Subject: Alan Bennett
Company: Black Box Comics
Published Works: Johnny Vega Man of the Future; Pandora’s Garage; Guilded Edges; DFA;
Current Projects: Johnny Vega/Ghost Assassin Crossover; Johnny Vega Man of the Future; Pandora’s Garage TPB
W/I C: Lets get into this, what was your very first comic book and what does it mean to you?
Bennett: The very first one I can distinctly remember buying was a DC Swamp Thing; original series issue #13 written by Len Wein and Illustrated by Nestor Redondo, a very realist looking horror story.
The “what does it mean to you,” the beginning of the end of just doodling for me and [started down the road of] collecting comics.
W/I C: Who are your influences, comic book or other wise?
Bennett: There are a number of them. Firstly, there was John Bryne and Frank Miller but as I [grew] I got into Paul Gulacy and Gene Day. Then as I developed Johnny Vega I got into Mark Schultz, Wally Wood, Steranko and Al Williamson.
Bennett: Well there are also number of writers that came along such as Frank Herbert and Robert A. Heinlein… Larry Niven. A huge amount would come from watching old reruns of classic 50’s sci-fi and television shows like the Twilight Zone; Outer Limits; Space: 1999 and Star Trek
W/I C: Trekkies Unite! (Laughs.) Speaking of television, do you have any current faves among Sci-Fi TV shows and what are your thoughts on the new Star Trek flick?
Bennett: Well there are a couple of shows that I am currently liking and watching… episodes of both Fringe and Stargate: SG-U. As to the new movie I FUCKING LOVED IT! For the first time a time travel story that made sense to me unlike the rest of the movies or the series. I just hope that J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot Production Company continues the working and helming of these movies for Paramount. I’ll be a devoted fan.
W/I C: What first inspired you to make your own comic?
Bennett: My best friend Dax Erickson… ever since we were kids, we would work on coming up with ideas of how and who we should write and illustrate about. Even today, we get together at a local pub or coffee shop and talk about this stuff. Always a fun time.
W/I C: Has Dax Erickson published any comics of his own? If so what are they?
Bennett: No, Dax has not printed up anything in the time that I have known him, which spans about 36 years now. If he had I’d know about it.
W/I C: Why/how did you become a self-publisher?
Bennett: I became a self-publisher when I realized that my style of artwork wasn’t a common style. It was just different enough that the major publishers would turn away from it and independents couldn’t afford to pay anything for a decent artist who used more than crayons. It was then I realized I could do this kind of work myself and produce the kind of story I would want to read.
W/I C: Have you ever been solicited by any of the big boys?
Bennett: The closest I have ever been to being solicited was about two years ago when Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Entertainment had stopped by my table and asked if I had a working website. Of course he would ask me that before I had gotten the site totally uploaded onto the web.
W/I C: Why did you choose Ka-Blam to print your books?
Bennett: Ka-blam came around when I was looking at other means of publishing books rather than paying a huge amount of money to local printers which I had dealt with years before when I was with the Eugene Comics Guild I was looking for something that felt within my budget for a professionally printed comic book I could add to my portfolio. That was when I [met] Adam Watson…
W/I C: Who the hell is Adam Watson?
Bennett: He’s a dude with the know-how and experience of a “How to.” I keep telling the guy he needs to write a freakin’ book for other creators in the field.
W/I C: Can you elaborate for us about the first time you met Watson?
Bennett: I first met Adam through a friend of mine named Royce Myers (now doing his own thing with Comics Safari) at a Eugene comic show. I believe at the time he was just starting to show Ghost Assassin: Prelude. I think there was some sizing up of each other to see what this guy was all about.
W/I C: When you talk about “local printers” do you mean web press printers or more like Kinko’s?
Bennett: “Local printers,” refers to places in Eugene such as Central Print (where Guilded Edges was printed), Minuteman Press and a couple of smaller printers.
W/I C: How many printers did you research before making this decision?
Bennett: Well there were four different local printers I looked into and then my friend Chad Hay, then my business partner with Glass Rhino Press, had brought up [during] one of our business meetings over coffee, that we take a look into digital printing with comixpress.com. After that, the ball was rolling. Then Ka-blam rolled around.
