Savage Enterprises Publishing
Mike Aragona - Freelance Writer / Editor

In Conversation


Janet Hetherington — (December 1997) Since a number of newer Comicopians hadn't heard of Janet Hetherington prior to her providing us with a special cover to commemorate our 7th year Anniversary issue, I decided to take some time to speak with Janet about herself, her work, and her collaborations with her partner and significant-other, artist Ronn Sutton.


Mike Aragona:

Janet, I don't honestly remember when I first met you. What I do know is that it was either during PriMedia or Con*Cept, had something to do with your work with the launching of the Canadian super hero stamps, and it was Mark Shainblum who introduced us.

Janet Hetherington:

What? You don't remember? I'm crushed! (Chuckle!) Do you think it may have been Can-Con in Ottawa in 1995? Canada Post unveiled Gabriel Morrisette's "Fleur de Lys" stamp design artwork at the Aurora Awards ceremony held at Can-Con. Honestly, I don't remember exactly which convention either.

MA:

Nope, that's not it. Funny thing about conventions, eh? Anyhow, since the stamps were that brought us together, could you recap exactly what your role was in getting that wonderful tribute to Canadian super heroes out on the market?

JH:

Prior to going completely freelance as a writer, editor and artist in 1994, I worked for Canada Post Corporation for 11 years as an editor and publications co-ordinator in the Stamp Marketing (philatelic/stamp collecting) area. I was still working with Canada Post when the super hero stamps were proposed; this was shortly after the popular Heritage Minute TV commercial was produced, linking the creation of Superman to Toronto-born artist Joe Shuster (in actual fact, co-created with American Jerry Siegel).

Because Canada Post was aware of my knowledge of comics and the comic book industry, I helped with the research on the stamps when I was still employed there. (Behind the scenes, I was actually lobbying for a Cerebus stamp!) After I left, I was hired by the advertising agency working with Canada Post to help promote the stamp issue--which portrayed Superman, Nelvana, Captain Canuck, Fleur de Lys & Johnny Canuck--for October, Stamp Collecting Month. The promotion included a contest inviting Canadian boys and girls aged 16 years and under to create their own Canadian super hero and have the winning character appear in a comic book. Ronn Sutton and I also worked with designer Bernie Reilander on the design of a collectable envelope featuring the stamps, called the "Official First Day Cover", which was released in conjunction with the stamps.

MA:

Your ties with Canada Post allowed you and Ronn to be the ones to write and draw the comic book based on a contest they ran where kids submitted their ideas for a Canadian super hero. Were you involved in the selection of the winning entry? How did you and Ronn go about creating a book when you didn't know who its "star" would be? Is a follow-up comic a possibility? How did Canada Post react to the feedback on its stamps and comic?

JH:

A panel of judges from Canada Post, YTV and elsewhere made the final selection, but I was involved with narrowing down the entries from the 23,000 drawings that were mailed in. Going through all those entries was both exhausting and exhilarating. I was knocked out by the creativity of these kids! In the end, Richard Lee of Mississauga created the winning "Odonto/Gauge" character.

Because of my background in both stamp collecting and comics, and Ronn's availability to pencil and ink the project, we were "naturals" to be contracted by Canada Post's ad agency to produce the comic book. The reason why most "corporate comics" you see are so poor is because they are generally done by non-comics artists with only a few days' deadline. We knew the winning character was going to be teamed up with Canada Post's stamp collecting mascot, Perf, so we had an early jumping-on point for the story and art from there. We tried our best to work ahead, even without knowing what the winning design was going to be.

It wasn't always easy. I was able to get the script approved without too much difficulty, but Ronn had to become very pro-active to get the art on the project completed. He had prior experience with ad agencies, so he knew how they operated. Without having been asked to, he laid out the entire comic in very minute detail for approval purposes. His "roughs" were equivalent to many other people's "finished" art. Ronn anticipated how ad agencies work, and as he predicted, the project became a "big rush" as the deadline loomed. Suddenly, they needed the artwork right away. If Ronn had not completed those elaborate "roughs", he would have been starting from scratch. However, he was able to enlarge his "roughs", and in the alotted time was able to do some of his best work to date. (In fact, the final comic book, "Perf et Odonto/Perf and Gauge" has been nominated for a 1997 Aurora Award.)

