Neil Kleid on Writing, Drawing, Pitching, and Adapting Comics

A friend of Sequart’s Kevin Colden, Neil Kleid speaks candidly about growing up living and breathing comics. He talks about some current and future projects including a webcomic he’s publishing with Colden. Lisa Lopacinski has the full interview.

LISA LOPACINSKI: Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where are you living now? When did you become interested in comics?

NEIL KLEID: I grew up in a suburb of Detroit called “Oak Park” where the big craze was hanging out in front of 7-11 or going shopping cart racing down the aisles of the local Meijer’s Department Store (or in the parking lot once we were ejected from the store by its cruel overlords. Touch-EE). I split my high school years between Oak Park and private school in Milwaukee, WI, [and then I] returned to Detroit to score the college diploma at Wayne State University (Major, Graphic Design; Minor, ROCKING OUT). Nowadays I hang my hat in the no-Archie tow of Riverdale in The Bronx, New York after a six year stint in Manhattan (or as we call it, The City) alongside my beautiful bride, a better than average drafting table, several hundred graphic novels and a clock that looks like a pizza pie. It’s a fine life. I think I’ll live it.

Comics decided to ask me out on our now-thirty one year date when I was but a wee lad, back in the wilds of Oak Park. Dad Kleid used to come home every Friday so’s we could begin our Sabbath (we’re Orthodox Jewish in that our Sabbath runs from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) and on his way he’d stop at the local Little Professor bookstore and pick up a brown bag of the latest Captain AmericaDC Comics PresentsCaptain CarrotThe Brave and The BoldBatmanSpider-Man and more. He’d casually toss the sack of ten or more into the room I shared with my brother and the comics would keep us out of his ear that night while he grabbed some shut-eye. Those comics — filled with the verve and wonder of the late seventies/early eighties — grabbed my artist’s eye and storyteller’s heart and I began to trace the comics whenever I could, knowing that one day I’d be drawing them myself. Who knew I’d write them too?

LOPACINSKI: How did you get started in writing your own comics?

KLEID: Like I said, I always thought I’d be an art monkey. I spent hours and hours drawing and redrawing old issues of The Avengers and Showcase in an effort to train myself in anatomy, pacing and how to tell and re-tell a story. I took art classes, read books, studied shading and photos and just went to town on page after page. (I still have some of those old pages including a three page Hulk Vs. the Energizer Bunny sequence and my own version of a page from the Avengers Vs. the Masters of Evil storyline).

Finally, at the end of my college career, I scored a meet and greet with an editor at DC Comics (he’s a good friend now, living out of state) who gave me the fi’penny tour and then had a look at my sequentials. Which he summarily trashed. My art was nowhere near ready, and he bluntly told me so, but commended my sense of pacing and story, suggesting that perhaps I should consider a career as a writer.

I went home and committed myself to my new career, buying screenplay books, writer’s guides, studying old scripts — from screenplays to comics to plays — and then I just… wrote. I think my first exercise was taking Ross and Waid’s Kingdom Come and adapting it into a screenplay (I still have it, DC! Call me!). After that it was knee deep into comics scripts, working on[e], then another, honing my craft and learning from my mistakes.

I’ve never stopped.

LOPACINSKI: Tell us more about your current project, Ursa Minors. (Include a description of the plot, others working on the project, info on where people can go for more information about yourself and/or this comic & when it’s available.)

Ursa Minors #2KLEID: Ursa Minors! chronicles the adventures of three twenty-something, pop culture obsessed, high on life and alcohol slackers who are equipped with state-of-the-art servo-enhanced robotic bear suits. While most folks would use this wealth of technological power for good or evil, Tom Johnson, Harry Woodworth and Richard Harrison — AKA Bears One, Two and Three — have decided to use them for, well, nothing. They spend their time talking about pop culture, reading comics, drinking beers, chasing women and occasionally saving their hometown of Bigby City from robot Kevin Smiths, ninja delicatessen owners and English cults. It’s action, comedy, bears versus robotic quantum physicists and, more often than not, a soul-searching quest for acceptance in a world that hates and fears hippies. There are also keen back up stories like “Rabbi Ninja”, “My Grandmother, the Goth” and “Explodey, the Clown that Explodes.”

Ursa Minors! is being presented in bear-vision by the good people at Slave Labor Graphics Comics Consortium, Incorporated, and it’s co-created and co-plotted by Paul Cote, written by yours truly and drawn up all pretty like by Fernando (Tales of the TMNT) Pinto, a hard drinkin’ art soldier if ever the world’s seen one.

Issue 1 is already in stores, Issue 2 ships on August 30th and Issue 3 is now available for preorder in August’s Diamond Previews for items shipping in October. Issue 4 will ship to stores in December and makes a perfect stocking stuffer, Hannukah gift or, uh, your winter gift of choice.

The Diamond Item Numbers for the first three issues of Ursa Minors! are: Issue #1: APR062884 Issue #2: JUN062818 Issue #3: AUG062949

Order now! Order often! Order the one comic book it’s pointless to live without.

