Colleen Doran: A Distant Soil is different from the earlier editions because I was quite dissatisfied with the editorial direction on the earlier editions of the series and so, when I finally achieved a little more creative autonomy, I completely rewrote and redrew all of the earlier material. Not a single page remains from the Warp edition. For the details of the difficulties, you're welcome to refer to The Comics Journal #108 and #115. I have no real interest in dissecting the corpse that was the old Warp Graphics, and I do not care to discuss any of the details any longer. It's a painful and ugly story that has never been fully revealed but it is in the past and I am going to leave it there.
Mason: Will A Distant Soil be coming out on a more regular schedule anytime? What kind of schedule do you plan for the next couple of years?
Doran: A Distant Soil will be out monthly through issue #12 and will be bimonthly thereafter.
Mason: How is A Distant Soil doing circulation wise?
Doran: Pretty good. A Distant Soil #1 3rd printing is sold out which brings the circulation to 16,000. Our fourth printing which we will print in January '95, will bring us to 20,000. When our initial orders reach 16,000, I'll be dancing in the streets, but right now, we only reach those numbers through reorders. My distributor orders have increased 20% between #9 and #10 so we may get to that point sooner than I'd hoped! Orders on #12 are up 23% which is fairly amazing.
Mason: Are there plans to do a graphic novel compilation of any of the current series?
Doran: Eventually, but not for at least a year and a half.
Mason: Jo Duffy went ballistic at Brian Douglas Ahern's Bumpkin Buzz cartoon in CBG that complained that Doran's Valor was more effeminate that he should be. What was your reaction to the cartoon?
Doran: I will say this: three months after the strip was published (which, I must add I've never seen because I do not subscribe to the Comics Buyer's Guide), this Ahern person wrote a lengthy letter in which he angrily defended himself against his critics. He contended that the story was not, in fact about Valor, or me, at all. My Problem is this; knowing that my name was being bandied about as the subject of his little barb, why, or why, did it take Mr. Sensitive three solid months to come forward to say otherwise? Nice for him to consider my feelings, no? At least the controversy got his strip noticed. I hope he feels good about that.
Mason: You seem to have hinted that some of the characters in A Distant Soil are gay (e.g., Rieken/Seren, D'mer, maybe Jason also). Is this accurate? Is it significant or just incidental? Do you plan to explore this or reveal more in later issues?
Doran: I didn't hint. I thought I was pretty obvious. Rieken and D'mer are lovers and bisexual. Jason is not gay. I do plan to explore gay rights concerns at greater length in the future. Gay rights are human rights and I don't care if people think I'm a lesbian. Just shows how homophobic they are. Like straight people can't support gay rights! That's like saying men can't be feminists! Really stupid. I've gotten a couple of nasty grams from fans about it, most notably from a perennial fan loony who is always writing something wacky. he complained about "the graphic hand holding" (woo woo, mustn't hold hands, might get cooties!) and the "homosexuality and lesbianism". I refuse to argue with anyone who is too stupid not to know that lesbians are homosexuals. Most fans are pretty cool about it, though. Since Christian theology is a major subject of study for me, I intend to address those issues also. Galahad, for example, will have to have read the Bible in the early Greek. There are no admonitions against homosexuals in the original texts. I imagine I will piss off the religious radical right but I also refuse to argue with anyone who holds the King James version as the word of God. If it's the word of God, why is it the King James VERSION??? It diverges radically from the early texts. O boy, I just read the last paragraphs. No, Galahad isn't gay.
Mason: A member of the A Distant Soil fan club has mentioned to me that they haven't received their T-shirt nor any of the newsletters. What is the situation with the fan club?