The text was bilingual, so we had to allow room for both languages in the word balloons. Ronn and I also co-coloured the guides used by the computer colouring firm, Digital Chameleon of Winnipeg.

Canada Post was very pleased with the final result. The comic book was "launched" at CAPEX 96, a huge stamp collecting convention held in June 1996 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Buses of schoolchildren were brought in to visit the stamp collecting exhibits, and each child was given a comic book. From the reaction of these kids, the comic was an unqualified success! Ronn and I attended "Kids' Day" at CAPEX, and we were mobbed by autograph seekers. The comic book was also packaged as a bonus along with the super hero stamp booklet and Official First Day Cover, available from postal outlets or through the National Philatelic Centre mail order facility (1-800-565-4362). I don't believe Canada Post has any current plans for a sequel.

MA:

Let's go back to your roots if we may. I've heard tell that you were active in the fan circles and once also won best costume at San Diego one year (for Supergirl).

JH:

I've always been a fan, even as a kid, when I started reading comics. I used to write letters to the DC Comics' lettercols, and got them printed, too! After moving to Ottawa to attend Carleton University's School of Journalism, I became very involved with organizing the Maplecon science fiction and comic book conventions. I served in many areas, including Chair, for Maplecon and later headed up its organizing body, Ottawa Fandom Inc. I was "Fan Guest of Honour" for the first Primedia as well as RhinoCon II.

I used to do a lot of costuming when I was younger and thinner (Supergirl, Elektra, Batwoman, Lara [Superman's mother], Dr. Beverly Crusher, and others). At the San Diego Comic-Con, I did win the DC Comics' prize one year for my Supergirl costume, hen I teamed up with Don Hutton of Toronto, who portrayed Brainiac 5. I also won the Silver Anniversary Seatrek 1991 Grand Prize for "Princess Shahanna-Rana-Ding-Dong", a Star Trek parody character. That trophy was presented to me by Majel Barrett Roddenberry.

MA:

How did your career in comics come about? Was it something you sought after or did it just "happen"?

JH:

I sometimes feel like I'm living a "double life". I have a degree in Journalism, and I have worked as an editor for "Canadian Consumer" magazine and Canada Post. I am currently Managing Editor of "Ageing International" magazine. I also write for "Animation", :"Combo", "Canadian Stamp News" and other publications on a freelance basis. That's one side of my career.

On the other side, there's the comics and the art. While I was always on the "fringe" of the comics industry for many years, exhibiting my artwork at convention art shows across Canada and the United States, I have been making a concerted effort to advance my career as a comics creator since leaving Canada Post in 1994. Ronn and I had already begun collaborating on projects, so it was not that difficult a direction to move toward. Ronn was and is, of course, already a recognized name in the comics industry because of his work on "Vortex", "Ronn Sutton's Starbikers", "Man From U.N.C.L.E.", "Cases Of Sherlock Holmes", "Cerebus Bi-Weekly", "Oz Squad", "Sex & Death", "Draculina's Cozy Coffin", etc. I think one of the first writing jobs I got in comics was not because I was an accomplished, published writer, but because I was "Ronn Sutton's girlfriend".

MA:

Since jumping headlong into this industry, you've had various experiences both writing and drawing for different magazines. What can you tell us about your inroads?

JH:

As I mentioned, Ronn and I have collaborated on a number of projects, with me as writer and Ronn as illustrator. We worked on "Spinnerette" (which we co-created) for Millennium Comics, "Perf et Odonto/Perf & Gauge" for Canada Post, and "Fiends" for Draculina Publishing's "Mean" magazine #1. "The Trek Files", a crossover parody of the X-Files and Star Trek, has been completed but remains unpublished--although it's been a hit at shows when put on display. We've also sent out other joint proposals to various publishers.

I am currently writing and drawing the "Eternal Romance" comic book--my pet project--all by myself. As an artist, I've also been published in "True North II", "AC Comics' Bad Girl Backlash", and "Fandom Directory" 1996 & 1997, "Lacunae", etc. "Eternal omance" artwork also graces the cover of Trajan Publishing's 1997 "Collector's Guide".

