PoP! Interview – Jimmie Robinson

By Jerry Whitworth

Jimmie Robinson's Printing History

PoP!: The question comic fans always ask is “How do you break into the comic industry?’ Why don’t you tell us about how you came to be a comic book creator and the journey that lead to your success at Image Comics?

ROBINSON: There is no way to break into comics. I’m an old hat so my experience will greatly differ to how things are done today – but then again… it might not. See, there’s no one-way. What I did was self-publish. I took a good long hard look at my work (OK, it wasn’t really that long), and I just knew I wasn’t going to fit into any “house” style” – which was par for the course in the old days. Also, I didn’t grow up on comics like many others in the biz. Sure, I know the Who’s Who of the main DC and Marvel characters… but it wasn’t drilled into me from childhood.

So, I self-published.

And to set the record straight, since nowadays “publishing” has so many meanings, I’m talking 100 percent on papBomb Queen VI #1er, off-set printing to a standard comic book format to be sold in brick and mortar comic book stores. I tell you, I laugh a little every time I upload a photo on Facebook and the submit button is called “Publish.” It’s a new world order nowadays. I self-published eight issues of a comic called CyberZone. It was black and white with four-color covers. I worked at a commercial printing plant at the time, so I would often “borrow” office supplies to cut the cost of production. It worked out pretty well. Looking back now, the sales were in the toilet and it was pretty much vanity. In short, I was paying more to make the book than the profit it returned. But I was happy as hell to have my book on the shelf – so 700 orders were a big deal to me. Of course, that was split between two distributors (Capitol City and Diamond Distributors). I printed my book locally and sold copies “by hand” to retailers in my area. Then I got hooked up with the distributors, and I had to ship books to them to fill purchase orders. It was a real mess. After eight issues I gave up the ghost because I didn’t think anyone was listening (beyond the small fan base I built up). At that time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I know I wanted to do my own thing, not go work-for-hire.

So I did something weird. I typed up an open letter to the industry announcing the cancellation of my book. Honestly, I had no idea why. I guess I didn’t know how to officially “end” a comic series. I think I put the letter on the Internet (and I’m talking EARLY days of the internet like AOL and Compuserve); I’m not sure how I really did it. But the response was interesting.

First I got some sympathy emails from folks I had no idea were even reading my work, then I got emails from other publishers pretty much saying not to give up, but come join them. Slave Labor Publishing sent me something, and I was still thinking if I wanted to do comics at all, but then just three days after my letter to the industry, I got an email and phone call from Jim Valentino at Image Comics. Valentino was head publisher of Image at the time, and he was launching a sub-division called Shadowline – which focuses on non-superhero, black and white books. He basically invited me to continue my work there. I was beside myself. I accepted and revamped CyberZone into a miniseries called Amanda & Gunn. And from there, I have never left Image Comics.

Bomb Queen VI #1 pageWithin six months I went from being in the back of the Previews catalog to the cover, thanks to Valentino’s launch and retailer interest. Amanda & Gunn did well, too. 12,000 orders – which would be good even today – and unlike other books that were created by “teams,” I was a lone wolf. Creator, writer, artist, letterer, colorist, etc. I think that set the mold for me. Why on earth would I be part of a chain when I can control and reap it, the whole burrito?

Sadly, looking back on it now, I should have continued Amanda & Gunn. At the time, it had industry support. But, I walked away and created a medical drama called Code Blue. And it tanked. The new car smell of Valentino’s Shadowline launch wore off, and instead of working with the existing readership, I was switching gears at the wrong time. These are the things you look back at and shake your head at. What was I thinking? But, I still had people in my corner at Image Comics. Larry Marder (Bean World) was working at Image Comics at the time and helped me land my next project, Evil & Malice. I was switching gears again and this time for the all-ages market. Image got behind the book in a big way, too. God bless them for all their hard work. However, the all-ages field in the direct market is always a hard sell. So that didn’t work out as well, either. With my tail between my legs, I stepped back to assess the situation. Meanwhile, I picked up a zine by writer/artist Che’ Gilson, and I liked it so much, I reworked some of it in my own style and sent samples to Valentino. He liked it, and I contacted Gilson and we collaborated on the Image graphic novel, Avigon. It was 56 pages in a deluxe format, and the industry liked it (this was in the days before graphic novels came out every week). Image wanted to build up Avigon from 56 pages to 200 to qualify for the book markets outside of comics. Che’ and I agreed and went to work.

Then I hit what I’ll fondly call my Black Years. I fell into depression.

Played video games all day and night, and even started writing for game review sites. I got hooked into onlineBomb Queen VI #1 page role-playing games, and then I didn’t see the sun for 2 years. Christmas 2003, Eric Stephenson sent me an email, “Hey, how about that Avigon book?” I got out of my funk and cranked the graphic novel out in record time. Then, I settled back into video games; I was still not feeling it with comics. Avigon was appreciated by the industry, but it wasn’t my book, it was Che’s. So, I kinda stepped back again to let her be in the spotlight. Too many people were calling Avigon my book, and that wasn’t true.

So, again I fell into the video game circle jerk until August… when I forgot my own birthday due to playing so much. I guess that was my low. Not only did I forget, but I realized I didn’t have a big enough social circle to remind me of the world around me. I quit the very next day. Packed up PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and over 100 games and donated it all to the Boys and Girls Club in my area. I just went cold turkey and got over it.

At that point I had nothing going so I went back to comics. That’s how Bomb Queen was born. Valentino accepted it right away. And in less than six months, I got out of the dark and back in print. That was four years ago. I’ve been clean from video games, and Bomb Queen has been coming out continually.

Granted other things have happened during that time, as well. But, that’s another story.

PoP!: Bomb Queen became a hit for Image’s mature imprint Shadowline. How did her creation come about? And tell us about the success that surrounded her arrival.

Bomb Queen VI #1 pageROBINSON: Well, Shadowline is still very much open to all formats and styles – not just mature titles.

Bomb Queen was created much like any of my projects. I think of it like a self-published book and work on it before submitting it to a publisher. I won’t just have a pitch concept; I’ll work on it myself and even do the production pages. I took this process to a public forum and openly created the series. I know people always scoff at the notion of holding tight to your ideas, but ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the execution that matters. So, on Sequential Tart’s forums I followed a “work log” format started by the artist Marvin Mann. Through the process, I got feedback from the folks there, and it helped form the series as it is today. The back-and-forth response really helped me.

From there I took the final idea to some of my peers. Strangely, that’s where I had the toughest time. The whole “villain” thing was questioned on every level. And right away I knew I had something.

As for her “arrival,” it was met with questions. “What is it?” “Who is it?” And the most asked question, “Why is she wearing that?” which I find pretty odd considering how characters like Black Canary, Vampirella and Red Sonja are accepted in the industry – and that’s just naming a few. The series has always been profitable. It has always made the top 300, and the numbers remain steady, which is good. In fact, better than good because that means there’s a dedicated readership, not just a high and low order count based on an event, or guest appearance. Granted, it’s not a high-volume book, but as I said before, it’s only me behind the curtain, so while the profit isn’t huge, it also isn’t split by a large “team.” But let me say, I am more than happy with the colorist, Paul Little. He has been on Bomb Queen since Volume III, and he saves me time from coloring it myself. I still color all the covers and promotional items, though, so I don’t get too rusty in Photoshop.

PoP!: The first five Bomb Queen miniseries have explored the mythology of the world you’ve built: Why New Port City is a hub for evil, how Bomb Queen came into power, how Bomb Queen came into being, etc. Did you have everything worked out before the series began or did it grow along the way?Bomb Queen VI #2

ROBINSON: Yes, I did. As noted above, I work on my books before pitching them. I went pretty far into the whole story. However, Shadowline uses a miniseries format, so I had NO idea if I would ever do Bomb Queen after the first story arc. In fact, it wasn’t until Volume III that I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. But in the beginning, I never let my guard down. I kept expecting the numbers to plummet, or the publisher to say I was going too far with the violence or sexuality of the character. So while I knew the mega-plot and all the spin-offs and directions, I started the series as a complete beginning, middle and end. Which is how a miniseries should be. I’ve continued that format with each volume but integrated the overall story structure.

I’ve always had Bomb Queen and her world mapped out. Even her name suggests that. She has no “real” name, only a title – which we discover later on why that is. She has an unusual cat at her side – which we discover later on has secrets, too. We uncover the city’s origins – which we find a lot of people want for their own reasons. For me it’s just like the layers of an onion. I always make stories from the end forward. I cannot make a story and not know where it goes, because often my stories have a twist ending or final trick.

But after Volume III, the overall plot was pretty much said and done, so in Volume IV I decided to kill the character with She-Spawn. But that’s also when the book really began a life of its own! So I didn’t kill her. In Volume V, the series returned to her origin to cement it but also to start a NEW story arc – which will be completed in Volume VI.

It has been one strange ride. I would have never guessed that Bomb Queen would go for so long. And now the trades are starting to kick in and even ancillary products are making their way around. Like I said, the book has a life of its own. People talk about it, positive or negative, but they talk. I don’t mind that; in fact, I encourage it. I don’t need Bomb Queen to be a huge seller, just something that reaches the intended audience. Some have said if I just dial down the violence and sexuality, I could reach a larger audience. But, that’s not staying true to the origin of the book, and she’d just be another anti-hero or hard-pressed misunderstood super villain. Nobody asks Maxim to tone it down so it can sell to all-ages, so why ask that of Bomb Queen? The audience the book has is the audience it deserves. Plus, I don’t want the wrong people picking it up, so I don’t mind this flying at the edge of the radar.

PoP!: With Bomb Queen’s story fleshed out, where do you go from here? What can you tell us about Bomb Queen VI?

11ROBINSON: Bomb Queen VI is basically her natural progression as a character. Much like any self-aware character who discovers their true nature, the logical step is to bite the hand that feeds, or in basic mythology, to kill your god. In short, this is Bomb Queen versus the government that created her. From the beginning, Bomb Queen has played along with the government. We say she’s an evil villain, but when you look at it, she’s playing by someone else’s rules. The city she controls is a dumping ground for America, and she’s just the willing garbage man. So it begs the question… if the Queen is really the ultimate villain, why is she playing this game? This is like a child growing up into their teens: it’s time to reach out and be independent and be rebellious. It’s time for a change.

This is a radically NEW direction for Bomb Queen, and it’s another story arc that goes beyond the upcoming series. Bomb Queen has always been political, so Obama reaching the White House on his platform of hope and change just falls neatly into my scheme. Of course, everyone thinks I’m jumping on the Obama/comic bandwagon, but that’s not the case. I ripped on Bush and his WMDs from the start, Enron, Haliburton, and all of Washington; why would I stop now? People forget this is a VILLAIN book; there’s nothing heroic about it, so if Obama is a good guy then he’s a target of the Queen. No surprise there. This new direction is perfect timing for me.

Also, unlike other comics with Obama on the cover, I’m not using him as a profit generator with a cameo shoved into a different story. In Volume VI, Obama IS the story. He’s the platform for the Queen’s new launch. If McCain won, it would be the same thing. Doesn’t matter who sits in the oval office. But the fact that it is the well-loved Obama plays into my favor for a book about the evil side.

I’ll also say Volume VI will be more about the split between the amoral world of the Queen and our “normal” world. It will be less about fighting an individual and more about bridging the two worlds together – which may not be for the better for all involved.

PoP!: Recently, your story Evil & Malice was collected under Image’s all-ages Silverline imprint. Tell us a little bit about Evil & Malice: Save the World!Evil & Malice: Save the World!

ROBINSON: This was 10 years in the making. I originally created the series in 1998, and Image comics gave me the green light to do an all-ages graphic novel – almost unheard of in that day. I said I wanted color and I wanted to tell a whole story. I went to work on it and cranked out a ton of pages and showed them to Image, and they liked it. They showed them around the industry, took dozens of sample pages to the retailer summits. They basically said the industry is always saying where is the content for kids – here it is! But then the numbers started coming in, and we had to nix the graphic novel idea and push out single issues to get people interested. Then after two issues, those numbers drooped, as well. The project went from a graphic novel, down to a four-issue series, then down to a three-issue series. And even that barely made it print worthy. Jim Valentino was really behind the work, and he was just slammed about the response. Valentino is all about expanding the industry – you can see it today in his Silverline Books series.

So, fast forward 10 years, Valentino is no longer head of Image, but that’s OK because now he can deal the cards his way. Silverline books launched, and after all this time, Evil & Malice has returned. I added some of the missing pages when it was cut down; I added a ton of extras from when the book was optioned for TV animation. I added new art that had never been seen. However, the book was still cursed with problems – this time based on technology. Ten years ago, desktop publishing was still emerging, and nobody was thinking how to store data for 10 years down the road. I had most of the book on 100 meg ZIP disks. And a whole chunk of pages were completely gone except for online low-resolution files. I ended up scanning 30 printed pages from the comic to fill in the middle. I ran the pages through a series of tests and filters to reduce the blur, the printing dots, or any color shifts on the printed page.

I deleted all the hand lettering and reworked the entire book with a computer font. This also allowed me to tweak the story. Lastly, I wanted to change the title. “Evil & Malice” just doesn’t sound like a kid’s book. Granted kids nowadays use words like that all the time, but the people who really buy the book are adults – often for their kids. In fact, in the original printing, Valentino tried to talk me out of that title for the longest, but I liked the pun on the girl character’s names, Evelyn and Malinda. So when this went back to press, I figured I learned my lesson, and a new launch of the book should also have a new name. But this time Valentino said not to change it, the title has grown on him. Hah! However, I did add the tag line “SAVE THE WORLD” and made that much larger on the cover than the girls’ names.

The story is basically a kid’s version of Bomb Queen. It’s about villains. Twin daughters Evelyn and Malinda are the daughters of the soft-hearted villain the Black Eye. They are a loving family with the father as a single parent – the mother side of it comes later. Other villains move in on their dad’s turf and ruin a Disney trip the girls were dreaming of. To help their father from these really bad villains, the girls decide to become heroines – using their father’s gizmos and contraptions. Of course, being raised by a villain father means you’re not really good at playing hero. They tend to destroy more than they protect, but they are good-hearted about it. The story is really about family and how they handle staying together in the face of trouble. It’s out, in full glory from Silverline Books (Image Comics) this August. I put the entire package together from cover to cover to spine. I’m very proud to help the all-ages market again, which I firmly believe should not be forgotten no matter what the format.

PoP!: Where do you go from here? Bomb Queen is doing well and shows no sign of slowing, Evil & Malice has been retooled toward your original vision and re-released, but what are your plans or wish for the future?

Bomb Queen Omnibust: Volume 1ROBINSON: Honestly, my future is wide open right now. I have more plans for Bomb Queen, but nothing on the level of another 25 issues.

I have plenty of non-BQ short story ideas, but not much in the way of a new ongoing series. And truthfully, I like it that way. It allows me to run where the wind takes me. I might try another work-for-hire gig with Marvel, or drop the art and go into writing a new series and attempt multiple book projects. But right now, my focus is making sure Volume VI of Bomb Queen comes out on time.

The first five volumes of Bomb Queen and the Bomb Queen Omnibust: Volume 1 collecting the first three volumes are available in stores now from Image’s Shadowline Comics. Evil & Malice: Save the World! is available now from Image’s Silverline Books. Bomb Queen VI #1 hits store shelves September 30 (for mature readers only), and Bomb Queen skateboards (plus Witchblade, the Darkness and Savage Dragon) are available from Graphic Image Skateboards.

Bomb Queen Skateboard

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  1. Esbat says:

    I love Jimmie and Bomb Queen! I’m not sure how many people have or are making custom BQ action figures but I know I am, thus allowing me to work out a Dr. Doom/Bomb Queen fight that I dreamed that one time…

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      @ Esbat – I imagine in said dream, it was Victoria Von Doom behind the armor. And there wasn’t any armor. And there wasn’t any fighting.

      @ Jerry – Well played, lad!

  2. @ Kerouac: Look it was me in the armor, and there armor was there but parts of it are removable so I’m still protected. Queenie likes it rough 0.o

  3. rath99 says:

    Good job Jerry!
    Good interview

  4. TENIME_art says:

    Love BQ!!

    @Esbatty — I’m making a custom Minimate of her… ~_^

  5. Esbat says:

    @ Tenime: *bows to the master*

    @ Kerouac: You sly dog you.

  6. Just popped in to say a BIG THANKS to Jerry for working with me on this interview. He was really behind it from the start and put a lot of work into it. Kudos to him and to Panels On Pages!

    Also, thanks for the kind words, it means a lot to me. Often I work in a bubble and I have only a small idea how the work is accepted — or not. Thanks again!

  7. Jimmie! *cries like he’s Sanjaya and I’m that girl in the audience*

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