Posted - 02/11/2010 : 1:22:20 PM
John Jackson Miller
Co-Writer for Mass Effect
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
Interviewed by: Richard Vasseur
Rich: How did you first become involved in writing comics?
John: I started writing my own comics about the same time I started reading them as a kid. As a teenager, I wrote and drew my own minicomics — the postal equivalent of webcomics — and kept at that for several years. In the meantime, I was also editing fanzines — and I took that into my professional life by going to journalism school. In the 1990s, I was hired to edit the trade magazine for comics shops, Comics Retailer, and went on to help edit Comics Buyer’s Guide and a line of books about comics. Finally, I began shipping off story proposals to comics publishers — my first comics were for Marvel, where I wrote Iron Man for a year. For the last few years I’ve been writing full-time, mostly for comics and prose projects in the Star Wars universe. My Knights of the Old Republic series concludes this month after 50 issues.
Rich: Where do you get your inspiration from?
John: I read a lot of history and look at ways to transport historical situations into a fantasy setting. There are lots of predicaments that come up in the comics where I can say that, “well, that’s like the situation in this war” or something like that. History has a way of repeating itself — or being re-intepreted for science fiction!
Rich: How has working on "Mass Effect" changed your life?
John: I think it’s brought me into contact with a new group of readers that I haven’t reached before. “Mass Effect: Redemption” is the first comics series based on the popular video game franchise, and the first issue has gone out in a wide variety of formats, including a version in the Collector’s Edition of Mass Effect 2. I’m hearing now from a lot of readers who discovered my work through my scripting on that series, and they’re taking a look at some of the other things I’ve done.
Rich: You write Star Wars comics so can you tell us why people still like it after all these years?
John: I think the stories resonate with people because they’re very clear-cut battles between good and evil. Star Wars came along when a lot of movies were more downbeat, reflecting the times, and it was like a breath of fresh air. There are dark moments in the movies and in our comics, too, but the overall feel is optimistic, focusing on the good the characters can do and the wonder of this futuristic universe.
Rich: Do you prefer to write a graphic novel or a mini series and why?
John: They’re really the same thing, at least when I’m doing them. “Original graphic novels” in the classic sense are done all at once and released in a single package — the vast majority of comics we find in bookstores were released as monthly comics first. We call them graphic novels, and that’s fine — they just came out in periodicals first, just like the books of Dickens and Conan Doyle that we now call novels originally came out serialized in magazines. But for the most part in comics, we need to keep doing these longer works in serialized form, otherwise the work won’t get done. There aren’t a lot of creators who can take six months and work on a 120-page story and only get paid at the end — breaking it up into chunks makes it all work. The only original graphic novel I’ve done to date was the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull adaptation, where we did it all at once to release the trade paperback in time for the movie. That’s kind of a special case.
I do like the periodical experience when it comes to writing comics, because you can get feedback as you go along. It doesn’t necessarily change what you’re going to write, but there have been cases where it’s helped me fine-tune the direction of later sections of the work.
Rich: What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
John: There a few things coming up pretty soon. The third part of my e-book series for Del Rey, “Lost Tribe of the Sith,” is set to go live this week. That’s a fun series of short stories supporting the “Fate of the Jedi” novel series, and it follows a group of low-ranking Sith operatives who become stranded on a remote planet, and set about building their own society there on that one world. It’ll be available at http://www.StarWars.com and Amazon and everywhere electronic books are found. The links will also be on my http://www.farawaypress.com website.
This month also sees the end of “Knights of the Old Republic,” with its 50th issue shipping on February 17. I plan to have some interesting trivia content on my website looking back on the series as it goes out. “Mass Effect: Redemption” is continuing, and artist Chuck Fiala and I are putting together the first trade paperback collection of our webcomic, “Sword & Sarcasm” -- look for that at http://www.swordandsarcasm.com.
The biggest thing is there’s about to be an announcement about my major project for the year, very soon: check with my site, as we’ll have the news in a few days.
Rich: What is the "Comics Chronicles"?
John: Since I had all that experience tracking the comics industry as a magazine and book editor, when I went solo I wanted to find a way to get my research into comics history out in front of people who could use it. So at http://www.comichron.com I have built a repository of data — sales charts going back to the 1960s, as well as monthly sales charts going forward; information on the overall health of various sectors of the comics industry; as well as research into subscription sales, comics pricing, and other topics. We get a lot of questions on our message boards, and usually someone out there has an answer.
One thing we do is tackle myths about the industry, like whether comics in print are in decline. They’re not: we’re selling about the same number of copies of comic books in comics shops as we were a decade ago, but sales of trade paperback collections have exploded, putting us back into the mass market bookstores and increasing the bottom line and reach for the industry. Comics are in an immensely better position in 2010 than they were in 2000.
Rich: How can someone contact you?
John: They can reach me through my website, http://www.farawaypress.com. There are links there to my other sites and to my Facebook page.
Rich: Any final words of wisdom?
John: As a lifelong comics reader, I’d suggest to other readers not to get too caught up in debates about all the new formats for distributing and reading comics, the state of the industry, and so on. Comics as a medium have survived three or four near-death experiences in their 75 years of existence — and we always come back with some innovation, some new way of getting comics in readers’ hands. The result is a lot of different ways for people today to read comics, and it’s made them more relevant than they ever were before. Comics as a medium — and as a hobby — will be around for a long time.
Also for a special announcement go to: