By Jared Gardner
An occasional feature of the Panelists will be short interviews with creators mashed up with short reviews of their recent work, and today we launch our first Inter/review with a brief conversation with Terry Moore about his current series Echo, which will be concluding in 2011. I have been a fan of Echo since issue #1. I was in fact somewhat surprised by this fact. The very same time Echo began, two other heroes of the self-publishing movement, David Lapham and Jeff Smith, were also launching new series. I had been a devoted Stray Bullets and Bone reader, but while I always read Strangers in Paradise I never became addicted with the kind of I-would-kill-(literally)-for-the-next-issue fervor that Lapham and Smith had inspired in me. Don't get me wrong: I admired (and still do) the hell out of SiP, but somehow it never got into the bloodstream.
But Echo was from the start something different for me: at once a hardcore piece of genre fiction and a philosophical meditation on science, faith, and the end of the world as we know it, Echo had me jonesing for more from the first issue. And it was a hard cross to bear, as Echo moved (especially in those early issues) with a lot of patience, introducing and exploring a complex network of characters and settings. Now, three years later, we are heading toward the finish line and things are moving at a fierce clip. This is not a book to pick up in the final issues: you need to go back to the beginning, start slow, and enjoy. I myself have done so several times since the series started, and it has rewarded me each and every time. The trades are available at Terry's online store and in the dwindling number of places where quality comics are sold.
JG: In issue #26 there was what felt like a pointed mention of "the end." Is the end of Echo nigh? How much of Echo did you have plotted out when you started, and did you know from the start how it will end (if, indeed, it must end)?
TM: Echo ends with issue #30. That was the plan from the beginning as I wanted to do something tighter than Strangers In Paradise. When I began the first issue, I had the story mapped out in 3 acts, with all those notes you'd expect about character paths and triangles.
JG: Oh man! I was hoping that things were going to run long. I just picked up #27 at my local shop and got all verklempt realizing that there were only 3 to go. Any chance for a sequel, or do you have new projects you will be turning to after Echo wraps up?
TM: I do have a follow-up story to Echo in mind. But the next series will not be Echo. I have a surprise for you.
JG: Supposedly I write about comics "professionally," and yet I seem to have a hard time finding the right 2-3 sentence pitch to convey accurately the pleasures and wonders of Echo. Since you are self-published, presumably you never had to pitch Echo. But if you had to do an old fashioned Hollywood pitch, how would it go?
TM: That's easy. Echo is The Fugitive meets The X-Files.
JG: The quotes that open each issue have changed. The first dozen of so issues opened primarily with quotes from scientists and policy-makers. In the last ten or so issues, however, it has been proverbs and artists—Dexter Gordon, Faulkner, even, most recently, Arthur Quiller-Couch. Is there an inherent conflict playing out here between Science and Spirit?
TM: Yes. That is the ground our characters battle upon, but they aren't aware of it. And neither Science nor Spirit is The Answer. Echo implies a third option. Echo is to science and religion what SiP was to relationships: the exploration of a third option.
JG: When I think of folks who mashed up science and spirit in history I keep coming back to the alchemists (including Isaac Newton himself). The whole playing-with-metals thing didn't work well for Annie/Julie, so I am guessing we're talking a genuine third way, not a happy medium or an alloy of the two. Any hints?
TM: My hints are in the story. (smile)
JG: Jeez, making me work for my enlightenment.... OK, let's talk shop. The decline of the serial comic book--the "floppy"--has been a big topic of discussion among the traditional comic publishers. As someone who has been independently publishing for a long time, have you seen the kind of seismic changes the Big Two are experiencing? Digital comics and trades seems to be where the traditional publishers are putting their energies from here on out. Is this the future for independent publishers as well?
TM: Not until we establish an income stream. I'm not going to authorize my work in digital until we find a way to get paid for it. I mean, you can play in the digital game now, but the return is low. The big boys are investing in tomorrow, getting the turf laid out. I can't afford it because I can't afford to build a player, nor do I want to give half my revenue to a third party who has a player. I'm not sure what will break the market wide open yet, whether it's a global player we can all use or a new hub like iTunes for comics to find a greatly enhanced world market. One thing is for sure, I don't want to replace my print distributor with a digital distributor. Whatever the answer is, I think it should be a new way of making and selling comics that is better than anything we've had before, and that's just not here yet, is it? We're all standing around scratching our heads, staring at our websites and ereaders and wondering where the money is. Fix that little problem and you will be a millionaire, and I will offer everything I've ever done in digital.
JG: When I picked up issue #27 last week at my local shop, there was doom and gloom in the air, particularly about the fate of traditional comic book, the "floppy" (a name that seems to all-but promise its obsolescence for those of us old enough to remember floppy-disks). What about for independent publishers like yourself: does the comic book remain viable for independent publishers, or is it trades that ultimately pay the rent?
TM: Floppies pay the rent for me, because they are periodicals. Every six weeks I put out a new chapter of whatever story I'm making. The sales from that chapter keep me going through the year until I have enough to make a graphic novel, then I sell the chapters again as a whole. If you don't mind publishing your work as you go, it's a system designed to build reader loyalty by being a regular part of their daily life, like a tv show. Contrast that to publishing only the GN, where you're only on the reader's radar once that year. It's like the difference between the lifespan of a tv show versus a movie. Until I have to choose, hopefully NOT in 2011, I'm going to continue to do both.