Aw Yeah! I recently got the chance to chat with FRANCO AURELIANI, the three-time Eisner Award winner and Harvey award winner, best known for his work on TINY TITANS from DC. Franco is an artist, a writer, a High School art teacher, a co-owner of Aw Yeah Comics, a comic book retail shop with multiple locations across the United States, as well as the co-host of the AW YEAH PODCAST, along with Art Baltazar. So yeah, it is safe to say that Franco knows a thing or two about comics and speaking with him, I couldn’t help but become infected by his enthusiasm and passion when it comes to the comic book industry.
It was a refreshing interview. A chance to talk to someone who not only has intimate knowledge of the entire comic book pipeline, but a chance to talk to a creator that genuinely LOVES every part of comics. For those of us at the Indie level, that bang out pages in the space between our day jobs and personal lives, it serves as a reminder that if you stay true to yourself, if you approach each project and harness that passion and energy that compelled us all to create stories in the first place, then the universe will take notice, and good things will follow.
On OCTOBER 3rd, AW YEAH COMICS will be having its GRAND OPENING of the newly established storefront in Harrison, NY. For those of you that live in the area, or perhaps those that are traveling here for the upcoming New York Comic Con, it is a great opportunity to meet some fantastic creators and enjoy the ambience of the beautiful store that is every bit how I imagine the perfect comic book store should look. Who knows, perhaps some of Franco’s enthusiasm will inspire you as it did me.
FM: WHEN DID YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE INDUSTRY?
FA: I wanted to make comics since I was a little kid because I was always reading them. I didn’t think it would be a viable source of income. As I got older and actually went to film school, my mother was the one that always said, “You should draw… you always liked to draw, so that’s what you should do.” Eventually that’s what I came back to. Drawing.
FM: WHAT FILM SCHOOL DID YOU GO TO?
FA: They actually don’t have a film department anymore, but I went to Adelphi University in Long Island.
FM: CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK DOWN AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? AS AN ARTIST AND A WRITER, DO YOU START DRAWING FIRST OR DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT AND GO FROM THERE?
FA: Depends on what I am working on. A lot of the issues of TINY TITANS and ITTY BITTY HELLBOY, Art Baltazar does the artwork for it and we write it together. He thumbnails and we go over it and then he draws it. I usually write in thumbnails. It is just easier for me to just kind of thumbnail the whole thing out. It really depends on what I am doing. Sometimes it calls for a full script, so it really depends on the project.
FM: WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE AS THE WRITER AND ARTIST ON A BOOK?
FA: Everything! LOL. Writing the whole thing, drawing the whole thing, but I like the challenge. It’s stressful sometimes but it is fun at the same time. If you like your job, I don’t know if there are any challenges you would like to complain about.
FM: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED BREAKING INTO THE INDUSTRY, OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
FA: I think it is just doing what you want to do, eventually. I understand that if you are paying your dues, other people are going to want you to do this or that or the other thing, you just got to stay true to yourself. Doing what you want to do is kind of how it paid off for me. We got to write the way we wanted to write and we got to draw the way we wanted to draw and after being rejected by every company known to man out there, I decided I wasn’t going to submit to companies anymore and that’s when they ended up coming to me and asked me and Art if we wanted to be involved with TINY TITANS, so that was kind of cool.
FM: YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH ART BALTAZAR, WHEN DID YOU GUYS MEET AND HOW DID THAT ALL START?
FA: We met at a show, I think it was Massachusetts, where it was real boring and slow and there was nobody there, and Art just happened to sit down next to me. It turns out he lived about twenty minutes from where I lived at the time and I said, “Hey you draw and I draw, we can draw together and hang out and have pizza and watch wrestling.” I invited him over to the house and it kind of took off from there. He eventually moved back to Chicago and we just kept on doing stuff together.
FM: WHERE DID THE CONCEPT OF AW YEAH COMICS COME FROM?
FA: It was something Art would say all the time. We’d talk and he has a very infectious way of ingraining his vocabulary in you. I’d say, “Hey man you want to go get pizza?” and he’d say, “Aw Yeah man.”
“You want to go get a drink?”
“Aw Yeah man.”
When it came down to doing a store and our own line of published comics, we thought about it for two and a half seconds before we came to the conclusion that it should be called AW YEAH COMICS.
FM: GROWING UP AS A COMIC FAN, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BOOKS YOU READ? WERE YOU A MARVEL OR DC GUY OR DID YOU VENTURE OFF TO THE INDEPENDENTS?
FA: I was a Marvel and DC guy. I was Superman and Batman and Spider-Man, so I was wholly ingrained in superhero comics but I also read Archie and Casper and Richie Rich. Anything that had pictures in it, I gravitated towards it.
