Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interview w/ Comic Illustrator and Writer Legend: Jim Valentino

Guardians of the Galaxy Pen, Paper and So Much More!
Interview with the Legendary Jim Valentino

By: Song River

I find that extremely exciting and look forward to seeing what the generation who is currently growing up with this new medium does with it. How it informs their storytelling and artistic vision.”- Jim Valentino

Song River: Storytelling has been the life blood that connects the human race. The comic book industry has breathed longer than modern technological feats of radio, T.V. and the world-wide web. Illustrations that tell a story have been around since humankind first picked up a 'pencil' and scribbled imagery to express a thoughts on cave walls.

Jim As a child, were you a collector/reader of comic books? Did you know this was the avenue of expression you wanted to take as an adult ?  

Jim: Yes, to both. I started drawing when I was about 2. My father, who read comics in WWII saw that I drew in a very cartoony style right from the first, so he started buying me comic books. They were like a religious experience for me. I never wanted anything else, but to make comics.

Song: You stated the a couple works you have created touch as possible auto biographical relays in nature, what are those two, and why did you decide they needed to be put in comic book format?

Jim: Well, I started doing small press, underground comix--inspired by the works of Robert Crumb, Vaughn Bode, Justin Green and others. You have to understand that I was born in 1952--this means I was ten years old during the height of the Silver Age in 1962, as DC was in a renaissance and Marvel was just beginning. I was 20 as underground comix were starting in 1972, so both came at a pivotal juncture in my life and both influenced my sensibilities. A large part of undergrounds were auto biographical in nature, certainly a lot of the works that I admired--Schizophrenia by Bode, Binky Brown by Green, pretty much everything by Crumb. I told a lot of my "war stories"--crazy things I'd done or happened to me, verbally for many years at parties and such, so when I got to a point where I was making comix these were the stories I told.

Song: How hard was it to tell some of these tales?

Jim: Some more than others. The funny ones or the ones where I was making fun of myself were easy. Some of the more personal, more confessional one, very difficult. The thing is I felt that if you really want to reach people you have to give them more than the superficial, immature fare of most comics and delve into the shared experience, that which makes us fallible humans. It's the stories that are the most difficult to tell that carry the most weight and, thus have the most meaning.

Song: Were there any repercussions from those who may have been shadowed as telling of their part in your life in the medium you choose?

Jim: No, none. To be fair very few people I've known in my life know that I actually went on to create comics. I take this as either a reflection of the invisibility of comics in our society or the fact that people either didn't remember me or didn't care enough to see what happened. I always figured I'd be pretty easy to look up if someone wanted to. Either way it's kind of a drag, but there ya go.

Song: Researching all that you have been involved in and with since the early '70's, Jim is there anything in the industry you haven't touched?

Jim: Um, geez...printing! I've never actually run a printing press! I've done everything else--retail, distribution, writing, drawing, editing, publishing, stapling, mentoring--I think that printing is all that's left that I haven't done.

Song: What comics have you been involved in creating from all points have been your favorites, and why? Which have been your least favorites?

Jim: I don't want to go into least favorites--every book is someone's favorite and god knows I've done a bunch. Favorites would have to include normalman (always lower case, do not correct!), Guardians of the Galaxy, Valentino (hate the title), I enjoyed doing the Sonic the Hedgehog books I did in the mid-late '90s, they were fun. I think the best work I did was A Touch of Silver, though. It was very difficult to write and I experimented a lot with my artistic approach, changing styles to accommodate the emotional context of each issue. I would have to cite that as my favorite work, the one I'm most proud of.

When I was a kid comics were ubiquitous they were in every super-market, every train station and Rx (drug store).”- Jim Valentino

Song: Name off for us some of the companies you've either worked with, or co-founded.

Jim: Image is the only company I've ever co-founded. I founded Shadowline, Inc. and have worked for nearly all publishers, except DC in any significant amount--but, then Paul Levitz didn't think I was "accomplished" (his word) enough, I guess his editor's thought likewise. Company's I've done work for include First Comics, Aardvark-Vanaheim, Last Gasp, Kitchen Sink, Warp Graphics, Malibu, Slave Labor and a bunch more I'm probably forgetting and, oh yeah, a little outfit called Marvel.

