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A Conversation With Rick Klaw
An interview with Jayme Lynn Blaschke
November 2003

Rick Klaw
Rick Klaw
Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (currently available from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site: Geeks With Books Columns
SF Site Review: Geeks Confidential

Geek Confidential
Weird Business
Behold the Man
Tales from the Texas Woods
Negative Burn #47

SF Site Interview: | Part 1 | Part 2 |

Dubbed "The smartest mouth on the Internet" by Michael Moorcock, Rick Klaw holds thousands of readers in thrall with his monthly column "Geeks with Books." His collection of select columns along with assorted interviews and other materials, Geek Confidential, was recently published by Monkeybrain, and at any one time he has various projects in development. A veteran of comics publishing, Klaw has worked with Blackbird and DC Comics as well as co-founding the late, lamented Mojo Press and serving as that publisher's managing editor. While at Mojo, he orchestrated the publication of such notable works as the ground-breaking Weird Business, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Moorcock's Behold the Man and The Blueberry Saga with Moebius. Currently, Klaw works as a bookseller in Austin, Texas with his wife, Brandy.

You've just recently had your first piece of prose fiction published in Electric Velocipede. How did that feel after having published so much of other people's fiction?

It was weird. It's funny, because I've been around so long that most people assumed that I'd published some fiction. My own wife was surprised it was my first piece of fiction. I've written a lot of comics, and had fiction published as comics, but never as prose.

John Klima, the editor of Electric Velocipede, is a fan of my column, "Geeks with Books." He wrote me a very nice letter when I did my first column, and ever since then we've exchanged emails. He asked me if I'd contribute to Electric Velocipede, and I know he thought I was going to send him some non-fiction. Because why would he think otherwise?

I had written this story several years ago. It's a good little story, but I could never find a home for it, because it's a short-short, like 8-900 words. So I sent it to him. Will it change my career? Probably not. But it was fun and it's a neat little magazine.

Is there any more Klaw prose in the works?
There probably won't be much more prose fiction. I don't want to say never, because you never know. I might get up one day and say, "Oh, I've got this novel." Odds are that I'll never write a novel. I don't have the patience for fiction of that length. I don't have the patience for non-fiction of that length either, but with non-fiction, you can cheat. You can write little pieces and put them all together. You can do that with fiction, too, but it's a little harder -- for me, at least. I find non-fiction easy. I really do. I express my opinions easily. I may write some more prose short stories, and I would like to do some more comic work. But as for a novel, it probably won't happen.

This was your first published prose, but you've done a lot of comics work before. What's the width and breadth of your comics experience?
I've done work for DC, which is probably my most famous work. I did work for the Big Book of the Weird Wild West, which actually Ben Ostrander and I developed for them. We co-wrote several stories in there. I did a story with Lansdale in Gangland no. 4.

Interestingly enough, I have a weird little segue in comics from that. I did the letters page for Michael Moorcock's Multiverse. People would send letters in and I would answer them. If they didn't get enough letters or whatever -- it was my job to fill the space in. As a matter of fact, there are two essays in Geek Confidential -- one about Moorcock's music career and one about Moorcock's comics career -- that were written because of that.

I also did a lot of independent stuff, alternative comics, whatever you want to call it. My first published work was a book called Wings, that I did with a company called Mu which is out of business. It was about a boy with wings born in a small Texas town. I'm proud to say it was the worst-selling book they ever published. One issue came out of a projected four-issue mini-series, and it sold 700 copies. I am very proud of the writing. So I pick it up whenever I see one.

I did quite a bit of work for Jab, with the Adhesive Comics guys. I was in Jab 3, 5, and 7 I think. I adapted several of Joe Lansdale's stories. I had a story in Weird Business, and I also adapted several stories in Atomic Chili, which is a collection of Lansdale comic stuff, and I also have an original story in Weird Business. I've edited several graphic novels and several comic anthologies, and currently I'm writing adaptations for a new series of Joe Lansdale short stories for Avatar. As a matter of fact, I turned my first one in a week ago. And of course, there was a comic in my book, Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland, and I, also, talk about why you adapt comics.

