Today on the blog we have a first!
I had something weird happen at my part time job the other day. I found out that I work with another author. Not only is he an author, but he’s also a cartoonist and graphic novelist (our first on the blog). Wow. Small world. After talking a bit, I bought one of his books later that night and gave it a read. I was impressed. So I asked him for an interview.
Please give a warm blog welcome to Scott A. Story.
Thanks, Mike—my pleasure!
Scott, can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself? Who you are, what you do, where you’re from…that sort of stuff?
I was born on a military base in Spain, but have spent my whole life here in the Midwest USA. I have a wonderful wife, Benita Story, who is my co-plotter on my graphic novels, and we’ve been together for 32 years so far. I got my college degrees in Medieval History and Creative Writing. Like most nerdy kids, I grew up a child of the media, and I was exposed to tons of novels, comics, television shows, movies, and any other type of Pop culture. I began to read early, and devoured all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books early on, and developed an early passion for the fantasy and science fiction of Michael Moorcock. There are many other writers who made a strong impression on me, such as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Paul Anderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Katherine Kurtz, Stephen R. Donaldson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a long list of others.
Even as a little kid I wrote a bunch of prose stories and drew stacks of horrendous minicomics.
How did you get started drawing? Has your art been published?
As I mentioned, I drew as a kid and teenager, but pretty much let it go as I discovered girls, cars, and parties, and then later got married and went to college. My love of medieval history stems directly from my passion for medieval fantasy books and Dungeons and Dragons.
When I was thirty, I went through something of an existential crisis when my dad passed away, and I began drawing in earnest. Initially I set my goal as drawing for the big comic publishers, Marvel and DC, but I quickly outgrew that and developed my skill base into becoming an all-around illustrator. I didn’t go to art school, but taught myself with whatever how-to books and articles I could find and lots and lots of practice. To this day, I have a habit of keeping and filling sketchbooks with studies and ideas in development, and I number these books and treat them as almost art journals of sorts, full of notes, studies, and finished art.
I began to do semi-professional work when I was thirty-two, moving quickly into indie-level professional work, and over the next decade I drew hundreds of pages of comics for publishers like Image Comics, Arrow, Digital Webbing, Amp, and many more. I also created book covers, CD covers, band posters, advertising art, website graphics, and much more. I worked as a real-estate title searcher during the day during this period, and didn’t quit and become a full-time artist until around age 39 or 40.
When you decided to add writing to you repertoire, how did you make that decision? Was it easy, or did you have to talk yourself into it?
I’ve written for as long as I’ve drawn, and prose is second nature to me. While I self-published my “Johnny Saturn” comics and graphic novels, I also wrote a long list of supplemental short prose short stories set in the same Saturnverse world. Before this, all my novels and short stories had been set in medieval fantasy worlds, but I found writing for our contemporary world and indulging in the odd form of science fiction I create was very natural for me. I had a lifetime of watching Star Trek that influenced this move, as well as other science fiction that I had read or watched. I had always been fascinated by magic, and by this point I had arrived at my belief that magic is simply a mental science from the Ancient or Antediluvian world. You can see that idea pop up throughout my comics and prose.
Your first (traditional) novel, City of the Broken Gate, revolves around the same characters that are in your graphic novels. First off, can you give us a short introduction to the world you’ve created and the characters? Then can you give us an idea of what we’ll find in that first novel?
You can call it the Saturnverse or the Spire City world, but essentially it a combination of urban fantasy, horror, science fiction, and the superhero genre. The protagonists are classic superheroes, but the setting they operate in is a mix of ancient aliens, the paranormal, cutting edge science, Nazi villains, and everything from stargates, angels, demons, zeppelins, cyborgs zombies, and gang wars. I also explore mental illness, addiction, and dysfunctional family dynamics. All this may sound too disparate to be cohesive, but it is. I guess it sort of mirrors the way I think. I have a lot of interests, I suppose.
How much time do you allow each week for writing? Drawing?
I write when I can find some quiet time with my computer, often late at night. When I write, I have to have silence, and I have to be in a collected mood. I have to be somewhat inspired, because if I force it then I’ll simply produce garbage. Because of all this, I often go weeks or months without writing. When the story is ready to come to me, and I cannot deny it—then it’s time to get to work. I know lots of writers of various levels of success who write every day, have a set schedule, and report their word count every day online. That is not me. For me, words are a kind of magic, not tennis shoes I pull on every day to go to work. Creativity is sacred to me, and I have no wish to dilute it and discredit it by forcing myself to hack out material.
