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Randy Gentile: The Power is in the Reader's Hands

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
Randy Gentile is one of those guys who always seems to have lots of tasks all going at the same time. As if it's not enough that Randy has a day job and letters a few comics in his spare time, he also does an online comic, hosts a podcast, has plans for graphic novels, makes films, and oh yeah - is married and has a kid on its way! Come explore the never lazy world of Randy Gentile.

JASON SACKS: So Randy, since you left Comics Bulletin, one of the many projects you've been working on is your NYComix Dailies. Give the readers a feeling for what the comic is all about.

RANDY GENTILE: The NYComix Dailies is a sketchbook autobio journal comic told with 3 panels per day. It updates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Basically I boil every day of my life down to 3 panels and try to give readers an idea of a day in the life of a comic artist juggling a regularly updating webcomic and a day job with being a husband. You get everything from my thoughts on comics to daily life in New York City to politics and baseball. If you're into autobio comics like American Splendor, R. Crumb, Optic Nerve, etc... I think you'll dig it.

SACKS: What sorts of things are you exploring in the NYComix Dailies?

GENTILE: I'm really exploring trying to be a productive artist making my way in the comix world along with being a husband. To me, family comes first but at the same time my wife is an artist as well so she's incredibly supportive and understanding of my being in the studio all weekend and late into the night. On top of all this I'm an art director at a big company here in New York City. So everyday from 9 to 6 I'm heading a department of 4 designers with crazy deadlines. Throw in NYComix Dailies, commission requests, freelance lettering. All this gives me a lot to write about.

SACKS: I enjoy that the strip is really just a chronicle of your daily life. We get a feeling as readers of what your life is really like. What is it about that work that you enjoy so much, and do you ever worry about putting too much of yourself out there?

GENTILE: I don't really worry about putting too much of myself out there. I worry more about putting too much of someone else in my life out there. The best autobio comics are the most honest. The more honest it is, the better it is.

SACKS: After about 50 strips, what are some of your favorites that you've done?

GENTILE: Well there are 50 strips online but I'm about 100 strips into it at this point. I may start updating 5 days a week soon, actually. As far as my favorites... I did one where I filled panel with a sketch of a guy sitting on the subway in the seat across from me... I like the idea of capturing a moment in New York City like that. Really anything showing daily life in NYC fascinates me. There's a strip coming up that I did of a homeless woman doing cocaine off a mirror on the subway platform as I was waiting for the train after work. It was so sad to see that level of despair right out in the open. Again, honesty always works best.

SACKS: Do you feel like you're hitting your stride with the strips?

GENTILE: Almost. I'm going to be experimenting with the strip more in the future. There will be some full color strips, some done in different mediums. I'm even going to do a week where I draw everyone as wookiees.... Wookiee Week!

SACKS: Did you stop with #053?

GENTILE: No way. I'm in this for the long haul. My wife is 4 months pregnant now so life is really going to change in a big, big way. I think it's serendipitous that I coincidentally started doing this strip the same year I'm going to become a father. The idea that my kid will read this one-day and know what their father was up to every single day is pretty neat.

SACKS: In strip #031, you say "I can't connect with new comix" yet you worked in the industry for many years. Why do you think you have trouble connecting to new comics?

GENTILE: I think I can't connect with new comics because I was so close to them for so many years. Now that I'm not lettering that much anymore I'm a bit more detached but it still doesn't help my frustration with where I think comics are going. Marvel and DC are doing nothing to bring in new readers. If I had told you that during this huge comic book movie boom sales of comic books would be in the same place they were before the movie boom you'd probably never believe it.

The Iron Man movies have made over a billion dollars worldwide yet the comic sells between 40-50K a month. That should depress any lover of comics. There's been no capitalizing on these movies. How about an ad for the comic after the film ends? Something. Marvel is the movie studio, so why not?

Throw in my biggest pet peeve of photo tracing and my head just about explodes. That's so bad that it's casting the movies at this point. On top of all that comics are 4 bucks a pop and while they say every comic is somebody's first comic I sure hope that first comic isn't issue 4 of 6 of some crossover event where the Hulk is red and Pepper Potts looks like Nicole Kidman instead of Gweneth Paltrow.

SACKS: How is your daily strip different from the NYComix that is available at great comic book stores everywhere?

GENTILE: The daily strip rigidly sticks to the 3-panels per day format. The NYComix trade paperback (66-Pages Available now at IndyPlanet.com!) is straight up comics ranging from 2 page stories to 12 page stories. They really focus on life in New York City through my eyes... a guy from a very small town now living in the biggest city in the world.

SACKS: Tell us about 4Color Love Story.

GENTILE: 4 Color Love Story is one of two projects coming from me in the near future. First up will be a newspaper style strip called "Dime Show Comics." "Dime Show" revolves around a traveling freakshow. I explore everything from being a teenager in love, to being a middle age guy without love, to being married, to becoming a father, to even being a struggling artist. It's a strip layered with a lot of different characters each of who give me limitless story possibilities.

After "Dime Show Comics" hits I'll really start chipping away at my first original graphic novel 4 Color Love Story. 4CLS is a story about a kid named Andre who is fresh out of college and moves to New York City in pursuit of his dream of becoming a comic book artist and winds up falling in love with a girl who works in a comic shop instead. Andre's life is all comics and finding love until September 11th happens. Suddenly life isn't all fun and games. Things fall into a whole new perspective and his life changes forever.

SACKS: Why call your site LazyComics? Isn't that kind of putting yourself down?