FM: YOU ARE STRANDED ON A DESERTED ISLAND. YOU CAN HAVE ONE MUSIC ALBUM, ONE MOVIE/TV SHOW AND ONE BOOK TO READ. WHAT WILL IT BE?
FA: Ah man, that’s a tough one. LOL. Music album would have to be something from BOSTON. Movie would be STAR WARS. For a book it would be STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert Heinlein.
FM: WHAT’S ON YOUR CURRENT MUST READ LIST?
FA: Ah geez, I read pretty much everything. Well that is a lie, I buy a lot of stuff but I don’t have the time to actually read it. I love Dan Slott’s Spider-Man. There was this whole Clone Saga thing way back when and it was horrible. I was reading Spider-Man religiously for years and then the Clone Saga came along and I just couldn’t read it anymore. I stayed away from Spider-Man for the longest time until a friend of mine kept begging me, and begging me to read Dan Slott’s Spider-Man, so I did, and I got hooked back into it BIG time.
FM: YOU ARE PART OWNER OF AW YEAH COMICS WITH ART AND MARK WAID. WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING A COMIC CREATOR AND A COMIC RETAILER?
FA: It’s kind of awesome. It’s a lot of work but it’s one of those things, where if anybody knows anything about me they know I just love comics, I love the comics business, and the retail side is also part of the comics business and that’s a lot of fun. We have a lot of fun doing events that no one really does and we have creator events and signings, where the creators are really happy when they come to us, because they know that we know what it’s like to be a creator and we know what they want when they are there for a signing. We know how to market things, and we take pride in what our store looks like and what other people think of it. It’s fun. Being on the creative side of things and creating stories, I love that, but I also like being in the store when I see that kid buy his first comic.
FM: HOW MANY STORE LOCATIONS ARE THERE?
FA: There is one in Skokie, Illinois, right outside Chicago. One in Muncie, Indiana, and we just opened up in Harrison, New York, twenty-five minutes north of Manhattan.
FM: I READ THAT YOU ARE ALSO A HIGH SCHOOL ART TEACHER. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE EXPERIENCES TEACHING ART TO KIDS AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE HAVING A DAY JOB, CREATING COMICS, AND RUNNING YOUR OWN RETAIL STORE?
FA: Being in the classroom is fun. It comes down to that thing where if it doesn’t feel like work, it’s not, and when you are in a room with twenty-five high school kids and they are all being creative and funny and drawing, it doesn’t seem like work. It seems like we’re artist and you’re hanging out with them and showing them different things. I even said it to my bosses at work; the only thing I don’t like about teaching is the meetings and paperwork. In fact if I could do away with that stuff it would be the perfect job. I just really love being in the classroom with the kids.
FM: HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOUR TRAVEL SCHEDULE WITH CONVENTIONS?
FA: Luckily, it’s not too bad because a lot of conventions take place during summer. I don’t do as many conventions as say another artist or writer would because I don’t have the free time to travel around. I try to do different ones every year.
FM: IF YOU WERE TO HAND SOMEONE ONE OF THE COMICS THAT YOU WORKED ON, WHICH ONE WOULD THAT BE?
FA: It’s hard to say. All the comics I work on, they’re all my babies so it is kind of hard to choose. I’ll go with the most recent one. We just finished up our run of our creator-owned series at Dark Horse called GRIMMISS ISLAND, which was a lot of fun and something I just realized recently that it was our first creator-owned book that we published outside of our own company. We usually self publish all of our stuff, but this is the first time a large company has published something of ours that is wholly created by us.
FM: YOU ALSO DO THE AW YEAH PODCAST WITH ART BALTAZAR. WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A PODCASTER AND PART OF THE COMICS MEDIA?
FA: It started out that people would come to see Art and myself at conventions and we would kind of hold court at our table and people would always say, “You guys should have your own radio show.” I was talking to John Siuntres who does WORD BALLOON which is like the Charlie Rose of comic book podcasts, he’s just awesome, and I was just talking to him because he just interviewed us for his podcast and I said to him, “You know Art and I were thinking about doing a podcast but we don’t know how to do anything.” His expression changed and he nodded his head and said, “You have to do that!” and so we did. It’s kind of just a bunch of guys sitting around talking about comics. We talk about our wives, we talk about our kids, we talk about the movies we saw, we talk about comics. People seem to find it funny and they keep listening to it.
FM: IS THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS THAT YOU WILL BE ATTENDING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE THE COMIC CRUSADER AUDIENCE TO BE AWARE OF?
FA: October 3rd will be our AW YEAH COMICS GRAND OPENING IN HARRISON NY. I will be there, Art Baltazar, Mark Waid, James Tynion IV, Christy Blanch and a few other people will be signing at Aw Yeah Comics in Harrison and then a week after that I will be a New York Comic Con