George Khoury

Pádraig Ó Méalóid: So, George, where are you from, and where did you grow up?

George Khoury: I was born and (mostly) raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA. Jersey City is a place that can be pretty tough to grow up in. It’s a very mixed town with a tradition of corrupt politicians and crime that continues to the present day. Parts of the town have been severely ravished by the economy and by lawbreaking. The waterfront is now full of offices; economic development has been really slow for the rest of the town. The city is only minutes away from New York. I have no nostalgia for it.

PÓM: Do you remember the first comics you read?

GK: I was exposed to superheroes by watching television - seeing the Adam West Batman in the mid to late seventies when I was a wee lad. I just fell in love with the concepts of superheroes. Sadly, television was my best friend growing up. I always remember my recently departed grandmother’s apartment had a copy of my uncle’s Buscema Fantastic Four that had apparently been used to cover the floor when painting the place. I remember vividly seeing the ad on the floor at the housing projects, like litter, for Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, which I though looked awesome.

My first comic proper was a Betty and Veronica digest that I picked up at the airport during the only family vacation we had; in 1978. Later that year, I traded my Catholicism book - you get it and a rosary when you become a Catholic - for a copy of the second Star Wars Treasury by Marvel. (So much for heaven.) I loved Star Wars growing up. It made me more conscious of comics.

Comics were kind of frowned upon in my house. My dad hated them. I would hide them from him. They would buy me colouring books; they saw those as educational. A lot of those were superhero ones. They thought I had some artistic ability since those books would keep me busy. I also had a strong sense of colour coordination.

PÓM: What do you do for a living??

GK: For the last two years, I’ve been writing a lot of things that no one has seen. Sad, ain’t it? Although good things seem to be coming, otherwise this is the end. I first got published when I was eighteen.

Prior to that, I was working with my brother by managing his office. After graduation, I tried to enter the corporate world by seeking an MBA degree, but after several stints at various white-collar jobs, I got tired of that game.

PÓM: You’ve been writing about comics for quite some time now. How did that start, who have you written for in the past, and who are you writing for currently?

GK: In 1989, I began to write sports articles for a newspaper called El Siglo, which was a major newspaper in the Dominican Republic. I was a teenager off the street that approached the sports editor with my articles and he simply printed them. I never got paid one cent. It’s one of the few things that I did that made my dad proud. It was a good confidence booster. My last three years of high school were in Spanish; I even did a year of college in Spanish. Watching a lot of television and reading comics helped keep my English sharp during the five years that my family lived overseas. I was really out of place over there. It still surprises me that I could write these pieces well enough for print in a second language. I couldn’t write those articles today in Spanish.

During college in the States, I continued to write. I did an internship at Marvel Comics. I did that because I knew that I couldn’t work in a typical office. Back then, I thought it would have been cool to have been a Marvel editor. The only problem was that I couldn’t have chosen a better time to have been there. Tons of people were laid-off, since the comics market had collapsed. It also didn’t help that the editors that I interned for just didn’t seem passionate about what we were doing. I still enjoyed it. I really loved comics. I wanted to work there and help turn things around. I found that people at Marvel or DC sometimes don’t want people who are enthusiastic for this art-form around them. It’s really disturbing. I just remember being so filled with energy and passion for that place. I remember quitting my $15.00 per-hour college job to go to Marvel for no money or encouragement, but that’s the way life goes. It was devastating to see so many good editors get their hearts crushed back then. Ironically, both of the guys that I interned for survived that ordeal somehow.

Around 1997, I began to write for Creative Screenwriting and Comics Buyers’ Guide at the same time. I decided that it would be better to put my energy and passion into writing about the things that I enjoyed. Heck, anything that sounded interesting or appealing, too. That type of philosophy has never really failed me. I put my heart into the things that I do. I don’t want to just do a gushing love letter; I want to be honest and know everything about whatever it is that I’m covering. I don’t believe in falsehood or puff pieces. There is a way to do solid journalism without losing your dignity.

I was hoping after the Image book to refocus on what to do afterwards. I thought I would feel tired and burned out, but I’m strangely excited about some of the things that I have in the pipeline. There are still a lot of things that I want to do. If all goes according to plan, my next book from TwoMorrows should be one called The Age of Heroes. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s a history book about superhero television shows based on comic books. After the 2003 San Diego ComicCon, my friend and G-Force co-writer Jason Hofius wanted to know what I wanted to do next together. I pitched this idea to him and we talked about the content for hours - I knew that we had to do this together. Jason has become a very good friend and a very good writer. This is a huge book that I couldn’t do without him. It’s also very different from what you would expect. It’s a book that’s being written with a lot of emotion; very, very different from the usual way that someone would handle this subject. This book has every major player of these shows that one could imagine. We’ve been working on it for years and all the interviews are done for it. I plan on spending my summer polishing it.

