Smash Pages Q&A: Tim O’Shea on Dealing with Depression

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Every life has its challenges, but few people are as aware of them as our SmashPages contributor Tim O’Shea. Tim was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, and he has been chronicling his treatment and recovery for friends and family on Facebook. Overlaid on that, however, is his struggle with depression–depression that often manifests itself as anger.

After Tim’s cancer diagnosis, he asked me to interview him. I was honored. We had several lengthy phone conversations, out of which came the interview we posted earlier. But there was one question I asked that unleashed a flood of reminiscence and reflection about Tim’s depression and the effect it has had on his life. Because Tim has been so brutally honest about this experience, I felt this was important to post on its own. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that answer.

What would you say were the big turning points in your life so far?

The first one happened before I was born, when my 14-year-old brother died 10 days before I was born. The next was when I started realizing in my teen years that my mom and my dad loved each other but it was not a happy love and I never got love from them. There were 7-10 surrogate families at my church who would support me and support me to this day, and my sister who is 10 years older than me

Realizing, in 2004, that anger management was a major problem for me and trying to get help for it to save my marriage, only to realize my marriage could not be saved for other reasons. I actually went to anger management counseling sessions that were court ordered by everyone who was in attendance except one person—me. I went voluntarily, and every other person in that class said “What the fuck are you doing here?” One guy was in anger management because he had thrown a bowl of Spaghetti-Os on his sister while she was driving. Another guy at Blockbuster been fired—someone said “How is it going buddy?” and he cold cocked them. They were probation violators who could not get a job. I had no reason to be there other than I loved my son and wanted to get better.

The first lesson I learned is you should catalog the moments when you realize you are about to get angry. Every time it was because I had unrealistic expectations. Say you are in traffic and you let the person in front of you go as a courtesy. Do you have an expectation that they might wave “Thank you” to you, or do you not care? I always expected them to wave, and when they did not wave I would get angry. So I set myself up for disappointment and I got angry.

Years ago I was working at my first job with a magazine called National Real Estate Investor. I was supposed to have a day off from work, as was another co-worker of mine. There wasn’t a problem. All of a sudden my boss said “M can get off but you can’t.” Rather than say “Can we work this out?” or somehow make it clear that I really needed to get off, I walked out of the cube and–I was in a cube farm with 3 other co-workers and there was a spare chair–I literally smashed the chair against the cube wall. Didn’t break it, just smashed it, walked out, came back 10 minutes later and my boss said “You can have the day off now.” And at that moment I was proud as hell that I was able to do that, never realizing the chilling effect I had on the entire floor and that woman, not realizing that woman from then on probably felt physically threatened by me, even though I had never physically threatened her. I had threatened the chair, but it was clear to everybody that the chair was intended to be her. It took me decades to realize that.

My son and my wife gave me a gift that I fully accepted two weeks ago when they finally got me to hear that yes, you are in incredibly angry person and without medication you cannot manage the depression that manifests itself as anger, but no matter what, every day and in every action that you overreact, there is never a doubt that you will come back to the center and you will be the father or the husband that you needed to be. And the fact that my son and my wife combined to let me hear that for the first time means that for the rest of my life I have a confidence that I had not had before two weeks ago.

Everybody in the world intellectually intimidated me. I felt inferior to every single person I meet. I no longer feel that, but I did then. I now feel I am an equal or at least somebody that you can have a conversation that will be of substance, and I have never had that before two weeks ago. That is a gift I will have for the rest of my life, and I hope it is a long life.

SmashPages Q&A: Tim O’Shea on Interviewing Comics Creators

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I first got to know Tim O’Shea in 2008, when he interviewed me about a new blog I had started, Good Comics for Kids. Later on, when I joined the Robot 6 team, he welcomed me warmly and was always quick with a kind word.

Tim blogs here at SmashPages now, but you can find his older comics interviews, as well as his music and other pop-culture writing, at his blog Talking with Tim. When he was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, he asked me if I would be interested in interviewing him, and we spent a lot of time on the phone talking about comics and other matters, including his struggle with depression. This Q&A is edited from those transcripts.

I came to know you as a comics blogger. When did you start reading comics?

The first comic I read was in 1975. It was a Fred Flintstone comic. It was a piece of shit. I hated that I read it and I didn’t read another till 1977. I have read comics ever since on a daily basis.

When did you start writing about comics, and what made you make that transition?

Jennifer M. Contino [the writer for the early comics site The Pulse] had no time to interview Geoff Johns about Stars and Stripes so she said “Could you?” I had never done it, but she said “Give it a try!” David LeBlanc of CBEM [Comic Book Electronic Magazine, a now-defunct website] ran it.

