Interview with Comic Strip Creator Richard C. White

TRichard C. WhiteAEM- After our tour of The Baltimore Comic-Con The Arts and Entertainment Magazine & THE EERIE DIGEST began to focus on graphic novel writers and illustrators so that we can introduce them to our readers. One of newest finds to interview is comic strip creator Richard C. White.

Richard, we understand that you first got started when you wrote a sports article for a local paper. Please tell us about this and the career in writing that it generated.

RCW- I had met Don Diehl, the owner/editor of the Hallsville Top, back in Hallsville, Missouri, since we both went to the same church. Even though it was a small weekly paper, I noted there wasn’t a lot of coverage of school events—probably because there were only two other people who worked for the paper. Since I played on most of the school’s sports teams back then, I offered to cover the games for him and he took me up on the offer. The first few articles I submitted were closely scrutinized before he ran them and he was a pretty thorough editor. After a few submissions, I had an idea of what he was looking for and approximately how long they needed to be and so on.

I worked for Don from my sophomore year through my senior year. By the time I hit my senior year, I had been promoted to Sports Editor and there were two other high school reporters who reported directly to me. One covered the women’s teams and the other covered the men’s teams while I focused on other school events (plays, concerts, contests, etc.). I also had my first opportunities as a photojournalist working for the Top and had several photos published along with my articles.

TAEM- You also became the sports reporter for the college that you attended. Please tell us about this aspect of your life.

RCW- Initially, I was a journalism major at Central Missouri State University and gravitated toward the broadcast side of the house. When I saw an opening at the campus radio station in 1978, I jumped at the opportunity. Initially, I did the scout work for the sports department, which consisted of pulling tape from the old teletype machine, editing the stories down and then pasting the stories onto 4×6 cards for the sports reporters to read on the air.  That sounds relatively easy, but then six lines was considered a minute and three for a thirty second spot. So, you had to be precise to get enough but not too much information onto a card.

Once they were comfortable with my work, I began doing other things like telephone interviews with the local coaches in the area. I would tape the conversations with the coach and then using a razor blade and scotch tape, we’d splice and edit a six to ten minute conversation into ten to fifteen second clips that could be played on the air and then I had to type up the intro and outro for each clip for the announcer to read. It was fun, but it’d be a whole lot easier with digital recording devices like we have today.

If I had stayed longer, I might have gone on to on-the-air announcing, but my third year in college I shifted from journalism to major in history. I can definitely see the effect of having been a journalist in my writing both for pleasure and at work to this day.

SeaDragonTAEM- It was after this period that you created and sold your first comic strip. What was it about, and how well was it received by your readers ?

RCW- After graduating college and joining the military, there was a long break in doing any writing that wasn’t work-related. Some friends got me back into comics after a long hiatus, which led me to renew my subscription to the Comics Buyer’s Guide, which brought Steve Roman (one of your former interviewees) and his small press comic, Lorelei, to my attention. We exchanged some letters and after a few trials and tribulations (mostly me causing him to pull his hair out), I was able to launch Troubleshooters, a digest-sized comic back in 1992. Steve was my first editor, letterer, and publisher.

The book had a good reception in the small press community. Some were not as receptive as I had hoped because of the comic’s subject. A lot of the small press tends to be more autobiographical or issue-driven rather than super-heroic. So, that’s why I decided to take it to a full-sized comic and publish it myself in 1994.

TAEM- During this time frame you had created your first press company. What became of this venture ?

RCW- I created Nightwolf Graphics when I was stationed in Texas after Steve introduced me to Reggie Golden, who would draw the series from that point forward.

I went through a number of issues trying to deal with the joys of self-publishing. Since I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, I was constantly dealing with the art teams. Between the digest version and the standard, we had three different pencillers, six different inkers, and two different colorists. The only thing that stayed the same throughout the run was myself as author and Steve as my letterer.

Also, putting every issue of Troubleshooters Incorporated was a logistical challenge. I was living in Texas, Reggie lived in D.C., my inker lived in Michigan, Steve lived in NYC and my colorist lived in Phoenix.  So, we had to do the story in bundles and ship them around. Reggie would finish a couple of pages, then ship them to Steve to be lettered, then Randy Zimmerman would ink those, while Reggie finished the next batch and then they all had to come back to me to be reviewed and prepared to go to the printer.  Needless to say, the Fed-Ex guy and I were very good friends by the end of this system.

