Interview with Guy LeCharles Gonzalez from Comic Book Commentary

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is a Mets fan from the Bronx, and has a beautiful wife and two amazing kids. What seems like a lifetime ago, he won some poetry slams, founded a reading series, and co-authored a book of poetry. He still writes when the mood hits him and he has the time, but of course, there’s never enough time.

In a previous life, after some youthful misdaventures in South Beach, he served in the Army (regular and National Guard), as a HMMWV mechanic (aka HumVee, aka Hummer), a job that qualified him to reenlist or work at Jiffy Lube. He went into publishing instead, and is currently paying some of the bills in sales & marketing for a B-to-B publisher in NYC.

Check him out at his Myspace.

Simon Owens: You’re someone who has dabbled in a lot of different writing mediums–ranging from writing for your high school newspaper, to your own short stories, to your blog criticism. What kind of writing do you like the most? How have the different mediums you’ve written for helped your writing style?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: I most enjoy any writing that I actually finish, which is why I think I took to poetry and blogging so vigorously! Seriously, there’s nothing like a completed piece of writing, whether a poem, short story, article or just a thorough blog post. The sense of accomplishment that comes from it makes the next bit of writing a little easier. I most prefer fiction writing, though, and still hold on to my dream of completing a novel…one of these days.

Having written in different mediums and genres has been extremely helpful in learning my strengths and limitations. For example, I’m pretty good at research and pulling together the various threads of a story, but I’m not so good with the funny. Snark, yes, at times, but any monkey with a Blogger account can do snark. Genuine humor, though, is difficult and I greatly respect those who can pull it off.

Of all the mediums I’ve written in, poetry has probably been the most influential in developing my style. Poetry requires brevity, concision and a knack for describing things without always being literal (aka metaphor), and learning those skills helped strengthen my writing overall.

Simon Owens: I read that you were once a “full-time Jehovah’s Witness.” Can you tell us a little about the religious crisis you went through afterwards and how that changed your theological outlook?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: Long story short, it was just after High School and my grandparents had been Witnesses from the time I was 5 years old or so, and I had been knocking on doors off and on since then. I had passed on a scholarship to SVA (School of Visual Arts) to be a Pioneer — what they call a full-time Witness, basically — and a few months after I’d graduated, I started having second thoughts; not so much about the religion itself but my own involvement with it. I felt like a hypocrite knocking on doors preaching about a god I wasn’t sure I believed in any more.

While housesitting for a family friend one weekend, I ended up watching It’s A Wonderful Life three times and it literally changed the direction of my life. The “happy” ending didn’t sit well with me; instead, I took a more cynical message from it, that George Bailey had been abandoned by his god, and that the best way to live one’s life was to look out for number one. I’ve been an agnostic ever since, with no use for organized religion of any kind. The question of God’s existence is purely a philosophical one for me, and I try to live my life balancing looking out for myself and my loved ones while (mostly) embracing the golden rule, “do unto others…”

Simon Owens: As a poet, what do you think of the contemporary poetry scene? Is it hard these days for a poet to get real recognition?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: The poetry scene is really no different from any other creative scene, for better and worse, except that it’s probably the least lucrative medium one could choose to express themselves in! As a result, though, it’s probably the most accessible and least restrictive, too.

The realm of poetry I came out of, performance/slam, has kind of stagnated, I think; the old “revolution becomes the establishment” cycle. I still check out a reading every now and then and it hasn’t really changed much since I left it behind 3-4 years ago. Some of the faces change, but the styles and subject matter pretty much remains the same. It’s a relatively small pond that the big fish rarely escape from because there’s not really anywhere else to go.

Few people read poetry these days; Def Poetry was a drop in the pop culture bucket; and other than Sarah Jones (who some will argue was always an actress posing as a poet) I can’t think of a single poet who has taken their poetry to the next level and has sustained any notable level of success. I think it’s particularly telling that with all of the American Idol ripofffs that have been done, no one’s touched poetry slams yet. Inventors, yes; poets, no.

Simon Owens: Since you’ve taken acting workshops, do you think this helps you when you’ve performed poetry in front of audiences?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: Immensely! I’m a relatively shy guy in large groups, but the acting workshops I took helped me feel comfortable on stage and, more importantly, in my own skin. Performing your own poetry to a bar full of strangers is one of the most extreme forms of exhibitionism I can think of, and I still get butterflies whenever I get on stage, but being able to hold a crowd’s attention, pulling them into your world and having them come voluntarily, is an exhilirating feeling.

Simon Owens: Being part of a poetry slam probably adds a competitive edge to your poetry-writing. Do you think this improves your work at all?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: Keeping the competitive aspect of a slam in perspective is one of the toughest things to do. It’s very easy to get caught up in the scores, to start tweaking your writing to go for the crowd-pleasing hooks, but in the long run, it’s the wrong road to take. The competition should drive you to constantly improve your writing, to find ways to connect with different audiences while staying true to your own voice.

There’s competition in every kind of writing, though. Every time you submit a piece of work to an editor or publisher, you’re in a competition; every piece of work you have published is competing for readers. Hell, in the earliest stages, you’re usually competing against yourself; fighting your internal editor, or trying to top your last piece of work. Competition is a dirty word for some people, but it’s a simple fact of the writing life, no matter what genre or medium you’re working in.

Simon Owens: How does writing comic book scripts differ from other kinds of writing?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: Comic book scripts have their own unique challenges, especially if you’re not also an artist, akin to writing poetry that someone else will perform. You have to be concise, visually oriented, and able to hit emotional beats on a consistent basis. I’ve only written one script, an unpublished 5-page story, and it was some of the toughest writing I’ve ever done. I imagine, though, that upon seeing it realized by a capable artist, it would also be one of the most fulfilling mediums to work in.

Simon Owens: When you’re writing a comic book review, what aspects do you look for in a good comic book?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: First and foremost, did it hold my attention? Did the story keep pulling me forward, or was I easily distracted or confused? Did I care about what was happening to the characters, and do I want to see what happens next, or was it purely plot-driven with two-dimensional, interchangeable characters and I’m satisfied with reading a spoiler online?

As a writer, these are the things that jump out at me first. It could feature some of the best art I’ve ever seen, but if the story doesn’t grab me, I couldn’t care less. Comic books are a hybrid form, but it’s still a storytelling medium and I’m a lot more forgiving of average art than I am average writing. Bad art, though, can ruin a good story for me, too.

Simon Owens: What are the five blogs you’d recommend to supplement the reading of your own?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: Focused Totality: Mark Fossen is one of the smartest comics bloggers out there, writing about comics because he enjoys them, not because he has some axe to grind or because it’s part of his master plan to break into comics. He also clearly has a life beyond reading comics, which is not always a given in the comics blogiverse.

2 Guys Buying Comics: Like Fossen, these guys write intelligently (and often, quite humorously) about the comics they’re reading. They’re fans, but they’re not fanatics.

Zilla and the Comics Junkies: Like Fossen and 2 Guys, Zilla and company blog about the comics they enjoy; they do it well and are refreshingly agenda-free.

Comics Worth Reading: Johanna Draper Carlson is an elder stateswoman in the comics world, and one of the few whose opinions I genuinely respect, even when I don’t necessarily agree. She’s consistent, prolific, and fair-minded, and if I could only read one comics blog, it’d likely be hers or…

Glyphs Online: Rich Watson provides an invaluable service with his blog, shining the spotlight on black creators and characters in comics, with links to news, interviews and previews of a ton of projects I would have missed out on otherwise.

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