Neil Straus Knows "How To Make Money Like A Porn Star" and More

Tue, July 3rd, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Alex Dueben, Staff Writer

"How To Make Money Like a Porn Star" on sale now

Neil Strauss is the author of the bestselling book "The Game," and the co-author of "How To Make Love Like a Porn Star" (with Jenna Jameson), "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell" (with Marilyn Manson), "Don't Try This at Home" (with Dave Navarro) and "The Dirt" (with Motley Crue). He is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone Magazine where he's interviewed Jewel, Tom Cruise and many others and used to write the "Pop Life" column for the New York Times arts section.

Along with artist Bernard Chang, he is the man behind "How To Make Money Like a Porn Star," published by ReganBooks/HarperCollins, and is on sale now.

CBR News caught up with Strauss to discuss his first graphic novel and how one includes work for the New York Times and Jenna Jameson on the same resume.

You're a Vassar-educated former New York Times columnist and the author of numerous best-selling books. You've dated rock stars, ridden motorcycles with Tom Cruise and managed to snag Britney Spears' phone number. Why write a graphic novel?

[laughs] The reason I did a graphic novel was that comic books have followed me, in some sort, throughout my life. As a kid I was a huge collector. I bought like every number one issue for fifty cents and I thought they'd be my ticket to fortune. And then when puberty hit I had to start being cool and not be seen reading comic books to be cool. And then in college again I related to the loneliness and alienation in alternative comics, "Hate" and "Eightball" and all the Fantagraphics stuff. And that led into graphic novels, from Will Eisner to Chris Ware, who I think is a genius. So all that was there, but I never thought of actually doing one until Judith Regan, who was my publisher, suggested it. That said, I always liked to put comic elements in the work I did. Like in the Jenna Jameson book, "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star," I had Bernard Chang tell certain stories through illustrations.

"Don't Try This At Home" with Dave Navarro
You mentioned that the story came out of conversations you had with people while writing the Jameson book. Was there any story in particular that struck you or inspired you to turn it into fiction?

I really think it was when all her Club Jenna girls came to town. All these porn stars sitting around talking and they all wanted their books done, but they all really had the same story. And their stories were so similar that to do a bunch of different books with the same message would just be ridiculous. That was when the seed was first planted, to do something, kind of meta-porn. And that seed was planted when Judith Regan suggested it.

To me, I was more interested in doing a graphic novel than in doing something about porn or inspired by my experiences while writing the Jenna Jameson book. That's when I really decided to tackle the form. And if there is a flaw it's that I was more into how do I tell a story with pictures than thinking about really making it a narrative that really holds up separate from the pages of the book. I always feel like I learn from everything I do to get a little better each time.

How did you and Bernard Chang meet?

The first time I met Bernard was through a friend who writes for "Entourage." We wrote, produced, directed and acted in a short movie and Bernard who was his friend, did some illustrations. When you meet someone talented you find a way to stay in touch with them or work with them. And he was so talented that when I did the Jenna book...

No no no. I completely forgot about this. I stayed in touch with Bernard because I thought he was really talented. I had a column in the New York Times called the "Pop Life" column. I always thought it would be cool to get a comic in the New York Times, because they never have comics and are somewhat famous for having no Sunday comics whatsoever. So, for one of my columns I told it as a comic.

"The Long Hard Road Out of Hell" with Marilyn Manson
The RIAA had started arresting kids who were file sharing and we studied copyright law and that if they're going to enforce copyright law on individuals then here are some extreme situations where people might get arrested for not paying the dues. Such as singing happy birthday at a child's birthday party could result in a visit from the RIAA SWAT team. Rather than saying those little kind of one liners ,it worked much better to serve as images with a narrator and I was really literally blown away when they let me get that in the New York Times.

What was the process of writing the book and working with Bernard?

The book is billed in the catalog as "by Neil Strauss, artwork by Bernard Chang" but it was such a tight collaboration that Bernard really co-authored a lot of the story elements. We sat together and just plotted out what it was going to be about and threw out ideas and he made sketches as we decided what the characters were. And then I'd go home and I'd write out the script and he'd make some sketches and we'd decide where it was going next. It was a very symbiotic process. It would be Friday night and I'd tell my friends, or if I was with my girlfriend, I'd just bring them down to Bernard's house and they'd have to hang out and watch us work. They got pretty sick of it.

For me, when I write a book I write my words and turn it over to the designer. but to have a chance to control every single element, the small print, even the back cover where they usually put their promotional copy we put a fake comic like those comic advertisements from the back of those seventies and eighties comics. You know, the two kids and the message at the end to go buy magic sea monkeys or this workout program or sell magazines door to door. So we took that ad and the rest of the copy was just complete junk making fun of the book and making fun of the publishing company. Once again the lesson is you can get away with a lot more with art than you can with text. Text is easy to change. Art even if there's text in it, art seems more intimidating to go in there and fiddle with.

Were the two of you going back and forth, trying to one up each other?

Exactly. It's funny that because it's about pornography it's going to show some nudity and sex, but we held back from trying to make it titillating or overly erotic or anything. So it falls in this area where it's not like "Cherry" or those dumb "adult" comics or those kind of anime ones, but then again it's a little too racy for what's normally on the comics stands, so it falls in between there. A lot of my work is somewhere between those tastes.

