Earlier this week I caught up with comic book creator John Holland to talk about his background in comic book creation and his upcoming comics.
Below you’ll find my interview with John in its entirety.
Interview with John Holland – Comic Book Creator
Soda and Telepaths: Hi John, how are you going right now? How is this chaotic world treating you?
John Holland: Things are going really good right now overall. I just had cataract surgery and for the first time in fifty years I don’t need glasses. I’ve got so much in the pipeline as far as comics goes, it’s amazing. I’m working with some super talented people and besides my self-publishing I’m having work published by others also.
I’ve got involved in a studio situation and there are so many talented people there that I’ve already started working with. I had a video call with a company last night that I’m not sure if my comics are a fit for them, but if they are, could really put my stories in front of a lot more eyes.
Soda and Telepaths: Where in the world are you from?
John Holland: I was born outside Memphis, in the Navy hospital at Millington but currently living about 45 minutes across the lake from New Orleans.
Soda and Telepaths: What projects are you currently working on?
John Holland: How much time do we have? Lol. Let’s see if I can remember them all. I’m working on the seconds issues of Alma and Robot Sex, with Hernan Gonzlaes and Roman Gubskii. We’re working on doing a Kickstarter for the first issue of Alma and reprinting it. These are coming out from my imprint Die Bold Comics. I’m doing another comic with Hernan that we want to pitch to Blood Moon Comics.
I just finished Two Tons of Fury with Larry Guidry, a comic starring Fatman the Human Flying Saucer, Herbie and another version of Captain Marvel that pretty much no one remembers. This one is going to be published by Antarctic Press in December and we’re figuring out the sequel to it now. I have A Girl and Her Dog coming out this month from It’s Alive Comics. I’ve got a couple things going with some talented artists from Exile Studios. These are just in the planning stages so it’s a little early to talk about them too much.
Though I do have a short story written and getting drawn that’s going to be in an anthology horror title the studio is going to publish. I’ve got a story I want to write this weekend for another anthology, this one is about hair, and considering I’m bald that might be a stretch, lol. I need to get back to my Lizards series and get the next issue out, we’re up to issue six, but I need to write some more for it. That’s everything I can remember right now, but I know I have some more things I need to get to, but have to squeeze the time in somewhere.
Soda and Telepaths: Do you prefer working by yourself and the finding your own collaborators or do you prefer working as part of a studio?
John Holland: Mostly I’ve worked by myself, finding my own collaborators, just because it’s really the only way I know how. But recently I was invited to be part of a studio, Exile Studios, and am loving it. It’s such an inviting and open experience. I’m already working with one writer on a short story and with two others on bigger projects.
Soda and Telepaths: How did you first get started?
John Holland: I’ve always wanted to write and while in high school I would write stories that never saw the light of the day but were good practice for me. I’ve been a comic book fan since I was old enough to read and always wanted to write comics. In the 80’s I started to get published by some of the Indie Publishers like Fantagraphics, Innovation, Kitchen Sink, Malibu, Comic Zone and others. My first published comics was in the same month; a back up story in Journey drawn by Sam Kieth and the first in my Lizards series in Fantagraphics drawn by Ron Wilber.
Soda and Telepaths: Did working for some of those indie companies like Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink and Malibu help in shaping your productivity and professionalism?
John Holland: Definitely. You learn first that you have to send in work that is professional and is formatted correctly. This was back in the day when word processors where just getting started and I sent in a script to Malibu for an issue of Deathworld I was working on, and somewhere along the lines the format got wonky, and I didn’t bother with it.
I was told, and correctly, that I need to make sure I do it the right way. Also it helped to learn the importance of deadlines. When I’m working on my own stuff, with no deadlines, it’s easy to get to it when I get to it. When you have something due with a publisher you have to get it to them when it’s due.
Soda and Telepaths: Ok let’s talk about Alma. What’s the 10 second pitch for those unfamiliar?
John Holland: What if Buffy was a 72 year old grandmother? What happens when the powers to be grant their powers to an old woman to protect the world?
Soda and Telepaths: What’s your favorite era of creative work by other artists?
John Holland: I don’t know if I have a favorite era, so much good work has been done throughout the years if you know where to look. I loved Marvel Comics in the 70’s when Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, etc. where writing. In the 80’s and 90’s again there was a lot of good work.
During the black and white explosion during the 80’s a lot of great comics appeared and disappeared so quickly. Yea, there was a lot of dreck, but there was also a lot of really good stuff as everyone was throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. Today I think is a great period of comics. There is so much great stuff out there right now, like Saga and Ed Brubaker’s comics and Greg Rucka and too many for me to name.
Soda and Telepaths: Are you more of a horror or sci-fi nerd? What are your go to films to check out?
John Holland: I think I’m a combination of the two. Though I’m not much of a horror fan when it comes to movies. I’m more of a implied fan than let’s gross you out with what we can show in the movies and most movies would rather go the latter way. I’ll be honest I haven’t been much of a movie goer in a while. I do go to the Marvel Movies, but otherwise I probably watch more tv.
I used to go to at least two or three movies a week, but now I’d rather sit home and watch what’s coming on tv. I’m a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my Alma series is a riff on the idea of “What if Buffy was a 72-year-old grandmother?”). My two newest series represent horror and science fiction, Alma the horror side and Robot Sex science fiction. I was a huge science fiction reader when I was younger.
Soda and Telepaths: Who are your main creative influences and what aspects of your creative work can we find them in?
John Holland: One of my earliest influences would have to be Stan Lee. I was such a big fan of his writing. I was big fans of Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison. Both wrote short stories, and, in their collections, they would write introductions about the stories that I found just as fascinating as the stories sometimes. But reading about the creations of their stories really lit the fire in me to want to create my own stories.
