Part One of this interview can be found here.
Mike, first let me say thank you for again taking valuable time during what I know are busy days for you to do this second half of this interview. In the first part we were focused on your involvement with the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs in celebration of ERB's birthday. In this second installment, I'd like to focus on your original stuff and some interesting minutia I've learned while browsing the many pages of your fascinating website. Together with Tommy Hancock’s Pro Se Press, Cirsova Publishing and yourself, there is quite the revival going down in Arkansas in what is being referred to as the New Pulp scene. Do you have any idea why your state has become such a dynamic epicenter for this new breed of pulp-style authorings? Do you consider your own original writings part of this ‘scene,’ or as something altogether different?
Well, I've been writing my tales of the Wild Stars since the 1970s, so that was long before there was any Pulp movement. Editors back then always seemed to like my work but found it too different from everything else being made at the time and considered it “too edgy.” Many publishers will say how they want something original and different, but what they really mean is something familiar but with a twist. One benefit about having operated my stores for nearly four decades is that I've created an environment that didn't exist before in the local market. I've always carried a big selection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books and pulps in general--when I can find them. I used to have huge stacks of $5 pulps all over the store shelves, but then I made the mistake of writing an article about how well pulps mix with comics inventory for Comics & Games Retailer Magazine. Right after that it seemed like book dealers all across the country started bumping up the prices of golden age pulps up to match with golden age comics. So, they’ve been a lot harder to find ever since.
An aspect that my stores have changed about the local market is that people have seen me do independent publishing and have themselves in turn taken a shot at book and comic creation. Most people never complete their first one because, “It's a lot of work,” and those that do get that far are even less likely to make a second because, “That was a lot of work!” One exception to this was a young boy by the name of Nate Powell. I let him sell copies of his ashcan comic, “Walkie Talkie” on the store shelves, and Nate kept after it. Eventually he went off to New York to get professional training and has since won an Eisner Award for illustrating the series of March graphic novels written by U.S. Congressman John Lewis about the Civil Rights movement during the days of Martin Luther King. All the credit goes to Nate for pursuing his craft and doing all the hard work to get where he is today, but he always credits my stores with giving him his start by allowing him space on the crowded comic book racks during the crazy days of the Nineties. He even included his experience of discovering my stores into one of his autobiographical graphic novels. Nate does a signing whenever he's back in town and says that the crowds here are the largest he gets, even bigger than New York City.
P. Alexander asked me some questions about the manufacturing process when he was first launching Cirsova magazine and offered me some free advertising. I took a look at his first issue and thought he did a fantastic job, so I started submitting a few of my own stories to Cirsova and look at what that's led to.
So, the stores have proved to be a “Build it and they will come” scenario.
In having written two works related to Burroughs--The Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology, and your completion of the ERB fragment now titled “Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She”--we know you're an ERB fan. But I would be remiss if I failed to ask, what are some other of your favorite classic, early authors (say, pre-1980), and also, are there any modern authors that tickle your fancy and feed your muse? Can you tell us an early and a late novel that really stuck with you--ones that inspire you today?
When I was in junior high school, I was reading a book a day. Robert E. Howard was another favorite whose work I read everything I could find. I also read works by authors like Asimov, Clarke, Ellison, Heinlein, and many others; but none of them connected with me like ERB and REH. Their work had an energy that none of the others could capture.
One exception would be the Casca, The Eternal Mercenary series by Barry Sadler. He's the fellow who also wrote and sang the hit "The Ballad of the Green Berets." The story of Casca started with him showing up at a Vietnam medical tent with his head half shot off. He's expected to die, but then gets up in the middle of the night and leaves. His telling of his stories to the doctor who ministered to him is the vehicle by which the reader learns Casca’s stories.
And it is very historically accurate stuff, according to one college history professor who bought the Casca books from me, back before the chain booksellers took paperback sales completely away from my stores. The series is still running today but is now done by ghost writers. Barry Sadler was living in Nicaragua when he was shot in the head. He was flown to the V.A. hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was expected to die. But then Sadler got up and checked himself out in the middle of the night. His family said he later died, and they had a private funeral. Talk about life imitating art.
Mike, you might recall that you and I met at the 2017 Dum Dum in Cold Water, Michigan. At some point, we got on the topic of Robert E. Howard where I was delighted to learn that you're a fan. Not only are you a fan--you're a collector. And not only are you a collector, but . . . dang, you're a collector! As I recollect, we segued to the topic of the possibility of your doing a Robert E. Howard Art Chronology. I began rattling off book titles I've yet to acquire: "You got the Arkham House Skull Face and Others?" "Yup." You got the Gnome Press Conans??" "Yup, I've got all of them." "You got the Savage Swords???" "Yup. I've got it all!" I was blown away to meet someone with such a staggering collection as you went on to describe. Is there any plan to do a Robert E. Howard set? I can tell you, I know people who would happily fund this.
