Kiss Psycho Circus Magazine Interview with Kevin Conrad
by Steve Niles

SN: Okay, let's start off with the KISS stuff. How long have you been a KISS fan?

KC: Twenty-four years, since 1975. I was 14.

SN: How and when were you first exposed to the band?
KC: A lot of this has been told before, but I'll try to expound on it for those who already know. KISS ALIVE! had come out and my friend Anthony had picked it up. I was over his house when he pulled this album out (for those of you who are too young to remember, an album is 12 inch round black disc that makes music when you put a needle in it's grooves!) and showed me the cover. It was kinda like that old Life cereal commercial; 'Hey Kevin, check this out, this band is really cool!' To which I replied something like, 'Are you kidding?! They look like a bunch of clowns! And what kind of name is KISS for a band? What are they, a bunch of girls?' He put the first record on, placed the needle in the groove and said, 'Just listen.' I was hit with this wall of sound that at first I was reluctant to admit that I liked. But as this band of freaks was assaulting my senses, I stared at the images on the jacket and booklet insert of these clowns from hell, and I was sucked into this two and a half decade of decadence!

SN: What was it about them that attracted you? Was it their music, the make-up, or both?
KC: I think it had to be a combination of both, in that era of the band, if you separated the two parts, KISS would never had made it. They would be the first to admit they weren't playing Mozart. And the make-up alone was really silly, they really looked like they belonged in a Circus. Circus you say?�. Ahhhhh, the seed is sown! But the energy on that first live album, the very first time I ever heard their music, in combination with the visuals they provided you with on that album was addicting, almost intoxicating. That album, by the way, is to this day, considered by a number of critics out there, to be one of the best, if not the best live performance albums made.

SN: How many times have you seen them play live?
KC: Upward to twenty.

SN: Have you had the opportunity to meet any of the band members?
KC: Back in 1988 I won a local radio contest. Kiss was touring promoting their Crazy Nights album and the local radio station was giving away a Kiss Platinum Express Card which looked sorta like an American Express Card. These cards were given by the band to Radio stations across the country to promote the tour. The card was supposed to enable the lucky recipient great seats and backstage passes for life. Well, I 'won' this card from my local rock station. I can't say for sure but I think I won it by default. As they say, timing is everything. Probably a month or two before the promotion, I sent a cassette to the station of my picks of kick-ass cuts from all the post Frehley/Criss Kiss albums up to and including Crazy Nights. Up to that point, I felt that the singles that were released from all their albums were their weakest material, and the only two Kiss songs my station would play was Rock and Roll All Nite and Lick It Up. So I got pissed off and sent this tape off to the station with a letter explaining that I wasn't a nut-job but a professional commercial artist who was fed up with the lack of rotation that KISS would receive by their station. About a week later I got a call from the station manager who asked me to write down ten questions to ask Gene because he was calling in a couple of weeks to promote their upcoming concert. My name would then be dropped in a hat for a chance at that coveted card. And surprise surprise, the card would turn out to be mine!

SN: So you did get to meet the band?
KC: Yeah, and it was a good thing I had that card, because the radio station screwed up and told me I would meet up with the band after the show, so I didn't bother to get there until Kiss was ready to come on. The dj from the radio station was in a panic when I got there. They didn't find out until it was too late to reach me that the band only does meet and greets before their shows. Needless to say, I didn't get to meet them at my local show, but I did use that card a few times during that tour and I did get my picture taken with the band. After that tour, the phone number on the card was no longer associated with the band, which rendered it pretty much useless. At that time Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick were members. Eric was my favorite drummer; he was just a powerhouse of a player. He definitely changed the sound and direction that Kiss was heading in back then. He basically resurrected the band and brought to them a much heavier sound. I spoke with him for probably fifteen minutes or so backstage, I miss him.
Also, back four years ago when I was working on Spawn, I got to meet Ace at a local rock club. It's really weird how all these puzzle pieces fit together. Todd had no affiliation with Kiss at that time; Psycho Circus wasn't even a twinkle in Todd's eye back then. But Todd had a colorist working for him back then that knew I was a huge Kiss fan. Roy was a friend with the 'fifth' member of Kiss, Sean Delaney. They both were into those medieval battle re-enactments and knew each other well. Sean had a long history with Kiss; co-writing songs, choreographing the act, designing costumes and stages and such. Roy hooked me up with Sean and we spoke for quite a while on the phone. He hooked me up with Ace's management and I got tickets and backstage passes for the show at this local club he was playing at. This show was about two weeks after the MTV Unplugged show aired and rumors were flying about a Kiss reunion. Ace was doing a double bill tour with Peter Criss (in separate bands, though) called the Bad Boys Tour. I wasn't able to meet Peter, but Ace was on last and after his show and much ballyhoo with Ace's staff, I finally convinced them that I was supposed to meet with him. Ace's manager had warned me that they might give me trouble and told me to talk directly with his tour manager if they did. I finally got backstage and Ace was sitting down on this couch in the very room that I changed in years before when I played there with my cheesy band. He never got up and he barely looked at me when I introduced myself. I was told that he was a big Spawn fan so I had brought him some of my books and a couple of original sketches for both him and Peter. He said he never heard of Spawn but thanked me for the stuff. I asked him if the band was going to reunite and without looking up, muttered, 'Nah.' So without much fanfare he signed my CD cover, I thanked him and left. I don't blame the guy for being a bit depressed, here this guy was playing for tens of thousands of people at one point and now (October 1995) he's playing to 200. But not for long!

