Writer Jai Nitz
's biography describes his work thusly: "Jai Nitz is an American comic book writer who has written for Marvel, DC, Image, Disney, Dynamite, and other publishers. He won the prestigious Xeric Foundation grant in 2003 for his self-published anthology, Paper Museum
. He won the Bram Stoker Award in 2004 for excellence in illustrated narrative for Heaven's Devils
from Image Comics. He is currently writing Green Hornet
at Dynamite Entertainment."
We here became aware of Nitz because he's a regular at Astrokitty Comics, as well as a lecturer at the University of Kansas. He's a super-funny guy, as well as being immenently approachable, so you should go see him when he appears at this weekend's Planet Comicon
. However, if you can't, or you need extra convicing, Nitz was kind enough to speak with us and answer a few questions.
How do you balance work as a lecturer at KU and parenting a small child with attending cons? I imagine time is tight.
It can be tough sometimes. Parenting always comes first, but career is important. The good news is that the boys have school M-F just like KU does. Also, the local schools go hand-in-hand with KU as far as snow days and Spring Break and holidays. I think you can find a major or mid-major comic book convention 40 or so weeks out of the year, so there will always be schedule conflicts. Like any real-world job, you have to prioritize.
Your Last Lecture presentation made it clear you're very conscious of how certain characters are portrayed. Does this influence your writing?
Sure, but ultimately we all serve the story. For instance, when I created the new El Diablo, I wanted to make him a strong Hispanic character. I happened to make him a drug lord. Maybe that wasn't the strongest role model choice (but no one ever said a word about it), but it was my choice to serve the story. I wanted El Diablo to start as a bad guy who did bad things who received powers that made him do the just thing. He had to serve justice, cosmic justice, whether he liked it or not. Also, I wanted to say something socially about how you could be a pillar of the community and still be a criminal in the eyes of most White Westerners. The point was to tell the story and worry about portrayals later. All that said, I'm writing in a new Hispanic character into Green Hornet and trying to make sure I don't miss the mark this time.
I would assume it came to the forefront with Kato -- the backstory of Bruce Lee's real-life involvement is very racially charged, to say nothing of a kung fu Asian sidekick to a wealthy white man.
I had already written El Diablo
and Blue Beetle
by the time I got the gig on Kato
. But, yes, Kato Origins
had a lot to do with race. I mean, can you imagine being Japanese in America in 1942? Also, a key cog in both my big Kato arcs was "mistaken race." People get Kato mixed up (through subterfuge) for "tolerable" races. Again, it's crazy that some Asian races were "good" and others were "bad" and most Americans couldn't tell the difference if pressed. I wanted to write about that.
Going back to conventions -- as a writer, how do you reel people in?
Ugh. It's equal parts embarrassing and necessary. It's embarrassing because you feel bad for interrupting someone's day to try to get them to buy your little comic book. But, on the other hand, you believe in this slab of art and you know that no one else is going to promote it but you. So you have to reach out to potential customers at conventions (read as: everyone who walks by) and try to sell them on your book. You have to. They are in the one place that tells you they're likely to buy/read/enjoy your comic. So now is the time to approach them or get their attention. But we're trained in society to leave other people alone and not bother them. I don't want to be bothered, why should they? Round and round.
I wish I had the ability to not feel bad about talking to strangers and trying to convince them to give me their hard-earned money. But I do. So conventions are stressful. I'd like to be at a level of someone like John Layman or Robert Kirkman where people come to me to buy my book and I don't have to sell myself a hundred times a day. But until I reach that level of success, let me tell you about Dream Thief
Artists have a more immediately demonstrable talent that can hook in people. How do you sell yourself?
Everyone should know this is a sweeping generalization, but I think that writers have an easier time communicating with a cold customer than artists do. We're verbal communicators. We know how to strike up a conversation. So for a customer walking by the aisles of a comic con, the comic artist and comic writer look the exact same (because even as a writer you're displaying the art of your work, not your words). I've seen writers snag person after person with a good rap. And I've seen people ignore everything and shuffle right up to a pretty picture. I think writers are better salesmen, but it's a visual medium, and art is what hooks people.
In a convention setting, art wins. Because you can sit down and draw a picture and blow fans' minds. I can't do that with writing.
And, counterpoint to that -- is a recognizable property an easier or harder sell than something different? I.e., is the effort to flog a property owned by someone else more or less satisfying than selling your own creation?
It's MUCH easier to sell a recognizable property than a new thing. I'm going through that right now. Dream Thief
is my baby. It's the best thing I've ever done, Greg Smallwood is the best artist I've ever worked with, and it's coming out from Dark Horse Comics (one of the biggest publishers). But people have heard of Tron
or Green Hornet
. So it's really easy for me to sell those collections to fans rather than get them excited about a book they've never heard of. But it's much more rewarding when someone buys your creator-owned project and responds to it. That's the best.
Planet Comicon is at Bartle Hall in Kansas City this Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7. More information can be found at the convention website and blog. Jai Nitz appears both days, at Booth #940. You can find out more information regarding Nitz at his website.