Check out more about Ursa Minors! at http://www.slavelabor.com/prev_ursa/prev_ursa.html

Also, join the myspace group over at http://www.myspace.com/ursaminors

My little corner of the web http://www.rantcomics.com

LOPACINSKI: What is the process you go through to get the comic book to evolve from an idea to the actual piece available for purchase?

KLEID: Creating a comic is not as easy as half the would be-creators on the internet-a-mathon might think. First you have to come up with an original idea, no easy feat as there are books out there these days about everything from apes with jetpacks to guys trying to save the world by making sure everyone’s a virgin. So coming up with that original idea is a challenge in a half, one I usually solve with a mix of gin, caffeine, stealing from other people and crying. Wait — did I say stealing? I meant, uh… stealing. Dammit.

Once the idea is in place I tend to spend a good amount of time researching before I write up a plot/proposal sheet detailing “high concept”, “overview”, “characters” and “synopsis” and hammer it all into place. From there, if lucky, I can con…er, convince an artist into doing 5-10 pages for us to pitch it around to publishers, financial backers and interested hobos. Between the artist and I, we set up a creative flow that starts with a full-style script with detailed shit for shot panel descriptions, moves into photo research and background/genre research and then into the art stage (pencils, inks, letters). We package it up all pretty, send to printer or editor and wait for them to tell us we need to fix everything or that we’re super geniuses. We usually hear the latter.

LOPACINSKI: What does the future hold for Neil Kleid?

KLEID: A nice, long nap.

Well, workwise I have some potatoes on the hot plate as I pitch my ass off to editors at the Big Two and assorted smaller publishers (all solicited – yay!) while shepherding pet projects along.

I’m venturing into a world I never thought I’d be in — the webcomic. I always scoffed doing comics on the web, preferring the heft of the tangible graphic novel or the feel of turning the pages of the printed comic and while many of my pieces have been posted on the web (Late Night BlockEmpathyTen Minute Jitters) I’ve never set about writing a comic specifically designed to reach a web audience. And when it comes down to it, I’m still not. My two webcomics came about for the need to do something that would make me tell a good story, stick to a deadline and get that weekly one on one with an audience who will hopefully come back for more of what I have to say. When Studio ACT-I-VATE opened their doors there was this twinge of jealousy that these folks were going out and DOING something… creating something immediate and scheduled that I could watch unfold week to week… at the time I was winding into wedding prep and doing less drawing, less writing and felt that I needed something along those lines – something that would keep me creating on a regular basis. That’s the reason I started serializing my novel, Coffin, on Livejournal and when it comes down to it, it’s why I agreed to do webcomics. The artists I’m working with and I aren’t playing with the infinite canvas or anything such as that — we’re taking a story that in any other forum we would roll out in installments and serializing it a page or three at a time. Sure, we might muck with art and offer folks a pretty palette — but at the heart we’re setting out to tell well written, well crafted stories. We just happen to be doing it online, is all.

page from Todt HillMy first webcomic is an all-ages adventure story called Todt Hill. It’s a tale of ancient treasure, insular societies, immortal greed and the infinite possibilities of youth. I’m collaborating with longtime friend, Kevin Colden, and we’re presenting it one page at a time every Friday at http://www.chemsetcomics.com. The first six pages are already live at the Chemistry Set website (THE CHEMISTRY SET is a collective of creators bonded together to bring free independent comics to the masses. Each week readers are treated to new comics by some of the hottest and most talented up-and-coming creators in the medium, including two Xeric Award winners.)

The second webcomic is still in the plotting stages, but I’m co-writing it with Marc Bernadin and it’s going to be a 96-page serialized graphic novel for a major high-profile website.

Other than that? I work. I’m drawing my second cartoon book, Migdal David, a graphic novel about growing up with a developmental disability in an Orthodox Jewish home, set to debut late ’07 from Seraphic Press. It’s the story of my brother David that compares and contrasts the struggles we faced educationally and religiously. Finally, Brownsville artist Jake Allen and I have a few things in the pipeline: a short story in Postcards (an upcoming anthology edited by Jason Rodriguez) and we’ve broken ground on our next original graphic novel, Dead Ronin, the story of an exiled samurai circa 1909 who flees Japan for gang-infested San Francisco right after the Asian-American Act is, uh, “enacted.” It’s currently sans publisher, but there’s interest.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One year after our first wedding anniversary, to the day, my husband and I picked up the keys to a 1000 square foot store front in a strip mall in suburban Waukesha, WI. Two weeks later that spot would become Neptune Comics, our very own comic book store. I grew up in Slinger, WI, the child of entrepreneurial parents who owned their own dog breading and boarding kennel. The first in my family to graduate from college, I earned a BA from St. Norbert College. Prior to becoming a comic book retailer I was a stock broker, and then gave up that stress to own my own house cleaning business. Comic books were a small blip on my radar before I considered opening a store -- I did not have a collection stashed somewhere. But jumping into comic book retailing has been a great crash course in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Being a woman and a comic fan, rather than a collector, I have no doubt that my opinions won’t always be that of the majority.

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