Continuing with our in-depth look at the DIY publishing movement, Sequart’s Robert A. Emmons, Jr. sat down with the excitable and enthusiastic President and Editor-in-Chief of Jam Packed Productions and writer of the new series The Super Naturals, Toney Tapia. The two get to the heart of what makes comics worth doing.
ROBERT A. EMMONS: Tell us how and why you started Jam Packed Productions and what it means to be DIY in the current climate of comics.
TONEY TAPIA: Sure thing. You have to start from the beginning with this one. It all started in the days of my high school years. I lived about 8-10 miles from my school, so in Philly, where I grew up, I had to take the Septa Bus to go back and forth. Well, one day I didn’t have enough dough to take the bus so I decided to take the long journey home by foot. That day was the day that introduced me to comics. As I walked past this store which had posters of Superman and Spider-Man on the window, it kind of hypnotized me to enter. I was intrigued by all the comics in one place. Ever since then, I walked home every Wednesday just to stop by and purchase my new weekly books. Sooner than later is when I decided I wanted to become a writer. In this industry, I may be wrong to say but I believe it is much easier to be picked up by a company if you were an artist. I’ve been to many cons and when speaking to different publishing companies and even on their websites, there’s always a note or someone saying, sorry but we are not looking for any new story submissions. Hence the reason why I wanted to start up my own company, J.P.P. – Jam Packed Productions. Sure it’s expensive to DIY but you gotta do what you gotta do. If this is your love and you really want it, which you have to want it, then DIY. Sooner or later, if your work is awesome, someone will find you. You never know what the future holds for you. I think by starting off that way, you gain more respect for what you’ve done. I mean look at Bendis and Kirkman, two idols I look upon greatly in the industry today.
EMMONS: I think that’s a very interesting point about writers trying to break into comics. I definitely agree that the artist seems to be at the forefront, especially historically. But, I also agree that there is this new push towards bigger, better, even atypical writers to the medium. As a writer, what do you think about novelists like Michael Chabon and film and television creators like Joss Whedon and Damon Lindelof being recruited as writers for comics?
TAPIA: Well, I think it’s actually great. To break off your daily job and try writing something different, that’s a great experience. Damon’s Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk storyline is hot just like his show Lost, which by the way everyone should be watching. To become that great that you are able to jump from film/TV, to writing a comic book series and then jumping back into your chair in film/TV, now that’s talent. These are guys that every writer should look upon. My personal favorite/idol is Stephen King, whom will be making his breakthrough next year with The Dark Tower series.
EMMONS: What Lindelof is doing with Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk is pure comics revisionism genius. I went into thinking, “OK, it should be alright.” When I hit that splash page on two and three, my mind was blown and I was sold. I really believe it’s this level of craftsmanship that is taking comics to the next level. The Heart of Darkness spin is completely fitting of what the Hulk represents in the Ultimate Universe.
To give a shout out to Stephen King, comics fans should check out his new book, Cell. Not only does it involve the pop culture icon – “the zombie”, its main character is a comics creator. The first two chapters will blow your mind. Also, if you’re a fan of his, his column he does for “Entertainment Weekly” is continually amazing.
You are the writer of The Super Naturals. Was creating Jam Packed an afterthought to creating The Super Naturals, or was this the plan from the start? To self-publish it and then other works?
TAPIA: Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t the plan from the start. Remember back in the day when Marvel started its Icon Imprint? Well, I originally wanted to submit The Super Naturals to them. An idea in which I thought was tremendous. But I made the biggest mistake that one could make. And for those of you who are reading this, please never do this. I spoke to someone before I was going to submit to Marvel and was told that this would never work out. So what did I do, I listened to that person and never submitted. I kick myself for that. So a few years later I said the hell with it. I’m not rich but I’m not getting any younger either so I decided to locate a team and start Jam Packed Productions. Now I have a sweet website up and going, a preview book printed and number one on its last production stage.
EMMONS: What did you see in the work of Jamie Biggs that led you to choose him as the artist for your flagship title?
TAPIA: Whenever someone looks through The Super Naturals preview book, our website or even when I would go to meetings to try to submit to a larger company, I always received the “Wow, this looks just like art by a young Todd McFarlane.” I myself am a huge McFarlane fan, always have been and always will be. One day, when I was at my local comic book store, a friend had just come back from MegaCon inFlorida in which Jamie had set up in artist alley. This friend of mine purchased some original pages that Jamie had done of Mary Jane and Spider-Man. My jaw dropped and I had to get something from Jamie so I was given Jamie’s email address so that I could get in contact with and purchase or get some artwork commissioned. He was kind enough to reply back to my emails and I commissioned from him a sweet piece that is actually framed in my bedroom. Ever since then we kept in contact and when I came up with the idea of The Super Naturals, he was all for it because he was as hungry as I am to get into the comic book industry. He is perfect for The Super Naturals and has that Jam Packed feel to his artwork.
