Today I get the pleasure of asking comic book writer, Erica Schultz 20 Questions. Erica is the writer for the new Xena: Warrior Princess comic book and a myriad of other books. Honestly, looking through her Comic Book DB file, she has been amazingly prolific in her creation of comic books. She is an artist, writer, editor, publisher, co-creator of the critically acclaimed M3 comic book, etc… I personally became aware of Erica by following her on Twitter. I had just finished the interview with Eric Palicki, and decided that I should pay some attention to the people he interacts with on social media, and Erica’s name came up in his feed pretty often. So, I read some of her tweets and realized that I was an idiot for not having known who she was or following her on the twitters.
I would love to know more about her, so I asked if she would answer 20 of my Questions. She has graciously accepted my invitation so let’s not waste any more time.
My previous career was as a cartographer. So I often think of stories in their spatial components. One of my favorite types of spatial story is the personal geographic story. For example: I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and (as an Air Force brat) moved to Montgomery, Alabama on my 3rd birthday. The family moved to a suburb just the northeast of Birmingham, Alabama where I grew up. I moved up to Kent, Ohio to go to college, and followed my fiance to Columbus for grad school. We have lived in Central Ohio since grad school. Question 1: What is your geographic story?
I was born in Teaneck, NJ (essentially the 6th suburb on New York City), a few miles off the George Washington Bridge. I went to college in Hartford, CT (University of Hartford), then came back to the area to get a job. I lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, North NJ, and now I life in Central NJ with my husband.
New Jersey gets a bad wrap. I think that is mainly because there are so many people in NYC and they are compelled to make fun of Hoboken and Newark. In driving through Central New Jersey I was surprised by how nice it really is.
NJ does get a bad rap, but I think it’s because we’re filled with lots of chemical plants and swamps. It is what it is. We’d spend summers visiting our grandparents in the Bronx or Upstate NY, so you can find beauty or filth anywhere you look for it. I’ll try and be more positive, though.
Question 2: Is there something in New Jersey that you absolutely love that cannot be found elsewhere?
One thing NJ has that I love is the 24-hour diner. I’m sure other places have the typical 24-hour truck stop, but NJ has non-truck stop type diners that are open 24-hours. I spent many a late night of my youth in Louie’s Charcoal Pit drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes with Mike, the waiter from Cypress. My Best Friend and I would go there after working late nights on AP Psychology papers in high school.
Unfortunately, Louie’s closed down about two years ago and was replaced with a Walgreens. The other 24-hour diner in town (Cedar Lane Grille) also closed down several years ago. Sometimes when I go up to visit friends or family, I find the main street shops unrecognizable, but that’s life. It’s an organic ebb and flow of shops and experiences.
I definitely found that “you can’t go home again” feeling the last time I went down to where I grew up in Alabama. There are so many things that look similar, but very few of the things I grew up with were the same. That being said, I do not get down to Alabama very much since my wife and I are an interracial couple with biracial kids so it had been about 10 years since I had been there. It just is not that comfortable when everyone is staring at you because of your coupleship.
I’m sorry that your family faces that treatment. It’s easy to say, “Well, it’s the South,” but that garbage goes on everywhere and it’s unconscionable.
So, here comes my usual Question 3: Cake or pie? Which specific kind and why?
I don’t really have a sweet tooth. We weren’t allowed a lot of sugar as kids, so I guess my sweet taste buds never really developed. I’m not a big fan of cake, as it’s usually too sweet. I didn’t even really eat my wedding cake.
That said, if I had to choose, I’d probably say a good apple pie would suffice for me.
My mom decorated cakes as a side gig when I was growing up. I have eaten more cake than should be humanly possible, so I tend to side with pie as well. I have definitely tended toward the pie spectrum since I eliminated gluten from my diet about 5 years ago. Gluten free baking is neither light nor fluffy. Dense and crumbly is the norm in that baking sphere.
Question 4: Are there foods you have to avoid? If so, are they foods you wish you could have?
I do have several food allergies. I’m allergic to most fish, ginger, tree nuts, chickpeas, and beans. I’m not deathly allergic to any of them, but breaking out in hives and welts kind of puts a damper on dinner parties. Fun fact: True Texas chili has no beans in it.
I don’t drink alcohol and try to avoid foods that are cooked in alcohol. I know everyone says the alcohol burns off, but I can swear I can taste it.
I guess the only food I wish I could have is pesto. It’s usually made with pine nuts and that causes me to break out in hives. You can make it without pine nuts, but not many restaurants are making it to order, and it’s added to so many dishes that it can sometimes be difficult to avoid.
