The John Rozum Interview, Part Two: The ConclusionA column article by: Park Cooper
Over ten years ago, I wrote this paragraph, as part of the conclusion to my four-part series, _The Most Useful Ideas In Discussing Comics_ (only the 11th thing, if you count all four parts as one unit, that I ever wrote for this column) and this part was filed under X for Xombi:
Xombi, Mosaic, Kid Eternity: My holy trinity of incredibly intelligent titles that were horribly, painfully cancelled. As time goes on, I've come to grips with Kid Eternity. How could I or anyone have expected this to last even as long as it did? It was too cultural, too intellectual, too Ann Nocenti for the planet, with her dialogue style that sounds like a cross between Claremont and Kirby with a touch of Morrison. But god, what a title. She put Madame Blavatsky and Neal Cassidy into a comic. As, for a while, RECURRING CHARACTERS. But Mosaic? Noooooo don't cancel my Mosaic! And Xombi! How could you destroy the worthy successor to Grant's Doom Patrol? You vicious bastards in black hoods with giant axes. Hate you.
But now, once again I stress MORE THAN TEN YEARS after I wrote that, Xombi is coming back, with the same writer, John Rozum, whom I befriended on Facebook.
Now would be a good time to preorder, if you, you know, buy comic books.
John Rozum does all these interesting cut-paper art things, too:
And so this is to be the conclusion of that interview.
Between Part One and Part Two, something unexpected happened that threw both me and the man I was interviewing off a bit; a man that was mentioned a fair amount in Part One, Dwayne McDuffie, passed away.
Here's the link to Part One if you wish a reminder of the role Dwayne McDuffie played in the life and career of his friend, John Rozum:
More on that at the end of this interview. But just be thinking of both men as you read Part Two, below-- each is mentioned.
THE JOHN ROZUM INTERVIEW: PART TWO
Park Cooper: So, how have you been filling the intervening time since Xombi? Writing some television episodes, I gather? And the paper-cutting, we covered that... what else has there been?
JR: I've been doing a lot of various things. I've been writing other comics; The X-Files, over ten years and 100+ stories for the Scooby-Doo comic as well as many of the other Cartoon Network titles (which I really enjoyed doing), Midnight, Mass. etc. I've done some television, and even some development stuff for TV most of which never saw the light of day. Some artwork commissions. All sorts of stuff.
PC: How do you feel the comics industry, with or without a specific answer as far as the writing of them and getting things accepted by the companies, has changed in the last 20-or-so years?
JR: In many ways I think it's become a lot more insulated. You see most of the stuff being planned and written by the same handful of people. If you aren't one of those people, it's a lot harder to get new stuff started. My biggest concern is the lack of all ages titles. Because I've done so much of the Cartoon Network comics I get invited to talk at schools a lot, but it's hard to get them excited about comics when there is so little that's appropriate for them to read. I have no problem with someone fifty reading Superman, but I think, with the possible exception of Batman, that superhero comics should be written for an eleven year old, not a fifty-year old. We're producing a whole generation of kids who won't be reading comics as adults. When all the adults now reading them, stop, or die off, so will the industry.
PC: Ooh, good answer…Your Wikipedia pages mentions you've written "several children's books". But when I type you into Amazon, I get a WHOLE LOT of your x-files work... a few other things, like THE FLASH: TIME FLIES and an issue of Batman... and Xombi #1.
Not, so far, children's books... and where are the collected editions of Xombi and Midnight, Mass that the world demands?
JR: I didn't set up the Wikipedia page. I don't know who did, or where that came from unless they are confusing my Cartoon Network comics work with children's books. It's a market I'm very interested in becoming involved with.
PC: I bet that's what they were thinking...
JR: I don't have a definite word on XOMBI trade paperback collections, but it's likely, especially if sales of the new series warrant it. I believe the idea was to have one out before the new series debuted, but there wasn't enough time to put one together and solicit it. The whole Xombi deal happened very quickly. I'd really like to see this happen, and would also really like the Xombi Hanukkah Special that I wrote and Guy Davis drew, see print. The entire issue was completed but never published. I think it may be the best Xombi story from the original run, and works in great with the new series too. As for Midnight, Mass. maybe if Xombi's a hit. Who can say? Not me.
