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The Making of a Graphic Novel: "Jayson Goes to Hollywood"

May 12 - June 13, 2010

Time to tell new stories

When I published “Jayson: Best of the 80s” and “Jayson: Best of the 90s” in 2005, they sold reasonably well to readers who were already familiar with the stories from Gay Comix and Meatmen. But whenever I appeared at conventions (sponsored by the ever-gracious Prism Comics), I always felt like I was trading on my past, while my contemporaries were creating exciting new work for a shiny new century. This feeling was reinforced by the 50-something queen who picked up one of my “Jayson” books from the signing table, flipped through it, tossed it back, and sneered, “I’ve already read all those stories.” It was time for me to tell new stories. But what form would they take? I have always been a fan of the 32-page newsstand comic book. I would love to do a regularly published series of “Jayson” comic books, a la “Archie.” A few gay creators have tried it, like Tim Fish’s “Cavalcade of Boys” and Tommy Roddy’s “Pride High.” But newsstand comics have been dying for years, and I didn’t have the necessary distribution or marketing muscle behind me to make it work. Plus, when I thought about my own buying habits, I rarely buy comic books anymore; I wait for the inevitable collections. Collections also have a longer shelf life and can be sold in bookstores and on Amazon.com. So when I started thinking about the new “Jayson” stories I wanted to tell, I decided to forego the time-wasting, money-losing comic-book stage and skip ahead to the collection.

What form will “Jayson” take?

Once I decided, based on the response to the “Best of Jayson” retrospectives, to continue the “Jayson” series with new stories for the new millennium, I laid out the first three story arcs I wanted to tell. When I started this process, I was still thinking in terms of a regularly published comic book, so I laid out each story arc as a four-issue series with four six-page stories per issue, a la “Archie.” The plan was to publish the first four-issue series over the course of a year, then collect it up in a 96-page graphic novel, then launch the next four-issue series with issue 5, etc. When I decided to skip the comic-book stage and go right to the graphic novel stage, I retained this structure with very few modifications. During my hiatus from “Jayson” comics, I wrote the off-Broadway “Jayson” musical (1996-1998) and later toiled as a screenwriter (2001-2003). Consequently, I became accustomed to structuring and telling stories on a larger canvas. Just as I had outgrown six-panel strips in the ‘80s, I outgrew six-page stories in the ‘00s. But I didn’t want to alienate my loyal readers who were accustomed to reading my standalone stories, so I opted to tell my new stories in six-page increments -- except now I called them chapters.

Jayson’s supporting cast

I have a very strong supporting cast. In fact, given that the strip is called “Jayson,” I’ve often found it challenging to keep Jayson’s larger-than-life friends Arena and Robyn from completely hijacking the stories. This “healthy tension” has provided a ready source of humor in the strip, as Jayson is completely aware that he is a supporting character in his own sitcom. When I evolved the strip from standalone stories to graphic novel with “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” I was delighted to finally be able to reward my supporting players with their name above the title in several chapters. In fact, the first three chapters feature Jayson, Arena, and Robyn respectively. This also served to introduce, or re-introduce, the main characters, relationships and situations to readers who might not be familiar with all 25 years of “Jayson” history. I wanted this graphic novel to be a jumping-on point for new readers, especially those who may not have been alive in 1983. Of course I also wanted these readers, once they finished reading “Hollywood,” to want to go back and read the “Best of the 80s” and “Best of the 90s” to find out more. Anecdotal evidence suggests I’ve succeeded.

