Wizard #28: Colleen Doran

December 1993 (on sale date: October 1993)

Bart Simpson (in his Bartman costume) makes an appearance on the cover of Wizard #28 to announce the launch of Bongo Comics, Matt Groening’s company formed to publish Simpsons comics.

This one’s a doozy, folks. Since I was on a roll covering the burgeoning self-publishing scene (James Owen‘s Starchild in Wizard #26 and Jeff Smith‘s Bone in Wizard #27), the next logical topic for consideration was Colleen Doran‘s A Distant Soil. Little did I realize that I was about to step into a huge shit-storm.

After a brief experiment with phone interviews for the Owen and Smith profiles while on summer break, I was back at school when I wrote this “Palmer’s Picks” for Wizard #28 and did not interview Colleen Doran. There were two reasons for this: First, I was just too busy at college to schedule an interview. And second, since there was so much information about A Distant Soil out there already, I thought I would have enough material to put the column together.

I turned my copy in before my deadline, collected my check, and then moved on to the next “Palmer’s Picks” like always. Except this time, the story wasn’t over. Shortly after Wizard #28 hit the stands, I got a phone call from my editor letting me know that Wizard received a letter from Warp Graphics co-owner Richard Pini, the original publisher of A Distant Soil, who took issue with how Colleen Doran’s publishing woes were recounted in “Palmer’s Picks.” You can read Pini’s full letter below as it appeared in Wizard #30, but in a nutshell, he wanted to set the record straight and assure everyone out there that Warp Graphics did not try to take A Distant Soil away from Doran.

(There must have been something in the water that month—the “Magic Words” section of Wizard #30 also featured a letter from Valiant publisher Steven Massarsky disputing some claims Barry Windsor-Smith made in a Wizard interview and John Byrne writing to take issue with Todd McFarlane’s “E.G.O.” column.)

When I heard about Pini’s letter, I was devastated. I felt like shit. I had pleaded for letters about “Palmer’s Picks” in an earlier column, but this wasn’t what I had in mind! My editor talked me down and assured me that everything was okay. They would print Pini’s letter in an upcoming issue along with an apology and then move on. But when I looked closely at the column as it appeared in the issue 28, I noticed that my original draft was changed before publication. Here’s how the third paragraph looked when I submitted my text:

Eventually Doran wanted to move A Distant Soil to the Donning Company, a book publisher who had started a graphic novel line called Starblaze Graphics. The split from Warp was anything but easy. The move was complicated with contractual disagreements and disputes over who really created and owned A Distant Soil. Doran redrew and rewrote the comic for a color graphic novel from Donning after reaching an agreement with Warp, but the company later filed a lawsuit against both Doran and Donning for an alleged break of their agreement.

And here’s what saw print:

Doran and Warp parted ways when the company attempted to copyright and trademark A Distant Soil in their name. The split was anything but easy, and, as it turned out, it was only the first occasion Doran would have to battle for her rights as a creator. She landed at Donning Company, a book publisher with a new graphic novel line called Starblaze Graphics. The artist redrew and rewrote the comic for a color graphic novel after reaching an agreement with Warp, but the disputes over who had created and who owned A Distant Soil continued.

The double gatefold cover for Wizard #28 was cleverly designed to work in both horizontal and vertical orientations.

My original draft intentionally skirted around the delicate legal issues surrounding A Distant Soil. I was aware that the disputes were settled out of court, so I was careful to merely mention that there was a disagreement and leave it at that. When the piece was edited, some key details were added that made things a little more clear, but also could be read as unchecked allegations. At the end of the day, my name was attached to this article, even though what I wrote was not what was published

Looking back at this mess now, I can see that it was less about what I wrote in Wizard and more about the continuing battle between Warp and Doran. Pini saw this as another instance of Doran airing dirty laundry in public when in reality it was just little ol’ me trying to write about a comic that I felt should get some more readers. (I feel slightly vindicated that the Wikipedia entry for Colleen Doran backs up what saw print in Wizard.)

All of the controversy over the publishing of A Distant Soil tends to distract from what is really a wonderful comic. It has taken Doran years to get her epic saga in print and finally, after many delays, it looks like she is getting close to wrapping the whole thing up. Thanks to support from her Patreon page, she is chipping away at the final story arc of A Distant Soil, with plans to release the remaining eight issues from Image Comics once the entire work is complete.

Cartoonist Kayfabe segment covering “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #28.

But while you wait for the end of Doran’s saga, check out the infamous “Palmer’s Picks” on A Distant Soil from Wizard #28, followed by the letter of complaint from issue #30.

Palmer’s Picks

A Long Shot Comic Makes Good

By Tom Palmer Jr.

