Landry Walker just wrote his first résumé in more than a decade. “In the course of my career, I’ve been given tremendous opportunities to help rebuild the long suffering world of all-ages comics,” he states. Walker proceeds with a two-page dossier documenting his last nine years in the comic-book industry, penning stories for San Jose publisher Slave Labor Graphics, the now-defunct Disney Adventures Magazine, and ultimately, giant DC. This week he’s back on the grind.
Granted, his résumé-writing chops aren’t quite on par with his comic-writing chops. “I had to seek help from friends,” said the El Sobrante native, who shares a small office in Berkeley with his high school pal and current illustrator, Eric Jones. For the past ten years the two have worked on comics full-time, each earning a modest income of about $2,000 a month. They rose from the Berkeley collective Puppy Toss to major league gigs with up to 1.2 million distribution. Now they’re back in survival mode, hoping to sustain a two-man cottage industry in an increasingly cutthroat market. Walker will pimp his résumé at this weekend’s WonderCon Convention, a huge networking event that takes place annually at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Last year he and Jones met with a rep from DC Comics at WonderCon, and landed a six-issue contract with the company. He hopes the stars will align again this weekend.
“It’s kinda mercenary,” Walker said. “I was able to go fifteen years in the comics industry without being that way.”
As teenagers, Walker and Jones hung out with the same clique of comic-book nerds — Walker went to De Anza High School in Richmond, while Jones attended nearby Catholic school, Salesian. Their tastes skewed old-school: Walker liked iconic superheroes (Batman was his favorite) and Harvey comics (Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost), while Jones favored X-Men, the Avengers, and anything beautifully drawn. Later in their teens they got into underground comics like Love and Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez, and the work of Chester Brown. They began collaborating after graduating in 1990. Walker writes all the scripts, providing all the dialogue and a screenwriterly description of each panel. For example: “Two people are sitting in a small corner office. There are three lights on the wall. There’s a clock ticking in the background. You know, whatever. And then I’ll write the dialogue. Landry says ‘blah blah blah blah blah.'” Jones then takes about a month to draw the issue, and occasionally helps with the writing.
They came to the industry at a time when first-person memoir was the hottest new comic-book trend — Phoebe Gluckner and Dennis Eichorn were getting major props for their sordid coming-of-age tales, and everyone wanted to be the next Robert Crumb. Rather than join the pack and write earnest, common-man yarns about growing up in West Contra Costa County, Walker and Jones opted to satirize the genre with a series called Filthy Habits. They published it as part of an anthology called Skim Lizard by the Berkeley art collective Puppy Toss, which Walker and Jones helped found in 1992, and ditched in 1994 — “over creative differences,” Walker said in retrospect.
Four years and two publishing contracts later, they left the crude-humor racket to write comics with more universal appeal, such as the Gothic cartoon Little Gloomy (later called The Super Scary Monster Show), the sci-fi series Kid Gravity, and most recently, Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. Little Gloomy was first published by San Jose company Slave Labor Graphics in 1999, and bought by Disney Adventures Magazine the following year. Within the next couple years, Walker and Jones began getting regular assignments from Disney Adventures, and contributed storylines to Dave the Barbarian, KimPossible, and Duck Tails. They pitched Kid Gravity in 2003 and it ran for four years, until the magazine’s demise. Then in February they hooked up with DC and got a contract to do six issues of Supergirl, which will run through May of this year.
Such ventures steered them away from the alternative press crowd and into a more lucrative freelance career. Little Gloomy and Kid Gravity were boons, since Walker and Jones own the rights to the character and managed to get it into a magazine with distribution in Wal-Mart, Target, and Barnes & Noble. In the last decade, they were able to generate enough income to pay rent and work on comics full time; Walker quit his pizzeria jobs and Jones stopped manning the cash register at Comic Relief bookstore in Berkeley. They kept business afloat by doggedly pursuing freelance work, and by attending an average of four comic conventions a year. (Walker’s record is nine.) Blowout events like WonderCon were crucial to their survival. They plan to hit this year’s WonderCon with new fervor.
“People use WonderCon for a variety of different things,” said David Glanzer, who directs publicity for WonderCon and for its sister convention, San Diego’s Comic-Con, which is the largest of its kind in the world. “It’s an opportunity for professionals in the industry to meet directly with fans, for portfolio reviews, and for a lot of peer-to-peer business that’s conducted on the floor.” Walker and Jones have a history of successful shilling at conventions. In 1994, they drove down to the San Diego convention with about $50, scoured the place for a publisher, and hooked a deal with Seattle company Aeon just as they were about to leave in despair. They got the Disney Adventures job five years later by handing a copy of Little Gloomy to the magazine’s brand new editor at Comic-Con. Last year’s WonderCon got them the DC gig. “Luck in the comics industry is a combination of actual luck and persistence,” Walker said. “It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time by being in the right place all the time.”
Grit and hustle have helped Walker and Jones survive in the comics industry, but they’ve also done a great job of tapping into the cultural zeitgeist. Little Gloomy, which chronicles the adventures of a young girl living in a world of monsters, appealed to adults in the goth scene as well as children. Similarly, Kid Gravity was a kids’ cartoon with a lot of heady content that grownups could appreciate. In one issue, for instance, the characters are trapped in a two-dimensional universe, so Kid Gravity draws a cube in order to destroy it and create a three-dimensional reality. “We were often accused of our comics being too cerebral for Disney Adventures, which is absurd because children crave that sort of thing,” said Walker. The duo’s latest project, Supergirl, also has fairly wide appeal. It resurrects a character popular in the ’50s and puts her in a middle-school setting, so you get the retro imagery and the ‘tween drama wrapped into one.
“In our book, Supergirl comes to Earth as a twelve-year-old,” said Walker. “She’s the ultimate immigrant. She’s dropped into the most hostile place that anyone with a slight bit of ignorance can be. It’s an instant challenge.”
Walker hopes that DC will release the current six issues as a collected volume, and then renew their contract so he can get started on number seven. At this point, hope is all he can do. He’s not really sure what will become of the comic, or what his next source of income will be. But he’s prepared for another break, anyway. “I have a problem where I don’t really stop thinking about work,” he said. “This is a six-issue series, we don’t know if we’ll do more than six issues — it depends on what DC wants to do. If they do continue it, I mean, I’ve mapped it out for the next like, thirty issues in my head.”