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CR Holiday Interview #5—J. Caleb Mozzocco
posted December 21, 2012



imageJ. Caleb Mozzocco is someone I know not at all, but I've been reading his work on comics for years and years. Mozzocco is one of those reviewers that offers up an extremely wide range of material for discussion. This includes mainstream comic books and graphic novel collections of same, the 2012 versions of which will be the primary subject of this interview.

I thought it was an odd year for what most people, myself included, call "mainstream comics." Then again, I think most of the years are odd anymore when it comes to genre comics work. As I'm writing this, we're about 15-16 issues into DC's relaunching of their line and right in the middle of Marvel's curated revamp and staggered roll-out of theirs. We also saw a resurgent Image Comics as people like the writer Robert Kirkman became career models of choice. Throw in a half-dozen factors up and down the charts, and 2012 felt like both the beginning and ending of something important. At least that's my view; let's ask Caleb for his. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: How did you end up carving out the writing-about-comics portion of what you do? I assume you were a comics fan growing up, but I honestly don't know.

J. CALEB MOZZOCCO: I actually didn't start reading comics until about the time I started high school, and I therefore quite vividly remember my gateway comics: The DC/TSR Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series -- I was really into role playing games in junior high; a rare trait among comics readers I'm sure -- the Eastman and Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series that they were still publishing through Mirage at the time -- a combination of familiarity with the cartoon and a pretty weird role-playing game a friend had interested me in those -- and Neil Gaiman and company's Sandman Special #1, which had a neat glow-in-the dark cover. Mike Sangiacomo of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote about how that comic retold the Orpheus myth, and it sounded awesome to teenage-me.

At the time, there was still a comic book shop in my hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio, and before I ventured into it comics were just something I would see on creaky spinner racks in drugstores and sketchy magazine stores. Archie seemed to publish half of them. [Spurgeon laughs]

Then I entered the comic shop, and smelled all that fresh ink and paper, saw all those colors on the superhero costumes on shelves, saw my first graphic novels... it was like walking into Narnia.

By the time I graduated college and had a real job with a steady paycheck, I was bringing stacks of comics and a volume of manga or two home on a Wednes-daily basis.

I should probably also note that my hometown, which has a population of about 25,000 and is an hour east of Cleveland, has had four comic shops open and close between 1991 and 2000 or so, and I'm not sure how one gets really in to comics if they don't have that experience of going into a comic shop to see the place where all the comics live.

To answer your original question though, I've been writing as long as I've been reading comics -- actually, longer, but I started semi-professionally writing around the time I was 17, and much of that was reviews. Movie reviews and local theater reviews for my local newspapers, at first.

I spent about six-years of my grown-up life on staff at a pair of newspapers, and the latter one was a rather quickly-dying Columbus alt-weekly, where I could slip in coverage of local comics creators as features and graphic novels as book reviews.

As the paper got even closer to death, the editor-in-chief was pretty much encouraging all of us to write almost anything we wanted, to fill up space and save on the freelance budget, so I had a weekly comics review column there for awhile.

By the time Columbus' big, evil, daily newspaper finally bought us out and laid me off, I had already been doing some freelancing for Wizard -- I was young and needed the money! [Spurgeon laughs] -- and "interning" at Newsarama, that is, providing reviews in return for no money at all. At that point in my life, I suddenly found myself with something like 24 hours a day of free time and I was already in the habit of writing hundreds, occasionally thousands of words a day, so I started Every Day Is Like Wednesday.

I also briefly tried to put together a comics review column I could syndicate to the remaining alt-weeklies at the time -- this would have been around 2006 or so, I guess -- but the only one that actually bit was Las Vegas Weekly, so I had to find a day job, and ended up working in libraries rather than newspapers.

Since then I've written for Blog@Newsarama -- on a paid basis -- Robot 6 at Comic Book Resources, ComicsAlliance and I'm just starting to contribute to the Good Comics For Kids blog, as well. And I still contribute to Las Vegas Weekly, usually about once a month or so.

That's the too-long, too-detailed version. Short version? I liked comics and worked as a writer and editor in print in my early 20s, and when I lost that gig and print was seemingly evaporating, I decided to limit the writing I was doing to something I was really interested in and passionate about.

