Arggh!! Just Answer Our Questions!!!
Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2001
By: Darren Schroeder
In amongst some comics information I found a description of one of the Arrgh!! comics that went like this: "Super-heroes Libra and Nihilist-man must join forces to stop the super-villain, Bad-guy and his F.O.E goons from destroying a comic book convention and all those attending." After that I just had to have a look around their website. Seemed like a good idea to have a chat with some of the creators behind all this. Al Nickerson (Inker/Writer/Self-Publisher) and Michael Kornstein (Penciller/Co-Writer/Co-Founder) volunteered to take part.
Darren Schroeder: What is your age?
Al Nickerson: I was born October 7, 1967. So that would make me the ripe old age of thirty-three.
Michael Kornstein: 32.
DS: Were comics a big part of your childhood or did you discover them at a later stage?
MK: I've been into comics for as long as I can remember; thanks to my father who always bought them for me.
AN: My parents started giving me comics at a young age. I remember getting Giant Sized Avengers (#5, I think) where the Vision married the Scarlet Witch. I also remember reading Detective Comics #443 with Walt Simonson's Manhunter. So, yeah... comics were always a part of my life.
DS: Al, What made those comics so memorable for you?
AN: Detective Comics #443 had Walt's great art, a grim-looking BATMAN, and a well-written story by Archie Goodwin. Plus, there were plenty of martial arts and fighting! What kid wouldn't love that!?!
However, I'm not quite sure why I remember Giant Sized Avengers so well. I think it might have something to do with the way Marvel Comics created such rich and interesting characters. Maybe it has something to do with my first seeing a group of superheroes pal around and punching out supervillains. I've always enjoyed superhero group books since.
DS: Was art an important part of your education?
MK: Oh yes. The teachers in my schooling saw that I had talent, and thankfully helped me to develop it right up to college. My parents also gave me tons of encouragement.
AN: Art was always important. I used to draw Batman and Spiderman a lot when I was a kid. As an adolescent, I decided I wanted to attend the School Of Visual Arts and draw comics for a living.
DS: What was the first comic you published yourself and how did that come about?
MK: I was part of this independent Tits'n'Arse comic called Spendex Tights out of Philadelphia. The book was a spoof of Electra Woman and Dina Girl from the old Sid and Marty Croft shows. This was my first job with a published book. I inked two books.
AN: We all had our own characters that we wanted to bring to life in comic books. In fact, HUNTER and NIHILIST-MAN first appeared in Will Eisner's Gallery magazines back in the late eighties. After working on Greg Hyland's Lethargic Comics in 1995, Delfin Barral and I did an Online Comic book that teamed our characters LIBRA and NIHILIST-MAN together. The Online Comic eventually became Arggh!!! Number Zero which lead us to self-publish our first comic, The Arggh!!! Chronicles 2000 Edition.
Since February 2000 we've been posting weekly ARGGH!!! CHRONICLES comic strips on the ARGGH!!! website (http://www.arggh.com).
Right now, we're working on our next self-published ARGGH!!! CHRONICLES comic. The new issue will contain some of the Online Comics and new material.
DS: How would you describe the Arrgh comics?
MK: Fun comic that doesn't take life too seriously. That's what life is all about right?
AN: The ARGGH!!! CHRONICLES are funny (I hope) comics chocked full of cartoony superheroes who like to save the universe, drink beer, and beat the crap out of villains. Along the way, we attempt to point out what's wrong with the comic book industry.
I'm hoping with ARGGH!!!, that we're creating the type of comics that I enjoyed reading when I was a kid. Good, wholesome, butt-kicking fun!!!
DS: What was the School Of Visual Arts like back in 1985?
AN: It was great fun! It was a wonderful experience to learn about creating comics from the likes of Will Eisner, Gene Colan, Harvey Kurtzman and Sal Amendola. I knew comics weren't just a child's form of entertainment; and it was amazing to finally meet other people my age who enjoyed comics as much as I did. Plus, my teachers were true artists who felt the same way about comics.
MK: Well, I joined the team in '86. It was great. Finally, I was with other artists like myself which was weird at first cause in high school I was top dog but now I was surrounded by other great talents. I found it fantastic. We all learned from each other.
AN: Along the way, we made many friends and drank a lot of beer. Nothing beats dorm life!
