Joe Glass is a comics fan turned comics pro, with a growing stack of credits as a versatile journalist and a growing stack of credits as a comic book creator, writer and self-publisher. Here he shares his own origin story.
Joe, did you study creative writing in school, or are you the hobbyist turned pro sort?
Well, English was always my favourite subject in school, and I loved the times we got to include a creative writing element in that. When I went to university, I did my BA in Creative Writing and English Literature, and then stayed on for an MA in Scriptwriting for Film, TV and Radio. Of course, none of these degrees had any focus on comics, but I adapted elements of what I learned to it, and found other comic writers’ scripts to learn the basics. I guess a mixture of both hobbyist and study, really.
As a reader yourself, what was the first story, of any medium, that honestly struck you? What was the first tale that really pulled at you and dominated your thoughts after the fact?
Hmm, that’s a toughie. I guess it would be the comics that first got me into comics, which would be Generation X. I’ve always been a massive fan of the X-books and still am to this day, but Gen X was the first title I regularly picked up and I fell in love with those characters. It made me realize I wanted to make comics, and after realizing I didn’t have the talent to draw them I focused on the writing. In terms of books, it’s harder to say. I was a big reader from an early age, but I suppose the books that made me want to write were The Lord of the Rings books.
You’ve written some energetic pieces for Bleeding Cool, but you’ve actually done quite a bit of journalism prior to your comics work, right? Which would you say has been the more difficult field to get into, writing funny books, or writing for magazines and webzines? I mean, from what I’ve seen when economies are on the decline many folks will try to transfer into creative industries thinking it’s an easy check, making it that much harder for earnest voices such as yours to really stand out in the crowd. Like editors getting a hundred submissions as opposed to just the twenty or thirty.
You know, I always say that I have been both tremendously lucky and unlucky with my writing career.
In terms of unlucky, as I previously mentioned, I have degrees in writing and for a number of mediums. But when applying for those kinds of jobs, I always get turned away. The most common reason being ‘you don’t have enough experience’. Now, this isn’t because so many are applying, necessarily, so much as an annoying tendency to stick with the voices that have already been heard at the expense of newer voices.
On the flip-side, I have had an insane amount of luck in writing freelance for magazines such as Gay Times, and websites like Sidekickcast and Bleeding Cool. For example, I made a comment on twitter about how interesting the history of LGBT in comics is, and the editor of Gay Times messaged me asking if I wanted to write an article about it, out of the blue. Most of my writing relationships have built from that, so I cannot stress enough the importance of tools like twitter and tumblr to new writers.
As for comics, I just went into self-publishing. It’s really the only way to break into comics, and there’s never been an easier time in terms of the means to do so. It’s hard work to afford it, and takes sacrifice, but it’s ultimately worthwhile. Because in terms of getting into mainstream comics, I’ve there faced responses that I’m not well known enough and would be a hard sell to retailers. It makes it difficult to see new voices in the mainstream, so to get there you gotta cut your teeth on the small press or self-publishing, but that is so worth it.
How exactly did your work on Stiffs come about? Were you friends with your collaborators prior, or were you the one assembling the strike force?
We were friends prior to it. Drew Davies, who’s very much the driving force and main man on the comic, is my best friend from school, and he introduced me to PJ Montgomery when we were in university, or just after we’d all left our respective universities I believe.
Drew had actually been writing a myspace blog story first that ‘starred’ his friends and Kenny McMonkey, and Stiffs built from that. For a while, we all lived together, and that’s when we really started thinking about re-making his old blogs as a comic series. When, through another tremendous stroke of luck, I was put in touch with Gavin Mitchell (he was going to the same university I did, but after I left, but someone I knew who was still there met him in the pub and suggested we talk…I know, I told you, crazy luck sometimes) and he was of course the final piece of the puzzle. He brings the visual element and his work is so perfect for the series that from there, Stiffs just exploded.
I would think having your words finally brought to life must be very gratifying, but doing so with friends all the more so. Stiffs is fun, but it is a bit different from The Pride, your new universe. Where did the initial ideas for The Pride first strike you?
Well, in a way, the idea for The Pride started a lot sooner than Stiffs. Back when I was a young teen, reading comics and coming to terms with my own sexuality, I just felt like there weren’t any characters that really represented me.
I would later discover that there was Northstar, but he wasn’t active in any of the books I read at the time, nor has he been a terribly active or major character until fairly recently. Likewise, my favourite titles and the ones that got me into comics in the first place were the X-Men books, which can be argued to be, sub-textually, about being LGBT…but there were no out and proud characters to make me feel like I was being seen, and that it was okay.
I knew I wanted to make comics, and I knew then that that was the kind of comic I wanted to make. So many of the characters, themes and plot elements started forming when I was about 15 years old. But I never really followed through with it, and a big part of the reason was I was scared: I was scared I would fail, that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t really know what I was doing.
It was years later, when Drew and PJ read what I had by that point, which included some character breakdowns, maybe a plot outline, and a few scenes fully scripted, that they pushed me into doing it and taking the risk. And I am so glad I did, as The Pride has proven very popular, and it’s a work that I have poured a lot of myself into and I’m very proud of.
