Shades Of Blue Interview

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2001
By: Darren Schroeder

Cover of Shades Of Blue Interview

Hailing from Chicago the team behind Shades of Blue have made a great start with their humorous comic about the hesitant superhero adventures of Heidi, whose days at high school had be enlivened when her hair changes to a bright shade of blue and she found that she had the ability to zap stuff with an electric charge. It's an entertaining read so I decide to have a chat with the writing team.

Darren Schroeder: What is your full name?

Audrey Hepburn in _Breakfast at Tiffianies_Rachel Suzanne Nacion

?? in _Rushmore_Dimitrios Steven Harris

DS: But you are known as Jim?

JSH: My father was born in Greece, my mother was born in Ireland. So I'm named after my father, Dimitrios. And "James" is the English translation for Dimitrios.

DS: Age?

RSN: 25

JSH: 27

DS: Favourite web site?

RSN: I love New Zealand-type people!! All the spellings of color and favorite with a u in them!! OK, mocking aside, I've been haunting Ain't it Cool News and (a Disney guide book site.) I love Disney World, used to work there and like to visit occasionally. I also like the ABC News site especially with the election lately.

JSH: Sequential Tart, at Not only because they have given us some good pub, but also because it's a fun site with some great writing. They promote positive images of women in comics, and try to get more women into reading comics. Plus, they have some great message board discussions.

DS: Were comics a big part of your childhood or did you discover them at a later stage?

RSN: I always thought they were silly. When I was in junior high, I visited one of my mother's friends whose husband was a farrier. I was staying at their house in Wisconsin because they had horses, and I adore horses--I've been riding since I was 10. However, their son is my age and read comics (he wanted to be an artist) He got me into X-Men and Excalibur, but it never really clicked. They were just something to do on the farm. Then, I met Jim Harris in college (my co-creator) and we dated for five years. It was in that time that he got me into comics like Sandman. I got an appreciation for them then, but again, he'd buy them and I'd read them. If it weren t for Jim, I wouldn't even consider comics. When Jim and I broke up, I started dating Josh, who managed a comics store. Josh has gotten me reading lots of independent and other things, such as Lenore (who I LOVE), Jonny the Homicidal Manic (who scares me), I Feel Sick, Squee, Watchmen and Why I Hate Saturn. Plus Understanding Comics.

JSH: Yes. My older brother read comics, and I sort of got into them by reading his. I was a Marvel kid, and read about every book Marvel put out from 1980 to 1990. Now I'm more of an indy and a DC guy. I think DC does smarter books, and I'm not just speaking of Vertigo. They're superhero stuff is just better.

DS: Was art an important part of your education?

RSN: Of course. But I'm not an artist; I'm a writer. I do appreciate art, however, even though I can't draw.

JSH: Only if you count stick figures as art! During one particularly boring class in college, I began to do stick figure renditions of various superheroes. I had my notebook filled by the end of the semester!

DS: Was literature a big part of your education?


RSN: Yes. My mother read to me a lot when I was younger, and I started writing really when I was in sixth grade. I wasn't very good at school early on, but I think that was because I was bored. I was usually reading two to three grade levels above everybody else, and found the stories we did in class boring. For some reason, Oak Park home of Hemmingway picked really stupid stories for their school. Bridge to Terebitha, The House o Dies Drear and A Separate Peace stand out as particularly horrible. I was reading Animal Farm, Great Expectations and things like when I was fourteen.

JSH: Let's just say that while I didn't read a lot of prose growing up, I was a lot better in my literature classes than I was at mathematics. I was the best speller in my school, and I had a much bigger vocabulary than my peers of the time, and I would attribute that to reading 30 comics per week. My 7th grade teacher even agreed with that. Unfortunately, I still read that many comics per week instead of prose, so now my peers have a larger vocabulary than me, while I'm stuck saying, Nuff Said! over and over again like a young Stan Lee.

DS: What was the first comic you worked on and how did that come about?