W/I C: "Death From Above" is a mini-mini comic. Why did you choose to print in this format?
Bennett: DFA was a concept I had after I finished work on the first Johnny Vega comic I was working on for the guild at the time. I wasn’t sure if Johnny was something I wanted to continue with then of course, there was the Angry Robot as well.
W/I C: “Angry Robot”?
Bennett: Ah, Angry Robot. Here was a character that preceded Bender of Futurama. Same kind of general attitude with out the need of alcohol to lubricate his parts. He was a merc for hire looking for the last big stash of fossil fuels. He had one appearance in “Guilded Edges” issue 2.
W/I C: What inspired Pandora's Garage?
Bennett: Pandora’s Garage is really an outreach of the old Eugene Comic Guild,“Guilded Edges.” …it had folded shop and I still had several personal stories I wanted to see get into print [with] some of them already on the art table. Since I was also producing the book, I wanted a certain group of people with contrasting styles; I thought I could count on to meet a deadline. I just liked the format of an anthology.
W/I C: What is Johnny Vega Man of the Future?
Bennett: Johnny Vega Man of the Future is a story set about 300 to 500 hundred years in the future as mankind has finally made it into space. But with all the intelligent alien life forms that he has come in contact with, the Galactic Rangers came into being to police the space ways; a very classic sci-fi staple. I also wanted to push the envelope for the character and the story I [invented]. There is more meaning in “Man of the Future” but you’ll have to wait around to find out...
W/I C: How was Johnny conceived?
Bennett: Science Fiction has always been a corner stone for me in the books I have read, the comics I have collected and the movies I have watched. When I was working with the Guild I had hit upon doing short chapters like out of the old movie serials of the 1930’s [for example] Flash Gordon. That’s when Johnny Vega was created. It was also cheaper for me to be able to make sure I could cover my part of the printing cost of the pages I was producing.
W/I C: My dad introduced me to Sci-fi; he loved Buck Rodgers, Star Trek and Battle Star Galactica. Who introduced you to science fiction and did TV come before books?
Bennett: I guess I would have to say my dad did as well with watching reruns of Star Trek on the tube. But other than that I just ran with it.
W/I C: Speaking of Sci-Fi, what is your opinion of the Sci-Fi channel switching to the “SyFy” channel?
Bennett: They might as well called Sci-strir-fri. I think it was a dumb move on their part since they already had a following for Startgate, B-star and Farscape.
W/I C: I couldn’t agree more. Okay back on track, what was “Guilded Edges”?
Bennett: “Guilded Edges” was a 7-issue run. The content was an anthology of stories that were printed up by the second grouping of the Eugene Comics Guild. We all had a love of the medium and had several styles of story telling which I believed an anthology could pander to. And with such a diversity of creative individuals it could appeal to anyone. Printing was expensive to do alone so by banding together we could all see our stuff in print.
W/I C: Who was part of it?
Bennett: Well that's a funny thing it was open to those people who could cover the cost of their own printing, meaning they would pay about $2.50 a page to get printed. An eight-page story was going to cost you twenty bucks. When you are a starving artist that was about all we could afford individually. The roster usually consisted of Don Haugen, Chad Hay, Jared Profit, Tyler Benjamin, Jon Armstrong, Leonard Chastain, Lene Light and myself. There were a couple others artist and writers who were just one-shots who felt this wasn’t their calling or Real Life got in the way.
W/I C: Yeah, RL blows! (Laughing from experience.) Do you find RL to get in the way often?
Bennett: Yes, it does in the way of the creative process. But I find that I have to schedule my time to allow for the creative side to get out while having to pay bills and regular life expenditures. If you were never to get out of the house how would you be able create a story -regardless of topic, sci-fi or horror- that people could relate too?
W/I C: How many of the guys from the Guild are still doing comics?
Bennett: Probably zero. I still keep in touch with a couple of them but [many of them] considered it a hobby and a very small few I think, as silly as this might sound, are afraid of success.
