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An Interview with ‘Rival’ creator Brien Cardello

-by Andrew Goletz

Anyone with enough ambition, some time and a little extra cash can put out their own self-published comic book. It takes a little more work to make it a quality book and there are far too few of those floating around. It’s even more rare to find a self-published book with as much originality, heart and execution as ‘Rival’, the latest offering from Tears Like Water Productions, headed by creator Brien Cardello. Brien recently talked to GHM about how he got to ‘Rival’ and what comes next.

Gray Haven: What made you want to put out your own comic?

Brien Cardello: My own comic meant my own characters. I started young, and the thought of working on Marvel and DC books never occurred. They were established, and they were constant. They went on before I was around, and they'll go on after I'm gone. Early on, it would have felt strange to write and draw characters I didn't create, and after learning the rules, the things I would've wanted to do wouldn't be allowed anyway 

GH: How long have you been self-publishing?

Brien: I've been writing and drawing issues and throwing them in a box for years. My first comic, Tears like Water #1, came in July 1999. The character I used, The Civil Warrior, a superhuman vigilante, was also the first one I created. I put sentimentality ahead of originality with that, and I've since learned my lessons.

GH: What other work do have you done?

Brien: Since TLW#1 bombed, I made sure to do two more issues of that title (laugh).  And a Civil Warrior color special. Another series of books is The Killmegirl #0, Killmegirl: At the Con, Killmegirl: Blood sugar ( Drawn in blood, no kidding). They're a series of one shots featuring (get ready for originality) a girl with a gun. They outsell every title I've done. Thankfully, we've actually pulled off some of the most original scripts when it comes to that character. 

GH: What are some of the stumbling blocks you've run into self-publishing?

Brien: Diamond distributors. When I first inquired about using them to distribute the series, they told me that they needed to see three issues in advance. I understood, because I'm sure there were a million people before me who promised completed series but never came through. I sent the first three books, and they told me they wouldn't distribute it. When I asked why, they said they sent a letter stating why. They never did, and every time I called them, I spoke to a different person who had no idea why. That's just unprofessional of them. I started my own company so I had no editor, no person to tell me what I could or couldn't do, and no barriers, but somehow a distributor with a panel of six judges that decides whether or not the public will like you, became an editor. The Rival trade paperback is due out next year, I will approach them again, and we'll see what happens. If they are as unsound as before, I will be less civil.

GH: Have you been pitching 'Rival' or any other work to other companies? Any feedback?

Brien: No. Rival stays here. I know many, many self-publishers look for that big break when a company decides to publish them, but I'm not interested in that. I want my ideas close to me, and I don't mind dealing with all aspects of production. Down the line, perhaps some ideas will be cast, and we'll see who it brings in. For now, I like being a big fish in a small lake, instead of vice versa.

GH: What is 'Rival' about?

Brien: The series centers around Sadie Thomas, a young girl dealing with the death of her superhero boyfriend, who was the masked hero, Rival. It's a darkly told story that takes place on the industrial island of Bettano a year after his death. A new Rival has appears just as Sadie has been trying to convince her friends her old boyfriend is alive. Its strengths lie in the characterization of the people involved and less in the heroes and villains, which usually take the spotlight. It's a schizophrenic mystery.

GH: How did the idea for 'Rival' come about?

Brien: I've always had a bad habit of making my characters strong, mentally and physically. Between the Civil Warrior, a superhuman, and the Killmegirl, a killer, there was no room for honest emotion.  I needed a character who was weak, powerless, like us when no one's looking. I needed someone human, to portray certain thoughts and feelings that I wanted to explore, and that people would relate to. I wanted an opposite of the work I had done, and I wanted an opposite of the work that was out there. In usual 'death of hero' stories, we always focus on the strong that survive, but the weak we forget. I'm not sure why that is, since I believe weak to be so much more interesting.

GH: What has the reaction to the series been?

Brien: A lot better than I ever expected. Everyone sees something different in the series, and so many points of view have been created, and I'm glad my own voice didn't overshadow the ideas of the readers.

GH: Have you gone to cons to support the work. What's the attitude been there?

Brien: My first convention was San Diego, 2000.  Of course, Killmegirl is the impulse buy, but Rival gets better next day feedback. The simple fact that someone comes to my table to tell me they read my books the previous day and enjoyed them...well, I'm just glad they took the time. Everybody's tremendously supportive, the fans, the dealers, the guy holding my spot while I sneak a cigarette...

GH: What comics are you a fan of?

Brien: All. I try not to choose favorites. Granted, I'm more likely to shop in the small press section, and the schedule simply doesn't allow reading all the new stuff out there.  I try to catch up on the older issues of Marvel books. I always enjoyed a nice mix of Lee classics, Vertigo titles, and a pile of black and white indies. Up until a couple of years ago, that's what I read. Somewhere along the line, creating, writing and drawing became my favorite thing to do on an empty day.

GH: What interests you in general?

Brien: Christopher Walken movies. Married with Children reruns. Old school wrestling. Howard Stern. Pearl Jam, Manson, REM. Redheads. All of these things are usually playing on the radio or TV in the background while I work on my comics. The redheads are there to change the tape. I think I'm also in a constant search for something I totally relate to, and I haven't found it yet.

