Friday, December 08, 2006

Steve Rude Speaks: Nexus & The Moth

It's not often that you get a chance to spend a few hours with a genuine icon, but when that chance arises then you can bet I'll take it each and every time. No doubt about it, Steve Rude is an icon in any industry. He's an artist above artists. He can draw better than almost anyone else, he can paint better than almost anyone else - in fact whatever he puts his mind to he ends up doing it better than anyone else.

Steve spent the better part of a decade and a half working on a labour of love: Nexus. Debuting in 1981, writer Mike Baron and The Dude helped forge a universe and provided some of the best stories that were produced in the 1980s/1990s. Nexus had a troubled life though. Originally the series was published by Capitol Comics and then found a home at First. When First went belly up, the series was picked up by Dark Horse and it remained there until it was cancelled. Since then the title has remained dormant, plot lines dangling and every so often Dark Horse would release an unrelated one shot. Hope was high for a revival of the characters when Dark Horse began to print the Nexus Archives, and ultimately Dark Horse publisher, Mike Richardson, turned the rights to the character over to both Baron and Rude.

Flash forward to 2004 and The Dude, this time working with writer Gary Martin, launched his own creation, The Moth, onto the comic book scene as a four issue mini-series. Despite a solid story and incredible art, Dark Horse declined to produce another series of The Moth and the title was consigned to the shelves.

In 2005 The Dude set himself a series of tasks, foremost upon them being the relaunch of both Nexus and The Moth. Finally, after over a year of work, The Dude announced the launch of his own publishing venture, Rude Dude Productions, the result being that Rude will himself be publishing both titles. The relaunch of Nexus will see the title picking up from where it left off, all those years ago, and, again, The Moth will see a continuation of the storyline. Working again with both Mike Baron and Gary Martin, 2007 looks to be the year of The Dude.

DANIEL BEST: How did it come about that you’re relaunching Nexus?
STEVE RUDE: Nexus is being relaunched because Baron and I promised everyone that it would come back someday. Ten years had gone by since the last book came out and people thought it would probably be coming back either through Dark Horse or some other company, but in fact none of that was ever true. We never found any companies that would give us a good enough deal to warrant coming back. They were mostly from companies who weren’t established all that well, and were on shaky ground financially. Some of the deals they made us were terrible. One offer, from CrossGen, was notably ridiculous. Sorry, folks, but we’re not about to give you 75% of our rights back again, just to get published.

One day I got this brilliant idea. I was kind of at a crossroads in life and I had to think about some things. I had just found out that the Moth wasn’t going to be picked up by Dark Horse I thought, “Wow, I’ll have find another company, some other small-time publisher that’ll let me do what I want.” But then I found out that all of these places are pretty much the same. A lot of them are going to go bankrupt real soon or the promises they assured us of were not going to happen. Ultimately, I discovered that if really wanted to fight for what I wanted to do with my comics, was "Why don’t I fight for the idea of forming my own company?"

DB: I wasn’t overly surprised when I got the email saying you were about to self-publish because I thought it was totally logical and obvious. The thing that must have given you pause is the start-up costs and the logistics that go with it.
SR: All those things are things that people can overcome. This is America and if you’re industrious enough and do your homework you can find a way to make anything happen. That’s my philosophy. I needed to do things the way I saw them in my mind, without the interference or objections from other people telling what would or wouldn’t sell, or how to go about it the “Harvard” way.

DB: Was there ever a temptation to go and work for either Marvel or DC in order to raise funds?
SR: The answer is none whatsoever. The reason is because, even though I made a good living with Marvel, certainly I made a lot more than I ever did off Dark Horse, it would still be a waste of inertia. Doing things the hard and honest way is usually the best route, sad to say. I recall when I was offered the X-Men back when it was a million seller and I had no trouble turning them down. I’m not here on this world to play it safe.

DB: I guess I asked because I thought well if you did six months on say the X-Men then bang, there’s a good portion of the money you might need already there.
SR: Steve Rude doing the X-Men is not what I’m here for, and it’s a far more double edged slice off your buttock than people think. Because the X-Men is such a big profiled book there’s a high probability that I would stuck with an editor who’d be very demanding and far less forgiving of just letting me go with things and just having a good time. The times I did work for Marvel during the late 90’s and in 2000, I found things were good or bad depending on the editor. Most don’t have the wisdom to know when to leave certain people alone. Personally, it just doesn’t work to have someone breathing down my neck and trying to second guess my every panel. I wanted freedom to take chances my own way.

