28 Feb

[The following interview was originally conducted in May 2006, and later published in the February 15th, 2007 issue of Ocean County College’s Viking News]

North American cartoonist Greg Hyland (who hails from the Great White North) has remained a steady and brilliant contributor to the comic book medium for over twenty years. Coming from a background in animation, Mr. Hyland’s most memorable creation continues to be the protagonist of his long running comic book series Lethargic Lad (introduced in 1988). 

Lethargic Lad shall always be an icon of the early 90’s Small Press movement (a complimentary movement to the late 70’s/early 80’s Alternative comics movement dominated by creators like Dave Sim and Bob Burden, who retained the rights to their creations through self-publishing and direct sales to the newly created comic book stores).

While many creators from the Small Press movement have since retired, Greg Hyland retains all of the wit and intelligence that defines his work, and maintains a faithful devotion to his chosen art form. Despite his busy schedule running (which features the continuing exploits of Lethargic Lad) and doing commissions for such prestigious clients as LEGO, Mr. Hyland took time out to answer a collection of questions intended to illuminate the dynamics of this diverse and creative industry. 

Brian Blackmon:  What made you decide on comic books as your career and what prompted you to choose to self-publish your work?

Greg Hyland: Comics were something I’ve always wanted to do. I grew up reading Peanuts [by Charles Schulz] and Dennis the Menace [by Hank Ketcham], and doing newspaper comics was originally what I wanted to do. Later, I discovered the likes of Mad, Cracked, and Crazy magazine in the late 70’s and was really taken with the idea of parody. In grade 6, I started reading superhero comic books, and then that was what I wanted to do! I went to college for animation, but I still wanted to do comic books, but being in the animation environment took me back to more cartoony stuff, and with all my influences, that’s how Lethargic Lad came about.

I got into self-publishing because it was quite obvious nobody would want to publish the sort of stuff I did. Big companies like Marvel or DC had no interest in humor, and places like Archie didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t “safe.” 

Blackmon: How would you describe the current state of the comic book industry, and what direction do you feel it is heading in?

Hyland: The comic industry is always in bad shape. I guess it isn’t as bad as it was a few years ago, but I don’t know. The few “mainstream comics” friends I have don’t seem as worried about keeping their jobs as they were a few years ago, so I guess it can’t be too bad. The bad thing is that great independent comics seem to have disappeared, and things seem to have gone back to the way they were in the early 80’s…all the best selling books are Marvel or DC, and Image and Dark Horse have very little presence anymore.

The “creator owned revolution” seems to have failed. There doesn’t seem to be anything great coming from the self-publishing, or the smaller companies. The great creators of the 90’s have all disappeared and fled to work that pays, like movies or TV…and I can’t blame them.

Blackmon: What do you feel is the greatest challenge to overcome for someone trying to enter the comic book field? 

Hyland: For someone to actually look at their work and judge if it really is good enough. Too many people “fall in love with their work.” Whether you want to work for Marvel or DC, or you want to self publish, your stuff has to be of professional quality. Too many people are convinced that “they have it” and they often don’t.

There is too much trash that gets published, and it’s no wonder it doesn’t sell. I hate to say it, when you go to a con, and look at the people in artist alley who sell 5 books at the entire show, and act all disappointed, it’s no wonder! I get shown all sorts of horrible artwork in portfolios at cons. I try not to crush people, especially young people, but most of these people are terrible and will never make it. And as far as self-publishing goes, I always say, “just because you can print a book, doesn’t mean you should print a book.”

Oh well, I suppose people could say the same about me…

Blackmon: How were you able to get your start?

Hyland: I barged my way in by self-publishing my own book. The good thing was that it got a lot of attention from people in the industry, and that really helped. Not enough for any big company to hire me, but enough for them to want to take me to dinners!

Blackmon: What are some of the best ways to promote your work?

Hyland: Go to cons (especially if the table is free) and promote your work. And don’t pay for the expensive table, because I believe that people going to a con want to see everything there, and they’ll make it to your table eventually. I’ve seen too many people pay for “good real estate” at a con, and make no money because they didn’t even cover their table cost.

Don’t pay for ads in the Diamond catalog or in Wizard, because that can cost as much as printing your book. Again, I’ve seen way too many people pay for an ad, then they don’t get good orders, and they don’t have any money left to print the book. At least if you didn’t buy the ad, your orders would probably be the same, and you could at least print your crappy book!

Blackmon: How do you view the current popularity of manga in North America, is it harmful or positive to the North American comic book market?

Hyland: It can’t hurt. However, there’s not much crossover, in my view. Manga people, just like North American comics people, can be very narrow-minded. I have a 15-year-old cousin who is really into manga… and he’s never been to a comic book store… he can go to big chain book stores like Chapters or Indigo and buy the manga stuff. So he’s never exposed to any other comics.

I bought him the first Hellboy [by Mike Mignola] trade (because I love that stuff!), and he liked it, but never felt inclined to buy any more, even when I took him to comic stores, because he’d rather have manga books. And a lot of that manga stuff looks like crap to me, and they eat it up, because they’re so narrow-minded! Now, like I said, mainstream comics fans and even a lot of independent comics fans are equally as narrow-minded!

Blackmon: What are some of the legalities connected with your field, including the necessary steps to protect your work, and the cost? What advice would you give concerning licensing?

Hyland: As soon as you professionally publish a comic book, it’s copyrighted, because the printing company has all the official receipts and payment documents that can officially back up the dates of your work.

If licensing is going to give you some money, then I say “why not?” I mean, there are things that I would never want Lethargic Lad put on, and I’d really only want to license products that I myself would want to own (like toys!), but for the most part, the only thing I’ve ever had licensed was t-shirts, and it was good! For the most part, nobody has ever come up to me to license Lethargic Lad. Sigh…

Blackmon: How much time and effort do you invest into various aspects of your work?

Hyland: It seems like I’m busy all the time, but sometimes I don’t know exactly what I’ve done in a day! I work on my stuff, in one way or another, everyday, and it’s been that way for easily 15 years. If it’s not Lethargic Lad, then it’s some other paying gig, like LEGO art or stuff for Steve Jackson Games.

Blackmon: What do you feel is the most important benefit of self-publishing your work, and being a part of the comic book industry in general?

Hyland: At least I’ve got a product that I’m proud of and it’s out there. Otherwise, at the moment, I feel really out of the comics industry. Because I’m getting enough work from places outside of the industry, I don’t have to try and hustle in the comics industry as much. The only comics I do now is Lethargic Lad, which is cool. Whereas before, I was trying to crack into other companies, I was asked to do sample pages for DC, Cartoon Network, Simpsons, and Archie, which all took up time, and lead to nothing! Now I don’t care about that stuff, and I can just focus on my own stuff.

Blackmon: Do you think that it is better to serialize your stories in the traditional comic book format, or make your work available directly in the graphic novel format?

Hyland: The Problem is that graphic novels are expensive to print, so it’s hard to get into right away. It’s cheaper to print a 24-page comic book to get started. However, I always hear how people want to read big graphic novels and stuff.

I agree with that to an extent, but I still really love the comic book as a form. I like short stories or chapters, and “to be continued;” and having to wait for the next issue. That’s part of the charm of comics for me. 



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