Song: Why in your opinion have comics become an intrinsic part of society?

Jim: Oh, I don't think they have at all. I think the movies and the television shows that have been based on comics have become an intrinsic part of a certain segment of society that enjoys action and fantasy films but I doubt that most people are aware that comics are still being made or care. The proof is born out by the discrepancies in numbers. A great selling comic can barely reach 6 digits--that's a MONSTER. If a movie reaches into the low 9 digits it's a failure. We want to think these things have risen our industry and our profile, but the numbers don't lie and they tell us that just ain't so. Ours is a much smaller and much more modest scale. Comic book stores are a destination point, a consumer has to be aware of their existence, most people are not. That's just a fact (ask any citizen with no connection to comics). It is also a fact that many entire states, let alone cities, do not have a comic book specialty store. When I was a kid comics were ubiquitous they were in every super-market, every train station and Rx (drug store), that is no longer the case.
Song: Do you feel comics bridge all barriers? Economically, socially, religiously, gender?  

Jim: They can, yes, as evidenced by the attendees of any convention these days. But, we should be mindful that this is a fairly new phenomena brought about mostly by comic based movies and television shows and the rise in popularity of Manga and Anime. Traditionally, comics (and, especially, super-hero comics, which dominated the medium for decades) have appealed to middle class white males, which is why that demographic is so prevalent on the creative side. It is the reason there are so many white male creators. Thankfully, that's changing and we've been seeing more diverse creators coming into the field--from women, to gays to persons from every background conceivable.

Song: How do you feel about the direction of modern conventions?

Jim: Conventions have split into separate entities--there are the cos-players, the "media" autograph seekers and the comics people, they're the main segments (gamers, movie goers, et. al. are a much smaller presence).

While this is great for the promoter of the shows, it's not so great for publishers, retailers and most creators as these different segments rarely cross and the percentages are shrinking on the comics side. 

So, for me, for example, it is no longer cost effective to attend comic-cons. Travel, lodging, meals, time away from work. Every appearance, even those I was being comped for, were losing me money. More, they just weren't fun anymore. I'm not the only pro to feel this way, there is an ever growing contingent of us. So is it it good, bad or indifferent? I would suggest that all depends on who you are, what you do and what you need from a convention.

Song: Has the advent of web-comics changed the comic strip and/or comic book in hard-copy?

Jim: Not that I'm aware of, no. That said, the availability of comics on the web has actually increased sales of hard copies! My sense is that it's easier to sample a comic that you may have heard of digitally, it's far less expensive and requires less effort. Readers are finding their way to series they may have otherwise passed up and that's increasing hard copy sales across the board.

Song: How has film/movies affected the comic industry?

Jim: Not as much as everyone wants to believe. The simple fact of the matter, as I believe I stated earlier, is that most people are unaware that comics are being made, have no interest in hunting them down and, worse, have no idea where to find them if they actually did want to read one! No one wants to hear this, of course, but there it is.

Song: We are seeing many crossovers in the arts, even now we see the union of comic illustrators working with the music industry. How do you feel about multiple creative genres colliding in manifesting themselves into a market?

Jim: I think it's great. There are a lot of actors, musicians, even politicians that are or were comic book fans. More of them (actors and such) are intrigued by the movies than the comics, think I--after all, the movies pay big bucks, comics not so much. Cross pollination between creative individuals is always a good thing. Artists have been influenced and inspired by music all along, it's nice to see the other arts inspired by comics.

Song: As I understand it, illustrating and storyline seem to go together automatically for you. We have books, great books written without illustrations, what is about the joining of pictures with words that is so appealing to so many people?

Jim: That I really cannot answer. Comics are a dual hemisphere experience, so the people who "get it" are those who use both the right and left side of their brain simultaneously. A lot of people don't, so they find the comic page difficult to follow. Most folks I know who read comics also read prose books and enjoy paintings and illustration. The combination of the two is magical for some, myself included.