RSN: That would be this one. I've written stories and things before, but not graphic things. If you want my published writing, give me a holler. I've got plenty of tragic prose from my college years. How this comic came about: Jim and I were dating. He had always wanted to write a comic book, and had a whole story worked out a very clever one, actually. But he had never gotten around to writing it. Well, I was slowly getting more and more disgusted with reading books that had women with huge breasts and incredibly long legs and poorly written material. Then, Generation X, which I liked, started getting really dumb. I started saying how I could write better, and Jim knew he had an idea and so it sort of came together. Initially, the book was supposed to be a webcomic that was interactive, but we had to get rid of that idea, since it was too complicated. So, we went to paper. We found Greg Grucel, and then it suddenly was a comic. We had great sales at a convention for being a one issue book with an unknown character (about $600 over three days). At Wizard World in Chicago in 2001, we'll have about 6 issues. Last summer, we had 2. We're getting there, and getting noticed. Friends of Lulu nominated me for Best New Talent in 1999, although they spelled my last name, Ancion . Oh well, can't win em all.

JSH: Yes, this was the first one I worked on, and it goes along the lines that Rachel pretty much just spelled out.

Cover of Issue #3

DS: What materials and equipment do you use when drawing your comics?

RSN: How about when I write my comic? I use an ibook, tangerine, named Goldie. The program I use is Word for Apple, because I haven't learned AppleWorks yet. I just made the transition to Apple this year I used to use a PC. I like my ibook a lot. She travels with me and is very nice to write on. The keyboard has a great squishy feel to it, and makes writing fun.

JSH: Sometimes I write out ideas in a notebook at a cafe or something, then I'll do little thumbnail layouts of each page so I have a sense of whether something will work out or not. Then I type it all up on my computer, which has neither a name nor a fancy color!

DS: Who do you see as the target audience for your work?

RSN: When we first started this, no one was sure. Then, after the first convention, it was clear who was buying us. Women, my age (22-30), loved our book. Plus, little girls loved it as well. Hell, any woman wanted to read it, and they all loved Heidi. She's sort of an every-girl, and they can all relate to her. Men also liked her. But it's clear who isn't our audience men who only like strung-out, steroid-ridden, super-powered guys. It was very discouraging to try and talk someone into our book at the cons just to have them go Ah, I only read books in color or It's not my type. Sigh.

DS: What work have you been doing recently?

RSN: Heidi, Heidi and more Heidi. Issues 5 and 6 are being finished as well as starting on issues 7 and 8.

JSH: I've been working on this, as well as my real job in real estate management. I've kicked around the idea of self-publishing other books, but I just don't have the money right now!

DS: What comics have you read recently? Why did you like/dislike them?

RSN: I love Lenore. She's very cute. Poor little dead girl. The last book I read was I Feel Sick. I enjoyed that one because I relate very much to Devi. There's one part where she's in a meeting with her boss, and he tells her to put more monkeys in her drawings. I feel like that some days at work. People tell me to do stupid things, and I can't talk them out of it. So, I just figure, you want more monkeys, you got 'em.

JSH: I like The Waiting Place by Slave Labor. It's about a group of high school kids in a small Northern Midwest town in the States. Great characterization. There was a scene that sold me on it where there's a character getting persecuted, which causes the reader to feel empathy toward him. Then, in the next scene, the character does some persecution of his own, so now we're not sure how to feel towards this character. And that's how the world is. That's how people act. It's a complete character.

DS: If a film was made of your life, who should play you?

RSN: I don t really look like too many famous people. How about women/characters I identify with in movies? I'm sort of slighty like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany's. I feel like Debbie Reynolds in Singin in the Rain. She's young, naive, and can throw one mean pie in the face. I'm bossy like Carrie Fischer in Star Wars. I also like Jennifer in The Man from Snowy River (I think Jennifer is her name ), The Bowler from Mystery Men, and, my favorite, Myna Loy as Nora in The Thin Man.

JSH: I ve been told I look like either Liam Neeson or Mike Myers, from Wayne's World and Austin Powers. But I would have to go along with Mike Myers, because he more accurately represents my personality. Also, Matthew Perry from Friends would work

DS: Comics or elections, which is more important?