The initial response to the comic was good, but our timing was incredibly poor. We wound up in the middle of the Great Distributor Wars of the mid-90s. The comic industry went from thirteen U.S., three Canadian, two U.K. distributors and Comics Hawaii down to one U.S. and one U.K. distributor in the space of eighteen months. Retailers cut huge swaths of their marginal titles with all the instability in the market and I can’t blame them. However, as a brand new comic from a brand new company, we saw our orders plummet and I couldn’t justify putting out the comic any longer, especially since I was paying my art team a page rate instead of a cut of royalties. So, after the third issue, I had to cut my losses and move on from there.

I still get ideas of re-establishing Nightwolf Graphics from time to time, but I’d rather package comics than publish them. I’m a writer first and foremost.

TAEM- We recently interview comic strip writer Steven A. Roman. Tell us about your association with him and the work that the two of you produced.

RCW- Steve and I have been working together on and off for nearly 21 years now. As I noted above, he was my first publisher and he’s been the letterer and editor for all Nightwolf Graphics projects.

He was also the editor for the first anthology I ever sold a short story, The Ultimate Hulk for Marvel Entertainment/Byron Preiss Multimedia. After that, he recommended me for the Gauntlet Dark Legacy novelizations, which was iBooks Inc.’s best-selling media tie-in novel for 2004.

These days, we’ve closed the circle again and Steve is publishing the Troubleshooters Incorporated graphic novel in both print and e-books as well as producing the e-version of my swashbuckling fantasy comic, Chronicles of the Sea Dragon.

TAEM- We also learned that you wrote for Star Trek and Dr. Who.

What did this entail, and how excited were you to be able to work with these well known productions?

RCW- Writing for Star Trek and Doctor Who came out of my experiences writing for Byron Preiss. Keith DeCandido, who was a former editor with Byron, was familiar with my work. I approached him about how to break in at Star Trek at a Balticon and he suggested submitting for an e-series Pocket Books had created called the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. Since SCE was primarily all original characters, it was easier to get both Pocket and Paramount to approve new authors. Keith even suggested an idea, since they had a character in the series who was an analyst, a cryptanalyst and a linguist—and since I was an analyst, cryptanalyst, and a linguist when I was in the Army, I might have some ideas.

That led me to create the story “Echoes of Coventry”, which was a retelling of the bombing of Coventry in WWII set during the Dominion War period.  I could draw on both my military experience as well as my historian skills to research and write the story.  I like to tell the story that “Echoes of Coventry” is the only Star Trek story approved by the U.S. Government.  Since I was in military intelligence back in the day, any time I write about anything dealing with intelligence (fictional or otherwise), I have to run it through pre-publication review. They were not amused, but read it and blessed it anyway.  “Echoes” came out as an e-book first and is now available in the Corps of Engineers omnibus, what’s Past from Pocket Books.

After this, Keith asked if I’d like to pitch a story for a Doctor Who anthology. Of course, there was only one answer there.  Keith was editing an anthology for Big Finish called Doctor Who Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership. Big Finish’s license was only for the first eight doctors, so after some thought, I decided not to pitch the Tom Baker doctor story I’d been thinking about, since everyone and their uncle would probably pitch Fourth Doctor stories. Instead, I pitched a William Hartnell (First Doctor) story. To also help avoid issues with continuity, I set “The Price of Conviction” before “An Unearthly Child”.  So now, I only had to deal with the Doctor and Susan with a TARDIS that has a working chameleon unit.

Also, since I was using Hartnell, I decided to try and recapture some of the early Doctor Who feel by focusing on a historical story.  In “The Price”, I have the Doctor and Susan meet Martin Luther on the eve of his trial in Worms, Germany. This piece got several nice reviews from U.K. reviewers, which made my day because they do tend to be a tad protective about the Doctor.

TAEM- Tell us about your recent creations and the themes behind them.