Most self-publishers in the comics business are short on one thing, and it usually isn’t talent or determination—it’s money. There are several ways for aspiring cartoonists to get around this problem. Some choose to rough it out until their comic catches on, while others look to jobs outside the comic industry for a source of income. Very few attempt to support themselves within the industry and stay in the business long enough to fund their self-published comic. Colleen Doran is one of the few to choose this last option. She did so for A Distant Soil, which she self-publishes while freelancing at the larger publishing companies on various issues of Sandman and Shade the Changing Man.

A Distant Soil has traveled a very rocky road to get where it is today. Colleen Doran has been a professional illustrator since the age of fifteen, and has been involved in comics since college. She came up with the concept for A Distant Soil as a teenager and eventually got her comic published by Warp Graphics, the publishing company founded by Elfquest creators Wendy and Richard Pini. Doran drew an insert that appeared in Elfquest #16, which led to a regular A Distant Soil series in 1983. While Doran plotted and drew the comic, the dialogue was written by Richard Pini, since it was believed that Doran was too young and inexperienced to handle it.

Doran and Warp parted ways when the company attempted to copyright and trademark A Distant Soil in their name. The split was anything but easy, and, as it turned out, it was only the first occasion Doran would have to battle for her rights as a creator. She landed at Donning Company, a book publisher with a new graphic novel line called Starblaze Graphics. The artist redrew and rewrote the comic for a color graphic novel after reaching an agreement with Warp, but the disputes over who had created and who owned A Distant Soil continued.

Doran eventually settled with Warp, but she ran into more trouble with Donning. Their graphic novel line was mismanaged and misdirected; eventually, it was sold to Schiffer Publishing. Apparently, Schiffer was only supposed to distribute Donning’s line of graphic novels, but in reality, the company took over the publishing rights without clearance from the creators of the graphic novels. One of these creators was Doran, who filed a suit along with eleven others involved in the books issued by Donning.

Doran tried again, this time publishing A Distant Soil through her own Aria Press. She reformatted and redrew parts of her two color graphic novels, “Immigrant Song” and “Knights of the Angel,” in black and white, and she drew an all-new backup story called “Seasons of Spring.” The first issue appeared in June of 1991, and four issues have appeared so far. The delay between issues can mostly be accounted for by Doran’s choosing to support her comic by taking on freelance work from other companies. She has worked on such books as Sandman, Shade the Changing Man, and Hellraiser, giving herself time to fine-tune A Distant Soil.

The actual story of A Distant Soil is best described as fantasy, although it sometimes borrows from science fiction, adventure, and drama. The pure fantasy of the “Immigrant Song” and “Knights of the Angel” stories are contrasted in each issue with the down-to-earth “Seasons of Spring,” which recounts the earlier years of certain characters in the other tales. It is evident that Doran has a larger saga planned, since there are many openings and ambiguities in the story which could possibly be filled in later.

On the artistic side, there aren’t enough words to describe Colleen Doran’s skill in storytelling, composition, and attention to detail. Her panels flow seamlessly into one another, depicting a clear and interesting story. She has a detailed and polished style that is distinct and easily recognizable. There is an attention to detail in her work, ranging from the subtle expressions and gestures of her characters to the small nuances of different locations and background objects. All of these qualities combine to make Colleen Doran’s work, especially A Distant Soil, a joy to read and experience.

Update: Those of you interested in Tragedy Strikes Press, which I featured in issue #25, will be pleased to know that the company has been reorganized into Black Eye Productions. They plan to publish three quarterly titles initially, two of which are from the Tragedy Strikes line. Their first offering is the second issue of Dylan HorrocksPickle, picking up from the first issue published by Tragedy Strikes. The new issue should be in stores right now. This month, look for the first issue of an all-new hybrid magazine and anthology comic called Sputnik. And next month, be sure to hunt down the first issue of Sin Comics, a brand-new series from the warped mind of Jason Stephens, featuring the same characters from Sin, as well as some new faces. Black Eye will be offering Tragedy Strikes’ entire backlist through their catalogue and through their newsletter, Eye Drops. It’s free, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t ask for one by writing to: Black Eye Productions, 338 Kribs Street, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada N3C 3J3. All catalogue and newsletter requests that were sent to Tragedy Strikes at the address in Wizard #25 will be forwarded to Black Eye.

Next month: I’ll feature Dan Clowes’ Eightball from Fantagraphics Books. As usual, I’m open to reading your suggestions or listening to whatever is on your mind. Just drop a line to Palmer’s Picks c/o Wizard Press, 100 Red Schoolhouse Road, Bldg B-1, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.

Tom Palmer Jr. is a freelance writer currently attending college in Fredericksburg, Va.

Tom’s Recommended Reading

• The Aria Press edition of A Distant Soil is the most readily available of the various versions of the story. Five black and while issues have been published so far, several of which are already into their second printings. Individual issues can be ordered from Aria Press for $1.75, which includes shipping fees. Subscriptions are also available, at $12.50 for eight issues. The address for Aria Press is 12638-28 Jefferson Avenue, Suite 173, Newport News, VA 23602-4316.

