It’s Saturday once again and it’s time for another episode of Cross Country ComX. This time, our main man Shane is out handling other ComX stuff, so Dustin and Leigh are taking the hosting reins, with Rob “Spedsy” Lisle filling in for this week.
For this week, we have three guests: the legendary Dave De Vries, Alex Major, and Kyle Willis. Dave De Vries is the creator of Australian indie superhero team The Southern Squadron. He has also worked with several other big-name publishers, including Marvel and DC.
Alex Major has been a part of the Australian indie comic book industry since the 90s. He’s a cartoonist and well-known for his anthropomorphic animal characters and his world-zipping adventures. These include Mococo, Naomi and Poggie, Quayline, and Spud the Bear.
Kyle Willis is an artist from Jacksonville, Florida and famous for his covers and commissions. Among his works include creating cover art for The Listener.
Part 1: Talking To The Legendary Dave De Vries
Before the interview started with Dave, Dustin shared an anecdote he had as a child in relation to Grimjack, one of the characters Dave worked on before. The latter takes up Dustin’s anecdote and goes into it even further, relating it to a real-life event.
For those looking to learn the details, give the video a watch! It’s not for the faint of heart too.
What are you working on now, Mr. De Vries?
“I’m actually working on the Southern Squadron again after all these years,” notes Dave. “For those who are not familiar with the characters, they were very popular in the ‘80s in Australia. When I first started publishing or having my work published in America, the Southern Squadron were repackaged with new materials.
“There’s a lot of stuff that actually got into the American comics that have been seen in Australia which was fun and that was sort of in 1990. They’re created in 1983 so, two years from now, they’ll have their 40th anniversary, which is giving away my age somewhat.”
Dave reveals that he’s also working with Ted Pietrzykowski on a Dark Nebula/Southern Squadron crossover that should come out around 2022. The story will retcon some of the past stories for Southern Squadron – something that fans should look out for.
“That will likely be published by either Reverie or Cyclone. I’m not entirely sure which side of that but I know Gary Dellar from Reverie is quite interested in seeing that and the other Gary – Gary Chaloner – and we’ll just have to see,” said Dave.
Dave reveals he eventually stopped publishing his indie comic books around ‘93 to ‘94. This comes mostly from all the work he received from big publishers, where “they paid a lot better.” With all his time used, Dave did not have time to develop new material.
With the pandemic going, however, Dave reconnected with other creators to restart publishing. Among those he connected with include Darren Close, where a Killeroo/Southern Squadron crossover is in the works.
He’s also doing work with Rob Lisle, who Dave notes he’s receiving a lot of input and cross-communication. Dave also says he likes collaborating with other creators for input, including morning coffee with Glenn Lumsden to discuss storylines. He further reveals that he teaches TV, film, and comics at uni.
Rob attested his experience with Dave, noting the changes that happened to his style of writing.
“Having spoken to you, I’ve now changed how I do everything – it was like going to school,” notes Rob, who admits they spend 2-3 hours on the phone every Saturday morning for a few months. “Drove my wife crazy.”
Dave, for those who don’t know, can you tell us what a big deal Cyclone was back in the day when you guys all teamed up and became this juggernaut of Australian Comics?
“It’s an interesting period,” starts Dave. “I was remarkably short-lived when, at the time, it felt like it went for a long time. It really got its start in January of 1986. This was the same time that Fantastique was launch at the comic convention, which was our version of the Seduction of the Innocent.”
Dave reveals that Phantastique received a $25,000 state grant at the time but Fantastique created heavy controversy in Australia. The creators received a ban in three states and, which such furor, sprung other indie publishers like Cyclone, Fox Comics and Reverie Publications.
“Southern Squadron and Cyclone did particularly well because we did a couple of things that were quite deliberate. The first one was, and this was the time before social media, so we did the social media approach. The letter to the editor column – the editorials – we regarded those as incredibly important in the way of communicating with the reader.
We adopted all of the Stan Lee approach that he did. I’d actually read about Stan’s whole idea of publishing and the man was a genius at finding a way to connect with the readers and making them feel like it was their comic – that they were part of the creative process.”
Dave notes that they invited people’s comments, suggestions, and used those as starting points. Among their titles at the time were the Southern Squadron, Southern Cross, Dark Nebula, and the Jackal.
