*Transcribed from an audio interview at Raleigh SuperCon*
WE: Mr. Shooter how are you doing today?
JS: Very well thank you.
WE: So how are you enjoying the convention so far?
JS: I think this is a great convention. I hear this is their first time but boy you couldn’t tell with how smoothly everything is run. The place is packed. Good people. Lot of interesting guests and some who I haven’t seen for a long time. So far
I’ve had a good time.
WE: So delving into your career a little bit how did you get started?
JS: Well I stopped reading comics when I was about eight. The superman stuff all just seemed to be repetitive and I got tired of Donald duck and Uncle Scrooge. So I hadn’t read comics for years and when I was twelve I was in the hospital for a few days, minor stuff, and in a children’s ward of a hospital there’s lots of comics. So I started reading comics because there was nothing else to do and DC comics were pretty much the way I left them. So were the duck comics, but, there were these newfangled Marvel Comics. So I said
“Woah these are interesting wow.”
So at the ripe age of twelve years old I said,
“I could learn how to do this. I could get paid for this.”
Because somebody must get paid for this. So anyway I spent a year studying, reading comics, thinking about the ones I like. Why did I like them. How did they go about it. What was the methodology. Also reading the ones I didn’t like and figuring out why didn’t I like them and what made other ones better. So most of the ones I liked were Stan’s and Marvel comics. So I started feeling like,
“If I could learn to write like Stan a little, I might be able to sell a story to DC, cause they need help.”
So that’s exactly what I did, when I was 13 I wrote a comic story for the Legion of Superheroes.
Because I thought it had tremendous potential and the people doing it weren’t capturing it. I figured maybe I could make a difference here. Now I didn’t know what a script looked like so I actually drew every panel the best I could and lettered in every balloon. I drew and even colored a cover for it cause I wanted it to have a cover. When I was all done with it I sent it to DC Comics and I guess it arrived there sometime late May or June 1965 when I was thirteen. Then I get a letter back from the editor saying,
“Send me another one”.
So I sent him two more because it was a two part story. Then I got a call from Mort Weisinger who was the senior editor of DC comics at the time, who was basically the editor in chief. He told me he wanted to buy the stories I wrote and wanted to start putting me on assignments. I said fine so his first assignment for me was Supergirl, 12 pages, Friday. That was the whole assignment and so I did it. I delivered the comic next Friday and they liked that, and they just kept giving me jobs. Every time one was done, then a new one rolled in. I worked my way through high school and it was better than Baskin Robbins I guess.
WE: *chuckle* So in developing your ability as an artist and a writer, you kind of abandoned comic books. Was there anyone else that inspired you or motivated you to get better?
JS: Oh yeah! I mean just in general I wanted to get better and Mort Weisinger trained me not only to be a writer but also to be able to do what he did with licensing and marketing and the business. He was really running the joint and teaching me all that and I wondered why. Years later his assistant told me he was trying to groom me to have a job like his, and guess what, I did. But it was at Marvel. So all the stuff he taught me came in handy it was just at the other company.
WE: Life is funny that way.
JS: Yeah, isn’t that amazing, but I learned from him and from my own. I started being a student of the game and reading books on writing and the architecture of writing and story constriction and just writing in general. I learned an awful lot and tried to get better and I guess I did a little. I gave it my best shot and like I said I eventually left DC for Marvel and all the stuff Mort taught me came quite in handy.
WE: With all the writing that you’ve done is there any work that stands out to you as a favorite or are they too special, what would you say?
JS: It sounds corny, but whatever I’m doing at the time and am really involved with that becomes my favorite thing. As far as a favorite thing I’ve ever done? I really don’t know. With me the hardest thing is I’m such a critic. I look at my stuff and all I see is the flaws. If I really had to say what I feel the best about I’d probably have to say the first seven issues of Harbinger. I was working with a kid named David Lapham (who is no longer a kid) but he was a genus starting out of the gate and he did such good work and it was such a pleasure working with him. He just got it. Id explain what I want and he’d nail it. The expressions. The gestures. The actions. It was fun because he was so good and I think because he was so good it made me better.
