[With reality TV and reality contests everywhere, people have been wondering when someone would start a reality TV show about the comics industry. That hasn’t happened yet — maybe because sitting at a drawing board all day doesn’t make for all that exciting a visual. However at least one comics creator is currently starring in a reality show: Jesse Blaze Snider, the 27-year-old son of Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider is on A&E’s Growing Up Twisted, which airs tonight at 10/9c. Although Snider has had much previous TV exposure, he considers writing comics the career he wants to follow. We were interested in finding out how someone with experience in so many fields balances all these different outlets. Currently the author of BOOM!’s Toy Story: Tales from the Toy Chest, Snider chatted to The Beat about his writing, being a reality star and his very colorful family.]
BEAT: Jesse, in reading up a bit about you, I see you have done everything there is to do from having a band to acting to voice acting to writing to playing football. It is tiring just to read about! But you have also said that writing comics is what you really want to do. Sitting in front of a computer typing seems like the least exciting activity on your resume…so what gives?
Jesse Blaze Snider: I love it. I really don’t know how to answer that any better, but I love writing and I love comic books. I love entertaining people. Telling a good story. I really have a drive to give back to other people what my favorite writers and stories and movies and shows have given to me. I get such a thrill from finishing something good and then seeing it come to life.
You know, when my elementary school teacher told me I could be anything when I grew up, I believed her. I still believe her, but there is one thing I can never really be…a super hero, with super powers, fighting the good fight and righting wrongs and…you know, I get to live all of my dreams that are actually possible on a daily basis, but inside the pages of my comic books I get to do the impossible everyday and I get a vicarious thrill out of that.
That was a good question. It kind of puts the whole thing in perspective really. I guess I must really love writing comics, because all that other stuff is a hell of a lot easier.
BEAT: How did you get started wanting to write comics? Were you always a comics reader?
JBS: My dad turned me on to comics when I was like 10, but I never really read them, I just sort of looked at the pictures and occasionally read the dialogue of the characters who I thought were funny, like the Thing and Spider-Man. It was during the really stupid period of comics in the 90’s where everything was a number one or a foil cover and Image had just exploded onto the scene. I ended up really liking Youngblood and specifically the character Bedrock, who was the only character in the book who’s dialogue I actually read. I was 10 and Bedrock was a juvenile version of the Thing.
One day, I spot Bedrock on the cover of a book called “The Savage Dragon” and the two of them are going at it. So, I pick up the book immediately and read it outside the store. Bedrock, my then favorite character, gets his ass handed to him for 22 pages and thoroughly embarrassed by the Dragon and by the time I finished reading, I had a new favorite character and my love of comic books had officially begun.
Savage Dragon was actually the only comic book I read for a bunch of years and then one day I heard about Joe Kelly’s Deadpool and I picked that up and started reading it religiously. Shortly after that Marvel launched the “Marvel Knights” line and that really grabbed me, a year later and I was reading like 20-30 monthlies, a year after that I was working in a comic shop, catching up on classic stories and reading an easy one hundred plus comic books every month.
I started writing short stories in high school and quickly realized that I wanted to write comics, which made sense, because that was the bulk of what I read. I’ve been busted my ass trying to “break in” ever since. Going on like 10 years now.
BEAT: You also played high school football. How can someone be both a nerd and a jock???
JBS: I actually still play football, semi-pro for the Brooklyn Mariners and I’m a national champion actually, my team is pretty good. I think you’d be surprised how many nerd/jocks there are. I’m surprised there aren’t even more of us. When you read comic books Superman is like average build. I’ve always wanted to be like these heroes, in shape and ready to do the right thing if the need arises. There are a lot of things that super heroes do that I can’t, but being athletic isn’t one of them. Plus, football is the closest I’m ever going to get to be the Juggernaut. I do gymnastics too, I’m no Dick Grayson, but I can do back flips and stuff, just enough to make me feel cool.
BEAT: How did you finally break in?
JBS: My break at Marvel came with a tip from my friend Chris Sotomayor that Andy Schmidt was taking 8 page submissions for a new volume of Marvel Comics Presents. Pretty much everything I’ve done since then is because of the 8-page Deadpool story that I wrote for that book. Before that, I wrote a lot of scripts, had some editors like Marc Sumerak and others take an interest in me and guide me along the way, which is such a huge help when you’re just starting out. I remember Marc gave me like 10 pages of notes on one of my scripts and it was such a big help to me.
