Interview with Jeremy Barlow

Tell us a little about yourself and your background? (Where are you from, where you grew up, when did you start writing?)

I’m originally from a small town in Idaho, and I pretty much grew up reading comic books—I’d get them at 7-Eleven, off the grocery store racks, from friends, wherever I could find them.

The idea of writing professionally didn’t hit until I was probably 19- or 20-years-old, and at the time that goal felt almost insurmountable. I came from a working class background, surrounded by electricians and mechanics—so I had no idea where to start or what a writing career looked like. And I worried, ridiculously, that I was already too old to start.

So I went off to college (the first in my family to do so) and earned a bachelor’s degree in English Lit, hoping it would teach me to how to write well enough to make a living at it. Honestly, you don’t need a degree to write professionally, but the academic rigor and classroom structure were hugely helpful in preparing me to deal with deadlines and how to be creative on-demand.

After graduation, my then-fiancée and I moved to Portland where I landed a job as an Associate Editor with Dark Horse Comics, and everything followed from there.

 

IMG_2522You are most well-known for writing various Star Wars Titles, what do you think about the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars, and why do you think it is so popular? Honestly, I do not think there is anything else like it and doubt there ever will be again.

I’m with you there! I’ve been a Star Wars fan for almost as long as I can remember being alive. There’s just something about those characters and that world that feels so universal. I can’t imagine anything else in my lifetime having the same global effect. It’s amazing.

 

With all your work on Star Wars, how do you feel about the powers that be, saying that none of the other SW Cannon out there is real or happened with the release of the new movie? Does that bother you in any way? There was so much other material out there and they simply dismissed almost all of it.

The irony isn’t lost on me here, but to be completely honest I don’t worry that much about canon and continuity—a good story is what’s important, and as long as the characters stay true to themselves and the internal logic works, I don’t sweat too much about how everything fits together.

Of course, when I’m hired to write for a license or a franchise, I take timeline placement and continuity very seriously, because I want to be true to the property and respectful to the readers. But just as a fan…eh, I don’t care all that much.

Still, I’ve really dug almost everything the Lucasfilm Story Group has concocted since the reboot. Force Awakens was great, and I’m loving Star Wars Rebels. Eventually the new Expanded Universe will be as full and rich as it was before.

 

Looking through your body of work, you seem to love science fiction. Why do you like this genre so much IMG_2534and why did you choose to want to write stories in this genre. Also, why did you want to tell them in comic format?

In Science Fiction, you can go anywhere and do anything—it’s an all-inclusive genre that easily welcomes pretty much any kind of story you want to tell. I’d even argue that Star Wars is actually Science Fantasy, with its knights and wizards, and those elements feel right at home. It’s the widest possible canvas against which your imagination can create.

Writing in comics just sort of happened. When I started college I wanted to be a novelist, and after that I was really into screenwriting for a while. Wrote some spec scripts and made the classic rookie mistake of adapting a book I didn’t have the rights to. I’d planned to moved to Los Angeles after graduation before wisely realizing that I’d be miserable down there. Like I said, I used to fret about starting out too late in life, and “wasting” so much time, but in the end it was all good practice.

Again, moving to Portland led me to becoming a Dark Horse editor, and that opened doors to writing comics—which I discovered is what I really wanted to do all along.

 

Mass Effect and Hawken Genesis are both video games, why did you want to write a story to go along with these games, or how did this whole thing shake out?

In both of those cases, I was hired to write for the franchise before I was familiar with either of them. Everyone had been telling me how great the Mass Effect universe was—and they were totally right, it’s amazing—but I hadn’t gotten around to playing the games.

Mostly because I’m obsessive, and I can’t play a game without completing every side mission and going through every last searchable space, and after a while I can’t stop thinking about it. I was hesitant to start Mass Effect because I knew I’d lose hundreds of hours to it, but then Dark Horse asked me to write the comics (based on my strong relationships built on Star Wars), and I dove right in. I’m glad it happened, because I’m totally in love with those characters and that world now.

IMG_2533Hawken was the same situation, Archaia came to me based on my Mass Effect work and I tried to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible.

 

I really enjoyed Hawken Genesis and when I first picked it up did not realize it was a computer game. I then tried to play it only to find out it was a pay as you go video game, (but advertises as a free game) which I had not seen before. Not sure if you are a gamer, but do you think this might be the future of the video game industry, this pay as you play format?

Pay-as-you-go has never been my favorite format either. I was brought in to write the Hawken book before the game launched, so I didn’t know exactly which direction they were taking it. There was talk of eventually releasing the game to whatever the current generation of consoles was, but I don’t know what happened with that.

I’m a console-only gamer, so outside of some demoes or beta tests they had set up at conventions, I never got to play the game. Which is too bad, because it looked awesome.

