Roger’s Comics Ramblings: A thought on interviews

Modern Masters: Mike Ploog

Modern Masters: Mike Ploog

by Roger Ash

In a previous column, I stated that one of the most important things an interviewer needed to do was their research prior to conducting an interview. I also mentioned that I’d talk more about conducting interviews in an upcoming column. This is one of those columns. There are many nuts and bolts kind of things to consider, such as word count and staying on topic, but right now I want to take a look at creating a rapport with the person you’re interviewing.

This is something I don’t recall reading about before, and that may well be because it is so hard to quantify, yet I think it’s something that’s very important to do. By creating a rapport with the person you’re interviewing I don’t mean that you need to become great pals with them – I simply mean you should create an environment that is comfortable and safe for the person you’re interviewing. The majority of interviews I’ve conducted over the years have run between 10 minutes to an hour. The exception to this would be the interviews I conducted for the Modern Masters books I worked on which ran between 5 and 7 hours. Building a rapport over a longer interview is easier than in a shorter interview as you simply have more time to become comfortable with each other in a longer interview, but there are general rules I try to follow in any interview regardless of length.

The first rule I learned as a kid. It’s called the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Remember that the person you’re interviewing is taking time away from their work, family, or leisure time to talk with you or respond to your email. If you are polite and treat them with respect, that’s usually how they’ll respond to you. If you go into the interview process with an axe to grind, you will not get far.

Be professional. You don’t need to be overly formal, I’m certainly not and even when I contact someone for the first time I lean towards being informal as that’s simply the way I relate to people. But you’re conducting an interview, not soliciting a sketch from them or telling them the fantastic idea you have for a story. While saying you enjoy their work is OK, gushing on about it for 10 minutes isn’t. I’ve interviewed friends in the past and during the interview, I’ve tried to behave the same way I would if I was interviewing someone I was talking to for the first time. The difference being that I might be able to ask more insightful questions of my friend since I know them better.

Since there are different ways of conducting an interview – phone, email, fax, in person – try as best as you can to do the interview in the way the person you’re interviewing prefers to proceed. Sometimes this may not be possible due to deadlines, vacations, and such, but you’ll get a better interview if work with the creator.

Modern Masters: Walter Simonson

Modern Masters: Walter Simonson

The contact information you get for the creator is private. You should NEVER share this information without getting permission from the creator first.

Creating a good atmosphere doesn’t mean that you can’t ask tough questions, but you need to consider how best to phrase them. “How could you write a piece of crap like the Marvelous Moose-Man #38?” immediately puts the creator on the defensive and, well, it’s just plain rude. Your answer is likely to be brief if you get one at all. A question such as “You received a lot of grief online about Marvelous Moose-Man #38. How do you respond to the criticism?” addresses the same issue, but does it in a much less confrontational manner and will lead to a much better discussion.

These rules all really boil down to being polite. It’s that simple. I’ve had wonderful, memorable conversations with people over the years following these rules. I’ve also put my foot in my mouth a few times, but that will happen on occasion in spite of the best of intentions. But I have never set out to antagonize anyone I’ve interviewed. I like to think the fact that I’m still doing interviews 15 years after I did my first one means that I’ve succeeded more often than I’ve failed.

Now, go read a comic!

If you’d like to read one (or both!) of my long interviews, pick up these books.

Modern Masters Vol. 8: Walter Simonson

Modern Masters Vol. 19: Mike Ploog

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