DS: What does P.I.C. expand out to?
MK: Sorry I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you.
AN: P.I.C was what we named our group of pals while attending SVA (we even have membership I.D. cards). Years later, it seemed logical to name our studio after the name of our group. Hence, "P.I.C TOONS Studios".
DS: In the ARGGH-U-MENTS editorial about online comics you said that it is a "A wonderful time indeed for Online Comics." Is this a good thing for the comics medium as a whole?
AN: Sure is. Online Comics offers creators an opportunity to own, control, and distribute their comics the way they want to. Online Comics give the creator ultimate control of his/her work without worrying about all those nasty editors and distributors.
Right now, the comic book market is in a bit of a slump. If anything else, Online Comics offers artists and readers an alternative to print. And Online Comics might, in turn, force printed comics to diversify and evolve in such a way as to not only survive, but to flourish as a respected art form for a wider audience. That's my hope anyway.
MK: I've love the medium of comic books as a whole. I think Online Comics is the next logical step for this medium. With the popularity of the Internet there is no limit to what you can do with comics online. I'm glad to be a part of it.
AN: Whether Online Comics is the future of comic books has yet to be determined.
DS: For the web comics do you make all the art up on computer or scan it in?
MK: Well I pencil it (Michael), then Ink-boy Al traces it with black waterproof ink. Then we get a stat made of the inked page so that the blacks are nice and rich. Then, we scan it into the computer, then separate the layers. Then, Al and I color the pages on Photoshop.
Then Al puts the words in.
AN: The ARGGH!!! comics are drawn exactly as if they were meant for print (which we plan on doing afterwards anyway). Like Michael said, the computer doesn't play a part in the creative process until we scan the finished inked pages. In Photoshop, were we letter and color the pages.
DS: How much longer can the superhero genre continue before people loose interest?
MK: I think the superhero genre is never going to fade as long as you keep coming up with exciting and original stories and characters. Those are the things that keep comics fresh.
AN: I agree with Michael. I don't think it's superheroes themselves that are the problem. I believe it has more to do with the way superhero comics are created, and promoted by the large publishers. Enough with the crappy repetitive storylines, wretched continuity, spider-clones, and gimmicks already! Superhero comics just need more great writers and artists with vision. I mean, look at The Dark Knight Returns, The Watchmen, and Kevin Smith's Daredevil. Plus, ya have guys like Alex Ross reinventing the look of superhero comics.
DS:I find Ross's artwork too 'static' for my taste. It doesn't work with the plot but demands your attention as a separate entity. What are your opinions?
AN: I have heard some people not enjoying his work, however, I love Alex Ross's art. My style tends to be on the cartoony side, but there's something about Mr. Ross's art that really appeals to me. Also, I like the fact that he's taken a life-like style to tell superhero stories. Very clever, I think.
Ultimately, I wish comic books were fun again. For the most part, they seem redundant and lacking imagination. So, when something as enjoyable as Marvels or Kingdom Come comes along, it gives me hope that intelligent and entertaining comics aren't dead.
MK: I think Alex Ross is an amazing talent, and to see how he has brought superheroes to life in a way never done before is wonderful. His take on reality and comics is beautifully done. What I like about him is he could be doing illustrations for anything but he chose comics (lucky us).
DS: What use is a cape to someone who can fly?
AN: I believe capes were initially used to add a sense of nobility to superheroes. Superman was the first superhero, he had a cape; and every other superhero followed his example.
MK: Oh, I think it just adds to the dynamic of a character; helps with motion.
DS: What's the most heroic thing you have done?
MK: I saved some kid from getting hit by a car. Oh, and I also stopped this guy from stomping all over this ant kingdom some years back. I'm considered their savior now. You should see it. A big shrine of Korn.
AN: umm... I protected my girlfriend during a bar-fight once. I also ripped open a door, and then ran into a burning building when a home was in flames.
DS:Heroic acts like your own are brave because the risk of personal harm was high. Superheroes don't run that same risk because their powers protect them. Why don't more comics focus on "normal" heroes?
AN: Good question. However, I think some comics do have "normal", or somewhat normal heroes that face incredible life and death situations. Granted, they're not "superhero" comics, but ya don't need a cape to be a hero. Just check out Bone, Strangers In Paradise, The Spirit and Cerebus. Oh! Least we forget Kid-Cockroach, a normal kid who dreams of being a superhero by doing heroic acts.