DB: I guess it’d be going backwards in life, if you did a run on the X-Men, or Superman, and that’s not what it’s about.
SR: I have done World’s Finest and I have done most of the major Marvel characters that I wanted to, but at nearly 50, I’ve decided it’s time to find out what it’s really all about for me. All those great artists that came before me would say the same thing; “Be your own man and be true to yourself.” They’d all be glad that their work inspired us to go as far as we have in life but no-one can really show you how to use that gift, or do it for you.

DB: It surprises me that an artist of your calibre would have an editor telling you how to do things. If I were an editor and I had Steve Rude drawing for me I’d just let you go and do whatever you wanted to do, knowing full well that the end result would be of a very high standard.
SR: You would think that would be the case, but in fact it’s all dependent upon the editor. When I worked with older editors, like Ralph Macchio who’s been around a while and knows my work and is a contemporary, that was a joy. But with the younger editors, at least the ones I worked with, there was a lot of fighting, wasted energy and needless anxiety.

I keep thinking back to the Kirby and Simon days, where they would basically have their own companies and they’d just get someone to publish the work. The creators were allowed to do what they did best, and from there it was may the best man win as far as his ability to create sales go. If it didn’t work out with some of their books, they’d have to do something else to make the kind of sales that would warrant keeping a book going. When the romance magazines were hitting big in the 50’s, Kirby and Simon were walking up the street one day looking at all the pretty girls plastered across the newsstand and said, “Why don’t we do a comic like that?” and Jack said, “Ok, let’s do it.” That team turned out the first million seller Romance comic. What a great team were. So compatible with their separate strengths.

DB: Going all the way back to Simon and Kirby, Andru and Esposito, Wally Wood all the way through to now there’s a right history of artists breaking away and forming their own companies and saying not only do they want that control, but they need that control over the finished product.
SR: Yeah, it’s a fun challenge.

DB: Why not Dark Horse?
SR: As far as letting them publish our stuff?

DB: Yes, because Dark Horse are publishing the Nexus archives.
SR: For a very simple reason: they never asked us to come back. The only reason they would have asked us to come back is if they thought the book could make a profit for them. Dark Horse is doing the Nexus archives, and I’m very grateful for that, but there’s a story about that, too. There were four other publishers who wanted to reprint the Nexus books Of these four, Dark Horse was the only company who took forever to make a decision. Finally I told (Mike) Richardson, You’ve had six months to make a decision. “I want an answer by Friday or you’re out of the running. He finally said yes, but look at what it finally took to get the books out. I don’t care how busy you are, 6 months is ridiculous, proving once again my need to do my own publishing, I just have one thing on my mind. I’ll have Nexus, the Moth and the anthology.

DB: Why did Dark Horse cancel the Moth?
SR: They claim to have lost a lot of money off the series so they canned it. Now it’s in my hands to see if their claims of weak sales were no more than a matter of weak promotion.

DB: Again, it made sense to me when I saw you stepping outside of the Dark Horse publicity machine when you advertised a promotion where if a retailer ordered ‘x’ amount of the Moth then you’d do an in-store appearance.
SR: That’s why we thought we were doing ok and we’d stay afloat but in the end, we were cancelled. Another thing I won’t miss with Dark Horse is the financial aspect of their company. Dark Horse was horrible at 1] paying me on time and 2] paying me period. Who wants to go through that kind of crap every time you’re owed a check? I didn’t want to have to keep making those phone calls. For the record, DC has been the one and only company who has always consistently payed on time, even when you’re only due for a $1.50 royalty check from some tiny little book you contributed to. They’re amazing on that count.

DB: You’re picking Nexus up at issue #98, or is it #99?
SR: It’s actually #99. We thought it was #98 until we actually went back and checked it.

DB: When you come back to it, it’s been ten years since the last issue, how does it feel to pick that pen up again?
SR: I guess I made myself a little nervous about it. Lot’s of my favorite artists have lost their edge over the years. The old flavor and youthful craziness of their early work is gone and it really bugs me. It just disappears.

DB: How do you make sure that never happens to you though? How do you ensure that you keep improving?
SR: Well, I believe constant and perpetual improvement is a myth. My draftsmanship probably reached its peak around the early 90’s Dark Horse era, and it’s not going to improve drastically from that point. Look at Norman Rockwell, for instance. His actual painting skill never improved beyond the mid 1920s. He has basically mastered the art of painting by then. He went on to paint many more masterpieces certainly, but there seemed to come a time when painting itself seemed secondary to telling the story he wanted. I think those were his words about how he looked at himself. He once said, “Learning painting and solving the problems of technicalities have long since stopped being a problem for me. Now it’s just a matter of picking up a new idea and making it as good as I possibly can. I always have hope that the next painting will be my very best” At this point, he was probably taking more of conception than mere painting skill. I’ve always had a healthy fear of falling into that pit, but most of that fear about ‘If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse” is a crock of hooey.

