October 11, 2012

A Series of Moments: A Conversation about Creating Comics with Andy Belanger and Becky Cloonan by Keith Silva

This interview originally ran on Comics Bulletin 

A comics interview article by: Keith Silva

When Andy Belanger is five, his father, Paul, tells him what every boy wants to hear: I'm Batman. Years later Paul will ask Andy if he and his fiancée worship Satan, but that's a ways away.
''We kill very few reporters,'' is what I think I hear Andy Belanger say as I follow him down a cinder block corridor that looks like it was inspired by the lighting and art direction in Fight Club. Belangeris near six-feet tall with broad shoulders; his long sideburns and goatee give him the aspect of a brawler – the kind of guy you'd want on your side in a bar fight. He is gregarious, generous with his time and a stone-cold extrovert. Reading from top to bottom, he wears a fedora, a pair of sunglasses hang from the collar of a red “Hello my name is Inigo Montoya” t-shirt, with shorts and sandals completing the ensemble. If I am going to have my throat slit by this artist, it will be with a hip sense of irony.

Belanger stops in front of a non-descript door and says something about the place being busier and less creepy during weekdays. It is at this moment that this industrial grey shoebox-of-a-building in residential Montreal transforms into a sepia-toned Kansas farmhouse. It must, because when Belanger opens the door, what I see on the other side resembles Oz, or better yet, Xanadu – if Charles Foster Kane were a nerd. A four-foot statue of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice stands ready to cast a spell, not far away a similarly sized Betty Boop bats her lashes in a coy over-the-shoulder come on, a 12'' Star Wars Stormtrooper takes up a position to halt an attack from a Matrix Sentinel.
This tableaux is overseen by Droopy Dog; stacks of Lucite display cases filled with every kind of science-fiction, horror, and fantasy gewgaw divide the room into workstations for half a dozen artists; a 1:1 scale Boba Fett helmet and a bust of Elvis eye each from opposite ends of the room. Icons, insignias, and symbols of superheroes are ever-present, framed comic strips hang on the walls, and each drafting table is bivouacked by bookshelves lined with every trade, graphic novel, and essential collection of a half-century 's worth of comic book and graphic art. It's less a studio and more an ark of twentieth-century pop culture.
Belanger's workspace is at the far end of this geek gauntlet with a view that overlooks the city as it slopes down to the St. Lawrence River. Opposite Belanger's massive drawing board is the neat as a pin cubby of Becky Cloonan, Belanger's fiancée. Cloonan is the epitome of an in-demand comic book artist. Very few times during my visit does she look up from the pages on a drawing board that she balances on one knee as she works on this or that “yet-to-be-announced-double-super-secret” project.
Soft-spoken and down-to-earth, Cloonan is at heart a romantic, easy-going and quick to break into a dorky voice when she talks about meeting her favorite comic book artists and writers. As a young girl, her father would read her stories about that “sentinel of the spaceways,” the Silver Surfer. Later on, with the care shown by a docent or that of a fervent true-believer, Cloonan will hand me a foxed, fuzzy and well-worn book of pen and ink illustrations by the American artist, Joseph Clement Coll. So deep is Cloonan's affection for Coll's work that she has had it tattooed on her body.
For Cloonan and Belanger, it's this kind of devotion to that moment, that memory, that first timewhen one understands a thing so deep down in one's bones, to one's very soul, that it marks and changes a person into who they become. Cloonan and Belanger live in that moment; and the comics they create are a testament to that very second of invention.

