Diner Talk

In this first interview, I decided I’d start with someone who, like me, is just breaking in. I had met him a few times and he lived near me, so it was just that much more convenient. So we got together at the Union Plaza Diner in Union, NJ and pulled out the tape recorder for the first time to try this whole idea out.

I will say before I give you the transcript that my original intention was to give you the full interviews uncut, but there is so much dialogue that it had to be cut down a bit. I do promise you that the things you don’t get to read either don’t make sense in context (us ordering from our waitress, or one of us making a face at each other), or was cut because it just didn’t make sense period, and I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Other than that, what you are getting is the purest form of interview – just talking.

Lelan Estes who brought with him a friend of his, and the artist on CLOCKMAKER #2, Jason Baroody.

James Hatton: Why don’t we start by you stating your names.

Lelan Estes: Lelan James Estes

James: It’s a good middle name.

Lelan: Thanks.

James: And your name?

Jason Baroody: Jason Baroody

James: Do YOU have a middle name?

Jason: Yes, but let’s keep it off the record.

Lelan: His middle name is Aaron.

Jason: After Elvis.

James: Alright, Lee, why don’t you tell us what you do.

Lelan: I’m a writer. I’m getting my first project together now. I’ve worked in various different aspects of the comic industry. Small press, assistant work.

James: Assistant, why to Who?

Lelan: For a hairy monkey named Jim Kreuger, and I find myself in that up and coming category. Emphasis on the word up.

Jason: Emphasis on the word coming.

James: Ok, I’m out of questions. We’re done.

Lelan: Good, let’s get drunk.

James: So what are you working on.

Lelan: I’m working on a collection of short stories, all written by me, by different artists called Anthologica. I’m also working on a series of four mini-series with different artists.

James: Is there a theme to the anthology, like Flight?

Lelan: The only theme to the anthology is that they are all my stories. Cross genre. Whenever I found an artist I liked to draw. One guy said robots and Paris

James: Robots and Parrots?

Lelan: Robots and Paris.

Jason: Parrots is funnier.

James: Yarr, I’m robot 425.

Lelan: We’re also pitching some larger ideas, a couple of them have grown out of what the artists and I started in Anthologica.

James: What artists are on the book?

Lelan: Jason did a short. James Masters, Gabe Birdwell that did the art on the ill-fated Tron comic.

James: Is THAT what happened on that? I hadn’t heard the reason as to why. I had ordered it, I love the 88 MPH guys. Ghostbusters is really fun.

Lelan: Yeah, they do really fun stuff.

James: So how did you get hooked up with Kreuger.

Lelan: Starbucks. I was working at Starbucks. Jim and his wife Holly were customers there. Jason figured it out before I did that it was Jim Kreuger. So one day, his wife Holly came in and was asking for Jason, asking to see his artwork. So I asked if she was an editor, and she said ‘No, my husband is Jim Kreuger’. So, next time Jim was in, I made sure to —

James: Give him free coffee and lick him out.

Lelan: The lick him out part, definately. Not the free coffee.

James: No, not at Starbucks.

Lelan: For the record, free coffee. So I talked to him a couple of times as he came in. One day, he was walking out the door and I realized nothing was ever going to happen unless I go for it. So I ran up behind him and grabbed him before he went out.

James: Pushed him to the ground.

Lelan: Yeah, broke his hand. Said ‘Jim, if you ever want to work again–‘ No, I said ‘Jim, let me be your assistant. I’ll do whatever you need. I’ll do it for free. If you need your ice box defrosted, you let me know. So he gave me a ‘Hmm, well, I don’t know. Let me think about it.’ So i spent a couple of days feeling like an idiot.

James: Because you tried and failed.

Lelan: Yeah. Exactly. Thanks. So, he was doing a signing at Mile High with the whole Earth X crew, and I went as a fine. Waited on this huge ass line wrapped around the store. I got up to Jim and he said ‘Hey, Lee! Everybody put on the good signatures. By the way, I was thinking about your offer. I could definately use your help. Why don’t you come up to the apartment next week and we’ll talk about stuff.’

So not only was I excited about the opportunity, but all of the other fanboys in line just stared at me with jealousy and wonder. I was all ‘That’s right bitch fanboys.. I’M IN!’

James: With sweat pouring off their brow and pictures of 7 of 9 blanking in their minds.

Lelan: Yeah, replaced with pictures of Jim Kreuger’s head on 7 of 9’s body. ‘Jim, your rack is amazing.’ So, that’s how I got started. He had me photocopying lots of artwork and proofreading.

James: And you did all this gratis

Lelan: Yeah, but I did get to read scripts. He taught me the process on how comics are made. He shared a lot of his work habits, ideas. He works his pants off all the time.

James: [as Lee] I collected his toenails. Slowly but surely creating a Jim Kreuger voodoo doll.

Jason: When they’d go to cons, he would collect samples of his hair from pillows.

James: Like in Family Guy, where the neighbor was collecting pieces of Lois for his sex doll.

Lelan: After that, I was with him for awhile. I’d write things and give them too him. He would read them and give me suggestions and make changes. I was learning a lot from just being around it. I would go to the cons and work his table. I would watch him do his thing, it was very beneficial.

