found at www.seanwang.com), even though it did take me away from RUNNERS for a while.
 
REPUBLIBOT:
So how much of your work is in traditional ink-and-pen and how much of it is digital? I’m always curious to see how changing technology is affecting the artistic process.

WANG: 
I pretty much still pencil and ink everything traditionally on bristol board, since I like being able to work at full size and see the whole page, as opposed to just having a portion of it visible at any given time on a computer monitor. Plus I just like the feel of penciling and inking on actual board. I then scan the inked page and do all the coloring and lettering digitally.
 
REPUBLIBOT:
Definitely it’s working for you. Finally, what do you think the future holds for comics? How has the industry changed since you started out?
 
WANG:
It definitely seems like a lot more small press creators are going online with comics. That’s pretty exciting to me. I’ll admit, I’m a bit old-school, and I prefer to read my comics in physical book form (which is why I still plan to collect RUNNERS into actual graphic novels), but the ability to reach a large audience through the internet is a tremendous opportunity, one that doesn’t really exist in the current comic marketplace system. I just hope sci-fi fans are willing to check out RUNNERS online at www.runnersuniverse.com. But then, as sci-fi fans, they should be all about the cutting-edge digital media anyway, right? J

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Well, I guess that’s about all we’ve got time for today. I want to thank you again for  talking to us today! We really appreciate your time, and I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend all of our readers to check out Runners at http://runnersuniverse.com/?p=548  Good luck to you with that, and in all that you do!

 SEAN WANG:
Thanks so much for the interview!! It was a blast!

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