RSN: ELECTIONS!!! Way more important!! It's so funny the way this thing happened. Before the election, people were either Democrats or Republicans, no big deal. Or, they were independent, and chose later. But now, there's a line drawn in the sand. You're one or another. You think George stole the election or Gore is a sore loser. There's no going back. I wasn't worried that the country was in chaos, America's Constitution is very strong and successful. I think the country had faith in that part. But I will never trust the Supreme Court again. It clearly decided it wanted a republican in office. And George even OK'd the use of hand counts in Texas. But when it comes down to it, he didn't want to follow through on his own laws. You can tell I'm a Democrat, but I can't logically vote Republican. That party is for rich white males, and I'm only one of those (white, sadly not rich)

JSH: Elections are more important, but when I'm feeling bad because my guy lost, comics take me away and make me feel better. Whenever there have been bad things in my life, I've always had comics to take my mind off matters.


DS: Have you two found collaborating on telling a story an easy process?

RSN: To quote the Beatles, it's getting better all the time. In the beginning, when we were still dating, it was no problem. But then we broke up, and I felt very hurt, angry and betrayed. We could barely talk. Our first convention was very tense, and I felt extremely defensive. However, after a year, we can talk almost openly. It's important to focus on the things we will always have in common in order to keep this going.

DS: Has there been anything that you have wanted to do in Shades of Blue that your writing partner would not agree to?

RSN: Sometimes. Jim wanted to write in a bit where Heidi hotwires a car. I was being contrary and said no. We decided against it. Good thing too, because in the comic, Electric Girl, Virginia did the same exact thing. So it worked out ok. Also, in issue 4, I scripted a lot of dialogue for Silence that started out with her calling Heidi by lots of little pet names like "dear" and "honey." In my mind, it read great, like some purring evil villainess. On the page, it read like Silence was trying to seduce Heidi. So Jim nixed a lot of that dialogue. But mostly we agree on stuff.

DS: It seems like you have had some success at conventions. Do you enjoy attending them and if so why?

RSN: I liked going to Wizard World, but that's the only convention I ve been to. Jim can probably speak more to that. I like meeting other writers and artists, and I'm lucky that I'm pretty fearless. It's a very good place to network, as you never know who you'll see or who'll want your book. Last year, both Chris Clermont and Leinil Yu picked up our books. Yu said his girlfriend would love it. I do find that I get exhausted after them, but I suppose that's a common experience.

JSH: I love conventions, though I do get a little exhausted myself. I went to the Small Press Expo in Besthesda, Maryland and the Mid-Ohio Con this year. We sold pretty well, and made some good new contacts. I would say the best part of the shows are the people you meet. I've made a lot of good friends in the small press community at these shows, and we have a lot of fun going out afterwards and partying. But by the end of the weekend, I want to take a break from comics. After 72 straight hours of comics and comics talk at Mid-Ohio, I just wanted to go home and not listen to one more person debate the merits of Firestorm the Nuclear Man or which incarnation of the Titans was the best.

DS: What where you looking for when you picked the artists to work with?

RSN: The ability to work for nothing? Seriously though, I like it when they can draw Heidi correctly. That's not always an easy thing to do for some people. She's supposed to be small-breasted (very important!), not too revealing, sort of tomboyish and still attractive in an understated way. KT is our little fashion plate, and has all the goofy hairstyles.


JSH: I like to see a very vibrant page without too many static images. The artist should be able to tell the story without any words. I also like something a little different. I like how our first 2 artists use grays and blacks. The biggest criticism I ve heard about Shades of Blue is that there aren't enough backrounds in the art. I understand where they're coming from, but we sort of have a unique situation. We have a black and white, yet mainstream, super-hero book. So we have to compete with the big color books for an audience. So we need to do something to make our images stick out, and I think the techniques our artists have used has achieved that.

DS: How do you distribute your comics?

JSH: At the current time, just through cons and by mail. Also, FM International carried our first 2 issues. But I'm currently in hot pursuit of a few other areas, so I'll let you know about any development there.

DS: If Heidi could team up with any other comic character which would you choose and why?

RSN: I would choose Kitty Pryde. I think they'd have a lot in common. Plus, Kitty's cool.

DS: What makes for a well written superhero comic?

RSN: I've been thinking about this for a while. I think that a well-written comic needs what any well-written book or short story does. Good characters, an interesting plot and well-done dialogue. Comics don't get the respect they deserve, in part because of the medium and audience that they are in. Everyone thinks that comics are a temporary thing, not art with a capital A. But when you push the medium, when you raise your expectations of it, comics are really lovely things. Look at Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns or Sandman. Those books are examples that comics, when pushed into a literary vein, are more than just superheroes in funny costumes. I also look for art and writing that support each other. Comics need both the writer and the artist to work in concert together in order to be successful.

