I’ve talked to James on and off, but for awhile now I’ve wanted to pick his brain as a fellow Ghostbusters fan. For those of you unfamiliar with the man, he is the brain behind CerealGeek magazine, which has commented on, featured, and dissected The Real Ghostbusters pretty much constantly over five issues. As well, he contributed to The Real Ghostbusters DVD set from Time-Life and has joined forces with Dan Schoening to work on an as yet unannounced Ghostbusters comic for IDW!
I really wanted to talk about the comic, but it’s too early and I don’t want to pester, but he did happily talk about Ghostbusters and being a fan.
Issue six of CerealGeek is on it’s way and issue 7 is in the works, but why wait? If you’ve never checked out the magzine, and you don’t want to buy from your local shop (and really, for both your shop and the sake of the magazine with Diamond, you should think about doing that if you can) you can pick it up at a bevy of online retailers (list after the interview) or you can even pick up their PDF samplers! Whole lotta awesome for very little coin!
On with the interview;
How exactly did you decide the world needed a magazine devoted to 80s cartoons? And why publish yourself – why not make a website like everyone else?
I was in a relationship with a lass whose background was visual design, primarily through fashion. My background was, of course, animation; something which she was fascinated with. We decided to take a week’s break from work and journeyed to her hometown in Wales. Whilst at lunch with another couple I drifted away from the conversation and thought to myself (without any prompting), “What if I made a magazine about cartoons of the eighties?” And that was how cereal:geek was born! I told my partner about the idea and she was behind it one-hundred percent! Even though I had created and maintained numerous websites over the years, I believed that a physical magazine was the right direction to go. There is something unique about a magazine, something special that is hard to replicate with a website. Soon after coming up with the idea I contacted all my on-line friends who had a love of animation (and discussing it) and numerous artists whom I had become friends with over the years. I explained what I wanted to do and began assigning work to each of them. Eventually the content started coming in. Both my partner and I began discussing the style of the magazine; deciding that it would be interesting to combine the strong visual style of a fashion magazine with the geeky articles and illustrations that I had in mind. At that point I began designing the magazine; I have no real professional background in design, but I gave it a shot. After a few attempts I nailed the style of the magazine; and within a few months had assembled all the content for issue one! I sent it to the printers, promoted it, and it’s been plodding along ever since!
You’re about to print issue 6, the magazines are being solicited through Diamond, and the list of shops where people can buy the magazine is growing – what was the response when you launched initially and what was it like getting from there to here?
Surprisingly, when I first launched the magazine there was a bit of a buzz across certain parts of the Internet. Of course it wasn’t huge, because I was generally relying on word-of-mouth to sell the magazine. People that purchased the magazine were incredibly complimentary and supportive; often asking when the next issue would follow. Word-of-mouth eventually led to Graham Crackers Comics becoming the first major comic book retailer to support the magazine, thanks largely in part to Jimmy Hayes. At that point more people took notice of cereal:geek and sales were increased. That said, I would still look around the house and see boxes and boxes of unsold magazines. After years of relying on word-of-mouth I finally decided to pitch the magazine to Diamond Comics Distribution to see if they would be interested in selling it. With an amazing amount of support from Ain’t It Cool News the magazine sales exploded at the beginning of 2010 and I managed to shift a large amount of stock via Diamond. Even though I’d like the magazine to sell better, it has been an amazing journey. Oddly, I knew I had created something special when I saw someone sell the magazine on eBay for forty-three dollars!
You made the unusual move of selling inexpensive, expurgated PDFs – why, and how have the worked for you and the magazine?
Because I chose to print cereal:geek on high-quality glossy paper the magazine is incredibly expensive to print. As a result the magazine is rather expensive in retail; though no more expensive than similar-sized publications that are loaded to the brim with adverts. Because I knew quite a few people would be put off the magazine due to the price, I decided that a couple of PDF specials featuring selected material from the first four issues would be a good way for people to sample the magazine. I know of many people that have purchased the PDFs and then decided to buy the actual physical publications.
You got to participate in the making of the Real Ghostbusters DVD set. I also know you’re publishing a He-man guide on your own. And of course the IDW project you’re working on. You seem to love ALL 80s cartoons (and who doesn’t) – are all 80s cartoons created equal though? Where would you put RGB in the ranks of Saturday morning – you can use any criteria you want, and no, it doesn’t have to be number one (in fact, if you said number one without any prevarication, we’ll know you’re lying… or never watch Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters.)
