I met Chris Maverick (Mav to his friends) as a customer at Phantom of the Attic, the comics shop I work at, close to fifteen years ago. Over that time we've become friends. Mav works on a pretty amazingly wide-range of creative projects. He writes, he draws, he is a photographer, as well as one of the most prolific Bloggers in my personal circle of friends. In this interview he describes himself as "the hardest working lazy man in the world" and it's a pretty apt description.
Mav works with artist Max Bajzek on Cosmic Hellcat Adventures. You can read more about Max and see his art at http://max1975.deviantart.com/ or listen to his music at http://shutterdownmusic.com/history.html
In the meantime, here's my interview with Mav.
• Tell us a bit about your comics and where they are available.
Well, my main comic is called Cosmic Hellcat Adventures. It's a webcomic with a yearly print collection. It's about 4 catgirls (along with their robot sidekick) who are a military unit of adventurers, traveling through space on their artificially intelligent smartship. So you know, pretty run of the mill stuff. Actually, it's intended to be a spoof of about a dozen different things, but obviously manga and Star Trek are in there pretty heavily. You can read it at http://www.cosmichellcats.com. Right now it updates 3 days a week, new storyline entries on Mondays and Thursdays and then on Saturday, there's a weekly joke strip with the same characters that's kind of set outside of the storyline. You can also buy the book collections there.
There are also a couple spin-off projects that are print only. Science Ninja Action Team Cosmic Hellcats: IX, which actually predates the webstrip, and introduces all of the main characters.
Then there's Katt & Dawg, which is a Sin City spoof which is much more adult and R rated (Hellcats is strictly PG-13) than my normal strip. It's about a former Hellcat who quit the team and went to work as a detective and bounty hunter on a planet full of dog people. She's teamed up with her boyfriend who is a 9 foot tall dogman with a really bad attitude. So this is my chance to really push boundaries and do kind of a film noir kinda thing while still being funny and trying to be entertaining.
And then there's Tactics Espionage and Defense Directorate Intergalactic Justice Advocates: µ (or Teddijam for short). This is my super-action-spy story staring a team of SHIELD inspired super spies, who just happen to be teddy bears. They're in the same universe, and like Katt and Dawg were introduced in the main Hellcats strip. I'm working on this one now, but it should be done soon.
All the print comics are available for order through IndyPlanet.com and linked to from the Cosmic Hellcats website.
• Why comics?
Why not? Mostly because I love them. I've been a fan all my life and it's something I've just always wanted to do. I like telling stories and comics provides a way of doing certain things that I can't really do in regular fiction writing or even in movies. It really is a special art medium and I really enjoy playing around with some of it's concepts in the story. Of course most of the little details and tweaks I do are probably lost on 99% of people, but you don't really need to notice them to follow the story and it's always nice when someone happens to point out one to me and I'm like "YES! He gets it!"
• Who have been your biggest influences, both in writing and in art?
Wow, this literally changes from week to week. I'm just ridiculously impressionable, so it really depends on what I last looked at, read or watched. As a general rule, I found Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics series to be highly influential in the way I think about comics, but not necessarily in the style I write or draw. I tend to think pretty cinematically, so there's a lot of movie humor and story structure in the way I write. I tend to be very into character based drama rather than story based and I'm a big fan of classic writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald all the way to TV/Movie writers like Joss Whedon and Ronald Moore. In all their cases character development is way more important than the story that's progressing, not that the stories are bad, but it's what I try to think about when writing.
Same thing with art, it changes very often. But growing up I was a constant huge fan of Roy Lichtenstein & Patrick Nagel and later Dennis Mukai and Jennifer Janesko. All four of those people are obviously know for women primarily, but they're all very sketchy and expressive. It's more about getting an emotion or a feeling across with the lines than it is about being photo realistic.
If we want to put this in comic terms, then the lists of people who I find influential end up including some pretty obvious names, Kirby, Lee, Alan Moore, Frank Miller. And maybe some unobvious ones like Mark Gruenwald and Bruce Timm (who I mention particularly because I characterize him in that same group as the four painters I mentioned)
• What are your favorite comics (whether you consider them influential on your style or not)?
First let me just get Watchmen out of the way. Everyone should read Watchmen. If you haven't read Watchmen, quit reading this right now. Go read Watchmen and then come back when you're done.
