Rapid City Interview series: Tony Doug Wright

In this interview series I talk with writers about writing.This week, I am talking with Champion City Comics honcho and writer, and my mid-west homeboy, Tony Doug Wright.

Josh: Who are you?

Tony: I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and a friend. I am an archivist, a writer, an instructor of history, and the founder of a webcomics community. I am addicted to caffeine and sugar, I am a fan of football, I am a semi-decent golfer, I am a fan of pop culture, I am a guitar player, I am a fan of literature, I am a daydreamer, I am a silly Midwesterner, and I am a lost soul of rock and roll.

Josh: What do you write?

Tony: Since 2009, I have written nine stories for Champion City Comics and have three more that are in development. Those stories range from crime noir to war tales to humor to sci-fi to superhero tales. There are three novels I have started on, but I find it impossible to dedicate enough time to those projects. All of the stories I write have some sort of connection to my upbringing in Springfield, Ohio or to my adult life living in the Dayton, Ohio and Kalamazoo, Michigan metro areas. I prefer to set my stories in the mythological cities of New Ravenwood, Ohio and Grand Harbor, Michigan. Since I was born and raised in the Midwest, then I feel my stories should be set there as well.

Josh: Why do you write?

Tony: Because I enjoy sharing stories with people.

Josh: How do you write?

There is no structure or reason behind my writing method. Some say to map out your story and that is something that does not appeal to me as a writer. I’ve tried it before, but I ended up discarding my story “road map”. There are a bunch of stories playing out in my head and I know how they begin and end. The middle is complete improv.

Josh: It is interesting to me that you use fictional stand-ins for real cities. I do the same thing. Rapid City is a stand-in for....strangely enough....Kalamazoo, MI. Why? Why don’t we just use the real places?

Tony: Kalamazoo and Springfield are cool cities, but they do not work for certain stories. For example, a superhero tale works best in a fictional city like New Ravenwood, Ohio, which is nothing more than Gotham or Metropolis in the Midwest. New Ravenwood is like a blank canvas for me because I can develop streets, parks, districts, and other locations which fit the story. Kalamazoo and Springfield can work for stories that are dramas or comedies rather than a superhero tale. But for those tales, I create a smaller version of New Ravenwood so that I can still have that blank canvas. When you use a real city then you are somewhat required to stay true to the city and not invent new locations, etc. Readers, in my opinion, would be disappointed if I created an alternate Kalamazoo.

Josh: What is it about the midwest? The rest of the country tends to over-look this region, but we are drawn to it. Are there stories that can happen there that could not happen anywhere else? Is it the geography? The people? The history?

Tony: Write what you know is my philosophy. I’ve lived my whole life in the Midwest and my stories are based on my experiences in Ohio and Michigan. In my opinion, the Midwest is viewed as some culture-less void in the Hee Haw universe. I see it as an area rich in creativity, plus there is something fascinating and unusual about an area where the rust-belt cities and the farming communities lay side by side. The End of Paradise, a webcomic I wrote for Champion City Comics, is a great example. That story is set in New Ravenwood, Ohio, a crime ridden metropolis, and the main character must travel the country back-roads of Ohio to hunt down some criminals in hiding. Could this story be set in Maine or Arizona? Yes, but I am not familiar with Maine or Arizona. I know Ohio and Michigan, so that makes the writing process easier. I know those country back-roads and the mysteries they hold. As far as characters are concerned, I want them to be Midwesterners. Growing up in Southwest Ohio, I encountered some of the most interesting people to walk God’s green earth. That part of the state is close to Kentucky, so we have this hillbilly blue collar culture that really inspires me as a writer. It’s hard to explain. You have to experience Ohio. You have to have that period in your life where you want out of Ohio and then you have that period in your life where you long to return to Ohio.

Josh: You cover a lot of genres in your work. What stays the same through all of these stories?

Tony: For me, it is all about history. It is not easy to explain, but drive down a street and pick out a building at random. Think about that building. Who built it and who worked or lived in that building? Every person has a story. There is a history and it is usually forgotten. I am developing a story about the last days of a video game arcade at a mall and how a group of video game playing misfits decide to hold one last hurrah to see who the best player is for certain games. It is the equivalent to the last days of Rome. You know the end is coming but you do not want to open the gates and let in the barbarians.

Josh: How do you organize your scripts? Do you follow a pre-existing format, or have you created your own?

Tony: I use the basic script format.

Josh: As a writer, what are you best at?

Tony: I would have people that work with me or read my work answer that question.

Josh: I think that you were involved in the onliine comics community for a while before you began producing your own comics. What happened? What changed that made that day the day you start making comics?

Tony: It was 2000 when I started reviewing independent music for a site called Erasing Clouds () and after a few years of music reviews, I asked the editor if I could review comic books and graphic novels. He said yes, I named my column Champion City Comics, and I had the chance to review comics from the majors and from smaller companies. I was amazed when the smaller companies sent me comics for review. One company, Candle Light Press, sent me book after book for review. Those guys are amazing. Their comics are unusual in a good way. Then there were some other publishers that were not so amazing. If they could get something published then I could do the same, but better. I told my wife that I was going to write a comic book and she said it was a great idea. She does not candy coat anything, so her words of encouragement were important. I started developing story ideas during the fall of 2004, and recruited my cousin, Joe Haemmerle, as my artist. From 2005 to 2007, I worked on the script that would become The Champion City Fire. I have no idea how many times I re-wrote the script. It was during that time that I wrote reviews and conducted some interviews for Silver Bullet Comics, which is now Comics Bulletin. I soon discovered that there were countless people developing their own comics because the majors were not accepting new talent. The cost for printing my own comic was not economically feasible, so I decided to submit to any publisher that would review my work. Only one, href="http://www.topshelfcomix.com/">Top Shelf Productions, responded to my submission. Top Shelf liked what we did, but it was something that did not fit their style which I understand and respect. By the summer of 2009, I had grown tired of playing the submission wait and see game. I had to get The Champion City Fire to the masses. Other creators were publishing their work online so I decided to do the same. There were websites that told you the rules and I decided, “I’ll do it my way”. Champion City Comics was launched during the month of October 2009 with one title and twenty or thirty page views. Currently, we have ten titles and something like twenty-three people from all over the world on our webcomics creative team. We had nine thousand page views during the month of June 2011, which was fantastic.

Thanks a lot, Tony.

Be sure to check out all of the great work that Tony is tirelessly and thanklessly cranking out over at Champion City. Including, strangely, Rapid City.