The team became famous mostly due to the lack of Australian superheroes at the time.
“I’m not sure this is totally true but I have a feeling I was the first Aussie to work for DC and possibly the first Aussie writer to work for Marvel,” reveals Dave.
The guys and Dave then discuss the level of work that the latter did for the Australian indie comics industry, with Dustin noting how talent and being in the right time and the right place works wonders.
“Just showing up and doing it is 90% of it and look, we were very lucky and it’s interesting because I experienced this myself – the first time I went to San Diego Comic Con was in ‘88 and it was no bigger than most of the Australian cons now and they had three different coloured ID badges,” noted Dave.
“You had a creator, industry – which was usually like comic shops and so forth and then the partners and the partners would have made up a third. So probably there were as many creators there as they were just showing up and you all kind of sought each other out by the colours but nobody sort of – there was no hierarchy.”
What is John Ostrander like as an individual? And how did you get through 26 issues of Southern Squadron?
“With the case of John, I’ve never met a nicer guy in my life,” notes Dave, who is very good friends with John and is Leigh’s favourite comic creator ever. “I write him as a very good friend and the assistance that he gave me in my career can’t be overstated.
“The first thing I did for DC was creating the Captain Boomerang origin story – which was huge; that got me into DC comics. He introduced me to all of the DC editors. He introduced me to Dan Raspler – that was the first Green Lantern story I did where John created this really badass GL character called Jack T. Chance, which is the name of the John Wayne character in Rio Bravo.
“He said, ‘wouldn’t it be fun if he went up against Lobo??’ because people have been sort of suggesting a Lobo story with that character. They asked me if I’d like to write that. Kim Ale, his then wife, became the editor of Star Trek line so I did some Star Trek stuff.”
Dave notes that Todd McFarlane was also helpful to him, who he became friends with very early on. He also admits that he’s a fan of Walt Simonson and that he hung out with him, which blows the mind of all three hosts.
As for the second question, Dave notes that everyone on Cyclone decided to work on each other’s characters. Whilst there aren’t exactly 26 issues for Southern Squadron, there are more than that in number of books that contained their characters at some point.
“By book eight, the stories are just so mashed together into one sort of continuity,” Dave says. “It was almost like a mini-Marvel Australia type setup that Gary said ‘why are we even dicking around? I’ll draw you right and we’ll just do something Southern Squadron and we’ll just let them take over the title.
Then after that happened, The Jackaroo was spun off into his own title and then Tad came back – he was up doing DJing at the time – he came back to Sydney and then decided he wanted to get into publishing the Dark Nebula so that’s spun off.”
The Southern Squadron did more crossovers within the authors’ circles, including the worlds created by Bo Jardine and Nicotat Comics’ Boris the Bear. Dave notes that it’s a matter of sharing the characters with the world and allowing other people to work with them.
Part 2: Around The World With Alex Major
What was your first anything? How did you make anything start going?
“A friend of mine from highschool – he was a really good artist and he took me to my first comic con and like I was more of a cartoon/video game fan before but I looked at comics and then I was like ‘oh yeah I can do that’ and then I submitted to pretty much all the US companies,” started Alex.
“I went to the US for a year as an exchange student and I got more interested in it and then I came back and did my first self-published comics back in the late ‘90s.”
Alex notes that he got Quayline as one of his first titles and he released his work during the lull period of Australian comics. He then started travelling to see the world, visiting several comic cons and countries like the US, Korea and Hongkong. He also talked about launching a toy during his years abroad.
You just brushed over that you are launching a toy? Can you tell us what that was?
“I just finished a TV show in China,” starts Alex, who noted that he worked as an animator for a game dev studio in the country. “A TV show came about and then somebody’s like ‘Look, does anybody know anyone that’s worked in animation before?’ and I was like ‘yeah I do’ and they were like ‘Have you worked on anything famous?’ and I was like ‘yeah, Lion King 1 1/2’ and he’s like good enough.”
Alex detailed that he worked not only for Disney and a video game, but also for the Chinese propaganda machine in China. Alex added that, after the animation studio he worked for collapsed, a friend introduced him to a toy company in Hongkong.