What is the appeal of comics?
I'm a big geek. I have a whole closet full of comic book wear. You should be surprised I'm not wearing an Iron Man or a Hulk shirt. Part of it is a childhood thing. I learned to read so I could figure out what Spider-Man had to say. So I've always loved comics. I think as a writer, I like that structure. I like that form. It's almost as if prose has too much loose space -- I can do pretty much anything I want. In comics you've got to stay within the panel. I also -- as evidenced by the fact that I've edited so much -- like working with others. I really do. I like seeing the collective vision. Working in film would be too far removed, but working in comics isn't as far removed. It doesn't always work of course, but that's part of it.

It's probably just the form. It comes easily for me. Some people have a lot of trouble writing comics. They can't see how it works, they can't see the world, how you envision the page and stuff, and I can see it real easily. I shut my eyes, and there it is.

We don't really see that many genre comics. You see super hero comics, but you don't have westerns, you don't have mysteries, you don't have science fiction. Why is that?
Well, first of all, it's only in this country that it's that way. Or English-speaking countries -- I should rephrase that -- because it's the same in England. In our society, comics have been seen for so long as a massive adolescent fantasy that adults don't read comics. And for those genres, you need adult readers.

So many adults grow up and continue to believe that comics are for children. Publishers perpetuate that. In defense of publishers, though, every time they try to change that, it doesn't work -- with a few notable exceptions. And again, it's starting to change slightly, by the repackaging of themů making comics look like books. You say genre's dead, but it isn't. Literary comics are actually thriving in bookstores. I mean, what do you call something like Ghostworld? That's a literary comic. If it was a book, we'd put it in the literature section, wouldn't we? Mainstream fiction. Things like that are thriving in bookstores. They sell. And who's buying them? Kids ain't buying those.

The other thing is -- and I discovered this early, early on with my comic work and then with Mojo -- there's a real attitude with science fiction fans toward comic books. It's gotten better, but you will not believe how hard it is to get some of these people to read Watchmen! Watchmen is probably one of the greatest science fiction novels. It just happens to be a comic book. But it's certainly a great science fiction work.

When I went to my first literary convention, my first Armadillocon, I'd just edited the Modern Perversity book. I was on a panel with Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois and an editor that shall not be named, because I'm not that stupid. She was a powerful editor. It was a panel about editing, and I thought, "Gee, I don't think I belong here." But they put me on the panel nonetheless, and this unnamed editor from a major magazine would not let me answer any questions because when she found out I did comics, "Oh. You do comics." You could hear the bile in her voice.

God bless Ellen Datlow, because she jumped in and said, "What does Rick think about this?" Ellen would stop them, stop the question and wait for me to answer. I really appreciated that, of course. Right there, it showed me this belief that comics were a lesser art form. It's gotten better, but they're still thought of as "below." Who would read science fiction comics? Science fiction fans.

With western comics, the problem is that westerns are a dying genre. If you produce a western comic, you're not going to get western fans. Because there aren't many, really.

There have been a lot of successful crime and mystery comics. There's been a major resurgence in those in the last 10 years, you know with things like Sin City and Powers, there was Stray Bullets. Road to Perdition was made into a movie.

From your point of view, what's wrong with the comics industry of today, and how can it be fixed?
Wow! We could do a whole separate interview! That's a hard question to answer, and the reason is I've been outside of comics for three or four years now. I don't even buy that many comics anymore. I buy mostly collections.

I can tell you from a bookseller's point of view things they can do. They need to make it much more accessible for booksellers to get graphic novels. While it has gotten better, it's still difficult to get some graphic novels. What I mean by that is they need to offer the same terms as book publishers offer. 45 percent off and returnable. Availability through distributors -- Diamond's not a distributor when you're a bookstore. I know they have bookstore distribution now, but it's not Ingram, where you have every bookstore in the country hooked up to Ingram.