EMMONS: You say, “Jam Packed feel.” Tell me what that means. I’m interested in company philosophies, especially when you’re trying to carve out an individualized path.
TAPIA: One word comes to mind: “excitement!” That’s what I want for my company, excitement and adventure. I’m a very excited kind of guy when it comes down to my work and when I think of Jam Packed Productions, I break out. This is my baby and my dream and for me to make that dream come true, well that’s when I rock that Jam Packed feeling!!!
EMMONS: What other titles/artists/writers do you have on the horizon and what is next on your schedule?
TAPIA: Well, as of right now we are in works of getting started with issue number 2. Man some action and excitement is headed our way. Jamie and I have been in talks with another project that we are working to clean up. But that’s on the hush, hush. As for creators, we are always looking for newcomers to join the J.P.P. crew. I have many friends in the industry that have mentioned that they would love to do some work for me, again as of right now I cannot mention any names. My schedule is always hectic, with keeping my full time 9-6 job, then going home and working on Jam Packed Productions as well as chillin’ with my lovely wife and daughter. As of right now, I have the first five issues ready to go for The Super Naturals. I always want to be ahead of schedule, especially if changes ever get made. Here’s hoping that I can keep up with myself and keep writing. I love this stuff.
EMMONS: Getting to the heart of that. I am a comics fan. I love the writing, I read for the writers, Bendis and Kirkman as you pointed out are masters in my mind. Shed some light on how you write, the process. As fans we’ve heard how people like Alan Moore and Frank Miller create scripts. How do you do it?
TAPIA: It’s actually very easy for me. I enter my office, which consists of a PC, a few statues and some framed pictures of my favorite characters and a few shelves full of comic books. I take my seat in front of my PC, go to my CD options and decide on a soundtrack score in which puts me in the mood of what I’m about to write. After the music starts, I leave this world and enter my own. Don’t try coming over or phoning me, I’m not home.
EMMONS: You were just at New York Comic Con. Tell me about that experience. What were you able to achieve and how important is it to be there as a small press?
TAPIA: Well, I was there on Friday and Saturday. I’m sure everyone has heard about Saturday’s craziness that went on at the show. Overall, the show went well. I got to meet some new professionals in the biz and got a few sketches as well, one of my expensive hobbies. Cons can be quite the expensive route to go if you are small press but again, you gotta do what you gotta do. I totally agree with doing a con here and there. You get to come out and meet the fans. And the fans are what’s important in the world of comics.
EMMONS: To the spirit of this kind of article, can you offer some advice to those thinking about getting into writing or publishing?
TAPIA: Don’t think about writing, just do it. Write and read as much as you can. Don’t just read comics, read newspapers, novels, anything so that you can see different styles of writing. If you have something great, don’t let it go to waste. This is your life and you have every right to do what you want with it. Share your stories to the world if you can. Someone eventually will listen to what you have to say and tell. As for publishing, man it could be tough and expensive out there. If you are able to self publish, then do it. Many writers and artists start out that way and if you are good at it, then you will get noticed. Publishers are always looking for the next Bendis or the next Kirkman to arrive. Self publish and get your story to the world.
EMMONS: I can really appreciate this spirit. If anyone saw the Oscars last night, the big line besides, “Make sure you go to the theater to see films!” (talk about paranoid) was the idea of stories and their impact. Sharing stories, I believe, is an essential human task. The courage that you and other independent creators display to bring us new stories should be applauded!
This brings me to one final anecdote. I just recently re-watched the Les Blank documentary, Burden of Dreams, about the making of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. On the DVD, Herzog, who you may know from the recent documentary Grizzly Man, is talking to those individuals that want to tell stories but are tentative about taking that step. He goes in to a short speech, which will probably sound trite coming from me, on this page, but still, it made an impact. He says, and I’m recalling this from memory so go easy, “If you have an idea, if you have a dream, it’s your responsibility to make that happen. Forget all the traps and possible roadblocks. Make the film. Make your dream.” With that, thank you to those that refuse to be trapped or blocked and continue to realize their dreams and ultimately, bring us new stories.
To learn more about Jam Packed Productions and the creators behind The Super Naturals please visit jampackedproductions.net.