Vin Suprynowicz and Scott Bieser
SUNNI: It's been much too long since I've been able to have a relaxed talk with you, Vin. How are you doing these days?
VIN: Busy. The book tour starts April 9 in St. Paul; I'm trying to set aside some time from Black Arrow marketing and promotion to work my way back into the new book; and it's flooding in Vegas. And it's winter, so I'm at the gym a lot.
SUNNI: It's good to see The Black Arrow getting well-deserved acclaim from several people. I imagine you're getting a lot of private feedback too. Are you pleased with its reception so far?
VIN: All the notices have been positive. You can't complain about that. I'm especially glad to see some attention being paid to the characters and the relationships, going beyond your basic plot outlines. It's also nice to get some kind words from female readers and folks who I know aren't gun nuts or tax protesters. That means the book is appealing to that wider readership we were hoping for. Of course, we still don't know if the traditional boycott on any pro-gun or anti-tax or anti-drug-war book that's not from a major publisher, by The Washington Post and The New York Times, by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews and Harper's and The New Yorker -- by all the mainstream media -- is going to continue. All you can hope is that pressure from the internet and the alternative media will finally force those people to cave in and acknowledge we exist.
We send out more than 500 review copies of each of my books, and we can generally count on some generous review space in Backwoods Home and Guns & Ammo. You can maybe add Soldier of Fortune and Laissez Faire Books and Mike Hoy's people up at Loompanics. But that's about it; up till now the mainstream media in New York and Washington have just thrown our books in the trash and hoped we would go away. I'm not whining, it's just the point from which we know we start out. Once you've been at this for six years you start to see the pattern; it has nothing to do with whether the author is willing to go out on the road and promote the book, because I'll be in Minnesota and Indiana and Colorado and New Hampshire this spring; it has nothing to do with whether we make the book available through Baker & Taylor and list it in Books in Print and get ourselves a Library of Congress number and a bar code on the back, because we do all that. And I don't think it's just my ego when I say it can't be the quality of the writing, when people I've never met are already comparing The Black Arrow with Atlas Shrugged and Gone With The Wind. Which I think is a little over the top, just for the record. But yeah, there's some real enthusiasm out there.
What's different this time is the kind of work you [see also my final FM News essay] and Tom Knapp and Doug French and Fran Tully have been doing on the internet. We're getting orders from Germany and Australia. We've sold hundreds of the leather-bound edition of The Black Arrow at $50 apiece, and the demand for the paperback is building, and it's not even released yet. So things look good. And we've got a few cards left up our sleeve, yet.
SUNNI: Most readers are probably familiar with your previous nonfiction books, Send in the Waco Killers and The Ballad of Carl Drega. Both are excellent compilations of -- and expansions upon -- your newspaper columns. Why did you shift to fiction for your third book?
VIN: Looking for a wider audience. Fiction is more digestible; people don't think of it as work. But also because the conventions and space limitations of journalism just get too restrictive when the goal is to get the reader emotionally involved. And it was just time to grow. Either you grow and change, or you stagnate and fall into a formula and lose your ability to bring anything fresh and surprising. My nonfiction books sell 5,000 or 10,000 copies apiece and they make a little money; the investors make their percentage. But to have any real impact you have to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. This book is the equivalent of going at the walled city with ladders and battering rams. We're tired of being ignored. Did I just quote Glenn Close as the creepy woman who boils the rabbit in that Michael Douglas movie?
SUNNI: [laughs] Speaking of The Ballad of Carl Drega, Scott Bieser is also here. Hi Scott, and thanks very much for agreeing to talk with me. How are you doing?
SCOTT: I'm pretty busy, too; getting ready to sell my house. I'm planning a move to Wyoming in late spring or early summer, most likely to Cheyenne. Hopefully all this running around will help me shed a few pounds. [chuckles]
SUNNI: You do seem to be quite busy of late. You coauthored A Drug War Carol with Susan Wells, just recently published in print your graphic novel version of L Neil Smith's classic libertarian novel The Probability Broach, and did the cover for Vin's novel The Black Arrow. Sleep much? [laughs]
SCOTT: Not enough. But this is the sort of work I feel like I was born to do, so I'm really happy to be doing it.
SUNNI: How did you and Vin first connect? I recall that you did the cover for The Ballad of Carl Drega -- beautiful work, too. That may be my favorite of all your artwork I've seen.
SCOTT: Thanks! The original concept was Vin's which had the soldier handing out flintlocks. I suggested substituting M-16s for the flintlocks, and Vin loved the idea. I first discovered Vin through his older online collection of articles. But I didn't really establish contact with him until we both attended Ernie Hancock's first Freedom Summit, in 2001. By that time I had several cartoons published in The Libertarian Enterprise and I was getting to be known within that faction of the libertarian movement. Just a bit prior to that I had some initial internet contact with him, as Neil wanted me to paint the cover for Lever Action, which Vin and Rick Tompkins were publishing. At the Freedom Summit we got better acquainted, and soon afterward Vin contacted me about doing a cover for The Ballad of Carl Drega. And so we are now infamous in New Hampshire.
SUNNI: Yes, so I've heard. You and Neil seem to do a lot of work together, too. I noticed on your web site that some of the stories for your posters start out, "L Neil called me ..." How did that relationship come about?
SCOTT: In 1997 I was going through one of my burnout periods, dejected and disgusted. But one evening I was idly surfing the web, and just on impulse typed "libertarian" into Yahoo's search engine. The first listing was a compilation of Vin Suprynowicz's columns, titled "The Libertarian," and several hits from Neil's web site. Reading Vin's columns got my blood roiling, and then reading Neil's columns was like a blast of fresh water. I was re-energized and revitalized. You might say that together, Vin and Neil saved my libertarian soul.
The fact that Neil is also a science-fiction writer, and tends to put more of himself into his writing, and sometimes participates in online mailing lists, drew me closer to him first. I wrote him a few times and got a desultory "thanks for the interest" reply. I used my 3D graphics program to do an update of his "Bill of Rights Enforcement Logo" and got another desultory response. Finally, in 2000 I drew a cartoon showing how Harry Browne was screwing his Libertarian Party donors, and that got Neil's attention. I guess you could say Harry helped bring Neil and me together. [laughs]
SUNNI: Nice to know Harry did something right by Neil. [laughs]
SCOTT: Neil loves cartoonists, and was thrilled to discover a libertarian cartoonist with my skill level -- I know that sounds immodest but I don't know how else to put it. Neil was already friends with Rex "Baloo" May, and I like his work, but it's very Thurberesque.
Neil and I got to chatting first by e-mail, then by phone, and we learned we have a great deal in common. We were both strongly influenced by Rand, and have the same generally Rothbardian opinions on the questions which divide libertarians. We both like guns, science-fiction, and the general drinking-carnivore lifestyle. We have some disagreements, but they seem pretty minor so far, more a matter of differences in interpreting events than in basic doctrines.
Later, when I started drawing The Probability Broach, Neil remarked at one point that it seemed like I had a direct USB connection to his brain, that scenes came out looking almost exactly has he imagined them, only reversed left-right for some reason. Maybe what we really have is a twisted-pair Ethernet connection. [laughs]