Doran: Hmmm. Bummer. T-shirts have been sent. I just finished another newsletter. Have his people write my people and we'll track down the problem. A couple of months ago, our processor memory was wiped out and we got waaaaayyyy behind on correspondence, but be patient and we'll take care of it. The whole story about the fan club is kind of lengthy, but the gist of it is that the fan club was originally being run by a couple of women who asked if they could and would I endorse it. I thought it was a nice idea, so I said sure. While I'm sure they had the best of intentions, things went sour when a couple of members got in to an argument. Two people who were helping run the club gossiped about a third party and personal information quite literally got spread all over the country. The unfortunate victim of the gossip had some pretty sensitive personal information revealed to total strangers and her feelings were really hurt, especially when people she didn't know were calling up from halfway across the world asking lots of personal questions. It was a mess. At one point things got kind of ugly. Since I wasn't directly involved in running the club, (I just endorsed it and supplied information and club goodies, I didn't derive any income from it) I didn't find out about things until things had gotten bad enough that people started talking "lawsuit". I spoke to one of the people running the club and she was so angry that I had the temerity to point out that gossip is hurtful and maybe they'd better rethink their club policies, that she quit on the spot and she said she'd disband the club. I said fine, so are you going to refund all the money? And she said, "Duhhhhh...". I told her I'd be happy to take over club operations, just send me the records, the club funds and the financial statements. When they finally showed up, I learned to my dismay that there was not only NO money left, the club was badly in debt (four figures worth) and that they'd already promised membership renewal goodies to people, collected money and spent it. It was a disaster. I had to cover the loss myself and restructure the club, which I've done. We sent out the T-shirts and the other goodies and we are back on track. As of July 5, 1994, we're now in the black. So, that's what happened with the club. As I said, I really think the people running the club were very nice, but absolutely clueless as to how to run a business, even a small one. They had no business license and no tax exemption for a non-profit organization. They had no protection if the woman who had been upset by what had happened had decided to sue. It could have gone really badly for them. I should have been a lot more careful about endorsing the club. I take full responsibility. I really had no way of knowing who they were or what kind of people they were; I just tend to think of fans as nice people, and didn't anticipate liability problems. Neil Gaiman called me to ask about a club some fans were thinking of starting for him and I had to advise him to keep his distance. You know, you don't really know these people. Be careful. It's a shame, but it's the way it is. Fortunately, the woman who was the victim of the gossip is okay with what happened now, but the people who used to run the club are resentful that they don't run it any more, which is just too bad. So now your friend knows why we had a big delay. If he hasn't gotten his stuff, he really should write us. I can't read minds and I'm not on the Internet. If anyone has a problem, get in touch and we'll take care of it.
Mason: How do you feel about the Capital City cancellation policy?
Doran: My principal objections concern the failure of the distributors to notify us in a timely enough fashion so that the publishers could reschedule or reimplement their operations to accommodate the new policies. I would appreciate it if Capital's policy allowed for a cancellation grace period. Say, you could cancel thirty days before shipment without penalty. I think that would enable retailers to retool their finances. Maybe I'm wrong. I think Capital should explore the option. I do wish the distributors would go to a 60 day policy. I tell you, within five days of shipping, you get a distributor late notice! Overall, all of the distributors have been very tolerant of our shipping schedule.
Of course, after spending more time with retailers at the last two trade shows, I understand a lot better how important it is for books to ship on time. I never really gave it much thought before. I know that when A Distant Soil doesn't ship on time, no one is going to go out of business, but I really am being selfish if I think I can do business with that attitude. The retailers can't rely on income from my book unless they can rely on the book showing up and they will place their orders accordingly. Over the last few months, we've really increased our shipping efficiency and it has begun paying off in higher orders. I'm going to do everything in my power to continually improve our record. It will not improve radically until our orders improve radically. Catch 22. Fortunately, our back issue sales have dramatically increased (I mean BIG TIME!!! We'll be going into the 4th printing of #1 by January), and that has increased our cash flow.
Mason: What do you think of the future of self-publishing in the comic industry? Will there be a resurgence of the independent publishers due to the exodus of creators from the major companies?
Doran: Yes, there will be a surge in the independent press. There will be a self-publisher boom and bust, but it won't be anything like the black and white boom and bust of the mid 1980's. Retailers are too cautious these days. Fact is, comic book speculation is REALLY DUMB. No one can predict the appeal of a Bone. Forget it. Get over it. I think Steve Bissette's Tyrant could be very hot, but you never know! It does look like an awesome piece of work. However, even with Jo Duffy on Nestrobber, retailers are really cautious with their orders and Jo Duffy is a hot creator! It's wacky. A lot of good stuff could die off, but retailers don't want to get burned. Vicious cycle. Any creator who cannot take a loss on the first few issues of a book cannot expect self-publishing success. Most creators can't afford to lose that kind of money. A Distant Soil is profitable now, and it sold 8,000 in the first printing, but start up costs killed my profits and there wasn't any money left to print #2! Wah! If a creator can last beyond issue #5, they should be okay. Independent publishers are going to whittle away at the market share of the big two and comic publishers won't be able to afford personal boxes at the ball game anymore. Oh woe. Oh, beg your pardon, I'm thinking about First Comics. Now we know why they're out of business! The economic approach of the comic book upper echelon paper pushers is the economics of scarcity, a belief that the market is limited and there is only so much money to go around and whoever dies with the most market share wins. Whoever dies with the most market share is still dead. I contend that the market will continue to experience a slow, but steady expansion with predictable, but painful, periodic adjustments that will result in some people going out of business and some people getting fat feeding off the carcasses of the dead. I do believe that within the next decade, but toward the latter part of it, there will be a massive and explosive expansion that will be the direct result of constant, never- before-seen influx of popular and successful comics oriented material in the mainstream. Comic books will become a more acceptable form of mainstream entertainment, primarily because comic books will make the suits a lot of money. In the interests of making more money, conglomerates like Disney and Warner will expend greater resources in creating consumer demand for the comic book medium. This will inure to the benefit of all publishers, creators and retailers, even our dear Fantagraphics. For while the Fantagraphics boys will continue to lament the lamentable state of pop culture pulp junk, there will always be a small percentage of that new audience which will be looking for the new and radical fringe faction comics fix, and they'll find books to their taste. If the ranks of Fantagraphics readership increases by even a few thousand, and it will, the bad boys can lament our medium all the way to the bank. The great thing about being small press is that the low overhead makes publishing incredibly cheap and even an increase of only a thousand readers, a pittance to a company like Marvel, is practically a windfall to a small publisher. Thus, junk will thrive, but art will live also.
