With over twenty years in the comic book industry, Colleen Doran had a lot to say last Friday at WonderCon. Moderator Derek McCulloch, Eisner Award nominee for “Stagger Lee,” sat back and let Colleen talk with attendees.
The discussion kicked off with Colleen’s epic, “A Distant Soil,” which she has been working on for 27 years. Fans wondered where she was with the story, and when they’d see more.
“I’m up to issue 38,” Doran said, “and the simple reason why A Distant Soil is not finished is pure economics. A Distant Soil does really well for small press, and if I had a day job at IBM, I’d be thrilled to work on it all weekend. Unfortunately I can’t live on the three to five hundred dollars a month it actually makes for me. I can barely do a couple pages a month at that rate. I have to work for Marvel and DC, not that they’re putting a gun to my head, because I’d do it anyway. But the money I make working for them pays for me to work on ‘A Distant Soil.'”
“But there is an ending to it?” One fan asked.
“Oh yeah, and you know what, the only person in the world who knows what the ending is – even my momma doesn’t know – Jeff Smith (“Bone,” “RASL”) knows. We were pulling one of our phone buddy things, it’s one of those things that artists do when they’re working real late, it’s a good thing to do while you’re inking, because there’s a lot about inking that’s pretty mindless. One night, I was pulling an all nighter with Jeff, and we were on the phone for about eight hours. I was going, ‘Boo hoo, boo hoo, I can’t figure out this thing about ‘A Distant Soil,’ I’m really worried about the direction I’m going with the story. I’m afraid its turning into my own fanfic. I need to cut, I don’t understand how to do it, its driving me crazy, I’m pulling my hair out.’ and he said something really simple like, “Well, what are you trying to say? What’s the essence of the story?” and I thought, ‘Well, I gotta go to the bathroom, that’s what I’m trying to say.’ I went off to the bathroom, and while I was in the bathroom, I got the idea.” Colleen laughed along with the crowd at this strange revelation.
“Do you have a guess of how many issues left of A Distant Soil?” An attendee asked.
“About eight.” said Colleen. She mentioned she might push it to twelve, just to round the series to fifty issues.
When a fan asked if she would like to see the series in movie form, Doran said she had already received several offers. While the creator has turned them all down, it was not because she is adverse to a movie existing.
“When I say I don’t want to sign off my rights to somebody, it doesn’t just mean that I’m worried they’ll make a bad movie.” she said. “There are a lot of people who’ll try to get your rights so nobody else will get them, or they may want you to sign your rights, and if you look very, very closely, they want your book too. That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about.”
After being questioned further, Colleen admitted that when she pictured “A Distant Soil” moving, it was in the style of Yoshitaka Amano. Amano is more famous for his illustrations, but also worked on several animated projects, such as “Angel’s Egg,” mentioned by Doran.
Fans asked if she had plans for a project after “A Distant Soil.” “Yes.” she said, “As big as ‘A Distant Soil?’ No, I’ll never do this again. I’d be dead! I won’t have time. There is no way I could do this again, because I just spent most of my life working on it, and it’s not done. I do have other things I want to do, but I will never do another epic of this scope. It’s over 1000 pages!”
A fan asked Colleen how working by herself compared to collaborating with writers, such as McCulloch on “Gone to Amerikay” or the story she illustrated in the Tori Amos book “Comic Book Tattoo.”
“I actually like having a boss and deadlines, because I cannot indulge my own neurosis to the extent I normally do. I cannot do anything until I have researched it to death.” said Colleen. McCulloch poked fun at her obsessive nature, and asked her to talk about their project, “Gone to Amerikay.”
“It’s about Irish immigrants.” explained Doran. “It’s a multi-generational epic about Irish immigration. It’s about about 150 pages long. This is an original graphic novel, it’s all going to come out in one shebang”
“And almost none of it takes place today, so there’s a little bit of research involved in that,” prompted McCulloch.
“I spent two months doing research before I did anything.” said Colleen, “Okay, here’s a perfect example – the fork. What hand would immigrants use to eat? In 1870, what was the proper hand, would that be lower class or upper class? And in this later scene when we’re showing people from the upper class who have assimilated into American culture, would they be using the American manners, or would they still be using European manners? We agonized over this. That’s the level of thought we put into this book.”
While discussing other details researched for the comic, Doran explained, “I don’t think character stops with just personality,. You have to show it in the environment. Every single thing in someone’s room says something about them.”
Lastly, a young female artist asked Doran what it was like working in comics as a woman, and had there been any changes through the years. “It has changed so much I don’t even recognize it anymore.” Colleen said, and then continued emotionally, “I still get very upset before I go to a convention, because I’m still hardwired to remember what it was like in 1987, and it was very unpleasant. It’s not unpleasant anymore. Everybody is nice, nobody makes a big fuss, nobody is trying to grab your ass, nobody is following you to your hotel room. When I go to try and get a job, it’s not a bit deal. It used to be a big, big deal. Conventions used to be extraordinarily un-fun, it was like hazing. It really was. It was like trying to get into the fraternity every show. I hated the comic book industry twenty-something years ago, I don’t know why I even stuck around. Now, it’s just so much fun, and it’s so pleasant. Everybody is really nice. The only bad thing is, you have to wait at the toilet.”
“A Distant Soil” is serialized at adistantsoil.com The tentative release date for “Gone to Amerikay” is St. Patrick’s Day – March 17, 2011.