I. Prized Possessions
Batman née Paul Belanger was building a car from scratch in the driveway of the family's Kitchener, Ontario home when he revealed his secret identity to his son. ''He said, I'm building the Batmobile,'' says Andy. The “Batmobile,” to the young Belanger's disappointment, turned out to be a red MG, but fate can't be curbed even when the car that your dad has been building turns out not to have fins or a built-in Bat-tering ram. Belanger recalls a childhood of Batman costumes and comics and how, in the basement of their home, his father built ''a full jungle gym with pulley swings and stuff, [he] really fed into my imagination.''
Cloonan looks up from her drawing board and calls out Belanger, ''I thought you were a Captain America kid?'' ''I got into Captain America for a bit too,'' replies Belanger, ''which was a weird thing … when you're a kid you have no concept, your pop culture comes from the US.'' Belanger's grandfather flew bombers for the RAF during World War II and his stories sent his grandson headlong, south of the border, into the star-spangled adventures of the first Avenger. ''It was Batman or Captain America, but when I found out I was Canadian, I thought, I can't like this guy. I should probably like this Captain Canuck. Oh, this character sucks. You know what I mean? Captain Canuck is terrible.''
Belanger says he was always able to draw from a young age. His youthful enthusiasm for Captain America and Batman – for the record, Belanger's Batman is (and always will be) Adam West – aside, Belanger found that his favorite characters, his heroes you might say, went further back than the golden age of comic books to a much darker and more monstrous place.
On Tuesday nights, in the mid-1980's, Paul would take Andy to a small movie theatre in Kitchener. ''I got to see a crazy amount of movies. I got to see Predator and we would go to Top Gun. I was going to movies that you're not really allowed to. My dad knew the owner, so I got to go in.'' Next door to the theatre was (and still is) KW Books. Like a Dungeon Master, Belanger sets the scene: ''You walk into this book store and they just had rows and rows and rows of books. Floor to ceiling comics, all yellow, the pages are all yellow on the outside, the newsprints all turned yellow. The first comics I would buy were all from the early '70s. People would be bringing their comic collections there. I would buy all of it, Werewolf By NightThe Frankenstein Monster.''
These yellowed and yellowing beasties set off a slow match that had been burning in Belanger's brain before Batman and the not-Batmobile red MG, a set of books that he considers his most treasured belongings. ''They're these orange books. I can't remember the name of the company … they're orange with a black and white photo on the front of the Universal Werewolf movies and Universal Frankenstein movies. And it was just a compilation of them with kid's write-ups at the bottom. They're my favorite books.''
Cloonan cuts in, she slurs her words as she recalls the first time she visited Andy when he was living in Toronto: ''… this is the most important thing I own. We'd gone to karaoke and we're really drunk.'' ''Super drunk, super drunk,'' adds Belanger. Cloonan continues, ''he pulls out these books and says, 'These are my prized possessions.' It's three books, DraculaThe Wolfman andThe Mummy. And he proceeds to flip through – pointing out his favorite pictures and saying, 'this is the most important thing that I own'.''
These Universal baddies and Marvel fiends become Belanger's talismans; they inform his art and his storytelling – they are the monsters of the moment.

II. Superheroes vs. Creators: GO!
At this moment, the comic book industry is a paradox, a warren of convolutions and complexities that would work well as the plot for a comic book. Thanks to Marvel's The Avengersand The Dark Knight Rises, the money is in leather and spandex as superheroes have morphed into even more powerful licenses to print money. Meanwhile, back at the headquarters (the cradles) of the companies that birthed these super women and men, things are less rosy, more mixed.
Sales are up from a few years ago, but galaxies away from the record-setting numbers of past decades. “Creator-owned” is the battle cry as stalwart creators at Marvel and DC either move on or say “Flame on!” to their former corporate overseers, often in a fusillade of tweets. Digital distribution remains a bauble that nobody quite knows what to do with – is it progress or the bane of the comic book Luddite? Not to mention crowd-funding websites, webcomics, and that old war horse, self-publishing in which sales, now brokered over the web, go right into a creator's PayPal accounts and thus banish the middle-men to the Phantom Zone.
Most of the highest-selling comics come from DC and Marvel; they have the superheroes, so they call the shots. Writing a prestige title (Batman or The Avengers for example) for DC or Marvel will get an artist or writer noticed even if they've had a ten-year-long career working on books for less well-known independent publishers. Despite the superhero surplus in popular culture, comic book creators (writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists and letterers) remain a small lot.
Belanger is only six years into a career as a freelance comic book artist. He figures it might take ten years for his work to become well-known, he'd like to do it in eight, maybe seven. His most significant projects to date are on Wildstorm's Friday the 13th, a web-comic for Zuda (DC's webcomic imprint) Bottle of Awesome, a self-published mini-comic, Black Church (which he wrote and drew himself) and the on-going series that Belanger is best known for, Kill Shakespeare, where he handles the art duties.
An artist or writer doesn't have to work at DC or Marvel to build an audience; however, when it comes to exposure, it doesn't hurt either. And yet, Belanger, like many of his comic book creator colleagues, stands at a confluence of change which allows him to make choices that weren't possible in the industry even a few years ago. When Belanger began his career at the RAID studios, Royal Academy of Illustration & Design, in Toronto, Ontario, he was less worried about being the next superstar artist and much more concerned with paying the bills: ''Toronto is so expensive to live in. Basically, I was molding myself into a million different boxes to cater to just making money. So I would do kid's stuff. I would draw like this I would draw like that. There was no me.''