Jayson shares the spotlight

Once I decided that I was going to write a “Jayson” graphic novel, I knew that I wanted to have an “A” plot and a “B” plot. Jayson and Arena would go to Hollywood (the “A” plot) while Robyn and Bertha would remain in Philadelphia to run Robyn’s specialty film business (the “B” plot). This allowed my supporting cast the opportunity to shine in their own storylines, after dutifully supporting Jayson for 25 years. In fact, even the title “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” is a misnomer. It’s not just Jayson, but both Jayson and Arena, who go to Hollywood. Over the years Jayson and Arena have done just about everything together. I consider them to be one of the great comedy duos, like Lucy and Ethel or Laverne and Shirley. But “Jayson” is the brand, and Arena knows it. So, to reward Arena for her loyalty, I made sure she got top billing in the second chapter of the book, in a story called “Arena competes for a job” -- which just as easily could have been called “Jayson competes for a job,” since they’re competing with each other. But it pays to keep your supporting cast happy.

Transitioning from standalone stories

When I started writing “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” I had some standalone story ideas kicking around that I wanted to include. I decided to open with one of them, hoping to placate longtime readers who were used to reading self-contained stories, while also ushering new readers into Jayson’s world, before kicking the plot into high gear. The opening story, “Jayson hits the beach,” is my homage to “Betty & Veronica Summer Fun.” My Philadelphia-based cast heads to the Jersey Shore on a sweltering summer day, giving me the opportunity to re-establish the core characters and relationships in the novel setting of sun, surf, and swimsuits. Longtime readers might also notice that the splash panel echoes Jayson’s very first story, “Jayson goes home” (Gay Comix #6). In both panels, Jayson, standing background left, tells us where they’re about to go, while Arena, standing foreground right at the dining table, packs a bag as she cracks wise.

Planning in advance

One of the great things about sitting down and planning out a series of “Jayson” story arcs -- as opposed to writing the stories one at a time and merely hoping for continuity -- is that you can plant seeds early on that will bear fruit much later in the series. For example, by the time I sat down to start writing “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” I knew that the second story arc would be revolve around Jayson’s job struggles, and that his successful ex Walter would be heavily involved. So I made a point of re-introducing Walter and his boyfriend Steven in “Hollywood’s” opening chapter, as well as having the two of them show up to Jayson’s birthday party a few chapters later, even though they had nothing to do with the main story. I also wanted to remind readers of Jayson’s chronic underemployment early on. The second chapter of “Hollywood” shows Jayson and Arena out of work and competing for a truly awful job. This sets the stage for their decision, two chapters later, to start their own company. But it also paves the way straight into the next book in the series, “Jayson Gets a Job,” which I’m working on now.

Welcome to the 21st century

The second chapter in “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” is significant in several ways. It is the first time that a character other than Jayson gets top billing. Even though Jayson and his roommate Arena do most things together, Arena really shines in this episode, titled “Arena competes for a job,” and deserves the crown. This chapter also serves to establish the characters in the 21st century in subtle ways. For example, when they conduct their job search (and later, when they form their company), they rely on their Internet-enabled computer sitting on a desk in a corner of the apartment that was previously empty. They don’t call attention to this fact, it’s just a fact. They also no longer smoke. Early in the process of putting together the “Jayson” musical (1996-98), I concluded that the actors could not smoke and sing (or sing while smoking) and audiences (and fire marshals) wouldn’t have it anyway. So I just dropped it, and no one complained. Same here. After a nearly ten-year hiatus from writing “Jayson” stories, I could no longer imagine them smoking. So they just don’t anymore. Or maybe they just do it when we’re not looking.

Strip-mining the “Jayson” musical

“Arena competes for a job,” the second chapter in my “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” graphic novel, was based on scene I wrote for the “Jayson” musical. The first act of the musical hewed pretty closely to the source material, but I needed a new scene early on to establish Jayson and Arena’s job struggles. (It’s been such a recurring theme in the series that I’d never felt the need to write such a scene before.) My friend Desi Moreno-Penson, a New York-based actress/playwright/producer, once worked as a phone sex operator. In fact, this experience helped her land the part of “Girl 4” in Spike Lee’s “Girl 6.” I thought this would be a fascinating world for Jayson and Arena to stumble into, and a hilarious way to establish, through their reactions, their contrasting personalities. They didn’t let me down. The second act of the musical had much more original material in it. The show was by its very nature episodic (something most critics didn’t appreciate), but I still needed to find a way to build the story to a crisis, climax, and resolution, and I needed to reach beyond the published stories to get there. Never one to waste a good idea, some of those original scenes from the musical are now finding their way into “Jayson Gets a Job.” But one -- the idea that Jayson and Arena would form their own ad agency, with Robyn’s “Double-R Studios” as their first client -- inspired Chapter 4 of “Jayson Goes to Hollywood.”