I would love to do a Robert E. Howard Art Chronology. Like ERB, I've collected REH my entire life and have a museum-worthy collection of all his works. Because he died so young, his output was not as prodigious as what ERB did, but he did some pretty incredible stuff that has always kept finding a way back into print in some form or another. Howard also inspired a lot of comics book series, which, much like ERB, continue to be made to this day
Shortly before the ERB Art Chronology was released, publisher Chenault & Gray and I each contacted the Cabinet Group about the possibility of making a REH Chronology. But their reaction was that it was too big a project for them to consider at that time. So, it's something that's still percolating around in the back of my head, waiting until the time is right. Already got one publisher lined up, and others have expressed interest as well.
Speaking of Robert E. Howard, out of sheer curiosity I have to ask--is there any relation to Richard L. Tierney who, with David C. Smith, co-authored the Red Sonja series in the early 1980s, the character created by Howard who is nearly as famous as Conan?
I have never met Richard L. Tierney, but having the same last name--who knows? If his ancestor left County Cork in Ireland during the potato famine, then we might be related. A lighter side to that story is how, after I published my Force Majeure: Prairie Bay comic in 2002, I was surfing the internet for reviews and discovered how all claims of Force Majeure in Ireland are filed on the second floor of the Michael Tierney building in County Cork. Force Majeure is an act of god considered so unexpected that all contracts are voided.
A funny story about the Richard L. Tierney connection is how, when I was buying a big selection of inventory directly from Arkham House books, he was the only author for whom they would not give me a wholesale discount. I guess they thought I was buying for family.
Is there anything you would like to say about your ventures, or anything intriguing you're currently working on that you can mention, even if it's just a teaser at this point?
Great timing on that question. I have five new Wild Stars books at the printer right now!
Cirsova Publishing, who released my posthumous collaboration with ERB on the “Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She” earlier this year, is about to release my new novel, Wild Stars 4: Wild Star Rising, which will also include a 29,000 word Multiversal Guide bio-glossary that lists every person, place, and event in the long history of the Wild Stars. The publisher said, “Wild Stars Four was not only a great story, it also made all the earlier stories even greater.” He felt so strongly about this that he's also doing the simultaneous re-release of Volumes 1 through 3 in an enlarged format that really makes the artwork in the graphic novel sections pop.
The re-issue of last year's sold out Wild Stars 3: Time Warmageddon, also includes a new epilogue, reprints of a couple of my other Cirsova stories, “Shark Fighter” and “The Grass Maiden” (originally published as “The Bears of 1812”), and the first publication of the Wild Stars short story, “The Grimgrip”. Cover artist Mark Wheatley turned in a set of illustrations so impressive that the publisher and I agreed to run them in virgin format. While virgin covers are very common in the comics industry, I don't think anyone has ever done them in either the book or magazine industries. Since these will be marketed mostly on the internet, the need for a masthead to stand out on crowded book shelves just isn't there anymore, so all the title information is presented on the back covers. But even there we're doing something special, and the back covers all connect into one giant image.
Cirsova didn't stop with just making a 35th Anniversary set of magazine-sized paperback books. They're also collecting all four volumes into a 726 page hardcover omnibus with an incredible wraparound dust wrapper by Anton Oxenuk, who also illustrated the Cirsova cover for “Young Tarzan”! All of these books had pre-publication offers through IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, and I have to say that I was shocked at how many people bought the monster-sized omnibus. Right now, there is a whole herd of Omnibi stampeding through the manufacturing process.
Like we did with Young Tarzan, we'll be doing an early pre-release at my stores after the orders are shipped out to the IndieGoGo and Kickstarter backers, and then the books will be made available worldwide through Amazon and other booksellers in October. We haven't set that exact date yet.
Here are the Amazon links for the paperback editions:
Later this year there will also be a Wild Stars Role Playing Game released as part of the Amazing Adventures 5E game system that was developed by Troll Lords, which is a division of Chenault & Gray. Role players have always had a strong interest in the Wild Stars because of the wide scope of the adventures, characters, and settings, so I'm hoping that this proves popular enough to create an opportunity to get the Wild Stars board game that I designed made. Just like I try to do unique things with my stories, my Wild Stars board game has several unique play features that include time travel.
Earlier you mentioned the Wild Stars graphic novels. Did I see on your site that you were involved in graphic novels when they were still in their early days?
When I opened my first store in 1982, I wanted to stock unique items to set my store apart from all the many other bookstores that existed at the time. Back then book stores were generational enterprises that lasted for decades--being before the advent of the chain discounters that drove all the generalists out of business.
Marvel and DC were experimenting with deluxe reprint comics of classic series, so I took these runs and a few others like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Ronin and had them bound into hardcovers with imitation leather boards. Customers loved them!
To make sure I wasn't doing anything that might get me in trouble with Marvel or DC, around 1985 I took a set of those prototype graphic novels with me to a Capital City Distribution conference at Madison, Wisconsin. Their reaction was that a retailer repackages a book whenever they put them into a plastic bag, so as long as it was something I was just doing for local sales they had no problem.
Then I asked why they weren't making sets like these, explaining, “They sell as fast as I can make them.”