PC: Hanukkah, eh? Neato.
JR: I felt like every comic book company had a Christmas special, so I wanted to do a Hanukkah one. Most of the story involves David Kim and Rabbi Sinnowitz trapped in a car during a blizzard. With things in the woods outside their car. Hungry things.
PC: Now, I know I've sometimes hit you with quick questions that required long answers... are we all caught up? Any more to say about anything? The Comics Industry? Television? The Flash: Time Flies?
JR: The Flash: Time Flies was a lot of fun. I've often thought about returning to that universe, but without Seth Fisher I don't know if I could.
Anything you want to know about the new Xombi series?
PC: I don't wanna spoil anything... Uh... well, will the good Rabbi be back? Nun of the Above and Catholic Girl? Anyone else from Milestone? Static? Blood Syndicate?
JR: There will be at least one or two of the supporting cast from the original series making an appearance in the new series to start with. The cover of issue 2 is visible on line right now, and the Nun of the Above is on there...
I'm not sure what outside characters will be making appearances, if any. Even though there were appearances by other Milestone characters in the original run, and we picked the characters that seemed least intrusive and like a better fit, it still seemed a bit weird having actual cape and spandex costumed heroes in there. I'll probably stick with a similar approach here. The greater DCU will be more of an ambient fixture than a participating one. There won't be any mistaking that Xombi takes place in the DCU but he won't be joining the JLA. I want there to be a really strong reason for pulling in gust characters. I don’t want it to be simply a gimmick. I don’t want to do it even if it seems like a really obvious thing to do like pair up David Kim and Deadman, or something. If I develop a story and it can only be stronger by including Deadman, then so be it. Otherwise I don’t think you are bringing anything beneficial to the DCU as a whole, nor to the reader. By the end of the second issue you should have a better sense of how I plan to handle the integration of Xombi into the DCU.
PC: Who is your editor for Xombi now?
JR: Rachel Gluckstern is the editor.
PC: She givin' you notes? Or is it more like Dwayne back in the day, with no notes?
JR: I'm getting some notes, but they are mostly pacing tweaks, or responses to concerns I have. I've worked with Rachel for ages now, so we have a good relationship.
The big difference now is that I have to tone down nudity, violence and harsh language. So there will be the old Milestone squiggles for swear words.
PC: NOW? You didn't before so much?
JR: No. I didn't. Initially the swears were squiggled, but if you read the original run again, they start to appear as themselves at some point. There was nudity including some full frontal male shots. The violence, after the first issue was pretty minor in general, but overall Xombi was probably an R rated book. Now it’s PG-13.
PC: Oh yeah, I loved me them squiggles— because it meant people talked naturally. I knew what the squiggles represented...
JR: I like them for that reason as well. I always found the #%@! type of swearing took me out of what I was reading.
PC: How did we decide that Xombi should be DC and not Vertigo? Because Milestone continuity got folded into DC? Or was it more complicated than that?
JR: I did initially suggest that Xombi should be a Vertigo book. My reasons primarily went back to the issues of not having to worry about things like four letter words, nudity, sex and violence. I was also concerned about greater DCU continuity keeping me from doing some possible stories. At the time Xombi was really the only nanite-infested character, now there are dozens of them. Also, if I wanted to destroy Chicago, I really wouldn't be able to.
Dan Didio felt very strongly that Xombi should be in the DCU. There wasn't another series like it in the DCU, and he felt it could bring some new unchartered territory. There was also a concern that there would be confusion with the Vertigo series "izombie." It was something that we talked about.
...I just received Frazer Irving's color breakdowns for issue #1 and even in rough form it looks fantastic. This is going to be a beautiful looking series.
PC: Annnnd let's remind our readers when they can expect to find issue #1?