I think many readers will find The Pride interesting because, while at first glance you seem to be toying with stereotypes in the names and personae of the cast, there is quite a hell of a lot more depth to it all. And that extends behind the scenes into production. I recall the run of Gay Comics back in the 90s, or at least whenever I could talk my shopkeeper into ordering copies—which was easier when mainstream guys like some of the Gaijin Studio artists contributed. I’m big on anthologies and always love reading comics that try anything different. But the production levels were hit or miss there. The Pride looks like a higher-notched Image book, and as diverse as your artists are there is a wonderful consistency to the book—something many indie titles sorely lack. Since the premise has been with you for so long, did you put extra TLC into assembling just the right collaborators? And what research did you go through to be able to swing the technical aspects of self-publishing so polished-like?
Well, you know, these characters, this book, it’s my baby, you know. And I admit that was another thing which delayed me in putting it out there because I had a specific aesthetic in mind and wanted the art to be great to elevate the title up there next to the greats like Avengers, X-Men or Justice League.
When we found Gavin Mitchell, the artist on Stiffs, I was so enamored with the guy and his work that I really wanted him to be the artistic face of The Pride too. And he was keen to be involved and design superhero characters which at that point he hadn’t done that much, and I think together we came up with some great-looking characters.
Ultimately, Gav had to leave the book as his profile increased and he became more in demand. But by that time, I’d been in touch with numerous great artists to get involved. It was a shame, because at first I was reticent to have this change in art style throughout the series, but I think ultimately it celebrates diversity in another aspect of the title, allowing a diversity of wonderful artists a chance to make their mark on the series.
It all came down to just being a bit ballsy and whenever I saw an artist I liked, especially new and up and coming ones, I messaged them, told them about the project and asked if they wanted to come on board. That’s how I got other amazing artists like Kris Anka, who works for Marvel, and Cory Smith, who has worked for Aspen, IDW and now Dynamite on board, not to mention the cavalcade of incredible artists who’ve come on board for the main series and the origin stories. It also got to the point where artists were seeking me out wanting to do something for The Pride, and as I was running out of space in the book, and wanted to fill in the gaps in the title’s release pattern, it lead to the creation of The Pride Adventures, allowing more of the incredibly talented army I amassed to get in on the series.
In terms of aesthetic, all I wanted to do was make a book that would look great on the shelves next to the kind of superhero titles you get from Marvel or DC, showing that you can get this kind of content in the mainstream audiences hands too. We sort of fumbled our way there, but I think the end product speaks for itself and it’s an element of The Pride I am hugely proud of.
Bear, in several ways. He was just so much fun to write, and there wound up being so much drama and fun available in the character that, although I originally intended on taking him in one direction, it wound up completely changing by the end.
And also, he’s proved so popular! Possibly one of the most popular characters of the series. I thought people would like him, and given what he represents that was important, but I wasn’t expecting him to be so universally loved.
Is there a routine to how you work—like is there a certain environment necessary for your writing skills to kick in? And how far ahead are you plotting now?
Well, admittedly I often suffer from terrible writers block, but I find setting myself in an environment with as few distractions as possible, surrounded by my notes, etc, is a big help.
In terms of The Pride, the entire first volume is scripted as are all The Pride Adventures issues, and I have notes and plans for at least three volumes afterwards.
If you had never been bitten by the writing bug, what would you say your fall-back passion might be? For that matter, what outside of your career today do you find to be a remarkable thing in the world?
Oh wow. I was always one of those kids who wanted to be everything and do everything growing up. I have passions ranging from science to pop culture, so I wanted to do it all. I suppose if I wasn’t writing, if I had the talent, I’d love to be an artist. Outside of comics altogether, I would love to direct a film.
Actually, while I’m not generally a fan of comics branching into competing media, The Pride would make a killer cable television series. You and your stellar team really are creating something special there, Joe. My very first impression was a callback to the Gerard Jones/Will Jacobs era of the Justice League, which wasn’t necessarily hugely popular, but for its time proved a masterful blending of both modern and traditional sensibilities. I hope The Pride is more long-lived, and I cannot wait to read what you do there, and elsewhere.
Thanks for the kind words. This series means a lot to me, and I really pour my heart and soul into it. It’s a real labor of love, not least because I fund it all myself out of my own monthly pay.
This obviously does make it hard, and slow going, especially when I have to call a halt on work so I can get people and the printers paid up to date first. So if this is the kind of comic people want to support, or want to see, then the best way they can help is to buy the books. Our online store sells print and digital copies, so a great way to get the comics first and see all your cash go straight into making more comics. And letting others know about the series and why they should check it out too is also a massive help. Following us on twitter or facebook is a fantastic way to keep up to date with us and spread the word, raising awareness and getting more people involved in the series. And of course, if zombie-hunting, gory action is more your bag, especially when there’s a pot-smoking talking monkey involved, you should probably check out Stiffs too.
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