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FEB 2005: Parallel Lines....Lackluster World Creator Eric Adams

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::: Interview with Eric Adams creator of comic mini-series, Lackluster World.
To learn more about Lackluster World, or to order a subscription, visit www.lacklusterworld.com

SEMANTIKON: You have a background fine art, web design and animation but with Lackluster World, you work exclusively towards a print end. With the means to expand the depth, look and feel of Lackluster World via the web or other multimedia formats, why did you choose to deliver Lackluster World in print?

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ADAMS: The impulse to create Lackluster World struck me while employed as the art director of an ad agency. I had been there for several years and although the job gave me a great deal of skill and experience, it also drained me creatively. The types of projects I designed/directed could never satisfy my thirst for accomplishment. As they are obviously intended to do, they instead satisfied the marketing needs of businesses. The theme behind every project always came from an outside source and always ultimately equated to, "Sell more things. Make more money."

Those years were spent pushing pixels and rarely was I given the opportunity to do anything tangible. It is a bit ironic, and I suppose rebellious too... I was and am highly skilled at web design and animation yet I hardly considered expanding LW to any multimedia or animated format until recently. The reasoning behind that is something I still have not quite figured out for myself. Perhaps, the dissatisfaction brought on by all of that non-tangible design work combined with the withdrawal of actually drawing made me believe LW might be tainted if it were to be anything but a hands-on experience.

That fear has somewhat guided me on different levels and has resulted in a more visceral product both for myself during the creative process and for readers whom enjoy it.

All of that aside, I have embraced the digital age and LW does have a strong web presence, albeit promotional. There are many sample pages online, but they act as a tease and do not have the same impact as the printed book.

SEMANTIKON: In your biography found at lacklusterworld.com you say:

"Before he made it to kindergarten, Eric Adams knew that art was what he wanted to do with his life. For the following twelve years, that desire was his only available solace as he became the target of a constant yet subliminal array of religious propaganda in the disguise of education. Fortunately, he survived the ordeal. He went on to college to enhance his creative skills and continued drawing. Lots of drawing. Drawing. Drawing. Drawing..."

Most art drawing curriculums are centered on drawing in black and white---or "grayscale" which is the style you deliver Lackluster World in. Obviously, it is cheaper to print black and white, but your publishing house is called "GenEric". Fahrenheit Monahan, the protagonist of Lackluster World, is an albino aiming to escape his "mono"-chromatic malaise. Discuss the literal and figurative themes of "black and white" in the development and creation of Lackluster World. Should we look for color issues later on?


ADAMS: One underlying theme of LW is that everything is the generic and eventually repeats itself. It is integral to the story and the characters. This theme, however, is not specific to LW and is something I hope to continue in other projects – hence the name "Gen: Eric Publishing."

The idea of standards and all things being generic is something I have always seen buried within the reality of my experiences. The repetition of school, the routines of previous jobs, past relationships, the predictable small-talk and body language that comes with meeting new people. Everything either has a pattern or a large number of people are trying to fit it into one so that they may achieve a particular goal. That goal might be classify you into a certain target audience to better market products to you... or it might be to designate you as either for or against "the terrorists"... or to convince you that 1. there is only one, true God and if you do not worship him, you will 2. burn in Hell.

Fahrenheit Monahan is an ironic antihero. He is an albino, yet he is the most colorful person in the grayscale landscape that is The City. Jaded from a lifetime of being ridiculed because of his condition, he has forced himself to see beyond people's actions and routines and into their true motives.

Regarding printing in grayscale: LW is a great example of using a cost limitation to an artistic advantage. Printing in sepia tones or maybe in spot color was a consideration for a short period of time, but it became apparent that this is a "lackluster" piece of work and the lacklusterness would be better translated in standard black & white. I doubt there will ever be a full color issue of LW, although the covers have touches of color.

SEMANTIKON: The character Kelvin Monahan, Fahrenheit's obnoxious brother, is described as going from neighborhood bully to becoming a born again "fundie" (fundamentalist Christian). It seems in your portrayal, little has changed. Kelvin has traded one kind of antagonism for another. Discuss the inspiration for Kelvin's character, what things we should expect as Kelvin unfolds in the storyline being Fahrenheit's nemesis?

ADAMS: Kelvin is a culmination of emotional and social torture I experienced during my education. To my dismay, thirteen years of my life were spent in a Catholic school and I am, in fact, an Atheist. A very open one, too. To me, Kelvin represents all the attempted forcefulness and conversion that I had to deal with. Obviously, it scarred me.

I see organized religion as another attempt to control people – similar to commercialism / consumerism. They both tell people that they should be this certain type of person, when the truth is that they can be anything they like and still be just as happy.

