Jun 22, 2009, 06:01AM

"A 30-Something 10-Year-Old"

An interview with Sam Keith, comic book genius and director of Roger Corman's Take It to the Limit.

Sequential Tart: So, when did you discover comics?Sam Kieth: Oh, wow — jump right into it. Well, when I was a kid, I used to draw, even before I picked up a comic I was drawing these little stories on 3x5 index cards. My mom bought a pack and when she brought them home, the only thing I could think to do with them was draw a picture and write little words underneath each one. Then I'd string them into a story [laughs].ST: About how old were you when you were doing this?SK: Oh, about eight years old. I guess those were comics, although I didn't think of them as that.It wasn't until I was 12 or 13 that I discovered comics. There wasn't a comic store — I don't know if you discovered them this way — but they used to have them at supermarkets on the racks.I could never get them in order. I'd just get an issue of a comic, and then I'd wander in a couple months later and get issue 5, and then issue 7 — whatever struck my fancy. It never occurred to me to try and get them in order [laughs], and how much more enjoyable they'd be if they were all read in order.ST: Did you like anything in particular?SK: Well, you know, it was the typical adolescent wish fulfillment — people running around in their underwear and seeming not to have the problems I had. I mean, the metaphor of running around in long underwear and seeming to have the tastes and maturity of a kid, but powers far beyond an adult, was the first thing that attracted me to them. There wasn't really any — it was quite a bit later that I discovered alternative comics in the '80s, comics that had a little more maturity to them.ST: What were a couple of those titles?SK: Oh gosh ...ST: Was it anything like Love and Rockets?SK: Yeah, that was one of them. But coming off of superheroes, even reading things like Nexus or American Flagg, it seemed to lead the way to things like Cerebus  and Love and Rockets.When I went down to the end of a comics show, the colors stopped and they started being black and white, then it was pretty fringy. You were down there right next to the underground, and you never knew what you were going to get into. And that's where all the interesting stuff was, come to find out.ST: So, I presume that in high school, you were "one of the guys who could draw"?SK: No. I was a guy who drew, but I always hung around people who drew a lot better. So I was always one of the guys who people would say:
"Hey, do you know Kelly Jones or Grant Johnson?"
"Boy, they're pretty good, aren't they?"
And I'd say, "Yeah, they're real good." [laughs] I knew a lot of people who drew. My cousin, who is an animator — he actually created the Cow and Chicken cartoon — he was four years older, and he drew, and his sister drew. They were like brother and sister to me. My father drew when I was growing up. He painted, too — I never really got too involved with that. It just seemed like everyone around me drew, and it was nothing special to draw.So, you always had to try twice as hard just to stay up, you know? Everybody was older than me, and they drew better, it was like, "well, drawing isn't going to get me any attention." [laughs]I didn't even start to get serious about it until much later, when — geez, well this is a probably a whole 'nuther conversation.ST: That's okay, a long interview is not a bad thing.SK: I met my wife at ... an unusually young age. And, so, it probably wasn't until I was about 18 or 19 that I started to think seriously about trying to get into comics. From the time I met her — I was 15 and she was 30. I moved from my parents' home into her home, and lived with her, and kind of essentially grew up. There was no way I was really ready to jump into the comics field at 15-16 years old.ST: What made you decide on a career in comics?SK: I have to tell you, I admire your ability to stick to the subject matter after an answer like that. Usually most people are, "What kind of a freak are you?" after they hear that. "What the heck? What's the deal with that?"ST: Well, my husband is 12 years older than I am, so ...SK: So, you're used to the whole age difference thing, then.ST: Yeah.SK: That's cool — I feel so relieved [laughs]. Like I'm in good company all of a sudden. What was the question?ST: What made you finally decide on the career in comics, as opposed to, say, illustration or animation, or —SK: I couldn't get in to any of that stuff. I wasn't good enough. My whole career is a case of failing into comics [laughs]. Failing into getting a book, y'know? [Laughs]I tried getting a graphics job — I couldn't. I tried getting hired as a chef once — I couldn't. I tried to teach guitar lessons and — I just wasn't skilled and/or lacked the discipline to do any of those things.I kept trying to run around conventions with portfolios like everybody does. I didn't have a portfolio case, and I couldn't afford those nice leather ones that everybody had, so, my mom had an old orange container that had once had X-Rays in it that was made of cardboard, and it was just original art size. I'd stand in line with this X-Ray box and show my portfolio [laughs]. I'd pull out my pages, and all the editors would make jokes, "What are you going to show me, your X-Rays?" [Laughs] I'd be, "No, this is it." I remember burning with shame that I didn't have at least a decent something to pull them out of.It didn't much matter anyway, because they were terrible and I had years and years to go before I got better, and years and years to unlearn the mistakes I kept making.So, it's like, "How long'd it take you to get in?" "Oh, 'bout 10 years." "What?!" I'm like, "No, no, I'm a slow learner. And I'm an idiot, but you, you can probably get in in two or three years." At which point they go, "Okay, whew!"Mostly the thing that kept me out was making the same mistakes over and over again. Learning to draw by following other artists — spending at least two or three years trying to be John Byrne, and just being a bad John Byrne clone, then trying to be a bad Bernie Wrightson clone, and we already had a bunch of those.It just took me a long time how to figure out how to be a bad Sam Kieth. [Laughs] But, dammit, I made it!


Register or Login to leave a comment