Belanger broke in to comics working on Friday the 13th as well as marketing gigs for DC – FYI Oreo cookie jobs pay big – which led to Zuda comics where Bottle of Awesome was a feature. The artist as chameleon, someone who changes styles to suit the job, was not Belanger's bailiwick. He also had a much bigger problem: he drew too much like Andy Belanger. ''If you look at comic books, DC has a house style. When it comes to Marvel, they have a house style. I never really fit into a box.'' Belanger's friend, fellow artist and mentor, Cameron Stewart [Batman and RobinSin Titulo] was one of the first to tell Belanger to not ape the photo-referenced quality common in most 'cape comics.' Stewart's advice led Belanger to realize that ''as soon as you do away with that you start to find out who you really are. Which means, yes, it's hard to get work because I have a certain style, but at the same time it's building a market for that style.''
Another artist whose singular style doesn't conform to the conventional is Cloonan. She would put what she calls her ''art school'' work in a backpack and go to comic book conventions in an effort to network and to seek out the support and encouragement that she craved as a young artist.
''When I was 20, I had gone to a portfolio review and they said 'we like what you do, but you'll never get work in mainstream, you're really good at the 'indie stuff.' What does that mean?'' Time is the great revelator, and a decade's distance from her first published work, Image Comic'sChannel Zero: Jennie One, Cloonan has broken a glass (or Bat) ceiling of sorts as the first female artist to draw Batman in the main series. ''And not to say that I begrudge that editor who gave me that [portfolio] review and I'd never take Batman or think about smooshing it in their face, ha-ha. It goes to show how much has changed in ten years.''

Cloonan Batman

Cloonan's journey to mainstream acceptance is one experience; one moment. She and Belanger share other legends, other moments in their careers, and various bits of industry chatter. One story is about how a comic book store was giving away Comedian action figures months after the Watchmen movie came out, apparently because they couldn't sell them. ''Congratulations,'' says Cloonan ''who wants a rapist action figure?”
The fact that DC (and its parent company, Warner Brothers) even have a rapist action figure to market speaks to the influence that Hollywood has had on the comic book industry and its priorities nowadays. Belanger has come to the conclusion that many of today's comic book creators (and fans) believe: ''as long as they're [Marvel and DC] focused on everything becoming a film they're never going to make good comic books.''
Exclusive contracts that offer a steady paycheck and medical benefits are more uncommon than rare in the industry. Many comic book creators – who are working on tomorrow's summer blockbusters today – are work for hire, freelancers tasked with creating or developing characters (properties) that they do not and will not own; the brand comes first. To be fair, some creators are living the dream as “the writer of _______” or “the artist of _______” One would need the intangible skills of a journalist like Clark Kent (X-ray vision, superhuman strength) to prise page rates and contract details out of Marvel, DC, or even independent publishers like Image Comics, IDW, and Dark Horse – private information is one of those things that isn't often shared in a public forum.
In an article on EHow, author Steve Lafler says a penciler earns between ''$2,400 and $6,250 for a 24-page issue of a comic book;'' anecdotal evidence points to brand-name artists being able to command higher salaries. The bottom line is that nobody is 'getting rich' drawing comic books of established characters or properties, and no artist or writer makes what The Avengers alone will pull in with the sales of bed sheets, play sets, and Halloween costumes. Apples to oranges, perhaps, but it's no wonder why creators want to brand their own characters and make the heroes work for them instead of the other way around.
From the intersection of art and commerce, it takes no time before our conversation switches tracks to another junction in the comic book industry – where words meet pictures. Creative teams leave titles all the time, stories about creative differences between artists, writers, and editors are as finite as the power of the Infinity Gauntlet. In addition, there are the accounts and blog posts about late pages and flakey artists. Belanger has seen and heard it all, some of it true, some of it not, and all of it relative. ''[Artists] are the last ones in the assembly line. The artwork for an issue of a comic should take between four to six weeks and maybe even longer; it could take two months. And sometimes, they [writers] chew it up – if they have two, three months to do a book and they wait until the last week, then your fucked. You know what I mean? It’s always going to come back to 'well, the artist is late, but it's not his fault.' However, it works the other way too. Life has a way of popping your tires at times.''
Comics are a collaborative art form, a team sport. ''Brian Wood understands it,'' says Belanger. ''Yeah, he totally does,'' seconds Cloonan. Wood and Cloonan have collaborated several times, the most recent being Conan the Barbarian for Dark Horse. Wood has also had long associations with other artists Ryan Kelly [Local] and Riccardo Burchielli [DMZ]; artists want to work with writers like Wood because he understands that to create one often has to collaborate. Wood gets it. ''I think,'' Cloonan says, ''when you're talking about Brian Wood, he always writes specifically for the artists he works with. He's able to play to their strengths.''
Movies and comic books are mass entertainment. Perhaps that's why movies fit so hand-in-glove with comics (and why comics are so easily co-opted by film): each relies on big emotions, dramatic moment's writ large. It's comics as the big screen and theatre as a comics. If only there were a comic book in which theatricality could, you know, be “the thing wherein” a reader might “catch the conscience” of something something. If only …

