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Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

BAKER'S DOZEN for 09/23/2009
Big Scary Monsters
Chris Wisnia on Doris Danger: Giant Monster Adventures

I always enjoy running into Chris Wisnia during a con. Besides being a gifted writer-artist and a good conversationalist, Chris is also possessed of a rare sense of humor, combined with a real affection for the inherent power of the absurd. All these qualities have served him well in life and in pursuit of his signature series, which features the sublime and ridiculous menace presented by giant monsters and their kin.

While it’s true that I interviewed Chris a few years back as part of the original “Baker’s Dozen” series, with a new collection of his tales featuring Doris Danger coming out soon from Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics, I thought it a perfect time to talk with him about the new book and what he’s been up to since we last spoke.

Bill Baker: For those deprived of previous contact with your work, who is Doris Danger, and why is she so interested in Giant Monsters? And please, Chris, remember that there might be young children reading…

Chris Wisnia: Doris Danger is a tabloid photojournalist who believes she was abducted by a giant monster when she was young. She has now dedicated her life to trying to prove the existence of giant monsters, with help from a colorful cast of characters, including her boyfriend, former astronaut Steve Wonder; the wise, elderly, wheelchair-bound sage, Dr. Souseman; a peaceful cult of fez-wearing monster protectors; and the Monster Liberation Army (or “M.L.A.”, a band of armed mercenaries framed for crimes they didn’t commit, now wearing ball caps and skin tight uniforms, and each with a fighting specialty, such as judo, boxing, race-car-driving, piloting, animal training,
bullfighting, and “Texan”).

Unfortunately, Doris also confronts those who disbelieve, picket, or even purposely try to hide and destroy evidence of giant monsters. We find in this category her boss at Tabloia Weekly Magazine, the US Army and the FBI’s “G” Division, a trio of French beret-wearing brothers, as gruff eye-patch-wearing politician, robots disguised as African
tribesmen, a famous actor disguised as a robot, and mad scientists who don’t speak much but do a lot of giggling.

I wrote and drew the stories in a retro-Stan Lee/Jack Kirby style, as a tribute to their late 1950’s Atlas/Timely giant monster comics. I included lots of strange, lumpy, flat-toothed monsters with names like Spluhh, Pwahpwah, Sneh-Sneh, Aahblah, and Muh Muh Muh.

Despite how it may sound, these stories are meant to be campy, kitschy, absurdist, way over-the-top melodrama adventures.

There! And I didn’t even use the “F” word!

BB: You’ve charted various characters’ journeys through similar territories before, including some of Doris’ own; what made you want to concentrate on her strange adventures at this point?

CW: When I first began making comics, I self-published five issues of a pseudo-anthology, which included Doris and three other stories. I thought it would be a good sort of “try-out” technique, to get some work out and see how people reacted to not only an anthology format, but also to each character. The issues didn’t sell well, but it gave
me some feedback, and so ever since then, I’ve been focusing books on particular characters.

Doris has tended to be the most popular and successful, so I’ve been continuously producing her adventures ever since. But I dabbled with a number of stories in different formats, and always showing things to editors and publishers. Doris was the first one to be picked up by a publisher, so that kind of determined it.

BB: How about the genre? What is it about weird fantasy, and the Giant Monster subgenre, that so fascinates you as a writer and artist?

CW: When I was young, I would pick up a Kirby comic, and I hated them. I thought, “That guy can’t draw. Look at his weird, barrel-shaped anatomy. Why is everything so shiny?” But in college, I studied art, and afterwards, I saw Kirby with a new eye. I realized quality of art doesn’t have to mean photo-realism. And the zany, really powerful,
out-of-control energy of Kirby’s work just blew me away.

If you’ve seen Kirby’s monster books, I just find them phenomenal. They’re so bizarre and fun.

But actually, what excites me more than that about this project is examining the serialized format. I’m fascinated with monthly comics, old movie serials, TV shows like The X-Files or whatever JJ Abrams is doing, and even lower “art forms” like soap operas and professional wrestling.

