Arts Desk

Meet a Local Comic Book Writer: A Chat with Rob Anderson

I met Rob Anderson at the local Capicons comic book convention earlier this month. He was selling preview copies of his Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit comic book about genetically modified stray animals. I've read the preview comic, and he's got a clever idea that I look forward to seeing more of. Rob's new to the area, and hoping to meet others in the local comics community.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Rob Anderson: I'm a comic book writer and publisher. My publishing imprint is called Panda Dog Press.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

RA: I'm a child of the Bronze Age of comics–that gives you a decade! I grew up in Michigan and New Jersey reading Roy Thomas, Steve Engelhart, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman...

WCP: Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

RA: My girlfriend's new job brought her here at the same time I decided I wanted to write full-time, which I could do from anywhere. I'm so glad we landed here! We live in Alexandria, just across the way from Shirlington.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

RA: My "formal" comic book training started with several writing courses at Andy Schmidt's Comics Experience. Andy's worked at both Marvel and IDW, and he offers "live," online video conference classes. It was a life-changing experience for me, so much so that it led me directly into writing/publishing my own work, and, after about a year, I joined the staff over there. I now work as Moderator with Andy on the new Comic Creators Workshop community. It keeps me constantly writing, and I'm always critiquing scripts. You'd be surprised how much you learn by reading other people's scripts day in and day out.

I'm also seeking every opportunity to continue learning. Last week, I made a crazy day trip up to New York City to hear Paul Levitz lecture on plotting. Paul's a legendary comic book writer and was President/Publisher of DC Comics for many years. He had a lot of insights to share. In about a week, I'll be making *another* road trip up there to attend a "pitching" workshop by ex-Wildstorm Editor and writer of the comic book Chew, John Layman. I hope my writing "education" never ends.

WCP: Who are your influences?

RA: The aforementioned Bronze Age greats, but also Terry Moore, Jeff Smith, Bill Willingham, Robert Kirkman, the Luna Brothers, and Joe Hill. I love Locke & Key! I'm a huge geek for all things Joss Whedon, from Buffy to Dr. Horrible. I've also been closely following Nick Spencer's work at Image and DC Comics, as he's a Comics Experience writing class graduate.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?

RA: I would have focused on writing much sooner. I spent too many years in the corporate world making money for other people and, for the most part, not enjoying my life. I'm happiest when I'm creating something.

WCP: What work are you best known for?

RA: At this point, I think it's my comic book Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit. It's about Animal Control Officers in the near future, dealing with crazy, transgenic animals like panda dogs, 'gator-snakes, and pocket dragons. Admit it, if you could have a panda dog hybrid, you'd already own one! Now, imagine being an Animal Control Officer ten or twenty years after the designer animal craze swept the nation. Tough job. My artist-collaborator on that book is Leandro Panganiban, who's based in the Philippines.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

RA: Beyond Animal Control SCU, it's usually whatever I'm working on at the moment. Right now, I'm writing and acting as Editor/Project Lead on a new comic book anthology called Great Zombies in History from Elevator Pitch Press. It'll have stories on things like why the White House really burned down in the War of 1812. (Hint: Zombies.) That story's written by another DC-area writer, Joe Sergi. The story I'm writing for that anthology is a Battle of Thermopylae/Spartan/zombie mash-up, where I'm working with NYC-based artist DaFu Yu. It'll be available in the Spring.

WCP: How did you hook up with your artists on those comics?

RA: Leandro, I met via the Internet. I did a talent search using the comic artist-related websites out there, and Leandro responded. His style was exactly what I had in mind for Animal Control SCU. With DaFu, I met him at a networking event at the New York Comic Con. Total coincidence, but DaFu is actually also a Comics Experience artist graduate, although neither of us knew that until later. Small world!

WCP: How does the process work for the two of you now? Do you send a script in text, thumbnails, or something else? Do you get finished art in return or is it an iterative process?

RA: It's definitely a collaborative–and an iterative–process. I start by putting together a final script–it looks basically like a movie script, if you've ever seen one of those, with number of panels, dialogue, a description of what's happening page-by-page. With either Leandro or DaFu, the next step is thumbnails. They sketch out the basic page layout and angles, they definitely may make suggestions or improve the visual storytelling in some way, and we discuss it all via email back and forth. At that point they move to finished pencils...and eventually it works through the other stages of production–to inker Steve Bird if they aren't inking themselves, to letterer ET Dollman, etc. Unless you're the writer and artist, comic books are a team-based sport!

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

RA: I'd like to make a living creating stories and worlds that people connect with and enjoy.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

RA: It's sad, but I'm not sure there's a long-term future for the paper pamphlet/floppy comic book. I still buy them, I love them, and I want to be wrong about this. I hope there are always local comic shops and that they evolve to maintain their business. But, no matter what, sequential art will continue; it just seems destined to shift to digital, same as books, movies, and music. Whether that digital future will involve more one-to-one distribution by creators, direct to fans, or will still go through broader distribution pipelines, like the major comic publishers, I don't know. I just know the shift in music happened fast and was pretty brutal for a lot of folks in that supply chain. I hope it goes smoother for comics.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about DC?

RA: The arts culture–and the fact we have everything here! Moving from a relatively small college town, where there was only one place to see an independent film, I am blown away that I can walk over to Shirlington and choose from seven independent films or see any number of live theater performances. And the museums and everything else in DC are only a Metro trip away. Plus, so many comic shops! (ha) It's paradise!

WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?

RA: Well, I'm new to the area myself, but when I used to visit DC, I always hit the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonion Natural History Museum. I'm looking forward to checking out all the other art museums and galleries in the area.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

RA: If folks would like to check out Animal Control SCU, they can go the to Panda Dog Press website at www.PandaDogPress.com.

And any budding comic creators can check out Comics Experience courses and the Comic Creators Workshop at www.ComicsExperience.com. The Workshop has only been running since September, so it's a great time to join the community and get in on the ground floor!

And if you're looking for a historical zombie fix, check out Great Zombies in History at Elevator Pitch Press.

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