James: Now, I will say for the record, that Lee is a funny human being. You are funny. Why isn’t any of your anthology work?

Lelan: Well, that’s very dependent on the artist.

James: Friends of Lelan?

Lelan: Pretty much. I’m the only writer on there because I’m so insecure in my skills.

James: So you rule it with an iron fist. “Hi, I’m a writer.” BOOTED!

Lelan: Exactly. It’s just me and the artists, and we share artwork and comment on each other’s stuff and keep in contact that way. So, at one point in time, they were all ragging on me about how grim the stories were. They’re not really. What I find really interesting about characters of humanity. Is the ability to improve on your position when you’re going through shit. I think that you really find out what people are like when they are going through bad things. Especially when those people are flawed.

Jason: Excuse me, did you say jihad?

Lelan: Jason and I were talking about Jihad on the way here.

James: How did the topic of jihad come up?

Jason: We were talking about what to do next weekend…

James: ‘All we need is 300 Arabs, and a gun. One gun.’

Jason: [as Arabs] ‘we go to diner!’

James: Here we are live, sitting on the ashes that once was the Union Diner.

Lelan: Die capatlist pigs, I show you all!

Lelan: To have a character that starts in a state of happiness and end in a state of happiness is a bad character. I like to see people start with having conflict and watching them grow. It usually doesn’t happen watching cartoons. Not all stories are meant to end happy. Sometimes the happiness is what is going on beneath the story. Sometimes people die.

James: ‘…sometimes it’s my fault…’

Lelan: Right. Sometimes even characters that die, die well. They can die with purpose. They can die with honor. They can die for a purpose that is greater than themselves, and there is nobility in that.

James: But would you do a story that is funny?

Lelan: Oh totally. I think though, that I’m more of a fool than I am funny.

James: That’s fair.

Lelan: Asshole. Comedy is harder than drama. It’s easier in movies, but in comics you can’t have a pratfall or that same sense of timing. One of the stories I am working on is ‘Feather Heather’ that I am trying to get Danielle Corsetto.

James: I’m trying to get her to come in for one of these diner side chats with FDR.

Jason & Lee: Umm..??

James: FDR did fireside chats.. it’s an historical reference… [pause] you uneducated twats.

Jason: I just don’t think that it was FDR…

James: Prove it.

Jason: I have pictures!

[A trailing conversation about nothing in particular brings up the name Warren Ellis on Ultimate Fantastic Four]

Lelan: Well this is what it is. He did the Authority, he was huge. He could write anything at this point. He realized ‘Hey, I’m at the top. I don’t like doing this superhero thing, so I’m going to television, movies, whatever and I don’t think that whole thing panned out as quickly as he wanted. So, it comes down to needing money.

James: Warren Ellis is one of those guys that if you love him.. you LOOOOVE him. He’s like the Isaac Asimov of sci-fi books.

Jason: Yeah, Lee turned me on to his work.

Lelan: He’s more William Gibson, all the way.

James: I can’t read Gibson.

Lelan: Really, why not?

James: I’ve tried, I fall asleep. I tried Neuromancer. I tried Mona Lisa Overdrive. I just read Neil Stephenson insdead. Love him.

Lelan: What’s he write?

James: He wrote Snowcrash, Cryptonomicon.

Jason: I loved Snowcrash, that was great. What I loved about it, is that the first two-thirds of it is all big action and then the last section of it just breaks down into softcore porn. You just stop reading, look up and yell, “WAIT A MINUTE! WHAT AM I READING?”

James: The two best things from that book, your main character is named ‘Hiro Protagonist’ and your main villain has ‘Poor Impulse Control’ tattooed on his head.

Jason: It was great, it as the Matrix before the Matrix..

James: See, this is great. This is exactly what I want for these interviews. I don’t want to talk to the creator about what they are making, I want to find out what they’re reading and their favorite episode of Doctor Who.

Lelan: I wasn’t allowed to watch Doctor Who.

Jason: He was just a time travelling Doctor in a spaceship.

Lelan: Wasn’t there a phone booth involved somewhere in there?

Jason: Yeah, but that was his ship. You went into the phone booth and went into a tesseract — i don’t know.

James: About tesseracts, I’m reading Wrinkle In Time again.

Lelan: Madeline L’Engles, great stuff.

James: I’m reading the trilogy. When I first read it, I didn’t even know it was a trilogy.

Lelan: Did you ever read C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy?

James: Is that a veiled love of God too?

Lelan: It’s more sci-fi.

James: I loved Narnia, but that’s really all it was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good reading. I read alot of fantasy.

Lelan: I was raised on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis

James: I can’t do Tolkien.

Lelan: Really, why?

James: He’s just too damned wordy.

Lelan: This from the guy who never stops talking.

James: Bitch – No, I mean by Chapter 3, I want to know more than what Bilbo’s door looks like.

Lelan: You’re right, the first 10 chapters of that book are SO damned slow, but after that it’s great.