Kelvin is Fahrenheit's older brother and is in a very large part responsible for Fahrenheit's bitter personality. He has always tormented him and when the day came that he "found Jesus," Kelvin's forceful, violent attitude simply transformed into forced attempts at religious conversion.

As the story opens in LW#1, Fahrenheit has been pushed past the brink and has decided to take action against the world that will not accept him for who he is. Kelvin only sees this as increased stubbornness and, in turn, becomes more aggressive in his tactics. At one point, he actually drugs, kidnaps and attempts to brainwash Fahrenheit. After several failed attempts, Kelvin makes it his life obsession to convert Fahrenheit so that together with their sister, Celsius, they can convert the world.
In the latter half of the storyarc, readers can expect to learn a lot about the childhood of Fahrenheit, Kelvin, Celsius and learn about the events that shaped them into the adults they are today.
Here is an interesting tidbit of information: "Monahan" means "Man of God."

SEMANTIKON: There is an ongoing debate about the quality, the literary merit of delivering stories in the comic style. What do you see as being at the heart of the discussion about the comic medium as a literary vehicle?

ADAMS: That all depends on the definition of "literature." A written book is of course considered literature. Is the script of a play considered literature? It was in all of my classes. And if a script for a play is considered literature, what about a script for a movie? Or a script for a comic book?

When you blend illustration with a script, it becomes a comic. This both adds and detracts something. You gain the added visuals that help you see what the creator wants you to see, but then you lose the chance to develop your own mental picture without them.

Back to the question... What is the heart of the discussion about the comic medium as a literary vehicle? Hell, if I know. It all relies on personal preference and type of story being told.

SEMANTIKON: In the synopsis for Lackluster World, you describe Fahrenheit's plans to shake loose from his mundane existence by working to:

"Create random publicity stunts and use his journalism position at "The Paper" to report on them, creating a media spin that will help sway public opinion."

This aspect of the lackluster storyline parallels art and political movements past---the situationist, dadaism, anarchism, populist politics. Discuss your selection of the theme of change for lackluster storyline---bringing about change by whatever means available.


ADAMS: LW is a story about change and finding your place in the world... if you have one.
This idea of "finding your place" is challenged by all the forces that try to "find your place" for you. The natural way to fight such a power is with "change," whether it be changing yourself or changing your environment.

Kelvin is trying to change his brother, Fahrenheit. Fahrenheit's fellow journalist, Herman "Cog" Cogswell, is trying to change who he is. And Fahrenheit, himself, is trying to change his environment before it changes him.

Thus far in the series, Fahrenheit has been painted as the good guy and Kelvin as the bad. As more events unfold in later issues, we will start to see that none of them are truly "good" or "bad". All of the characters in LW are just people caught up in certain situations. They are just trying to get what they want and they are only being themselves in doing so.

SEMANTIKON: Detail the process of developing an issue of Lackluster World. In terms of storyline, art work, pagination, publishing etc.

ADAMS: Before starting on any individual issue, I spent months outlining the overall storyarc. I did NOT write out the script for each issue at this time. Instead, I only outlined where each story needs to begin, end, and the checklist of things that need to happen in-between. It is more exhilarating for me to write the script for each when the time comes. Sometimes an issue goes in a direction that I never could have predicted. Having just finished the not-so-final draft of LW#3, it has become clear to me that LW is starting to write itself. I love it.

Besides, if I spent two years illustrating a story that was written word for word two years prior, I would go fucking crazy.

Anyway, the process begins when I write the script. Once it is finalized, or if I'm stuck, I dive right into the illustration and those visuals fuel the script. I do a lot of jumping back and forth and the illustration actually becomes writing at some point. As for the final illustration... that's the easy part. It's just pencil, ink, marker, repeat. A lot of my readers ask me about the shading, sometimes mistaking it for Photoshop. This is not at all the case. 95% of the art in LW is done by hand and the shading is rendered with my Tria® Cool Grey Markers. Again, I try to avoid using my computer for LW wherever possible.

Once the illustrations are complete, I start to rewrite all the dialogue. This is definitely NOT the way I plan for it to work out, yet it always will be the case. I'm a perfectionist about my work and will spend hours and hours and hours making it just right. This has led to me recreating entire pages and nearly entire scenes in the past.

Once the text is in place and the layout is complete, I temporarily fall out of the loop on the process. The finished art goes to a printer who then ships the requested amount of copies directly to my distributor. I, of course, have a stockpile of extra copies sent to myself for online orders and conventions too.

The final step, is a big push in promotion. It is the most time-consuming, most important and sometimes most overlooked part of the entire process.

When all is finished, I start the entire process over again for the next issue.

