Randy Zimmerman is a wandering albatross. That’s the bird with the longest wingspan in the word. Go ahead, Google it. I’ll wait. Back? Alright, now I say that he’s a wandering albatross as a metaphor for all the artist and writers and dozens of people who have told me that Randy took them under his wing, if he was any other bird he’d have run out of space by now From Chad Gibson owner of Sinister Undertone Comics to Varian Grant co-owner of Last Call Comics (full disclosure owner CEO/Owner of Indie Volt). They all claim that Randy has helped guide their path in some fashion and look to him for tutelage whenever possible.
“Randy is in a small group with about 4 other guys that I jokingly call ‘The Guardians’. These are guys who, when they tell me I’m doing something wrong or how I should expand on something, I stop, shut up and listen. Even then, one or two of THOSE guys look to Randy for advice as well” says Varian. “And I honestly can’t remember the first time I met Randy Zimmerman. I can tell you it was at a comic convention in Michigan and I was introduced by a mutual friend, but what convention it was I can’t remember. Stranger still, it feels like Randy has always been there.” Which is the same story I heard repeated over and over by a few other indie comics professionals.
I had a chance to pick Mr. Zimmerman’s brain recently about his comics work, the industry and the talent he’s impacted.
Indy Volt First, I’ve got to ask. I was told that it’s believed by many that you never forget a name, and know just about everyone.
Randy Zimmerman: Where did you get that idea? Someone really has a high opinion of my abilities. LOL! I’ve been around for years, and know a lot of folks (My wife says she can’t take me anywhere without someone recognizing me), but “names”?!? You’d have to have a pretty unique name for me to remember it right off. What was your name again? No, seriously, Varian has an easy name to remember because I was a huge fan of the character from the TV show Fantastic Journey that he was named after everyone else I have to have had enough time with to remember their name. Most folks are “Hey, How ya’ doin’? Or “Buddy” – and I don’t mean that to be rude, it’s just that names can throw me sometimes.
Comics are a big part of your life, you were deep in before it was cool, when did you know that comics was the career field for you?
I grew up in a very restrictive religion, one that I broke away from when I was 17 and left home. Comics were my refuge and safe haven at the darkest time of my life. I’ve never wanted to be involved in much of anything else. I was that geek kid in school, like you said, into comics way before they were “cool” and I knew I HAD to be a part of them somehow and have done almost every job you can possibly do in comics short of directly working for an oppressive corporation’s property. I was offered an apprenticeship at Marvel once and couldn’t take it for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it paid horribly.
I was loaned a copy of Zimm’s Heroic Tales Volume 1 from Arrow Comics for this interview, and you don’t hold anything back in the book, from rousing success to heartbreak, there are even 3 full issues of comics you’ve created that break up or inform the next chapter. I was told it should be essential reading for anyone looking to break into comics. Do you agree with that?
Absolutely not. There are only 150 copies of Zimm’s Heroic Tales out there, and I’m kind of happy it had such a limited run. Though that book does have 3 properties that IU own that I would still want to produce, the spelling and grammatical errors in those “before and after” chapters are embarrassing. I self-published that book to use as a kind of portfolio to push those three properties and try to show I had firm directions for what I wanted to do with them. It’s an obscure book and one of the few books, looking back on it, that I was grateful to Diamond for refusing to distribute.
If you want some business “required reading” that I did, I would recommend my three part Spank The Monkey On The Comic Market series. Though there are a few flaws in spelling and grammar in there, the message is still understandable, and I stand by my work and findings in there about every aspect of the industry.
So many people that I’ve spoken look to you for guidance, without saying too much was there ever been a situation where you wished an indie guy or gal would have taken your advice and didn’t?
I learned, eventually, that you can’t run people’s lives for them, and I’m pretty openly opinionated about advice, especially when someone WANTS to hear it, and sometimes even when they don’t (sorry if that’s ever happened to you), so, yeah, there have been times. You stay in any business long enough you see all sorts of “lessons” and burn all sorts of bridges. Probably the person who I’ve gotten most angry with for not following my advice is myself. LOL!
I got a chance to see your art on an episode of Tree House Masters; tell us how that came about.
I got the opportunity to create a team of superheroes to teach folks about conservation and preservation from The For-Mar Nature Preserve in the Genesee County Parks and Rec system. They contacted me with their ideas, or character directions, and I worked them up from there. They are now displaying the third “Superhero Trail” in the park based on these characters. It just goes to show you the sheer power that sequential art 9comics) can have with a little applied direction.
