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Interview: Jeffrey Kaufman, Creator Of Graphic Novel ‘Whore’
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Waerloga69   |  @   |  
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Whore

I had the supreme pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Jeffrey Kaufman via Skype. I must say, this man is hilarious. Never in my life have I done an interview with someone who made me laugh for almost an hour and a half. We spoke about Whore, his new graphic novel, as well as a plethora of other things in comic industry. Kaufman was open and honest on every topic, never hesitating to express his true feelings. I appreciated the candor and hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

Geeks of Doom: How are you doing today?

Jeffrey Kaufman: It’s been that kind of day for me today. I did a radio show earlier today, it’s kind of funny it’s one of those shows where the D.J.s just beat the crap out of you for a half hour. (laughter)

GoD: How was that? Enjoyable?

JK: In a BDSM kind of way, but it was one of those fun times where you just try to just roll with it. What’s always funny about that is that everyone always says the same thing about it “oh, you’re just trying to get attention.” No, I was actually shooting to have half the stores not carry my books, that was the goal. It’s amazing, people go “oh you’re just trying to be controversial.”  Yeah, that’s what I was doing. (sarcasm) But my intention was to, no matter how the book got reviewed, to get my ass kicked by every store owner on the planet, yeah… that was the goal. (laughter)

GoD: Tell us a little about Whore.

JK: The sad part about it is this: I named the book Whore…its not sad because I believe that every book you do should be better than the last one. The last one, I saw it and said okay there are some weaknesses in here. How do I clean that up? In the back of my head I knew that naming this book Whore and that the attempt was to be better than the last book, not to sell better. And that’s a weakness that I’ve got to look at in the next book when I go “okay Jeff, the book was better but how do you make up for the lack of sales that is going to happen because owners won’t carry the book?” And I guess it’s that Mars was such a fun character, I love that guy. I really do. He was so easy to write for. I used to be a criminal defense attorney and I would have to sell the most terrible stories on the planet to juries, I mean they were horrible. And I would sit there and sometimes they worked, sometimes you were able to convince that the sky is actually pink and Skittles flow from it. Mars was so easy to do because we forgive him. He can get away with things and you don’t have to feel like can he actually do that? Yeah, it’s Mars. He doesn’t care. This isn’t a redemption story.

GoD: He’s a little morally bankrupt.

JK: It’s very funny, though. That’s the thing when you have a guy that bad and he does these things. I loved writing him. I hope to be able to write him again. It’s just that when you create a story, the idea is will people want more of it? My next book in the chute is called Angel Falling, done by Kevin West and Mark McKenna, and that’s a fun book. It’s not Jacob Mars. And then the book after that is 9/11. Which is a very tough book for me because I had another book in the chute, I do two books at the same time. That’s the only way you can do it. Because it takes eleven months to finish one of these things so you have to have about a three or four month crossover. So I was going to do another book called Wild Wood and I opened my Facebook and I’m like what’s going on here? And they’re talking about this shooting at the Batman premiere. I’m stunned. I mean, I am stunned beyond belief because I just got back from Comic-Con. I just had these hundreds of conversations about everyone who was going to see the midnight show. They were so excited. These are my people, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to be in that line. And I was devastated. And I didn’t know what to do. And I wrote this thing on Facebook because that’s all I could do was write. So I wrote this thing and I was thinking to myself, is this it? Is this all I’m going to do? And I wanted to do this story for a long time ago called 9/11, about a hero and a villain who exist during 9/11. The hero was the powder-puff of a team where the building went down and the team was in the building. The villain’s wife, who was divorcing him, was a secretary in the building when it went down. One seeks revenge and the other one seeks redemption. And I knew it wasn’t a book that was going to get taken to the next level, its not going to be a cartoon, it’s not going to be a movie, but it’s going to be something that I think is valid to do. What happened in Colorado kind of forced me to do it. So I’ve put the artist in place and everything else. It won’t be Jacob Mars, it won’t be Angel Falling. But I think it will be important and every once in a while in your life you should do a book that’s important.

GoD: It sounds like you are very emotionally invested in it.

Whore comic panel 01JK: I’m very emotionally invested, my problem is that I empathize with my characters a lot. And this one is a lot different because there’s a purpose behind it. Mars was easy, I wanted to create a guy who could just do anything. You’d like him. He does things that get you to like him and then he does the terrible things.

One of my favorite things is the artist is named Marco Turini. Marco is an Italian artist who definitely has a European style. It’s more realistic but it comes off like photographs in a way. Where movement doesn’t, it locks down chapters and that’s what I love best about him. And the coloring was done by James Brown from IDW, he does Transformers and G.I. Joe. But I have to relay everything to him, there’s a scene in here I remember trying to send this over to his wife who translates the book for him, I said I want you to imagine the face of somebody who had a grenade stuck up his ass.

