Welcome to the fourth edition of “Interview with a Viner” series, in which I interview popular or influential users on the site on either a bi-weekly or monthly basis. This week's guest is @cbishop.
Cloudguy: For those unfamiliar with you can you introduce yourself and what would you say you're most known for on the site?
cbishop: I'm Chris Bishop, aka @cbishop, aka @BumpInTheNight, aka @FicOPedia. I'm turning forty-eight in June, and have been reading comics for forty-three years. Several years ago, I was better known for my Would U Buy It blogs, and my Comic Ads lists, but I think that today I'd be most known in the Fan-Fic forum, where I participate regularly in the Character Creation Contest (CCC), and keep track of everything with the Fic-O-Pedia (FOP).
Cloudguy: How did you discover Comicvine and what grabbed your attention?
cbishop: I honestly don't remember what brought me here. I think someone pointed me this direction just before DC Comics shut down their message boards. What grabbed me at first were all the cover scans! I downloaded hundreds of them, and used them as my slideshow screensaver. As I was doing that I started noticing similar covers, and that led to me making lists for different cover themes. That led to my Homages lists, and everything else just snowballed from there. I had been here about a year-and-a-half when the CCC started, and then I was truly hooked.
Cloudguy: You're a huge presence on the Fan-Fic forum, using your FicOPedia account. How did you become so involved in Fan-fic?
That answer is really long, but it boils down to just being a fan. I think every fan has stories they'd like to see done. Some just go ahead and write them, and that's fan-fic. I don't write as often as I'd like due to offline demands, but thanks to the core group of writers on CV's Fan-Fic forum, I never quite quit writing. That's what keeps me here.
...Well, that and being an index freak, I guess. Let's save that for your next question though.
Cloudguy: You're a bit of a list-a-holic, how do you keep track of everything?
cbishop: I don't! That's what the lists are for!
Like I said, I have to confess to being a bit of an index freak. To the point that many of my lists are index pages to help me keep track of all the lists and blog series I'm doing. Those index pages are how I literally keep track of what I've done. If you're asking how I mentally keep track of it all though, then see my original answer- I truly don't. If I don't make the list as soon as I have the idea, or make a note on an index page somewhere, it's gone. There's simply too much to keep track of, and trying to store all that in your brain will just drive you crazy. I'm not obsessively keeping track of everything. I'm honestly having fun. The indexes for all of it are just to make things easier to find, and to keep me from doing something twice. I don't research to the nth degree, or have everything memorized. I just add things to lists as I run across them.
I don't know how to explain it, but I just enjoy keeping things organized. I've always kept a list of all the comics I have. I keep my character ideas organized in lists. The Fic-O-Pedia of course. I've had some jobs that boiled down to organization. I think I'm good at it, and it's honestly fun for me. It probably eats into what could be writing time, but I'll get that balanced out one of these days.
Cloudguy: Do you have any advice for those who want to write fan-fiction? Is it something that you need to know a lot about a certain character to start writing, or can you just base it in a universe with original characters?
I've always wanted to start writing myself, I have a background in creative media so it's not a foreign concept, it's just down to lack of time for me. Constant ideas floating around and half a dozen notebooks filled with unused ideas, I just wish I managed to have time to tap into those ideas. You never know, you might see me post on the fan-fic forum one day.
cbishop: As we tell everyone on Fan-Fic, new writers are always welcome! And something I always tell people is: if you have the idea, then you have the story. That's usually for those folks who outright ask the forum to write a story for them, or want help fleshing out their one-line idea. If I help you flesh out your idea, then it's not yours anymore. It's mine, and no matter how much I collaborate with you, it won't turn out the way you've imagined it. If you have an idea, then your subconscious is working on that idea. You've probably thought about it way more than you realize. Just start writing it.
If you're not a great writer (and you should be honest with yourself about your ability- it's the only way to improve) that's okay! Just write it, then edit it, and keep tweaking until it's good. If you can't get it where you want it, then leave it and come back to it another time. Or maybe just start another story. The only way to improve your writing is to continue writing. Your storytelling technique will improve, and if you have any pride in yourself, your grammar and punctuation will improve as well. That's a constant process. I'm about to be forty-eight, and I still struggle with an overuse of commas. I've probably used too many in this interview. Practice! Practice! Practice! It's really the only way. Sorry, there are no shortcuts.