MA:

I finally opened my eyes and noticed your "Jannie Weezie" ashcans last year which were really entertaining. How did this comic strip come about?

JH:

"Jannie Weezie" is a daily newspaper strip that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen for a very short period in 1994. It's about a writer and artist who create a comic strip, and it has, in my humble opinion, some pretty memorable characters--Jannie (the writer), Treat Visual (the artist), Bonk (the cat), Jane Strange (the comics heroine), the 3 Dancing Mammoths, Moose-man & Cow, the Disembodied Brain, the Sooper Swifty courier guy, etc.

The story ideas for "Jannie Weezie" intentionally play off of the existing relationship of Ronn and myself, as well as the development of a "strip within a strip"--Jane Strange, Time Twister--that the comics couple actually create before the eyes of the reader. The strip was "born" when I approached Ronn with an idea to collaborate on a comic strip to enter into a "create-a-comic-strip contest" being sponsored by The Toronto Star. The Toronto Star contest only required three samples of the proposed comic strip, so that was all we prepared, initially. I wrote the three strips in typical "full script" format, and Ronn took it from there with the art--pencilling, lettering and inking it all himself.

The "Jannie Weezie" artwork was created in an oversized format as is most comics material, and we photocopied the three strips down to newspaper size for submission into the contest. The Toronto Star chose another comic strip to win its competition, but after showing the strip to family and friends in the comics industry and getting extremely positive response, we decided "Jannie Weezie" was worth further development and marketing. Comics writer/publisher Dave [Atomic Overdrive, Wordsmith] Darrigo suggested that the weekly comics newspaper, the "Comics Buyer's Guide", might be interested. I wrote more strips, and Ronn drew more strips, until we had enough to submit to the CBG. However, the strip was not picked up by that publication.

Then in the fall of 1993, The Ottawa Citizen ran a readers' survey of its comics pages. I took the opportunity to submit our comic strip, and apparently Citizen readers wanted to see more Canadian content, so we were contacted by the paper. This happened on December 17, 1993--on Ronn's birthday ! We met with the Citizen just before Christmas and again in the spring, and after several discussions, "Jannie Weezie" saw its first publication on May 2, 1994.

MA:

How long was it printed in the Ottawa Citizen?

JH:

Sadly, it was cancelled just the next month. If you blinked, you missed it! After the strip was cancelled, we did pursue North American syndication--to no avail--and eventually collected "Jannie Weezie" into the ashcan booklets you refer to.

MA:

Are more strips or ashcans forthcoming?

JH:

While Ronn and I have busied ourselves with other projects, we have done some new "Jannie Weezie" comics, for our Christmas card mailings and other special projects. In October 1995, Jannie and Treat were featured in a full-page comic strip published in "Canadian Stamp News", where they debated the origins of five super heroes featured on the Canada Post stamps.

Right now, we've been having existing strips reprinted or exhbitied in museum shows. Original artwork for "Jannie Weezie" was included in an exhibition of Canadian comic strip art, which took place at the Brant County Museum in Brantford, Ontario in the ummer of 1994. (That show was mounted in honour of Canadian cartoonist Walter Ball, who created the comic strip "Rural Route".) "Jannie Weezie" was also featured as part of the Exploring Science Fiction and Fantasy exhibit at the Nepean Museum in the summer of 1997.

Coconut Comics purchased the rights to reprint several "Jannie Weezie" strips on their editorial pages, but I do not believe they have seen print yet. In addition, the "Fandom Directory" reprinted about 20 early "Jannie Weezie" strips in its March 1997 edition. Most recently, we sent "Jannie Weezie" samples to a comic strip syndicate in the UK, so we'll see if the strip may find an audience overseas.

MA:

Last year, two items of note came about in your life. You were voted to the panel of judges for the Eisner Awards, and you began self-publishing "Eternal Romance". What can you reveal about your involvement with the Eisners?