PÓM: You have three books published by TwoMorrows, Kimota! The Miracleman Companion, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, and True Brit. The three of them form a loose trilogy of books about UK comics. How did you end up, all the way over there in the US, deciding that you needed to write these books?

GK: Two words: Alan Moore. I don’t think a lot of folks realize how important Moore was to the UK scene in comics. His work led me to discover new worlds in comics. I would not have discovered the majority of the British comic talent that I love without bumping into them as I hunted down Alan’s 2000AD work, and his lesser-known books. If you read the three books in order, I think you’ll see how I just wanted to get deeper and deeper into British comics. I was really hoping that True Brit was a bigger success; there was so much that I had left to cover about it. It does bother me that there’s little recognition for these men in the UK. To this day, my favourite comics are usually those written by British creators.

PÓM: Kimota! addresses the thorny question of who owns Miracleman. Do you have any strongly held opinions on this yourself?

GK: Why don’t you just ask me where’s the Fountain of Youth? (I kid.)

The main reason that Kimota! happened was because there was no information about Miracleman anywhere, in-print or on-line, when I wrote the book. Even in interviews with the Miracleman writers and artists, seldom did they speak about the characters because the interviewers were always more interested in talking about anything but Miracleman. And if they did talk about them, it was usually a line (or two). There was very little for me to go on. Around that time, people on-line and in print began to speculate and make up stuff. The lack of history for my favourite character is what appealed to me.

My favourite thing about Kimota! is that it leaves the answers up to the readers. Hey, you’ve read all the facts: now what do you think? It’s because there’s no really simple answer to this. I also don’t want to preach to the readers. I’m sick of the way that journalism preaches and puts fear into people. In Kimota!, it is up to the readers to judge for themselves.

The confusion about the rights is something that has only been compounded over the years since the Miller family stopped printing Marvelman. Who is to say who owns those characters? What I do know is that those stories are owned by the people that wrote and drew them. The true value of Miracleman is not in the characters but in those stories that Alan Moore and company made.

PÓM: As part of your research for The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore you ended up visiting Moore in his house in Northampton. How did the book come about, and in particular how did you end up being able to visit him at home?

GK: At the time, Jon B. Cooke (the editor of Comic Book Artist) and I were very close friends and about to begin work on the ill-fated Swampmen book (a history book about swamp creatures in comics). Well, Jon decided that it would be a good idea if we interviewed Alan together for that particular book in person - I believe Cooke asked Alan if it was okay for us to visit him. Anyway, that trip was a freaking nightmare for me because of jet-lag and some sort of weird stomach cramp that I had on the flight. Jon being the more boisterous guy, took over the interview when we met Alan. I pretty much did nothing (or could do nothing). All I did was soak up the environment and listen. By the way, I ended up using all my questions for the Swamp Thing segment in the Extraordinary book.

Extraordinary Works came naturally as a result from Kimota!. As Alan was about to turn fifty years old, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on his career to that point. I remember telling him, We’ll start at the beginning and end at the present. Alan liked the idea - thank God. We broke up the interviews into monthly sessions - I’m pretty sure there were six or seven in a year’s time - whenever he had the time. In between sessions, we would do these interviews in chronological fashion, I would prepare and write my questions and reread everything on him and his books - I always prepared because I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. It was a lot of work but doing that book with him is one of my favourite journeys. I always hoped that he liked it. I wanted the tribute strips in the book to be a surprise for him - I wanted to have all of his key collaborators participate in this. A few, like Eddie Campbell, Melinda Gebbie, and Kevin Nowlan, dropped out when I got close to the deadline. If there is a new edition of this book, I will approach them again. As a fan of Alan’s work, this was the type of book that I’d been hoping that someone had done - one that was about his books and work; and his development as the finest writer in comics. I’d hope that a book like this would inspire someone to do their best in anything that they do.

PÓM: Before I ask you about the Image book, I know there was one other book you were meant to be working on for TwoMorrows, about the various swamp monsters in comics, like Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, The Heap, and so on. What prompted you to want to write this, and how is it coming along?

GK: For me, Swampmen is dead, sadly. It was a total waste of time for me. It also cost me the friendship of the best book designer that I ever had - Paul Holder of True Brit. Swampmen was to be a very fun experience about the light-hearted history of swamp monsters in comics. This book has only brought me heartbreak. The book started because I wanted to work with Jon Cooke - he asked me to join him. I tackled this book with everything I had; I read every single issue of Swamp Thing and Man-Thing. I did my interviews, checklist, research, etc. Jon also did a lot of work, but nothing was really happening. Because this was Jon’s baby, it was up to him to lay it out, but he couldn’t ever meet the deadlines. He could never get this project done (or even start designing it). I’m not quite sure why; maybe this book just had his number. There was even a time that we stopped talking for months (that has happened a few times since) because of things happening in his life. In 2005, I asked Jon if he would be fine with me taking over this project - his credits would stay exactly the same - all I wanted was to get it done. During the spring of that year, he agreed. I had a plan for how I was going to do this; I asked my friend and designer Paul Holder to come in and design it. As I waited for Jon to turn everything over, he had a change of heart. He said he had a vision for this book and he wanted to be the one to complete it and design it. This crushed me. It felt like a slap in the face! To make matters worse, Paul stopped talking to me. This all happen in a matter of weeks. Of course, the book would be cancelled again by the publisher for the third time. I withdrew from the project after this. If Jon wants to do it, he can - I’m not a part of it. This book was just a lot of heartbreak. I decided to let other people enjoy the interviews. The Totleben interview appeared in Rough Stuff. The Tom Yeates and Roy Thomas interviews will appear in other magazines - I did not want to let Yeates and Totleben down. The rest of the work will be lost.