Do you have to know a lot about a story or certain characters though? Not necessarily, but it helps. For instance, I wrote a Star Wars story with original characters and Boba Fett. I tried to keep Fett as true to character as I knew. Now, I only ever read one Dark Horse one-shot of him, and saw him in the original three movies years ago, so that wasn't a lot to go on. I did research Fett a little bit to find out what his armor could do. But did I worry about how much of the galaxy the Galactic Empire had conquered? Or that my original characters couldn't really be the children of Han Solo? No. In fact, in my rating explanation, I say upfront that the story is written with "no regard for Star Wars continuity." I was just having fun with it.
Can that go too far though? Say you write an epic twelve part story where Bruce Wayne is Batman, but Chinese, and talks like a rap video while battling the twelve disciples of Lady Shiva, having to team-up with a different member of his rogues gallery to battle each master. No matter how great that story is, did you really write Batman? No matter how many times he sees the Bat-Signal, no matter how many Batmobiles he wrecks, no matter how many batarangs he throws, Bruce Wayne is not Chinese, and he does not talk like a rap video. Say "alternate universe, Batman Inc., League of Batmen," or "Batman Beyond" all you want, but it's not Batman. If you change him that much, then he's an original character that you've called Batman, so why not just write him as an original character? Because a story about the Obsidian Ronin [TM and copyright Chris Bishop ;)] battling the twelve disciples of Kali while teaming up with twelve demon foes is still something I'm going to read.
And last, don't overdo it. Part of being a good writer is knowing when you need more, and when you need less. Don't change things just to "show your versatility." What does Batman being Chinese do for the story? What does him talking like a rap video do for the story? Is one chapter enough for each disciple? Or should it be a twelve part epic about battling one foe? Or should it just be a one chapter story about the one foe? Writing something readers have seen before is not necessarily a bad thing. I still want to read a good Batman vs. Joker story, or Batman vs. Two-Face. Can you do that? Then do it.
Cloudguy: What do you prefer more, Comics or Manga? And why do you prefer them?
cbishop: Comics for sure. I want to like manga, but I've just never gotten into them. At first, it was that I didn't like the big eyes on the manga characters, but I've gotten used to that- it's just another art style to me now. I think I got overwhelmed when I first started checking into it. I remember reading back in the Eighties that Japan was adding something like eighty new titles a day at one point. Now, you look at the shelves as a new reader, and it's just, "Where do I start?" Plus, "Is the story going to be good? Or is it going to be some wacky weirdness?" Mostly, manga makes me feel internationally inept. I see some weird things pop up, and I wonder if it's just pure imagination, or if I'm missing some reference from another culture. At some point, I decided I just didn't want to spend the time deciphering those things. I still check things out here-and-there, but mostly I stick to comics. That love is lifelong.
What I love about comics is that they say it's the only truly American artform, but even though it's been around since at least the Thirties, we're still getting to see it develop. It's completely reflective of our times. Our own national fear of Communism led to the entire industry censoring itself for over three decades! Even after we stopped fearing the "Red Menace!" That's insane!
Then, even though it had been tried before, Image pretty much broke down the doors of creator ownership in the Nineties, and now comics are really starting to shine. Finally, we are seeing all genres pop up in comics. Sure, we're still mainly superheroes and sci-fi, but horror is making a comeback, and I think there's a pretty good swell of documentary-type titles ("docu-comics?"). There's comics to teach us about comics! Maus won a Pulitzer Prize! How cool is that?! Now we're watching movies made from these things, and I think we've only scratched the surface so far. Watching comics change and grow is very cool to me. I mean, one day, we might see something crazy like a comic that reads right-to-left! Wouldn't that be something? <wink>
Cloudguy: I can really understand why manga isn't for everyone, it's drastically different from what comic fans are used too. Some of it is so far-fetched it's hard to get into or just too weird to understand.
