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Follically Challenged Productions Presents:



The Back Story: I don’t really know Rick Remender. The sum total of my experience with this indie powerhouse involves contacting him some months ago regarding Tales Of The Fear Agent; my former G.I. Joe partner-in-crime Tim Seeley and I were hoping to do a Fear Agent story, and Rick was nice enough to let us send in a pitch…

…that he ultimately turned down. Oh, snap!

It doesn’t matter, though; Rick is an indie powerhouse (he specifically told me to say that twice) who lives just down the highway in Portland and I couldn’t resist asking him to be my first “guest” for the new column. He’s loved and respected by his fellow creators and I hear the FBI has finally dropped all the charges against him. Pour a tall, cold one and let’s examine his screaming brain, shall we?

BJ: Howdy, Rick.

I guess we should start with your current location - Portland, Oregon. Having lived there for a few years myself, I found it to be a nice enough place – very scenic and easygoing for the most part - but I have to admit that I grew a little bit tired of it after a while. It’s a great interim place, but I just knew I couldn’t stay forever; too many aimless Goths, hippies, hipsters and Meth addicts wandering the streets.

And then there’s Bendis. I have visions of Brian making a final stand for humanity in Portland, protecting Things From Another World against the aforementioned disillusioned masses. But enough about my apocalyptic visions of P-town…how do you like it?

RR: I’m really shocked at how well everything worked out here for us. I’d been in San Francisco for the past 8 years and felt a strong love for the Bay area, still do, so in moving I thought we’d end up missing it more than we do. Portland has most everything you get in the Bay but with the added bonus of affordable homes.

BJ: While we’re on the subject of locations, where did you grow up? How did that influence you, if at all?

RR: I grew up in Phoenix AZ. As for how it influenced me, I lived there for 25 years so it’s hard to know. I’d say quite a bit. In the 80’s, Phoenix had a great little skate/punk scene. We’d get all the bands who hit L.A. a day or two later and there were lots of great skate competitions. There was a ton of camping in the area so I grew up doing a lot of outdoors stuff, white water rafting, hiking, cave crawling etc. The city itself grew to much too soon from 1989-99. It became a sea of TGI Fridays and highways and all the culture was totally swallowed up. Now it’s a polluted 120-degree cesspool and whenever I go back I’m bummed out. It’s not the place I remember growing up in. Phoenix is a big comic book city, though. There are tons of great shops that all thrive in the valley. I guess when you have to hide indoors for five months out of the year, be it from heat in Phoenix or rain in Portland, you need something to read.

BJ: Your father was a lawyer, and you’ve said before that you almost chucked the whole comics career to pursue law yourself. What kind of attorney was your father (as in specialty and in execution) and what kind of attorney do you think you’d be?

RR: My dad did criminal law until some mob types shot up our house. He stopped after that and opened up a private personal injury office, less chance of angry mobsters shooting up your house that way.

About six years ago, I’d had enough of trying to fight it out in comics. I was making a living as an animator and inker, while also teaching part time at the Academy of Art University and trying to produce creator-owned books that I was writing. It was a hard time, San Francisco is expensive so I worked all the time and never had any money. Plus it felt hopeless; it felt as if I’d never get any notice on the books I was writing. So on my thirtieth birthday, I made my mind up that if, in one year I wasn’t seeing progress in my career of choice (working as a writer) that I’d scrap it all and finish my education with a law degree. I’d sort of imagined I’d take over my dad’s business. So I killed myself and put together full story bibles for Fear Agent, Strange Girl, Sea of Red, Night Mary, The End League, Sorrow and a few ideas that haven’t been produce yet. I worked my days storyboarding at EA and drawing comics for Dark Horse while I got the projects off the ground and moving forward. Flash forward four years and here I am, writing full time. I paid for it in blood and years of 80 hour work weeks.

BJ: Your career profile is definitely hard to pin down. You’ve jumped from animation to inking to album cover design to art to writing – which hat is the easiest to wear? Which is the most satisfying / frustrating?

RR: I’m a writer first. It was always my motivation. I was working as an artist almost by fluke. When I was 21, Fox Animation opened up in Phoenix and my parents pushed me to apply. Somehow, I was hired and trained as an animator. Even as I was working and making good money in animation, I was always writing and producing my own comics. I still love to draw, but it’s great because now I can do it when I feel like for cathartic purposes.

BJ: Do you think that you personally have to move around creatively in order to stay satisfied? I’ve reached the point where making music is an escape from writing and vice versa. It helps that I don’t feel the same pressure to succeed when it comes to selling CDs that I do when it comes to selling this month’s issue of (insert title here).

RR: When I open the sketchbook up, it’s to unwind and enjoy making art; it’s no longer this process of flagellation and self-doubt where every drawing is scrutinized as a measurement of my self-worth. I’m a cartoonist and that isn’t exactly popular in today’s photo-trace world, so it’s nice to not have to beat myself up for drawing the way I naturally like to. Yeah, it makes art fun again, just another benefit from my current situation. It really couldn’t be a better set up.