James: “”Bilbo’s door was round. How round was it? This circle was rounder than round could ever be. It was red. A red taken from a plant that was only but harvested once a year in the dwarven lands.”

Jason: You know why? He had no editor on the book.

James: Yeah, but he’s not Dicken’s. He’s not getting paid by the word.

Lelan: Here is the difference between what Tolkien wrote, and what you just did. I can skim Tolkien, you, I have to sit through.

James: For the record, I am now flipping Lelan Estes off.

—On the ‘X’-Men and Convention Sketches—
Lelan: So this is my idea that will never see the light of day. We have the ‘X’-men, which are a bunch of transvestites. Feared and hated by a world that doesn’t understand them. I have no idea what they’ll do, I just like the idea.

James: Yeah, that books comes out when you get your issue of Footlicker, and Kama Sutra, and everything else by Eros Press.

Lelan: Adult comics crack me up. Here’s the thing about that. It’s the same thing when you hear some dude lusting over a comic or when they get a T&A sketch from some artist. Yeah, you’re drooling over that and there is another guy that drew it. You are one step away from just having that guy give you a handjob. It’s creepy.

James: At San Diego, we were at a panel with Jeff Smith, and they asked him the worst convention picture he had to do. He started telling us about someone at a convention that asked him to draw Connie Chung’s face on the body of an octopus. So he went and flipped through the guy’s sketchbook, and it was Connie Chung, sometimes as an octopus, sometimes as a horse.

Jason: Somebody should warn Connie Chung.

James: Somebody should warn Maury Povich.

Jason: Maybe it WAS Maury Povich. Lee, who was the guy who was sitting in front of us at that last show?

Lelan: Oh, it was a guy with pictures of Jubilee. Jubilee in the shower. The funny thing is, Jubilee is only Jubilee because she has that yellow coat and the glasses. Without that, she’s just an asian girl in the shower. What makes that Jubilee?

Jason: It’s the artist saying it’s Jubilee. I’d draw naked chicks all day if someone was paying me. Here, here’s another naked Jubilee.

Lelan: I’m so jealous of artists who can go sit at a convention and make money by just drawing shit.

Jason: Yeah, me too.

Lelan: So I had this idea, to do for scripts for people. Set up a laptop and have
people request scripts. For $20 you can Superman commiting suicide. Take it down the way, my buddy will draw it for you.

James: You could have a whole production line.

Jason: Yeah, until you have one guy who asks for Batman sucking off Superman. ‘Come on I’m dying to see it.’

James: Aww, not another one.. Maury!

Jason: Right, ‘I know you need your fix, but thats the third one today..’

Lelan: See, it might work. Part of getting a sketch from some of these up and coming artists is the hopes that one day, they’re going to be someone someday. So, somebody might have my 3 page script which could be like the next Grant Morrison piece, and he just got it from some dude schlepping around at a convention.

James: Lelan Estes, writer on the Wizard Top Ten list, just beating out Joe Michael Stryczinsky.

Lelan: I don’t know whether I could beat him on the top of the writer’s list.

James: He’s so much better than you.

Lelan: Aren’t you a writer too?

James: Shit, he’s better than me, I’ll admit it.

James: Next question, how do you feel about being a writer in what is considered an artist driven industry? An example, we both were at Pittsburgh and there were people lined across the wall to get Adam Hughes sketches, to meet Greg Horn and talk about his girlfriend, and sketches from Michael Lark. You go to Mark Waid’s booth, Mark ‘f*cking’ Waid and there was nothing.

Jason: I didn’t know he was over there. I would have gone over and chewed the fat with him.

Lelan: I was bummed they didn’t do more Empire. But, to answer you I deal with by asking the artist what they can draw. I never go up to someone and say ‘I love your work and I have a story for you!’. They’re not going to be into that, or it isn’t going to be the thing that excites them to draw. So I always ask people what excites them to draw because it IS an artist driven industry. I want them to WANT to draw it. As a writer, you have to come up with an idea to sell to them.

As a writer, it’s not your writing that’s going to sell that book on the stands. It will hopefully be what keeps them to reading the next one. Writers have an ability that many artist don’t.

James: How do you mean?

Lelan: Well, look at amazing writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison. They are icons in the industry. They can achieve that level that most artists very rarely will. Some will, but writers can achieve this status of legend that very few artists will.

James: You make a point, there are only a few artists I can name in today’s books, like Alex Ross or Jim Lee that I see as having that kind of status, but there are quite a few writers.

Lelan: Exactly, it gives you something as a writer to shoot for. There aren’t even that many writers in that list. You can take someone like Warren Ellis, because he wrote the Authority. The Authority is now the blueprint for how JLA is being done, and how the Avengers is being done.

So yeah, it’s hard making your mark, but you have the ability to achieve this status that quite a few artists can’t. Something to shoot for as a writer, eh?

That’s the first part. In the bag. I hope you guys enjoyed it, and write back to me with your opinions. Even if you just thought it was too long. The only way we know how to get better is to get feedback. Until then, go check out Lee’s website which is critically out of date at Lelanestes.com.

See you next week where you will find out even more about Lelan, and I promise you. We start ragging hard on today’s top creators.