SPURGEON: One thing that interests me about your writing on your own platform is that there are recurring features. Is that kind of structure helpful to you in terms of continuing to produce work?

MOZZOCCO: I think so. I imagine I started doing that because it was what I was used to from the paper I worked at and the various papers and magazine I read at the time, and because a lot of the comics bloggers I was most interested when I first started blogging -- Kevin Church, Chris Sims, Mike Sterling, Bully -- all had recurring features of some kind or other on their blogs.

Some people I know in the real world are kind of shocked that I do a daily -- well, daily-ish -- blog simply because writing a lot every day seems pretty daunting to a lot of folks that don't write regularly themselves. And if I just sat down at the computer every night and told myself "Well, time to write 500-2,000 words about something having something to do with comic books!" it probably would be rather daunting to me too. But I know that on, say, Thursday, Las Vegas Weekly publishes and my contributions to Robot 6 go up, so I can just link to one or both of those, or that on Wednesday nights I can do "Comic Shop Comics," where I babble about whatever I bought at the shop that week, and once a month I can do posts on DC and Marvel's solicitations, and so on.

When I first started EDILW and wasn't quite sure what I was doing, I had a lot more regular features, many of which I've abandoned.


SPURGEON: Tell me about your consumption of comics: how much you read, where you get them, what's more important in terms of your overall relationship to comics? It seems to me that you must read a ton of books.

MOZZOCCO: This sounds like a question a therapist might ask me while trying to gauge the extent of my problem.

Well, when I was in Columbus, Ohio and working as an editor -- that is, when I had a lot of money -- I had access to a great comic shop called The Laughing Ogre, with really friendly, really nice people like Gib Bickel and Jeff Stang working there, and they seemed to stock everything you could possibly want to read. That store I mentioned going into as a youth a few questions ago? The Ogre was like ten of those in one. I used to budget $40 for new comics every Wednesday, and if the publishers didn't publish $40 of stuff I wanted read, I'd spend it on trades.

Right now, I spend somewhere between $3 and $15 a week on floppy, pamphlet, serially-published comic book-comics every Wednesday. I moved back to my hometown of Ashtabula for about a year in 2010, and was suddenly in a city with no comic shop, so I was forced to break the weekly habit. That was about the time $3.99 comics were becoming more ubiquitous, and I just refuse to read those things and it seemed like Big Two comics were getting much, much, much worse than at any time since I'd been reading them. Although maybe it's not them, maybe it's me; I suppose there comes a time in one's life where one has simply read all the Batman or Justice League comics anyone ever needs to read.

So I've transitioned to trades, and read only a handful of comics as they're serially published now, even though I live within a 15-minute drive of two different comics shops -- in Mentor, Ohio, if any of your readers are stalking me. And I've gotta say, some of the publishers make it really hard to read their comics at all -- I tried the "Marvel NOW!" relaunch of Fantastic Four, and between the house ads, the space-wasting splash pages and Marvel's weird new "Altered Reality" smart phone app prompt in certain panels, it was a real unpleasant slog, despite the fact that the creators did an okay job on it.

I get a ton of comics from the library. Since the layoff from the paper I mentioned above, I've been working in libraries, and if the library I work at doesn't own them, some library in Ohio almost invariably does, and I can get just about anything I want to read through inter-library loan... as long as I wait until they're available in trade.

For Marvel and DC comics, that mainly just means I'm one big crossover event comic/branding initiative behind whatever's in the stores at the time. Which is fine with me; a lot of that stuff I read as much to keep up with for writing-about-comics purposes as for pleasure; like, I want to know what Marvel's doing with Captain America now, rather than how Cap's going to get out of his latest scrape, you know?

Beyond the Big Two or Big Five direct market publishers, it seems a lot of comics publishers just go straight to trade now, so a library is a great place to get manga and the sorts of books Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly and the big, book publishers-dabbling-in-graphic novels put out -- pretty much anything published straight to trade you can find at your local library. Or your local library can find for you. And if they can't, maybe you shou