MK: Well if you look at most heroes, a lot of them are normal people who get powers by an accident or by some extraordinary circumstances. Although, as of late, they seem to be focusing on more ordinary people becoming heroes. Look at the movie Unbreakable. I personally think that society focuses on the wrong people as heroes. Policeman and fireman who risk their lives everyday for society are civil servants and get paid bubcass, but people who hit a little ball or catch a pigskin are considered heroes. Or rock stars and actors who, yes give us pleasure when we watch them.
Sorry for rambling. I think our priorities are screwed up that's it, and that's all.
DS: What effect does the violence in comics have on readers?
MK: Well, if the parents actually taught their kids about morality, right and wrong, and what's reality, there wouldn't be a problem. How come nobody wants to dwell on that instead of violent movies, TV and books? Oh geez, now you've got me started.
AN: I agree with Michael. I have to give most kids credit in thinking that they realize that comics are fantasy, and a form of entertainment. If some psycho kid is going to gun down his classmates, it's not because of comics, or movies, or television. It's more likely that the kid is already screwed up because his parents couldn't give a damn about him.
On the other hand, although I think that violence can be an asset in comics, I hate to see a comic, or any other product of art, just be violent for violence's sake, and little else.
Take a look at James O' Barr's original The Crow comic. Now, there was an incredible amount of violence in that comic, but the violence was used to tell a story about murder, death, and vengeance. In that story, the violence was justified.
DS: How easy is it for you guys to make a living at the moment from your talents?
AN: It hasn't been easy. It takes a lot of drawing, struggling, starving, pleading, and hitting the pavement to make a living as a professional artist. But, all the hard work pays out in the end, 'cuz now I'm able to make a living doing what I love to do.
MK: Actually it took me a while before I could land a full time gig using my talents, but for the last six years (knock on wood), I've been putting those talents to good use. First, at a children's development company doing storyboards and character designs for a cartoon that unfortunately never got off the ground. But, now for the last three and a half years, I've worked at Grey Advertising as an Art Director who has a talent for being able to draw his own storyboards. Oh, by the way, did I mention that, until recently, I was working on the commercials for Batman and Star Wars toys? I'm working on other things besides toys which is new and exciting.
I feel very blessed that I get paid to do what I love. Not many people can say that.
DS: Michael, how much attention does DC or Lucas put into what these ads turn out like?
MK: DC and Lucasfilm had to approve everything that we did for their properties. Unfortunately, It can be a pain in the ass (sometimes).
DS: Al: What sort of work have you been doing as a professional artist?
AN: I started out as a comic book artist by inking backgrounds for DC Comics. Soon afterwards, I became a full-time inker on books such as Elfquest's Blood Of Ten Chiefs, The No-Mutants stories for Greg Hyland's Lethargic Comics, and Marvel Comic's Spiderman Mystyeries series (a new comic geared toward a very young audience. The series was canned after Toy Biz acquired Marvel Comics). As an animator, I've worked for MTV Animation, Nickelodeon, and I was a designer for The Ace Ventura Pet Detective animated series.
Now-a-days, I'm working on Arggh!!!, and animating for Sesame Street.
DS: A question for you both, are comics a hobby or an integral part of your professional career?
MK: Oh comics are a weekly passion. Every Wednesday I go and lose myself for a couple of hours in the land of heroes.
AN: I never thought the two were very different, but I guess my interest and reading comics would be a hobby of mine. My inking career, as well as, creating, drawing, and self-publishing The Arggh!!! Chronicles would be considered my professional career. So, I guess my answer would be, "both".
DS: A mailing list that I'm is discussion the question of ownership of characters created while on contract for companies, specifically Dan DeCarlo's claim for credit for coming up with the idea for Josie & the Pussycats. What are your thoughts on this?
AN: Creator owned and creator controlled comics are the only way to do business. The big publishers take advantage of creator rights whenever they can. Although the work-made-for-hire situation isn't as bad as it used to be, it's still exploitation.