Song: Do we need heroes? Do you find the need for heroes in comics to be a western civilization mantra only?

Jim: Heroes are cross cultural and as old as time. Start with Gilgamesh and work your way up through the ages. Every culture has them, they always have. I'm not qualified to answer why that is--perhaps they speak to a higher ideal, what we could be as opposed to what we are. Perhaps they're a metaphor, although I'm uncertain for what. Or, as some pundits would have us believe, perhaps they're only misplaced juvenile power fantasies born of sexual impotence. Your guess is as good as mine.

Song: To the illustrator- what is their most important tool?

Jim: Their imagination. Also their eyes. As far as drawing or painting goes, there are many, many tools that perform different functions and give an artist different effects, so there's no one specific tool, other than what one brings to the board.

Song: To the writer of comics- what is their most important tool?

Jim: Pretty much the same thing, their imagination first and foremost. Their ability to listen to the cadence of conversation, to plot and pace, to find the unique turn of the phrase that is simultaneously unique and familiar.

Song: How do you as both illustrator and writer hone your skills?

Jim: There's an old joke about Carnegie Hall in here--really, there is only one way to hone your skills and that's practice. As my old friend Harlan Ellison says "A writer writes"
and, we'd have to add, "an artist draws" there's no other way around it, no magic word or secret handshake. As Robert Crumb said, "It's mostly hard work."

Song: Obviously comics go through a metamorphosis so to speak, made evident recently in Guardians of the Galaxy. Would you go through its history time line briefly, and please elaborate at the time where you came in to its creation.

Jim: The Guardians were created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan who did them as a one-off in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. They were abandoned for seven years until the late, great Steve Gerber resurrected them in Marvel Two-In-One #5, featured them in the Defenders, which he was writing at the time and ultimately got them their first short lived series in Marvel Presents. Their last appearance was, fittingly in Marvel Two-In-One in 1980. A decade later I wrote and drew them in their first title book, Guardians of the Galaxy. I only followed them sporadically after I left the series, so I can't really speak to any changes they may or may not have gone through--and I haven't seen the movie.

Song: Has there ever been a comic you wished you never created? If so, why?

Jim: Created? Oh, no. I like some more than others I'll admit, but no regrets. In fact I have no regrets for my entire professional career, I've made mistakes and done things I wish I hadn't, but hopefully I've learned and grown from those experiences. At least I believe I have. I think it's far healthier to own your mistakes and take whatever lessons you can from them so you don't repeat them. After all, there are so many more yet to make!

Song: Is this a good time in history for this industry? Is it unique unto itself?

Jim: It's a good time for the industry, yes. It's a good time for creators in the industry. Creators have more options and more venues than ever in the history of the medium. This includes web comics as well as printed matter. There is a wide diversity of story and art, genre and non-genre for all ages and demographics. Creators do not have only two clients to choose from anymore, but a plethora of publishers and publishing options (again, including the web). Is it unique? Well, yes and no. There is nothing unique about a lot of publishers vying for shelf space and attention, but the advent of digital has made it unique in the fact that for the first time since comics were created there is a viable in medium for them. I find that extremely exciting and look forward to seeing what the generation who is currently growing up with this new medium does with it. How it informs their storytelling and artistic vision.

Song: The comic book world knows Jim Valentino, but if we were to ask you family and close friends who you are... what do you think they'd say?
Jim: Oh, you'd have to ask them--and whatever they say, don't tell me! I don't want to know! I guess it would all depend on who you ask, wouldn't it? My kids seem to think I'm not too horribly bad and I get along with several old girlfriends and my ex-wife. That's a question no one should answer!

Song: What project, or projects are you currently working on, or would like to work on?

Jim: Let's see, we're finishing up Five Weapons, which is sad, but Jimmie Robinson is already forming ideas and sketches for his next project, which he won't tell me about, but looks awesome, so that's good! DrumHellar is also coming to a close, but I understand that Joshua Williamson and Riley Rossmo are planning a new book together for 2015, so that's great! We're rolling along with Rat Queens, Peter Panzerfaust and The Superannuated Man and we're starting Mike Oeming and Taki Soma's new project, Sinergy (sex as a supernatural resource!). There are always new projects being tossed about--so it's a matter of squeezing things in. I'll only do five books a month maximum because to do more would stretch me too thin and I try to give everyone in Shadowline all the help the need. I'm always very excited to see new projects come to fruition and even more to see them take off. I've got the coolest job on the planet!

