1 p.1 Omar Spahi David Cutler: Omar Spahi, thank you so much for joining me today. It's such an honor speaking to you. You are living my dream. Omar Spahi: Thank you so much, David. It's a pleasure to be on the show. David: I recently finished all of your Xenoglyphs, and I am just awed from start to finish. But before we actually delve into that and what you are doing right now, I'm wondering if you can tell me as a child, how you got into comics? What about pop culture in general? What set you on the path you are on now? Omar: When I was a kid, I actually went to a Barnes & Noble for the first time with my mom. I saw an issue of Flash comic books, from DC Comics. I picked it up and I guess it got me into comic books. That's the thing that really got me into it. I kept on going back to Barnes & Noble, trying to wait for that next issue and it took a whole month. Then after that, I just couldn't get enough of it. I wanted to go back and find all of them, and I realized there were stores that are devoted just to comic books. It's a medium I fell in love with, and it's something I never really stopped doing, until this age. It's just something that's always stuck with me. David: I remember too as a kid, I would go to my local comic bookstore and look at the Flash or Superman. I always dreamed of doing what you're doing, but how did you actually get on that path? Did you learn anything in particular inside the classroom, or did you start off as an apprentice to someone else? It seems like such a hard gig to get into. I'm wondering if you can explain that evolution a bit more? Omar: Absolutely. Me personally, I always believed that comic books are kind of the mythology of our time. Maybe in 1,000 years when they look back on our generation, they'll see Batman and Superman and Spiderman, and these will be the Zeus and Herod of our generation. I took a lot of interest, especially when I was senior at high school. There was a fantastic mythology class that I took. It really opened my eyes to all these different characters, all the different archetypes, all the different family dynamics that worked together in storytelling and stuff like that, so I really learned a lot in that class in particular as well as lot of creative writing, English classes and so forth. David: Could you talk more about that class? Do you remember that teacher? Was that an aha moment, that I want to make a comic book that has these overtones, these Greek God overtones, or does that evolve later on? Omar: It all evolved a little bit later on. When I was going through it, I was a typical high school student. I was like, "I'm never going to use this information." But as it turns out, it actually helps tremendously with what I'm doing. Education is just so important,
2 p.2 and it's really the core. Sometimes when you're going through it, you don't think it's going to really be meaningful, but then later it turns out, "Oh, wow. I really needed that," and stuff like that. David: I'm interested to learn more, then, about how you got to where you are now. Did you have any great influences that helped you along the way, either in the comic book industry, or without? Omar: Yeah, definitely. A close friend of mine is Brian Buccellato. He's helped me out tremendously, as far as working through things, helping me with storytelling, telling me how to fix things, and make things better. He's currently working on "Detective Comics" right now. He's also written the "Black Bat" and the "Flash." Just by chance, he's such an awesome guy, I'm really lucky to have him around and mentoring me. David: I know that Xenoglyphs is your own label. How is that? Why did you decide to go that route, rather than trying to write for DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, or one of the other big labels? Omar: Originally, I faced a lot of adversity, because I personally had tried to send it out to several companies. This is my first thing I'd ever worked on, and I knew it was good enough to put out there. I went knocking on several doors. I went to Comic Con in New York. I went in San Diego. I tried to just talk to people and see if they were interested in something like this. I went through all the standard submission policies, and stuff like that, and it didn't go as I expected. I decided the right way for me to do it is to just put it out there myself. I've just gotten great, great feedback, so I could not be more grateful. David: You have tremendous success, no doubt, but I can imagine that you must have faced some adversity. I'm wondering if you can talk just a bit about what you learned from that, from maybe even possible failure, and then getting back on the horse? Omar: You go and you ask people, "Hey, listen. I have this idea. I have this concept." You turn to people and you say, "Hey, listen. This is the story I have." Instead of people being like, "Yeah, I'd love to be more a part of it," you realize that everyone who goes to Comic Con has a comic book, an idea, or a pitch they want to put out there. Everyone in the comic book industry, it's about relationships. It's about people. It's about talking to people and developing relationships, whether it's through the comic book industry. The comic book community, in itself, is a very, very small community. It's like an incestuous community. People who work at DC often work at Marvel. People with Marvel often work at DC. It's just like, "Who does what? Where did they come from?" this and that. It's just people who have made comic books before, and people who have gotten stuff out there. That's what a lot of people look for is creators that have already been established. That's what I'm trying to do now is just build a reputation for myself, and really build a name for myself.