Also, they miss opportunities. Like when the first X-Men movie came out, people would come into the store looking for the comics, and Marvel had the same crappy X-Men books they'd had for years. They didn't have any collections ready for the people. It was like the whole thing when Maus came out and won the Pulitzer prize. People go, "Oh, comics are great!" and then they go into comic shops and all they see are super-hero comics. They had no idea of what's going on. They don't have anything available for these people.

I think serialized comics is a bad idea. I really do. I believed it when I was at Mojo, and I believe it now. You can produce a series of works that are related, like, series science fiction of course. Certainly, you can do that. But every book has to be finite unto itself. A self-contained story. That's really where it hurts. That's why I don't buy individual comics anymore. I don't want to go out and spend $2.50 or $3 for an individual comic, especially now that almost everything is collected. I'd much rather have a collection that I can put in the bookcase. That's part of it.

Why is there a gumshoe gorilla on the cover of Geek Confidential?
Because John Picacio put him there? [laughing] It's all John's fault! I like gorillas. I knew I wanted a gorilla on the cover -- it was just a question of what kind of gorilla. Chris Roberson, publisher of Monkeybrain, obviously likes gorillas, or simians, or apes, or whatever you like to call them. When we were putting the book together, John Picacio and I would talk about what I wanted for the cover. He said the title evokes the noir feelings of the pulpy books from the 50s. We decided to go for a noir-type cover to match that. That's where you get the gun-toting, gumshoe gorilla.

Wherefore stems this fascination with apes? Is it just apes, or does it extend to monkeys, too?
No, I like monkeys, too. I prefer gorillas, but I like monkeys, too. I think it has to do with -- again, you go back to my mother. She warped my fragile little mind, when she showed me King Kong at a very early age. I loved it. It's still one of my favorite movies. I think it's the coolest thing ever. Also, one of the first comics I remember was Tarzan. My father, whom I didn't spend much time with, but from what I can remember, he loved Tarzan. That's part of it. And there are a lot of cool gorilla movies -- there's Mighty Joe Young, Planet of the Apes.

Part of my ape fascination comes from my love of comics. Gorillas are a big part of comics history, and it all mixes in together. At this year's Armadillocon, I was on a panel on "Gorillas in science fiction." I don't think a serious word was uttered during the entire panel. We had a really good time. We talked about our favorite gorilla movies and gorilla stories and monkey stories -- when I'm saying gorillas, I'm meaning apes and chimpanzees -- I'll watch anything with a gorilla in it. I might not like it, but I'll sit and watch it at least once. And I did publish a story called "Gorilla Gunslinger" in Weird Business, about a gun-toting gorilla in the old west. One of my dream projects is to write Gorilla City comic book for DC.

A Gorilla City story sounds like fun. Can you tell me anything about it?
I pitched it one time -- it was with me and Phil Hester, and at the time, Phil was not a big name. We came up with this idea and we pitched to an editor whose no longer there. She had told us that marketing wasn't interested since gorillas don't sell. Which was kinda weird. It dealt with the Gorilla City space program, and that's really all I'm going to say about it.

Gorillas don't sell? That contradicts the famous Julius Schwartz mantra!
Not just Julius Schwartz! Contradicting 50 years of comics history! I don't think Julius Schwartz just had a mantra, I think he was right. No matter if you think gorillas are cool or not, it has nothing to do with it. I have living proof. I did a story in Negative Burn 47 with John Lucas called, "I was the Bride of Rothra, King of the Giant Flying Vampire Gorillas from the Earth's Core." John did this beautiful cover and it sold out. You can't find a copy of it. Anywhere. I've never seen one used. I have one copy. That proved it: Gorillas sell.