Having multiple food allergies is terrible. When my kiddos were born they both had multiple food allergies. It is very difficult to avoid multiple foods simultaneously. Most places don’t know how to service people with multiple allergies. We ended up cooking most our food because of those allergies. Luckily both kids grew out of their respective food allergies (our youngest is still highly allergic to cats)… but now my wife and I have intolerances to different things. It is terrible.
Let’s start going in a different direction. Question 5: What was the first comic book you can remember reading?
I would read whatever my brother would bring home from the spinner racks. I specifically remember reading A Death in the Family by Starlin, Aparo, and DeCarlo and Uncanny X-Men by Claremont, Byrne, and Lee. Aside from the usual Spider-Man and such, A Death in the Family was a comic that I specifically remember reading. It was terrifying to see Jason Todd die.
Later I learned that DC editorial hadn’t decided to kill Jason, so there was a call in poll done. That seems like a kind of Milgram Experiment. Sure, it’s a fictional character, but people really wanted to see Jason dead. Yes, the Joker swung the crowbar, but everyone who called in to say, “DIE, JASON” is responsible!
A Death in the Family was a very disturbing exercise in crowdsourcing in a time when that took significantly more effort. I did love Aparo’s Batman. When I think of Batman, the first image that comes to mind is Aparo’s. Jason Todd was an annoying character, so I really think DC was “priming the pump” when they made the life or death be a poll. They wanted to kill him, but blame the fans. Super cynical.
See, I find Damian more annoying now, even more so than Jason. He’s a smart-mouthed jerk who reminds me too much of my younger cousin, but that’s beside the point. I always thought Dick was the bravest, Jason was the boldest, Tim was the smartest, and Damian was the brashest.
I am not too keen on Damian myself. He seems a bit too much. He is a good foil for Dick Grayson, but I too find him a bit annoying.
The first comic book I can remember reading was a Magnus: Robot Hunter issue that was in a Gold Key grab bag that the family got on some road-trip from Alabama to Florida. The family never really went on vacations, we more went to visit extended family, so I don’t remember the visits as much as I remember reading comic books in the backseat of the car. I also remember that Super Friends oversized book from the mid-70’s. Now the first comic I ever bought was a Captain America from 1979.
Question 6: Did you have any family vacations when you were a kid?
We didn’t really have family vacations because we didn’t have a lot of money. Dad worked for the phone company, and he was striking every 2-3 years when the union contract was up, so he’d drive a cab or work construction even as mom was working full time as a nurse. Three kids need to eat. This was the late 70s/early to mid 80s. We did what we had to.
We did go to Disney World in 1989 for February break from school. It was my first time on an airplane. I remember my dad telling me to chew gum or the pressure of the plane would pop my eyeballs out of my sockets and they’d stick to the tray in front of me. That’s a very good example of my dad’s sense of humor.
Some of the “countries” in Epcot were still being worked on when we were there. I remember Figment, the purple dragon, Michael Jackson’s Captain Eo, and standing in line with a family from Ohio whose luggage was lost on their trip over. Mom was known to (and still does) talk to everyone and anyone when standing in line somewhere. I forget the ride we were waiting for.
Space Mountain was a big thing back then (I don’t know if it still is…I’ve never been back to Disney), and I remember my dad pointing to an empty aisle that was cordoned off next to the line we were waiting in and saying (I’m paraphrasing, I’m sure, in reality, it was expletive-laden) that it was for the kids who got scared so they could run out quickly. I didn’t get scared. I remember it was a fun time.
Space Mountain is the best, but it is not nearly as interesting when the lights are on. One of my friends told me of a time when the roller coaster stopped and they had to turn the lights on. The mystique was gone for them. My family was able to make a trip to Disney when I was a kid as well, we may have been there at similar times, because the nations were still being built when we were there as well. My grandparents had a winter place in the Orlando area so we had the place to stay. Again, if we went on a trip, it was to visit family.
Question 7: What has your favorite vacation been as an adult (“Adult Vacation” sounds so icky)?
Again, we don’t take many vacations now because both my husband and I are freelancers. When you’re not working, you’re not getting paid. We did take a honeymoon, though (11 years after our wedding). We went to Block Island, Rhode Island for the week and it was really lovely. I love the beach and being near the water, so it was really beautiful. Also, it’s good to get out of your own surroundings for a bit to just be present someplace else.
Being a freelancer is a bit of a chore. The good thing is that you can go on as much vacation as you want. The bad thing is that if you are not working, you are not getting paid. My wife is a self-employed consultant of sorts, and when you are self-employed, you are always working. When you are not working, you are thinking about work that is not getting done, and when you are working you are also trying to chase the next job, because not much is as important as the next job. It is a hard life.