I kinda agree with you about comics being the "only truly American artform". As someone from the U.K., the only comics I read are American ones and sometimes some indie U.K. stuff, but other than that, comics are an American thing. If you take a look at the more modern Beano or Dandy, both of which have been staples of British comics for generations, are becoming the boring, children's magazines with less and less comic content.
Maus is a fantastic comic, I wouldn't even consider it a comic myself, more of an autobiography in art form. It was something that I should have read a long time ago.
cbishop: Comics being the "only truly American artform" isn't from me- I read that somewhere, and have seen it repeated a few times. I think it's ours in the sense that it came from America. We originated that. We can't say that about any other artform really. Have they stayed American though? Heck no. There are British ones like you said, and Canadian, and Indian, and probably a bunch of others. Honestly, I've never really understood the difference between comics and manga, besides manga being read right-to-left, back-to-front. Looks like a Japanese comic to me.
Cloudguy: Do you think that you enjoy comics more because they deal with more mature topics in a serious way or is that just a plus in your books? What would you recommended people should go out and read?
cbishop: I don't necessarily need a more mature book. I just like it that comics in general have finally realized that they can tell those stories too. It doesn't all have to be kiddie fare and perceived as "Bam! Pow! Zap!" by the public-at-large. That nonsense was drilled into comics by the Comics Code Authority and the popularity of the the Batman TV show. Now, I loved that show as a kid, and I love kiddie fare comics. I think DC's animated series style of comics like Krypto the Superdog, and Scooby-Doo Team-Up are great! One of my all-time favorite comics was Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! That stuff was great fun! But I love too that there's something like Dogs of War, or Understanding Comics out there as well. We need more genres than superheroes in comics.
What do I think people should read? I'm probably not the best person to ask. I like Savage Dragon of course. I was enjoying Moonshine. The New 52 Wonder Woman was brilliant for the first thirty-five issues. Beyond that, I've been largely unimpressed in recent years. I had a comic shop in 2015, and I got to read Marvel's Secret Wars titles for free. Man, those were slept on! It's too bad they went back to status quo from there. Savage Dragon is really the only thing current that I'm reading. Beyond that, I've been enjoying rereading the 1980 New Teen Titans run in trade paperback, and I've been reading a lot of Golden Age reprints from the Gwandanaland Comics series. I'm enjoying those immensely.
Cloudguy: What do you think of the current state of Comicvine?
cbishop: This is a tough one to answer. I don't want it to seem like a gripe session, because I love this site, but I do see problems. I was here for the last days of Whiskey Media, and all through the days before the Gamespot merger. The site's been through two or three major reboots, and those were brutal- it seems like we lost a good chunk of our users each time. There's been an update since the merger, and it seemed like that went pretty well. I think our engineers (whether they're officially GS, CV, or CBSi) are unfairly maligned. Change takes time, bugs happen, and from what I've seen, they've been working hard on them.
Being merged with Gamespot... hm. I've read that GS has more traffic, and that the comic news is on the GS homepage, but I'm one of those seemingly rare comic fans that doesn't play video games very much, and has no interest in visiting GS, so that does nothing for me. I get that they have this site to somehow make money, and merging sites means consolidating costs and blah-bee-dee-blah-blah. That's cool; that's business. I get it. I just wish they seemed interested in making this site all that it could be.
I mean, this site should be number one in Google searches for anything comic related. Comic Vine is gold if used correctly! When I first started trying to find homages, comic ads, and especially Hostess ads, I had to sift through a lot of junk to find anything useful. Once I started posting them as lists, those pages started popping up number one or real close to the top in Google searches. That's just making the fun stuff easier to find though.
Why don't we have someone doing official interview bios on the pros with wiki pages here? Why aren't we finding a way to use Fan-Fic, RPG, and Artist Show-Off as a go-to looksee for comic companies scouting talent? If there's a way to make us an official go-to for them, traffic will pick up, and somehow, that means money for CBSi. I don't see how that fails. I just want this site to do more. I want people to not see a need for a DC or Marvel wiki when there's a wiki here. I want the wiki search to work as well as the one on Grand Comics Database. Why aren't those guys working here? I get it: I'm dreaming! I don't know the logistics of what I'm asking for. But I do believe that it can be done!