JR: If I'm not mistaken, it will be in stores March 16. They should preorder issues when they are able to do so... This lets the stores know there is interest, and may mean the store will order more copies to put on the shelves. Sales are what will keep this book alive.
PC: I think I may be out of Xombi-specific questions... let's look at you! Are you reading any comics now that come to mind that you enjoy?
JR: I've been trying to keep abreast of what's going on in the DCU. My nearest comic book store is about an hour away, so as far as everything else goes I'm basically reading stuff I can get in collected form. I'm reading the Hellboy books and a bunch of stuff by the Fantagraphics/Drawn and Quarterly crowd. I really like reading older material, such as the stuff in the DC Archives, the Dark Horse archives of the Dell/Gold Key books which were my favorites as a kid. I'm really looking forward to the Carl Barks Archive series coming next fall.
I tend not to read a lot of contemporary comics while I'm writing them. I'm not sure why. I've always been this way though.
PC: You mentioned rewriting things... like the different rewrites Midnight, Mass went through... do you have a lot of stuff written in the drawer at home that hasn't found a home yet?
JR: Batches of stuff. Some of it I cannibalize. Some things like a proposal I did for a Daredevil 2099 series, which I thought was really good, will never see the light of day. Other stuff can be reworked or reintroduced if the timing seems right to reintroduce them. I've never really had a problem coming up with ideas, so it's usually not too big of a loss for me. Every now and then I'll come across this stuff and find something that still resonates with me and I'll look for a way to do something with it.
PC: My wife Barbara, a mile to the south at our home right now, but with me in digitization, asks if you think that others in comics see the same "where are the new readers gonna come from" problem as you do....?
JR: I know that many of the creators do. I think that even the powers that be realize that this is an issue to be dealt with. I just think with the immediate needs of publishing monthly titles that it gets pushed to the side. I don't think anyone has an answer of how to overcome this. I'm willing to brainstorm though. I don't think competition with other media is as big a factor as price and availability. When you and I were kids you could by a comic book for the same price as a candy bar. Not so now. This is why I think thicker, $10.00 graphic novels are the way to go. They can even be in a smaller size than the traditional comic book size. Kids today don’t immediately associate comics with superheroes. They’re open to a lot of different genres. Maybe this is one of the hold-ups with the larger companies where so much of the business has been focused on one genre for so long. I think it would be a great way to revitalize characters they don’t use anymore like their western, science fiction and even their humorous characters.
PC: Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what? One way or the other, what are your musical tastes like?
JR: I can no longer listen to anything with lyrics, or people speaking in it while I write. It draws my attention away from what I'm doing. I will often listen to songs while I'm formulating ideas and scenes, often while out walking. What I listen to is usually dictated by how the mood of the song mirrors the mood of the scene I'm trying to work out.
During the actual writing I'll usually listen to movie scores that also reflect the mood of whatever I'm working on. My musical tastes though are pretty wide ranging, though because I now only listen to NPR on the radio, and until very recently lived without tv for ten years, I'm not terribly knowledgeable about current music.
PC: What's your geek quotient like outside of the world of comics? Do you/have you ever read manga? Watch (imported) anime? Play video games? Tabletop RPGs? and so on? (Obviously if the answer is yes to any of those four, I wish to hear about it-- a "yes" to any one of these is an answer to a whole question in and of itself...)
JR: I have not read a lot of manga. I have read some, but find myself daunted by the prospect of starting something that has dozens of volumes of content. My to buy list of books is already gigantic. Likewise I've not watched a lot of anime. What I have watched has been in the form of stand alone movies and not continuing serials.
Not to age myself, but when video games were new I spent a ton of quarters playing them. I found many of the controllers for the home game platforms to be uncomfortable and my hands would quickly go numb, so I never owned any until my wife bought me an Xbox about ten years ago, which recently kicked the bucket. I only had about five games for it. We now have a wii, which I don't play very often. My wife bought me the Xbox because she thought it was a good mindless way for me to unwind after working, but if I played it before bed, I'd have first person shooter dreams, where everything I did was in that stylized walking while looking over the barrel of a gun. During the day, while my kids are in school I feel I should be more productive, so it's rare I play. I also prefer relatively mindless hitting and shooting games. I tried playing some of the story driven games where you need to interact with other onscreen characters and do things to earn money and so forth, but those felt too much like work for me and I'd rather be writing my own characters than characters in a game. I never got into RPGs either. I am a pretty big Star Wars and classic horror film nerd though.