One thing that keeps me out of the hack pit is how much I still like practicing. I’m on my 26th sketchbook right now. I still copy everything. I go outside and paint, water being a particularly trying phenomenon, and have been training my memory to store the image in my head until I’m back to the studio to paint it. I like looking through art magazines and I’ll find some great fine art painting that I think I could really learn something from so I’ll copy it very quickly in my sketchbook.

DB: I guess if you’re exercising that set of muscles every day…
SR: Practicing is fun. But drawing a full 22 page book is always tough. I don’t how other people feel about it, but every time I start a new book I’m always a little bit scared of the whole thing. Getting ramped up all over again. The first half of the book is always hardest. The second half is easier once you get over the hump.

DB: Back in 2002 you did an interview with The Comics Journal that had a very distinctive Nexus cover. The seeds of what you’re now doing were clearing in your mind even as far back as then.
SR: Me and Baron were always in touch during the book’s 10-year hiatus, always knowing or at least suspecting there would come a point when we’d come back to it. One thing I insisted on, far more than Baron, was I wouldn’t be involved in any deal that put Nexus with a publisher who was on shaky ground. Baron just wanted to make the deal regardless. I did not.

DB: When you finally decided you’d relaunch Nexus, was there ever a temptation to say, “Well it’s been ten years since the last series, let’s wipe the slate clean and start fresh”, or was it always going to be that you’d pick the series up where it left off?
SR: Well that’s exactly what we were planning on doing, but ultimately decided against it. By the way I want to emphasise that Baron had nothing to do with forming or even wanting initial involvement with this company. Bringing back Nexus with under the Rude Dude imprint was entirely my idea.

DB: So Baron is your employee of sorts?
SR: He’d hate to hear it like that, but yeah. But Nexus wouldn’t work with anyone else on the book but Baron. I made promises to him that I’d never do the book again without him. That means we’re basically stuck with each other.

DB: What would happen if Baron said, “No, I don’t want to do it”?
SR: Then we wouldn’t do it. In fact that’s exactly what happened when he turned in the first two scripts attempts. When I looked at them I almost retched. Baron had been telling me for years how much his writing had improved, and every time he mentioned this, instead of making me feel comforted, this bragging only seemed to make me grow more wary and uneasy. When he finally turned in what he thought was the new Nexus story of the century, my intuition proved itself rather astutely. What he turned in was in no way the calibre of script that he built his month-to-month reputation on. I said, “There’s no way I’m going to draw these,” and he said, “Well I’m not going to do anymore work for free,” so I said, “I’m going to can the book then.” So we did. So much for the great restart of Nexus.

DB: So there was never a temptation to start all over again?
SR: No. I thought Baron had lost his mind or something. That would have destroyed the reputation of consistent quality we had established with Nexus. No way was I going to let that happen.

DB: How to explain what came before to a new reader?
SR: I had a hard time with Baron trying to explain this to him. I don’t why, but I said, “Look, pretend you’re going into an environment where nobody knows who you are. This is a lot of what we’re going to be up against now. Sure, there’s a lot of guys who know the book and are happy that Nexus is coming back, but there’s probably about a 100,000 people out there who we may be completely new to; new people who’ve not heard of us. To this end, we’ll be starting out by putting out this little twenty-five cent book on free Comic Book Day, which will feature many of our greatest story excerpts throughout our almost 100 issue Nexus history. That’s our way of getting people to jump on who are new to Nexus and also to remind the older readers who recall the great memories, and the promise of great new stories to come.

DB: Dark Horse turned the rights to Nexus over to you. That’s an incredible thing for a publisher to do.
SR: It may unique in the history of comics. All thanks to Mike Richardson.

DB: When Dark Horse turned the ownership over did it spur you into doing what you’re doing now?
SR: No, it actually kind of confused me because I don’t think Richardson quite went about it right. He said he was going to return it to us, but then took forever to actually do it. In the meantime I made a mistake by letting a lawyer talk me into something I’ll never do again. He said, “Look, what if Richardson dies tomorrow and he never put it in writing? The new jerk who takes over is never going to give us the rights back.” That kind of talk. Well, Richardson never got into a car accident nor did he ever die on us. All Mike wanted to do, in his usual sloth-paced way, was to give a gift to somebody in his own sweet time, and didn’t want to be coerced by some stupid lawyer for something that was coming out of the goodness of his own heart. In the end, it was my faux pas and all it did was make Richardson feel bad. But once he made the announcement be known, he should of just done it instead of delaying and delaying, but that’s what Mike does. He never does anything at the moment because he’s got too much going on.

DB: So who owns Nexus now?
SR: Me and Baron co-own it equally.

DB: The Moth?
SR: I decided to split that down the line with Gary Martin. It was the fair and right thing to do. Gary is the writer after all.