Never waste a good gag

The third chapter of “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” belongs to the third key member of the “Jayson” ensemble, Robyn Ricketts. In “Robyn makes a film,” we see Robyn producing one of his adult films with all the talent and aplomb of Ed Wood. This story began life as a series of gag cartoons for the six-panel “Jayson” strip that I brought to Q Syndicate in the ‘90s but never published. In that version of the strip, I planned to establish a series of running gags and to focus on the core cast -- Jayson, Arena, and Robyn -- to make it easier for the casual reader to understand the situation and enjoy the joke. One of the running gags in the strip was going to be Robyn making a film and something going awry. Since Jayson was the star of the strip, I decided to make him Robyn’s assistant. But when I dusted off these gags and tried to repurpose them for use in the graphic novel, something magical happened.

Bertha + Robyn = Magic

When I dusted off the unused gag strips from “Jayson’s” aborted return to weekly syndication, I found enough “Robyn makes a film” gags to piece them into a chapter of the “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” graphic novel. In these gag strips, Jayson was Robyn’s assistant and Jayson’s mother Bertha, who had previously played this role, was nowhere to be found. When I wrote those strips, I was trying to pare down the cast and ensure that Jayson appeared in every one of them. In fact, it was my intention, heading in to “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” that I would send Bertha packing. Even when I decided, for continuity’s sake, that Bertha should replace Jayson in this opening chapter, I was planning to send her back to Farmville by the end of the book. Then something wonderful happened. The chemistry between Robyn and Bertha proved irresistible. Sequences that were cute when Jayson played the role became laugh-out-loud funny when plainspoken, world-weary Bertha stepped in to deliver her take on the proceedings. It was lighting in a bottle. I decided then and there that Bertha was a keeper.

Arena has a sister?!

As I mentioned before, the Big Idea behind “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” rested on the padded shoulders of Arena’s sister Meryl. How, you might ask, could such an obscure character launch such an audacious undertaking? After all, as you diehard “Jayson” fans know, prior to “Hollywood,” Meryl appeared in just one story: “Jayson Gets Married,” the two-parter that closed out the ‘80s. But a lot happened in that narrow slice of time between the ‘80s and the ‘90s. You may recall that at the denouement of “Jayson Gets Married,” Arena storms out on Jayson and moves to Manhattan to join her father’s ad agency, where her sister Meryl also works. This was actually the setup to a planned “Arena Stage” spinoff strip that I was developing for mainstream audiences. I wrote 5 weeks’ worth of daily newspaper strips and 4 weeks’ worth of Sundays. I made the rounds of the newspaper syndicates and got a warm response from Susan Smith of the American Newspaper Syndicate. She wrote that she was impressed by the quality of my work and my credentials -- but not the concept, I suppose, since she continued: “If you should develop another feature idea we would be very interested in seeing it.” To date, it’s the most encouraging rejection I’ve ever received. “Arena Stage” never did get syndicated. But along the way, I got to know her Arena’s sister Meryl very well.