Steve Gerber, the creator of Howard the Duck is a huge influence. In my work I’m always putting something weird or crazy in the stories and I think that came from Gerber’s writings. His work on comics like Defenders was just as important to me as his writing on Howard the Duck. More currently I am in awe of writers like Greg Rucka and his world building in his work and Brian K. Vaughn.
I’ve really looked at Brian Michael Bendis’ work and took a lot away. I know he gets a bad rep for his dialogue and how long his conversations are, but I found his writing has such a natural feel and flow to it that a lot of comic writing didn’t at the time. Outside comics I’m reading a lot of mysteries or thrillers now and writers like Michael Connelly, John Connelly (no relation to Michael), Sara Partesky, Sue Grafton and others. John D MacDonald and his Travis McGee series.
Soda and Telepaths: Who are your go to musical jams to put on while you’re working?
John Holland: Beatles, Wilco, Shannon McNalley, Will Hoge, I could go on and on with this list. I’ve been listening to a lot of Rihanna Giddens lately. A lot of old blues and country singers, from like the 30’s and 40’s. Always can listen to Dylan for hours and hours. I’m a big music fan and can listen to just about anything.
Soda and Telepaths: I’ve gotta ask this. Favourite Beatles album?
John Holland: That’s a tough question and can change day to day, depending on my mood. There are no bad Beatles albums. I’m going to stretch the definition a little though and say right now The Deluxe five cd set of The White Album is my favorite. While the original version of The White Album is good, I don’t know if it would make my favorite, but the deluxe with all the extras is so good and I’ve been listening to it so much.
Soda and Telepaths: What strengths in previous jobs have helped strengthen your creativity?
John Holland: Besides writing my job has been in retail all my life and I still work my 40 plus hours at a big box store. I’m not sure what might have helped me from that type of work, expect maybe patience, lol. Working in retail you have to learn to be patient with customers, corporate, other workers, etc. or you’ll go crazy.
And in my writing I sometimes have a habit of wanting to do as much as possible, or in reality more than possible at a single time, and I think I’ve had to learn to be patient with what’s on the deck waiting to get started and finish what I’m doing at the moment.
Soda and Telepaths: What’s your biggest horror story of working in retail?
John Holland: I don’t think we have enough time for me to list, lol. Angry customers can definitely top the list. I’ve been cursed at and yelled at for things that are not in my control more than a few times. But I might go with the time we did inventory and I was at work for over two days straight. That was not a lot of fun.
Soda and Telepaths: What weaknesses have you identified in your current project that you’re going to work on in the future?
John Holland: To edit myself and proof what I’ve done. I get so excited when I finish a project I don’t give it the second going over it needs and I’ve let typos and mistakes make it in the work when if I just spent a little more time, or better yet, maybe hire a proof reader or editor, lol, they won’t be seen.
Soda and Telepaths: Let’s talk about some memories that you had when you first started getting creative? How has this changed from childhood to adolescence to creating as an adult?
John Holland: Some of my cherished memories when I first started are the conventions that I attended. I made quite a few San Diego and Chicago cons in the day. (This was before C2E2 when it was Chicago Con. One of my favorite memories is when for some reason Chicago Con was scheduled only a week earlier than San Diego. I went to Chicago and spent a couple days with my friend and artist Terry Pavlet and his wife and then went to San Diego for that following weekend.
Now if you’re asking what changed with my aspirations from when I started to now, that is a little different answer. When I first started all, I wanted was to be able to make a living at writing. Now I would still love to do that, but I’ve accepted a more realistic goal and am happy that I can continue to write and publish and get my comics out there for people to read.
If the day comes that I can actually make a living at this, I’ll be thrilled but I know that is a very difficult task and there are probably more comic creators out there with second jobs or spouses that help out than ones that actually make a living off their work.
Soda and Telepaths: What’s the worst nightmare you’ve ever had?
John Holland: I’m one of those people that rarely remember their dreams or nightmares. When I wake up, I might remember it for a second, but such things vanish from my mind pretty quickly. Saying that I do remember a dream I had when I was younger. I was probably in my late teens and early twenties.
This was a recurring dream I had for years. I don’t remember a lot of details, but I always remember it was a dream that I was being chased by someone and the fights we would have and me escaping only to be found in the next dream. They would just continue and continue until finally they stopped, or I
stopped remembering them.
Soda and Telepaths: Do you have a favorite soft drink?
John Holland: I used to live off of Coke, you could open my refrigerator and pretty much all you’d see were bottles of Coke. But about 20 years ago I was diagnosed with Diabetes and all soft drinks had to stop. Nowadays I drink a lot of water and unsweet tea. Every now and then I’ll drink a Mountain Dew, mainly when I’m driving a long distance to help me stay awake, but I haven’t had a coke in decades.
Soda and Telepaths: Who’s your favorite telepath or gifted character in pop culture?
John Holland: I’m drawing a blank on this one. Basically the only ones I can think of right now are Professor X and Jean Grey, but I haven’t read an X-men comic in twenty plus years.
Soda and Telepaths: What about favourite gifted character in a film or tv show?
John Holland: Not sure if this counts, but I would say Buffy in that she is gifted with her powers. Buffy is one of my favorite shows of all time. My last dog was named after her. I just finished a re watch of the series a few weeks ago. I watch it every few years and so far I haven’t tired of it.
Soda and Telepaths: Which creative work would you most like to be remembered for?
John Holland: I’m not sure I can pick just one thing. Every time I write something I like to think it’s the best thing I’ve done to that point. Hopefully I still haven’t written that yet. Though I am proud of A Girl and Her Dog. Tony Isabella, creator of Black Lightning, calls it one of the best comics of the year.