Tom Beland Gets Personal in 'True Story, Swear to God: Moments'

Tue, April 30th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

Warning: Adult language in the following story.

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Seldom has a comic book title been so apt. Tom Beland's miniseries, "True Story, Swear to God: Moments," is about, well, moments from his real life, swear to god, from his relationship with his brother to a decidedly intimate moment with his significant other.

"Well, the book is about what's happened to Lily and I," Beland told CBR News on Sunday. "There are things you'll see in this series that I don't think you'll see in other titles ... such as breasts under 44DD. Actually, I'll be dealing with making the decision on whether or not to leave Napa Valley, dealing with the sudden lack of a sex drive (which is very traumatic for a man) ... and how Lily gave me the confidence to self-publish."

Beland has been publishing "True Story, Swear to God" as a weekly e-mail comic, but making the transition to producing a comic book was a daunting one for him initially.

"I had a HUGE lack of confidence when it came to doing comic books. It was the' who would want to read what I'VE got to say' sort of thing, along with the fact that I felt no one would be interested in a romantic book. 'Magic' was hiding in my desk drawer for a very long time until I finally decided to give it a shot. So, for people who are interested in what it's like to make your own book ... this will show what can happen if you just take a chance.

"I'd also like to take some of the strips and elaborate on them. Future books may contain two or three stories.

"Currently, I really want to do a compilation of the True Story strips. I've got around 200 or so strips and I'd really like to get them out in paperback form. I haven't really spoken with anyone about this, I'm not sure who to contact, or who would be interested. But it's something I'd really love to do."

Once he published the comic, it turned out that some people wanted to read what Beland had to say after all.

"The series has surpassed my wildest dreams. I was hoping on selling maybe two, three hundred of the book when we printed it up, but when the initial orders came in from Diamond, it was in the neighborhood of a thousand. When you count in the fact that many of the readers are in Germany, France, Scotland and also Malaysia ... it's a pretty surreal thing.

"The first issue is pretty much sold out. The second issue was maybe 100 less, however, the reorders have been strong. So, it's nowhere near the level of a Marvel or DC book, saleswise, but the sales have pretty much offset the printing costs. That allows us to do the next issue worry-free."

In addition to the daily "True Story" strip, there's also a color version, in Spanish.

"The color series is called 'Besame Mucho' which is Spanish for 'kiss me.' I was approached by the newspaper here in Puerto Rico (Nuevo Dia) about doing a monthly strip for them in Spanish. I go through the more recent strips and then Lily translates them. Then, the strip is redrawn by hand with the Spanish lettering, scanned onto Photoshop and colored from there.

"The strip is redrawn for a reason. If and when I do a show featuring the Spanish work ... I'd like the people to know that I didn't just type the Spanish dialogue and paste it over the original artwork. I'd like them to see the strip and find everything as a whole.

"What I like about this, is the strip doesn't talk down to the reader. It's not an American strip that's literally translated into Spanish. Some strips, which are translated word for word ... make no sense at all to the reader. There's a huge problem with the syndicated strips in the Spanish areas. The syndicates really don't give a fuck about whether their strips make sense in other countries. They just translate them and ship them out.

"With Besame Mucho, things are changed from the English strip in order for the Spanish strip to make sense. And also, stories are something readers can relate to ... instead of goofy one-liners. It's been a very cool thing to try."

Beland puts the same degree of above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty work into the comic series as well: Issue three, previewed in the sidebar, is solicited in the current Previews as a 28 page book, but readers will be getting significantly more.

"Now, it's LISTED in Previews this month as a 28-page book, however, the book is actually in the ballpark of 44-pages. I tried my best to tell this part of our story in 28 pages ... but it just seemed too rushed when I was finished. So, I went back and expanded on the storyline. The price will stay at $2.95, because that's the listed price ... and I didn't feel it was right to suddenly try to push the price up."

Beland's self-exploration has also been a critical hit, and he's nominated for two Eisner awards.

"For two years now, I've been sitting in my office, drawing the strip and the books. You'd like to THINK that your work is appreciated, but in reality, you never know how much it is. The Eisner nomination ... and I'm talking about just the nomination ... told me that all the hard work I do has NOT gone unnoticed. In the beginning, with 'Magic,' I swore that people were going to just rip on me for doing such a sappy romantic book. I could just see the eyeballs rolling on the critics' faces. Seriously, it was terrifying for me to take the feelings I had towards Lily, put them on paper, mass produce it and send it off to the comic book stores.

"But then the reviews started coming in and to my surprise, they were very good.

"So when we got the Eisner news ... Lily cried. Then I cried. Because, first of all ... this was really one of those moments I wished my father was still around to see. He'd always wanted to be a cartoonist, so I thought he'd get a big kick out of this. Second, I thought about how much I've achieved because the woman in my life told me to go for it and try. There was never any 'what if you fail?' If anything, that's what I SAID. But she constantly gave me support."

CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.

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