GoD: I was going to ask about that later, I was like…I’m not sure if that’s going to fit anyway.

JK: Oh, it’ll fit. It’ll fit. I used to be a medic in the Army. I worked in the emergency rooms, stuff will fit. It was always amazing to me how it was an accident. Without getting rough, I’d sit there and I think everyone should be forced to work in an emergency room just for a week of their lives. Just to realize how ridiculous our world is. I take from my world. No, I don’t know anyone like Jacob Mars. No, I don’t want to be Jacob Mars. But I love Jacob Mars.

GoD: I really like the character (Jacob Mars), he seemed like Bond in overdrive, especially his sex drive. He really piqued my interest, are we going to see more from him?

JK: That’s an interesting thing…that’s the tough part about it. When I do a graphic novel, it’s about an eleven month process. I tell a story, I know my ending, so without revealing anything… Did I get you? I guess what I’m saying is I wanted to screw with you. I wanted you to go “oh my god I watched this whole thing,” all this had purpose, all this had meaning. When I say “did you get it,” my goal is to be like the Agatha Christie of comic books and you get to the end and you go “oh, I didn’t even see that.”

GoD: Anything that comes up often about him?

JK: People ask me about Burn Notice, they bring Burn Notice up a lot to me. They say what’s the difference between Michael Weston and Jacob Mars? I love Burn Notice, I watch the show. I think there’s a huge flaw, there’s a major flaw. And I don’t get it, I pretend I’m not aware of it. Michael Weston is a bad guy, he’s done terrible things. He’s considered one of the most vicious agents on the planet. He talks about blowing people up and doing all these terrible things. And he comes back to Miami and he decides he’s going to help people but he wants the terrible job back. So how do you say I’m a good guy but I want to do evil crap for my government again? That’s the flaw. That’s why, when I train Mars, you get to see what has been trained out of Mars. There’s like five pages of his training where you’re going okay it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you’re told to do. That’s it. You don’t get to choose, you might get to choose how you accomplish it but your goal is to accomplish it. And that’s why I think that Mars is an honest character. I would love it if somebody like Mars , if they wanted to write him into Burn Notice. The problem is he would be more likeable than Michael Weston. More women go Michael is cute but this Mars guy…he’s terrible. We like him. People are going to say that he’s misogynistic, but I do let the women kick the crap out of him at the end. And that’s what I think the important thing is.

GoD: I was curious, having known you were a defense attorney, are any of the sub-plots based on reality? Or does it all come out of your head? Anything that might have roughly come from a case?

JK: I don’t want to ruin any chapters of the book, but I love that guy, I really do. He cuts me up. I feel so bad that when it ended I was in my bedroom, it was three o’clock in the morning, my wife was asleep When I typed in the last joke. And without revealing the last joke, I like smacking my reader. The last thing I want to do is backhand you on the way out the door. It took me a while to figure out exactly how I wanted to do that beyond the twist. But the last thing I wanted you to read, the last sentence…and I’m sure you read the last sentence, you go “what an asshole.” But it was funny! [laughter] and that’s how I want to leave you! And I was alone! I’m in my bed, I’m so mad…because there’s nothing I can do and I want to say I closed the best book I’ve ever written in my life and I’m alone in this bedroom. There was a certain sadness in being done with him.

So it depends, if nobody buys the book and nobody reads the book or nobody does a movie or anything else like that… but there is something cute I do. I am lying to you a little, Gary. I put Alexx in Whore, I thought that was fun. I thought that was fun for people who might have read the stuff before, from Alexx and Terminal Alice. Well, Ive done that in Angel Falling. So Mars has a cameo in Angel Falling. I love these characters and people were mad at me when I didn’t do the sequel. And I didn’t want to tell them I killed eighty-two people and there are two sex scenes (one was in a coffin)…how do I beat that book? Well, just kill some more people! That’s why Mars came about. That was the only way I could beat Terminal Alice. I think that once I did that, I felt like I could write whatever I wanted to write. But would I love to do a sequel to Whore? Yeah, if it sells well or people want me to do it or the agents sell it, I’ll have to do a season two. Mars is pretty easy for me to write. He’s ridiculously easy, actually. All I have to do is say okay it could be like Family Guy. Okay, I’ve got this manatee and somebody’s got to pull a ring-toy out of his butt. Okay, Mars…5K? 6K and I want a new shirt! That’s what I love best about Mars, the way he negotiates.