Arena’s spinoff strip

The “Arena Stage” spinoff strip focused primarily on the workplace dynamic between Arena and her sister Meryl, who was her polar opposite: anal, uptight, logical, and always prepared. While Meryl would stay up all night cramming for a client meeting, Arena would waltz in at the last minute and wing it, winning the day with her inimitable combination of the three Cs: charm, creativity, and chutzpah. Meryl Lynch -- named after the investment firm -- began life as a female Jayson in a business suit. In the late ‘80s I earned my MBA and moved to Manhattan; those experiences informed the character of Meryl and the development of the strip in general. Too bad I only got to finish five weeks’ worth of dailies. Maybe someday I’ll complete the story arc I started and publish it as a “lost episode.” I did publish the four Sunday strips in my first “Jayson” collection (1997), to show readers what Arena did between storming out on Jayson in “Jayson gets married” and returning with her tail between her legs in “Jayson’s new lease on life.” That was the last time Meryl was ever mentioned, until she resurfaced as the catalyst for Jayson and Arena’s trip to Hollywood in 2008. But I never forgot about her. In fact, in early 2000, during a routine transcontinental flight, she interrupted my thoughts to make a life-altering announcement.

Meryl comes out

I was sitting on a plane, minding my own business, when Arena’s sister Meryl intruded upon my thoughts. I hadn’t heard from her for a while. In fact, I hadn’t heard from anyone connected with the “Jayson” cast for a while, having taken an extended hiatus from the strip that might well have become permanent, were it not for what Meryl told me next. “I’m gay,” she said. “No shit,” I thought. Not that I meant I had known all along; I didn’t. In fact, I was expressing mild surprise, followed by the realization that it made so much sense, why hadn’t I thought of it first? Then Meryl dropped a second bombshell: now that she was gay, she wanted to have a baby. “Say what?!” Suddenly I became excited by the storytelling possibilities. I quickly outlined a story in which Meryl pressures Jayson to become her sperm donor. By the time the plane landed, I had pretty much written the whole story. And just like that, I was back in the “Jayson” game.

An experiment in collaboration

When I wrote the "Jayson" story in which Arena's sister Meryl comes out and asks Jayson to father her baby, I didn't envision it as the catalyst for an entire graphic novel. I had always written my "Jayson" stories incrementally, and this one was no different. I had also become so busy, first writing screenplays and then toiling for the Evil Aerospace Giant, that I started searching for a cartoonist to collaborate with on any future "Jayson" projects. After a lengthy evaluation process, I selected Mike Worley, who had drawn gag pages for Archie and who was about to become the go-to guy for Lisa Simpson comics. Mike drew my Meryl story in more of a Hanna-Barbera style. [To view Mike's original pages, click here.] It was an interesting experiment and it certainly represented a break from the past, but I wasn't sure it was right for "Jayson." Nonetheless, when the opportunity soon arose to publish my first-ever, full-color "Jayson" story in a popular anthology, I ran with it.

“Jayson” in living color

In 2006, shortly after I published “Jayson: Best of the 80s” and “Best of the 90s,” I met Tim Fish at Comic-Con. Tim, creator of the popular gay comic-book series “Cavalcade of Boys,” was about to publish a new anthology of gay male romance comics titled “Young Bottoms in Love.” Unlike the “Meatmen” series, it was going to be a high-class affair on glossy paper with full-color interiors. I convinced him to let me contribute a “Jayson” story. The deadline was tight, and all I had ready was my Meryl story, with art by Mike Worley. But I wasn’t about to blow an opportunity to publish a new “Jayson” story in full color. So I sent Tim the finished black-and-white pages for his approval. Even though it wasn’t exactly a romance comic, it was certainly a relationship comedy, so he accepted it and I began to color it. Other than the covers of my anthologies, and the promotional art I developed for the off-Broadway musical, I had never done “Jayson” in color before. And with the Hanna-Barbera look that Mike brought to the art, I had great fun choosing eye-popping, primary colors for Jayson’s world. “Young Bottoms in Love” was published in 2007. It looked great, and it helped keep “Jayson’s” name in the papers for another year while I completed work on my first-ever “Jayson” graphic novel.

