Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Profile Antics: Colleen Doran

Comic book writer and artist Colleen Doran is best known for her long-running series, A Distant Soil, but she has also produced memorable work for a variety of publishers over the years, as her own series has skipped around from publisher to publisher, weathering the ever-changing tastes of the direct sales market in the process. Ms. Doran has carved out a nice niche for herself within the industry by demonstrating strong work ethics and a committment to excellence, earning various accolades as well as the respect of her peers.

I caught up with her at this years Heroes Convention in Charlotte, NC and despite a hectic personal schedule [post convention] she responded via email to my brief interview.

1) In your experience, how is the "glass ceiling" impacting women entering comics today or does gender even still matter anymore?

Well, I know it still matters, it's just not such an impediment anymore. In many cases, clients are specifically looking for female creators and books that appeal to women and girls. That just wasn't the case in the past, for the most part.

Women creators and girl's comics were considered box office poison when I got into the business. Some women creators even tried to distance themselves from one another and openly declared they were not feminists, the better to not alienate their potential audience, I suppose. I was recently given a 1977 Women in Comics Convention program book where one woman creator wrote a big article declaring over and over how she was not a feminist!

I'm seeing a lot more openness and less overt competitiveness and suspicion among the women, and lots more openness from the men. Some of the older mean have not grown with the times. The ones that have are much appreciated, but you still run into those dinosaurs that still walk the Earth. I don't worry about them so much anymore. They'll become extinct eventually.

2) A Distant Soil is a very personal work, but what other comics project was most rewarding (or fun) for you to have been involved with?

Orbiter was very personal to me because it was such a positive and uplifting book about the space program, which has always been of great interest. I grew up near NASA, and when I was a little girl, my dad would drive us down to the runway so we could watch the jets take off. We would go to the Visitors Center. The base was open to the public in those days, and you could roam about quite a bit. It's nothing like that now. I was in a science fiction club that met once a month on the base.

3) What career goals or aspirations do you still have ahead of you or that have gone unfulfilled thus far?
I have a number of projects that have been on the back burner for years, and I desperately want to get to them. Naturally, I want to finish A Distant Soil quite badly, but have been writhing with my insecurities over it for so long, I was beginning to despair of ever getting back to it. Recently, I hired Julie Ditrich to be my editor and lean on me a bit, and that has paid off.
From a purely fangirl standpoint, I want to work on Batman and Aquaman and do a project with Frank Miller.

From a creative standpoint, I have several children's book projects I have wanted to do for a long time, and one just got picked up. Also, I want to have the opportunity to do work with more content and meat to it. I am going more and more in that direction, I think. I want to experiment more with storytelling technique.

I haven't produced much work over the last year, which is mostly my fault. I was not getting offers I liked, and just turning everything away. I'm just not willing to take on gigs for the money. I can't bring myself to do it. I want to do projects that are important on a personal and professional level. If I need the money, I'd rather figure out other ways to make it. I can't bring myself to do jobs for money. I don't want to do work I am not proud of, that I can't respect.

4) Who do you consider as influences on your career?

Frank Kelly Freas was a huge influence on me because he was my mentor when I was a kid. Kelly used to work at Mad Magazine, but he is best known as a science fiction artist. He lived hours from me, but for a long time I used to drive to his house and hang out. When his wife died, I took care of him, and did his cooking and cleaning. It was a great experience because he had been around for many, many years and had so much knowledge. He was the same age as my grandparents, so he had been an illustrator since the Depression! But in many ways, he was innocent and inexperienced. He was a terrible businessman, and that was an important lesson for me, to see what happens to wonderful, talented people when they cannot handle their business affairs. This was an incredibly important lesson.
Ever since then, I've made it a point to study the business side of my work and to share what I learned with others, particularly on my blog. I ran a seminar at San Diego on Resources for Creators. I share information about agents, insurance, unions. So many creators neglect this aspect of their work, they don't know how to handle money. They don't understand what their contracts say.

Monet said "Be organized in your life so you can be free in your work." If more artists had some business acumen, they would be in a better position to do better work. They wouldn't have to take jobs they didn't want just to make a buck. They would be in a better position to get better contracts and better pay. They'd have more time to do more important personal work.

I'm not sure that was the answer you were looking for, but in many ways, Frank Kelly Freas was the most important person I have ever encountered in this business.

5) Do you have any cool industry "war stories" to share?

Do I have anything else? I'd like to share a war story that goes to the character of a kind and good man. Dick Giordano.
There was a senior creator who had a lot of respect for his accomplishment, but no one would mistake him for a nice guy. He was pretty abusive, actually.

I was at a show years ago, and I was showing my work to Dick. Now I'd been in the business for years, and was already doing a book for DC, but I'm not proud. When you have a chance to have Dick Giordano to yourself, you're a fool not to take the time to talk to him about drawing and get some pointers. He's such a fantastic technician. I never miss an opportunity to sit with a creator I respect and get some tips.

So, I am showing Dick my portfolio at a rather sparsely attended Charlotte Heroes Con, and this senior editor came up and made some really nasty comments about my work. They were not constructive. He just kept barking "Crap!" and "That's awful! Sheesh!" He was not offering any help, just being incredibly rude and nasty, snorting and rolling his eyes. I did not ask for his opinion. He was an incredibly sexist, nasty man, and was often quite dismissive of me and my work.

Dick Giordano is half deaf, but this boisterous boor was loud enough to hear in Sri Lanka. Dick just turned and said "Shut up!" Then he looked at me and said "Ignore him," and went right back to his critique of my work, which was very helpful. It felt great to see a good guy like Dick Giordano stand up to that mean old man. It was very encouraging and reminded me that just because there are some people at a company who don't know how to behave themselves, there are always good people who will stand up and do the right thing. Dick Giordano is one of those people, and I have never forgotten than.

6) What type of "tools" do you prefer to use in creating your artwork?

I prefer to work by hand. My first real digital comics work was on Tori Amos: Comic Book Tattoo. This was a combination of hand drawn work and digital. I don't think I will ever become a purely digital artist because I love creating things with my hands. I even love to make my own paper. There's a disconnect when I work on the computer, and the computer cannot create the look I can get with pencil.
I like to work with plain old pens and pencils. Nothing fancy.

7) Is the grind of participating in the convention circuit worth the trouble?

Well, you would have to catch me in another mood to get another answer. On the whole, I'd have to say no. I love meeting the fans. That is awesome. It is inspiring. I love seeing my friends, many of whom are pros. Conventions are the only place we get to meet. But touring is very time consuming. Even if you go to a show and sell out all your books and make a profit, you were not drawing your book that day, you are exhausted, and I have chronic respiratory problems that pop up when I travel. It's a trade off, and I can't say it's always a bargain.

8) What inspires you as a storyteller?
Everything. I am never bored. I can be looking at a pattern on a piece of cloth and my mind wanders. Just everything.

9) What's your favorite non-comics thing to do?

I love to work in my garden. I grow much of my own food.

10) What food is your guilty pleasure?

Chocolate! Can't grow that!

No comments: