1. Strangers In Paradise remains a ground-breaking comic. Did you intentionally set out to create something different from the comics of the time or did SIP naturally evolve?
TM: I didn’t think I was making anything grand, I just wanted to read the story. I’d been looking for a story like SiP and couldn’t find it, so I decided to write it myself. That sounds odd, I know, but when I was a kid and saw the Peanuts Christmas Special, I realized it came from a middle-aged man’s imagination and what a terrific thing it must have been for him to make a world he liked better than the one we were all stuck in. So I’d carried that notion in my head my whole life. When I started SiP I was kind of launching from that perspective. Just make something I really loved
2. For me, the heart of SIP was Katchoo. Was Katchoo based on someone you knew or an amalgamation of women you knew?
TM: Definitely an amalgamation. But I’ve known girls like her my whole life. I started with the basic personality and peeled away the layers like an onion.
3. It was refreshing to see female characters with attractive but believable builds. Francine is a beautiful woman yet still had a realistic figure. Was creating her a reaction against the idealized female form common in comics?
TM: Not so much a reaction against anything as it was an action for myself. I’d admired realistic pen and ink women since Jeff Jones’ Idyll. That’s where it began for me, the idea that you could write comic stuff but make the art something that turns you on. In that way, I was rejecting lots of comic book standards, like the Marvel woman and the Image woman, but I ended up with the woman I wanted to draw the rest of my life. And that’s important for another reason, too: nobody cares about the clone artist who draws exactly like some more famous person. It was important to find my own look.
4. SIP and much of your other work is largely self-published. Is it hard getting industry attention for self-published work?
TM: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My god yes. You get the attention of people who have indies on their radar, but the rest of the world turns without you. Being an indy cartoonist is like being a jazz musician; you may be quite good, but only the connoisseurs know who you are. That’s okay, though. I’m more interested in the art than the celebrity.
5. Who would you say are your greatest creative influences?
TM: Honestly, I seem to admire most every artist and musician and writer from about 1880 up to this morning. I love the arts and it’s impossible to parse out my creative heredity. But if I was forced to rat out a few great ones and give names to the committee, I’d say some touchstones were Charles Schulz, Gil Elvgren, Ravel, John Lennon, Robert Heinlein, Milo Manara, and Alex Raymond. It’s hard to picture my work without them.
6. How do you feel the internet has changed the world of indie comics?
TM: As with any public forum, you have to wade through a majority of crap to find the jewels, but it’s terrific that somebody worth reading has a global arena to toss their work into. On the other hand, you’re basically standing on the street corner of a massive city talking to a passing crowd. And yes, you can find some customers that way, but it does remind me of an experiment I saw on TV with the virtuoso violinist, Joshua Bell. He played a sold out concert in Carnegie Hall on a Sunday. On Monday they took him to the stairs in the NYC subway and had him play the same solo pieces down there with an open fiddle case for donations. He played 45 minutes and all but one or two people ignored him, and he made $15. The internet is like that.
7. You worked on Fables # 107. What was this experience like for you? Was it difficult working in another creator’s world after working mainly on your own creations?
TM: It wasn’t difficult, it was fun. Bill Willingham and editor Shelly Bond let me do whatever I wanted. I added details and characters to the story without any pushback. The only thing was, since I hate drawing architecture, I asked Bill to give me a story without a lot of buildings. So he wickedly gave me a story about an entire city covered in vines with splash pages of the city square and a zillion windows and rooftops and… *sigh*, I was so glad when it all finally burned to the ground. Next time I’ll ask him not to give me a story with any naked women in it.
8. Katchoo seemed to self-classify as lesbian. However her interaction with David led me to view her as bisexual. How do you, her creator, view her sexuality?
TM: I see her as bi. She’s a child of the 70’s rock and roll era when sex was fun and handed out liberally. That is SOOOO out of place in the today’s era that it gives her a unique, misfit quality. She sleeps with who she is drawn to. But if you press the subject, she will rant about one sex over the other. Her politics are tougher than her heart.
9. Can you tell me a little more about the LGBT themes in your work? And would you classify much of your work as LGBT comics?
TM: I was really just focused on following your heart. That was th bottom line in SiP, and I think that is probably the bottom line in all things LGBT. I look forward to the day when the labels are no longer used, because I think they’re divisive. Human being is an accurate description. Any subsequent categories shouldn’t consider who you snuggle up with.
10. As well as self-publishing, you’ve worked for some of the industry’s heavy hitters. How did you find this experience in comparision to working for yourself?
TM: It’s like playing in somebody else’s band after having your own band. That’s easy to picture, right? I’ve also compared it to being the third husband: there’s some love there but the kids will never trust you. When you join an existing mainstream book, the readers have you on probation. They probably love the book, the characters and the creator and now all that’s in jeopardy because you stepped in. Good luck! The upside is, you might get to play with the coolest characters ever conceived. The books I’ve worked on had amazing playgrounds. I loved it. It was worth the heat, worth the risks.