III. To Thine Own Self Be True
The first few pages of Kill Shakespeare establish a thesis statement about detail and complexity; the elaborate structure that writers (and series co-creators) Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery use to unfold their story is complemented by a near-Rococo ornateness that Belanger brings to the art. Every face has an expression, every rose a fold, every cloud, wave, and grave is marked with tiny grace notes of curls, corpses, and serpents, respectively. The plot skips from the now to the then and from one week prior to three days hence. In other words, Kill Shakespeare is not the typical 'comic book' comic book. It is also as clear as the reflection that Belanger draws of King Hamlet's headstone in Prince Hamlet's eyes that these writers and this artist are as serious as that despondent Dane and twice as keen to excite the reader as they are to impress themselves.

Kill Shakespeare is a classic “What If” type tale, a witch’s cauldron of action, adventure, romance, and comedy with some meta-fictional madness thrown in to sweeten the pot. The plot pits Shakespeare's villains against his heroes, all of whom conspire to hunt down the Wizard, William Shakespeare.
McCreery and Del Col first met Belanger at the RAID studios in Toronto and from the jump, Belanger knew that he had a tiger by the tail: ''I was really into it because I think springboard projects are a way to get a really big audience. I knew immediately that I was going to have a market. I thought it was a smart idea.'' McCreery and Del Col have backgrounds in film and television production; Kill Shakespeare is there first comic book. The potential that Belanger saw in McCreery and Del Col's idea was reciprocated by what they felt upon first meeting Belanger.
In an email conversation, McCreery writes ''Andy has a slightly 'cartoon-y' bend to his work. I thought that added a level of fun and surrealism to the story. Kill Shakespeare is close, in some ways, to high-fantasy and Andy's art style helped bring that out.'' In the same email, Del Col says: ''In our very first meeting with Andy he talked about how he would like to focus a lot on the backgrounds and details for the series. He wanted to create a nice hybrid of the North American and European styles for the book, which was quite apt considering the characters and subject matter of the series.''
Once McCreery and Del Col had raised the capital and found a publisher (IDW), it was time to cast Kill Shakespeare in comic book form. That's when push became shove and the “mutual appreciation society” that formed at their first meeting began to have some growing pains. Del CoI writes, ''I think that Conor and I were very protective and perhaps a little too hands-on when we first started. Kill Shakespeare was an idea that Conor and I had been playing around with for about 4-5 years at that point, so we had strong ideas of what things should look and feel like. This is only natural – any working relationship follows this sort of path.''
Belanger says, ''We got in a massive fight because they wanted a six page sequence of Hamlet and another character talking on a boat with six or seven panels on each page. [I told them] I will not draw that. I refuse. It's the most boring thing I've ever heard.'' Cooler heads would prevail and the sequence would turn out to be a peerless illustration of words and pictures. Belanger uses what he calls a montage technique – a stylistic approach that has become a signature for the artist – in which the panels of the conversation between Hamlet and his friend and escort Rosencrantz are inset against a background that signifies the character's emotions and at the same time illuminates the ideas being discussed about loyalty, violence and power; layers of meaning, very literary and very Shakespearean.