Meryl goes to Hollywood

Once I decided to publish a “Jayson” graphic novel, it became easy to see the storytelling possibilities inherent in Meryl’s quest for the ultimate sperm donor. When Jayson turns Meryl down, her decision to head for Hollywood and track down Ed Rosenblatt is enough to convince Jayson and Arena to follow in hot pursuit. Because Ed Rosenblatt, possessor of “movie-star looks and med school brains,” is both Jayson and Arena’s ex-boyfriend. (Probably Robyn’s too, but that’s another story.) When we first met Ed in the late ‘80s (in “Jayson meets a rising star”), he was paying his way through medical school by shaking his moneymaker as “Eduardo Rivera” in gay porn videos produced by Robyn’s “Double-R Studios.” Robyn threw a party to introduce his latest discovery, whom Arena immediately recognized as her high-school sweetheart, and whom Jayson immediately fell for. Ed must have some awfully impressive assets, because neither Jayson nor Arena has ever gotten over him. Nor has Robyn’s studio ever recovered from his departure. And now Meryl, who has just declared herself to be a lesbian, wants his sperm!

Personal training with Ed Rosenblatt

When we finally locate Ed Rosenblatt halfway through “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” the former porn star is now a legitimate actor who pays the rent as a personal trainer. This is my tip of the hat to Mark Haen, who created the role of Ed in the off-Broadway “Jayson” musical, and who returned the favor by offering me free personal training twice a week. During the training session that Ed is conducting, we meet Boston John, my composite commentary on all the trainwrecks who move to L.A. with more ambition than brains, and quickly succumb to the easy money of the sex and drug trade. Ed gets a casting call and rushes off to audition for a tiny role in the latest “Brutal Weapon” actioner. His audition scene is based on many tales of woe I’ve heard from actor friends of mine, chiefly Desi Moreno-Penson and Matt Crabtree, who understudied the lead in “Jayson” and who now lives in L.A. At the audition we meet action megastar Kevlar DuPont, who is deeply closeted -- but it's not the closet you think.

What’s in Kevlar’s closet?

A few chapters after Ed Rosenblatt meets megastar Kevlar DuPont in “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” Jayson encounters Kevlar as well. In the chapter titled “Jayson meets a big star,” Jayson and Arena stumble onto the set of “Brutal Weapon V” and, mistaken for extras, get thrust into a special-effects-laden scene that goes awry. This setup, needless to say, ushers in the sci-fi portion of the book. How can you tell? It’s a two-parter, of course! Ever since Winston Leyland encouraged me to write my first sci-fi story for “Meatmen” in 1992, I have tried to include fantasy elements in each “Jayson” adventure. In this case, I didn’t have to wrack my brain too hard. “Jayson meets a big star” was a script I wrote in the mid-1990s, when the “Meatmen” franchise was still going strong, but never got the chance to draw. In the original script, the “Brutal Weapon” crew came to Philadelphia to film some scenes, and Jayson and Arena won the chance to be extras. In the “Hollywood” rewrite, I was able to incorporate this standalone story into Jayson and Arena’s search for Ed. Arena thinks Kevlar is a hottie, so she doesn’t want Jayson to remind her of the persistent rumors that he is gay. Several plot twists later, they find themselves in Kevlar’s hotel room, where they discover a secret so shocking that it would render the gay rumors passé. What’s really going on in Kevlar’s closet? You’ll have to buy the book to find out!

How Kevlar DuPont got his name

I make a habit of jotting down interesting names, and I pull out the list whenever I have a new character to name. Action megastar Kevlar DuPont is a prime example. When I first wrote the story that introduces the star of the “Brutal Weapon” franchise, I named him Gibb Melson -- an obvious play on Mel Gibson. But in-between the time I wrote the script and incorporated it into “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” Mr. Gibson became associated with all sorts of anti-gay and anti-Semitic remarks that did not need to be resurrected here. As I was putting the finishing touches on the “Hollywood” book, our firm hired a temp named Kevlar. I thought that was a much better name for this character. I wasn’t sure whether it was his first name or his last name until I did some research and learned that Kevlar, the synthetic fiber, is manufactured by DuPont. And just like that, Kevlar DuPont was born! I haven’t always has such luck with names. In the early days of the strip, I tended to give my characters names that were far too gimmicky, like Arena’s parents Oral and Henna Rinse, or her sister Meryl Lynch. My favorite character name remains Robyn Ricketts. The Y in Robyn just screams “gay,” and the surname evokes something rickety, or diseased. And to think, in a nod to his Irish heritage, I very nearly named him Robyn O’Ricketts!