“It was a toy company that just did OEM and it had Cartoon Network and DC comics toys but it’s like this plush Batman stuff like than and then they also did Konami toys as well,” adds Alex.
He currently works for comedian Felipe Esparza and creates animations for his Youtube channel. Much of his current work is more on commissions and gig work here and there.
Tell us a little bit because you got banned from Tiktok for a little bit.
“Yeah that sucks, man,” said Alex. “I’m really bad on social media. I don’t have crazy numbers at all on most of the stuff. Even on my instagram, I don’t have that many followers but I’m super blessed that I’ve got people with blue ticks next to their name DMing me for commissions.”
Alex then reveals that he got banned for a mermaid that he does, where the mermaid eats a fish. The ban then reveals that it was dubbed as sexually explicit material.
He then offers a few recommendations and a quick defense of the Tiktok creative community. Alex currently does animation work in his TikTok accounts and is finding relative success in it.
Of all the huge things you’ve done, one of the first huge things was getting your book on the shelf with the newsagents. What was it like walking into the newsagents and seeing your book there?
“The distributor had it in 900 newsagents in Australia, and none of them seem to be in Sydney or Melbourne,” admitted Alex. “I saw one in Macquarie Centre in Sydney – in North Friday. They had it – it was the only one I’ve seen it and that’s the only place I’ve seen it live and it was a bit bizarre.
“It was good but actually most of the time I saw it when I was selling it in comic stores. King’s Comics was the nicest one to deal with. I went to King’s Comics recently and they only had like some Cyclone Comics and Greener Pastures – nothing new.”
He also talked about some anecdotes on how local comic stores operated during his time.
Part 3: Building Comic Book Communities With Kyle Willis
Kyle Willis is Dustin’s business partner and among the most incredible artists out there. His body of work includes commissions and high-quality fan art and fan covers for Marvel and DC comics.
Kyle owns the other half of Cowabunga Comics with Dustin and opening another brick and mortar comic book shop in Florida.
Dustin also notes that Kyle is among the most awesome people in his life, helping him through depression and checking up on him.
So your Instagram is absolutely full of amazing things like you do decal stickers and stuff of Venom and Spider-Man?
I do, but the stickers were never intended to be stickers,” admits Kyle. “It’s just pieces of art that people like ‘hey, you gotta make that into a sticker’ and when I got to three, I’ll just go cut it out, photoshop, and I send it to the sticker company and I order a couple hundred of them and they’re available.
I sell them in a 3-dollar price range for people. I couldn’t always support artists. I wasn’t always in a financial place to do so but I would buy a sticker but they never had the stickers because it’s hard to have a sticker for all the pieces of art ever done.”
Kyle notes that they also get events at Dustin’s shop where they do sketch covers across artists of different skill levels and allow kids to stay for 15 dollars to get a specific sketch they want in colour pen.
What inspired you to get into all that [making a comic book shop]?
“Every comic job and art gallery that I have ever walked in my entire life is a part of the journey to open up my own,” admits Kyle. “It’s actually going to be half art gallery, half comic book shop. Half of the art I’m going to have studio space there. It’s 1700 square ft (157+ square meters) in the back.
I’ll have my own artwork for sale but I’m also going to have local artists’ art. You won’t find landscape paintings in the place. It’s all going to be a playground. It doesn’t all have to be comic book scenes but it’ll all be movies, celebrities, sci-fi, edgy stuff, and it’s all going to be painted by local artists.”
Kyle’s goal is to show artists that their art has value and that he’s looking to embark on the same journey with them. Both also note about their experiences of people going into their shop and opening up and connecting.
When it comes to books that tickle Kyle’s fancy these days, he notes how he always loved Venom as a kid.
“Spidey was my first love. Venom was romance,” reveals Kyle. “I love that character but he never really had a story that blew me away. I just like the art because I love Todd McFarlane as an artist and the art inspired me to get onto the character but I ended up collecting more action figures over the years.”
Kyle admits that it wasn’t until Donny Cates came in that Venom stories tickled his fancy. He also talks about Chew, which he picked up in the past. Among his reads right now include Boom!’s Basilisk.
With that said, there is a lot of good stuff discussed over the CCCX video, including many insightful information on our guests. Watch the video and discover more of these wonderful creators now.