GH: What's your creative process like? How long does it take for you to complete a book?

Brien: The process is simple. Fuck everyone and enjoy yourself. That's not how they usually work it in the big leagues, of course, but I do indeed have that freedom. My work is not work at all.  I think I'm writing a lot different than a lot of people out there, and I hope people see and feel that each month on any one book. I try to keep a professional level speed, while getting the main idea across. Rival, because of it's intricacy, wicked and convoluted as it was, did take me slightly longer. Killmegirl books never take long to write, because she hates the world as much as I do, and there's plenty of hateful, philosophical jargon to spout between the two of us. Sometimes I write and draw three at a time, sometimes I spend days on one page.

GH: What's your worst moment been in comics?

Brien: See that stumbling block question up there about Diamond? That was it.

GH: What's the best moment you've had in comics?

Brien: That would have to be the San Diego con. I've had plenty of experience with every other aspect of production, and for those of us starting, these cons are an intricate part of the business. It was a great learning experience. Also, people asking me for autographs and sketches even though they had no clue to who I was, well, that was cool.

GH:  Besides Comic Book Galaxy, Psycomic, Savant, and Fandom, what's your favorite on line comic related website?

Brien: Ebay.

GH: That stings. After Ebay?

Brien: Well, I'm kinda new to this online world, and if I'm ever looking for something, I never seem to find it. Loganeast.com is a pretty cool small press site. Sequentialtart.com is always a pleasure to read. I try to look for mostly small press stuff. And by all means, www.grayhavenmagazine.com.

GH: Okay, are you the artist for 'Rival' or not?

Brien: (laugh) Well, if you put my last name up to a mirror, you'll get the name of the artist. I started giving different aliases to the different jobs in the book because to open up my comic and to just see my name and my name alone seemed egotistical. It's a very weird thing, but I usually credit 66% of the work to people who don't exist, even though I do it all. Besides, people like the name Ollie Drac better than mine. I think I do too, come to think of it, and after you read Rival, it actually fits into the story....

GH: If you could write any character in comics, who would you pick and why?

Brien: Morbius. If there was any character in the world that had so much potential but yet was pathetic time and time again, it was that character. Down the line, I'd like to put some proposals together, but I'm having too much fun with what I'm doing now.

GH: What do you think about the state of the industry right now?

Brien: I don't think about it at all. If there were no books, I'd write a diary.

GH: What do you think can/should be done to bring new readers into the industry?

Brien: I met Neil Gaiman not too long ago and I'm totally going to steal his answer to this question. ' Write good comics.' You know something? It works.

GH: Organic or non-organic web shooters?

Brien: Organic tequila shooters.

GH: The Simpsons or Futurama?

Brien: Futurama's still around?

GH: If you could spend the day with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

Brien: I would like to spend the day with one dead person.

GH: If you could fight one person, no consequences, whom would you choose?

Brien: Probably the guy that I was disqualified against in the Golden Gloves. Either him, or Speedball. Maybe the guy who created Speedball.

GH: What other projects are you working on?

Brien: I'm currently working on about thirteen books right now. On tap is Leash, Dreamwitch, Rainland, and a slew of other titles all unique unto themselves. Including the King Kong Bundy comic, easily the greatest wrestling comic ever, and I'm not saying that because he can crush me like a flea and he knows where I live. Also, the next Rival series, 'Interior Mirrors', the next Killmegirl one shot, 'Cold daze of Hell'.

GH: What can you tell us about the next 'Rival' series? When's it come out? Length? Content?

Brien: Without giving too much away, the next Rival series will again feature Sadie, more distant and less weak, determined to find out who has been impersonating her boyfriend. It will be four to six issues, and will each of them will be narrated by a different character. It will utterly define if Sadie is as mentally undone as the first series made her out to be. It'll be out by toward the end of 2001. Of course, there are two very big Rival releases set for San Diego 2001, which, as a fantastic promoter, I forgot to mention. 'Rival: In Days Before Dying'  is a one shot detailing the last nights Sadie and her hero boyfriend spent together. We finally get to see what the hero was really like when he was active, and how his actions affected Sadie later on. This also marks the first time Ollie and I pass on the drawing chores to someone else. Andy Macdonald will be working on that one.( Heck, he's got a page left to do).  And the Rival trade paperback, 'Rival: In Shadows I Hide Inside You', collect the six issues, featuring added pages, and pinups from the likes of Paul Ryan, Bob Mcleod, Mike Oeming, Ron Lim, Brad Vancata, Matt Haley, Simon Bisley, and many others.

GH: What's the biggest reason someone should pick up and read 'Rival'?

Brien: It's always cool to be the first person who discovers something good, instead of being the last one to find out about it

GH: How can someone find out more about your work?

Brien: The way I promote? Never. Actually, TLWcomics.com should be up and running in a matter of months. With my schedule, creating a website on the side, even with help, aint easy. Also, I hear Killmegirl:Bloodsugar is getting banned from stores, so you might find out about that sooner than you think. Of course, if anyone wants a Rival set now, they can just email Sales@tlwcomics.com, and we'll give 'em the lowdown.

Copyright©2000 Barry Wolborsky