W/I C: Are you still in contact with any of them?
Bennett: Yes. When I head back home to Eugene I still try to get together with them because I never forgot we all started basically on the same page.
W/I C: What contributed to this project coming undone?
Bennett: Well there were a number of factors that proved to be our undoing. The first one was dealing with, who was going to be editing the books on a regular basis; who was running the books and handling the cash for printing; who was consistently getting their work done before deadline and who was running the Guild at the time. I had stepped down and handed the reins to somebody I thought had the fire and drive to be chairman after issue #5 came out. I had no idea an issue #7 had even come out until a friend pointed it out to me. I bought my own book with my work in it. As you can imagine, I was (and several others) furious about it. There were lots of rumors as well.
W/I C: Where can our readers get copies of “Guilded Edges,” if they are out of print, will there ever be a collected trade?
Bennett: No, I don’t think that there will ever be a collected work of Guilded Edges. Not that I wouldn’t mind seeing those works get back out into the general public but I think there are those who would definitely insist on some kind of re-numeration for their part in the books.
W/I C: Would you ever step back into the shoes of “Editor-in-Chief” and collect 1-7 in a trade?
Bennett: Only for my own stuff these days.
W/I C: What was Glass Rhino Press?
Bennett: About 2 years after the demise of the Guild I was still working on finishing Johnny Vega in black and white I had met up with Chad Hay over coffee and had begun talking about printing up another group of books under a different imprint that would not be associated with the Guild. I wanted a group of people who had the same goal in mind; not the contrasting ego’s I had dealt with as the chair of the Guild. That’s when the Rhino was formed.
W/I C: It seems collaboration is important to you. Why is Black Box Comix a solo act?
Bennett: The Collaborative effort is actually a two-edged sword. I do really like the idea of working together with other people but egos usually get in the way of anything actually getting done. That’s the problem with the original Guild, professional egos that could be stepped on by more talented upstarts, like moi. (Laughs)
Having other people around made it easier, so if you totally flubbed up there were others who could pick up the slack for you, if there was a better story or if their art was better prepared than yours for public consumption.
The other is hanging everything out for people to see and criticize. An artist’s ego is a fragile thing. It took me a long time to get used to the idea that any critique of work regardless whether or not it was bad or good, is still good because somebody took the time to read it. If people are saying things about the “Box” they are saying it about me.
W/I C: Coffee seems to be a big deal for you. If all the sudden the coffee bean became extinct, what would you do?
Bennett: Smoke a big ole’ bowl of crack or down tons of beer. If that were serious, I’d buy as many stocks as I could and then sell high even with a bad withdrawal headache.
W/I C: You've told us a bit about the Guild, but could you please detail what was/is the Eugene Comics Guild? Who created it? How people joined it? Does it still exist?
Bennett: The Eugene Comics Guild originally consisted of Shepherd Hedrix, Steve Ryan, Matt Brundage, Shane Glines, Michael T. Gilbert, Janet Gilbert, Mike Alread, Matt Clark, Shane Hawks, Matt Haley, Paul Guinan, Anna Bennett (no relation), Sky Ortiz and myself. There were others but that was the first meeting I went to. As to who created it I think was Matt Brundage. The guild was open to who ever had the time to hang out, eat pizza and drink some beer when the Guild got too big for the coffee shop of Allann Brothers. (And Ben that is not a typo, that the way it’s spelled).
As to still being around, no, after the blotched issue #6, the guild broke up and went their separate ways.
W/I C: Who was part of Glass Rhino Press?
Bennett: Eventually there were only two contributors on any of the Glass Rhino Press books: Chad Hay and myself.
W/I C: What contributed to this project coming undone?
Bennett: Deadlines, finances and shows. We were long overdue to have a couple books printed up for our first Stumptown show in Portland and I was told by Chad he was not going to attend the show after we were already committed to it. So, in a short two-week period I was able to print and staple the First Stumptown Mini ‘05 featuring, you guessed it, Johnny Vega and a portfolio of up coming projects from Pandora’s Garage. It was at this time I had run into Dan Barton and had asked him if he was ready to put something into print. I would pay for everything else.
