About your host.
My name’s Matt Maxwell, a quite nearly perfect secret identity monikker, if ever there was one.
I was born in California, between Kennedy’s assassination and the Moon landings, which I can dimly remember seeing on the unsteady and flickering tube of our old Zenith television. Though that may well have been one of the later landings, and not the first one. When my family moved to our new home in south Orange County, I can clearly remember being surrounded by rolling hills covered in grass that was only green for three months of the year. By the time I finished high school, the hills had been paved with stripmalls, condominiums and low-density living as far as the eye could see.
My college years were spent in alternating states of unmotivated torpor and ecstatic frenzy, depending on the drudgery level of the classes involved. Against all hope, I graduated with not one, but two degrees: English Literature and Social Sciences (emphasis on Sociology—further emphasis on Ethnomethodology). Neither of these degrees came to be of much particular use in the real world. But they’ve provided an invaluable toolset for writing. And it should be as no surprise that I ended up in fiction, after being raised by a reporter turned novelist and a novelist turned novelist.
After college, I worked for a number of years at a multi-campus thinktank based at UC San Diego, where I was surrounded by professors who’d worked on the Manhattan Project and in international diplomacy and political science. Of course, I was a glorified receptionist who had to fight tooth and nail to prove myself more useful working on computers and setting up webpages (back in the glory days of 1994.) It was a fight I never won, and I burned out on the place.
Of course, I’d managed to write the better part of three novels while I was working there. Hey, text on a screen looks like text on a screen. The kicker was that none of those novels went anywhere, so maybe work got the last laugh after all. Around that time, I started fiddling around with the electric guitar and started up a band called The Roswell Incident with a longtime friend of mine. That continued off and on for a number of years, playing on radio shows and at friends’ parties. Never released an album, though there’s certainly enough material recorded to do so.
Sometime along the way, I’d been bitten by the Photoshop bug. I’d taught myself the program, back around 2.0, before there was such a thing as layers. And if you’ve ever worked in Photoshop, I dare you to do your average job without using layers, just a float for cut and paste. Go ahead. It builds character. My work had caught the eye of a small record label in LA, and I managed to get some work from them. Eventually, I figured that I could get paid for that like a real job.
My mistake was thinking that I needed a piece of paper to get those jobs, so I went back to school. This time, to a small tech school, learning desktop publishing/multimedia/animation. That went well enough, but ultimately it proved to be a bit of a side-track. Though it did provide some structure and focus, which is something I can usually use a shove with, so I suppose it all worked out.
And then I fell into animation. I’d done well in the classes, working with Electric Image and After Effects. Then I took a course in LightWave and spent a few months getting a reel together, between the odd freelance job. And going back to the tech school where I’d been a student, to teach animation for a term. While waiting to hear back from the demo reels I’d sent up to animation/VFX houses in LA, I took a job as an animator on Thumb Wars, a deranged parody of the original Star Wars.
After finishing that, in the summer of 1999, I finally received The Call and took a job with Netter Digital, production house for Babylon 5, as well as the 3D Voltron series. There, I worked on Max Steel and Dan Dare before the shop impoloded under the stress of trying to deliver animation on a hyperunrealistic schedule, driven by producers who simply didn’t understand the differences between 2D and 3D animation. And did I mention that I was still technically living in San Diego at the time? I did the commute twice a week and stayed in a very small studio apartment four nights a week.
Until, like I said, Netter fell down and went boom. I then returned permanently to San Diego to take care of my first child. And then my second.
During that time, I finally got back into writing, after hiding from it for years. Rediscovering a love of comics that had been all but snuffed out by the Image Revolution, I jumped back into funnybooks in 2002. By 2003, I was writing the column Full Bleed for the site Broken Frontier, and was getting the first draft of Strangeways off the ground. Which more or less brings us full circle, or at least to where I am right now.
If I have to blame anyone for getting into comics, it’d be Bill Mantlo and that one issue of The Micronauts that cracked my skull open. Issue #29, which found our heroes being shot into the brain of their then-comatose leader who had been gravely wounded in battle with his mentor, the evil Baron Karza who had joined up with the forces of HYDRA to lay waste to earth. And while taking their bicameral vacation, they fought against their own nightmares and the captial-N Nightmare of Dr. Strange fame, all deftly illustrated by Pat Broderick. I’m not saying that any of my work has that same sense of unbounded wonder and fervid imagination, but that sort of thing inspired me, and still does.
As for who to blame that I’m still in comics? Point that finger at Grant Morrison, whose work I didn’t really get the first time around, but once I’d been led back to comics with a real hunger for fantasy and Big Ideas, his work was the one to scratch my itch.
And now, back to work for me. Keep poking around here if you want to.
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