SN: Are you a Kiss collector? What sorts of things do you collect?
KC: Videos, along with official videos I collect bootleg videos of their shows, events and compilations of sorts.

SN: What is your most prized KISS possession?
KC: I would have to say my photo's of me with Gene and me with Eric Carr; no value to them, just sentimental value.

SN: Is there a Holy Grail of Kiss collectibles (like Marvel Comics #1 is to comics)? What do you think it is?
KC: I'm really not sure, I can guess it could possibly be their costumes or maybe anything involved with Eric Carr, being that he is no longer with us. That can spike the value of something, I'm sure. I've also read that this KISS Platinum Express card has been valued as 'priceless' due to its rarity. I still have mine.

SN: Let's shift gears a second. Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, where did you go to school and what are you up to now?
KC: Let's see, in order; nice guy, my mother's womb, hard knocks and no good!

SN: Let's try that again.
KC: Okay, Okay� I'm recently married (round two); her name is Renee, beautiful woman, beautiful soul. I have a six-year-old son, the joy of my life, Jonathan (I Will Be There), and a beautiful stepdaughter, Morgan.
I'm from and live near Schenectady, New York, which is just west of Albany, the capitol of NY. I went to Linton High School in Schenectady and the [Sage] Junior College of Albany for commercial art. I graduated from JCA in 1983 and have been self-employed since. I was a commercial artist for ten years and in February of 1993 I broke into comics.
I've been with the 'Circus' for over two years now; I've been there from the beginning. I have also been working on the side on my own project with a friend of mine that I recently got into the business. I plan on doing the majority of the pencils on my own if possible, but more probable, it will most likely be a combo of both Rich's and mine.

SN: Tell me about it. Will you leave Psycho Circus to do this? Will Todd publish it?
KC: I can't say much yet, only that the working title is The Bastion. It will be somewhat of a period piece; no Super Hero crap. And no, I have no plans of ever leaving Psycho Circus; this project is planned to be a mini-series that I will do on my own time. Of course I will give Todd first right of refusal, if he's not interested, I have other avenues.

SN: What led to you becoming an artist?
KC: I have been drawing since before I can remember. All I've ever wanted to do in my life was to draw comics. Every adult I knew throughout my life up through college all tried to dissuade me from drawing comics, that there was no future in it. My illustration instructor in college finally wore me down and persuaded me to take up illustration. After I graduated, I immediately started getting commercial jobs; some very creative, but most were not. The majority of my career as a commercial artist was pretty much black and white technical illustration. After ten years, it wasn't really all that fulfilling for me.

SN: That brings me to my next question. How did you get involved with comics and Todd McFarlane?
KC: Greg Capullo and I were once good friends, we knew of each other in junior high as 'the other guy who draws superheroes' and became fast friends in high school. We were in a rock band together back in high school and then later on in life. He was working as a Bus Boy for the Ramada Inn back when I was working as a commercial artist. The guy was a scary talent even way back then, but he had no confidence in his abilities. To make a very long story short, I did my best to build up his confidence, I told him what he needed to do to build a portfolio and I introduced him to every one of my clients. Hell, I even built him his first drafting/light table. He started working for the same people that I was until he broke into Marvel I believe in 1990 or '91. Greg was very successful at Marvel and he got me in as an inker back in 1993. I did some sample inks over his pencils and he dropped them in with his weekly batch of pages and sent them of to his editor. I've been working in comics ever since. After Greg went over to Image and when he felt I was ready, he introduced my work to Todd and I landed the Spawn Bloodfeud mini-series followed by the even issues of the regular Spawn series from 38 to 48. I also backed up Todd on a number of pages from 29 to 47. That's the story in a nut shell.

