Rapid City Interview Series: George O'Connor

I met fellow Bostonian comic writer George O'Connor at his booth at the Boston Comic Con where he was selling his book Healed. We quickly determined that we had already "met" online at the comicsexperience web site. I was impressed with the quality of his work and asked him to talk a bit more about himself and his work. Who are you?

Such a deep question so soon? My name’s George O’Connor and I’m a writer, producer, musician and copywriter from Boston.

What do you write?

Currently I write the comic book “Healed” which is illustrated by my friend and creative partner Griffin, and distributed by our indy press, Homeless Comics. I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of two anthologies put out by Elevator Pitch Press: Tales from the Comics Experience and Great Zombies in History.

In the past, I’ve spent 10 years writing, directing and producing short films and created the webseries “664-The Neighbor of the Beast”.

By day, I’m a mild-mannered copywriter for a Boston advertising agency.

Why do you write?

The simple answer; because it’s fun! The long answer; because I love the creative process and seeing ideas come to life. Getting into a room and working on a song with musicians, or on a set with actors, or working with an artist and seeing the germs of an idea grow and seeing it grow really gets me excited.

The other reason is that in this day and age, it’s so easy to get your ideas out there for people to find. From your basement, you can put your music or podcast up on iTunes, webseries on YouTube or your comic on Graphic.ly or Indy Planet and you can reach fans. I truly believe there is no better time for creators to get their ideas and art out into the world.

How do you write?

I’m a stew-er. I roll ideas around in my head all day, writing and working out scenes, lines and beats. Eventually, a little light goes on that says “It’s time to write.” Then I’ll head down to the basement, throw on some metal (Metallica’s “… And Justice For All” or Testament’s “The Ritual” are two go-to albums. I try to write the first draft as fast as possible, not dwelling on it too much, embracing the idea that the goal for the first draft is to be completed and that’s it. Once it’s written, I like to walk away from it, for a few hours or a day. In that downtime, I usually think of new lines or beats to work into the second round. After the 2nd version, I usually flip it to my wife to make sure the ideas I wanted to get on the page actually got there and make sense outside of my head. She’s also fantastic on grammar and punctuation. At that point, I feel comfortable with throwing it out to the world.

Healed is a great comic. It seems like a counterpoint to our culture’s current fascination with zombies. It could be sub-titled “Night of the Living Living”. Do zombie stories and Healed deal with similar social, cultutral, and psychological issues? Are they opposites or compliments?

Yeah, in a way it’s kind of like the anti-zombie book where instead of everyone dying, everyone lives but there’s still chaos all over the place. They’re both similar in that there’s a big event and everyone has to figure out how to survive in this new situation. One major difference is there’s no obvious enemy in HEALED’s world, so when it turns bad, it’s human against human. But they still both boil down to the same thing: survival.

Is this a personal story for you? Has your life been affected by terminal illnesses?

I count myself pretty lucky in that I haven’t been affected that much. But I’ve been surprised at how these stories have connected with people who have had to deal with these illnesses. If anything, it might be a testament that good stories don’t need to be complicated, they need to be honest.

If so, is this story in some way wish-fulfillment?

Without digging real deep into my head, I don’t think so. It was an idea that seemed really interesting and as Griffin and I talked about, it seemed like it had tons of possibilities. That being said, if I could live forever with reasonably good health, yeah I think I’d sign up for that.

You feature several stories showing many aspects of this new disease-free world. Surely these few issues

worth of stories do not represent every single story that occurred to you for this setting. How did you choose which stories to include? What do the ones that made the cut have in common? As the series has gone on, we put more thought into the combination of stories. That helped put some structure to the books and the stories that we picked. Griffin and I sat down one evening to plot out the issues and that turned into a great “what if” conversation and that also helped us decide which stories we were really eager to tell and see come to life.

In your writing, what mistakes do you find yourself making again and again?

Great question. Technically, I’m terrible at spelling and grammar which is why I’m so thankful to have my wife editing the book because she has a great eye for that. I also worry that I’m way too verbose. It’s actually one of the reasons I enjoy lettering the book. It gives me one more chance to edit and sometimes it forces me to say knock a two bubble panel down to one without losing the purpose of the dialogue. Ya know, when I decided to get into comics, I took Comic Experience’s writing class online and it was absolutely worth it and would highly recommend those courses for anyone thinking about getting into comics.

What are you particularly good at?

One of the compliments I’ve received that I’m proud of is that my dialogue sounds like actual dialogue. Other than that, I think I’m good at driving projects across the finish line.

Making music and writing comics seem to be polar opposites. Writing a script is a solitary, heavily structured, activity which usually only goes through a collaborative stage when it passes through the vision of the artist. Music, on the other hand, is instant and very public. Regardless of much effort and attention to detail goes into the creation of the song, it still goes from the creator to the audience at the speed of sound. How are the creative processes similar and how do the influence each other?

At least the way my projects have worked, they feel similar. There are some songs and stories that come out fully baked and there are others that need someone else’s talent and input to reach its full potential. And I count myself very lucky that over the years to have talented friends willing to get involved in these goofy lil adventures of mine. And as I’ve grown older (read: more mature) I’ve embraced a way of working that leaves plenty of room for my collaborators to leave their mark. I don’t care who comes up with the good idea, so long as there’s a good idea. I also think, thanks to the technology, comics and music can get out to the world pretty quick.

What are you working on next, and where will you be appearing?

Griffin and I will be taking HEALED and our other work to Baltimore Comic Con, ComicCONN in Stamford, CT in August and then the Small Press Expo and Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo in September. Over the winter, we’ll get HEALED #5 ready for a spring debut. I’m also hoping we can find a publisher who’d be interested in putting out a HEALED trade. After that, I’d like to get a couple pitches together and throw ‘em against the wall and see if anything sticks.

Thanks a lot, George. I'll see you at M.I.C.E.