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A Short Interview With Joel Meadows
posted July 1, 2008
 

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I've known Joel Meadows since the mid-1990s, when he was editing the upper-level mainstream focused comics magazine Tripwire -- maybe the first of the niche magazines to go for that Wizard for people that don't like Wizard audience -- and I was working at Fantagraphics on The Comics Journal. He was also one of those guy that I always used to see in San Diego, to the point where the convention seemed weird when we didn't bump into one another. It's taken more than a decade, but last summer's annual format for Tripwire seems like it may be the one that will work for the publication. Meadows is also working right now on publicity for a book he co-edited with Gary Marshall that grew out of Tripwire's "Studio Space" feature. I was happy to talk with him about both projects.

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TOM SPURGEON: Joel, let me catch folks up on plans for Tripwire. Are you guys settled into the yearly annual publication from now on? What might keep that from happening?

JOEL MEADOWS: We are pretty settled into the yearly Annual publication for Tripwire as last year's was a bigger success than we thought it was going to be, so at this point it makes sense to continue with that frequency. The new Annual is in the latest Previews so barring tidal waves or natural disasters, then I think we're set on bringing out another Annual for the end of July.

SPURGEON: Were you generally happy with the way your first annual turned out? What do you think was strongest, or on what did you hear back most positively? Is there anything you did in that issue that you will definitely not be doing in the future?

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MEADOWS: To be honest, I was very happy with about 95% of what was in the Annual last year. From a content point of view, I think our Simpsons feature which included a new Matt Groening interview was probably the highlight of the issue. The strip content split the readers but we are doing it again. The feature I don't think we thought out well enough in terms of content was the piece on London's film post-production boom and for our film content this time around, I done a lot more research for it and framed the features a lot better. So, no I don't think there's anything we did first time around that we won't be including in the future although I'm hoping we come up with a better design for the Power List!

SPURGEON: Joel, why print at a time when most people are going on-line with increasing intensity? Is there a time when Tripwire might have a stronger on-line presence?

MEADOWS: What can I say? I started with print way back in 1992 and while I certainly wouldn't denigrate online as there is some intelligent content there, I still feel that we can deliver the most depth and breadth from a print title. We are currently working on a stronger Tripwire presence online and hope to have a fully-fledged website up and running by San Diego.

SPURGEON: Tell me about the initial idea for the Studio Space project. How has it changed from your initial conception? Who was the first artist profiled? Why?

MEADOWS: Studio Space came out of Tripwire because back in 2003 when we relaunched the magazine as a full-colour 100 page periodical, we published three "Studio Space" features (John Bolton, Phil Hale and Tim Bradstreet) and they went down very well. So when we were forced to mothball the magazine, myself and my partner on the magazine, Gary Marshall, both thought that it was too good an idea to discard and it was a concept that could work perfectly as a book. Initially, it was to have a dozen artists including Matt Groening and Gerald Scarfe but we revamped the list to make it comic book illustrators. Although if anyone looks at the book, they will see that, although the 20 artists are best known as comic guys, they have a lot more strings to their bows. Phil Hale was the first Studio Space interview in the magazine but Duncan Fegredo was the first interview for the book and he was first just because I have known Duncan for a long time and felt comfortable going up to see him.

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SPURGEON: Was it difficult getting the book published given its specialty nature and what I remember to be a similar project from Dark Horse? I seem to remember that there was quite an odyssey there.

MEADOWS: We first started pitching the book at the London Book Fair back in 2004, so it has been a four-year struggle to get it out. The book you are talking about from Dark Horse, The Artist Within, while a worthwhile project, is predominantly a coffee-table photo book whereas Studio Space is about the interviews and the work. We landed the first publisher for the book back in 2005 but unfortunately the advocate for the title left that publisher and it was left floundering until the publisher chose to cancel it. Then we spent a few months talking to different people and it was Richard Starkings from Active Images who recommended Image and we struck a deal with them in Summer 2007. The specialty nature of the book was a problem with some of the mainstream book publishers but it wasn't an issue with Image.

SPURGEON: How does your project distinguish itself from Todd Hignite's book at Yale University Press, In the Studio?

MEADOWS: In The Studio does have some similarities with Studio Space, except that its subjects are less mainstream than ours. To be honest, this is the danger of having waited so long to get it out as it was an unusual idea back in 2003 but, as time has passed, others have decided to try the same tack. I think that Studio Space is less academic than In The Studio, something that I hope is helped by my background in journalism.