JSH: I think that when you focus your superhero story around very real characters, you can't go wrong. I'm much more interested in how the characters react to the superhero fights than I am about the superhero fights themselves. I think you also have to realize that you, as the writer, are not necessarily the star of the show. The artist puts in so much more work. And the artist takes care of a lot of the words that are normally used in prose. So the writer needs to hold themselves back and fill in around the words. I think it's really stupid when a comic panel is filled with words that describe the panel which is already drawn and the reader can just look at!

DS: How can the comics medium win over a wider audience?

RSN: I don't know, I really don't. It's so disappointing, it's like a vicious circle. I've seen this at my boyfriend's former comic shop. People come in, and want to buy a book about a character that they know and like. So they buy Cable or Spawn because it's something that they like, and they expect good art and a good story. But the writing and the art is terrible. However, people still buy it because it's a character they love, and they must get the book. But they complain about it. A lot. Man, look at the art, it sucks.... God, the writing is really God-awful this week. If more people stood up and demanded better writing, better art, better balance, things might improve. Until the day when people protest with their dollar (which is the only way things change in a free-market economy) change will not occur. Protest with your money. Do not buy badly-written books that you don't like because it's a Cable or X-Men or Batman or Spawn. That's the clearest way companies will hear you. Ok, I think I got a little carried away. But, you get the idea.

Can our hero save herself?

DS: What is the comic scene like in your area?

RSN: Pretty decent. Lots of stores, including Chicago Comics, Windy City Comics, Graham Crackers and Josh's old place, Rick's One Stop. Jill Thompson (of Scary Godmother) used to shop at Rick's and I believe she still lives in Oak Park. Her husband Brian Azzarello of 100 Bullets, of course, also lives around here. Alex Ross lives near Jim as well. Lots of Sequential Tarts live in Chicago, too. There's a lot of stuff going on in Chicago.

DS: You are both graduates of the writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Describe the course in 40 words or less, including the word "reciprocity."

RSN: Oh, this isn't a tough interview at all, OK. At the University, students write a ten-page story, submit it to the teacher, who then hands out stories to be discussed in class. Through a process of reciprocity, students critique the writings, and hopefully become better writers and readers.

JSH: Do I get my own set of 40 words? The University of Illinois offers one of the few undergraduate degrees in writing available in the U.S. One thing our teachers taught us is to write normal stories, no Science Fiction allowed. They wanted us to learn how to write about normal people in normal situations, and I think that helped us write about fantastic people in extraordinary situations. Ok, so that was 59 words. But that's why I went into writing! It takes that kind of verbosity to write four 10-15 page stories per semester just for one class!

DS: The design work on the covers on Shades of Blue has been impressive so far. How much input do you each have in the design of the comic?

RSN: I guess we just basically hang back and let the artist do what they want to do. Greg had really good instincts with regards to covers, so we just let him go. The cover is what really attracts people in the first place, and I give our initial cover design a lot of credit for helping to establish us.

JSH: To begin with, we really didn't have much, besides picking out an artist, of course. We pretty much write a detailed script for the interiors and sometimes include little stick-figured thumbnail layouts courtesy of me. But those are usually more for the artist to laugh at! But as far as the covers go, I think we've been lucky to have artists who also happen to be skilled graphic designers in the real world, and they bring those sensibilites to the comic. I'm glad they are so well done, because they've really helped the books stand out on store racks and at conventions.

DS: What should budding comic creators keep in mind when dealing with printers?

I have the power at my figertips

JSH: First off, find a printer who is used to printing comics! There are so many little things that can come up that neither you nor the printer will have thought of unless they're used to dealing with comics. Second, follow all their instruction as best as possible. Most printers who deal with comics on a regular basis have guideline booklets. Make sure you read the guidelines forward and backward and follow them to a t. That will save you time and money. Also, remember that they deal with people like you day in and day out, so don't expect any special treatment.

DS: Why did you decide to go with the standard comic size?

RSN: We never thought of Shades having a smaller size.

JSH: It's better for shelf space at comic shops to keep with the standard size.