It’s incredibly hard to rank cartoons of the eighties due to their differing source materials. Shows based on toys were occasionally restricted to working toy appearances into the script, often at the expense of storytelling; whereas shows without the influence of a toyline could do pretty much whatever they wanted. There’s also the way in which the writers approached a series. Some thoroughly enjoyed creating and developing these shows, whilst others would do it just to get paid; and look back on their work with embarrassment. Another factor to take into consideration is the animation. Shows that had static animation were often perceived as cheap, whereas shows that had beautiful Japanese animation would be warmly received. This is where I’d chip in and say that as a fan of He-Man, Filmation managed to get it right. Even though their animation was limited, their storytelling (through a core cast of characters) was, at times, wonderful. Shows that featured Japanese animation could suffer when multiple teams (or studios) would work on one series; or even one single episode, resulting in some questionable visuals! I’ve often said that with regards to writing, The Real Ghostbusters, specifically the syndicated season, is easily one of the best cartoons of the eighties. The writers, J. Michael Straczynski, Richard Mueller, Michael Reaves, etc., all respected the show they were working on, which is evidenced by the quality of writing. Not for one second did the characters talk down to the audience. When it comes to character writing and storytelling, few shows could beat The Real Ghostbusters. And with regards to Slimer and The Real Ghostbusters; I had a strong dislike for that show. However, when I worked on the DVD set for Time-Life I saw the series in a new light. I actually think in some ways it was bette
r and funnier than quite a few of the later episodes of The Real Ghostbusters!
What do people like the most out of the various features in Ceral Geek? Do they tend to prefer the academic (the scene breakdowns, etc.) over the whimsical (the pin-ups, the episodes as comic covers, etc.)?
I tend to get a lot of emails from people stating that as much as they love the beautiful illustrations and visual presentation, they buy the magazine because of the articles! Kind of like Playboy I guess?! Because of the amount of pre-existing content I have ready to go, it would be incredibly easy for me to fill up an issue with illustrations. However, I know how important it is for cereal:geek to maintain a healthy balance between the articles and the visuals.
When can we expect, roughly, issue 6? And where to after that? What’s not in six that you’re dying to get ready for #7?
With regards to issue six I hope to have it published in August/September time. The problem is that the magazine is incredibly expensive to print, and right now my finances aren’t all that great. My ideal plan is to get issues six, seven, and eight published before the end of the year! I have a great deal of material both written and illustrated that is sitting on my hard drive waiting to be published; some of it was completed as early as late 2008! I do have one particular article with many accompanying illustrations, based on The Real Ghostbusters, that I know people will love.
Question 4 aside, how did you get into RGB? When? What was your reaction? Basically, we all love it, but we all come to it differently…
I was fortunate enough to see the movie at the cinema as a kid. I loved it. I had the accompanying movie book adaptations, behind the scenes magazines; anything with the no-ghost symbol on, I pretty much owned it. A year or two later our local video rental store had a cassette of Filmation’s Ghostbusters. I looked at the packaging and, even as a kid, knew that it was in no way an official Ghostbusters cartoon! In late 1987 my father told me he had seen a trailer for a show based on the Ghostbusters movie (the film itself was going to premiere over the Christmas period). Believing him to be referring to Filmation’s version I told him that the cartoon was not based on the movie. A few days later at the beginning of 1988 I caught the trailer myself and couldn’t believe my eyes! I was overjoyed to see a cartoon based on the movie! The trailer simply comprised of footage from the introduction, and aside from a few hairstyle changes, I immediately knew which character was which. Thus began my love for The Real Ghostbusters! The only sad part of the story is that when I went to record the premiere episode “Slimer, Come Home” I accidentally set the video to record the other channel. So having watched the first episode I immediately set about watching it again, only to discover I had recorded Droids from the other channel!
It’s a bit contentious, as for some it undermines their childhood memories of RGB, or represents a cheapness in animation they don’t think the 80s had (and if CG has taught us nothing, it’s that the 80s had amazing highs and some fantastic lows, animation wise) – for others it’s more Ghostbuster goodness. What’s your take on Extreme Ghostbusters?
To this day I’m still not sure what to make of Extreme Ghostbusters. My initial problem was the use of the word “extreme”, which to this day I still think plagues people’s perceptions of the show. It’s instantly laughable as a title, because it reminds us of the period during the nineties when everything was “extreme”! I will confess to not watching the series in full, so it’s hard for me to make a judgment call. I saw the first few episodes, and realized I wasn’t a fan of where they had taken the show. I thought a few of the characters were very nicely rounded and developed, but they lacked the strong characterizations that made the original show such a hit. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the way the show treated the original cast (Egon, Janine, and Slimer) I did like the fact that the show acknowledged the original series on occasion. The two-part episode in which the original guys returned was entertaining, if only for the way they portrayed the original characters believably. Put it this way; when I think of Ghostbusters in animation, I probably refer to Filmation’s Ghostbusters long before I recall that Extreme Ghostbusters even existed.
Favorite Ghostbuster… QUICK, NO THINKING ABOUT IT! WHICH ONE!!??
Peter Venkman, without a doubt! He’s the Ghostbuster I always wanted to be!
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