I also hired two artists to produce a book with me that was a sample of two creator owned books that I wanted to do. One of the books was called “Wreckless” and I hired one of my favorite artist Chris Cross to draw it. Cool thing is, Chris liked it so much he said he’d do it if somebody picked it up and I actually got Image to green-light the book last year. Now, I just have to find the time to do it. I’ve got a wife, a daughter and a mortgage, so it’s a lot harder to write for free these days.
BEAT: In DEAD ROMEO, your miniseries for DC you took the assignment of writing a vampire story and kind of went nuts with a story about a rock star and eternal damnation and seven evil Hollywood vampires. Was this a topic that particularly inspired you?
JBS: Not really, but you try and make the best of every assignment. DC told me what they were looking for and I tried to give them what they wanted. The only reason I made him a rockstar was so I could give him a cool costume, because at the end of the day I’m a superhero guy. But I’d never written a romance before and I could only really draw from personal romantic experience, so it ended up being a bit more personal then I ever intended, that just sort of happened though.
It was weird, because I don’t believe in Hell and I really hate stories that actually take place in Hell, so when they asked me to write a story about a vampire who escapes from Hell, falls in love and has to defend her, my first question was, “Do I have to actually show Hell?”
It really wasn’t something that I would have ever chose to do on my own, but it was my first big assignment and I threw myself into it and really tried to make it my own. It ended up as “Best Vampire Series” on Aintitcoolnews, so I guess we did something right, but it was definitely a different thing than I ever imagined myself doing.
There was actually a really cool high concept idea that went along with it that was in my original pitch, which if they’d let me do that would have made it a bit more of something that I might actually set out to write, but I was asked to scale it down a bit and keep it to the simple vampire romance formula. There is some fun stuff in there though and I definitely drew from my musical knowledge and experiences.
It was great for me any way you slice it. I worked with some great people and got published by DC Comics. Made a lot of friends and got my first trade paperback with my name on the binding. I still love that cover to the first issue and the title, “Dead Romeo.” Very direct.
A lot of people kind of wrote it off sight unseen, because they connected it with Twilight and thought the vampire/rockstar thing was a take on Lestat, which it wasn’t. That was just window dressing and writing what you know, it didn’t really affect the story one bit, he could have been a plumber and his costume would have been his ass crack, but I figured you’d prefer not to see vamp ass crack. It was so unimportant that I did not include it in the original solicitation, but I think DC liked the idea of the musician’s kid writing a book about a rockstar vampire. Whatever, I’m proud of it, it was a fun book and I think succeeded in the personal goal tat I set for myself and that was to write a vampire story that was for girls and boys at the same time and not one or the other.
BEAT: You’ve done work for Marvel and DC and now TOY STORY. How did you get that gig?
JBS: I wanted to write the Muppets! I pestered editor Aaron Sparrow about a really awesome Muppet project that he seemed to like, but the timing was off. So, he reached back out to me and said he liked my ideas, but what he really needed was Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. pitches. I sent him the outline for what would become the first arc of the ongoing series and the rest is history.
Plus, that allowed me to finally write a Muppet book! Not the one I really want to do, but a fun take on Muppet Snow White! I am the biggest Muppet/Jim Henson fan in the world! I think the only reason I am in the music business is so I can eventually be a guest on a new Muppet Show. Still waiting for them to start a new one though. But I am a patient man.
It was definitely weird though approaching Boom Kids while Dead Romeo was still coming out, but I really liked the idea of my next project being so far the other way.
BEAT: Have you seen TOY STORY 3? Did you cry like everyone else?
JBS: Of course! I loved it! And I’m a father now, so it hit me in a bunch of ways that I’ve never really felt before. But yeah, I laughed I cried, I screamed, “Damn it! I was gonna do that in my comic!” It’s a great movie. It is really an amazing thing to be able to associate myself with Pixar on any level, that company can do no wrong in my eyes. I’m hoping that one day I can do some writing for the real thing.
BEAT: Some people felt that TS3 was too similar to plot elements of the first two movies. Did you feel it completed the trilogy on the right note?
JBS: Absolutely! And it really left things in a great place for more with that sweet little girl. I really want to catch up to that timeline and write the book from there. Hopefully we’re around long enough to do that. Outside the comics market the book is actually selling amazingly well.
BEAT: When is the comic set?
JBS: It is still taking place in between the first two movies, but when we relaunch in two months as “Toy Story: Tales From the Toy Chest” it will be taking place after the second movie and we will be introducing Jessie and Bullseye!
BEAT: Buzz, Woody and the rest are such icons — first as well known toys and then as the lovable personalities we’ve gotten to know through the movies. How did you approach writing them? Who is the most fun to write?