WE: So for fans who have been inspired by your work, what are some words of wisdom that you could give to help them improve their craft be it business, writing, art, etc.
JS: Well you used the right word it’s a craft. Learn your craft. If you want to be a writer you can’t just sit down and start writing, you need to learn your craft. It’s like people say “Oh I’ve read a lot” yeah well that’s like saying “I have teeth therefore I can be a dentist”. You know it’s not the same thing. So my advice is to learn your craft.
If you want to be a writer for comics, there aren’t a lot of good books out there about comics writing. Plenty of bad books but not a lot of good books. So I advise people to read books about screenwriting because there are good books about screenwriting and you can learn a lot from them. William Goldman and other people have done some really informative works about screenwriting. Almost all the same principles apply which is good. If you want to learn to be an artist, learn to draw, use your eyes. Get good at it and use it as reference. Master perspective. Master anatomy. It takes a long time and it takes a lot of work. Also a lot of guys, muscle guys, don’t want to spend time on the buildings in the background. So you’ve got these butter stick buildings with these heavily rendered characters in front of them. I remember telling David Lapham,
“When you get as interested in drawing those buildings in the background as you are the characters in the front, you’re gonna be dangerous”.
Guess what, he was. He started bearing down and getting interested and learning environment is just as important as the characters, and that’s a big deal. Just learn your craft. Learn what you need to know. If you think it’s easy. You’re wrong. I don’t care who you are or how talented you are.
WE: Being someone who has been on both the giving and receiving end of the business aspect of things, what are your opinions on the current state of the comics industry?
JS: I think it’s pretty sad frankly. The fact that it’s still around is a testament to how much people love it, but the fact is that so much of comics these days, the print comics, people have kind of lost sight of the fact that they’re supposed to be entertainers. They’re supposed to be storytellers. There are some great artists. Some of them are doing their job really well, but a lot of them are mostly concerned with selling pages at conventions like this. So they’re drawing the page for these fans to buy as opposed to telling the story. Once they get back to telling the story, sales will take off, the stories will be popular and guess what. Those pages are worth just as much. Same thing with the writers, I feel like writers are doing this decompressed storytelling now where it takes 12 books to tell a story that Stan would have done in one.
There’s talent out there, people who are good. I think that they need some good direction. I don’t think there’s anyone manning the helm and editors aren’t teaching like before, because they don’t know how to teach. They’re just kind of processing stuff through and it’s become a star driven business. You get yourself a Bendis or a Geoff Johns or whatever they do and they think it’s just fine. Nobody is manning the helm anymore so I think that you get some stuff that isn’t as good as it ought to be. You take the movies which are huge hits, you think that would drive people to buy the comics, then you look at the comic sales and they’re pathetic. They’re selling 20,000 this and 30,000 of that. These are books that used to sell half a million, what happened. The books just aren’t that good anymore.
WE: As closing thoughts, where can people find you? Are there any projects you’d like to promote?
JS: Well I have a blog, I haven’t contributed to it for a long time, but it has a lot of my old stories and the history of comics. Its jimshooter.com, easy to remember and a lot of stuff there like some “How-To” stuff. It’s not me talking, it’s me passing on the wisdom of the ancients that I learned from guys like Stan and Jack and Mort. Interesting stuff there. As for projects I’m working on. A group of guys have a project at Image called “Slow City Blues”, the lead characters nickname is slow and it’s his city. So they asked me to not only consult, kind of be the coach. They send me stuff and I send them comments and mostly they listen to me. They also want me to write part of it, something like four stories out of the ten total.
My story kind of parallels the main story created by Sam Wood who’s really good. At the end the stories come together and it’s great stuff. I’m really impressed with it and the guy that created it poured his heart into it. It’s really terrific, spectacular stuff but it’s got nuance. It’s got power. It’s really good and I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m having a ball working on it.
WE: That’s awesome. Thank you very much for your time Mr. Shooter.
JS: Thank you.