Question 8: How many projects do you typically have going concurrently?
Because I edit and consult on people’s work, as well as write, I can have several projects going on at once. Right now, I’m editing The Resurrected from Carnouche Productions, scripting two creator owned books, outlining a third, and working on pitches for several licensed properties. I’m usually scripting two to three books a month and editing or consulting on one to two books a month, so I’m pretty busy. Staying busy keeps me out of trouble.
I thought it would be something similar to that amount of projects. I do not know anyone who does creative side freelance that is not working on at least three projects and putting together a handful of pitches simultaneously. When you work for yourself, you are always working. It honestly sounds a bit grueling. I don’t think I have the discipline to be able to work freelance. I am more than happy to have a 9 to 5 job that is relatively enjoyable.
I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my creative endeavors, and sometimes have a difficult time walking away from a project because I know that I can tweak it just a bit more and make it ever so slightly better. Often this actually leads to me overworking something and making a mess out of something that was intrinsically better the what I over-worked. It is honestly something I have been working very hard on for a pretty good amount of time. Question 9: Do you ever feel completely “done” with a project, or do you always feel you could go back into a story and make it better?
When you’re working for a company like Marvel, DC, or Dynamite, they have specific schedules for books to go out, so your ability to tweak things ad infinitum isn’t really there. However, even if I’m working on a creator owned project, I tend to give myself deadlines so I don’t needle something into a mess.
One of the reasons why publishers want to see finished comics from someone is to prove that you followed through. Done is better than good. Personally, I prefer done AND good, but it’s better to get a draft finished than to continually tweak the same two scenes in a script.
I’m lucky where once I get an assignment, I’m pretty quick to put together a solid outline. For me, a good outline makes all the difference. The outline is my skeleton. The dialogue is the clothing. In between is the muscle and skin, but it all starts with an outline for me.
Deadlines do make it necessary to move on from one project to the next.
Question 10: Fill in the blanks. I find that I am mostly _______. Others find that I am mostly ______. (feel free to ask others if you want).
I find that I am mostly grumpy. Others find that I am mostly angry.
Or it could be written this way:
I find that I am mostly Bruce Banner. Others find that I am mostly Hulk.
I find that difficult to believe since you have been nothing but absolutely pleasant in our back and forth.
Question 11: So, have you ever Hulked out to help reinforce the reputation you feel you have acquired? If so, what did you gamma up for?
I was always a bit of a roughneck, having gotten into fights in high school and college. I’ve curbed that physical side as much as I can, and I think quitting drinking 9 years ago helped a great deal. Though I don’t go to AA meetings often, I try my best to live the program and abide by the tenets.
Because I’ve seen the worst in me, I try my best to really keep it under control (being mostly Banner), but I’ve had my blood pressure rise more than a few times recently. No specifics, obviously, but let’s just say that social media can make my eyes turn green.
Social media is both the best thing and the worst thing ever. I love the amount of connection it allows for me to directly contact people I respect and how it creates a sense of community without the need of a specific geography. I truly love that. I have some, what I would consider, strong friendships that have started with social media posts. Social media is what has allowed me to get in contact with you and for us to do this interview.
That being said, it also allows for less desirable people to congregate as well. It gives people a level of anonymity akin to them being a member of an angry mob. The ability for terrible people to gang up on people is abhorrent, and should have most people’s eyes turning green. I am fairly certain that I will get a certain level of backlash for merely being willing to interview you, but if a married, middle aged, middle class, CIS white male cannot handle backlash, who really can?
Question 12: When did you know that the comic book industry was the thing for you professionally?
As a kid, I was always writing, drawing, designing, etc. I had wanted to be an architect, but thought I couldn’t hack the math. I was recruited by the US Navy the summer after my junior year in college, but was ultimately rejected for medical issues (does that make me Captain America?).
I had a nearly decades long career at a big New York ad agency as a copywriter and art director working on mostly pharmaceutical ads, so I was being “creative” in a sense, thinking outside the box which was situated in a bigger box.
Then I had a bad car accident in November of 2008, and I had a lot of time on my hands while I was healing from multiple injuries. I started writing a story that ultimately became M3. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that story, but it was just something I felt I had to write.
I didn’t think about M3 as a comic, or writing comics in general until I started working at a studio in New York while I was still healing from the car accident. I was out of work, and started working at the studio before I was fully healed because bills don’t wait. I’d wear my arm in a sling on the train to and from work, but work as a PhotoShop artist and animator during the day without it. We were working on the Astonishing X-Men motion comic “Gifted.” After that project, the studio head had comics work with DC and Marvel. That gave me the opportunity to see how comics were made from scripting to drawing to production to getting them out the door.
