Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing Michael L. Peter for his book, Crescent City Magick (http://www.comicbooked.com/crescent-city-magick-occult-comic-fun-michael-l-peters/), an amazing occult urban fantasy comic set in New Orleans.
Mr. Peters was also kind enough to let me interview him for Comic Booked. I sent him some questions, and his answers will be sure to entertain you, and teach you more about this unique, skilled creator.
Brian Barr: Your art is very detailed and professional. You’re also a great writer and storyteller. When you started in comics, did you start both as a writer and an artist, or did your comic book career start strictly with art?
Michael L. Peters: Even my early work, where I was intended to be “just the artist”, I got to write a little bit, partly because my collaborator knew I was into characterization and wanted to write. In my first full length comic drawn (“Unbound“ issue #1, published by Image in 1998 as part of their short-lived b&w “non-line“ of indie-style books) the writer (Joe Pruett) asked me to stretch the script by two pages to meet the publisher’s page-count – – I did a combination of pacing it a bit slower and inserting a mini-scene that I thought complimented what Joe had written. The second issue (which never saw print, due to poor sales of Image’s b&w books) I drew from Joe’s relatively loose plot and did the whole script in margin notes, intended to be polished up by Joe, where needed. The third issue on, we were going to co-write and I’d come up with a new character to throw into the story. I had a lot of fun working on that book(when I wasn‘t panicking a bit with the concerns of keeping the quality up for several issues – – still new for me, then), until the book’s demise. Working on that with Joe is still my best collaboration experience in comics so far – – a lot of creative freedom, but with the net of a good writer/editor (Joe). Maybe that spoiled me.
BB: Do you also write short stories and novels, or do you stick strictly with comic book writing?
MLP: I’ve written short stories, but nothing that saw print. Comics are really a perfect medium for me – – I get to come up with stories and characters and can write with pictures along with the words.
BB: In your afterword for Crescent City Magick, you discuss how a brief stay in New Orleans inspired you to write the graphic novel. You also talk about having to do a lot of research into witchcraft and magic for the book. Did you have any interest in occult fiction before your stay in New Orleans, and if so, what else inspired you to write such a magical tale?
MLP: I’ve always been interested in mythology, folklore, spirituality, ghost stories (supposedly real and fictional). My mom used to read a lot of books on topics like reincarnation, hauntings, UFOs, Atlantis, etc. I remember as a very small child really loving that old show Leonard Nimoy hosted, “In Search Of…” – – that was all part of the late ‘70s/early ’80s zeitgeist when I was a kid. I remember in first grade finding out the Thor in Marvel Comics was inspired by a god in Norse mythology… and at the time, the comics were exploring the actual mythology in an almost meta way, with the Death of Balder/Ragnarok storyline. Later, as a teen/young adult, I discovered the writing of authors like Charles de Lint and Emma Bull around the same time I was getting into Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman… I also have an obsession with Arthurian lore and trying to piece it together with the actual history… someday, maybe I’ll do an Arthurian project, but I’m not sure I can do a comics project like that without a supportive publisher.
BB: Julia, the Celtic New Orleans witch of Crescent City Magick, is an interesting protagonist. Clayton as well. Was anyone an inspiration for those characters?
MLP: Yeah, but no one person was an inspiration for Julia… I’m drawn to those free-spirit, sort of hippie-ish, “alternative” or goth women… she’s a mix of real women and some wild extrapolation/imagining from there…
Clayton is kind of the normal person forced to deal with what to him seems very abnormal circumstances. He’s almost a standard protagonist/hero/fish-out-of-water/observer type…but there’s more to him than that, since he comes with a lot of baggage, too… but it‘s baggage he doesn‘t know how to deal with, so he‘s in over his head from the start.
There’s some of me in him… especially when, even though he’s not really an idiot, he sometimes comes off as one to sharp tongued, acerbic characters like Bev… He can be a bit stiff, stoic and pendactic… needing things to be spelled out for him – – all of which might be a regional, snowy Mid-West thing. I’m from Michigan and he could be from Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota… haven’t pinned that down yet, but he’s got that Mid-West vibe – – the Northerner in the Deep South, which is how I felt when I briefly lived in New Orleans – – like Conan, come down from the hills of Cimmeria to Shadizar… LOL
BB: Who are your favorite writers and artists?
MLP: Barry Windsor-Smith has to top the list — he’s still a huge inspiration and so many other favorite artists I discovered because Barry mentioned them in an interview or something… like Alphonse Mucha, the English Pre-Raphaelites (Millias, Hunt, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Waterhouse…), the Symbolists, etc. Bernie Wrightson, Michael WM. Kaluta, and Jeff Jones are other favorites – – these are the “Barry, Bernie, Jeff and Mike” that appear on the dedication page (after the dedication to my mother). Others include Frank Frazetta, Charles Vess, Arthur Rackham, Franklin Booth, Alan Lee, Jack Kirby, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, Dave Stevens, Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, JH Williams III, a huge number of others… Once I like an artist’s work, I trace back the artists they like and it builds and builds…
Writers: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, Elizabeth Hand, Joe Hill, Jim Butcher, Lev Grossman, JK Rowling, Phillip Pullman, Nina Kiriki-Hoffman, Emma Bull, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, William Shakespeare…
There are so many writers and artists I like that I could start listing them and never end.