The Genesee Parks and Rec were looking for additional ways to promote their parks system and were suggested to call the Treehouse Masters folks to come out and create a treehouse at For-Mar. As an interesting angle, they pitched the idea to them to make the treehouse a “Superhero HQ:” for their informative Superhero team (The Preservers), and they took right to it. I was honored to see them use my work all through the episode, even getting heads sculptured of all the heroes to hang inside the treehouse. That’s why, when they have their “Big Reveal” on the show, Nicole, the park director” says “Randy’s gonna lose it!” When she saw those heads. That, and a 2 second shot of me are all you have of me personally on the episode, BUT the work (much more important and central to the show) is front and center, and that’s what really counts.
For-Mar has had such a huge leap in attendance from the Superhero Trail and the Treehouse that there looks to be no end in sight for The Preservers. They like the sign work I do for them so much that they’ve taken the artwork from each year’s worth of signs and put them into comics to give away to folks as well. I do most all the fill-in and paste-up work for those books as well (available for free from For-Mar – Issue 1 has already gone back for a second printing).
You’ve got a monthly paper with a large readership, Flint Comix that you curate and produce every month, how has the response from the Indie Comics community been with supporting the paper?
I created the monthly Flint Comix and Entertainment paper out of my frustration with the comic direct market and their monopolistic distribution system. It is the comic I always wanted to read as a kid, and eclectic mix of as much quality material that I can scrape together; comics in all it’s forms and some entertaining articles and columns, all “family friendly” for folks to pick up for free once a month (we’re advertiser and sponsor supported so we can be free), and I put as much time and comics on mine in there as I can from month to month. We move through a 10,000 print run each month, and anything readable that’s left over (lately that’s been 100-500 copies depending on the time of year), gets taken to comic shows and handed out for others to read.
The comic industry press had ignored my efforts to date. It’s like they don’t want anyone to know about the paper at all. I have proven that most folks of ALL demographics LOVE to read comics, the problem now is getting the comic industry, and more local advertisers to see it. It can be challenging at times, but doing the paper has really reinstalled the LOVE of comics back in me, so I don’t mind it being a kind of “labor of love”. I make this paperwork, and I’m in economically strapped Flint, imagine doing this kind of paper in a more business-friendly economy… 🙂
I imagine it’s much like putting together a monthly comic book title, is it about the same or more difficult?
It’s a lot easier, especially when everything’s “in house” and there ae no last minute glitches (Like cover artists deciding not to do the cover they promised on time). It’s almost like a game of Tetris with each page being a line and 20 – 24 lines need to be filled for every issue. A full monthly issue of comics is much harder to do.
You’ve also settled into the role of convention promoter quite nicely, you run the Flint Comix comic con twice a year at the Flint Farmers market. It’s a smaller scale show, but your attendance for the show steadily grows year by year, what advice would you give promoters across the country in regards to running a comic con?
I started the Downtown Flint ComiXcon to have a fun party and celebrate another year of Flint Comix completed. Now it has become so successful that it has become a revenue bump for the paper, and it helps tremendously to keep it going. I’m starting an annual fall show, which I’m calling our Fall Fest, in the hopes that the revenue I raise there will go to keep Flint Comix going through the “tougher-to-find-advertisers” winter months. This September 2nd will be our first regular Fall Fest and it’ll be just like our ComiXcons in every way except the time of year it’s held. Hopefully, with shows in both April and September, we can keep the paper running through our slim advertising months.
My advice for new convention founders is what I would tell anyone wanting to get into any part of the comics biz, “Do your research and start SLOW!” The more you are prepared the easier the job will be to do with any level of success.
What’s the next Randy Zimmerman creation in the pipeline?
More monthly editions of the paper, with as much comics work from me that I can possibly fit into it. That and commercial work (like The Preservers) takes up the majority of my working time. I have a number of wish list projects I want to do when I can find the time to do them. Plus, we’re hoping to get Flint Comix online here in the next few months, so “friend and follow” our Flint Comix Facebook page for more info on that as it becomes available.
If our readers want to order back issues of Flint Comix or other Zimmerman productions where can they do so?
The best way to get back issues of Flint Comix is to contact me directly, or better still, catch me at a local Michigan Comic Convention. I always carry a couple of back-issue boxes with me at the shows that I charge a small per issue fee for, or I usually have the last 6 – 12 issues of the paper that we give away for free at the shows “while they last”. I also have a few products/collections I sell at shows that I’ve done over the years. Most recently I collected a set of Hero Bot Zero stories in color into one BIG book, and my War Of The Worlds graphic novel that I wrote (with artwork by Horus) for Caliber Press has been reprinted and offered for sale through diamond. I’m pretty sure you can still back order that from your local comics retailer.
Plus, I’ve been offered space here on Indy Volt for an opinion column, so I will likely start that up as soon as I can cut the time. This old opinionated “Albatross” has PLENTY to talk about believe me!! See you SOON!!
Feel free to reach out to Randy Zimmerman at