3 p.3 David: Obviously, skill is important, but how important are people skills in the comic book world? Omar: [laughs] They're tremendously important. In any industry, people skills are really important. You have to put a name to a face, you have to be able to communicate with people, and you have to give people what they're looking for. People don't want to just take your idea. Sometimes people have things in their own mind that they want to work with. So it's about being a good listener, and working with them, saying, "I want this issue. I want this to happen. I want this to happen. This is a main, key focus of this comic book. Make sure it's really prominent in this book." It's about that. David: I'm curious. For Xenoglyphs, how did you attract your team, whether it be the artist or the letterer? How did you do that? I know that Marvel had its own way of doing comics, and DC has its own way of doing comics -- the whole production, that is. What is your way, and how did you attract talent to what you're doing? Omar: The first way I did it was I went on Craig's List. I don't know if you've ever gone on Craig's List before. David: Sure. Omar: I went looking for an artist there, and I failed miserably. There are absolutely no artists on Craig's list. My girlfriend recommended for me deviantart.com. I found it, and there is just a plethora of artists, and they're all wonderful and they're all fantastic. I'm lucky enough to partner up with PJ Catacutan, who has been just fantastic. We've been working on Xenoglyphs now for close to 10 issues already in the can. It's just been so much fun and so fantastic to be with him. David: I'm sorry, where did you find him? What did you say it was? Omar: Deviantart.com. David: Is that a site for freelancers to find artists? Omar: Yes. It's a fantastic way. You just talk to people. You can send people messages. It's like the Facebook for artists. David: That is awesome. You guys have been cranking away at it for how many years now? Omar: We've been at it for about a year-and-a-half, two years. David: How has the journey been, since the first issue of Xenoglyphs to now? Omar: It's been a blast. For me, it's always been about passion, it's about love, it's about getting the book done. I have the whole series planned out to be a 30-issue series. The
4 p.4 most important thing is how do we get from that beginning to that ending? How do we do it in a fun, unique way that puts a cool twist in a lot of the things that have happened in our real world? I try to tie in a lot of history, a lot of mythology, a lot of social skills, a lot of stuff like that. I try to make sure that there's no hole in any of the stories. It's a challenge, but it's a lot of fun. David: Your artwork is so cool, and I think it's unique. You seem to make excellent, excellent use of big, big panels, rather than really small ones, which really captures the action. I love how you display action, in a blurry, but in-focus way. Can you talk about your decision to do it that way, rather than smaller panels? Omar: I can't take any credit for that. That was all PJ. PJ is seriously just a dream to work with. He has such a great vision, and he's such a visionary in his own right. He's just someone who gets me. If I had a comic book soul mate, it would probably be PJ. We've been working since the beginning, since I've wanted to do this, and he's been working with me every step of the way. He's been fantastic. Anything I need, he's just there. It's weird, because he's in the Philippines, and I'm in Los Angeles. We're half a world away and yet, literally, we have so much in common. It's just such a fun relationship to have. David: How does that workflow work? I'm just curious. You create the copy, then you send it to him to fill in, or does he create the storyboards, and then you fill in the copy? Omar: I write everything out -- the panel breakdowns, story breakdowns, everything like that. Then he comes back. He sends me, usually, storyboards. Then I say, "This works. This works. Change this. Go this." Then he usually gives me final pages. It's gotten to the point where we're become more and more comfortable with each other. He just keeps killing it, so it's just a lot of fun. David: That's so cool. Do you guys ever see each other? Do you go to the Comic Cons together? Omar: Actually, Skype is the only time we've ever seen each other. We've never actually shaken hands, hugged, or anything like that, but it's a dream. Hopefully, this summer I can get out there for a Comic Con. I've been doing Comic Cons now in the states for a little over a year-and-a half now. It's been quite a journey. David: That's amazing. Through technology, you've just managed to accomplish so much. Omar: Yeah, it's such a cool generation to be working in comic books. This would have never been able to happen, even 10, 20 years ago. David: How did you get so creative? One of the things that I deal with as a teacher is I try to foster creativity. How did you get to be so creative? Is this something that you had to work at? Does it come naturally to you? What advice would you have for others,