SEMANTIKON: Ohio native, Harvey Pekar, developed American Splendor (illustrated by R.Crumb) getting copies of the series out one person at a time, via mail, established distribution systems. How have you been able to use lacklusterworld.com to reach your audience, interact with them? Have you enjoyed what you would consider an advantage over the more traditional comic book marketing/distribution systems as a result of utilizing the web medium to connect with audiences, tell the Lackluster story, sell Lackluster?

ADAMS: The web site has been extremely helpful with promotion. It allows me to put a preview of each book online for readers and potential readers to preview before they buy. Without the Internet, that would be next to impossible.

I don't know that I am really straying far from the traditional means of marketing comics. True, it is easier to communicate with my audience now than it would have been 10 or 20 years ago, but I feel that all comic creators are doing the same type of online promotion today. The good news is that it is not a very competitive industry. If a reader likes LW and some other book, they aren't going to choose one and pass on the other – they will buy both.

The biggest advantage has been the efficiency of the web. The majority of my promotion is online and it has little to no cost. Additionally, it allows readers to contact me directly and quickly, and it almost guarantees they will get a response from me.

SEMANTIKON: Over the course of the past decade, we have seen the development of Marvel Films, which worked to release such blockbusters as Spider Man. We have also seen the release of films based on such indi-comic favorites as Hellboy and The Crow. What do you see underlying this trend to bring the comic book form to the cinematic medium?

ADAMS: It is my view that the film industry ran out of ideas for "good" films decades ago. The majority of films released today are either adaptations from old TV shows, recreations of movies once made, or they follow generic story formats. Comics are definitely helping to breathe new life into the medium.

I have mixed feelings about studios looking to comics for fresh ideas. It is great that comics are getting recognition for being the creative, original pieces of literature/art that they are, but I fear that the film industry will suck comics dry, damage their reputation as literature/art and just move onto the next best creative resource. Those fears are unlikely to come fruition, but it is still a concern.

Surprisingly, the large increase of comics to film recently has done very little for the sales of comics. Sales of comics nationally have virtually remained flat if not decreased a little and I have a hard time wondering how that is possible.

SEMANTIKON: Working in the print medium, independent comic creators rely essentially on one major distributor to get work to audiences, Diamond. What has been your experience with Diamond and with getting Lackluster World distributed?

ADAMS:My dealings with Diamond have been good and I had no trouble being accepted as a supplier. I just sent them a proposal and I was in. My one and only complaint is the same complaint most comic creators have – Diamond has a monopoly on the industry.

It works like this... a comic retailer wants to order all its merchandise from one source. Working with multiple distributors complicates their ordering procedures, so they choose one and stick with them. Diamond makes that possible for comic retailers by having the largest selection available and my hat is off to them for being so successful with their business plan that they have been able to corner the market.

Before I go any further, I should say that there are alternatives to Diamond. The first, FM International, is essentially Diamond-Lite. I kind of see them as the distributor for the retailers that have developed personal issues with Diamond. The second is Cold Cut Distribution. I have distribution setup with them as well and they are fantastic. They operate very differently than any other comic distributor and are extremely indy-friendly. Unfortunately, they only have a single-digit percentage of the comic market even though they are third largest comic distributor in the country.

Back to the point... Diamond has a monopoly. So, how does that affect comic creators? Because of their enormous foothold on the market, Diamond is able to dictate the discount they receive off the retail price of comis. I cannot disclose any numbers, but I can say that the discount is large enough to make it very difficult for me to turn a profit unless I sell an enormous number of books.
Please do not misunderstand... I am very happy to have LW distributed through Diamond because it increases exposure. However, the ultra-high industry-standard discount they expect causes me to push online and convention sales more often so I can try to turn a profit.

SEMANTIKON: You have planned seven issues to develop the storyline you've developed for Lackluster World. Should lackluster become a phenomenon, might we expect the story line find extended life, perhaps in animated features or another medium?

ADAMS: I have a love for closure. It is a 99% certainty that LW will not have a sequel and will not be extended past seven issues. Future projects may come from the same universe of LW and it is possible that there may be a crossover or spin-off, but this too is unlikely. Neverending storylines really grate on me and I actually believe that is one of the things that repel potential newcomers from embracing comics. Readers want the whole story right there in one place. Waiting for individual chapters to be released once a month is a deterrent because the people of today do not have the patience.

LW has taught me that most readers want the collected novel, so that they can buy it and read it all in one shot, instead of collecting each issue. Because of this, any future comics I create will be done in this format. And with enough success LW will be collected in one large novel too.
An LW film or mini-series would be a thrill. If approached, I would consider a multi-season TV series too, although that would be my last choice. Animated, live-action or a hybrid of both – I think it could work anyway, but I would prefer animated. It would translate more literally from the page to the screen in an animated version. It would also allow me to have greater creative control.
In the end, my goal is just to get the LW story on paper. It has never been a goal to expand it further from there, but if it could, it would certainly be one hell of a great perk.