PÓM: Your latest book, The Road to Freedom, is about Image Comics. What can you tell us about it?

GK: The arrival of Image Comics is one of most exciting period in comics’ history. Image’s impact is so powerful that it continues to shape the way comics are done to this very day. The attraction to me is what the seven Image founders were able to do together. I admire them for having the guts to stand up for themselves - in this industry, speaking up isn’t encouraged; people have been blacklisted or branded as difficult for speaking up. My book is about Image’s impact in the industry and the character of those men. Whether they realize it or not, they did do something very special. I admire any artist that fights to do whatever it is that he wants to do. I really do hope that people can learn something from their story. I hope that it gives them some passion for this art form that has so much potential. I devoted a lot of time to studying this story from every single angle that I could think of. I’m mighty proud of how this book came out. I’m really worried about this industry; I really want people to learn something from Image’s history. Comics are incredibly stagnant at the moment. Marvel and DC are producing some of the most uninteresting stuff that I’ve read in a long time. This whole marketplace is really artificial right now. Everyone is doing what they can to sell comics, but no one is thinking about producing quality stories. The big two have lost their eye on the real prize. The scary thing is that a lot of these things happened in the 1990s. Everyone can learn something from this book. For me, it really opened my eyes on a lot of things.

PÓM: There was some falling out between the original founding members of Image, I believe, over the intervening years. However, within a few weeks of the publication of your book, you got to chair a panel at the San Diego Comic Con with all seven original Image founders. How did that come about, and did you have any direct input into it happening?

GK: The entire time I was working on the Image Comics: The Road to Independence book, I thought it would be a great idea to reunite the seven founding members for a panel at the San Diego Con to conclude this book and celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the company. I pitched the panel to Comic-Con without any promise that the seven founding members would all attend. Most of the guys didn’t want to do this panel. As the days got closer, I noticed a shift in their attitudes and saw they were eager to do this. For myself, it was a lot of work and frustration to prepare this panel but having them together was worth it all.

PÓM: What are you working on next?

GK: Age of Heroes. This is a sentimental history book about the television shows that are based upon comic books. I’m working on this with my friend Jason Hofius, my co-writer on G-Force Animated. It is with these shows that my love for comic books began, so I’m going full-circle. There are also a lot of surprises in this one. It’ll be out for summer 2008.

PÓM: Finally, have you ever felt you’d like to get on the other side of comics, that is actually write or draw them? And if you could pick just one to work on, what would it be?

GK: I’d actually like to write comics - or I could probably help more as an editor in bringing in some fresh stories and new blood - I haven’t tried really hard to break in because of all the bad vibes that I get from comic book editors at Marvel and DC. I did have one dream project that I tried to do a few years back - I wanted to write a story that John Totleben would illustrate. He’s probably the one artist that I’d love to work with. I have the utmost respect for John as a person and as an artist. He’s freaking amazing.

Anyway — I wrote a special Batman: Black & White script just for John. He read it and liked it so much that he forwarded it to DC editor Bob Schreck as something that we would do together, he never told me that he was going to do that. Well, I got a phone call via my message machine from Bob saying that he liked the story but felt that it was something that’s already been done. “Done?!?” Has Bob ever seen the things that John could do with Batman? Well, we were close but no cigar.

The story was about the one cynic in Gotham City who didn’t believe Batman existed. The funny thing was that Batman would have been in every single panel; Batman is everywhere. I still like this story. John would have drawn the heck out of this thing. In prepping for this, I read every single Black and White story; I thought this would have been kickass. Never did speak to Schreck.

Thanks for reminding me of another goal I have to do.

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  • Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman with an Alan Moore obsession. He has a ridiculously large collection of Graphic Novels. (photo here, and list here.) He also knows far too many things about the history of Miracleman, which he intends to get down on paper some day.

    He likes to write, preferably things that require insane amounts of research, which is one of his favourite activities.

    When he’s not being obsessional about the works of Alan Moore, he occasionally finds time to update the news section of Irish Sci-Fi News, as is currently working on his first fanzine, to be called Puny Earthling.

    He is married to The Lovely Deirdre, the most patient woman in the world.