JBS: I’m a voice over actor and a song writer, so I’ve always been pretty good about getting voices right on paper, so my approach was just accuracy. As far as who I like writing the best, that’s a tough one, because I like Woody the best, but Buzz is more fun to write, but I like Woody better despite that.
For me the fun part about writing the Toy Story series is playing with the whole “what if toys were alive” concept. That is what is most fun. The last arc got a little tired for me, because I had to write some fill in issues while we were waiting for approval on our next epic and the concepts I was given to work with just aren’t grand enough. I’m not happy unless I’m telling stories about mundane things that we do to toys on a daily basis that would be utterly devastating if the toys were alive.
I’m working hard to get “Toy versus Machine” across the plate now, which is all about how neglecting your toys and playing video games makes them feel and some other less metaphorical but really fun stuff mixed in! It is the toy equivalent of the story of John Henry.
BEAT: I know a lot of people (myself included) who have had dual loves in music and writing. In music you had what seems an obvious “in” in that your father fronted a very iconic band, Twisted Sister, and has done it all in the music biz. Has pursuing a writing career been more difficult or is there less “history” to live up to?
JBS: Following in your parents’ footsteps is infinitely harder. There is just an inherent expectation that you have to constantly exceed in order for people to walk away with a positive reaction. As a musician, I am the equivalent of a movie that you’ve heard good things about, now that your expectations are higher, I have to really impress you in order for you to leave the theatre and tell a friend. If I meet your expectations, that’s not enough. Plus, most people don’t want to like me, because in their mind I’m getting everything handed to me and it’s easier for me. None of which is true. I am basically the exact opposite of an American Idol contestant, for all the reasons people are rooting for them to succeed people are rooting for me to fail and if I am not at the top of my game every step of the way, I will.
Writing comics is way easier. My parentage is just a fun little aside for people. “Hey, fun fact: do you know Jesse’s father is?” And really if that makes somebody actually remember me the next time we meet then it actually ends up being a little helpful. I actually prefer working in comics for those reasons. In comics I am judge by my writing and that’s it. That sort of even keel is impossible for me to achieve in the music business and a lot of other fields as well.
BEAT: You have a new TV series now airing. Can you tell us about it?
JBS: Yeah! It’s called “Growing Up Twisted” and it premiered on A&E July 27th at 10PM with two back to back episodes. I actually just found out that they are using a song that I wrote for the theme song! I’m really excited about it. Its all about my family and the different things we do together. We’re all in the entertainment business, my brother Shane is a comedian and comedy writer, my brother Cody is an amazing director, my in music and comics, my dad in all sorts of odd things, my mom is an F.I.T. graduate and does hair, makeup and costumes and my little sister is only 13, but she helps out too.
My family is just unbelievably talented and funny and…just great people. They’re my best friends and we all will usually jump at any opportunity to help each other out, whether its filming a funny viral video that Shane wrote, where Cody directs, my dad acts, my mom does makeup and costumes and I did all of the art direction and set dressing. Its family, you do whatever need to be done. Or my brothers short film that he just completed which was based on an independent comic book script that I wrote and was supposed to do with my “Hulk: Let the Battle Begin” collaborator Steve Kurth until he went Marvel Exclusive.
We help each other with everything and we are all very opinionated and because of all that we usually end up fighting quite a lot, but we always make up in the end. I’ve seen three episodes so far and they were all really funny and heart warming. I truly believe that if people give the show a chance they’re gonna love it.
The coolest part of the whole thing is that every episode has great additional content outside of the show. Like the first episode is my daughter Logan Lane’s christening and I sing her a song I wrote for her called “Go With Me” where I basically promise that if I have to go on the road, that she is coming with me. And if you like the song its available to download online. Same thing with the 4th episode about my brother Shane’s sketch “My Roommate Poseidon,” if you think it looks funny you can find it on youtube and you can find the trailer for my brother Cody’s short film if you’re intrigued by the final episode.
No one in the family is resting on their laurels and wants to be reality stars for our life and live off our parents. We are all hard workers and we are going to do anything we can to help each other until we all reach our goals and I think that is the kind of family values that everyone can understand and relate to. I’m really proud of the show, I hope people give it a chance and don’t just assume that we are a lazy waste of life, like some many other children of celebrities.
BEAT: Does the show reflect the fact that you are a writer at all or is it more about the flashier aspects of your life? How do you feel this will affect your writing?