SPURGEON: How did you get Michael Moorcock to provide the introduction? Was that written specifically for the book?

MEADOWS: I have interviewed Michael on a couple of occasions and we are interviewing him again for this year's Tripwire Annual, so I don't know him well but I know him well enough so I just asked him. We also got a Guillermo Del Toro foreword, which was very exciting. Both pieces were written especially for Studio Space.

SPURGEON: Is there anyone you wanted but didn't get? Didn't you try to get Moebius?

MEADOWS: There are a number of artists who we had planned to be in the book. They shall remain nameless for reasons of diplomacy -- but one proved to be impossible to pin down for a single lengthy interview and another excused himself from the book because we couldn't offer him any money for publishing his work. Yes, we did try and get Moebius but we couldn't come to a arrangement that was satisfactory for all concerned.

SPURGEON: Is there anything you got that didn't make it into the book? Could there be a sequel?

MEADOWS: Myself and Gary have already sat down and worked out a list of another 40 artists we would like to interview, so we potentially have enough for two sequels. There are a couple of artists we removed from the first book that we intend to stick into the follow-ups. Of course, the sales on this one have to warrant another volume but we are eternal optimists.

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SPURGEON: Joel, I have to be honest, but some of the preview photography I saw for the book looked a bit muddy. How much photography is in the book, who took the photos and are you satisfied with the reproductions throughout?

MEADOWS: Each chapter has a photo of the artist in their studio, I took about seven of the photos, Gary took a few others and the rest were supplied by the artists themselves. What you saw was a low-res galley of the book so the photos should be brighter and less muddy when they are actually published. I would have liked to have re-shot some of the photos but we didn't have the chance. If we do another book, we shall make sure that all the images are of a suitable standard for publication. It's one of the things we learned during our time on the book.

SPURGEON: I like the vast majority of the artists you profile, but they all seem to me to be of one type -- high-end mainstream craftsmen. Did you think about including any cartoonists more typically thought of as alternative or that work in a funny animal style or even newspaper strips or panelists? Why does that kind of artist interest you?

MEADOWS: Being honest, we wanted to make the first book as accessible to the mainstream as possible and yes we could have included cartoonists like [Dan] Clowes or [Posy] Simmonds but this first list does reflect the sort of artists that myself and Gary are drawn to (if you'll pardon the pun). Many of these are also artists that we had gotten friendly with over the years too, interviewing them for Tripwire and building up a rapport with them. We do plan to include artists like Roger Langridge, Mark Schultz and Frank Cho next time around to increase the breadth of artists in the book. Also, with the alternative artists, In The Studio seemed to do a fine job covering that sector, so we didn't want to step on their toes or duplicate what they had done.

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SPURGEON: We're doing this interview mid-April. What are you doing PR-wise to support the book in the marketplace? Generally for you, what's next?

MEADOWS: First on the agenda is a launch of the book in paperback at the Bristol International Comic Expo which runs from May 9th to May 11th. The show features a number of artists from the book, like [Walt] Simonson, [Sean] Phillips, Fegredo, [Dave] Gibbons and [Bryan] Talbot and it is our home show, so it seemed to make sense. Then we have a signing at Forbidden Planet in London on Saturday 7th June with Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Duncan Fegredo and Sean Phillips, which will be exciting to have those four together. Then for the US market, we will have a presence at Image's booth at San Diego in July. We are also looking at some events at Book Expo America at the end of May and a Waterstones signing in London in the second half of June but these aren't firmed up yet. Next on our agenda is a long sleep (if only)! Actually we are finishing off the next Tripwire Annual, which has a brand new Tommy Lee Edwards Doctor Who painted cover, as well as trying to make another one or two Studio Space books a reality.

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* cover to next Tripwire
* cover to last Tripwire
* cover to Studio Space
* roughs of two pages from Studio Space

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Studio Space, Joel Meadows and Gary Marshall, Image Comics, 320 pages, May 2008, 9781582409085 (ISBN13), $29.99

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Editor's Note: Joel asked me to change the Bristol information because the interview was coming out while the show was going on rather than beforehand, but I'm not sure why it has to be changed and I figure you can all parse out the fact that the interview was done before this weekend and refers to an event this weekend.

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