BJ: Speaking of pressure, you obviously have a lot of independent and creator-owned projects. This is something I’m just getting into myself, so I don’t know that I’m fully prepared to adjust my attitude. Do you feel pressure to make those succeed, or do you just have to let it go and say “this is my creation and if I give a shit about the business I’ll go insane”? Is there a happy balance between art and commerce?

RR: I’ve yet to find it. I’m always disappointed at how few comic fans or retailers give any kind of shit about creator-owned work. I guess the DIY spirit is dead or, at the very least, quickly dying. It’s as if everyone would rather shop at Wal-Mart than support the local independently owned hardware store across the street. The fact that Criminal, Scalped, Fear Agent and Casanova all sell between 5-15,000 copies blows my mind. These are books we own and love, and yet they don’t sell as many copies as the lowest selling book from the big two. I’d hold any of those books up against anything being produced for pure quality. They’re lavished in love. So be it, this is just the way things are.

Few seem to understand the value in supporting creators owning their ideas. With the way things are these days, it’s next to impossible to make a living doing solely creator-owned. Which is fine, as it’s a blast to write stories with Marvel and DC characters we all grew up reading. I’m in a perfect situation right now, where I’m fortunate enough to do both. I think if everyone working could manage to divide their time among new and innovative creator-owned books as well as lovingly paying tribute to the characters of our youth, the industry would be much stronger and definitely more unique.

BJ: It seems to me that “indie” is quickly becoming a somewhat mainstream mind-set, at least in the strictest definition and in the different flavors that are being pursued by a lot of companies, Marvel and DC included. Do you think that shifts the paradigm for the “indie mindset” (whatever that is)? Do you feel like you have to step outside the circle even further to maintain that sort of creative distance that non-mainstream readers come to expect?

RR: I don’t pay it any mind. You can’t or you’re pandering. You have to create what you want to in any genre, using any trapping you desire, based on the feeling you have when you come up with the idea. It has to excite you and you have to love the idea of making it real. The rest is a soup of shifting trends and if you try and duplicate someone else’s soup, you just cook up a pale imitation that doesn’t taste quite right. Like when we were cooking up XXXOMBIES; we all knew the zombie shit had been played out to the point of exhaustion. I mean, Tony and Kieron were the two artists who lit the fire on the scene with Walking Dead and Remains. It came down to us falling in love with the story and the idea and fuck everything else. Is it a good idea and do you have a fun story… that’s all I ask myself anymore. That said, you hope to high heaven folks like it and pick it up because if they don’t, you just spent all that time working for free.

BJ: I had a big, flowery statement about your prolific indie stature ready to go when I sat down to write these questions, and now you’re writing The All-New Atom for DC. What the fuck, man? Are you selling out to the suits?

RR: I’m not selling out-- I’m buying in. I love making comics. I love comics. I want to make comics and I also want to be able to have a house and pay for health insurance. So it’s great to have the amazing opportunity to do Marvel/DC work and also continue production of my creator-owned books. So far I’ve found The Atom and Punisher work I’ve done to be a total blast. The rules are there for you and all you have to do is write a great story. With a creator owned thing, you’re blind and creating everything from the ground up; that can be such a difficult process. It’s a nice change of pace, and an itch I’ve wanted to scratch for a long time.

The important thing to remember when taking on Marvel/DC work is to give the books all you have. To write it like you own it, as Bendis and Fraction say. If you take Marvel/DC work and hack it out, and then pour all your best ideas into creator-owned, you’ll do way more harm than good. I’m giving the books all I have, and so I’m proud as hell of them and that makes them personal, whether I own them or not. Pride in doing the best job you’re capable of makes all the difference.

BJ: Of all your published works, which book is THE ONE – the title that embodies Rick Remender in his complete form?

RR: To date, Fear Agent. It’s everything I want to do in comics. I’m so proud of what we’ve done with the book and the reaction from the industry has been tremendous. So many people I look up to and respect have come up to tell me they love the book. What is better than that? Jack Davis loved the book, what can touch that? There is nothing else I’m more proud of.

BJ: Finally, the Big Question that all creators must face at some point: you have twelve issues on any book, past or present, that you’ve never had anything to do with before. What is that book? I’ll allow you two answers – one as writer, and one as artist!

RR: To write… I want to do my own take on the Justice League or Fantastic Four. I want to do crazy imaginative, inter-dimensional, fun sci-fi that moves so quickly through so many different adventures that the readers are brought back to a place of total fantasy and escapism excitement, the place we fell in love with this when we were kids.

To draw… hm, I guess Mad Magazine during the EC years, but only if I get to work with Elder, Wood and Kurtzman.

Brandon Jerwa

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