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Reckless Talk: An Interview with Tim Demeter

Tim Demeter's Reckless Life has been one of the delights of Graphic Smash -- fast moving, stylized, and utterly and delightfully amoral. Tim was kind enough to grant us an interview.

Las Vegas seems like such a perfect place for Locke, your uber-thief -- I was startled to find you were in Wisconsin. What's your background?

Yes, I hail from the opposite of Las Vegas, Milwaukee, which is, of course, Algonquin for "The Good Land." I grew up around these parts, and went to college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where I got a Bachelor of Science in Art with an emphasis on graphic design. How you can get a Bachelor’s of SCIENCE in art, eludes me to this day, but the diploma itself makes a lovely coaster, so it’s all good.

These days, I’m kicking it solo in Milwaukee’s ever-fashionable East side, posing as a mild-mannered graphic designer by day, making comics by night, and hitting the town on the weekend.

Artistic influences are always interesting --Bruce Timm and the Batman cartoon, (or maybe Batman Beyond) obviously, with the black backgrounds and stylizations --who else?

Yeah, I loved Batman and Batman Beyond, and it shows. I think I’m actually pulling more from Gendy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack/Clone Wars fame these days though, I absolutely love the style he employs there, it’s ridiculously dynamic. Pretty much all my influence comes from cartoons, Cowboy Bebop is another big one. The thing about that is not everything that works in animation, works in comics and vice versa, so I try to translate what works and what doesn’t. I’ve never been happy with any of the cartoon to comics translations of Batman or Samurai Jack or whatever, the kinetic quality of the shows has never come across on the page and that’s something I’m try to solve with Reckless Life. The only comic artist I really pull from is Frank Miller’s Sin City stuff and only in terms of lighting and design. I was actually applying his rim lighting effects to Bruce Timm style characters before Timm was doing it with Batman Beyond’s costume. I swear.

A lot of people compare me to Mike Oeming or Ed McGuiness, but I’m not so much influenced by them, as I am exploring similar ideas.

Who are your storytelling influences? Who influenced you in your writing?

Again, I’m try to stay away from typical action comic book conventions in my writing as well. The closest thing in comics to the way I structure my stories is Hellboy as I follow the Mike Mignola plan of having one large story but bringing it out via a series of interconnected, but still stand-alone stories. I don’t have a lot of interest in the standard comic book "continuing soap opera" format for this series. Do you really want to see me make some kind of coherent link between Dinner and a Robbery and Locke and the Las Vegas Ninjas? Why do that when I can skip right to the ninjas?

My actual writing style gets it’s roots in Saturday morning cartoons and franchise action movies like Indiana Jones or James Bond. I want each story to have a beginning, a middle, and an ending that leaves Locke ready for his next zany adventure. I do try to keep comic’s heavy emphasis on character that those mediums often ignore.

I really try and push my stories along and not get bogged down in over narrating or too much expository dialogue and minutia. I come from the Poe school of writing in that regard. If it doesn’t benefit the story or say something about one of the characters, then it has to go. I cut tons of stuff out of these stories from the first draft and try to boil it down to only the good stuff.

So why a thief? Are you attracted to "heist" films and literature?

Not anymore so then any good story. Locke’s occupation is really the only one he can have to make the series work the way it does. In creating Reckless Life, I knew I wanted to create, not a superhero (or villain in Locke’s case) but an action hero. I didn’t want to deal with secret identities or day jobs or any of that mundane stuff, so I knew Locke’s source of income needed to also be what drove the action. I felt like the Indiana Jones/treasure hunter or government agent characters had been beat to death, maybe not in comics, but elsewhere, so I decided I could keep the concept of Locke being “a professional action hero” by making him a criminal. I also just really like writing about a bad guy for the same reasons you hear actors saying they like playing the bad guy. It can be pretty cathartic when you have a character on your hands that just does what ever the hell he feels like. Hopefully, the reader gets the same feeling reading it.

So, I really have a broad range of interest in terms of what I’m into and what kinds of stories I want to write, but setting Locke up as I have, it allows me to pursue them all. I tackled romance in Dinner and Robbery, and Locke and the Las Vegas Ninjas was more of an action comedy meets kung-fu, than anything

Where did the character of Locke come from?

Believe it or not...

When I was a kid, my two younger bothers, the kids up the street and I would have elaborate "Lego wars." We all had leaders for our armies, and mine was a Darth Vader-esque warlord named "Dark Warrior." I got into comics shortly thereafter; courtesy the 90’s X-Men cartoon, and I soon began writing and drawing comic book stories around Dark Warrior. I kept working with the character long after we had all became angsty teenagers and stopped playing legos. Over the years, my sensibilities changed and the character changed with them. He went through a million different incarnations and names but there was never a point where I said to myself "I’m throwing out this character, and making this one." He just kept evolving. Locke is kind of an oil painting that I just kept layering until the finished piece had no resemblance to the sketch, but it was all done on one piece of canvas.

Locke, as we know him today, came into being when I was in college, out of my desire to create an enduring modern action hero in the tradition of Indiana Jones or James Bond. I really feel like there’s nothing out there like that these days. There’s been a few attempts, XXX comes to mind, and they’ve failed miserably. (Again, XXX comes to mind.) With Locke, I’m trying to throw my hat into that rather ambitious arena, but via comics.