On another note, I'm a bit fearful of the current state of Comic Vine. I've been on various writing sites (this is more than a writing site, but bear with me) since the Nineties. Many went belly up and closed down, and I'm seeing some of the problems here that occurred there. So, my fear is that one day this will shut down, and all the hard work that's been put into it (everyone's, not just mine) will be gone. The only thing that keeps that fear at bay is that CV is owned by CBSi, and is part of the GS site- neither of which seem in danger of going anywhere. So even though I don't use GS, the sites being merged actually makes me hopeful.
Cloudguy: I think people should be a little more concerned with the state of the site, or the lack of editorial content; because I think CV will go the way of Animevice, defunct and now just a Fandom site.
I think it's one of the reasons why I'm starting to put out more blogs, reviews and interviews here. If we start putting out high quality content, it'd give people a reason to keep coming to the site. Other than the wiki and forums of course, the first of which I've spent countless hours working on.
I think what makes Comicvine better than a lot of other comic wiki's is just how interconnected everything is. Thanks to a lot of hardworking wiki editors, you can find a lot of comics quickly and easily. Not to mention how up to date we are compared to the Grand Comics Database.
The sad thing is, a lot of the high quality posts come from fan-fic and rpg, but end up being missed as barely anyone goes over to those forums. Look at the general discussion forum and see how many film based threads there are compared to comics. I understand that those are popular now, but comics are becoming things people don't talk about here unless it's on character forums.
cbishop: There are fantastic stories in Fan-Fic and RPG! My biggest quibble with CV has always been this: artists get the Artist Show-Off forum on CV, not the Fan-Art forum. Writers here have the Fan-Fic forum, not a Writer Show-Off forum. So what's largely unknown is that there has been some great original content from our writers there. There have been original fiction groups like Crank, Splicers, Wild Western, and my personal favorite 5th Column Comics. There have also been some one-man shows in series like Hungry by Joshmightbe, Guardian by Time_Phantom, and Fortress by batkevin74. Want even more? How 'bout entire universes like Waeziverse by waezi2 (starring The Cat), The 40's by TommytheHitman (starring The Ghoul), or a personal favorite close to my heart, Patronverse by ImpurestCheese (starring the Patron Saint of Crime). These stories are severely neglected by readers, and every one of the solo writers mentioned should have some sort of deal in place by now.
Lest I forget, we have a whole other stable of writers in the RPG forum. As it's more centered on roleplay, the approach is different, but there are some epic stories there. I don't go on about them as much, because I don't get over there as often. Mostly because there's no index keeping everything organized. I don't know where to start when I'm in RPG! I usually read a thread that's in the middle of something larger, and move on. There are some longtime writers over there though, and they are well worth being read.
Cloudguy: Who's your favourite Manga and Comic character and why do they appeal to you?
cbishop: I don't have a favorite manga character. I haven't read enough of them to be interested.
My dad is a retired cop, and my hero, so comic cops have a soft spot in my heart. So for comics, it is for sure Chester Gould's Dick Tracy. You may have guessed that from my avatar already. He's that tough as nails cop who always plays fair, has a girlfriend, and takes down badguys. And what a rogues gallery! Love that stuff!
Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon is a close second. He's an alien, lizard-man cop! He cusses, fusses, and can break city buses! He heals quick, has relationships, beats badguys, and deals with life in general. And his book is in real time, so thirty days for me is thirty days for him! The characters literally grow old with me which means the cast evolves. That's beyond cool.
Cloudguy: If you became a staff member, even for a day; what would you post about?
cbishop: Well, I've already posted "How did you do that?" The Comic Vine toolbar explained, so it would probably be something like that. The site's not hard to figure out if you try, but having a step-by-step instruction for reference can only help. I think making things here easier to understand is the best way to increase traffic.
Cloudguy: During the interview, cbishop brought up the fact that he's done minor work in the comic book industry. Here's what we discussed.
cbishop: I was mentioned in the acknowledgments for The Grave, by Dan Fraga. I told Dan that I wanted to make a page on Comicvine. I asked him if I said I did some preliminary editing before it went to the publisher, would he back me if asked about it, and he said he would.
