From the mind of Tom Beland

Creator of True Story Swear to God

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So where the hell have I been?

I've been MIA the past month from this blog. I'd love to say that it's because I've been talking with studio executives or I'm putting together a toy line or something... but it's nothing that good.

I've been dealing with health issues and it's been a roller coaster, emotionally.

First of all... there's the ADD situation. I've been battling this problem my entire life and it seems the older I get, the harder it is to get a handle on it. If you don't have ADD, it's probably tough to understand what it does to you. Basically, it makes it impossible to focus on the job at hand. There's always something else on my mind and I get very scattered.

The medication I take works pretty good, however, like most medicines that do any good, the price is insane. Our insurance won't cover the cost of the medication and there are times I feel terribly guilty about the hit our budget takes. The side effects are insomnia and lack of appetite.

Another problem is one that has scared the fuck out of me, as an artist. A few months ago, I began to develop a slight twitch in my drawing hand. The twitch would prevent me from drawing a clean curve, the curves I use primarily in faces and bodies. If you've seen the later works of Charles Schulz, that's the jittery line I'm talking about.

We've seen our doctor and he assured me yesterday that it's not Parkinson's. I have to tell you, this has been worse for me than the ADD thing. It's killed many a page that I've tried to work on and it's been so frustrating and I've had a feeling that I'm not able to draw as well as I used to... which is absolutely heartbreaking to me.

Drawing, to me, is more than just something to do and enjoy. It's a direct link to my father... who taught me most of what I know about cartooning. Not being able to draw would kill me. Now the doctor thinks he knows what the problem is...


If there's one addiction I have in this world, it's soda. I drink a TON of it. So, when he mentioned soda being the issue, I totally listened. It makes sense. I drink it in the morning, pretty much non-stop throughout the day. And this year, it's been more than usual.

So, as of two days ago, I'm off soft drinks. I'm hoping this works.

I also had an accident a couple of months ago. I was walking towards our staircase and I tripped over a shoe that was left there and literally fell down the six-step staircase to the hard floor. I messed up my back something fierce, along with my neck. I'm getting treatment for it, but I can only sit in an artist's chair for a half-hour before it tightens up on me. I hate it. Drives me fucking nuts.

My lettering has also gone to shit over the years. Even I can't read it anymore. It, too, has killed my work. This isn't a Coke issue, it's just becoming harder for me to focus that hard and my vision ain't the greatest, so the letters have become sloppy.

Fortunately, the wonderful Chris Eliopoulos, the man behind the wonderful FRANKLIN RICHARDS books and letterer for about a ZILLION comics, has offered me a computer font, based on my handwriting. My GOOD handwriting. So, TSSTG will switch to computer lettering from here on out. It's a bit of a downer for me, since I really do love seeing everything on the page, but I need to have the reader enjoy my work without having to strain to read it.

All these issues have led to a huge drop-off in production. The last issue was #11 and I'm still working on the wedding issue, with about ten pages to go. After that, I'm not sure what the future of TSSTG will be, to be honest. Image has been very patient, but I wonder just how patient they'll be.

This book has never been a huge money maker. I think the highest total I've seen was around 1,300 orders or so. That doesn't make a publisher's mouth water. After twenty-eight issues and six Einser nominations, my numbers have never really grown to where the book makes money for whomever is publishing it. And the reason is simple:

No titties. No fight scenes. No buildings falling and no bloodshed.

And I can't use those vital parts in TSSTG. It's autobio and, for the comic book buyers out there, autobio may as well be the carrot sticks appetizers you see sitting next to the huge bowl of Fritos and onion dip. And let's face it... everyone prefers the dip and Fritos over the carrot sticks. You can try to tell them how great and nutritious the carrot sticks are... but nobody will listen to it.

Image Comics, who publishes TSSTG, has been nothing but remarkable to me. I get my invoices and see the same numbers and I also see my percentage which has averaged to about -$400 per book and it breaks my heart. I feel guilty that they continue to keep me on while I lose money for them. They've recently asked me what to do with the inventory of my books, since the sales haven't been enough to pay for the storage costs.

The end may be near and if it happened tomorrow, I'd not only shake hands with them, I'd hug them too. I'd make them dinner. I'd probably name my first child "Image." That's how great they've been for me. And there's no "but" there. You can only take so many chances before you realize it ain't selling. And just because nobody is watching. it doesn't mean it's a bad product... ie ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, FIREFLY or DEAD LIKE ME for example. But you have to bring in money to at least pay for the work.

