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March 14, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Alex Simmons from Kids Comic Con


Alex Simmons

Writer, producer, teacher, and founder of Kids Comic Con
Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel? If so, what was it?
I’m sorry to say I cannot remember my first comic book. Back in my youth, there was a wide variety of comic book series and genres, and I enjoyed quite a few. As near a I can recall, some of my favorite titles were Batman, Detective Comics, The Lone Ranger & Tonto, Spider-Man, and a few others.

What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
I don’t really think of them as a single form of expression. I’m impressed with individual works, whether they are American, French, or Japanese. I do like the cinematic quality of the comic book format. And a good graphic novel expands on that medium to create an experience close to watching a good film.
Whose work do you admire?
Herge’s Adventures of Tin Tin; Asterik the Gaul; Wil Eisner’s Contract with God; Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner, and the list goes on. I appreciate good art and good storytelling, and luckily there’s quite a smorgasbord of books to choose from in this market.
Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?
Aside from reading and rereading Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, I also enjoy Robert Parker’s Spenser mystery series; Carl Sagan’s books on science and the universe; poetry by various artists including Nikki Giovanni; Walt Witman; Ray Bradbury; not to mention plays, magazines, and news articles. My taste in novels and short stories is as eclectic as my appreciation for graphic novels and comics.
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
Reading is something I do for pleasure, or out of necessity, but I do not read one format in any great volume. One month I might read four or five graphic novels, and then not touch another for months. During the three or four months before the Kids Comic Con, I tend to read several graphic novels for young people, so I can help to choose which books we can give away or display at our event. The Kids Comic Con is an all-age, family event, so all the books must be appropriate for children.
Which do you prefer and why: color or black and white?
Once again, the defining matter in that area is in the quality of the art and story. Jeff Smith’s Bone, or Frank Miller’s Sin City, are just as stunning in black and white as Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Guarnido.
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
Like many of us, my love of comics began as a child. I enjoyed reading them and trying to write and draw my own comics. As I grew up, my interest in writing increased and eventually led me into writing plays, then magazine articles, and song lyrics. I’ve had some professional success with all three of those fields. And like my friend Don McGregor, I see myself as a storyteller. My story ideas seem to choose what form in which they want to be born. My first major comic idea as an adult was my character Blackjack. That series came to me as a comic book, and that is how I produced it. The success of that miniseries opened doors for me. I wrote the Tarzan comic strip for United Feature Syndicate, and at DC Comics, Joe Illidge and Denny O’Neill hired me to create a new character for the Batman universe. Writing that five-part miniseries led to me writing other stories at DC, including Superman and Scooby-Doo. Now, 12 years later, I’m writing quite a few stories for Archie Comics. The most recent being The Cartoon Life of Chuck Clayton, a series that has elements from my own life teaching comic book workshops to kids. Somewhat of a full circle, wouldn’t you say?
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
For the most part, it is usually one of three reactions—surprise, excitement, or curiosity. Mostly surprise, and the more I talk about my work, the more interested they become.
Do you collect comics? What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
No, I don’t actually collect comics. Again, I treat comics and graphic novels the way I treat novels…I read what I please, keep some of them (like old friends), and sell or give the others away.
Is there something you covet adding to your collection?
There is one thing I would enjoy having again…that is the original cover painting for issue # 1 of Blackjack: Blood and Honor by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt. I was a struggling little independent publisher when I met them and they did me a tremendous favor by charging me a low fee for that artwork. So, a year later, when a collector asked me if I thought they would sell it, I put him in touch with them. He bought the painting and I was glad they received the kind of money I could not afford to pay them. Still, I wish I had the painting for my own. It meant a great deal to me, and the thought, time, and talent that the brothers put into it can never be measured in dollars and cents.