JH:

Technically, I was not "voted" onto the panel of judges. I was asked to participate--and of course I said "yes"! In the fall of 1996, Eisner Awards Administrator Jackie Estrada contacted me by telephone, asking me if I was interested in being a judge. Actually, her first question to me was, "Do you read a lot of comics?" She was looking for people with a wide range of interests and expertise and knowledge of the industry, but most importantly, people who read a variety of comics and who are familiar with the material being considered for nomination. Jackie approached me because I am a Journalist, a cartoonist and a fan, so she knew I would be bringing those qualifications to the table as a judge.

The other judges for the 1997 Awards were Tony Isabella, Jesse McCann, Paul Grant and Joe Field. We all got together in April for a long, intensive work-weekend in San Diego to go over the material submitted by the various comic book publishers. We also added publications or products to the list that we thought should be included for consideration. All of the judges seemed completely in tune with the goals of the judging--nominating those works and creators truly deserving of an Eisner Award. In the end, a wide range of great material--super hero, alternative, independent comics and more--was represented on the 1997 ballot. The final Eisner Award winners were voted upon by comics professionals and retailers.

Being a Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards judge was both an honour and an eye-opening experience--and I am not referring solely to the many hours spent reading the incredible number of comic books and graphic novels submitted for nomination. I was pleased to discover that more authors than ever are choosing the comics medium to express themselves and create works of enduring quality.

MA:

How challenging did you expect "Eternal Romance" to be and how challenging did it end up being? What prompted you to start self-publishing a romance comic?

JH:

I knew launching a self-published comic book at this point in time, with the industry in a downswing, was going to be tough. But, as it had been pointed out at several comics shows I attended, there is never really any good time to bring out a comic book. You can never predict how a title will do.

I decided to self-publish "Eternal Romance" because I really, really wanted to do romance comics, and there aren't any on the market like there used to be. I couldn't approach DC or Marvel, for example, and seek work on existing titles. So, I pulled up my ootstraps and took the plunge. I added the supernatural aspect--vampires, witches, mummies, phantoms, etc.--because of my own affection for that genre and to make the book appealing to male as well as female readers.

There's a lot more work beyond getting all the story and art done (and that in itself is a challenge), because a self-publisher has to deal with the printer, distributors, shipping, advertising and marketing--the whole business end. But from the responses I've been getting from readers and the trade press, I think I made the right decision to bring out "Eternal Romance".

I've been very fortunate in the positive support I've been getting for "Eternal Romance". I'm carried by Diamond, SyCo and Cold Cut distributors. I've been reviewed/interviewed on TV's Anti-Gravity Room, Comx-TV, CBC radio, PBS public radio, the Ottawa itizen, Combo magazine, The Comics Buyer's Guide (Tony's Tips), Overstreet's Fan, Sphere Gothic e-zine, The Comics Reviewer, and many small press 'zines--not to mention now, Comicopia! I've also just recently been interviewed by the new Space: The Imagination Station, which will be hitting the airwaves in October. And of course, I'm really delighted when readers write or e-mail saying they enjoyed the book or that it made them laugh.

MA:

What advice would you have for someone thinking of going into self-publishing?

JH:

A lot of people who want to self-publish are young artists/authors who have studied either art or writing in school--courses I heartily recommend. However, would-be self-publishers should also take business courses, and act in a professional manner at all times. You will be entering into a business venture, not just a lark to show off your talents. You need to know how to plan, budget, market, as well as how to work with printers, distributors, retailers, the media and all other areas associated with the comics industry.

Think hard and long about the reasons you want to self-publish. A lot of young hot-shots want to become the next Todd McFarlane--in the same way that they would want to become rock stars--because they think comics are "cool" and you can make a lot of money overnight. Believe me, it doesn't happen that way. Do research; read all the trade publications ("Indy", "Comics Buyer's Guide", "Comics Retailer", "Comics Journal", "Combo", "Previews", etc.) and check out info on the World Wide Web. Attend conventions with seminars on self-publishing. Get a feel for the current sales climate. Be prepared to spend money up front. Be prepared not to make money right away; in fact, if possible, don't give up your "day job".

A really good piece of advice is one that writer/publisher Mark Shainblum gave to me--try to get several issues of your book "in the can", ready to go to print, before you release the first issue. It's very easy to fall behind on a production schedule, so the farther ahead you are, the better. You'll be surprised how caught up you get on correspondence and the like, all taking away from the actual work of "creating comics". I understand Dave (Cerebus) Sim will be bringing out a book on self-publishing soon, so I recommend picking that up as soon as it's available. I will!

