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Bob Moon: This weekend is the comic happening of the year: Comic Con. It’s the 40th anniversary of the event. And in this installment of Day in the Worklife, we catch up with a comic book writer who’s spending his weekend among the fans.
Joshua Dysart: My name is Joshua Dysart and I write comic books and I’m currently doing work for DC Vertigo and Dark Horse Comics.
How I broke in was through self-publishing. I was a script supervisor many many years ago for a very small, very unsuccessful production company. And the person who ran that company fell in love with a comic book artist — which is not recommended by the way — and they needed somebody to write their very first comic book for them.
I’ll go through the writing process, which is pretty solitary. The editor will be working with us really aggressively, as far as making sure the story’s tight, making sure the team is in place. Your team will consist of a letterer, an artist, possibly a colorist, if we do the book in color, and an editor. It’s literally daily e-mails and the artist turning in about a page a day.
I think what makes a good story is a strong humanist element, understanding that you’re writing about people. Those people can fly, they can be possessed by demons, they can run multinational crime organizations, but if you make them people, I think the reader will identify and respond to it. I think that’s more important than plot or narrative or anything else.
I’m doing a book called “Unknown Soldier” for Vertigo, which takes place in northern Uganda in 2002, during the war between the Ugandan People’s Defense Force and the Lord’s Resistance Army. And I went to East Africa for a month-and-a-half to do research. So I took 1,400 photographs. Alberto Ponticelli was able to take those photographs and draw a completely genuine Gulu town in northern Uganda, and it’s taken the book above and beyond. This is the book that is nominated for an Eisner at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. The Eisners are like our Oscars.
I wrote for two years a character called “Swamp Thing.” Swamp Thing is a plant with a human consciousness. Like many comic book ideas, it sounds pretty silly when you lay it out in a blueprint sentence like that. But it’s about a spirit trapped in matter. And that’s the experience that all of us on this planet go through. You know, we’re all moving around as spirits trapped in matter and trying to wrestle with that. I really think it comes down to the strength of the idea and the power of the imagination behind it.
I am able to support myself writing comic books. I prioritize where I want to spend my money. I spend money living in a beautiful place, inversely I don’t have a car. I probably make — you know I’ve never really thought about this and I’m a freelancer, so it fluctuates — but I think my biggest year was probably $70,000, and I think last year I made something like $45,000 writing comics.
You very much have to believe and have faith in freelancer magic, which is, whenever things are really, really bad, something amazing and beautiful is going to come across your table.
One of the benefits of doing this is the lifestyle, of being a creative freelancer from your home. Where I work I have two, 10-foot-long windows — one faces the Pacific Ocean, the other faces a walkway that humanity pours down towards Venice Beach. This is the window that I sit and ponder the fate of Conan from. I can’t go back to not working in my boxers. There’s no alarm clock in my life, which was always my definition of success. I take a nap whenever I want. As long as I am sitting in my chair and I’m clunkin’ out my stories, I can justify this lifestyle. And it is amazing. You can live your life the way you want to and be creative. And you can deny the cubicle your soul.
Moon: That was comic book writer Joshua Dysart.
This installment of our Day in the Work Life series was produced by Josh Rogosin.
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