5 p.5 whether they're in the comic book industry, or not, to be creative, in order to find success? Omar: For me personally, I work at it. I use different ideas and see, "What if I merge this with this? What's this?" and bring a lot of things together. I think of, "How would this story play out. How about this?" and I build up ideas, see what works, what doesn't work. It's a lot of trial and a lot of error. I'm always perfecting it. As a writer, I never feel like my writing is 100 percent good enough, but I try to get it out and as refined as possible. David: Are you ever upset when something comes out that, "I had imagined it some other way," and then you read it over again, and it didn't quite come out the way that you wanted it to? Omar: All the time, and then it's like, "Oh, what if I'd said it like this, instead of like that? What about this?" I've talked to my other writer friends, and they feel the same way. They're just like, "I don't like what I just did there." Then I'll read it and think, "That was fantastic! What are you talking about?" They're like, "No, no, no. Trust me. You don't know. It's not good." [laughter] David: How do you manage all this? You're so busy. You said that you have another job, or that you do other things. What are those other things? Omar: I have a comic book store in Santa Monica, California, HI DE HO Comics. I'm part owner of. I do a lot of work over there, as well as I have a real estate company I do here in Santa Monica. David: Comic book store, real estate, comic book publisher, writer, editor. What don't you do? Omar: I don't know any more. I feel like I do too much. It has been a challenge, and it's been a lot of fun. David: Do you have an end goal? Is there a, "Yes, I've did everything I wanted to." Omar: No, as long as I can make good comics and have people read them, that's the most important thing for me. Getting good quality books out there and growing awesome comics is my goal right now, as well as hopefully starting something that's going to leave a legacy behind. David: You seem to be around my age -- pretty young. How have you gotten to be where you are, so quickly? Omar: I'm about 25 years old now. Anyone can do it. It just takes drive, passion, motivation, and a work ethic. If you work hard at anything, you're going to be successful.
6 p.6 It's just about how much energy you put in, and it's about people. The more you talk to people, the more you work with people, the more successful you're going to be in life. David: How do you connect? Would you say that social media's the way to go? Omar: Social media's great, but I think the best thing you can do is a face-to-face connection. As long as you build a rapport with somebody face to face, that's when you can really develop a connection. Even small 5-, 10-minute conversations, or hour conversations -- wherever you have a moment to connect with somebody -- it's always good. It can always be beneficial, and it can always be nice to have another ally on your side. David: When do you have the next issues out of Xenoglyphs? Omar: We are launching...la Xenoglyphs has a new series, actually, in I think it's July. In July, Xenoglyphs, the trade paperback comes out, just in time for San Diego Comic Con. Then "Separators," which is the continuation of Xenoglyphs, is going to have the first issue coming in about July, also. It's going to be the trade, and issue one, and then it's going to be a monthly book from then to at least the end of the year. David: How can people buy your book? How can people buy your work? Omar: You can definitely get it from Xenoglyphscomic.com. Hopefully, in about a week or two, we're going to have it up on awesomecomics.com. We're hoping to be on ComiXology by the end of March. David: You read my mind. I was going to ask you if you planned to be on ComiXology. Omar: Yeah, we're going through the hoops right there with ComiXology, right now. They're a monopoly, and so is Diamond. You've got to work to their guidelines and specifications. It's been a blast.