It wasn’t until several months later I learned why Chad had stepped back and I leave it at that.
W/I C: Who is Dan Barton and was he ready to put something into print???
Bennett: Dan Barton was one of the people who had been coming to the Guild meetings to learn what he could about putting together his own comic books. He had wanted to submit work for the Guilded Edges book but I had felt at the time of the Guild, his work lacked a certain flavor, which wouldn’t appeal to people. His work at the time I meet him again before the Stumptown of ‘05 showed some vast improvements. That’s when I asked him to submit some work for Pandora’s Garage, which turned out to be “El Samurai.”
W/I C: After your second publishing group failed what made you keep going?
Bennett: I was going to be damned if I had come this far to have somebody metaphorically pull the carpet from underneath me and with the response and sales of the first mini, I knew I could do this on my own. I was in the publishing for the long haul now.
W/I C: Could you tell us a little about the birth of Black Box Comix and what the company means to you?
Bennett: Black Box Comix to me personally means rising from the ashes of failed attempts of the past to print my work because I know my work has an appeal people like.
W/I C: How did you choose the name Black Box Comix?
Bennett: Before the onset of the Eugene Comics Guild and Guilded Edges I had a solo project I was working on called the Citadel - a one shot 48 page black and white. I just wanted to see if I could do a story from beginning to end. I had initially thought of Pandora’s Box from mythology and some vague meaning from an airplanes recorder. It seemed like an apt name. I’ve gone with it for about 12 years now. I am glad I have.
W/I C: I will agree, it seems very appropriate, have you ever thought about writing a “black box” short story?
Bennett: No but it sounds like an idea that I’ll give you the creative credit for.
W/I C: It’s time to delve a bit into, “Who is Alan Bennett.” So, who is Alan Bennett?
Bennett: Alan Bennett is a creatively driven man who defiantly does not appear to be a slightly older man even though he does turn into a carrot at midnight - according to Adam Watson. He is a huge fan of ‘50s sci-fi and a collector of varied DVD’s. He wakes, eats, craps, and sleeps comics. Not always in that order either.
W/I C: Firstly, can we clear up something? I noticed this after getting my copy of “Johnny Vega #3” you sign the cover pick “Marrs”. Who is Marrs? Could you elaborate on this “pen name”?
Bennett: Marrs is actually my unaltered birth name. Goes a long way don’t cha think to explain things?
W/I C: My sister is also adopted. Do you think your adoption has had an effect on your “geekiness”?
Bennett: No, I would still have played D&D regardless. But it did make it easy for me to relate personal feelings into the character of Vega, Angry Robot and Corrax.
W/I C: Where were you born and raised?
Bennett: I was born in Springturkey or Syringefield (take your pick) back ‘67 and swam across the Willamette River to Eugene where I have lived most of life.
W/I C: Where do you live now? Or where is Black Box Comix based?
Bennett: I am based in Portland because it was much closer to the shows I had been selling my work at and I could sell my work on consignment without the stigma of what had happened to me with the Guild books. “Or where is Black Box Comix based?” Black Box Comix goes everywhere I do.
W/I C: You’ve been part of the Eugene art scene for many years. Would you ever return or do you feel comfortable as a Portlandite?
Bennett: I am looking to keep going forward with my work so going back to Eugene and living there would be a huge step backward. I like Portland so far I’ll see where it leads.
W/I C: Metaphorically speaking, can you go home?
Bennett: I can. If you mean am I or do I ever get home sick but can’t because of bad juju, no. I have to keep going forward.
W/I C: You do not drive, correct? What is the reason behind using a bike for your travel needs? How does this affect your business?
Bennett: RL. With the kind of bill paying jobs that have allowed me to keep making my comic books and allow me the time to take time off of “work” to sell my work.
W/I C: How does this affect your business?
Bennett: It has limited me a small bit but with the use of the Internet and online sales and the like, am I really that hobbled?
W/I C: You often surround yourself with creative personalities. Do you find this to help your work as an artist?
Bennett: Yes. I find that if you surround yourself with other people of like mind anything that is talked about can become possible it’s just a matter of doing the legwork to see it through.