That "preliminary editing" was when he was drawing it in 2014. He did 365 panels- one-a-day for the whole year- and posted them to Facebook each day. It was pretty cool. At the time, he was in animation at Mattel, and doing the panels at night after work. I came in at panel 200-something, and started catching typos here-and-there, mentioning them in the comments. After a few, he messaged me, and asked if I'd look over the whole thing.
I agreed, and asked if I could get an editing credit on the book. I was half-joking, because I thought that was the longest of longshots ever, but Dan didn't hesitate for a second to say yes. So, I put in the work, and honestly, I have to say I didn't treat it as professionally as I should have. Dan agreed to give me a professional credit on the book, and I was still thinking of it as a fan getting to help a pro on the side. It took me way longer than it should have. There were reasons- there always are- but in the end I had to apologize to Dan for being so slow on it.
As I was finishing my part, Dan changed publishers on the book, and he wasn't sure they were going to go for giving me an official credit. It did go to their official editor, after all. So, I asked if I could at least make the acknowledgments, and that's where I wound up. Honestly, it's pretty cool just having my name in there. My credit's not official, and honestly, Dan kind of talked me into making my "person" page when I was about to give up on the idea. What made me decide to do it was when he told me that "in animation, there are development artists who’s work doesn’t make the film, yet they get credit."
So, that's the story of my one comic credit so far. And if I may, The Grave is fantastic! Everyone should get a copy now.
Cloudguy: Are you able to tell us about the comic?
cbishop: I don't want to spoil it since it just came out, but it's about three friends who take a long hike together to see a grave. It's about what happens on the way, and what they find when they get there. It's a little like Stand By Me, in that there are some fantastic, hilarious, and sad stories throughout. Just trust me: it is well worth the price of admission, and you won't regret reading it.
Cloudguy: Any plans on potentially furthering your comic-book career? Or is this enough for you?
cbishop: Well, that's a tough question for me; it's something I've thought about for a long time. I've read comics since I was five when I got a Marvel three-pack in my Easter basket, and I've wanted to be doing comics since I was probably eight, and found out people got paid to make these things. I wanted to draw ever since I was nine, when DC came out with their Adventure Comics run of Dial "H" For Hero, and I gave it up at sixteen when I decided that I was better at writing.
Now, I'm forty-eight years old. I've spent a lot of years making notes about characters and story ideas, I have two pseudo-credits for editing, one tiny royalty check for a book I was published in, and a bunch of short... well, more "scenes" than "stories"... that I've written here on CV. I'm certainly not dead, but I have been pondering grand life questions like, "How much time do I have left?" Things like that.
I guess I'm trying to be realistic about my chances of pulling off actual comic publication. I think there's a couple of possible doors I could knock on, but the chances of getting in are slim. I think my chances are better of publishing some prose on my own. If that does well enough, maybe it would open some doors for comic work? Hard to say. Honestly, for all my years of wanting to do it, I really know very little about actually how to do it. Kind of like the work for Dan- I think I'm good enough, but I have a hard time actually thinking of myself as "professional" at it. You've got to convince your mind first, y'know?
To answer the second question, no, it's never enough. Those few things I listed above? They are buoys in an ocean of self-doubt. I cling to those and try to remind myself that a lot of people haven't done even those few things. So when I think of it that way, it gives me hope that I can do more. And if you are a creative person at all, you never stop. There is no "enough." You always have another idea. It's whether you actually implement those ideas or not. That's what I'm trying to figure out now- the implementation. I've got those few accomplishments under my belt- now, how can I do more? Yesterday is not enough. I hope for more, and I want to do more. God willing, I'll have the time and courage to do it.
Cloudguy: I just want to say a massive thank you for spending the weeks of back and forth messaging to complete this interview. It was one of my favourites so far.
cbishop: My pleasure. You were my first interviewer. Thanks. :)
If anyone would like to participate in the next editions of Interview with a Viner, send a PM!