I love the idea that these stories don’t have a beginning or ending, but that you can just jump in and figure out everything you need - who’s good and who’s bad, what their motivations are – even if you catch them out of order or miss a few installments. And I find it fascinating how addictive they become, once you’re invested in it, week after week. And how new writers or actors come onboard, or the series runs for decades, so things just contradict each other now and then, but they still try to cling to this allusion of “continuity.”

BB: Since we’ve last spoken, back in 2004, there have been a few changes. One of the more noticeable alterations, I think, is that your earlier outings were mostly published as single issues, which were later collected into collections. What lead to your decision to skip the smaller installments, and head right for the graphic novel format?

CW: Well…er…This new volume may be kind of misleading… It’s actually a collection of virtually everything I’ve published with the Doris Danger character so far. This was the decision of SLG. However, so long as this volume does well, it will be followed by a second volume of virtually all-new material, at which point, we’ll be doing what
you’re suggesting.

I’m actually very excited about the prospect. I have so many stories to tell about Doris. There are a lot of gaps to fill in. Despite the appearance that her adventures are a string of random, unrelated, ludicrous events, they’re actually very specific, related (but still ludicrous) events. I’m looking forward to revealing all the details of the zany stories, assuming the book does all right and I’m given the opportunity.

I think the graphic novel will be a nice format for this, because it will give the space to reveal more, so that readers will hopefully see and be impressed with the multi-faceted connections more easily.

BB: Well, if that opportunity does arise, do you think that the change in format will have any real impact on the way you’re telling your stories? For example, since you’d no longer have to worry about doing things that fit within the smaller page counts of the typical comic, might you begin to stretch out a bit and let the rhythms of the stories themselves dictate their lengths, and where any chapter or other breaks might occur?

CW: Interestingly, I’ll still keep the same format. The format is what makes the stories, for me, because it’s about serialized installments. And I tell the installments out of order.

So I’ve always done maybe five to seven page stories, broken up into a few one or two page sequences of adventure. And then the next story has no seeming relation to the first, except maybe a little bleed over
with a character or situation. And as you read five or ten of these stories, little pieces come out, and you begin to see more of the individual stories and characters, or how they connect with other stories.

I (ostentatiously) liken it to William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, where he wrote the novel, then cut it into a bunch of paragraphs or pages, threw them in the air, and published the book in the order he randomly picked them off the floor. I think Doris’s adventures will have a structural feel sort of like that. But you have to read more and more
to really see the intricate depth.

It sounds funny making a pretentious comparison like this because, of course, the stories really are humorous and nonsensical. But again, these pseudo-intellectual subtleties have really fueled me, and driven me to continue creating more adventures.

BB: How about your general approach to creating the tales? Do you still write a script first, and then draw it straight through, or have you begun to experiment with other approaches?

CW: Well, the original idea was to produce a feeling that the series has been running for decades. And so I’d shove in as many wacky, awkwardly impractical events as I could, but in a “this all happened in this previous issue” (that doesn’t exist). And then I’d footnote the issue number where these events allegedly happened.

So now, my creation process is to read stories I’ve already written, and it will just naturally spark questions for me. Here’s an example:

I started a previously published story with the Monster Liberation Army announcing that they realize there’s a traitor amongst them, disguised but actually codenamed “Chokey,” a master of strangling people with his bare hands. And now Doris is in Danger, because she’s on a mission with him right now! And then the story moves onto another
subject.

So re-reading that, I realized I needed to go back to that story and reveal which MLA member is Chokey, what mission he’s on right now with Doris, and how he tricked the MLA into letting him join...and will Doris find out he’s a traitor, or will he strangle her? Will the MLA find her in time? All of a sudden, I have maybe a dozen sequences that
need to be told, all of which were sparked from the brief mention I made in passing in that older tale.

So the stories kind of write themselves like that. I just mull them over, for weeks or months or years, and I figure them out over time. I jot lots of little notes down, or even just gags or one-liners, on scraps of paper, and then type them into a Word file by subject. When it’s time to plot out a story, I go through my notes and decide which subjects haven’t been mentioned for a while, or what could use some further attention. Or what I’ve come up with that makes me laugh on a second reading.

