If you've ever read a year end review of the comic book industry over the last few years, you'll remember that one book seemed to be on almost all the lists: "True Story, Swear To God." The autobiographical tale of love, labor and laughs, written and illustrated by Tom Beland, has been universally praised and embraced by fans. Though initially, self-published through Beland's own Clib Boy Comics, the series gained wider recognition when a trade paperback collection was published though AiT/Planet Lar, and it was recently announced that "TSSTG" will now be published through the prestigious Image Comics. With this in mind, CBR News spoke to Tom Beland about the move to Image and the many changes in his life as of late.
"I'm really excited because once again 'TSSTG' has been nominated for two Eisner Awards this year, for 'Best Continuing Series' and 'Best Reality-Based Series.' We're thrilled to have been nominated and I'm happy," smiled Beland. "The books from last year really ran the gamut of emotions for me and it's nice to see that hard work appreciated in this way. If you knew what I've been experiencing lately, you'd understand why this means so much to me. Anyone nominated in my categories could nuke me out of the awards, so I'm just looking forward to a nice evening at the round tables in the front of the room!
"As far as the move to Image, I just signed the contract and sent it off to them. They've wanted to work on one collection of issues 1-17, sort of like the new 'Jack Staff' trade, but there are some issues with AiT that may delay that for the time being. The plan is to go monthly with the title, so I'm trying to get a jump on the issues by getting as much done as possible before the first issue with the 'I' hits the shelves. I'm beyond thrilled about this: Image is one of the biggest teams out there and just talking with guys on board was a bit like being introduced to a very cool fraternity.
The final issue under Beland's Clib Boy Comics will be "TSSTG" #17, set to hit store shelves this July. The first issue from Image Comics is scheduled for this September and will pick up where the self-published series ends. "It ends on a clean break, so I don't think it'll matter," Beland said about any possible confusion new readers may have. "I may do some catch-up scenes for those who don't know about the history of the book. The Eisner nominations may get people interested in catching up via the trades."
Though Beland is "graduating" to the big leagues, don't expect the book to be radically different. If he has his way, "True Story, Swear To God" will feature the same storytelling style, roughly the same pages, and be in classic black & white. "I think 'TSSTG' is one of those books, like 'Strangers In Paradise' or 'Bone,' that works better in b/w than color. I think when it's time to go for an emotional moment, b/w tends to draw you in more than it does with color, unless you have an incredible colorist. But I came up through the comic strip end of the pool and you tend to become accustomed toblack and white. I love it."
While the themes of love and career have certainly been sweeping and epic, "True Story, Swear To God" has been about the every day life of Tom Beland, from learning a new language while in Puerto Rico, to being able to talk sports with his brother. But Beland recently told CBR News that he's moved back to California, after an amicable break up with Lily, the woman at the center of "TSSTG." "Thee main reason why I moved back to California was because there was simply nowhere for me to start a career in Puerto Rico," he explained. "The clients that I did develop either never paid me or it took a Herculean effort to get paid. That was one thing. The other was I missed my family back in California.
"You have to remember something. While the readers have read 16 issues of 'TSSTG,' it's only dealt with the first year of us living together. We've been together for nine years. Along that time, I've had some difficult moments, but I do love the island and those who live there. But the pull for my hometown and family was becoming too strong to ignore and, to be honest, I think I was beginning to resent Lily for having those things that I left behind.
"So, rather than having a relationship that had that element of envy and resentment, we decided to maintain what we've always considered to be an amazing friendship and partnership and to do that, I should move back home. It wasn't easy, but it was a decision based on love and friendship.
"This wasn't a break-up that had doors being slammed and profanities screamed back and forth. It was the two of us sitting down and discussing whether or not we'd ever be living back in the States and the answer was 'no.' She has a huge family she loves living in Puerto Rico, she has a career she's worked hard at building and there's the culture she's dear to. I couldn't ask her to pack it all up and leave it behind, or she'd be feeling like me in time.
"So, for anyone who might be devastated by this news, please don't be. I know, and I'm sure the readers know, many couples who've stayed together as though there's some sort of record involved. They're together, but never talk to each other and when they do, it's usually something negative or nasty. And when you ask them why they're together, they'll give some bullshit excuse like 'we don't believe in divorce' or 'we have kids.' Well, how is spending your life being negative to each other possibly enhancing your marriage or helping your children? We've never understood that. This is something we never wanted our relationship to become. We actually told each other during our marriage that if something were to happen to jeopardize the friendship, then we'd sacrifice the marriage to save it. Now, this may sound beee-zar to some, but my friendship with this woman outweighs any ring I'd ever wear on my hand.
"So, we parted with that friendship still intact and we did so without lawyers, without being greedy and with a great deal of respect. It was emotional, yes, but sometimes you have to do what has to be done in life. What she's given me is the greatest expression of love you could possibly hope for…and she feels the same towards me. It's why we can still call each other every day and laugh our asses off and be comfortable.
"So, getting back on topic: there are about eight years of storytelling, or what I call 'honoring' with this relationship. So, no, the story won't be wrapping up any time soon. This relationship with Lily has been the greatest experience of my life. I want to tell my readers why. I think it's time to read about two people who care about each other -- hell, who like each other -- no matter what they've gone through."
In addition to a move that occupied a good deal of his time, there are other events Beland's had to deal with in his attempt to stay on schedule and get that issue #17 out for a July release. Beland recently went through gallbladder surgery. "I developed gallstones and they had to remove the bladder. It was a quick surgery, but the recovery has taken some time. I'm still a bit sore in my chest area when I have to sit up, but otherwise I'm doing well.
"I have to admit, this was one mother of a time for me. For Lilly, also. Although we're still the best of friends and remain extremely close, don't mistake that for this being an easy time. We both feel extremely drained by these past few months and it's only because we care for each other this much."
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland Contributed To This Story