From my understanding of the case, Dan DeCarlo is getting screwed by ARCHIE COMICS. When Mr. DeCarlo voiced his concerns about his rights involving his creation Josie & the Pussycats and the Josie & the Pussycats movie with the power-that-be at ARCHIE, he was let go. ARCHIE is looking to make some dough on the JOSIE movie, and they feel its better to take advantage of a long-time employee than give credit (and money) where credit is do. If not for Mr. DeCarlo, there wouldn't be a movie or comic for Josie & the Pussycats.
MK: Well, unfortunately, back in the old days you signed your life away for an idea. Now, it's better in the sense that you can sell your ideas for big bucks... if you can sell it the right way. Also, getting in entertainment doesn't hurt, or having your characters patented.
DS: Michael, didn't quite understand the "getting in entertainment doesn't hurt" comment.
MK: What I mean is, if you get into the entertainment business, advertising movies commercials comics etc..., there is usually someone who can help you in some fashion. It's all about networking.
DS: Do you get any employment contracts you sign checked out by a lawyer first?
MK: Highly recommended. Make sure you have a good lawyer (if there's such a thing).
AN: The only time I ever have my attorney look over any contracts is when a huge amount of money is involved. Usually, this includes any animation deals (that have yet to bear any fruit). In those cases, the contracts are so detailed and complicated that you need a lawyer to decipher everything.
The contracts in the Work-Made-For-Hire game are all the same. They simply state that whatever work that you do that is commissioned by your employer belongs to them,... and they agree to pay you. So, no lawyer is needed.
However, I have to let you know about my contract(s) with Marvel. When I was inking for Marvel Comics back in 1998, their Work-Made-For-Hire contracts were on the back of our pay vouchers. So, if ya wanted your money, you had to sign a pay voucher to get paid. Which is fair enough, but in doing so, you agreed to whatever was written on the back of the pay voucher. Pretty sneaky on their part, huh!?! Hopefully, Marvel changed that policy, but some how I doubt it.
My personnel bottom line is: "don't sign anything unless ya gotta".
DS: Question for you Michael; What is the advertising business like? Do TV shows like Bewitched and Ned and Stacey tell it like it is?
MK: Michael: Um... no comment (the walls have ears.)
DS: Come on, spill the beans Michael. Do ad executives really invite prospective clients to diner and get frantic about making a good impression?
MK: Sorry my lips are sealed. But, I will say this, you should know how to shmooze. Or kiss ass.
DS: Al, a lot of the credits for animated TV shows credit the animation to off shore animation houses in Korea etc. This gives the impression that animation "costs too much" to be done all in the US. What do you think about this as an animator and does it mean that technology is going to be used to replace animators?
AN: I don't think it's so much that animation in the states cost too much, as opposed to the animation studios saving a whole lot of money by sending animation to be done overseas. That's why much of Saturday morning cartoons look so lame. The animation is done quick and at a low cost. Pretty sad.
Technology replacing animators? I assume you're referring to 3D computer animation. In which case, I think 3D computer animation is a great tool. Some of the new computer animation looks great, some of it looks not-so-great. Although, I see computers becoming more influential in animation, I don't see robots replacing real flesh and blood human animators. At least, I hope not anyway.
DS: What are the good and bad points about producing your own comics?
AN: Control is the most beneficial aspect of self-publishing. No one's going to tell me what to do with my characters, how to write a story, or how to draw or ink a comic book page. It's a lot more gratifying to work on your own creations then doing the-work-made-for hire gig at another publisher.
The down side to self-publishing is the business aspect. Dealing with distributors and printers takes a lot of time away from creating comics. Maybe that's why I also enjoy doing Online Comics so much. I don't have to worry about either distributors or printers.
MK: Good- it's yours. Bad- it's yours. Try and figure that one out.
DS: What's the strangest experience you have had at a comic convention.
MK: My friend dressing up as Doctor Who, and ugly, smelly chicks hitting on him. This was years ago, mind you, but, that has always been etched in my brain.
AN: Well, I once heard that a Playmate model or porn star was giving out nipple prints at a comic convention. That beats any convention story I might have.
DS: Who would you most like to have the opportunity to work with and why?
AN: I would really like to work with some of the other self-publishers and Online Cartoonists such as Greg Hyland (Lethargic Lad), Steve Remen (Him), Jon Gallagher (Buzzboy), Keith Giffen (Trencher), Joe Staton (E-Man) and Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise).
