Meet a Local Comic Book Writer: A Chat with Joe Carabeo
Joe Carabeo writes the Curls Studio comic books Kid Roxy, Black Magic Tales, and The Legettes with Carolyn Belefski. The two have recently been at a bunch of local cons, including SPX and Baltimore, and will be at the fifth DC Counter Culture Festival on Oct. 24 from noon to 8 p.m. at RFD, 810 7th St NW. Carabeo answered our standard questions before the fest.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Joe Carabeo: At this point in my comic book career, I’m focusing mainly on writing and character creation for Curls Studio.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
JC: I always like to bring up the fact that I was born the same day, but not the same year, as Alan Moore. I was born in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 18, 1981. I often times bring up the same fact that Martin Scorsese’s birthday is Nov. 17 since he’s one of my inspirations as of a film director and that Ted Turner was born on Nov. 19, just because. I always wondered if these days were a sign of some sort and that maybe being born around this time means something great. At least I keep telling myself that for motivation.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
JC: I live in northern Virginia, near the I-95 exit 160b, I think it’s a perfect place for my day job in film production and as a photographer cause I can just hit the highway and it’s positioned in a spot that doesn’t get too annihilated by the infamous D.C./VA traffic.
WCP: What is your training and/or education?
JC: I think I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned a lot from on the job training in my life. Being out in the field has taught me the most and I’ve also been able to absorb lessons in a trial-by-fire fashion.
As a writer, I’ve been writing and previsualizing my whole entire life. I just recently found composition books from the second grade of stories about superheroes that I wrote back then. So unbeknown to me, I’ve always been writing since I was a kid. I believe I just never took it real seriously until I had to start paying for film school at Virginia Commonwealth University when, as a film student, we wrote our own scripts and stories for our own films. It was then that I started to realize that a part of me really enjoyed the writing the process. I like to think that Lois Lane and I have the same writing problem. We’re always going for that hard subject matter, big story and sometimes Pulitzer, Earth shattering tale, but spelling has always our biggest enemy.
WCP: Who are your influences?
JC: If I can name a few writers that I have influenced me the most just as a writer, I would have to say Billy Wilder, Joss Whedon and Rod Serling.
Billy Wilder’s razor sharp dialogue, his use of environments, and the importance of objects to motivate and push the story is something to this day that I don’t see storytellers fully capitalize on, and it’s a device I try to fully utilize in all the tales that I spin. To me, there’s more to writing than just people talking and running. We have objects that we can touch, that make sounds, they can even tell time and reveal memories. The ideas are endless for their use in storytelling.
I grew up on an extreme healthy dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Twilight Zone. I feel that when it comes to creating a world and characters that you’d want to follow to the end of time, Joss Whedon has been my biggest influence. The TV work that he did almost became a lifestyle. I felt that the audience grew with his characters, as viewers invested time and the characters became introduced into their daily lives. The characters that he created became friends to the audience, and people to this day still want them around. His work resonated that strongly with its audience because of how rich they were, and that is something I have always thrived to achieve with whatever I create. Something that people really love.
The influence that Rod Serling and his Twilight Zone TV show had on me is pretty unbelievable. I could go on a massive long tangent on this subject, but simply, the Twilight Zone is in my blood — it was one of the first shows that I even remember watching. There is so much I’ve learned from it. It’s always been to me a show that truly had no rules and if it ever did, it creatively broke them. The show was the best commentary on life ever, and the fact that Serling was never afraid to have the stories and characters on the Twilight Zone go astray has always been influential to everything I create.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
JC: I wouldn’t change anything, it’s just beginning and everything happens for a reason anyway. Let’s see where this takes me.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
JC: I don’t know if I’m the right person to answer that question, but I do believe that people enjoy that I create characters who are trouble makers.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
JC: In the comic world, I’m proud of the characters that I have created with Carolyn Belefski for Curls Studio. They are all definitely not what they seem and I think the readers will find that with the more they follow the comics' journeys, and I’m really excited about that. I believe we’re really getting a hold on who these characters really are and I’m proud that we’re at that point.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
JC: I love to have my own TV series. That’s always been a dream of mine. I think great TV is medium that can really move people and inspire lives. I remember looking forward to watching Batman: The Animated Series in high school and how it would totally make up for a bad day I was having. The same goes for Buffy. Just the fact that you can follow and invest in characters and even grow up with them is important in a person’s life. Sometimes you even spend holidays with them. I would love to create characters that mean something to people, just like how the characters I cherished meant something to me.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
JC: Writing can be painful. Every account, from any writer that I’ve enjoyed, has described writing as the equivalent to ripping your guts out and putting them on the table for everyone to see. Now having done this for several years, I can pretty much say that that description is true. I’ve found that I have to be honest with my work and what I’m trying to say for it to be any good, and that can be very tough. That means you have to be honest enough with yourself to say “hey, this story sucks. I know we’ve been working on it for a year, but it’s not happening. We gotta trash it and start over,” or in my case “Listen. Learn to spell”.
But whenever I’ve had writers block, I’ve found out that I have to find out what really is blocking me from writing. I know that sounds literal, but it’s true. Sometimes something in your life is in the way ... hell maybe you’re just tired of writing or maybe there’s something wrong with another section of the story that stopping you from proceeding. Deciphering this block creatively can actually lead to a new openness in writing too. But when that block happens, I go into the Jack White approach and really understand that this is work and it’s gonna be tough and hard and that I have to problem-solve my way forward and not be afraid to sweat. I also like to take walks in the middle of the night, because that’s when I’m usually writing. It’s sorta scary and I like it, it gets the blood moving.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
JC: I think there’s gonna a lot more smaller businesses/studios and less giant entities. Then the smaller groups who really have their game together are gonna become giants, while the ones who don’t will fade away. Then the cycle will start all over again.
Hopefully down the line people will realize the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book, and also the difference between a comic book and a storyboard, as well as learn that superheroes are just a genre in the world of comic books. I do hope in the future that I can still hold comics in my hand though.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about DC?
JC: I enjoy that the city is important.
WCP: Least favorite?
JC: The traffic, I think traffic makes people angry. So lots of traffic, plus lots of angry people sitting in lots of cars or riding on the Metro, sometimes it feels like something is gonna explode, and you also never really see a lot smiles anymore.
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
JC: The memorials to me look the best at night time, close to midnight. Also, sitting at the top of the Lincoln Memorial and looking out is a great feeling that I only discovered recently. So I’d love to take out of towners there. That and Ben's Chili Bowl afterwards since they’re open late.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?
JC: I have astrayproductions.com as well as the Curls Studio site. We’re also looking for investors for an amazing supernatural, mystery suspense, noir, feature film that we’re making. You can find all the information for that on my website too.
WCP: Will you be at DC Counter Culture Festival this weekend?
JC: I most definitely will be. Possibly even with Christmas lights.