Song: Lastly, just this past August 2014, Wake Up and Draw took place and it is tied in with Hero Imitative, What is your part in this project?
Jim: The Hero Initiative was founded by Jim McLaughlin who asked me to be on the initial Board of Directors, an invitation I could not decline. Currently I'm on the disbursement committee with Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, George Perez, Denny O'Neill and several other individuals of that stature. Our job is to vote on who gets the money--and there has been a lot given out to a lot of very worthy recipients. For those who don't know, the Hero Initiative raises funds to help indigent cartoonists out of financial jams. I'm extremely proud to serve on this worthy cause with people I admire and respect enormously. For more information about what we do and why we do it and to see how you can help, please go to it's better than pouring ice water over your head!

Social Media:

Thank you to Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con for having Jim Valentino as a guest.

Find Amazing Comic Cons Here:

Arizona: Amazing Arizona Comic Con
Las Vegas:Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con
Houston: Amazing Houston Comic Con
Oklahoma: Link Coming Soon
Hawaii: Link Coming Soon

Twitter:Amazing Comic Con Twitter

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dancing With Myself- Billy Idol and Kings and Queens of the Underground CD Review

By: Song River

Time waits for no one and it won't for even a sneering punk, one who has lived between the light and dark, as Billy Idol shares in his book, Dancing With Myself, and delivers in his voice on his latest album Kings and Queens of the Underground. The iconic MTV deviant and cross bearing boy of the '80's perhaps has been one of the most underrated black leather/bleach bombed talents of this era. You see if you grew up during this time, the time of wicked decadence, video dalliances, thrusting measures of blurred promiscuity cut on lines of coke and needles of pain relief, then perhaps you might relate to where Billy was, is, and has become.

In both instances, Billy Idol's biography, and his long awaited (over 9 years) album all tell a completely cut measure of time. Longstanding fans of Billy will get the book, and the album... self-absorbed bastards probably will shrug and be too young to get any of it. Their loss.

I grew up with Billy, not literally, even though I had brief encounters in crossing his whiplash smile during his earlier years, from Gen X to his taking of the name Billy Idol. Whether it was a local rag running his latest canceling of a concert due to being 'ill,' or his interview in great detail spread out in Rolling Stone January 1985 (the first time my young eyes ever read about 'fisting' and I had to look up what the heck it was) like the rest of the music world I was bleaching my hair, wearing leather, and practicing my sneer.

Why a biography, and why now? Who cares, but I find as many reach their older years they find themselves reflecting back, and giving birth to the tales of their world in a profession, or in the case of Billy what reads more like a confession, as way of making peace within. Many reviews will be, and have been written giving sordid details of all the 'funk'n' that was taking place, and how various artists wrapped their arms in tubes, slept with the dogs and gnawed one too many bones, but as I sat down one afternoon and read his biography, Dancing With Myself, all of the articles and interviews spun about him came back to mind, and I decided then what I was going to take away from this book.

What I found to be the most telling bits of Dancing With Myself wasn't Billy's sexcapades, but rather his love of reading certain books, and his emotional endearments he spoke of. His heart certainly belongs to his parents (Billy's father had recently passed), his family, and his children. Quite often we only see the visual side of a persona projected on stage, and don't realize that this being we 'idolize' actually has depth. That I do suppose is one of the greatest things about being able to write your own account, and not end up dead and having a bad film or book take “eye witness” accounts to piece something to sell the masses... no Dancing With Myself is Billy in his own words, and worthwhile on many levels to read and own.