Both Marvel and DC told me flat out, “There will NEVER be a market for reprint collections.”
A couple of years later DC tried making reprint collections with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, both of which remain in print to this day, and a whole new segment of the industry was born.
Regarding your Wild Stars comics, I've seen on your site--and I believe on Facebook etc as well--where you've also done some of the illustrating and coloring yourself. And on the Edgar Rice Burroughs comic website, you're doing the writing, coloring and lettering on Beyond the Farthest Star. I mentioned in Part I of this interview, where we focused on Edgar Rice Burroughs and your contributions to his worlds, that you wear a lot of hats; and I seem to keep discovering more hats the more I dig into this amazing guy known as Mike Tierney. Can you share how you became involved in doing your own illustrating, etc, and how you learned the craft? Also, in what various mediums do you like to work? Did you ever take any art classes, or are you just a natural? It's fascinating stuff, I have to say.
For me it's always been about telling the story. Whichever way worked best, be it with words or pictures or a computer, that's the direction I took. Fortunately, my parents raised me to learn things on my own. My dad ran an automotive center, so whenever I had a problem with a car, he'd just point me to an open bay and tell me to go figure it out. That deductive training came in handy when I opened my stores, because I'd never worked a day of retail in my life. I knew everything about creating and manufacturing a publication, but nothing about retailing and distribution. So, I opened a store to figure it all out. Still doing it 38 years later.
The same thing happened with my artwork and writing. I'm largely self-taught artistically and have always been most comfortable working in pencil, but because of the technological limitations of the printing industry prior to the new Millennium, it just wasn't a practical way to do it. Everything had to be either black or white, with gray tones created by dot patterns. When I did my Across the Distance portfolio and a collection of my mother's pencil illustrations called The Hands of Time in 1978, I was managing a Fast Print division of International Graphics, which gave me the access to do the camera work myself. I discovered that by skewing the camera settings you could accurately reproduce pencils. When I did the Wild Stars portfolio in 1985, I was out of printing at the time, and the printer completely botched the camera work. Finally, they let me come into their shop and do it myself, so I eventually got the results I was looking for.
In the Eighties, it was easy to access the comics market, so I started adapting my Wild Stars novels into comics, one of which I printed in my garage. I used a printer’s trick to make each copy into a unique art print by slowly fading a background mountain throughout the print run. At this time book creation was impossible because there was no pathway to the market unless you had a publisher with a 5th Avenue, New York address. In the Nineties I tried illustrating my comics with duo-shade, which is very popular with newspaper cartoonists, but wasn't that happy with the final result, and finally made the decision to hire professional artists. At that point I discovered Photoshop, which had all the tools and abilities of that Fast Print shop--in a box! A friend showed me the basics of how to use Photoshop, but I stayed with the plan to use professionals. By skewing the scanner settings the same way I had done with the cameras for the portfolio, I reproduced their pencils and added gray tones with Photoshop--painting them in black and white. Those comics were released in 2001 and 2002.
Today, there are so many publishers doing independent comics it's impossible to stand out in the crowd. Plus, with only a couple thousand stores left in operation and Diamond now being the only distributor, you're going to have very limited chances of them even carrying you. With Marvel and DC accounting for 90% of their sales and 10% of their work, I can understand their logistics. It was a different world back in the Eighties and Nineties when you had a huge retailer base and half a dozen distributors, none of whom wanted to miss out on the next big thing. I've known publishers who have recently been driven under not because their books weren't profitable, but because they weren't profitable enough to be worth Diamond's time.
So, while the comics market has seen a nailing of a lid on the marketplace, the book industry on the other hand has been completely opened up with Amazon and digital publishing. It's been a complete flip flop, and I've gone back to what I was doing in the 1970s, when I was first novelizing the history of the Wild Stars.
Speaking of artwork, I saw on your site that your mother, Mary Tierney, painted. I've looked at the pieces you've shared, and they're wonderful. I particularly like that rough, bubbling stream with all the stones--but the desert sunset is also really cool, reminding me of one I did myself that is quite similar. Do you think you inherited the artistic side of your nature from your mom? And since I myself paint, I'm dying to know -- do you do any painting yourself?
My mother, Mary Tierney, was a very talented and active painter while I was growing up. She did the official portrait when Miss Kansas, Debra Barnes won Miss America back in the early Sixties. So, as a young boy, I was used to coming home and finding Miss America sitting there. I probably learned a lot about art through the osmosis of watching her work. She always had a flair for colors, which is probably where a lot of the brilliant colors that I'm currently using in the Beyond the Farthest Star comic strip comes from.
I did experiment with painting in acrylics back in the Seventies but decided to shelve that pursuit for whenever I had significant amounts of time to spend in front of a canvas so that I could work with oils. Whenever I retire from working the bookstores, painting is one of the pursuits that I plan to explore again.
I'm currently doing all my painting in Photoshop.
Mike, thanks again for taking time to answer a few questions about yourself and The Wild Stars. Hopefully, I'll run into you again at another convention!