DS: With songs like Teenage dirtbag and TV shows such as Popular, Dawson Creek, Buffy and your comic, High School is a popular setting for story telling. Were your High School years that entertaining?

RSN: Of course (and I love Popular. It's very similar in feeling to Heathers, which I also loved!). Sometimes, I would love to go back, knowing what I know now, and feeling the way I do now. When I was in high school, I wasn't as comfortable with my body as I am now, and didn't really know how to handle myself. I guess none of us are, really, and we only learn with time. I bring that experience into the writing of Heidi. She's not really comfortable with herself either. (Sidenote: I hadn't even heard of that song until you mentioned it. Now I hear it everywhere. Erie.)

JSH: I know mine weren't. I went to an all-boys Catholic High School, so the most excitement occurred when someone got detention for forgetting to wear a tie on Chapel Day. But if you looked hard enough, there were so many good stories behind the scenes. Teenagers already think they're freaks. Why not add superpowers to the equation and really mess with them!?! High school is so interesting, because there are thousands of these kids, each feeling strange and alienated, and none of them realize that everyone else around them feels exactly the same way! If they just took a moment to listen to one another, they'd all realize how normal they really are. That kind of stuff lends itself to good stories.

DS: Do sales of Shades of Blue cover the production costs?

RSN: Not that I know of unless Jim's hiding something (

JSH: No. 'Nuff said!

DS: Where do like to go to relax?

RSN: Disney World!! Ok, I sound like a stupid American, but I really do like the darn place. I need to do stuff on vacation; otherwise I'm stark-raving bored. I like the whole atmosphere, and the food, and the giant mice. I was really raised on it. I also like my grandparents cabin in Wisconsin.

JSH: At home, I like to go get a beer and watch some sports. Otherwise, I'd have to say the Greek Islands. I've been there 3 or 4 times, and it's incredibly peaceful.

DS: What do you see the big developments in store for the comic medium in the 21st century?

RSN: I think the internet will play a major role in comics in the future. Shades of Blue was supposed to be an internet comic. But that was complicated for us to do technically, so we switched to plain old paper. I do think comics can and should expand beyond their current medium. There's a lot that can be done, a lot of powerful thought and imagry that can be conveyed, and no one really gets that. It's really quite a powerful force, combining words and images, and something that needs to be exploited more in good ways. Maybe I've been reading Understanding Comics too much, but I really think there is something there. Comics don't have to be books. Comics are something more than that. Whether this happens or not is up to future creators of comics.

JSH: I can't really see too much happening to change things. CD-Rom comics? It's been done, and unsuccessfully. Comics on the internet? Then it's not really a comic BOOK anymore. You hear a lot of gloom and doom these days. Maybe the big boys of the comic industry will crumble. Maybe Marvel and DC will go out of the publishing business and just license out their characters for movies and TV. But it will be a while before comics die altogether, even if DC and Marvel weren't around. Why? Because a certain amount of people will still love comics. And some of those people will do what we do, and make their own. And there will be enough people to buy them to make it a fun, if not profitable, venture. Even without comic shops, should it come to that (and I desperately hope it doesn't).

DS: Why should people read Shades of Blue?

RSN: Because it's the greatest comic ever made. Ok, well maybe not. But it's different. And different is good. It's light, and funny, and sometimes serious. It's written by writers, and I feel that's important. It's a good comic for a woman, at any age, and that is so rare nowadays that people should really support the effort. Plus, I need to get out of my day job!

JSH: It's a superhero comic for people who don't like superhero comics. It's a humor comic for people who don't like humor comics. It's a black and white comic for people who don't like black and white. It's just fun. You don't even need to have read comics before to enjoy it or understand it. Just ask my friends!

Shades of Blue has just been picked up by Diamond Distributors, so issue 3 will be available in their Previews catalogue.

Contact details:

Rachel via

James via

Shades of Blue Picture Credits

Shade of Blue Banner Web banner Art: Greg Grucel Read Panel from Issue 4 Art: Cal Slayton Cover of Issue #3 Cover for Issue #3 Art: Cal Slayton Oh! Panel from Issue #4 Art: Cal Slayton Heidi Web graphic Art: Cal Slayton Can our hero save herself? Page one of Issue #4 Art: Cal Slayton I have the power at my figertips Panel from Issue #4 Art: Cal Slayton

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