Champagne Supernova – Getting Out Of The Kitchen

Posted by September 30, 2013 Comment

Keith_ChampagneA new column for Bleeding Cool by Keith Champagne;

I love comics but a couple of years ago, I hit the wall. There had been too many downs and not enough ups to balance out the roller coaster ride. I’ve always prided myself on being made of iron, there have been stretches when I’ve produced upwards of sixty pages of art a month, but working all night to hit deadlines was starting to wear me down. And after working essentially alone at home for eighteen years, I was starting to feel like I should…I don’t know…interact with people once in awhile?

So I made what has, in hindsight, turned out to be one of the more questionable decisions of my life. I went into the restaurant business. A little barbeque place where I live in Connecticut. Initially, I structured my schedule so that I’d be able to balance both careers but quickly learned it was hard to run a bar/restaurant unless it was the primary focus. As a result, my comic work got pushed to the back burner. I kept my hand in writing some stuff for different publishers and helping to keep Green Lantern on track every month. The stuff that Geoff and Doug do together tends to be high profile so I’m really lucky, it’s helped to keep my name out there even when I haven’t been.

If you’re interested, I have a million stories about my adventures in the restaurant industry and learned a lot about running a business. Hiring, firing, never-ending taxes, insurance policies, liquor commission and distributors, cash theft, long hours, a guy getting his ear ripped off, another fellow swallowing a handful of painkillers and chasing them with vodka and on and on. And that was just the first month!

Over time I realized it wasn’t for me. Being away so much was hard on my kids who, while used to daddy working long hours, liked it much better when they could hang out in my office with me while I was chained to my desk. My partner in the biz had a problem with booze and Oxycontin, and I just wasn’t having fun anymore. When some new owners bought the building we were operating out of (spoiler alert: you could hear the Godfather music playing when I first met them), I decided it was an organic time to get out of dodge. Not before I was offered a pile of blow (which to them was like shaking hands) or before I was accused of embezzling sixty grand in cash (one last story to tell there!) but in early August, I left the place behind, took a vacation to the beaches of Maine, and decided to turn my attention back to comics full-time.

A lot of different people work in this field; I know I can’t keep track of them all so I won’t take it personally if you have no idea who I am. Over the course of my career, I’ve penciled but mostly inked the artwork for tons of books. I’ve also written a fair bunch of comics. Outside of our little industry, I’ve written stuff for a couple of video games, screenplays, and had two creator-owned properties picked up for development as movies. When it was announced that Paramount was optioning The Mighty, you should have seen my Facebook page blow up. For about three days, I was the most popular guy from my high school class.

Objectively, my career has had a lot of ups and downs. I’ve been hired, fired, shifted off books and onto others, lost work when titles were canceled from underneath me, gained new employment when new books were launched and on and on. Pretty much like everyone else who works in this business. Also like most everyone else, I’ve worked over pretty much every vacation I’ve ever had and have toiled away on birthdays, holidays, even Christmas a couple of times to help books meet shipping. I’ve made a lot of friends and not many enemies. So I’ve got that going for me.

Funny thing, though. Turns out that by and large, the industry got along just fine without me. Who would have guessed my pitches for World War 3.1: Black Adam’s revenge (for real this time) or Countdown Arena 2: Electric Boogaloo would be met with stony silence?

But like Rocky after Adrian died of the cancer, there’s still something burning in the furnace. Now’s my time to get it done, I’m not getting any younger. There’s a lot that’s changed about the industry in the past two years. Digital Comics, for instance, I know very little about (I secretly wish Mark Waid would mentor me). This Kickstarter thing seems like it’s not going away. Marketing on Social Media has gotten much more important so I should try to do some of that. I’m not that intimate with the New 52 or Marvel Now. I’ve got a lot to learn, maybe you guys can help me get back up to speed.

So if you’re not too busy, please come hang out with me every week or two and I’ll tell you some stories, keep you up on my progress (or lack thereof), and generally just try to have a good time together. I talk to myself enough (in my Shaggy voice, obviously) and Lord knows enough people still ask me about Green Lantern Corpse or Joker: Year One at conventions. If you need advice, that was my favorite part of bartending. Tell me I suck if it makes you feel good about yourself. I might even drag in a guest columnist once in a while to spice things up when you start thinking my love is boring.

My email address is keithchampagne@gmail.com. I’m @keithchampagne on Twitter which I’m going to try to start using, and I’ll also respond to as many comments below as I can.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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