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Modern Masters: Mike Ploog
by Roger Ash
In a previous column, I stated that one of the most essential things an interviewer needed to do was their research prior to conducting an interview. I also discussed that I’d talk much more about conducting interviews in an upcoming column. This is one of those columns. There are numerous nuts and bolts kind of things to consider, such as word count and staying on topic, but best now I want to take a look at creating a rapport with the person you’re interviewing.
This is something I don’t recall reading about before, and that may well be because it is so hard to quantify, yet I think it’s something that’s very essential to do. By creating a rapport with the person you’re interviewing I don’t imply that you need to become terrific buddies with them – I simply imply you ought to create an environment that is comfortable and safe for the person you’re interviewing. The majority of interviews I’ve conducted over the years have run between 10 minutes to an hour. The exception to this would be the interviews I conducted for the modern Masters books I dealt with which ran between 5 and 7 hours. building a rapport over a longer interview is simpler than in a shorter interview as you simply have much more time to become comfortable with each other in a longer interview, but there are general guidelines I try to follow in any interview regardless of length.
The first guideline I learned as a kid. It’s called the golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. remember that the person you’re interviewing is taking time away from their work, family, or leisure time to talk with you or respond to your email. If you are polite and treat them with respect, that’s typically how they’ll respond to you. If you go into the interview process with an axe to grind, you will not get far.
Be professional. You don’t need to be overly formal, I’m certainly not and even when I contact someone for the first time I lean towards being informal as that’s simply the way I relate to people. but you’re conducting an interview, not soliciting a sketch from them or telling them the wonderful idea you have for a story. While saying you delight in their work is OK, gushing on about it for 10 minutes isn’t. I’ve interviewed pals in the past and during the interview, I’ve tried to behave the same way I would if I was interviewing someone I was talking to for the first time. The difference being that I might be able to ask much more insightful questions of my pal because I know them better.
Since there are different ways of conducting an interview – phone, email, fax, in person – try as best as you can to do the interview in the way the person you’re interviewing prefers to proceed. in some cases this may not be possible due to deadlines, vacations, and such, but you’ll get a better interview if work with the creator.
Modern Masters: Walter Simonson
The contact information you get for the developer is private. You ought to never share this information without getting consent from the developer first.
Creating a good atmosphere doesn’t imply that you can’t ask difficult questions, but you need to consider how best to phrase them. “How could you write a piece of crap like the Marvelous Moose-Man #38?” right away puts the developer on the defensive and, well, it’s just plain rude. Your answer is likely to be brief if you get one at all. A question such as “You received a lot of sorrow online about Marvelous Moose-Man #38. how do you respond to the criticism?” addresses the same issue, but does it in a much less confrontational manner and will result in a much better discussion.
These guidelines all really boil down to being polite. It’s that simple. I’ve had wonderful, memorable conversations with people over the years following these rules. I’ve also put my foot in my mouth a few times, but that will happen on occasion in spite of the best of intentions. but I have never set out to antagonize anybody I’ve interviewed. I like to think the fact that I’m still doing interviews 15 years after I did my first one implies that I’ve succeeded much more typically than I’ve failed.
Now, go read a comic!
If you’d like to read one (or both!) of my long interviews, pick up these books.
Modern Masters Vol. 8: Walter Simonson
Modern Masters Vol. 19: Mike Ploog