I’ll usually completely script a one or two page sequence, and then completely draw it. But if I come up with funnier jokes while I’m lettering or drawing, I’ll slip those in as well. Sometimes, while I’m scripting a page sequence, for example, it will suddenly become a two-page sequence. It’s a pretty fluid, wide-open format, which allows
for a lot of spontaneous silliness. And with a 96-page allotment, I’ve got a whole lot of wiggle-room now.

BB: One of the other aspects of format you’ve experimented with is the size of the page, going from standard comic book size to a considerably larger package. What lead to your use of that bigger canvas, what were some of the specific goals or effects you hoped to accomplish with that move, and will you be returning to it with this new volume, or any succeeding books?

CW: When I first published the Doris Danger stories in the anthology, they were comic-book-sized. When I decided to collect those stories into a trade, it seemed obvious to me that a giant monster book had to be a giant-sized, tabloid format. I loved the old Marvel and DC Treasuries from the 1970’s. My first comics were Star Wars and Justice
League treasuries. They were my entry into comics, at maybe age five.

I liked the idea of adults holding these giant books, and feeling smaller proportionately, since the books were bigger...and that maybe they’d feel a bit like a kid again. And, come on! GIANT MONSTERS deserve a GIANT FORMAT. I made two of these treasuries, a 56-pager and a 64-pager. The 96-page SLG book basically collects these, but as you can see from the numbers, I had to pull some stuff out.

The SLG book is yet another format experiment. Dan Vado thought it would make a nice book as a digest-size, so we’re going the opposite way, down to the teensy-weensy-sized 5” x 7.5”. And actually, I think it will be great this way too. My other (5-year old?) childhood entrance into comics was a pocket-book of Lee-Ditko Spider-Mans, including the first appearance of the Green Goblin.

I think it will be interesting to have a precious little tiny book, full of Kirby-style monsters. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

BB: Another major change this time out is that Doris Danger is being published by Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics. How’d that change of imprint come about, what lead to your moving in that direction, and what do you hope comes of it?

CW: Despite self-publishing about a dozen comics, I did not do well financially as a self-publisher. I felt I couldn’t afford to keep going this route, and I’ve been looking for a publisher for some time.

I’d been bugging Dan at SLG (Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics) for over a year, and he finally said if we did a digest-sized trade he’d be interested in the project.

I had done about half the art for Sam Kieth’s Ojo (published by Oni Press), but this is my first personal, self-created project that a publisher has been kind enough to take on.

I think SLG will be a good fit for the character. My hope is that the book will reach a larger audience, enough so that I can continue the series for three or four graphic novels.

BB: What about Salt Peter Press? Does this mean that you’ll likely never self publish again, or will you reserve that option for possible future use, when the right time and project comes up?

CW: At this time, I don’t plan to self-publish any more, but who can say? Because I’m really not interested in doing work for hire. I have a lot of my own projects that I’d like to do, and if I decide I want to do one, but can’t find a publisher, then what?

BB: Well, another fairly major change you’ve gone through over the past few years happened behind the scenes—you’re now a father. What kind of impact, if any, has having a couple children in your life had on your artistic life? For instance, have you had to make any significant changes to your working hours since their arrival in your lives? And how about the nature of the stories you tell? Have you noticed any shift in tone or perhaps presentation of certain events in your work?

CW: I haven’t noticed much change in tone, although now that my oldest son is three and we read a lot of comics together, it has crossed my mind. It happens Doris is a fairly all-ages character, especially compared to other projects I’ve done.

I’ve always tended to get the most work done in the mornings, when my wife is at work, and that’s still the case, even with two kids. I definitely am unable to produce as much work as I used to.

My wife goes to work early, and the boys are up early. So that means I’m up early. So, even though it would be a very quiet, easy time to get work done when everyone is asleep, I generally don’t do the night owl thing. Besides, I prefer to be awake when the family is awake, and get some time in with them.