I've worked with a couple of these fellas in the past. Now, since the coming of Online Comics, it's more important than ever to get the word out about comics and the Internet. If Online Cartoonists can get together and speak in one voice, then Online Comics can become a formidable form of entertainment.
Also, I've always wanted to ink a John Byrne page. Mr. Byrne's Uncanny X-Men books with the master inker, Terry Austin, were the most influential comics for me.
MK: Bob Shreck at DC Comics. He's the editor of all the Batman books. Then, me and my buddy, Al, could do an Animated Batman book together.
DS: Can comics tell great, important stories?
MK: Of course they can. Comics can be an important way to getting a message out there. Look at when X-Men came out; it was a turbulent time with racial segregation. X-Men was a perfect way to get the message of tolerance out to kids.
AN: I think comics can tell great and important stories. And they should. Comics should tell all sorts of stories for a wide range of readers. I think superhero comics have a bit of a bad reputation because of the many poorly written superhero comics out there. But, there is good stuff available to read, both superhero and non-superhero.
Some comic book writers that have really impressed me are Kurt Busiek, Dave Sim, Frank Miller, Ann Nocenti, Mike Mignola, Terry Moore, Roger Stern, Mary Jo Duffy, Jeff Smith, Keith Giffen, and David Michelinie. I'm sure I'm missing a few.
DS: What's the best movie adaptation of a comic that you've seen and why was it best?
AN: Unfortunately, we all know there really haven't been too many good "comic book movies". My favorite adaptation was the first The Crow movie. It really captured the feel of The Crow comics. And Brandon Lee did a great acting job. Damn, I
feel like a movie critic. Superman was darn good, too.
Although not an adaptation, Chasing Amy was my favorite "comic book movie". It had a great story, great characters, and it didn't mock comics (or it's profession).
Let me just mention that I don't think that movies based on comic books will save the slumping comics market. X-Men had no effect on comic book sales. I think it'll take more than good movie adaptations to bring new readers into the comic book shops. On that note, I do hope that the new Spiderman flick will do well.
MK: Well I would have to say Superman. It was a staple in my childhood that made me believe a man could fly. It still holds up today. I can't wait for the DVD release in May
DS: What does the label small press mean to you?
AN: I've always been fond of the small press and the self-published comics. To me, small press means freedom in creator ownership and creator control.
MK: Tiny publications for tiny people. No, but seriously, I can sum up small press in three words... freedom, control, yours.
DS: Do you consider yourselves to be small press creators?
AN: Hell yeah! P.I.C TOONS Studios is completely creator controlled and creator owned. We have total control of our studio ourselves including all the self-publishing aspects of creating a small press comic and our Online Comics.
MK: Absolutely! It's great, especially when you work with such creative people who you know are having as much fun doing it as you; and that's the name of the game. When it doesn't become fun and exciting it's time to try something new. Small press lets you have fun. God bless small press!
DS: A friend of mine worked at a newspaper and says that doing the graphic design for ads is the worst job imaginable for a graphic artist cause all you draw is packets of peas and loaves of bread day after day. What's your horror job?
MK: Going back to waiting on tables.
AN: Hmmm... I've had a couple crappy graphic design jobs right after college. I made minimum wage and had to commute a couple hours each way. Plus, I had to wear a tie... ugh. However, I think, that if you're an artist, any art related job would be a good one. It sure beats doing dishes.
DS: Thanks for taking the time on this interview.
AN: Thanks for the interview, Darren. It was fun.
MK: Hey man, thanks for the interview. It definitely helps for exposure for the online comic book takeover. Power to the independent Hero!!
You can contact Al and Micheal via:
479 Manila Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07302
E-mail: alSTOP-@-SPAMarggh.com or mkornsteinSTOP-@-SPAMgrey.com
Update Check out a recent interview with Al at The Comic Reader
The ARGGH!!! Chronicles, Nihilist-Man and all related characters and © 2001 Albert Nickerson. Libra and © 2001 Delfin Barral. Pipe Dreams and © 2001 Stephen Scanlon. Hunter and © 2001 Michael Kornstein. Lethargic Lad and Self-Indulgant-Autobiographical Boy and © 2001 Greg Hyland. P.I.C TOONS is a Trademark of P.I.C.
If you have a comment or question about Small Press then feel free to contact me