Author Jim Beard was introduced to comic books at a young age by his father, who passed along his love for the medium. After decades of reading, collecting and dissecting comics, Jim became a part of the comic book universe when he sold his first story to DC Comics in 2002. In the years since, the Toledo native has contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history has written official Justice League, Star Wars and Ghostbusters stories, giving a voice to some of the most iconic characters in entertainment history.
In 2011, Jim contributed to and edited Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters, and in 2014, he published Sgt. Janus, Spirit Breaker, an inventive tale of a former military veteran who aids those who are haunted by spirits still anchored to this world. A year later, Jim released a sequel, Sgt. Janus Returns, that helped to establish him as one of the most unique voices in the world of occult fiction.
Do you recall the first comic book you read? If so, what was it?
Looking back, it was probably either a Casper the Friendly Ghost or one of the Batman comics that were sitting around the house. I was lucky enough to be born right before the ’60s Batmania hit, so there was a lot of Batman around to be exposed to. That set the course for my life right there.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences?
Definitely comics, and definitely my dad, who introduced me to every bit of pop culture that forms the foundation blocks of what continues to inspire and enthrall me to this day. I can trace everything I like back to him, and that includes comics, novels, TV series, movies, music, even comedians.
I would not have known Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Robert Heinlein, Ira Levin, The Prisoner, James Bond, the Beatles, and Allan Sherman if not for my dad.
What was the first story you sold to DC Comics, and how did that opportunity come about?
I knew someone in the industry who urged me to submit a story idea to DC, and that was published in 2002 as “Stormchasers” in JLA/JSA Secret Files #1. A few of the editors already knew me as a letterhack, so that helped, too. It was a heady experience.
What led you to revisit the 1960s Batman TV show and examine its importance in Gotham City 14 Miles?
That goes back to my childhood. The 1966 Batman TV series is one of my earliest memories – my mother even noted in my baby book that, at the tender age of 14 months, I was dancing to the Batman theme music. Jump ahead to 2009 and at that time there just wasn’t enough being said about the show in print that wasn’t either gushing nostalgia or ugly dismissal. There had to be more, and so I put together a collection of essays that examined the show critically for the very first time. As much as I love the TV series, the book is not a “love letter.” It takes a good, hard look at every aspect of the show and tries to explain why it matters in the larger pop culture scheme.
What inspired the story of Sgt. Janus?
William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder stories, originally published from 1910 to 1913. There was quite a craze for so-called “occult detectives” in Edwardian fiction, and Carnacki, in my opinion, is the best of the bunch. I came across the character thanks to Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and once I read Hodgson’s nine Carnacki stories, I was hooked. I knew I had to create my own occult detective, yet with a spin of its own. Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker is eight tales told by eight different narrators, yet all of them individual views of Sgt. Janus. As you read along, the stories begin to link together into a larger, over-arching novel.
What is it that you find most fun or enjoyable about the pulp genre?
Simply put, Pulp moves. Pulp doesn’t take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of life; it rolls and rumbles and rocks to a conclusion. Some call Pulp “plot-driven” fiction; meaning the emphasis is predominantly on the story, not character development. Now, that’s not say there aren’t any fascinating characters in Pulp – there are – but rather that they tend to maintain a status quo from tale-to-tale, adventure-to-adventure. In modern times, New Pulp is changing that up somewhat, letting characters grow, but still maintaining that machine-gun pace of action, action, action.
Best thing of all for me is that Pulp can be adapted to almost any genre, any kind of story. And that’s what I’m doing in my own work.
How does your approach to writing a comic book story differ from that of writing a novel? Is there a difference?
In plotting or story construction, no, not really. A story is a story is a story. But, a comic has that visual component, of course, and you have to always keep that in mind when writing each page: How will it lay out? What happens in the last panel on a page that will demand the reader turn the page to the next? A novel, in my mind, has to be more concerned with chapters, i.e., how will each chapter end to ensure the reader is captivated and wholly your slave?
Are there any comic book characters out there that you would particularly love to write for?
Batman, Batman, and…oh, Batman, I guess. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to put official words in the mouths of Superman, Luke Skywalker, and Peter Venkman, yet I just won’t feel fulfilled until I get to write Batman. Preferably the 1966 version…
Perhaps along those same lines, which characters throughout your time reading and collecting comic books do think are most underrated or have not gotten the recognition they deserve from fans?
What are you working on next?
A second G.I. Joe Adventure Team novella for Kindle Worlds, the next chapter in my serialized Corpus Vile e-book novel, a follow-up to my Lemon Herberts anthology, some more Sgt. Janus tales, and a super-secret prose anthology of a late-1960s licensed film property…stay tuned!