I guess the big change is that it’s hard to get in a rhythm, because I’ll start inking, and then I’ll need to go tend to something. When I come back, the brush is crusted with ink, so I need to wash it out and start over again. I get a couple lines down, and then it’s up again to take care of something else.

BB: Remind me, are you currently working as a full time artist, doing all sorts of graphic design and such as a day job, or am I mistaken in that?

CW: Actually, my day job is as a guitar instructor at the local music shop.

BB: Of course. Well, what effect, if any, does that day job have upon your comics work? Do those two, seemingly unrelated, endeavors feed into each other, or do you sometimes feel a bit drained by working as
an instructor?

CW: I teach private lessons. So switching between music and art does change it up a bit, and I would say it keeps me extraordinarily amped to get to the drawing table. I always feel like I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in. I never feel drained about making comics, although I need to get up and walk around or answer some
emails after drawing all day.

Interestingly, I find when I come home from the guitar lessons, I’m not usually in the mood to practice or write music. But that just makes me more excited to get drawing.

The guitar lessons make me a decent living, though, and it’s non-stressful work. One-on-one private lessons, usually with people that want to learn. I’m my own boss. I choose my hours. I get paid in advance. And I can make enough income in a part-time week to spend a fair amount of time making comics.

I actually have no interest in doing commercial art or graphic design. I’m perfectly happy in the arrangement I’m in, with a day-job I enjoy, in a separate “art.” If the comics were to pay the bills better, I’d be happy to shift time allotments between the two jobs, but that’s out of my control.

BB: I know you’ve said that you’re not really interested in it, but I have to wonder if there any company owned characters or titles that your inner fanboy would like to write and/or draw someday?

CW: Yeah, there are a ton. I think it would be fun to play in the big kid’s “Super-pool.” I would love to do just about any Kirby character for a big company, but in a Kirby style. I’d love doing a Hellboy story in a Kirby style. I’d love doing Spider-Man stories in a Ditko style.

I would love doing Ant Man or Atom, with a lot of “giant” bugs. I’d love doing Sub-Mariner or Aquaman, with a bunch of sea monsters. I’d enjoy doing film noir stories for Batman or Daredevil.

I have a character named Dr. DeBunko, and I think it’d be pretty smooth to transition this into Dr. 13 stories.

But, even with any of this stuff, I would want to do my own stories. I don’t think I’d be interested in just being work-for-hire for a big company.

BB: Well, what’s next for Doris and company? Do you have her next adventures planned out yet, or might you be moving on to some new territory?

CW: New territory? Yes and no. I began writing Doris Danger stories in 2002. I’ve been brainstorming her adventures ever since. I’ve got hundreds of pages of notes on adventures for her to go on, and most of them are just filling in the blanks at this point. With the impending release of the book, her adventures are really prevalent in my mind,
and I’ve been finding myself jotting pages of plotlines each day. Of course, sometimes when you try to fill one space, it just creates a new one on either side of it. And sometimes the solutions I come up with surprise me. It’s all just a matter of which holes to fill in first.

BB: Anything else you’d like to share with us before I let you get back to work?

CW: The book is in Previews now, Diamond Previews code: SEP090572, and the ISBN-13 is 9781593621803.

It’s also available at Amazon here.

If you care to pick up the certain-to-be-collector’s back-issue “first appearances” of Doris, in Tabloia Weekly Magazine and other Doris Danger books, you can go to my official website, http://www.tabloia.com/. There are a lot of fun bonus features there as well, including sneak peeks, photos, and a gallery of giant monster
fan art.

Thanks for a nice interview, Bill!

BB: It was a pleasure, Chris!


Hey, what are you waiting for? Give your local comic shop a call to let your retailer know that you want the new Doris Danger digest when it’s released this November. No local comic shop? No worries. Just step on over to http://www.slgcomic.com, Slave Labor Graphic’s home on the web, or hit that Amazon link above and preorder your copy now.

Can’t wait that long? Well, you can always head on over to www.Tabloia.com and get yourself some of Chris Wisnia’s patented giant monster action, adventure and absurdity right now!

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