- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

This is the 58th in an infinite series profiling members of the comic-book industry. This month we crack the corpus callosum of Jim Dougan and ask him to

Give us a piece of your mind

By day, he is a mild-mannered economics consultant. By night, Mr. Dougan dons the cowl of sequential-art writer and occasional self-publisher. (Reference his Crazy Papers.)

His current work focuses on stories for the Chemistry Set (www.chemsetcomics.com) an online comics destination. This month, a dozen pieces from the site (two from Mr. Dougan) go to print in the anthology “No Formula,” compiled by Desperado Publishing (www.desperadopublishing.com).

Official title: I don’t really have one as far as comics goes.

Formal education: Undergrad in economics at Georgetown University, master’s in finance and marketing from Northwestern University - which makes me simultaneously overeducated and underqualified for comics.

Favorite childhood memories: Playing with my friends after school - depending on the season and the weather - and going to the corner store after church every Sunday to buy comics.

First comic book ever read: Can’t remember, but I’m willing to bet it was Batman or Spider-Man.

Last comic book read for fun: Right now, I’m in the middle of two: Gilbert Hernandez’s Beyond Palomar (the “yellow” one in those nifty new Love and Rockets compilations) and Volume 5 of Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma, which is just about the most delightful comic-reading experience one could ever have. It’s sort of like Pixar for comics.

Your influences? I guess everything I see and read is an influence in some way, but my favorite creators are - in no particular order after the first “Big 3”: Margaret Atwood, Alan Moore, Tom Stoppard, Mark O’Rowe, Frank Miller, Bryan Lee O’Malley and Alfred Hitchcock.

Why do you want to work in comics? Couldn’t avoid it, really. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell and this is the medium I want to tell them in. I’d like to write more prose, and maybe a play someday, but comics are my first love.

What are the difficulties being a self-publisher? It’s costly, and it’s a lot of work - a lot of work. You’re not done when the creative process is done. You’ve got to make sure the book is designed, ready for print, deal with printers, apply for distribution and promote. Plus, you need to do the bookkeeping, the shipping, the legal end of it. I’m not in a hurry to self-publish another book.

What is the current state of the comic-book industry? I don’t know. Increased mainstream media exposure is great, as is increased presence in bookstores. At the same time, it seems like the major corporate publishers are catering to a continually shrinking audience of hard-core fans, and the majority of comics specialty stores also exist primarily to serve that audience.

Talk about Hollywood and the comic-book industry: I think it’d help a lot more if the big companies could get out of their own way, by having comics that people who watched these movies would actually want to read. When I walk out of “Batman Begins” or “Iron Man” and into a comics store, I can’t find anything that approximates what I just saw. No sale. As a lifelong comics reader, I really like “[Iron Man:] Demon in a Bottle,” but no one who just watched Robert Downey Jr. is going to want that book. Something like “Hellboy” doesn’t have that problem, because it’s the vision of a single creator, sustained in a consistent way over time.

At the end of the day, as Alan Moore - or someone - said, if you don’t like the movie, the book is still right there on the shelf, you know? And he should know. Not even “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “From Hell” can tarnish the brilliance of those books.

Which comic-book characters would you like to work on? At the risk of sounding glib: my own. I don’t have a wish list of other people’s characters that I’d like to tackle. The only possible exception is Jonah Hex, and I’d also love to do a short Hellboy story or two.

Discuss Web comics versus printed comics: Web comics will thrive. [The Web] can’t be beat as a distribution vehicle, as a way for someone to build an audience. I don’t think anything will replace paper for the foreseeable future, though - it’s still the only true archival format, and the only one from which people have figured out how to make money.

What new projects are you involved in? I’m writing new stories (hopefully some more horror and Westerns) for the Chemistry Set and the ongoing adventures of Sam & Lilah (www.activatecomix.com/42.comic).

Favorite image: Watching dolphins swim underwater is pretty cool.

Besides this interview, what’s the stupidest thing you ever did? I broke into the country home of one of my professors when studying abroad in Japan. It’s a long and actually pretty boring story, but I felt really stupid at the time.

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