• Aria Press offers several other A Distant Soil items, as well as other work by Colleen Doran. There are two t-shirts available (for $14 each) and two postcards (for $1 each). Copies of Anne Rice’s Master of the Rampling Gate (from Innovation, with painted artwork by Doran) and Sandman: Dream Country (published by DC, with a story illustrated by Doran) are also available.

• There is also the A Distant Soil Fan Club, which includes many benefits available exclusively to members, including a t-shirt, an autographed print, and a bimonthly newsletter. Memberships cost $20, which can be sent to Aria Press at the above address. Colleen Doran also offers some of her original artwork through Aria Press. Prices are listed in issues of A Distant Soil.

• Colleen Doran’s other comic book work has been published by many different publishers in over fifty different titles. Some of these include Sandman, Shade the Changing Man, and Eclipso from DC; Amazing Spider-Man, X-Factor and Excalibur at Marvel; and a back-up story in Jo Duffy’s Nestrobber from Blue Sky Blue. Most of these comics should be available as back issues at your local comic book store.

• The original Warp Graphics edition of A Distant Soil ran for nine magazine-sized Issues from 1983 to 1985. The story was scripted by Richard Pini and is very different from the Donning graphic novels and the Aria Press version. The art is in black and white, reproduced from the original pencil artwork. The comic has no relationship to the current version of the story, and most of the issues are very hard to find.

• There are two full-color A Distant Soil graphic novels published by Donning/Starbiaze. The books, “Immigrant Song” and “Knights of the Angel,” were distributed to bookstores as well as comic stores. However, they may be hard to find, since Donning no longer exists.

Dear Wizard,

For years, and for her own reasons, Colleen Doran has been taking potshots at Warp Graphics in retaliation for the “wrongs” she obviously still feels she suffered at our hands while under contract to us in the mid-1980s. For the most part, we have been content to let her vent her feelings without response from us, because the ancient wisdom is true: If we accept her invitation to a pissing contest, all that the audience ultimately sees is two people pissing on each other.

Recently, however, we received electronic mail from a reader of both Elfquest and Wizard, which reads, in part, “I read in the most current Wizard that, apparently, Warp tried to appropriate the rights to A Distant Soil when you were publishing it. Wizard goes so far as to say (or at least imply) that you guys claimed creators’ right to it. Is this true?

“Say it ain’t so! If you did this, how did you reconcile this action with your own reaction when [your creative rights were jeopardized]?…lf you didn’t try to claim the rights to A Distant Soil, then someone needs to send a letter to Wizard clearing this all up. I don’t think this looks too good for you guys.”

By stating as fact (“A Long Shot Comic Makes Good,” Palmer’s Picks, Wizard #28) unchecked allegations which are, at best, a matter of personal interpretation, and, at worst, untrue, you have given those potentially harmful statements the weight of Wizard‘s considerable circulation.

You reported the following:

• Doran “came up with the concept for A Distant Soil…” Just for the record, because such things are so easily lost in argument, the title itself was originated by me, and taken from a line by Thomas Gray (1716-1771): “To seek your hero in a distant soil!” Given Doran’s concept as originally explained to me, it seemed an appropriate and powerful sentiment.

• “…it was believed that Doran was too young and inexperienced to handle” scripting A Distant Soil. The truth is that Doran, at the outset, expressed the uncertainty of her own desire to script the series, for whatever reasons. I offered to script from Doran’s plots, subject to her creative override, because (at the time) I looked forward to the collaboration on Warp’s first post-Elfquest title. When, mid-series, she decided she did want to script as well as plot each issue, the job became hers, as clearly indicated by the change in credits around issue #6 or so.

• “…the company attempted to copyright and trademark A Distant Soil in their name.” This is the most damaging untruth in the article, as it makes Warp Graphics out to be, in essence, a thief. Each issue of the magazine carried a notice of copyright in both Doran’s and Warp’s name, according to the agreement that Doran had with Warp Graphics. The rationale at the time was that, as the “business caretaker” of the property, Warp Graphics would be in a good position not only to fend off copyright infringements on Doran’s behalf, but would also be able to take advantage of ancillary business opportunities for the property (as it was then already doing for Elfquest and, later, Myth Adventures and other titles) on behalf of both Doran the creator and Warp Graphics the publisher. In those early days of creators’ right, that was the rationale, and by the standards of the times it was a decent one. To suggest that Warp Graphics wanted to appropriate Doran’s property is to suggest that we were interested in it without its creator, and to suggest that is insultingly ludicrous.

In my heart of hearts I wish that Doran would just let go and let God, as we did years ago. She’s doing just what she wants these days, she says, so mazel already. But when allegations like these are made, you owe it to all concerned to check them out first before letting them loose.

Richard Pini
Publisher, Warp Graphics
Poughkeepsie, NY

When Wizard #28’s Palmer’s Picks ran, we should have presented both sides of the Warp/Doran story. I apologize for any misunderstanding caused by the article. We will be a lot more careful in the future.


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