W/I C: Could you take us through a typical workday?
Bennett: Early morning brewing coffee, and then sitting down at the computer to see what kind of emails I have from other people both personal and business related; then the art from the night before, digital coloring or scanning, drawing to be formatted into a comic, then off to the job.
W/I C: What tools do you use?
Bennett: A Mac iBook G4 and a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. Both are easy to transport to and from work when I do have free time on my breaks. Also an 8GB thumbdrive to store my new info on.
W/I C: What is your favorite medium?
Bennett: Is this a trick question? Actually scratchboard is the funniest for me to work on.
W/I C: What works do you have coming out in 2010?
Bennett: A crossover with Adam Watson, a Johnny Vega/Ghost Assassin cross over; Vega #4; a mini comic and a collected work of Pandora’s Garage in a manga-sized format
W/I C: Adam Watson says you are the hardest working man in indie comics, what do you think gives him this idea?
Bennett: Because every time he calls me and asks what I am doing I always respond that I’m working on pages of comic book, both writing and illustrating.
W/I C: Would you say you’re a work-alcoholic?
Bennett: Yes, yes I would. It does have a down side to it, though. I have people take me out even though I am still thinking about what I need next on the page.
W/I C: Who is your “son”?
Bennett: (Laughs.) Nick Larsen, one of the younger artists whose working for Adam [Watson] currently. We tease him a lot about it. Nicky takes it pretty good.
W/I C: How do you rejuvenate your creative well?
Bennett: By checking out the new books that are coming out and seeing if there are anyway to adapt certain techniques to my work like the material I have seen in The Red Star graphic novels. Freakin’ brilliant work!
W/I C: What is the best experience you’ve had in comics?
Bennett: Meeting and getting a chance to meet Bernie Wrightson and talk to him about the way he works on a page and finding out why his style of artwork has changed over the years from the time he worked on the original Swamp Thing.
W/I C: What is the worst experience you’ve had in comics?
Bennett: Well there were a couple but I think the worst was to have a table already paid for and trying to figure out how make a book without my partner who had pulled out at the last minute.
W/I C: Would you now work for any of the big boys?
Bennett: Perhaps if there was some clause written into the contract that [after] several issues we want you to illustrate this character and then we will let you print up your story with our imprint on it.
W/I C: Would you make the same choice if Black Box Comix allowed you to earn a steady income?
Bennett: No, I would follow that because I know exactly where all that income is going… me!
W/I C: Could you tell us about your first fan experience?
Bennett: I think it was at my second Stumptown show in ‘06 that I had a guy come up to the table who started chatting about the state of comics and then switched to television shows to other stuff. He had bought the first issue of Pandora’s Garage and then moved on. It was kind of a surreal experience with somebody you knew if in the outside you would never be friends with. You know what I mean?
W/I C: How rewarding is it to sell original art?
Bennett: HUGE! The last couple of shows over the early part of the year were kind of a downer since I was only able to move one or two issues at any one event. It wasn’t until Olympia that I sold my first page of original artwork from Pandora’s Garage. I was riding high for the rest of the day.
W/I C: What mostly influences the stories in "Pandora's Garage"?
Bennett: Depends on which story you are looking at. If it’s Johnny Vega it’s the old sci-fi ‘50s movies mixed in with late 60’s television references. If it is Avatar, look to some of the old Marshal Rogers Doctor Strange books. If it’s The Misguided story look at the movie Galaxy of Terror by Roger Corman and Alien by Ridley Scott.
W/I C: Are you a fan of H.P. Lovecraft?
Bennett: Not yet but I have a collection of his that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a bit. I am intrigued by the amount of different people who were influenced by his work. I know of two people who are stereotypical Lovecraft fans, which freaked me out because they look like they could walk off the pages of his books.
W/I C: Have you seen the new magazine Planet Lovecraft?
Bennett: I have seen it and was impressed by the quality of the work. I had thought of about sending a small submission to them for a Lovecraft influenced story.
Thank you for answering our question, Alan, see you at the comic cons!