PC: Does your wife read all your stuff? Does she read comics in general? (Does she read manga?)
JR: No. She's read Xombi and Midnight, Mass. and that's about it. The only other comic I think I ever got her to read was Daredevil - Born Again. She never even made it past the first page of Watchmen. She prefers her doily and tea cozy novels as I refer to them.
PC: What's a typical Day in the Life of John Rozum like?
JR: After I give assign the servants their duties in the castle and drop off the supermodels I usually put on my jet pack and fly to my secret island base, feed the dinosaurs, and then get to work.
My day is probably as boring as anyone else's except arranged in reverse. I don't usually get up until after 10:00 - 10:30 am, and fill my day with errands, house work, email and trying to squeeze in a bit of extra work before the members of my family start coming home. After they are all in bed I'll usually read for about an hour and then work until 1:30 - 2:00 am, then read for another hour and go to bed. Every now and then I'll watch a movie before starting work depending on how on top of my schedule I am. Exciting, isn't it?
PC: Favorite movie ever?
JR: Pinocchio (1940). For the record, I've never much cared for the book it was based on. At some point I realized that almost everything I wrote was essentially the Pinocchio story. All my characters have something extraordinary about them and all they really want is to be regular people.
PC: Favorite novel or novels?
JR: The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.
PC: What's your dream project to get to write that you haven't already written?
JR: I've been wanting to write Kamandi for years. It was one of my favorite comics as a kid, and years ago I started thinking about it again in relationship to some stories that I didn't end up using in the original run of Xombi and I realized that I had a way to stay true to the original Kamandi series, yet give it some real substance that made it much more than "Planet of the Apes" with more animals.
I'd also love to tackle a restart of Aquaman. I've always been drawn to the underwater heroes like Aquamna and Namor but also exasperated by scenes of them sleeping underwater on beds covered with sheets, pouring glasses of wine, wearing cloth clothing and having buildings with stairs. Why do they need stairs? Why do they even walk? Aquaman's world also seems to be confusing and all over the place with more species of underwater people than there are aliens in Star Wars, and without any real central structure or motivation for him. He's become a pretty much third tier character, and the more I've thought about what's wrong with Aquaman the more I figured out how to fix him and make him as big and important as Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman.
Hi. So it's me again. Park Cooper.
I asked John if he wished to talk about the passing of the creator of the comic book and animation character Static, the man who was also a co-founder of Milestone Media, and it wasn't easy for him, but he said this:
John Rozum: All I can really say for now is that I would not have ventured down a career path involving comics if not for him, and had he not made that generous and risky decision to allow me to completely reconfigure Xombi from what he'd conceptualized into something that really fit my own sensibility I would not have had the opportunities to have down any of the other things I've worked on since. I know he really wanted me to take the opportunity that the new series brings to finish the story I started, and that he was extremely pleased with the first issue. I'm sorry he's not going to be around to see where it goes, or for me to turn to whenever some sticky plot issue springs up and I need a sounding board to bounce things off of. Dwayne was always the person I turned to whenever I was second guessing myself, or not sure what direction to go in with a story. Our personal and professional relationship was pretty intermixed, but it's the personal side I'll miss the most.
I, Park Cooper say: Dwayne McDuffie will be missed by those who knew him, and by those who didn't know him at all, but know his work...and I'm including those who know his work who didn't realize a man named Dwayne McDuffie was behind it. They've got a hole in their lives, too, as do all of us, missing out on the works I know he had ahead of him.
My apologies to all in the delay of posting Part Two-- the comics/andrelatedpopculture world(s) got thrown for a loop the other day/week, and I think we all sort of wandered off briefly to think about things... me included