Ok, hi again. Let's continue…
Well, it depends on my mood. No surprise I'm drawn to ensemble books with long continuously evolving growing mythologies where character development is more important than the story, so I've always been a fan of the X-books and of the Teen Titans. At least up until both of their most recent revamps. I'm still reading both of those books, but they're starting to lose me. Similarly, I was a big fan of Birds of Prey for a long time, and the New 52 killed that for me (IWillNotRantIWillNotRantIWillNotRantIWillNotRantIWillNotRant). Another good example is John Byrne's Next Men. I've stuck with that for a long long time. I'm currently enjoying Morning Glories a lot. To reach back and look at a book that no one but me ever read, David Campiti and Bill Mumy's Lost in Space. Loved it! That may explain a lot about Hellcats right there.
• Have you studied art or writing in college, or are you self-taught?
I went to Carnegie Mellon University and graduated with a double major in creative writing and literary and cultural studies and a minor in art, so that probably explains why I tend to think of stuff the way I do with comics. I'm always looking for hidden undertones and scholarly ideals in the text and art. Really, I guess that makes me a huge nerd… but an educated nerd!
• What’s your normal process for creating your comic?
For the main comic, I write an outline of what I want to do over the course of a year and then I write short panel breakdowns of what I want the first 10-20 episodes to be and then I send them to Max, the artist on Cosmic Hellcat Adventures. This gives him a chance to modify stuff if he has a good idea and get his feedback in and then he sends me the inked pages which I color and letter. I generally write the actual script as I'm lettering. This gives us some time to collaborate and makes the story almost as much his as it is mine. Sometimes by the end of the story arc, some minor visual detail that he tossed in can end up changing the whole direction of the story. It's fun like that. I like to think it's very Lee and Kirby.
For Katt and Dawg, which I drew as well as wrote, I actually just did a script for myself from the beginning, complete with dialogue that I knew I'd be able to change as I went along. Same thing for the Teddijam story I'm working on now.
• How do you promote your work?
Not well enough. We pay for banner ads in places. We have a Twitter feed (@cosmichellcats) and a Facebook page. I tell people about it. And we go to comic book conventions a few times a year. Really, promotion is the hardest part. I honestly don't expect to get rich (though it'd be nice, so everyone go to my website and buy a copy or 50 dammit) but I do want to spread the stories farther, get more feedback and make enough money that I don't go broke doing this. Oh yeah, and unlike most indy comics, I have hot cosplay models. So if you check out the site or come see us as con icons, you'll see girls in the sexy costumes from time to time. Hey, I might not be the best at promotion, but I know sex sells!
• What do you enjoy most about being a comics creator?
Telling the stories. I know it sounds hokey to say, and you've probably heard this come out of the mouths of a million artists in any medium from comics to painting to writing to acting to singing, but I really don't know how to not do this. Telling stories is just kind of what I do. There's stuff swirling around in my head, and like any other artist, I've got just enough vanity and audacity to think that other people out there actually give a damn about what I have to say. And also, like every other artist I have just enough lack of self-esteem that I really need to know what they think in order to have self-validation and not jump off a bridge. So that's the reason I write and draw and even tweet random stuff everyday (@chrismaverick).
• What do you find most difficult about being a comics creator?
The time. It's a labor of love, but a labor nonetheless. Hellcats is something I've been doing for 4 years now. And basically it's a second job. It takes about as much time as my real job, sometimes more, and it's not profitable. In fact, sometimes it ends up costing me money. So really it's the the love of the whole thing that keeps me going.
• What's more important to you: Telling a story or pushing the bounds of comic book art?
Definitely telling a story. At least for me. A couple reasons, one, all of the stuff I spouted above about how I think about stories and fiction in general, and two, I personally believe I'm a much stronger writer than I am an artist. Its just what I'm more interested in. I mean, I'm really happy when I have a particularly good looking or moving piece of art, and I'm really happy when someone says they like something, but I'm driven much more by the writing aspect of it.
• Why self publish instead of submitting your work to the majors?
Well, the stories I'm interested in right now are mine. I'd love to write Spiderman one day. Or Justice League. But Hellcats was a very specific idea that I wanted to tell and I wanted it to be mine. Yeah, it'd be great if I had the power of Disney or Warner Brothers behind me selling the book, but I wanted to own it, I wanted full control and I had something unwrapping in my head that I wanted to make work. Also, I'm kind of lazy. In fact, I may be the hardest working lazy man in the world.
• What are your long-term goals with comics?
I'd love it if could support me, but I'm not holding my breath. Really I just want to be able to tell good stories that I enjoy writing and would enjoy reading and hope that as many people read them as possible. Like I said before, artists are notoriously self-conscious. So we totally need feedback from the masses in order to feel like our lives are not empty and meaningless. Do please, read my comic, write us and let us know what you think. I mean you wouldn't want to see me jumping off a bridge would you.
• Where can you be found you on the web if anyone wants more info?