Portia Diesel – built for trouble

Another “Jayson” character with a regrettable name, and the one that got me into the most trouble over the years, is Portia Diesel. In the 1980s in Philadelphia, there existed a vocal lesbian-separatist movement. Lesbians everywhere seemed to “need their space” and regarded men, even gay men, as the enemy. During my years at the University of Pennsylvania, the affinity group Gays at Penn was renamed Lesbians and Gays at Penn (because “gay” had a “male” connotation) and the women demanded their own meeting where no men were allowed (because they needed their space), but they also insisted that the men could not have their own meeting (because that would be discriminatory). And the men were so afraid of appearing misogynist that they bowed to the women’s every demand. In 1987 I published a story called “Jayson dykes it out” (Gay Comix #9) in which Arena befriends such a woman, and Jayson comes to loggerheads with her. What I was attacking in this story was the philosophy of separatism, not lesbians as a group or feminism as a movement -- both of which I support. But the point of the story became misconstrued and I became a pariah who was famously excoriated by lesbian cartoonist Jennifer Camper during a 1992 cartoonists’ panel at Manhattan’s Lesbian & Gay Center. In enumerating my litany of sins, Jennifer highlighted the scene in which Portia comically attacks a plate of hot dogs with a knife because they are phallic symbols. (Meanwhile, Jennifer’s contemporaneous cartoons featured a lesbian super-heroine who cut off men’s dicks, but that was somehow OK.) Jennifer phoned me afterwards to apologize, not for her opinion of my work but for expressing it in such a public forum. I accepted her apology and promised her that I had plans to make Portia more reader-friendly. 15 years later in “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” I finally made good on that promise.

Portia's Hollywood makeover

The character of Portia Diesel resurfaces in “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” in a surprising way. I don’t want to spoil the surprise here -- it’s a major plot point -- but I can tell you that she has renounced her lesbian-separatist ways and reinvented herself for the new millennium. When Jayson encounters her in Hollywood, they have the following icy exchange:

Jayson: But I thought you hated men.

Portia: Jayson, lesbians don’t hate men anymore -- that was so twentieth century. But I’m happy to continue making an exception in your case.

This is another example of how I’ve tried to bring the “Jayson” series into the 21st century with a wink and a nod, while preserving the long-established character dynamics. I can only hope Jennifer Camper is pleased; I haven’t worked up the nerve to ask her.

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia

While Jayson and Arena take on Tinseltown, their castmates remain in Philadelphia to have a “B” plot of their own. You’ll recall that Jayson’s neighbor Robyn makes gay porno films, and Jayson’s mother Bertha assists him both on and off the set. In an early draft of the “Jayson” musical, I wrote a scene to dramatize how Bertha, newly arrived from Farmville, becomes Robyn’s assistant. On her first day on the set of “Genital Hospital,” the film that will catapult Eduardo Rivera to stardom, Robyn tells Bertha to rearrange the elements on the set -- meaning not the lamps or the flowers, but the elements that a seated, naked Eduardo is presenting to Robyn’s camera. Even though the scene garnered huge laughs, I cut it from the show after the second reading for pacing reasons. But in another example of strip-mining the musical for material, I used this idea to open “Bertha stands her ground,” a chapter in the “Hollywood” book that advances the “B” plot. By now, Billy has replaced Eduardo, and Bertha is an old hand at rearranging his elements. This moment is still played for laughs, but what happens next is truly shocking. What, you may ask, could possibly be more shocking than watching an Amish woman rearrange the twig and berries of a dimwitted porn star? You’ll have to read “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” to find out!