As for his long awaiting album release, Kings and Queens of the Underground,

 I must admit at first I was bending myself backwards coming in with preconceived notions of earlier raucous Idol along with searing riffs of Stevens strings... so I had to listen to it a few times until I realized this album in many ways is Billy's book in lyrical format. Of course not as detailed in debauchery, but a glimpse into Billy's soul, and friendship even with Steve Stevens. Hey, we all have ghosts, we all have skeletons in our closets... it comes down to this for William Broad … as it does for all of us... who gives a shit, it's only rock n roll... and damn baby we are still playing it. It's Billy Idol, dark lyrics, happy songs, and a little sappy reminiscing.

And I am still dancing with myself...

Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol Published by Simon and Schuster

Kings and Queens of the Underground Produced by Trevor Horn

Billy Idol Website:



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Americana Rocks Festival 2014

Americana music has come to be an all inclusive tag for a wide range of indie types of music.  Including, but never limited to what one may think; whether we are listing folk, bluegrass, cowpunk, rockabilly, country rock, etc... it pretty much enlightens the spirit of independent music that can be played and heard on any front porch, bar, pub, or saloon stateside.

Carol Pacey, of Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, has taken it upon herself to reach out and create Americana Festivals here in the Phoenix, Arizona area.  Never be it far from her to create a wide cross section of independent bands for a night of beer sweetened music, she also stretches her fingers to include working with local and national charities to make her festivals a win-win for all corners of the Americana flag.

The final Americana festival just wrapped itself up recently, and Carol took a few moments to talk with me about this second annual event.

This is your second annual festival?

Carol:  YEAH!!!!!

What possessed you to start this? 

Carol: I love putting together full shows with bands that know each other and who are good to each other, or maybe as a chance to introduce new bands to each other.  The first fest we did in February of this year was excellent with ten bands and it was quite a hit with the fans so I thought we should do it again!

How do you go about choosing your bands? 

Carol: The first fest was a ‘thank you’ to a lot of the Americana bands that invited us to play shows over the previous year or so.  We were still quite a new band at the time, so the fact that they took a chance on us and put us on their bills was awesome and definitely worth the ‘thank you!’  

This second fest was similar even though as a band, we've been getting around this year...  I love the fan overlap as most hang out to see several bands and not just their favorites; the fans seem to give us all a chance!

Why this time of year? 

Carol: I wanted to organize this show as a charity event and this time of year is the best time for those to happen.

As you stated, you put a charity with  this festival, because of the time of year.  However, last year you didn't, why this year did you chose to?

Carol:  I felt badly that I didn't think to include a charity in the first event this year.  I had already asked the bands THEN I thought to make it a charity event, but I didn't want to go back and re-ask the bands.  That didn't feel right.  This time I knew what I wanted from the get-go as it just seems to me that if you’re bringing all of this talent together along with their fans in a great venue that a lot of good can come from it!

What does Americana and rock n roll mean to you?

Carol:  It’s music that rocks!  There could be upright basses, fiddles and banjos because they all rock too, but more so, I think of it with blazing guitars, big drums and fat basses! (laughs) 

*and of course all I could hear when she said this was... "I am all about that bass, about that bass..."

How did you connect with the Yucca Tap Room to do this?

 Carol: I contacted the Yucca Tap Room’s general manager, Ben Talty, back in July of this year for a date; the Yucca is always busy and always rockin’ so I didn’t want to miss out!  

They have a lot of great patrons who are a lot of fun and I tried this time to appease their early-in-the-day patrons with more country/rockabilly/blues music, but I still heard that I needed ‘more country/western’ bands, which has been duly noted!  

Truth, we would have had some actually as three bands were asked in those genres, but they could not make it.  Next time!

Are you planning next year already or thinking of ideas- share? 

Carol: Always and when I can!  ;o)

For more information about the next Americana Festival and to follow Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers:


Band Line UP: 

©CowGirlZen Photography 

The Delta Fifths 

Mills End

Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers 

Mr Eastwood

Truckers on Speed

Mister Lucky

The Hardways

Thank you again to Carol Pacey for her hard work in putting together this annual event to showcase some good ol rock n roll, and have it all benefit others.
Thank you's to the United Food Bank of Arizona, Bikers Against Child Abuse, and the Yucca Tap Room.

Thank you Child-Like Minded Productions for the video:

Photography by: CowGirlZen Photography