On the flip side of the coin, I draw a little every day. I have to for sanity reasons. If nothing else, I have a sketchbook in my car and I draw in the parking lot outside work before I go in and clock in. The endorphin rush and the serenity that comes from this form of artistic meditation is tremendous. It keeps me balanced and sane in an environment where I am constantly assaulted by interruptions and general psychic chaos.
I try to put at least one fun question into every interview, so we can really get to know you, so here it is. Which of your characters would you want to go have lunch with most? Where would you go, and what would they have to eat?
I would sit down and have a long talk with Greg Buchanan, aka Johnny Saturn II. He’s a bit of a super shaman, and I believe he could shed light on some of the mysteries in life that have wondered about over the years. Greg is a cheeseburger kind of guy, probably with onion rings or cheese fries.
What motivates you to continue your craft?
I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, but ultimately I’ve come to the conclusion that creative people are wired differently than everyone else and they simply have to create or they become depressed and unstable. We have to do something or we’ll break up. If I don’t draw some every day, I get depressed and my mental state gets out of whack. Because of this creative drive, I also play and sing music, and I have a passion for guitar and other stringed instruments. I practice meditation to keep focused and clear my mind, otherwise the noisy mental clutter will drown out any sort of objective thought. I have to draw and write. It’s not a choice for me.
I should also add that I have a lot of unusual ideas and observations, and the only way that I effectively share them is by clothing them in fiction. The graphic artist sees the world in a starkly different way than does everyone else, and the writer sees patterns and themes in life that most people are oblivious to.
Promotion is an important part of being an Indie Artist. What techniques have you used that worked? What hasn’t worked? What, if anything, do you plan on trying in the future?
I’m still rather new to working in the traditional prose market, so there is not a lot for me to say there. Promoting a comic, however, is different. It’s a big mix of paid advertising, social media, interviews, podcasts, cross-promoting with more popular comics, book signings, reviewers, conventions, webcomics, and so much more. With over twenty years in comics, and over ten in self-publishing, I can also attest that the nature of the promotion game has changed radically over time. The internet grew up and came into its own at the same time, and opportunities and dead ends came and went with increasing rapidity. What works now has no guarantee to be working in a year’s time.
Comics are different also in that promotion comes with a healthy dose of desperation. It is a constant battle to grab the readers’ eyes when you are in a virtual ocean of other comics trying to get those same eyes on their work. Promotion is an almost daily chore, and it seems as if you are treading water in rough seas with your hands and feet tied. It’s a battle, no joke.
Publishing: Graphicl Novel vs. Traditional Novel…which was harder and why?
It probably comes as no surprise that creating a graphic novel is several magnitudes more difficult than a traditional prose novel. It takes a long time to write, draw, ink, color, and letter a comic page. In fact, if you have a full-time day job, it takes about a week per page. Add to this that sequential storytelling is a rather specific art form with its own rules and approaches. While writing long-form prose is no less easy, it is far less labor intensive. Prose allows you to decompress your storytelling quite a bit and explore the tale in a deeper way.
One last question, what advice would you give any aspiring artists/authors out there?
Before I answer that, there are a few things that need to be said here. If someone is set on becoming an artist or author, there is nothing that you can say that will effect their decision. Even if they are not good, they will pursue it. Also, you can explain the difficult economic realities awaiting artists and writers, but this will fall on deaf ears too. Every would-be creative person believes that they will be the exception, that they will find great success where others have fallen. This is not a bad thing, because they could possibly be right. An artist with limited talent may have just the drive and the artistic voice to take them to the top of their field and really make a difference. I’ve made a point of mentoring a lot of artists over the years, and at least two of them have gone on to much greater success than I have. That makes me feel good in ways you cannot believe.
Art school can help develop an artist, but at the same time if the artist has the drive then all the educational materials in the world are out on the web for free. I believe it’s better to educate yourself. In all my years of free-lance illustration, no one, and by this I mean absolutely no one, has ever asked what art school I got a degree from. Customers don’t care. All they care about is what you can do for them right now, and either you’ve got it or you don’t. If you feel you need to go to art school, fine, but in my way of thinking you are building up tuition debt that will follow you for years, and it won’t change the end product that much.
I got a degree in Creative Writing and have also read probably a hundred how-to books on writing and all its sub-skills (dialogue, plot, world creation, etc.) As far as I am concerned, a little of this is good, and too much clouds your judgement and restricts your writing. Because of this, I have not read any writing how-to books in about a quarter of a century. My feeling is that you should go write a lot, and learn on the job, and not read about writing instead. Find your own way. Be your own teacher. Observe the world and stories by other writers. This is as close as I get to writing advice.
Scott, I want to thank you for your time. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you a bit more. I wish you all the success in the world. Readers, you can follow Scott at the links below.