And you DO pay for the work. A lot of folks out there assume that when you hook up with a publisher, the expenses are gone away. Wrong. When the book has shipped, you then pay the publisher for printing, distribution, storage, the cool advertising in the front of PREVIEWS and the coffee for the staff. You never get to do a book for free. Never. Unless you're a comics god.

I'll be honest here, because, well... it's what I'm known for. It kills me to see the Diamond Top 300 and see some of the titles on it. Titles that get horrible reviews and are just bad products. But you look at the numbers and they're selling 100,000 copies a shot. Or even 50,000. For nothing more than titties and blood. Yeah, it kills me. It kills me that I can earn three grand on a script that took me no time to write, but the story I slave and sweat over time after time nets me a negative dollar amount.

I've heard people say that I should get this book out on a monthly basis to build a readership and, yes, that makes sense. But most of those people are either writers or artists, not both. TSSTG is literally on one-man crew. I do the writing, the roughs, the pencils, the lettering, the inking and covers. That's a lot of work and when something like this happens to me, the entire production stops. I can't just give the script to the penciller and move on to the next issue.

Not only that... it's also auto-bio. It's the story of my relationship with this person who has changed my life in ways you cannot imagine. It's real. All of it. And in all of that, it has to be entertaining. It's not an easy thing to do. You don't buy this book for the action and adventure... you buy this book because it moves you somehow and you have a connection with the characters. It's emotional. And emotional ain't easy to do in comics.

If I were doing a super hero book, that'd be different. When you're writing fiction, you can take all types of liberties that you cannot in non-fiction. You can always created a villain and a big fight scene and pepper some big breasts from issue to issue. It's not that difficult and I know this. I've written super hero stories. It's a basic formula. And it's also a team effort. You write issue #1's script and then it's off to issue #2's script while the artist handles the visuals for issue #1.

But when you're doing a book as personal as TSSTG is for me, it all has to be perfect before it ships. I have to be able to say that I'd pay the money myself before I'd ask someone else to invest their cash.

I DO plan to keep TSSTG going. I have so many stories left to tell and I'm going to figure out how to deal with the medical problems and get a production schedule that makes more sense.

This isn't a rant in any way. I just felt that a lot of time has gone by since my last issue and my last post and I just wanted to update everyone. I just ask that everyone be patient during this very troubling time in my life.

And to say thanks for the unbelievable support you've given me over the years.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

As a thirty-nine year old fellow Coke addict, your comments regarding your health issues are driving me to taper off on the stuff. If it weren't for the caffeine headaches come from going cold turkey, I would get off of it entirely. My job as a security guard gives me way too much time for passive- i.e. unhealthy- eating and drinking habits. I could imagine that your job as a cartoonist/artist offers some of the same problems.
Just out of curiosity, how much Coke did you drink in a given day? I find that after about one liter, soda is much too sweet and I switch to milk or water. Do you think you were more addicted to the caffeine, the sugar, or the taste? What fluid(s) have you chosen as your replacement drink of choice? Are you conquering your addiction and avoiding temptation?
Sorry for the blitz of questions. I'm just hoping that there comes a point where you're at your emotional and creative best. I don't care how much longer it's going to take to get out another issue of True Story, Swear to God. I WILL be there to support you once you decide to return. I always look so forward to the release of each issue.
I also wanted to drop you a line letting you know I was thinking about you while reading Keith Knight's The Complete K Chronicles. His caricatures of you are quite funny. You should also know that it was your repeated mentions of his work within True Story, Swear to God that drove me to buy and read this. By the way, it can be found for a very cheap $17.00 on I'd only been exposed to a couple of strips before now. Thank you for suggesting him. He is an extraordinary talent of whom I plan to shoot an e-mail once I'm done here. I'm just hoping that Dark Horse Comics will work with Keith on another compilation.

In closing, I hope things get better for you, Tom. I'm still hoping to meet both you and Lily on the convention circuit at some point. Bye for now.


Patrick Herman

Tom Beland said...

Thanks for the comments, Patrick.

I would easily go through a twelve-pack of Coke in an afternoon. I would rifle through them one after another.

I'm not sure if it was because of the carbonation or the sugar or the fact that, on an island this hot it felt good to down something that cold.

I've switched to making a large batch of sun tea using decaf tea bags. I also go with the lemonaide, so leaving Coke behind was actually pretty easy to do for whatever reason.

I greatly love anyone who waits for the work and, really, I wish the wait wasn't this long. But thanks for the encouraging words.

Keith Knight is easily one of the under-appreciated talents in the industry. That's just my feeling. He's the reason I'm in comics today.