After I had a baseline of knowledge, I figured I could take some of the stories I had written throughout the years and adapt them for comics. The first one I did that with was M3 with the phenomenal artist, Vicente Alcázar. Then I just built on from there, working with other artists and putting together comics. Thus leads me to today.
That is truly an awesome story. I love that you did not immediately know that comic books were going to be a thing in your life, because that seems to be different from some of the other comic book writers that I have asked 20 Questions. The other writers and definitely the artists I have interviewed have wanted to be making comic books from when they were small children. Some have taken very circuitous routes to get there, but it was their intention from when they were children. I think this different point of view is helpful to create new stories for characters in comics. Comics need more voices and more points of view. If it is to survive as a medium, it need to diversify the stories it is telling.
On to something different. Question 13: Do you have any superstitions or rituals? These do not need to be cliche superstitions, like black cat crossing your path (although they could be). They also do not need to be eldritch rituals to bring forward the ancient ones. For example, when I played soccer in high school, I had a very specific “lucky” sequence and process of getting dressed and ready for a game. I considered it a “lucky” thing, but it was more like a ritual to get into the correct headspace for playing the game. Now, I am trying to build the ritual of meditation into my life to help with the jumble of thoughts that are in my head.
When I played street hockey in high school and college, I had a specific way of taping my hands up. I also had a runic medallion that I put in my net (I was a goaltender). I have no idea where that went, but it was a silly thing I did.
As far as superstitions, yes, I’m a superstitious person. I touch wood so as to not jinx something. I have no problem with black cats, and ladders are more safety than superstition. I can’t avoid 13, as both my sister and brother in law have birthdays on the 13th of months, but I’ve been known to use white sage to cleanse a space of ill intentioned spirits.
I believe in ghosts. If you’ve ever had a pet, you’d know they see things we don’t. Just this morning, Simon (my cat) was staring beyond me at something that was imperceivable to me. Whatever it was, it held his attention and he was cautious of it. I was just oblivious, but knew enough to say, “Be good or be gone.”
Several friends of mine are avid Wiccan practitioners, so I’ll have my cards read, etc. Some people think that’s just a waste, but I think there’s something to it. Science can’t explain everything in this world (scientists just discovered the use for the appendix last year, and even that’s being discussed), so I believe in there being other forces, both good and bad, at work.
I have tried meditation, and, when it works, it works, but there are sometimes where my mind just cannot be quieted. I just try and take those moments and make them productive. I’ll write down whatever it is is going through my brain, even if it doesn’t make sense, just to ease the pressure on the valve. That usually helps.
I do agree that science cannot explain everything with the current demonstrable and replicable knowledge base that we currently have. There are too many unexplained things in the universe to credibly say that “we have it all figured out.”
I would also like to be able to use “Be good or be gone” to greater effect in my daily life. There are more than a few interactions that I think could benefit from that kind of interaction. Actually, that brings up my next question. One of the best mottos or credos I have ever run into has been imparted to me by my mother-in-law. One of her tenets is “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.” and those are definitely words to live by. Question 14: Do you have any mottos/creeds to live by?
I may have to borrow your mother-in-law’s advice. Please thank her for me.
In AA there are a lot of sayings like, “Let go and let God,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Consider the Source,” that I tend to use in daily life.
One of my favorite college professors (who has since passed) once wrote in an email to me years after I graduated, “Read books. Fall in love. Dream a lot.” That’s been a motto I try to live by. My husband’s aunt, who was a take charge kinda gal, used to say, “Do what I say or get out of my way.” I tend to have that attitude when I feel projects are languishing. It’s not always conducive to teamwork, but the book’s gotta get out the door somehow.
I have enjoyed all of these mottos. The one I used to live by, prior to having kiddos, was “Funny over nice.” That one did not age well, because there needs to be more nice. Especially now, there needs to be more nice in the world.
Question 15: I can only assume as a writer that you occasionally get writer’s block, so how do you push through that writer’s block?
Everyone has their own remedy for writer’s block, and that’s to be expected. As writers have different methods of writing, they also have different methods of dealing with writer’s block. Many times I take a hot shower or go for a walk. Sometimes you focus so much on one thing that you can’t even see it anymore, you get snowblind. Doing something with a completely different objective helps. So going for a walk (trying not to get hit by any cars) or taking a hot shower (trying not to scald yourself and get soap in your eyes) helps.