"How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" with Jenna Jameson
What I really enjoyed was that you're not telling a straightforward story, you're jumping around and trying to do something different.

That also came from doing my other book where you start at the book's most interesting point. It's about the tension of her being kidnapped and what is the scenario between her and this male and where is that going and meanwhile tell everything in between and try to tell each thing in a different style. Like her childhood story is told in sort of a coloring book style and when she's a teenager you get into this Japanese anime style, so I wanted to have the artwork also match the time in her life.

I guess it's interesting because what I like most about each book is never what reviewers acknowledge or point out or mention, even if it's a positive review. What I liked about the Motley Crue book was the structure. "The Game" was less interesting about pickup tips for me and more about men than about women in a lot of ways.

What I liked about the graphic novel is the way you can use panels to tell a story in a different way. Like my favorite page for example is one where the sultan is sitting in this chair and Tiny is leaping across. It's one drawing divided into three panels, three different milliseconds of action all in one drawing. It's something you can't do with words. Most people don't even do it with illustrations. I like the idea that it's not just about what's inside the panel, but where you divide the panel, not just in terms of space but in terms of time.

It was Will Eisner or Scott McCloud, I forget, who observed that the space between panels represents time.

That's exactly what it is. You can take one drawing on one page and it'll just have these three characters in it. You take that drawing and put two lines vertically to divide each character then you have something happen over time.

Now it was Judith Regan who really pushed you to do this?

Yeah. She really enjoyed Bernard's talent and started having him do book covers for her and thought it would be cool to give him his own platform, his own graphic novel. So he doesn't always have to work on other people's work he can start to create his own, have his own voice emerge further.

"The Dirt" with Motley Crue
You mentioned before we got started that one of Judith's comments or reasons for doing this book that got you excited about doing it was because it was, simply, cool.

Exactly. That was the moment. My other books were nonfiction and based on real stories and there were things you could sort of learn or enjoy vicariously, and this one I really just had no idea who would buy it. So after a dinner I asked her who is going to buy this and she said who cares, we're doing it because it's cool. And I'm really glad I work for this woman. Or, at least, worked for this woman. But that's what I enjoyed, having a publisher who would put out something because it's cool. And putting it on the second page of her catalog.

What do you read?

Hands down, my favorite is "Y - The Last Man." I just can't wait for each new issue and I want it to end just so all this shit that happened can be tied up. And unlike "Lost," and you told me he was writing for it now, which is a great idea, it really feels like he knows where he's going. Even when there are complications, it's still moving forwards and it's so well done and well paced and frustrating yet rewarding and the art is great and the characters are great and the humor works in this kind of graphic comic book way and the storyline sounds like some incredibly cheesy male fantasy, but he does it so well. It's a real work of art.

Outside of that, Chris Ware to me is, well, I'll read anything he does. You can take one page of his and study it for like an hour and get some kind of reward of where it's going and telling these stories that all these concentric circles that are maybe leading to a picture with a hand with a wedding ring that leads to an embryo that leads to a baby being born that leads to a lonely guy in his apartment trying to call his mother who can't hear the phone because the earpiece is broken and you follow these weird sort of drawings that looks like it makes no sense on a page but you get in closer and closer and this amazing story pops out of it.

It's the way I like James Joyce as an author, which is heaping very high praise on Chris Ware, but the way I love James Joyce's text, is the way I love Chris Ware's illustrations.

What are you in midst of working on now? I know you mentioned that you and Bernard have talked about another project.

I have four books under contract and two others that I'm working on at some stage. The next one I'm really excited about which I'm working on I can't really discuss. But I wish I could. And neither one of those two is about anything that's come before, rock or dating or anything like that. And then there's a fiction thing. A collection of my favorite essays and they're pretty across the board, all kinds of weird shit. Then there's the female version of "The Game." I really feel like I've got my work cut out for me the next few years.

"The Game"
Is it intentional, this being so busy and always working on different projects?

I really think that you've got one life to live and you want to squeeze as much into it as you can. And if I can squeeze new experiences in a way that allows me to make a living, great.

Some things started out as articles or books, but they really fulfill personal goals. Such as talking the New York Times into a snowboarding article just so I could learn how to snowboard. Or how "The Game" started out as a personal quest to stop being lonely and stop being the guy stuck in the friend zone and that turned into a book.

Somebody said, I forget who it was. I don't know if I live to write or write to live. It's a better quote than that. But that's the idea. Is it my passion to write or am I writing to fulfill my passion for life?

You made a comment in "The Game" at some point about how it's really about improving yourself, about being a better, more interesting person.

Exactly. Everyone who thinks you get into "The Game" for women, eventually get to the self improvement path where they're going to Tony Robbins seminars and taking improv courses and whether they want to or not if you want to have the skills to meet women you actually have to end up being a better human being all around.

I wrote the book as much for women as I did for men. Like I said earlier, it was as much to explain to guys, as it was to women, what guys are like. And I think it's cool that women are reading it.

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