DB: The Moth. Initially four issues appeared and then that was it. Did you start any new issues after that first mini-series?
SR: Well, knowing Mike Richardson as well as we all do, that answer was no. In fact, we waited 6 months for Mike to give us a yay or nay for the Moth’s continuation, but it never happened. At some point I got fed up, like anyone should be after waiting so long for a simple yes or no, so I just said goodbye. Thank you for everything you’ve done, it was good, but now it’s back in my hands and let me see what I can do with it.” So there were no more issues produced after that last fourth issue. Now with Nexus, I was about ten pages into issue #99 when the hammer dropped on that one. At that point I went through the agony of deciding,“ do I finish this up or just let it go?” I decided to do my Scout duty and finish it up. But when we came back to revive Nexus thru Rude Dude, we figured some kind of re-juggling of things was in order. We had to re-orchestrate our book to the public again. Baron and I both decided that what we had done originally for Nexus #99, although it’d be perfect if the next issue had come out a month after we’d gotten cancelled, was probably not the best thing to do after ten years. That’s actually caused a lot of problems because Baron’s sense of writing has changed a lot and I had to really work him to get him back on track, which was delivering really good scripts again.

DB.: How do you do that and say, “I don’t think it’s quite there,” especially when I expect it’s as much a labour of love for him as it is for you.
SR: Basically, I just have to tell him. It’s always painful, and Baron always gets really upset when I tell him that his work isn’t up to par and goes on to throw defensive insults my way. He thinks I’m crazy. So I had to go through the demeaning process to a person of his skills, and explain to him why the story wasn’t working; that there was ultimately no point to it, it had no focus, and you’re vastly underplaying the focus on the pregnancy and the birth of this kid. Nothing in his script was working right on any level. The script that he sent me was all over the place and therefore wasn’t in any one place. Good scripts are never all over the place, unless they’re tied together by some kind of common thread of some kind to keep you guessing. Great stories are about relationships, which comes from the word “relate”. That means everything that happens in the story is somehow connected to something before and after the main event. Without that you just have a bunch of “dandelions floating aimlessly into the clouds.” It’s pretty, but there’s not much of a story to it. It’s a puzzle with half the pieces either missing, or at the very least shoved into the wrong places.

DB: What does the future hold for Nexus?
SR: This is a question of faith and hope. I intend my tenure with Rude Dude comics to be the greatest hurrah of my career. To do that, I have to play it smart. I have to gain and maintain reliable and solid relationships with the retailers, and the same with the people at Diamond distribution. They just need you to follow a few simple rules and life is fine and dandy.

DB: How difficult was it to get the Diamond contact?
SR: Wasn’t difficult at all. Diamond knew who I was and were very welcoming to me and Jaynelle. But don’t jerk them around! If you say a book is coming out in February, or whenever, by God it’d better come out then. That’s paramount.

DB: Best case scenario: everything goes as planned. How long do you envision doing Nexus and The Moth?
SR: For the rest of my career; until retirement, if there ever is one. As long as I don’t get the shakes, stroked into paralysis, get hit by a car, or go mentally insane, I’ll just keep working.

DB: Now, worst case scenario: it all fails. Then what?
SR: Honestly? There is nothing in my brain that makes me believe that I can’t succeed. I also don’t dwell on the option of failure. We know it’s a fact of life and it does happen, but I’m so focused on succeeding and making sure I know exactly how to do that, I have no time for the alternative. I‘m optimistic. The new Nexus scripts from Baron are exceptional if not brilliant. And I can tell you that the next four issues of The Moth have already been written, and I couldn’t get any more excited with what Gary Martin has turned in. And wait’ll you see what we’ve got planned after that! Absolute, non-stop coolness. I can’t wait to get around to drawing all of this stuff. I wish I was faster.

DB: So we can expect to see the best of Steve Rude on both Nexus and The Moth?
SR: You bet. And keep those expectations where they are. I’m going to need a pretty solid report card from our readers for me to succeed. Nexus has got a new lease at life, and the Moth has got the most amazing twists and bizarre new characters to come, they blow even my mind..... Wish me luck!


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All images courtesy of Steve Rude. All images and artwork are © copyright 2006 Steve Rude, Mike Baron & Gary Martin
Interview is © copyright 2006 Steve Rude and Daniel Best and cannot be reproduced without express permission. If you wish to quote this interview then reciprocal/relevant links must be provided.


S.Bove said...

Several years ago I would have said, forget it! Don't waste your money on a new comics company! Now I say, why not! And it might as well be Rude.

Anonymous said...

I met Steve in Baltimore with a very pretty lady. He is one of the good guys in art.

Best of luck to him,

Jimmy T