RCW- I’ve had a very busy last eighteen months and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. Along with Steve reprinting some of my earlier comic work, I’m doing a collection of short stories on-line called For a Few Gold Pieces More. It’s a collection of ten short stories which I tend to describe as “The Lord of the Rings as told by Sergio Leone”.  Someone else suggested I should call the collection “The Rogue with No Name” series.  It’s a blending of fantasy stories with the feeling of a spaghetti western. My protagonist is a rogue and a fan of the good life. However, even as a rogue, he has his own sense of morality and generally, he’ll do the right thing. I’m finishing the eighth story in the collection soon and they’re being published by Musa Publishing.

Along with my short story collection for Musa, I helped create the story bible for The Darkside Codex, which is a shared world project. The city-state of Southwatch will be the focus of this series of steampunk novels and novellas. Along with creating the story bible, I’m contributing a novel, On Wings of Steel.

I’ve also begun writing some New Pulp stories. My first story was “Notes in the Fog” for the Charles Boekman Presents: Johnny Nickle duology by Pro Se Productions. This story was based on a story written by Charles Boekman back in the 1950s. I went for this story since I was a jazz musician back in high school and college and Johnny is a down-on-his-luck musician who seems to team up with trouble all too often. It turns out that not only was Mr. Boekman a great author, he’s also in the Texas Jazz Hall of Fame, so I was sweating bullets hoping he’d appreciate my homage to his work. To my relief, he enjoyed the story.

My next project to come out from Pro Se will be a duology which incorporates both noir and fantasy. Chasing Danger: The Case Files of Theron Chase will contain two novellas set in a world similar to ours—if magic, werewolves, ghosts, and ogres went hand in hand with automatic pistols, street cars, and criminal gangs. Imagine the Maltese Falcon if Caspar Guttmann could summon a djinn to aid him in his search for the fabled bird . . . that describes the coastal city of Calasia.

TAEM- Where can our readers find your work, and who is the publishers ?

RCW- I’ve been fortunate enough to be published by a number of small companies this year. Along with the stories I’ve mentioned above from Musa Publishing and Pro Se Productions, I’ve also sold a short story to Eggplant Literary Productions for Spellbound Magazine, called “The Wisp Hunter”. It appeared in their Fall 2013 issue.

Most of my work can be purchased directly from the publisher’s sites or the usual on-line outlets—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and the comics can be purchased through Drive-Thru Comics.

TAEM- You are also a member of several writer’s associations. Please tell us about them and what you do there.

RCW- I have had the great fortune to belong to a couple of outstanding writing associations. I am a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Through my membership in SFWA, I also am a member of Writer Beware, the anti-scam committee. We provide assistance to authors regarding agents, publishers, publicists, editors and so on. We speak at conventions around the country as well as speaking to writing groups and in academic settings.

Also, I am a member of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. This group helps promote our membership and keeps people up to date with new opportunities. The IAMTW also presents “The Scribe Awards” at San Diego Comic Con for the best media tie-in works for the year.

TAEM- In both writing and illustrations what would you recommend to our readers who would like to pursue these fields, and what educational courses should they pursue?

RCW- I’m not sure there are any specific classes that would guarantee success. For a writer, I would instead recommend being as well-rounded as you can possibly be. I find that I draw from my English classes, my history classes, my cartography classes, my drama classes, my military experience, my experiences in the Society of Creative Anachronism, and so on.

If I had to make one specific suggestion, it is to read. Read and read and read some more. Read in the genre you want to write so you know what’s been done and read outside your genre so you’re not just imitating what’s been done. Study your favorite authors and note how they build their stories and how they end them. Read fiction and non-fiction. The more you read, the more you can bring to whatever you’re attempting to write.

TAEM- What do’s and don’ts would you caution them on to help them succeed ?

RCW- Write as often as possible. Don’t worry about making your first draft perfect, that’s what editing is for.

Don’ts – Don’t fall in love with your words. Everyone needs editing—everyone.

TAEM- Richard, we want to thank you for your time for our interview with you and we hope that you will keep us abreast with any of the new work that you create in the future. I am sure that our readers, and your fans, will enjoy learning all about you and your work in this amazing field.

   TAEM

RCW- It’s been a pleasure!