Colleen Doran Interview

You may know the work of Colleen Doran from her creator-owned title, A Distant Soil, her art on DC’s Valor, or DC/Vertigo’s Sandman, among other places. This month, A Distant Soil celebrates its 25th issue. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor, Roger A. Ash, recently spoke with Colleen about this landmark issue.

Westfield: For those who've never read A Distant Soil before, how would you describe the book?

Colleen Doran: It's about a young girl, she's about 15 years old - only she's 15 in more real life terms than in comic book terms. So if people are looking a nubile, big busted creature, they're not going to find it [laughter]. She's born the heir to an alien religious dynasty and this world has room for only one person with her power and they send an envoy to Earth to assassinate her. A group of resistance fighters against the government come to Earth to recruit some people to help stage a coup against this alien government and save the little girl.

Westfield: A Distant Soil is a complex story with many influences from science fiction and fantasy. What are some of the different elements you've tried to bring into the story?

Doran: It's from all over the place. There are some elements of King Arthur in there. There's a little bit of everything in there. I was sort of a magpie when I was a kid, picking up a little bit of everything. Oddly enough, there's a little bit of Jack Kirby in there. The Eternals, his early stuff from Marvel was an influence. You'd have to know the material really well to see it, but if you've read it thoroughly and you're very familiar with some of these other sources, you could pick it up. But most people frankly don't.

Westfield: What can people look forward to seeing in upcoming issues of A Distant Soil?

Doran: Everybody dies. [laughter] No. It gets pretty hairy. There's actually a lot of fighting that goes on in future issues as the story begins to reach its climax fairly soon. There's been a lot building up to this point. A lot of moving behind the scenes; a lot of subterfuge and so on. Finally, people have to make their moves and do the deed. It gets kind of violent and it's not very happy.

Westfield: The description for #25 really sounds like things are coming to a head. Do you have plans for A Distant Soil past this story arc?

Doran: Yeah, it does continue. The story does have an ultimate conclusion, issue #25 does not conclude the storyline, obviously. The story does go on, but it is a finite ending. I've actually been cutting a lot of stuff, being my own editor, going, "Is this really necessary? Is this just dragging it out? Am I just doing this because I like it or is it really important?" And a lot of stuff is actually getting changed as I get towards the ending because I think it makes a better story.

Westfield: One of the special things about A Distant Soil #25 is the Neil Gaiman story. How did this collaboration come about?

Doran: This, actually, was something that we had discussed 5 or 6 years ago. I was going to be self publishing a second book called Aria. Aria is the name of my company and it also is a musical term which means solo with accompaniment. The idea behind Aria was that the stories would be by other authors, and a few stories by me, but they would all have my illustrations. Some of them would be prose and some of them would be comic book illustrations. We all know what the market is like and by now I know how difficult self publishing is. It's very difficult to self publish one book; I can imagine how difficult it is to self publish two. So I said, "What am I going to do with all these stories?" I've got all this extra page count in A Distant Soil and instead of letting people watch me blab in the letters column, what if I run the stories in the back of the book or expand the page count a little bit and run the stories? It's a lot cheaper than buying two books; it's a lot cheaper than printing two books. Why don't I try that? And everyone went, "Great idea!" And I said "Super!"

Neil had given me a story called Troll Bridge and I've been sitting on this thing for half a decade and now I'm finally going to do it. I decided that I really wanted to work with authors. That is, not people who are necessarily big names in the comic book industry, but people who are known for their abilities with prose. People that I really like. I've mostly chosen people from the science fiction and fantasy field, and I was really surprised how enthusiastic they were about it.

Westfield: Who are some of the other people we can look forward to seeing stories from?

Doran: You can look forward to two of my favorite authors, their names are Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. Delia is an editor at Tor. Ellen has a radio show on public radio. They are both two of the finest fantasy authors in the business. You'll often find their work in the Years Best Fantasy & Horror anthologies. Ellen also wrote Sword's Point and Thomas the Rhymer. Delia wrote a book that I absolutely rave about called The Porcelain Dove. They're very, very fine short story authors, excellent fantasists.

Also there's an author named Jan Strnad. I think everyone in comics is familiar with him. He wrote Dalgoda, he's currently doing a story arc in Gen13 Bootleg, he's done a lot of work for television, and he's also a prose author. He's an author I admire a lot. He really knows what he's doing. He's going to be writing an original story for me. And there's Somtow Sucharitkul who's probably one of the most interesting people in the business. He's not only one of the most respected writers in the fantasy and science fiction field, but he's also a composer, a member of the Royal Court of Thailand, and he recently created a ballet which was performed by the Bolshoi. This guy's all over the place. On the cool-o-meter, on a scale of 1 to 10, he's probably a 12. He's just an amazing guy with enormous talent in so many fields and he'll be writing something for me as well. He's very well known for his Vampire Junction novels which are classics of fantasy. They're very creepy. And a few other people. With that cast, I'm very excited.

Westfield: You've been with Image for a while now after self publishing. What have you found most advantageous about your relationship with Image?

Doran: I get paid on time. I know that sounds funny, but when you're self publishing, and when you're one of the smaller accounts, which you're going to be even if your book is doing well, you're self publishing and your account is going to be smaller than a company with ten books. You're low man on the totem pole and you had constant trouble getting paid; it was murder. We couldn't budget because we never knew when we were going to get paid. We could take six months to get paid on a book sometimes. You can't run a company like that. Now, I get paid when they say I'm going to get paid and that makes a big difference. It really has changed things so much. I can't say that it's done enormous things for my sales because nothing is selling in the comic book market today, but it has helped the book's visibility. I think it's a better looking book. Certainly they do a better job at designing and whatnot than I ever did. And I have the same amount of control over the project as I always had, only I have the advantage of having somebody else do most of the dirty work with the distributor even though I essentially still do everything else.

It is self publishing only it's a co-op. I don't think a lot of people realize that it's essentially a co-op arrangement where Image acts as a fulfillment house and we pay Image for a service and then we are obligated to fulfill a few terms on our agreement, which is not to be grossly late or that sort of thing. Other than that, it's a very simple, clean business deal.

Westfield: Do you have any other comments about A Distant Soil?

Doran: A couple of the things that I think are good about the story are that you can get all the back material in trade paperbacks that are very economical. The first trade paperback is already out and it's 240 pages and only $18.95, and the second one will be out in June, so by the time people pick up issue #25, they will also be able to pick up everything that come before issue #25. In fact, if you pick up issue #25 and you've never picked up the book before, there's a plot synopsis in the book. The material that's in this issue is a really good jumping on point.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

Doran: Wonder Woman: The Once and Future Story, which is coming out from DC Comics, I think in the autumn. It's a graphic novel I'm pencilling. It is about Wonder Woman and Julia Kapatelis going to Ireland where Julia finds evidence of an ancient Greek burial site, which is highly unusual. It ties in to what may be the story of Wonder Woman's past and they have to figure out what's going on. So I get to do all my favorite things: Ireland, Greece, great old costumes and lots of time related flashbacks.

And I'm working on more of the Big Books from Paradox Press. In fact, I think A Distant Soil readers would probably like to pick up the Big Book of Bad. I did the story of Sir Modred: One Bad Nephew [laughter]. I like those Big Books, they're a scream.