I am in the process of editing a short novel with a friend of mine who is an editor, and there were many a time that writer’s block got in the way of my productivity. Going for a walk with soap in my eyes would have helped.
Question 16: Are there any questions you were expecting that I have not asked yet?
Is this a trick question?
Not intended to be. I can only imagine how many times you have been asked “What’s it like to be a woman in the comic book industry?” or other vapid meaningless questions. Even when people do not want to be asked the “typical questions,” some still expect them. Sometimes when I do these 20 Questions people get snippy around Q16 or so if I have not asked them the question that they were expecting. I just like to cover my bases.
Question 17: Who is your favorite comic book character? and what comic book character would you most want to write? If these are not the same character, why is that?
I think if I had to pick a favorite, it’d be Rogue. I’ll admit I’m jealous that Kelly Thompson gets to write her for Mr. & Mrs. X, but I’m enjoying it, so shame on me for the jealousy.
I also love Hawkgirl and was fortunate to write a story for her with Sonny Liew. DC published 8 pages, but Sonny and I are hopeful to finish the miniseries. I’m really proud of the Daredevil annual starring Misty Knight that came out this week. Marcio Takara and Marcelo Maiolo knocked the art out of the park.
Other characters I’d like to write are Moon Knight, Captain America, Winter Soldier, Beta Ray Bill, Beast, Hellboy, Bluebird, Zatanna, Nightwing, Red Sonja…
To be honest, I want to write whatever I have the opportunity to write, whether I’m familiar with the character or not. I’ll make myself familiar with the character and find something I like about them to make the writing speak to me and (hopefully) readers.
I would pay really good money for your take on Beta Ray Bill. You hear that, Marvel? Really. Good. Money.
Now is when I get nervous in these 20 Questions. It is time to turn the tables. Question 18: Are there any questions you want to ask me?
Sure…My car is having trouble starting. Do you think it’s the battery, the starter, or the alternator?
Anytime I have had starting issues with my car it has been the alternator. It has rarely, if ever, been the starter, which one would think would be the problem with a car that is having issues starting just because of the name alone. Battery is easy to triage, if the car can be jumped, it is probably the battery.
We found out it was the battery. Phew!
Question 19: What are you taking from these 20 Questions that you did not bring with you?
Is this like when you picnic on the beach, you’re supposed to take all the stuff you brought with you back home with you? You’ve asked some thoughtful questions, so I guess what my takeaway is that your aim is to have a more thought-provoking conversation rather than the typical, superficial interview. Right? Wrong?
That is the goal. While trying to cover some of the more typical stuff (what would you like to write? how did you get into comics? cake or pie? You know, the usual) I also like to get more in depth about how you are who you are. I really enjoy this format because I really feel like I get to know the person I am asking the questions more than just a more targeted interview. I do enjoy very targeted interviews, I just like the non sequiturs that this format generates.
Question 20: What's next? Be as vague or as specific, as concrete or philosophical, and as near term or long term as you would like.
What’s next, what’s next…well, my run on Xena goes until November. Twelve Devils Dancing’s trade paperback comes out on Halloween, with an incredible cover by legendary artist, Bill Sienkiewicz (New Mutants). I’m working on two creator-owned books with two terrific artists, Emily Pearson (The Wilds) and Liana Kangas (Where We Live), with Yissel Ayala (Clean Room) doing costume designs for those two books.
I’ll be at Keystone Comic Con (Table E1) in Philly September 14th through the 16th, and New York Comic Con (Table G22) in New York City October 4th through the 8th.
That’s about it for right now. : )
Thank you so much for taking time to answer 20 Questions. I have really enjoyed my time with you. It is always great after these interviews are over because now, whenever I see your name, I think, “Hey, I know her.”
Everyone should read Erica’s books (most links can be found on her website), everyone should follow her on the Twitters and the instagrams. Seriously though, everyone should seriously buy her books though. Buy her books. If you see Erica in the wild and you read this interview, remember she is more likely grumpy than how you are most likely perceiving her as angry.
That was wonderful
Erica is wonderful
Haters gonna hate
Haters are dumb in this instance
I had to fix a leaky spigot 2 nights ago
It was 2 am and the leak disturbed some ground nesting bees
It was late and I got stung 4 times
It was awful
No one like ground bees
Ground bees are dumb as well
I accidentally ordered “scallops in a garlic sauce” instead of “garlic shrimp” from my favorite hole in the wall Chinese place
Scallops are about as dumb as ground bees
The novel is getting close to Kickstarter-able
That is scary as shit
I have 12 of 20 sequential pages accounted for
and about 15 of 24 character sketches
Have a great week everyone