Otherwise, I prefer console gaming because it’s a closed loop—the game world doesn’t continue on without me after I power down—so it’s easier for me to disconnect. Back when World of Warcraft was at its height, lots of friends wanted me to jump in and join their guilds, and it all sounded so cool. But I knew once I was in, that was it. So long productivity!

 

IMG_2521You wrote a story for SW called Darth Maul Son of Dathomir, (Check out my review here) can you talk a little about how that came about. I think most fans though Darth Maul died at the end of Episode I. I also read that Darth Maul Son of Dathomir was supposed to be an episode for the SW Clone Wars cartoon series. Why was this story eventually made into a comic and why this story, I am sure there are hundreds of scripts that are unused. So why this one?

 

I thought Maul was dead at the end of Episode I, too, and when I heard they’d revived him for the Clone Wars, I thought it was a terrible idea. Dave Filoni and his show writers came up with an outstanding character arc for him, though, and once I saw what they were doing I was hooked.

That job was another one that Dark Horse brought me in to do. It’s my understanding (and it may not be entirely accurate) that when Disney took over operations at Lucasfilm, they canceled The Clone Wars animated series before the show runners could wrap up all of their storylines. They had episodes written that hadn’t yet gone into production, and now would never air.

I’m not sure that there were “hundreds” of unproduced scripts, but whatever the case, Darth Maul played a key part in their overall series plans, and having now seen that they’ve included Maul in Star Wars Rebels, it makes sense that they’d want to bridge the gap between the two TV series, and the comics were the best way to do that.

IMG_2532Lucasfilm pitched the idea of adapting those episode scripts into comic books to Dark Horse, and because I’d already had a long history with DH—including being an editor, which is really the skillset you need to pull off a good adaptation—they came to me, and I couldn’t turn it down.

 

I am not sure you are aware but this trade is worth quite a bit of money and is somewhat of a collector’s item. How did this seemingly random trade paperback go from the normal $14.99 or so retail, to selling for close to $200 or more on ebay?

I didn’t know the collections were commanding such high prices until you pointed it out. Makes me wish I’d held on to a few copies!

My only guess for why they’re going for so much is that there must’ve been some contractual thing between Dark Horse, Disney, and Marvel that prohibits Son of Dathomir being reprinted until after a certain date. The individual chapters are available digitally, so it’s out there if people want to read it. But it would be nice to have a book on the shelf.

 

Looking through your work as far as I can tell it seems that you have only written stories that involve other people’s characters, mainly Star Wars titles. Do ever want to write a story with your own characters, or does that matter to you in any way?

It matters to me a great deal. Creating original work is my ultimate goal. I have a few proposals out to different publishers now, and I’ve come close several times, but I haven’t been able to get off the launch pad off yet.

Until that happens I do my best to inject my voice and sensibility into the licensed books I write, and sometimes I’m able to connect with people in a way they wouldn’t expect from property tie-in. Which is always rewarding.

 

You seem to be exclusively working with Dark Horse. How did you get your start with Dark Horse, and what has your experience been like working for them?

As I said, I started out in Dark Horse’s editorial department—editing their Star Wars line along with a number of other licensed series. My first published work came because another writer had blown a deadline and senior editor Randy StradleyIMG_2531 needed something fast, so he asked me to write the fill-in (which became Star Wars Empire #13).

That was probably the most scared I’ve ever been writing anything. I knew it might be my shot, and I wrote the hell out of it—and by that I mean I over-wrote the hell out of it. But it must’ve come out all right because Lucas film has kept asking for more, and that’s what’s led me here.

To be honest, I never set out to be the “Star Wars guy.” I’d always been a huge fan of the movies, of course, but I’d never really checked out the comics or novels before, and never expected to be contributing to the Expanded Universe. When I got the chance to write an issue, I tried to write the best story I could and hoped it would do the franchise proud.

As far as working with Dark Horse—they’re family. Very early on in my career I decided I only wanted to work with good people, and I like the Dark Horse staff a great deal. In any partnership you want to be tied in with people who believe in you and share your values, and that’s how it feels working with them.

 

Throughout your career was there a single story or moment that put you on the map? Was there ever a story or point that that you realized you could make a career out of writing?

I’m not sure I’m quite on the map yet, but I’m getting there. Writing that first issue of Star Wars Empire was definitely a turning point, in that it was the first time someone paid me to write anything and it proved to myself that I could do it.

That was 12 years ago, and I’m still trying to prove to myself I can do it. Like most creative types, I go through periods of crippling self-doubt where I convince myself that my career is over—but then there’s a deadline to meet and I have to push that all aside and get the work done.

It’s during those ‘dark moments of the soul’ that I have to remind myself that I do have a voice and something to say about life and humanity, and I’d be failing myself if I let that go. Sometimes telling myself that even works!

 

As a successful writer, do you have any specific goals? Maybe something that you set for yourself either words per day, or how many pieces you would like to complete each year? What drives you to keep pushing forward?

In the bigger picture, getting the original work out there is my ultimate goal. Ideally I’d like to be writing 200 page graphic novels for the Young Adult/bookstore market, where I’m seeing so many great things happening.