You can go home again

At the conclusion of “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” Jayson and Arena return to Philadelphia, having encountered plenty of shocking surprises along the way -- not of all of which I anticipated. I can always count on my characters to toss the map out the window and take the story in directions that make more sense to them -- and provide more entertainment value than anything I could ever dream up on my own. Examples? Read the book and then we’ll talk. Titling the final chapter presented a unique challenge of its own. In that chapter, Jayson goes home to Philadelphia. But he already went home once -- to Farmville -- in his very first story (Gay Comix #6, 1985). That story was titled “Jayson goes home,” so what could I call this one? “Jayson goes home again”? “Jayson goes home to Philadelphia”? “Jayson returns”? Hmm. After quickly exhausting all the obvious choices, I finally let the chapter’s opening scene do the talking for me. In it, Jayson and Arena are packing furiously because they are so disgusted with Hollywood, the “land of fruits and nuts,” that they can’t leave fast enough. Their suitcase-stuffing antics accompany the title, “Jayson packs it in.”

Jayson’s birthday wish

I knew that Walter and Steven were going to become important again down the road, so I wanted to include them in the “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” graphic novel -- even though they weren’t pivotal to the story. So I featured them with the other key cast members in the opening chapter, “Jayson hits the beach.” I also saved them a few pages that I planned to write once I saw how long the main story ran. In my original outline, I set aside 3 pages for “Walter & Steven.” I didn’t know how I’d use them, but I figured I’d find a way for them comment on the action, perhaps as they watched an old Eduardo Rivera DVD. As I finished work on the book, Jayson’s 25th anniversary in comics loomed. I thought I should recognize this milestone by having Jayson celebrate his 25th birthday in the pages of “Jayson Goes to Hollywood.” With just 2 pages remaining, I started to write a short story in which Walter and Steven head to Jayson’s birthday party, and they talk about why Walter continues to put up with Jayson, who’s nothing but hateful towards him. It was an interesting character study, but a boring story. Then it hit me that I should open with Jayson blowing out 25 candles surrounded by his friends -- a strong visual I could use to promote Jayson’s anniversary as well as the book -- and that Walter and Steven would be among the guests. It was icing on the cake (so to speak) when I decided to have Jayson make a series of wishes that revealed something about his relationship with each of the other characters. It was a great way to introduce new readers to the series. And just before I put it to bed, I came up with the perfect punchline. Read “Jayson’s birthday wish” and see if you don’t agree.

Race to the finish

Once I finally put the finishing touches on “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” I was a scant month away from the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con. As there was a lot of hoopla planned for Jayson’s 25th anniversary in comics -- a 2-page interview in the Prism Comics guide, an invitation to the prestigious Gays in Comics panel, and several signings -- I couldn’t show up empty-handed. I rushed the files off to the printer and, for the first time in my life, hired an assistant to help me get ready. While I had been focused on getting the content of the book right, I had devoted no time to marketing, promotion, or paperwork. My assistant helped me update the website, prepare press releases, confirm distribution channels, design banner ads, file copyright notices – all those little things Dan Poynter says you should do months in advance. The printer sent me a PDF proof of the cover for approval. Since I work for the Evil Aerospace Giant and cannot use “company resources for personal gain,” I had to rush home and view the proof on my own computer. Luckily, I only live about 10 minutes away. Unluckily, the cover was completely screwed up. All of the elements had shifted from where I had placed them on the page in InDesign. I lost track of the number of hours, and the number of sprints back and forth from EAG, that it took for me to restore that cover to half its original luster. I still grumble when I look closely at the it, but I salvaged it in time to go to press and take delivery of “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” one nail-biting week before Comic-Con!