Mason: How do you see the lack of women writers and artists affecting the output and attitude of the comic book industry, and how do you see the output and attitude of the comic book industry affecting female creators and fans?
Doran: Oh, God, the girl, question. I hate the girl question. I'm not going to answer this.
Mason: How it was that you came to draw "Death" as a young 1940's woman among Holocaust victims in "The Death Gallery?"
Doran: Neil Gaiman one told me that many of his relatives had died in the Holocaust. Since military history is a family hobby, when we went to London last year, we spent a lot of time at the Imperial War Museum where they have an extensive Belsen exhibit. The Holocaust is, to me, the most interesting feature of World War II and I had just read an article where the commentator noted that when viewing evidence of the Holocaust, it was important NOT to look away. So I was determined to see the entire exhibit which took over an hour. The part that got me the most was the taped accounts of survivors who spoke about their experiences which you listened to through little phones while watching movies of the atrocities and the aftermath. I remember one woman the most, who had been a little girl at the time as she spoke about how the Americans liberated the Jews. The sad, sad thing was that so many died of shock and disease AFTER the liberation, and this woman was afraid she would die in the hospital. But an American soldier took pity on her and gave her special attention and care. She spoke about the moment when she knew she wasn't going to die and only then did she start to cry. The movies showed the pathetic people, just wasted to sticks not even able to sit up, being washed with hoses and their faces so blank. They didn't even look sad, just empty. When I got back I bought Shoah on video, which is a massive documentary of the Holocaust and about a week later, DC called me with the Death Gallery assignment. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I tried to suggest the variety of victims of the Holocaust in the background of the picture, but I don't know if I succeeded. There were about three hundred camps, which is a horrifying thought, and all non- Aryans were targeted. Apparently, black P.O.W.'s got the treatment as well as Catholics, homosexuals, artists and intellectuals and many Russians and Poles who were non-Jews. One of the most inspiring stories of the War to me is the escape from Sobibor. It was the only successful large scale prison camp escape. The camp was closed after the break and I believe that a large part of the success of the break was due to the Russian soldiers who were also prisoners in the camp. So many of the civilians had had their ability to stand up for themselves destroyed over years of systematic abuse. Most of the camp prisoners had learned to be helpless and couldn't stand up and fight at all. The way the Nazi's were able to round up and make thousands of prisoners fear a few hundred soldiers is terrifying in so many ways. I like to think I would fight back. Don't you wonder if you've got what it takes to be like those brave people who stood up and fought back? There are so many holocausts throughout history. I've been reading in the Washington Post that the estimates are that Mao Tse Tung and his policies may have wiped out as many as 60 million Chinese, some through assassination, others, the majority, peasants who died from starvation, the direct result of his inflexible industrial and economic policies. That a few thousand can terrorize millions into such a level of subservience and helplessness is the scariest thing I can think of. Who needs monsters when we've got human beings? That's why I did the picture.
Mason: What did you think of Richard Pini's letter in Wizard?
Doran: If Richard Pini had created A Distant Soil and if Warp Graphics did, in fact, have a legitimate claim to the book, I wouldn't be the sole owner, the sole creator, and the self publisher of A Distant Soil today.
Mason: Can you tell us what went on at Warp Graphics?
Doran: I don't want to get into the gory details of what happened at Warp because my contract forbids me to do so and it's an unpleasant tale. I cannot directly challenge Warp's allegations about my contract outside a court of law because I can't afford a lawsuit. It's that simple. If I breach confidentiality, Warp can easily afford to hit me with a suit with the $elf-millions$, but I don't have that option, so I'll just let it go. I just refer people back to The Comics Journal #108 and #115 and tell them to make up their own mind.