More immediately, as long I’m working—as long as I’m always collaborating with artists and publishers, always writing something with a sense of purpose—I’m pretty happy. I didn’t chase this stupid dream for fame and fortune, I don’t need the validation of autograph signings or having a large social media following. It’s all about the work.

As far as that goes, I don’t set a daily word count, but I do put in the time at my desk every day. To get things done, I use the Pomodoro Technique, which is setting a short timer and working through it without distraction. I go 25 minutes on, followed by a 4-minute break where I stretch, refill the water glass, goof around with the dog, whatever. Then I repeat the cycle until I hit how ever many hours I’ve set for myself, or until my brain is completely out of gas. Those short breaks really help keep the energy and attention span going, though.

That all goes out the window if I’m on a tight deadline. Then it’s work until it’s done.

 

Of all your projects which on are you most proud of, or which one means the most to and why?

I’ve done some short creator-owned stories with friends that are the most meaningful and important to me. I did 3-page story with artist Ben Dewey called “No Geographic Solution”, an exciting sci-fi short examining whether the sacrifices we make for our dreams are worth it in the end. It was part of a custom project commissioned by a software company, so it’s not where anyone can find it. (Well, unless you look here—http://barlowpdx.blogspot.com/p/no-solution.html)

Artist Dustin Weaver and I did a bonkers western short together called “They’ll Bury You Where You Stand!” that appeared in Image Comics’ Outlaw Territory vol. 2 anthology.

In terms of licensed books, I’m really proud of the Dethklok/Metalocalypse miniseries I wrote a while back. I get listed as “co-writer” on a lot of these projects, but the process usually entails the creators giving me a short outline and turning me loose. Metalocalypse is dense with my jokes, and there was no line they wouldn’t let me cross.

More recently, I’m really happy with how Son of Dathomir turned out. To make the TV story work as a comic, I had to trim a lot out of it, but it doesn’t feel that way when you read it. Which is a lot trickier than it looks.

 

Who was your biggest influence that pushed you to want to be a writer?

I can remember the moment I knew I wanted to be a professional writer, almost down to the second—it was while reading Firearm #1, an old Malibu comic series by James Robinson and Cully Hamner. It was exactly the kind of story I needed at exactly the moment I needed it.

Robinson went on to write the beloved Starman for DC Comics in the ‘90s, and for years I’d seek him out at the San Diego Comic-Con and hound him for wisdom and attention. Looking back now, I’m really embarrassed by that, but he was always gracious and nicer than he needed to be, and I appreciate that.

He was also instrumental in getting me that job at Dark Horse, pulling strings with his then-editor Diana Schutz.

IMG_2535Outside of that, Shade the Changing Man (DC/Vertigo) was really important to me. All of those early Vertigo series were pivotal, really. Grimjack from First Comics. My favorite thing in the world for a long time was when DC Comics sent Jonah Hex into the future and turned him into a Mad Max pastiche in a short-lived series called HEX.

Beyond comics, my biggest inspirations were novelist Richard Matheson, Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, an old British TV series called The Prisoner, a book called Homeboy by Seth Morgan (who died right around the time it was published), Jeff Buckley’s album Grace, and The Iron Giant. I’m continually inspired by Pixar, and by the Wachowskis.

 

Can you talk about any new projects you are working on? What does 2016 hold for Jeremy Barlow?

Right now I’m writing a series of Star Wars Rebels shorts for the German publisher Panini, which I believe are published exclusively in Europe.

I have some creator-owned proposals in with a couple of different publishers, and that process always takes longer than you want it to.

Beyond that, I’m working on more licensed books that have yet to be announced, so stay tuned…

 

As an aspiring comics creator, can you offer any advice to me or anyone else out there? What do you attribute your success or perhaps failures to along your journey? What has helped you the most to become successful?

My hurdles are all internal, but they’re probably pretty universal. I’m self-critical, I let perfection get in the way of good; I’m always barely a step ahead of my deadlines…

I don’t know that I can advise anyone on how to deal with any of that, but if there’s any wisdom I wish had been shared with me early on, it’d be: 1. You’re going to be terrible at this for while; it takes time to hone a professional level of craft, and that’s okay. 2: Becoming good at this is more important than getting hired, at least early on.

IMG_2530Most times, when someone’s asking how to ‘break in,’ they really want to know, ‘how do I get someone to hire me?’ The answer is both simple and the hardest to hear—become so good at what you do, they’ll want to pay you to do it. If you develop your talents, you won’t have to search for work. It’ll find you. Getting to that point takes years, though, and in the meantime you have to sweat it out and burn the crap out of your system, and the sooner the better.

 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

All of my books can be found on my Amazon Author page here

I don’t spend much time on social media, but if you want to follow my meager presence I’m @Jeremy_Barlow on Twitter, and barlowdrive on Instagram.

Thanks!

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