I don't want to turn off anyone out there with a "vision"--after all, that's why I decided to self-publish --so, if after facing all the hard truths you still want to self-publish and you have the funds to support the project, then go for it with all you've got and produce he best work you can.

MA:

What else is keeping you busy these days? What do we have to look forward from you and Ronn in the future?

JH:

Ronn recently provided pencils for Brainstorm Comics' "Vamperotica" and "La Femme Vamprique" comic books, and is currently pencilling stories for "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" from Claypool Comics. (I'd like to mention that Ronn's "Elvira" work is being inked by Louis Lachance of Montreal, whom we met at Con*Cept this year.) Ronn has pencilled and inked a new "Draculina" strip for "Draculina" magazine. His work is also being published this year in all four editions of Canada's speculative fiction magazine, "On Spec".

I'm busy with "Eternal Romance" and my mainstream job on "Ageing International", but I've been approached by the publisher of the "Two-Fisted Science" comic book to illustrate a story about a female scientist for an upcoming edition. The newest issue of "Eternal Romance" (#3, slated for December release) is being offered in the October "Previews" and September/October "SCANS" catalogues under "Best Destiny", so ask your favourite comic shop to order today! [End plug!]

Ronn and I both contributed (individually) to the "No Justice, No Piece!" comic book coming out this October 1997 from Head Press to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. We've also been approached to collaborate on more "Spinnerette" stories.

MA:

Do you have any "dream-job" you'd like to have in the industry?

JH:

Sure, I have lots of "dream jobs"! First, I'd like to see "Eternal Romance" be carried by more comics shops and to pay for itself. I'd like to be assigned more corporate comic book jobs like "Perf & Gauge" because the payment is far superior to regular comics jobs. I'd love DC or Marvel or Dark Horse or another established publisher phone me up and ask me to do romance comics for them. I'd also love to write and/or draw a "Lois Lane", "Wonder Woman", "Supergirl" and/or "Batgirl" story. Plus, I've actually written a "Captain Canuck" story that I'd enjoy seeing in print someday.

MA:

We've been on a number of panels together at conventions. What are your thoughts on conventions in general and your participation in particular? Do you think of them as a place to meet fans and peers, or as a means of informing the public about just how much Canadian talent really exists in the business?

JH:

I love conventions. I'm a self-avowed "convention junkie". In the past, I would write to conventions like San Diego Comic-Con and Worldcon and offered to be on panels, often as a moderator--this was when I was still in "fan mode"--and guess what? They not only said yes, they put me on panels with such professionals as David Brin, Brent Anderson and the like. Conventions are a wonderful place to meet people and make connections. Hey, I met Ronn at a convention, too (Maplecon)!

This year, I've been attending an enormous number of conventions to promote "Eternal Romance". I've been seeing it from behind the table on the pro side and it's a lot of work, but so far, it's still fun. As well, Ronn and I had a fabulous time as Art Guests of honour this year at Con*Cept 97, so I'd like to say "thank you" publicly to the convention organizers. Ronn's and my next big convention is Primedia 97, October 31-November 2, in Markham-Toronto, where we'll learn whether or not we won an Aurora Award for "Perf et Odonto". (Ronn has also been nominated for an additional award for Artistic Achievement.)

I am 100% behind supporting Canada's creators. I'm always secretly delighted when an American fan is shocked to learn that his or her favourite comics artist/author is actually Canadian. On a slightly different note, I do find it a bit disconcerting that I'm ften the only female comics professional on the guest roster--for example, I was the only woman on the Canadian National Comic Book Expo 97 guest list. As a member of Friends of Lulu, an organization dedicated to supporting women in the comics industry, I'm hoping to see that change in future.

MA:

Janet, as always, thank you for your time. It's always a pleasure chatting with you!

JH:

Likewise! Cheers!
Janet L. Hetherington can be contacted at EternalRom at aol dot com or visit her web site at http://members.aol.com/eternalrom


(In Conversation (c) Mike Aragona. All rights reserved. No reproduction or retransmission of this article is granted without written permission of Mike Aragona)

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