11. How would you like to see the main stream comic book industry grow and change?
TM: I believe some of the best writers and artists in the world today work in comics. I’d like for the rest of the world to realize that and pay attention. They are missing out on something that would enrich their lives. Not knowing the work of some of these creators is like never having heard Rachmaninov or never having seen a picture of Marilyn Monroe. They’re missing something wonderful. The lack of public recognition has nothing to do with the quality of comics today and everything to do with modern society’s ambivalence towards art in general. I wish that weren’t true. I hope I live to see a social swing back towards the arts.
12. Rachel Rising has been classified as a horror comic. What made you decide to tackle this genre?
TM: I wanted to see if I could write a scary story. It’s a seemingly impossible challenge to genuinely scare the reader of a comic book, to make the hair stand up on their arm and cause them to lose sleep wondering if their world view is naive. There are so many reasons why a scary comic should be an oxymoron. A comic book doesn’t have a soundtrack, which all modern horror movies depend upon. A comic allows you to glance ahead and spoil the surprises. A comic is limited in how many words you can cram into the artwork.There are just endless reasons why a comic book should be a lousy medium for horror stories, but it’s my medium and I had to try.
13. If you could work on any mainstream comic title, what would you choose?
TM: DOCTOR OCTOPUS VS POWER GIRL. It’s perfect, “Grabby” versus “Touch Me There Again And I’ll Break Your Fuckin Arms”.
14. Many of the protagonists of your comics are female. Do you think writing a female protagonist is more or less difficult than writing a male one?
TM: It’s all the same. You write about human beings, then add the details. People always told me I was good at writing women characters. I replied I could just as easily have written about serial killers. They thought I was kidding until Rachel Rising. Writing isn’t a specialty sport where you are better at one type of person over another. All people are interesting and worthy of stories. And everybody has the same insides, the same emotions, the same human characteristics and instincts and body language and on and on. The differences are minor, really. Which is terrifying when you think about it. Stardust indeed. We all hope our speck is special. That hope is what you write about.
15. I’ve always enjoyed the pacing of your comics. You manage to keep the reader entertained without ever resorting to cheap thrills. Do you first write out a script and stick to that or do you follow a more organic system when you create a comic?
TM: I work organically. I’ve stopped writing scripts unless I have something complex to figure out. Ever since I was a kid I would have a general idea for a scene, grab pen and paper and dive in drawing and writing it at the same time. That’s my definition of cartooning: writing and drawing at the same time. It’s not as cavalier as it sounds. The drawing takes so much longer that it gives you plenty of time to consider every variation of the theme. You read a page in seconds that took me hours to draw. Which means I also spent hours on that brief dialogue, tweeking it to the inth degree. It’s an old school, classic way to work, and it’s my favorite way to create. It seems like the less I try to steer, the easier it is to find the magic. You have to respect the zen of creativity. I remember somebody in the 1960’s once asked Paul McCartney how he managed to write one hit after another. He said he tried to figure that out for himself, but the more he thought about it the harder it was to repeat, so he stopped trying to analyze it.
16. Your characters are among the most believable and well-rounded in pop culture. They have hopes, fears, moments of nobility and flaws. What do you think makes a believable, well-rounded character? Is there a formula you follow that you can share with us?
TM: It’s simple, really. The key is, don’t write characters, write people. Characters are two-dimensional things with agendas. People are complex miracles full of contradictions and surprises that have nothing to do with you or your story. The writer can’t be a tyrant, ordering characters around on a set. The writer has to be an invisible creep, hiding in a private room where he is not welcome, listening to conversations he shouldn’t hear and watching people do things they would be appalled to know he saw. Then the creepy writer must betray those people and write down their private lives and print it for the world to see. That is what it feels like. Katchoo isn’t a meaningless fictional character to me. I didn’t fashion her from a Joseph Campbell outline. She is a person. I know the gait of her walk, what her voice sounds like, her favorite foods and all the little things that make her human. In conversations, I refer to her with respect because I’ve invested over 20 years in our relationship and I would feel awful betraying that somehow. I guess it’s like watching a guitar solo. You see a few seconds of brilliance that took years to cultivate. A scene in a comic book is like that. You read it in seconds but the writer spent years getting it to be like that on paper. The reader doesn’t need to know that, of course, but it helps the young writer to know.
17. Believe or not, you’re responsible for introducing me to Eva Cassidy. You mentioned her version of Fields Of Gold in Strangers in Paradise Vol. 3 #54. What kind of influence does music have on your work?
TM: I can’t imagine life without a soundtrack! Music is a key ingredient in my life. It is part of my self-identity, part of my constant reference in life lessons and creative works and even my science. Music is a gateway to understanding physics and human beings. And more importantly, great music makes me glad to be alive. Eva Cassidy was wonderful, wasn’t she? She was the real deal and I listened to her when I drew that issue SiP.
18. What projects are you currently working on and what future projects do you have in store for your eager fans?
TM: It’s all about Rachel Rising right now. I’m giving everything I have to that series and and it is giving back to me in a big way. I’m lucky to have completed a comic book series. Then two of them. And now I’m on my third series and it’s just as exciting as the day I started comics. How lucky am I?