Landing the “Gays in Comics” panel

In 2008, with Jayson’s 25th anniversary looming, I knew I had to land a coveted spot on the prestigious “Gays in Comics” panel at the San Diego Comic-Con. Luckily, I had a leg up on the competition. At the 2007 panel, as I sat in the audience wishing I had some new product to push, moderator Andy Mangels asked if there were any other LGBT creators in attendance. I raised my hand and shouted out my name. He recognized me as the creator of “Jayson” and said, in front of hundreds of witnesses, “We oughta have you up here next year!” I followed up immediately with an email, and redoubled my efforts to ensure that my new “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” graphic novel would be ready in time. After all, what is the point of standing in the spotlight if you have nothing new to sell? Andy was the editor of “Gay Comix” at some point in its run, long after I had departed. But he was familiar with the early issues and therefore with my work. We also have an Archie Comics connection in common. I’ll tell you how that helped seal my fate tomorrow.

A seat at the table

In March 2008, I attended Seattle’s Emerald City ComiCon for the first time. It was a wonderful event: well run, manageably sized, and focused on comics. I went there to sign my “Jayson” collections at the Prism Comics booth and take pre-orders for “Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” which was nearing completion. As luck would have it, Andy Mangels was also there. He had his own booth, where he was selling DVDs from the Filmation library, including the original “Archie Show.” I presented him with the cover of “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” and the title chapter, so he could get a sense of what the book was about. His first comment was that the art looked “more Archie-esque than ever.” I took this as a compliment and engaged him in an extended conversation about the work he is doing to preserve and package the Filmation shows for posterity. By the end of the conversation, I was a lock for the 2008 “Gays in Comics” panel in San Diego! The panel itself was a blur. I was honored to finally have a seat at the table, after years on the periphery. I had been published for 25 years but I had never felt respected, until the moment when Andy Mangels introduced me to the audience as one of the “pioneers of gay comics.” As I told my story, I found myself finally agreeing with that assessment.

The reviews are in!

“Jayson Goes to Hollywood” received a rabid reception at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, followed by a raft of rapturous reviews. (Sorry, for a minute there I was channeling Stan Lee, a Comic-Con staple.) My favorite reviewer ever, Jay Laird from Edge, got the ball rolling by raving: “96 pages of new original work and a plot line worthy of a sitcom on Logo.” (To read the entire review, click here.) Soon the mainstream press picked it up, with Comics Buyer’s Guide’s Tony Isabella reiterating his earlier praise for “Jayson” and awarding “Hollywood” the 5 Full Tonys, his highest rating. (To read, click here and scroll down.) Bolstered by Tony’s review, “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” was nominated for two 2009 Comics Buyer’s Guide Fan Awards: Favorite Writer and Favorite Graphic Novel. Though I ended up losing in both categories, it was an honor to be nominated alongside the big dukers from Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse. Thanks to everyone who stuffed the ballot box -- I mean, who voted for me!

Say goodbye to “Hollywood”

“Jayson Goes to Hollywood,” my first true graphic novel after years of producing standalone stories and collections, was such a resounding critical and sales success that I am now hard at work on a followup. As I mentioned many posts ago, when I decided to revitalize “Jayson” and bring the characters into the 21st century, I constructed several new story arcs. “Hollywood” was the first; “Jayson Gets a Job” is the second. I’ll blog all about that project as it gets closer to fruition in early 2011. As a result of my appearance on the 2008 “Gays in Comics” panel in San Diego, I have been invited to speak on many more panels at comic book conventions around the country. I am even moderating this year’s “LGBT Comics, Characters, and Creators” panel at the 2010 New York Comic Con. And of course you can always find me signing copies of all my books, including my Ralf König translations, at the Prism Comics booth.

Latest posts on Blogger
The History of "Jayson" Comics
The Making of a Graphic Novel: "Jayson Goes to Hollywood"
I Love Archie Comics!
San Diego Comic-Con 2010
"Job" Creation: The Making of "Jayson Gets a Job!"
 
 

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