That was the greatest thing about Mars is that he does have these exploits , they were all about doing something else. I loved how it was just a job. Everything he does has a logical interpretation.  Every finale to what he did, no matter what he did, has a logical conclusion based on somebody with no moral compass. And if you look at each scenario, you’re going to go yeah that made sense. Yes that’s absurd, but it made sense.

I think Mars is probably the closest I have come to finding a guy who there was purpose to everything. But it is about him, it’s always about him. In the first three pages I tell you exactly who Jacob Mars is. I might write a little faster than I should. I probably should work characters out a little better but I visually see things. That’s why I write the way I do.

Whore comic panel 02GoD: I read Whore twice, because I got to the end and was like, what did I miss?

JK: If you have to go back and figure out how I got you, that is exactly what I want. No matter what you thought of the book, or the artwork, or the story…it’s that last feeling you had when you closed the book. Normally when you’re done you just throw the book down and you move on. My goal was to hit you like The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, Book of Eli, where you actually have an opportunity to go back and you go “wow, got it” Afterwards you go I should have seen this.

GoD: I’ve talked to a few people about your work and they were pretty impressed with it. And I have to admit I haven’t read any of your stuff besides Whore. But I am going to look up Terminal Alice because the little bit that you had of the girls in the end of the book really piqued my interest. I want to go back and read some of the earlier stuff.

JK: Yeah, but just stop there. Do me a favor and just stop there. Read Terminal Alice and just stop there because some of those single issue books I look back now and…(laughter) Just stay away from the single issue books! (laughter)

GoD: Aren’t you doing a documentary about how to fail in comic books?

JK: Yeah.  We’re doing a documentary called How To Fail In Comic Books. We’ve been doing it for about three years now. We’ve hit almost every convention. We’ve got Stan Lee, Dan Didio, I mean everybody…Kevin Eastman, Valentino, Mark Wade… It was ridiculous how many people we got to do this and I think they did it solely because of the title. The worst part about this documentary is that somebody decided, “well we gotta base it on your failure.” And I’m going “wait a minute, so this whole book is about me being a loser?” “No, no, it’s about you learning from it.” The worst moment I had while doing that documentary was this: I had never met Stan Lee in my life and he’s Shakespeare to me. I don’t care what anybody says. I mean he has created more memorable characters than Shakespeare. So I finally got an opportunity to meet him but it was only for this interview. And I had to go down to the basements at New York Comic-Con and it was like Get Smart with all the doors closing behind you. I hear him on the other side of the curtain and it’s like the great and powerful Oz talking. And I go wow, I can’t believe this is the way I’m going to meet him but I just need this so bad that I have no clue what I’m actually going to say to him when I finally get to meet him. So I go back in there and we’re standing there and his handler says I get one question But I’m standing in front of the guy and he looks over and he says to me “yeah, what is this about?” and I have never felt more embarrassed in my life. Well this is called How To Fail In Comic Books and He looked at me like I just winged a pile of crap at him…and I started babbling. I remember saying any name that I knew he would recognize and he said “and what do you want me to do?” I said well a lot of people blow a lot of money doing this so what I want you to do is I want the advice that you give them has to be based on them not spending a lot of money. So I want you to be straight forward with them. He goes “really?” and he looked at the screen and yelled for like five minutes. And to this day I look at that footage and I’m going wow, now that guy, he’s a monster. He’s just a monster. It’s embarrassing that I’m trying to write in this industry knowing that I’m following guys like him who have just done so much. It’s a little humbling. But like I said, we’ve done everybody, we’ve done the interviews. We have a little B footage we have to shoot and hopefully we’ll get it done for a Comic-Con premiere for next year.

GoD: Any advice for writers?

JK: What does it take to do well in comic books? What does it take to be a writer? I can tell you this: I feel I am where I’m at today because I wrote a lot of bad things. And I was able to go back and look at it and go, okay where did I fail here, where did I fail there. And I think that if you look at every project that same way, hopefully the next book after that is better. And that’s the only advice I can give people.

People always ask me how you become a good writer. I say fail. Fail, on an ugly level. And learn from it.

GoD: What part have comics played in your life?

JK: When I had nothing I had Spider-man. Maybe that can be on my tombstone one day. When I was on the street I had nothing and I would scrape together a $1.25 to be able to buy a comic book here and there. And when I was in the army, I had book day. When you’re not in the field I would go out and get me books and then go directly to Pizza Hut and sit there for an hour. And for one hour, I wasn’t Jeff Kaufman anymore, I wasn’t go through whichever situation I was going through. I was able to escape.

GoD: Anything with which you would like to leave us?

JK: I look at books differently now. I see my ending then I strive to screw you getting there. That was the best part about it. My big question to you is: did I get you? You take the most illogical thing and you make it plausible. I love doing that.

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