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Nothing but the Truth From Tom Beland
Interview by David E. Miller
Posted June 24, 2005

True Story Swear to God coverAit/Planet Lar recently published the second volume of Tom Beland’s surprise hit, True Story, Swear to God, Vol. 2: This One Goes to Eleven, (review). Each week when I go to the comic book store, I have my favorites, but I'm always willing to give something new a try. Once in a blue moon, a book knocks me off of my feet. After reading the first issue of True Story, Swear to God, I woke up with a black eye. Rarely does a comic put such raw emotion on the page. I couldn’t believe how real this story seemed.

It did not take long to hear a lot of buzz in the industry and for the comic reading public to recognize how phenomenal this book was. Beland, a complete unknown who came out of nowhere to publish a book that got everyone’s attention immediately, was nominated for an Eisner his first year out. Now that the first eleven issues and his newspaper strips are collected as trades, a wider audience has had the opportunity to understand why success has come so quickly to the creator.

It was my pleasure to be able to meet Tom at the MoCCA show (article) and interview him about how it all got started, what he has experienced since, and what we can all look forward to in the future.

 

 
 
 
 
Bookshelf Comics — Certainly there are many of us who would love to create their own comics and get paid to be artistic. Tell us about how you first started getting paid to draw and write.

Tom Beland...mastermindTom Beland - Hmmm, okay, here's my first gig. I was working at a bank in Napa Valley as a teller. The fair was in town one week and we all had to decorate our windows according to the fair. I made these stand-up paper dolls that were members of the freak show. A guy came in to cash a check and thought they looked cool and asked where I got them and I told him I made them. An hour later, he calls me at the bank and tells me he's from the newspaper and asks if I'd like a job there in the advertising department. I accepted the job and my boss let me forgo a two-week notice. I was horrible at the job, but fun to have around.

Now, I was hired as a paste-up artist...meaning I'd take whatever came out of the printer and run it through a waxer and paste it onto the layout page. Think of it as a manual QuarkXpress. This was my job as an "artist." It wasn't much, but I loved it. One day, someone walks into the darkroom and ruins some negatives of a shark hunt for a page one story. So, now there are pictures and they have this hole in the middle of page one, with no art...on deadline. I was walking by the city editor and told him, "just use an illustration." He looked at me and said, "We have an hour to deadline, I don't have time to look for an illustration." I answered, "Hell, I could do one for you in a half-hour." He told me to do it, I pulled it off and he moved me from advertising to editorial and I became a page designer/illustrator.

BSC — How did that develop into True Story?

TB - I supplied the paper with editorial cartoons every week, on my own time. It was great fun and I even ruffled some feathers with the city council and the local politicians. After meeting Keith Knight of the K. Chronicles, I decided to come up with cartoon about what was going on in my life. It was a strip about a roommate who bought a pet crab and, when he put it in the tank, he thought the thing was dancing from side to side. The next day, the crab was dead and when he went back to the pet store to demand a refund, claiming they sold him a sick crab, they asked him how deep the tank was. Todd then learned that the crab wasn't dancing, but drowning. When my boss came to me to ask me if this really happened, I said "Yeah, true story, swear to God" and I wrote it across the top of the strip. And that's how the name came about. You can see that strip in the TSSTG: 100 Stories book by AiT/PlanetLar. From that point on, I did the strip as an autobio strip.

BSC - What's the timeline between the weekly strips and the comic?

TB - The strips came first. I'd never even considered doing a comic book, let alone a series. But when I met Lily in Orlando, I thumbnailed the entire first issue on the plane ride back home. Then, it sat in a box for a year or two because, who'd give a shit about me meeting my girlfriend?

BSC - How long did it take to start getting fan mail? Has it all been positive?

TB - The fan mail came in while I was doing the weekly strips, but far more came after the series came out. There's a definite connection with the readers with the series. The strip readers have enjoyed it, but the series fans have really taken it to heart. A few people have said it wasn't their cup of tea, but that's cool too. I can see why some might not dig it, so it doesn't bother me at all.

BSC - What has been the most satisfying aspect of your success thus far?

TB - I think it's been in realizing that creators I'm into are also into my work. People like Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone, Mike Weiringo, Carla McNeil, Scott Morse, Keith, Jeff NIcholson....they've been very supportive and a wealth of information. I got into this not knowing how to do it, so they've told me what to do and how to do it. I've got to meet Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., so many of my cartooning heroes, thanks to this little book I do. Those guys were very special to me. While my mother and father were both dying from cancer when I was a kid, their works are what I used to escape that nightmare. John Buscema and Jack Kirby...all those guys were instrumental in me not losing my mind.

Making the Diamond Top 300 list was also cool.

BSC - How has the comic affected your relationship?

TB - Well, you have to understand, Lily has a morning radio show here in Puerto Rico, so she'll talk about what's been going on in our lives. So, there's never been any of this "Don't talk about that" attitude, because I give her free reign to discuss whatever she wants on her show. That's a huge thing. You have to allow the cartoonist to really talk about life, without the worry of dealing with an attitude.

BSC - What are you working on next? Any calls from Hollywood yet?

TB - I know that New Line Cinema has a set of the books. I've been told that this can take forever, so I don't really concentrate on this type of stuff. I'm currently submitting some stuff for Bongo Comics, Marvel, and Mad Magazine. Writing scripts is very new to me, but I've really loved trying it out.

BSC - Lastly, what do you think is one of the most important lessons about life that you have learned from all of this?

TB - It's taught me how we think so many things are more dramatic than they really are. Those things that are so doom-and-gloom in our lives, you can revisit later on and realize how trivial they really how.

BSC - No truer words have been said…swear to God.


For more information on Tom Beland, visit Ait/Planet Lar or Tom Beland's web site.

 

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