As fans of arguably the biggest superhero teams in comic book history- the JSA (Justice Society of America) and JLA (Justice League of America)- look forward to the December 4th release of the highly-anticipated "JLA/JSA: Virtue & Vice" hardcover graphic novel from DC Comics, another related project has been slowly building momentum as well: the accompanying "JLA/JSA: Secret Files & Origins" one-shot. Though some fans may be primarily looking forward to this special because of the return of former "JSA" series artist Steve Sadowski, the short story with cult-favorite character Cameron Chase or simply because they love to see the JLA and JSA team up, for one man, this comic book represents his first big break in the comic book world. Jim Beard, known to many online fans as "JSAJim," will be seeing his first comic book script brought to life in November's "SF&O," something that represents the culmination of many of his lifelong dreams. CBR News spoke with Beard exclusively about how he got the big break and about why he loves the JSA so much, something for which he's earned a reputation online.
DC's solicitation for Beard's story says, "the JLA and the JSA fight over which team gets a member of Young Justice," but Beard says that it won't just be a meaningless fight over the team of junior heroes. "You can expect a good story, hopefully," says Beard. "Basically, its one JSAer, one JLAer, one Young Justice member, …and a question. Four pages that won't change comics 'as we know them' but just might put a smile on your face."
The new writer also says that his inspiration for the story was other people like himself: the fans. "No fake," says Beard, when asked if the fans were really his inspiration. "It's a direct response to some questions I've seen on the 'net over the past few years, some of the same questions I've had, too. I've been wanting someone to do this story and finally decided it had to be me!" He also adds that the most exciting aspect of writing is, "that they're characters I've read about all my life and I got to 'speak' in their voices. That its 'official' and 'really happened.' I LOVE the JSA! What a collection of names, costumes, histories, stories…everything I want in comics. I grew up with them, in reprints and new tales and the diversity they offer (especially with the current team) fascinates me to no end. The coolest damn characters ever in comics."
However, this wasn't the end of Beard's professional career, as he is quick to explain he soon became involved with "Hawkman Secret Files & Origins #1." "After I finished the story, Geoff Johns himself asked me to co-write the profile pages," explains Beard. "He had a lot on his plate and I could help him out, cut down on his crush time. I wrote the first draft on all 9 'Hawkman' profiles and then they went to Geoff for tweaking and polishing. The profiles are a different beastie from the stories, but a heckuva lot of fun and a CHALLENGE. You have to cram sometimes decades worth of history into 200-300 words, not to mention get the point across to readers who may never have heard of the character."
While he hasn't seen the art for his debut story yet, Beard says his enthusiasm to own the original art hasn't lessened with time. "Haven't seen the art yet! Chomping at the bit to do so, though! It'll be fascinating to see my words turned into images. I've been in contact with Clement Sauve, the penciller, to give me first dibs on the original pages....my first comic work: I wanna have that art, man!"
A lot of people are probably wondering how Beard was able to make the leap from fan to pro and as he'll admit, sometimes he still wonders that too. "(clears throat)…the long and winding rooooooad… heh, wow, where to start? My 'history' is about 90% just being a fan, lots of letter-writing to comics over the past 4 years and I also ran what used to be the largest, most active comic book club on Yahoo: the JSA Appreciation Association. I became friends with Geoff when he joined the club, around the time of 'STARS & STRIPE's' debut, and talked with him from time to time about writing. The mechanics of it, what made a good story, etc. I was submitting stuff to DC, but not really getting anywhere, not quite grasping the idea of pitches and proposals. There was one particular story I really wanted to tell and had mentioned it to Geoff a few times. When I heard about the upcoming 'JLA/JSA SF&O' I thought my story might be appropriate for the book. Geoff thought so too, suggested I send it in to DC. One thing led to another and my luck held out: they agreed to read it. Waited a nail-biting month after that and on my birthday I got the call…DC said it was a solid read and they wanted to buy it. One of the best days of my life. I'm beyond grateful to them. They're a big company with a great small company feel. Nice people to work for!"
One of those nice people is acclaimed writer Geoff Johns, whose been a guiding light for Beard and who sees Johns as his mentor. "Geoff Johns is this kinetic ball of comic book energy, a guy who truly LOVES comic books and wants to tell you stories. That's so inspirational to me it ain't funny. He's also tough. He'll tell you when an idea needs to be chucked and in no uncertain terms. He's said he appreciates my honesty in my reviews of his work and I can't think of a better trait to have in a friend, someone who places honesty so highly. Geoff's one damn fine writer and I think people are only just now seeing what he can really do."
Beard's day job keeps him busy at an art museum in Ohio and he feels that has increased his appreciation for the comic book medium. "Working at the museum really makes me think about comics as a true original art form…and how it tends to get short shrift in that department. I'd like to see bigger museums start putting on exhibitions of comic art and show how they mirrored and been influenced by popular culture over the past 80 or so years. Comics have just as much, if not more, work put into them as any of the other artistic and entertainment mediums. Its time they had a turn in the spotlight for the craftsmanship and creativity that as always been there since the beginning."
So what can fans expect to see in print from JSA Jim next? "I dunno!" admits Beard. "I'm taking it one day at a time! I have a few proposals out now but I'm still learning, still trying to see what can be done and the best ways to do it." But he does have some dream projects; "To write more about the JSA. The types of stories you can tell with them are unlimited. I'd like to write a big story about the android Red Tornado. He's a wonderful character. Metamorpho, Adam Strange, the Blackhawks, Batman, my list is endless! Say, isn't there supposed to be a new 'BRAVE & BOLD?'"
For those fans who may be looking to Beard for some advice on how to break in, he has some helping words… sorta. "I still need advice! Me!" laughs Beard. "Ummmm, okay, here's the biggest things I've learned so far: Brevity. Tell your story concisely. Get in there, lay it down, and get out. Also, be prepared to get rid of ideas you may be madly in love with. If they don't work, they don't work. Be prepared to be edited. Open yourself up to what more experienced people have to tell you and look at comics as a team-effort. Easiest: ideas, I got a million of 'em. Hardest: putting those ideas into a logical and clear form on paper. The translation is the challenge, but how sweet it is!"