Knowledge of what went on behind the curtain, the process, to bring this specific idea (this moment) to the page, provides a reading of the scene as if it were an Elizabethan morality play in which characters are stand-ins for morals or ideals, in this case, words and images. Rosencrantz confesses to Hamlet that King Claudius has written orders to have Hamlet killed upon his arrival in England. Hamlet asks his friend if he is going to follow through with this ''king's ransom for the death of a King's son.'' Rosencrantz tells Hamlet that he won't betray their friendship and pitches the letter into the sea. He says, ''… and that is how one makes a difficult choice, Hamlet, one lets go.'' McCreery and Del Col chose to make a difficult decision and let go and to let the artist, the one with more experience in comic book storytelling, win. ''And when the reviews came out,'' says Belanger, ''everyone talked about that sequence as being the best and most interesting part of the book.'' Win, artist. Win, writers. Win, story.
Belanger, like a living Yorick, jests that McCreery and Del Col still sometimes ''write like they're moving … packing everything into a truck.'' The third volume of Kill Shakespeare is in the works and as for how much detail is in the latest scripts, Belanger says, ''Holy fuck, tons.'' Since that first issue of Kill Shakespeare came out, all three collaborators recognize how much they've all learned from one another, ''they trust me more,'' says Belanger, ''they're a million years from where they used to be and so am I, it shows the growth of our team.''
McCreery: ''Both sides had to learn how to trust each other. Not that there wasn’t a good level of trust to begin with. I think we have been able to communicate more effectively because of that trust. Andy can tell us when he thinks a scene is shit and we can tell him when the work he has done is great but perhaps not quite right for what we’re trying to do.''
Del Col: ''Andy has really helped me learn how to write for comics and to think visually in every way – from the details in a panel to the entire construction of an individual issue. The issue of Kill Shakespeare that we are currently working on is a very ambitious one and Andy played a pivotal role in helping to come up with the high-concept visual idea that the issue revolves around.''
The egalitarian approach that the Kill Shakespeare team takes to the creation of each issue makes Cloonan smile, ''it's nice to have that kind of partnership,'' but in her experience the relationship that Belanger, McCreery, and Del Col have is the exception and not the rule. As the conversation doubles back on collaboration and the relationship between artists and writers, Cloonan points out a fork in the road that few artists (and writers) take: the auteur approach. ''Not every artist enjoys writing, but there are a lot of artists that do both,'' says Cloonan, ''and some people need to work with a writer, and some writers need to work with artists, not everyone can do both.''
The creative process follows no chart or course and the whereabouts of its aim only appear after the fact; those that return from this destination carry idiosyncratic maps of their own design, details are scant. After two years and twelve issues of Kill Shakespeare, Belanger thought his career would begin to pick up momentum even though he knew from experience that success is seldom ever a straight line. It is at this moment – while between acts with Kill Shakespeare – that Belanger returns to a time from his past, a memory place where KISS, Elvira, and Samantha Fox bear witness to video game marathons and endless replays of PhantasmFriday the 13th Part III, and Monster Squad; a space where a tape deck rumbles out ''Seek and Destroy,'' ''South of Heaven,'' ''The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,'' and ''Heaven and Hell'' and childhood keepsakes with orange spines intersperse with a newfound Heavy Metal magazines. Andy Belanger thinks about his bedroom circa 1997 and he wants you to join him.

IV. Black Church: Ties that Bind and Blind
''When we first got together, what did you call me?'' Belanger asks Cloonan. In a “meet cute” moment the two respond in unison: ''secret writer.''
Like a veteran magician (or wizened wizard), Belanger has his lines down pat when he is asked to describe his mini-comic Black Church: ''It's The Omen in medieval times with Dracula's parents and Dracula being a vessel for the Antichrist.'' Put another way, Black Church is Belanger's labor of love and his passion for the project is palpable. ''I was going to write the story and give it to Becky to draw,'' says Belanger, ''but at the time I had nothing going on besides teaching and the odd illustration job. I was actually going to draw a medieval story about Dracula because I love that first ten minutes of [Francis Ford Coppola's] Dracula.'' While doing research into the historical Vlad Ţepeş (aka Dracula) and his Romanian forebears, Belanger drew a connection to one of his old boyhood idols: ''[Dracula's] grandfather is considered the savior of Romania, he's like the Captain America of Romania.''