When I realized I was good at writing I started doing it.

Did you ever aspire to make your own comics?

No, because I enjoy comics and I enjoy helping people succeed in comics and I enjoy reading comics. I don’t aspire to do my own comic book, I aspire to help promote people and for people to succeed. All I want is for Jeff Parker to write two titles that can make sure he pays his bills and has time to spend time with his family. I want every single person who wants to be active in comics to be active in comics. I don’t want to be the guy who Tom DeFalco can’t get a job because I am competing with him.

You are particularly known for your interviews. How do you approach an interview? How do you prepare for it? Is there a particular balance of questions you are looking for?

I always go back to past interviews I have done, and I look at Tweets where they have talked about aspects of things. I prepare by doing 10 questions. I say “Once I get you the questions, ignore or revise them to satisfy your needs, because if I am asking you about shit that doesn’t matter to you you are going to talk shit and we are both going to be pissed off.”

The way I do an interview that is balanced is I engage the person in a way that gets them to consider something they hadn’t been thinking of before I told them that. I had an interview with Scott Allie about a Dark Horse issue where Kevin Nowlan was drawing 20 different Murder She Wrote-type characters in this book because that was amusing the hell out of Scott, the writer. All of a sudden I said, “Take out Jerry Orbach, who were the best guest stars on Murder She Wrote?” And Scott said “Well, fuck! Thanks for taking out Jerry. Now we can talk about the others.” The number of people in Murder She Wrote who got blacklisted and couldn’t work for years was astounding.

The way I do an interview that is balanced is I engage the person in a way that gets them to consider something they hadn’t been thinking of before I told them that.

What’s the hardest part?

I didn’t do phone interviews until the past year because my depression made it that I thought I was always going to get facts wrong. When I first started doing email interviews, so many people wouldn’t do them. Then there were a lot of years when nobody wanted to do a phone interview. I have gone through waves of never being able to interview anybody, then everybody wanting to interview me, and now I have a balance. If I can figure out a way to auto-transcribe stuff I will probably go to phone interviews by 2016.

The hardest part is people who will not do an interview with me. Gail Simone. [Tom] Spurgeon has been reluctant to be interviewed by me. Kurt Busiek I would interview every week if I could, but he will interview with me once every blue moon.

Is there an interview, or maybe more than one, that you are particularly proud of?

There are numerous ones, but for now the one that will stand out is the one with Joshua Cotter several years ago where he point blank discussed in detail his depression, because of the number of people that recognize themselves in Josh and because of the number of people that reached out to him. The fact that he took that risk, he changed people’s lives—how can you not be proud of that interview?

Smash Pages Review: The Monster Book of Manga: Steampunk

HarperCollins has been putting out these nicely produced manga-characters books for years, now, and they keep coming up with new subjects and genres.

The Monster Book of Manga: Steampunk
Edited by Jorge Balaguer

HarperCollins has been putting out these nicely produced manga-characters books for years, now, and they keep coming up with new subjects and genres.

Like all the Monster Books of Manga, this book focuses on one thing: Character design. If you’re interested in the basics of anatomy, draftsmanship, and storytelling, this is not the book for you. That said, it may be helpful for the artist who has mastered the basics and is ready to develop some new characters. It’s not so much a how-to book as a collection of examples, though. Balaguer has designed 39 different characters, from a robot to a firefighter to a Victorian lady, and he has given each of them a name and a paragraph of background information. There’s a lot of story in these little paragraphs, and he clearly has a lively imagination, but there’s no information on how to grow your own.

Balaguer takes us through seven steps for each character, from stick figure to finished drawing. Unfortunately, his step-by-step instructions suffer from a common problem: The distance between step 1, a stick figure, and step 2, a fleshed-out drawing of a realistic looking person, is vast. To the beginner, it’s like magic. Everything after that is basically finish—inking, shading, coloring, and adding rivets. Getting from a few sketched lines and circles to something that looks like an actual figure is the hard part—and this book is no help. (The solution is to spend a lot of time drawing from live models, but a book won’t help you there.)

Furthermore, for a book that’s supposed to be about steampunk, there’s precious little talk of how the characters are designed from the inside out, nor is there any attempt to make them seem logical. There’s more to steampunk than drawing rivets on every surface, but you won’t learn that here. Not only that, the rivets don’t even make sense—in some of the figures they not only don’t fasten anything, they would actually get in the way.

While these factors limit its usefulness, this book may provide a helpful toolbox for artists who are interested in the elements of different characters, or the details of how to ink, shade, and color different types of steampunk characters—and it’s certainly enjoyable to browse through it and see the different characters Balaguer has created.

Monster Book of Manga - Steampunk