Now that DC has had a total editorial shakeup, any chance of you and Phil Hester resubmitting the pitch?
My last experience with DC was really not too pleasant. I know they've changed over and the editors are different, but I decided I wasn't going to jump through hoops again to do comics. If I could do it with a minimal amount of hoop jumping, I would do it.

The last proposal I did for DC, the editor gave me the characters to use. It wasn't the Gorilla City one. I did a proposal. She said, "This is pretty good, but you need to do a rewrite." We went through six rewrites in six months. Finally, she takes it to marketing to get the okay, and marketing tells her that me and Phil Hester are not big enough names to do the comic. At that moment, I was livid. "What the hell am I doing? Why didn't you tell me this to begin with? Why did you have me jump through all these hoops to do nothing?" It left a bad taste in my mouth, as you can imagine, and I decided then that I wasn't going to hoop jump anymore. I've got nothing against DC. There are things I'd love to do with DC. I like comics, as I've expressed many times here. I just won't jump through hoops.

Who would win in a fight: Gorilla Grodd or Monsieur Mallah?
Well, you know, Grodd's a lot cooler, but Monsieur Mallah is French, so that kind of automatically gives him the lower hand -- that's a cheap shot. Yeah, I like Gorilla Grodd a lot. He's cool. But I like the Doom Patrol a lot, too. You know what scares me? Here I am, talking to you, "Yeah, and he's with the Brotherhood of Evil, who fought the Doom Patrol," and I'm like "Oh my god! I'm geek!" Things like that just scare me.

At Armadillocon I met Jess Nevins, the guy who wrote The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, Heroes and Monsters. Jess and I hit it off -- I like Jess a lot. I feel like I'm really an intelligent, smart geek, but he out-geeks me. We're sitting there Sunday at the convention, and he's reading Geek Confidential. He comes over to me. "Rick, I'm reading your book. I'm really enjoying it. But I've found a mistake."

He's real serious, so I'm concerned. "What? What happened?" "Well, when you talk about Jack Cole and Plastic Man? I agree with you -- Jack Cole's a genius. Plastic Man is incredible. Very influential. But you say he's the first pliable super-hero. Technically, he's not. Two or three months before, the Thin Man appeared from Marvel, making him the first pliable super-hero."

I can't keep up with that! There's just nothing I can do! But it made me feel that maybe I wasn't quite as geeky -- but then I say things like "Monsieur Mallah is French" and knew you were talking about the Doom Patrol. [laughing] Of course, you asked.

Now we come to the giant ape portion of our interview. I will name a dramatic presentation featuring a giant ape in a starring role, and you will give the official Rick Klaw critique.
[laughing] Okay. Go ahead!

King Kong, the original version.
Fantastic, superior movie. One of the greatest special effects films of all time. Entertaining.

Son of Kong.
Not as entertaining. It's still fun, but nothing memorable.

Mighty Joe Young, the original version.
I really like that movie. It's the most charming of all the gorilla movies ever made. It's sweet, it's tender. It has all the good action that you like. It's kind of almost like King Kong light, and I mean that in a good way. I don't mean in content. It's a little lighter in mood, a little lighter in message. And again, the special effects are very good, even though Mighty Joe Young changes size all throughout the movie. But you don't care.

King Kong versus Godzilla.
Actually, it was one of the first King Kong movies I saw in the theater. I was like 9 or 10. I was in summer camp, and once a month they'd take us to the movies over a three month period, and one time we saw King Kong versus Godzilla. And I think it changed me forever. You know what King Kong versus Godzilla is? It's two great tastes that go great together, even if it's not that great of a movie.

I watch it with my nephew, Alex, of whom I speak a lot of in the book. He's seven. Alex and I are really close. Alex loves Godzilla, partly because I show him Godzilla. One time we're watching King Kong versus Godzilla, and my wife says, "This is like wrestling. It's really dumb. It's two guys in suits beating up on each other."

"Yeah! Isn't it great?"

So yeah, I know it's a crappy movie, but it holds a special place in my heart.