What's been your favorite storyline so far?

That depends on what day of the week you ask me, but it’s between Dinner and a Robbery and Locke and the Las Vegas Ninjas. I liked exploring a different side of Locke in D&R, as I’m a hopeless romantic, which is where that story comes from, but it’s pretty hard to argue with ninja hookers and spear-wielding Elvis impersonators. I definitely had the most fun doing LVN thus far.

Why webcomics at first? What attracted you to the medium?

First? You never read my early print work? I’m hurt.

I started out in this biz doing work for the VERY small press when I was a sophomore in college. The first company I worked for went out of business before my work saw print. Then I got picked up at Acclaim comics, where I was going to be penciling the relaunch of Trinity Angels. I got as far as redesigning the characters before THEY folded on the comic. I then signed on with another small company and they went under too. That’s when I’d had enough. I’ve never had any notion of giving up, it’s not an option, but I knew I didn’t have the name or the capitol to be successful in self-publishing so I turned to the web. I figured I could get my name and work out there for minimal financial risk. Since then, I’ve really immersed myself in the webcomics medium and been very pleased with what I’ve found. So, like all good relationships, I kind of fell ass-backwards into webcomics.

Oddly enough, three years later, I find myself with an opportunity to self publish, with distribution, that I am certainly taking, but by no means am I leaving webcomics behind. I think labeling yourself a webcomic creator, or a print comic creator is ridiculous. I’m a comic creator and I plan to straddle the fence as best I can for as long as I can because there are opportunities and advantages to both media.

How has your experience with Graphic Smash been? What made you first apply?

My experience there has been phenomenal.

I love working with Joey Manley and T Campbell, they’re great guys and more importantly, damn smart. I did my homework on the Modern Tales machine before applying and I was, and continue to be, impressed with the whole operation

I applied to Graphic Smash as a walk-on, solely for the exposure, a move that has paid off huge. I did RL at my site, Misfit-Media.com, for about two years before joining Graphic Smash and my hits were... modest. My audience has gone up since the move in multiples that require math too advanced for a simple art major. In retrospect, I didn’t know how to properly market a webcomic then, but that’s been another advantage of ‘Smash. Learning from the veterans.

The money was never a motivator for me. To me, either I’m making a living off this, or I’m not. Until I am, my primary interest is generating a fan base and enough buzz that might make that possible.

This does not mean you can stop paying me, Joey.

How does the experience of seeing it in print compare to seeing it on-line? Was it hard to format it for print as opposed to the web?

Like I said, there are advantages to both. I have my printed editions framed on my wall, and I can show them to people without dragging around an iBook or handing them a card and telling them to check out the site, which they probably won’t remember to do. I do like having a printed book to hold, there’s something about it. It’s real.

The part I like best about the medium of the web is the immediacy. It’s a lot easier to gauge reaction off of a message board as the story is progressing as opposed to a single email reaction to a finished printed book. From a purely egotistical standpoint, it makes my day every time I check my board and someone I’ve never met took the time to say something about my work. I’m also kind of a revisionist, and very critical of my own work, so the web allows me to still play with things even after they’re published. If I wanted to do that in print, I’d need a huge travel budget and a lot of sharpies, or be George Lucas.

Formatting is no issue really, I size my pages for print when I do them, and then resize and reletter them for the web. It’d be nice to go infinite canvas crazy with my updates, but then I can’t print them effectively and like I said, I think being able to work effectively in both media is key.

So, now that you've released one print book -- what are your future plans? Any non-Locke projects? Any other media you'd like for Locke to appear in?

I am, as always powering ahead with Reckless Life. I have about three years of story set in stone and much, much more than that floating out in the ether. My primary focus right now is getting Locke and the Las Vegas Ninjas on comic shop stands sometime this fall, though all that’s really left in that regard is going to press, as the distribution deal is pretty much done. After that, I’ll be releasing Dinner and a Robbery to comic stores sometime next year which will be followed with a three issue mini series, which will also be the story appearing on Graphic Smash this fall. I’m really very focused on getting this print deal on wheels right now.

As for other media, if everything else I’ve said hasn’t made it obvious, I’m a huge fan of cartoons and movies and would love to see RL in other media. To be real, I am a total licensing whore. Pay me enough and you can slap my characters on whatever you want, but I’m not one of those "I’m making a comic as a pitch to a movie or video game company" guys either. I’m not interested in taking myself out of comics to do more mainstream media. Quite the opposite. I’m interested in licensing and merchandising because it brings in the cash and my goal has ever been for comics to pay my bills, and if "selling out" is a way that will allow me to do that, then I’m all in.

Unfortunately, I have no non-Locke projects in the works, my current schedule doesn’t allow it. I would love to work on other characters, but I can’t do that, Reckless Life, and hold a job. If I can find a way to ditch my day job, you’ll almost certainly see me branching out, but left to my own devices Reckless Life is all I want to do. I have an ending for the series planned, but you may never see it. I could do this for the rest of my life.