SN: How did Psycho Circus come about?
KC: I wasn't working for Todd at the time; in fact I was hardly working at all. I experienced a dry spell that lasted for months, a very humbling experience. But Todd knew I was a huge KISS fan and asked Greg to ask me if I was interested. Interested? Yeah, just a little! And the rest, as they say, is KISSTORY! I can say that I would not be here today if it was not for Greg, and I think if he was honest with himself, he would have to say the same for his place in history.

SN: What's it like working on a project that revolves around a band that your such a big fan of?
KC: Uncanny at the very least. Like I said before, it's strange how all these pieces of my life as a Kiss fan fit together to bring me to this point. It almost makes me think that there is a God! Come on, what Kiss fan would not want to be immortalized as a part of KISSTORY? I am part of the history of one of the greatest rock bands of all time! Pretty f----ing cool, don't you think?

SN: Do you think your being a fan of KISS has helped your work? If so, how has it helped?
KC: Since I've been in comics, I think I can honestly say that I have always done my best within the parameters that I'm given. But aside from doing something solely for myself, and although I am paid well on Psycho Circus, It truly is a labor of love. I've never felt as much pride for anything else I've done.

SN: What is your role in Psycho Circus?
KC: I am what is traditionally known in the industry as an inker. Clayton Crain pencils the book. I get the pages from him in pencil and in the most basic of explanations, I finish the pencils in black ink. Now, tradition aside, my job as an inker in the 1990's and the new millennium is far more than just finishing the pages in black ink. I'm required to re-draw things as is necessary, add textures, techniques and mood.
I need to make sure that the page is a well balanced piece with a full range of values and dynamics that otherwise would not be there in the pencil form. The pencils do not exist when I am finished. I control the final look of the black and white page.

SN: Do you have any input on the story?
KC: Before Clayton came aboard, I did not. But since he has been penciling the book, we occasionally bounce ideas off of each other for cover ideas and plot changes. He actually values my opinion and welcomes most of the changes that I make. Nothing huge, but it's nice to be involved with other aspects of the book. Clayton and I actually did add quite a bit in plot content into issue #24. I think we made a good story line even better. It turned out great, kind of like an old Hammer film. I've also been told that I'm welcome to submit any story lines that I want to for consideration. I've been toying with an Eric Carr story arc that I think would fit in the Psycho Circus universe quite nicely.

SN: For those out there who have not read PSYCHO CIRCUS, how would you describe it?
KC: I would say that it is a dark, intelligent read intended for mature readers. It's a horror comic with a conscience. It is not about a rock and roll band. The Kiss characters are presented in a mature fashion. They are Demi-Gods who exact their certain brand of justice to those who need it. They are watchers of the Universe, they are eternal and within all of us. The artwork mirrors the maturity of the writing. The colors are the best in the business, hats off to Brian, Dan and Andy. This is not Kiss meets the Phantom of the Park, this is not a Marvel comic. BUY IT!

SN: What's in the future for PSYCHO CIRCUS?
KC: Brian Holguin (the writer) would have to answer that one. But I can assure you that if its history is any barometer; you can be assured that it will kick major ass!

SN: Have you gotten any reaction from the band?
KC: Clayton and I were forwarded a hand written note from Gene to Todd commending our work as team.

SN: What other comics have you done?
KC: Oh man, you want the whole list or just the top ten?

SN: Give me the top ten then.
KC: 1. Spawn 2. Spawn Blood Feud 3. The Tenth 4. WitchBlade 5.Tales of the WitchBlade 6. Ascension 7. The Darkness 8. JLA/WildCats 9. X-Force 10. X-Men

SN: What comics or artists have had the biggest influence on your work?
KC: Let's see, comics? Spider-Man, Batman, Spawn, Swamp-Thing, Werewolf by Night, and a whole bunch more! Now, artists? Todd, Greg, Frazetta, Wrightson, Neal Adams, John Buscema, Mike Ploog, Danny Miki, the list can go on and on.

SN: Here's the hard question�what is it about KISS? Why do you think they have had the lasting appeal that they have?
KC: They're walking Super Heroes. They give people a chance to escape, to dream. I think its very much what I was talking about in question three, the energy, the visuals. It all works.

SN: Okay, now's your chance to come clean. Have you ever worn KISS make-up?
KC: What do you think?

This interview originally appeared in issue no.5 of KISS PSYCHO CIRCUS magazine and was conducted by SPAWN THE DARK AGES writer, Steve Niles.

E-mail Kevin | Copyright © Kevin Conrad 1996-2010. All Rights Reserved. | Last Updated on 2.12.10