GENTILE: Plus I figured anyone who has been on my site and saw a regularly updated strip, tons of art, documentaries I directed and a podcast would hopefully not think of me as a lazy person! &smil;

SACKS: When were you part of the Marvel Bullpen? Do you have any great stories to tell us from those years?

GENTILE: Working in the Marvel Bullpen was my first job out of college... and it was one of the most fun times I ever had. The other guys in the Bullpen were all insanely talented and I learned so much from them. Dave Sharpe headed the lettering department back then and he along with Paul Tutrone taught me how to letter.

The Bullpen was just full of really talented guys. Jacob Chabot worked with me there and he was recently nominated for an Eisner for his book The Mighty Skullboy Army and Chris Giarusso worked there as well and every comic fan knows him from his Mini-Marvels strip along with G-Man from Image. None of those guys work there now but its crazy to think how much talent was doing Marvel Production work. We had lunchtime Dungeons & Dragons games, Heroclix tournaments... and got every book Marvel published for free. Those were the days. I also was there on 9-11 watching the towers fall on a black & white TV in the Bullpen.

SACKS: You've done a lot of professional lettering over the years. What have been some of your favorite projects you've worked on?

GENTILE: Three books really stand out for me. I lettered Brian K. Vaughan's entire run on Runaways which is a book I think is one of the best titles Marvel has published in a long, long time. BKV is one of the nicest guys in comics and was really the only writer I've ever worked with who took the time to talk to me about lettering and about what it was like being a letterer.

Lettering Batman was just cool because after lettering pretty much every character at Marvel the idea of also lettering DC's Icon was cool as hell. But honestly the highlight of my lettering career was having the honor to letter over John Romita Sr.'s art on Amazing Spider-Man 500. Nothing will ever top it unless they find some lost Jack Kirby art in an attic somewhere and I get to letter on that.

SACKS: Do you find yourself being critical of other letterers?

GENTILE: Oh yeah. I can't read a book without looking at the lettering damn near as much as I do the art. Especially if I pick up a comic and the lettering is awful.

SACKS: Who are some of your favorite letterers?

GENTILE: To me it all starts with John Workman. His work on Walt Simonson's Thor is just insane. After that there's Chris Eliopoulos' work on Savage Dragon that you can see Workman's influence on. Those two guys are the best in the biz if you ask me.

SACKS: Do you feel like there's a big difference between the old-school hand letterers and the new-school computer letterers?

GENTILE: Big time. There are guys like Eliopoulos and Richard Starkings who are great letterers both by hand and with the computer. I also think there are guys who are great hand letterers but their computer stuff is not nearly as good. Now you have a generation of letterers like myself who have never lettered a book by hand but have lettered hundreds of books on the computer. Because of that I've never really felt like a "letterer" in the traditional sense.

That's not to say that there's no craft in computer lettering because there's plenty. If there wasn't everyone could letter a book and it wouldn't look bad. You still need to know how to lead the reader's eye across a page just the same by computer as you would if you were doing it by hand. I'm lettering all my own work by hand now, especially the Dime Show Comics strip, in an effort to fill that gap in my lettering soul.

SACKS: Tell us about the LazyComics radio show.

GENTILE: I'm a HUGE fan of comic book podcasts. I listen to them constantly so I figured since everyone else is doing it I might as well throw my hat into the podcast ring. TLCRS is basically taking my old column from here at Comics Bulletin and turning it into a podcast. A big part of the podcast is a segment called "Welcome Back Issue". I'm a back issue junkie, I love diving into longboxes at comic stores and especially conventions so I choose an old issue and then talk about it on the show.

Last episode I flipped through an issue of Wizard from 1996 and talked about how much the comic industry has changed since then and how much it's the same, really. I'm super happy with that episode and I think its something comic fans will enjoy. I keep the episodes short, like 20 minutes max so please give them a try. I release two a month, and a new episode is coming up soon.

SACKS: You love to make Star Wars art. Why do you love the movie so much, and what motivates you to create these sorts of compelling giant prints of images from the movies?

GENTILE: As I type the answers to these questions I have Return of the Jedi on in the background. These movies are the reason I became an artist. They're instant inspiration for me. I even love the prequels. Yeah I said it.

The inspiration for the Star Wars prints is my idea of combining the images from these movies with Street Art. Graffiti has had a big influence on my art especially stencil art by guys like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. So combining this with Star Wars and comics is a lot of fun.

SACKS: And you make movies too! Tell us about "Behind the Curtain", and how can we see it?

GENTILE: Yeah, I mess around a bit making documentaries about comic artists living here in New York City. The first video I made was with Deep6 Studios. Deep6 is headed by Dean Haspiel of American Spendor fame. Dean, Tim Hamilton, Mike Cavallaro and others work in a studio all day making comics together so I did a documentary talking about what it's like to make comics with a group instead of the insular, lonely existence most comic creators work in.

The last doc I did was with artist Molly Crabapple about the release of her first graphic novel Scarlett Takes Manhattan. She saw the doc I did with Deep6 and asked me if I wanted to do another one with her to coincide with the release of her book. The doc screened at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) and it was a really fun experience. I'll be doing some more as soon as find the time.

All the docs are on youtube and are right on the front page of LazyComix.com.

SACKS: Anything else you'd like the readers to know?

GENTILE: Just to please check out NYComix Dailies every Monday, Wednesday & Friday, give my podcast a shot, it's a quick fun listen... and to push yourself as a reader to try new books. If you're tired of that mainstream book that you're buying out of habit, take that 4 bucks and give something else a shot. You might wind up liking it. The Big Two publish what sells, so the power really is in the reader's hands.

And keep reading Comics Bulletin!

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