BB: Have you written any other works, or done art for any other projects you’d like people to check out along with Crescent City Magick?
MLP: I have a bunch of fantasy art prints available from my website (mlpeters.com).
There’s some stuff for Heavy Metal and Negative Burn that I’m very proud of – – those short comics stories can be found archived on my website.
I’m also proud of a lot of the art work I did for a magazine about Robert E. Howard – – “REH:Two-gun Raconteur” – – most of that’s available to see on my website, too.
I’ve also drawn a lot of portraits for a local university – – there’s a whole wall there that’s a line pen & ink portraits I was hired to draw of their former presidents – – that’s pretty cool.
BB: Currently, you’re working on the second book for Crescent City Magick. Do you have a set idea of how many books this series will consist of, or are you not sure at the moment?
MLP: I’m not entirely sure… depends on a lot of factors outside my control, like whether the project picks up enough readers to justify keeping on… I hope it does, but realistically, I have to make a living. I love Crescent City Magick as a project and there’s honestly nothing I’m itching to get to and would want to put it aside for… but it does have a firm end point, even if some of the middle is loosely mapped. If I get to do it, I think it could be four of five graphic novels… maybe more. If I get to complete it, it will be a nice chunk of story and art, but not Cerebus or Sandman sized.
BB: It’s inspirational to see a comic book creator who writes and draws his own work. Other than Amazon’s CreateSpace distributing and assembling your book for print, it doesn’t look like you have a team doing the actual art and story of the book besides you. I’m sure that’s a lot of work. What words of encouragement would you give for other creators who may be working alone on comic book ventures?
MLP: Well, I think of the story and art as one thing. I’m making this thing called Crescent City Magick and yeah, it’s just me playing as a one-man-band. I don’t really have advice to give, except “Abandon hope all ye who venture here” – – just kidding… sort of. I guess just write and draw (if making a graphic novel) something you want to read, but which doesn’t yet exist. As for publishing… if your dream book doesn’t happen to be any friendly publisher’s dream book to publish, sometimes you have to do it yourself – – “Necessity is the mother of invention“, “Needs must, when the Devil drives” and all that, y’know? …Or like that Nike ad of the ‘90s, “Just do it”.
BB: From your resume, along with this work that is all your own, you’ve worked for well-known professional comic book companies in the industry. Has it been hard for you to balance your own projects with professional gigs?
MLP: No. My work for well-known companies has been few and far between. I know some editors and they like my work, but don’t seem to know what to do with me. I don’t fit neatly into any trends, I guess, and I’m not famous enough to be my own trend (an understatement) – – hard to market. Aside from my self-generated comics work (and the stuff for Heavy Metal is really in that category, too, since they do everything except reprint publishing “on spec”), I do the odd illustration job and commissions. I haven’t exactly spent a lot of time chasing work for the big publishers, either to be honest. I like doing my own thing… though my bank account doesn’t thank me for that.
BB: Is there a significant difference in creative freedom when it comes to working for others, or have most of your professional gigs given you the license to do your own thing, even as a hired artist?
MLP: It varies. I’ve been lucky to work with some writers, publishers and clients who have given me plenty of space to be creative, as long as it fit’s the job. Other things, like the portraits, the creativity is limited to fancy rendering techniques… but there’s value in that, keeping those skills sharp.
…But there’s nothing like doing a project that you can call the shots from the ground up, be it a graphic novel, or art print.
BB: I’ve seen your work compared, as a compliment, to Sandman, and assumed you were a Gaiman fan like me. Very cool to see that you are! Seeing Alan Moore as one of your favorite writers makes sense, too, great writer. What is your favorite comic book series, and do you have a favorite comic book character?
MLP: I’m a huge fan of Neil’s Sandman and a lot of his other stuff comics and non-comics. As well (Neverwhere, American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his short story collections…). When I was struggling to get a toe into comics, other than dreams of writing and drawing my own stuff, drawing Sandman was THE dream goal… but the same year I got my first little comics thing in print (a short story I drew for a small indie anthology…drawn mostly because I desperately wanted to be published… and because the writer let me crash on his couch for a convention), Sandman ended. Neil keeps coming back to the characters, every now and then… so… there’s still a (very, very slim) chance someday…
I’ll read just about anything Alan Moore writes, too. Swamp Thing, Watchmen and Promethea are favorites I’ve re-read more than a few times.
As for characters… I have sentimental favorites, but mostly I pick up comics because of creators on it. Still, I’d love to get the chance to draw an issue or two (or more) of Conan, or any Jack Kirby creation…
BB: Thank you for your time and allowing me to interview you. Any last words?
MLP: Life’s too short to not do your dream project just because no one in authority will give you the go-ahead. Hmmm… that would have worked well for that ’advice” question you asked earlier, but “better late than never” (and I’m not sure why I seem to be quoting so many idioms and proverbs today…)
Check out Micheael L. Peters’ art at www.mlpeters.com and don’t forget to buy a copy of Crescent City Magick on Amazon! You won’t regret it!