King Kong Escapes.
I saw that one on the big screen, too. That same summer. When I was a kid, we'd play in the snow. I lived in New Jersey until I was 11, and I used to pretend I was King Kong, you know in that scene where he's in the Arctic and pulling the snow down? Digging through all the ice? Well, I used to play that when I was 8 or 9, digging along. So yeah, I kinda liked it. I haven't really watched it that much as an adult. It's probably been close to 20 years since I've seen it.

Who'd win in a fight: Mecha Kong or Mecha Godzilla?
You know, MechaGodzilla's pretty cool and Mecha Kong is just gay, so probably Mecha Godzilla. [laughing] Even though I like gorillas.

King Kong, the 1976 remake.
I've met one person in my life who likes that movie, who really enjoys that version. Michael Moorcock thinks it's a really good movie. We differ on that point. I love Mike, but we disagree. It's unwatchable.

Mark Finn summed it up the best. When he saw it as a kid, he had to sit there and watch it again because he swore he must've fallen asleep during the dinosaur fight scenes. That says it all. Where the hell were the dinosaurs? How can you make a King Kong movie without dinosaurs?

King Kong Lives.
Do we have to talk about this? A King Kong movie where they use a heart transplant -- it's actually probably the worst, because they tried to make it into a real movie. A*P*E* was pretty bad, too, which you probably weren't going to ask me about. I think it was also known as Attack of the Horny Giant Gorilla. A*P*E* was a Korean/U.S. film and it's awful. It was made in a rush to get it out before King Kong, (1976) and it's a guy in a suit, and he fights a giant shark in the water. It was to be titled The New King Kong before RKO brought a $1.5 million lawsuit. It was in 3-D originally. Oh god, it's awful. You try to forget much of it. But it's the only giant gorilla movie worse than King Kong Lives. King Kong Lives is so bad that I have not seen it more than once, and a lot of these I've seen more than once.

Mighty Joe Young, the remake.
It's actually not bad. The special effects are really, really good. It's a very good updating of it. I was pleasantly surprised. I found it very enjoyable. Charlize Theron was very good.

Peter Jackson's next project is a remake of King Kong. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Should he be making his own giant gorilla movie?
Well, the problem with him doing his own original giant gorilla movie is that it would be compared to King Kong no matter how he does it or what he did. Even if he never planned to do one, you don't make an original giant gorilla movie without being compared to King Kong. It's the end all, be all of gorilla movies.

I love Peter Jackson. I really do. He was the main reason I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring, because I can't stand the book. I loved his movies, and if anyone can do a good King Kong, I think he can do it. I've seen the script online, I've glanced at it, I've been taunted with it. I won't read it completely, but I did notice that it is set in period, it has bi-planes, and I think that's all good. He's promised a lot of dinosaur-Kong action. Again, good.

So, yeah, I think it's going to be good. He is a very smart director in that he uses CGI, but doesn't rely on CGI. I'd be a lot more nervous if somebody else was doing it. He's probably the only person that can do it right.

Is there room in American pop culture for more than one King Kong?
Well, there's already two. You mean, can it be as good a movie as the original? I dunno. I wouldn't have though Mighty Joe Young would've been able to be replicated, and while the remake isn't as good as the first, it's not bad, either. When I did my ranking of the top 10 gorilla movies of all time -- Simian Cinema, as I put it -- I think I placed the Mighty Joe Young remake seventh. The original was no. 2. You're not talking that much of a difference. So yeah, I think you could. It's going to be very difficult. I don't think it will be as good as the original, but could he make a movie almost as good? Yeah, probably. He made The Lord of the Rings entertaining, so he can almost do anything.

SF Site Interview: | Part 1 | Part 2 |

Copyright © 2003 by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction, and serves as fiction editor for RevolutionSF.com. A collected volume of his speculative fiction interviews, Cosmosis, is due out from the University of Nebraska Press in 2004. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html


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