Comics: Ernie Colon Talks Inner Sanctum

Living Legend of comics on doing his best at what he loves.

By , Columnist

Ernie Colon's original graphic anthology, Inner Sanctum, will be published by NBM in February 2012.

One of the more interesting aspects of the new acceptance that comics and graphic novels are currently enjoying is that it allows for the reinvention of not only classic characters, stories, and concepts, but perhaps more importantly, also the direction of many a comic creator’s career.

Take today’s subject, Ernie Colon. A well-established professional with deep and varied roots going back to the Silver Age of comics of the 1960s, Colon worked for just about every major and minor comics publisher. Over the course of his storied career, Colon proved himself time and again to be not just dependable, but also incredibly versatile, able to move effortlessly from the dynamic realism required by the superhero genre to the broad cartooning needed to bring childhood favorites like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Hot Stuff to life on the page.

Then, concurrent with the rise of graphic novels and graphic nonfiction books over the past decade or so, Colon reinvented himself and soon enjoyed real success as the artist of a graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report. That was soon followed by graphic biographies of Anne Frank and Che Guevara, and Colon found he was firmly established as one of the most celebrated creators of graphic nonfiction working in mainstream publishing today.

But for his new project, scheduled for release in February of next year by NBM, Colon decided to return to fiction. He also made the savvy decision to tap into some of his fondest memories of classic entertainments of years past to power his next project. The result is a little hardcover book called Inner Sanctum. It’s an all-original anthology of short horror, thriller, suspense, and shaggy dog tales that showcases the full range and scope of Colon’s prodigious powers in the best of ways.

Mr. Colon was kind enough to take a little time from working on his latest project to answer a few questions via email. As you’re about to discover, he’s as delightful and engaging a correspondent as he is an artist.

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Just so we’re all on the same page, could you tell us a little bit about Inner Sanctum and some of the things that made it so special?

Radio was king. No TV, cells, iPads, video games. It was radio and movies. At the theaters, admission was affordable to anyone—sometimes as low as a quarter. They didn't bore you with a dozen commercials—after charging you a small fortune! A double feature, newsreel, two cartoons, and coming attractions. Popcorn was maybe ten, fifteen cents a bag.

On the radio—all kinds of music, soap operas, comedy shows, and my favorites: Inner Sanctum, Lights Out, and Suspense — the top three mystery/horror shows.

Listening in my dark room, they could raise goose bumps and no kidding. The stories were well written and showed the craft required for that format. Many of the actors went on to great stage/movie careers.

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How’d this project come about, and what are some of the reasons you decided that now was the time to do it?

Project was running around in my head for years. Who knows why now. Why does someone lose weight on their own after years of family and friends advising them to do it? One day — all on their own.

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Unless I’m mistaken, you created the entire book yourself, from plot and pencils to final art and dialogue. What’s your process for doing an entire tale, much less a book, by yourself? Do you start with a full script, and then move on to roughs, pencils, etc., or is your approach a bit different than that?

I rarely use paper. Drawn, lettered, and colored in Photoshop. Occasionally use some other graphic programs, but they're just not as good or flexible.

One of the things I really appreciated about this particular book was that it allowed you to display your versatility as both an illustrator and a stylist. How did you decide what approach to the page to use for each story, or even from page to page and panel to panel? Is that all a conscious process, or has it all become second nature, an instinct for you at this point?

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You're much too kind. After 50 years of drawing professionally and attempting so many styles, it would be a wonder if my instinct didn't take over sometimes. Obsessively doing anything will achieve that.

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You know, I really did get the sense that you were having a blast doing this book, not only with the stories, but also with the format itself. So, is there any particular appeal for you in doing this kind of anthology, and being able to jump between all of these different genres and moods?

Shouldn't get paid to have this much fun. Just, um... kidding, of course, Bill.

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Pick your own project, draw it all yourself; no assembly line of inkers, colorists, letterers? Auteur is too snooty — how about doing what you love exactly the way you want to. Do I make mistakes? Poor judgment on a particular panel? Yeah, well — they're my mistakes, my judgment, not someone else's.

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How difficult was it to finalize the order of the tales? And, again, were you guided by some editorial wisdom you’ve gained over the years, or did you let your gut lead the way?

Ha. Editorial wisdom. No, it's just... "Hey, this looks good this way... wait, maybe this way..." Maybe that's gut instinct.

Now, is this project a sign of things to come? Will we be seeing more volumes of Inner Sanctum, or perhaps something else you’ve crafted on your own?

If Inner Sanctum becomes a roaring success, maybe Terry will want another installment. As to my own stuff — I'm fighting the same battle of the economy everyone else is. Editors are pulling back, waiting for the world to get its act together. But I have several projects of my own I'll be flogging to the starting gate.

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I know that your next project—3/5ths of a Man—is already in editorial’s hands. When’s that coming out, and is there anything you can tell us about that project yet?

Yes; it's another depressing tale of inhumanity. The Anne Frank book was an honor for my partner Sid Jacobson and me—but it was harrowing. As the story progressed, so did its horror.

Illustrating next what was several hundred years of humiliation, subjugation, and cruelty? I'm doing it with as much as I have, with gritted teeth. My work isn't good enough for these projects; all I can do is give it all I have.

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And what’s coming after that?

As Clint Eastwood said in one of his movies, "Tomorrow is vouchsafed to no one." Got to do our best and let God dispose.

What do you get from doing books like Inner Sanctum? How about from creating art in general?

Fun. If you can call obsession fun. Someone at a cocktail party recently asked me, "Hey, how you doing? You still drawing?" He made a little scribble motion in the air as he asked. My mouth was open, but I was without speech. All I could say—out of all the rejoinders chasing each other in my brain—was, "Yeah...sure."

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Art in general. Hmm...don't know how to explain it. Times when air conditioner repairman sounds like a good alternative. Barely kidding here. It's a bother to have to do so much dreck with your craft. A good potter (with whom I have the conceit to compare myself) if they can work on their own and make a reasonable living — well, they have it made. Make their own decisions. Create something because it pleases the eye. Not because it might get picked up by the movies or some video game. I draw. That's who I am.

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Is this one all about entertainment or might there be some other things that you hope your readers take away from Inner Sanctum?

I just want them to have even a little of the fun I had listening to it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Nah. You've covered it well. Thanks, Bill.

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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