There is an intentional subtlety to Belanger's storytelling in Black Church in which the art serves as the narrative voice and the dialogue is used to animate the story and move the plot along. Belanger names Cloonan's mini-comic Wolves as an inspiration for this less is more approach: ''with Wolves what I really like is how the quiet moments tell the story … it leaves it open and allows the reader to figure it out.''
Another nuance in Black Church is the power of religion to both bind and blind. ''When you’re working on comics there has to be that theme that's running underneath,'' says Belanger, ''that serious idea that we can all gravitate to, something that transcends.'' Belanger's Vlad is a bit of a broken barbarian, tired of war, tired of – to quote Iron Maiden's “Two Minutes to Midnight” – “the glamour, the fortune, the pain.”
After a bear attack, Vlad and his former lover Kelda are forced to lay over at her aunt's cabin, and the “Dragon of Christ” gives voice to his anxiety: ''I know Christ will never forgive me for vhhat I’ve done. You'd be surprised at how smiting hordes of fathers and sons kills a sex drive.'' Belanger, a benevolent creator, sympathizes with his handiwork: ''Vlad is probably the most Christian Christian in this story; and killing in Christ's name really irks him.'' Like a carnival barker, Belanger teases how the power of Christ will compel his characters going forward, ''there's a scene coming up, man, you'll see what I mean.''
The exchange between Vlad and Kelda unwinds as a montage, the characters converse within boxes along a serpentine path that follows the course of the conversation. In the last inset panel Kelda says, ''Right, then let's finish what we started.'' At this point the whole story goes to hell; sexy, sexy hell. ''I wanted,'' Belanger says, ''to frame the whole thing almost like a snakes and ladders game where each panel follows this snake and the snake is a representation of the evil penis.''
In my review of Black Church I did not mention (or consider) the “evil penis,” so there's a spoiler. Cloonan adds a huskiness to her voice as she tries to recapture Belanger's verve when he would tell her about his idea for the scene, ''there's this sun, but it's a giant egg and the sperm flies through the sky, but one of them is black with demon wings. And I said, 'ha-ha-ha, Andy, you're so funny. But when he showed me the pages, I thought to myself, oh, he's serious.'' On cue, a late summer storm starts to batter the windows with rain, wind howls throughout the studio – you can't make this stuff up.
Belanger's montage develops into a ménage of Vlad and Kelda's copulations, burning churches and exclamations of ''Sin'' and ''Satan.'' Belanger says with no indication of any irony whatsoever that he wanted the climax of his story to end with a sex scene. ''Instead of ending with a big action sequence like a war sequence, which a lot of guys would gravitate to, I wanted to end with a sex sequence.'' As if the two have rehearsed this, Cloonan waits a beat before she adds her rimshot, ''a lot of guys would gravitate to a sex sequence.'' Cloonan chuckles as a still clueless Belanger says: ''A sex sequence? I suppose. Not in mainstream comics that's for sure.''
The first few pressings of Black Church were done at Paul Belanger's print shop in Kitchner/Waterloo. It was there that in a hush-hush tone the elder Belanger asked where his son's allegiances lie, with the “Prince of Peace” or the “Prince of Darkness.” Andy gives a wry smile as he tells the story.
When Belanger talks about Black Church and how he creates comics in general, he always references music, heavy metal music to be precise. He compares the montage sequences in his work to a Tony Iommi guitar solo, ''that's when I'm shredding'' says Belanger. The soundtrack to the creation of Black Church involved hundreds of spins – sixty-hundred-and-sixty-six, perhaps? – of Iced Earth's Horror Show by Iced Earth, an album in which all the songs were inspired by those Universal movie monsters Belanger holds so dear.
On the back flap to Black Church (what he calls his ode to heavy metal) is a playlist of thirty-eight eardrum-splitting symphonies to Satan. The first few “disciples” to buy Black Church were given a code to download an 8-bit Atari-style video game that was designed by Belanger and Miguel Sternberg that comes with its own theme song. Black Church isn't a comic, it's a goddam experience. ''When people see Black Church, that's me; you read this book and you'll pretty much know everything about who I am. Which is really exciting.''
The joie de vivre of Black Church makes the reader an accomplice, a friend Belanger invites over after school to hang out, listen to some Sabbath, play video games, thumb through well-worn copies of Heavy Metal, watch Colin Clive and Boris Karloff square off in Frankenstein and live in the moment. ''What I'm trying to do is almost take a snapshot of me as a thirteen-year-old and recreate that world for people in my books; what got me into comics in the first place.''

Coda: Crossing Borders
''Clubs! Clubs? Did you go to any clubs?'' says the boxy border guard as I hand her my ID. ''No,'' I tell her. She barks: ''Did you bring anything back? Alcohol! Did you buy any alcohol?'' Again, I tell her no. She grows impatient: ''Did you get anything while you were in Canada?'' ''Comic books,'' I say. ''Pfft! Comic books?'' She laughs and waves me on. Comic books are all about crossing borders, jumping gutters, moving from panel to panel, from one moment to the next. If the border guard in her box, behind the glass, only knew. If she only knew how great it is to hang out in some simulacrum of thirteen-year-old Andy Belanger's bedroom, to talk comic books, music, and movies and to live in that moment.

Keith Silva works in television, it's a small space, but, hey, it's show business! Follow him@keithpmsilva and if you're Interested in Sophisticated Fun? read his blog.

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