JBS: Well, we shot plenty of stuff that touches on my comic book writing career, but so far the only mention of it that I think might actually make it into the show, is the fact that my brother Cody’s film was adapted from a comic book I wrote. The good news is, we did a cool day a shooting on Free Comic Book Day where I went to my old comic book store and sign free copies of Toy Story for little kids and that is getting chopped up and released online as a webisode for “Growing Up Twisted” proper. So, that is cool.
It will affect my writing in two ways. First off since we’ve been filming it has been way harder to really stay on top of pitches and pester editors until things go through, which, make no mistake, is a huge part of getting anything done. If you are completely unwilling to annoy people, nothing will ever get made. Secondly and this is big, people who I know in the business are going to watch this show and if I come off like the kind of person that they don’t like, then they aren’t going to want to work with me, because however this show portrays me will be how I am known. Fortunately, from what I’ve seen so far they really aren’t trying to make any of us look bad, so I may be in the clear.
Other than that it is business as usual. I’ll still be pitching and writing everything I can get my grubby little hands on.
BEAT: When you and I were corresponding about this interview you mentioned that you didn’t want to be seen as a “comic book interloper.” It does seem that a lot of people are getting involved in the business because it is a fast way to get a movie pitch out there. I have kind of mixed feelings about it myself. It is crappy that some of the interlopers get more attention than real cartoonists, but I do find it amusing when people try to adapt to the “glamour” of comics. That said, you’ve been at this quite a while and even worked at a comic shop, which is a common way of paying your dues in the industry. What is it about comics that attracts so many people who have fame in other fields?
JBS: Yeah, I really don’t want people looking at me like I’m Tyrese Gibson. Comic fans are so turned off by that and we tend to boycott those projects, just to show them we don’t care and as a newer writer who really wants to do this forever, I can’t afford to have people boycotting my work because they see me as some sort of free loader. I am a comic fan and I have been since I was 10. I am a comic book writer and I have been since I was 17. This is what I want to do with my life. Music will not last forever, but I can write comics until I’m old and gray and be very happy doing it.
You know when I was young I got my eyebrow pierced before it was something that you saw a lot and for a while I was really cool. Then it became cool and I was just a part of the fad. Then it was uncool and I was uncool because I still liked it, then eventually things leveled out. Right now comics are the cool thing and it hasn’t quite lost its shine yet, once it does, trust that I will still be here with all of you, just like I was before it became so cool to be uncool.
BEAT: This is a little off the beaten path but I was watching some TV show that was about celebrities and the supernatural and your father had a very scary story about a ghost. Were you involved in that at all?
JBS: I was not involved and I believe I am the only member of my family who has never had any sort of supernatural experience and doesn’t really believe in any of the various ghost stories that they tell. Crazy things always seem to happen when I’m not around, but they seem convinced.
BEAT: What’s you dream comics project? Do you want to write well known characters or do more creator driven stuff?
JBS: Both. My dream comic project is Deadpool. I want to make people care about Wade the way Joe Kelly made me care. He’s being used often, but not as well as I’d like to see. I’ve got a lot of fun things that I’d really love to do with the character and mark my words, one day he will be mine, oh yes, he will be mine.
I’m also a big Lobo and Blade fan and came very close to getting my hands on both the daywalker and the main man, but both opportunities slipped away due to some bad timing.
Also Batman and Nightwing. I’ve always viewed my dad as Batman, with me as his Nightwing trying to prove myself in his shadow and I’d love to take that very real perspective that I have and bring Nightwing into his own a bit. Chuck Dixon had it down for a while, but since then Nightwing has been a little mopey. I know he is Batman now, but Bruce is coming back and I want Nightwing to fly in Bludhaven again!
Outside of that, maybe some Star Trek comics, I’m a huge Trekker. Got to write the Muppets, so that’s out of my system, Trek may be next on the list.
I’ve got tons of fun creator owned books that I’d love to get to eventually. Its hard to buckle down and write them when I’ve got a lot of paid work and I’m so busy with everything else, but I’ll get around to them soon enough.
BEAT: What do you want to be known for?
JBS: I want be known for leaving the world a little bit better for me having been here. I want to entertain people, give them some laughs, some moments worth remembering. I’d like to be the guy who with the big ideas and the interesting takes on old staples. Most of all, I think I want to be known for a youthful enthusiasm for creativity and childish things that never goes away no matter how old I get. When I was a kid my mom kept waiting for me to grow out of various things, like playing with toys, reading comic books, playing football and here I am at 27 and I’m doing all those things and more. Everything is still familiar for me, I feel like I never grew up and I think that is going to keep me young forever. It would be nice to be known for that.
[Growing Up Twisted airs Tuesdays at 10pm on A&E.]
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.