10 Questions: The Gathering Edition – James O’Callaghan

We continue our interview series with members of The Gathering and GrayHaven Comics. We’ve put out the same questions to numerous individuals and can compare their responses. A hopefully intriguing interview series.

Check out our previous interviews.

Up next is editor James O’Callaghan.

Graphic Policy: How did you get started in the comic book industry?

James O’Callaghan: I’d done a few Transformers fan comics on IDW’s forum for the recognized fan series Transformers: Mosaics, but those were more for fun than anything else. What I’d consider my actual start was when I sent in my first script to GrayHaven, which was a script for volume 4, our first horror themed issue.

GP: Were you a fan of comic books before?

JO I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t love comics. I’ve been reading them since I was old enough to read, and looking at them while I was too young to, hahaha. I was quite poor growing up, and living in Ireland there weren’t any places near me to get US comics on a regular basis, and UK comics were too frequent (being weekly or fortnightly) and mostly didn’t appeal to me, so I wasn’t able to collect seriously until 1997 when Britain started doing monthly reprint comics of Marvel books.

I did collect the (surprisingly mature in places) UK Sonic the Hedgehog comic, simply titled Sonic the Comic, that started in 1993. Which featured some early Mark Millar work as a matter of fact. I missed about a quarter of the issues, since it was fortnightly, but it was my first attempt at collecting a comic series.

GP: Do you read comics now? If so, what are some of your current picks?

JO: I do. I read so many comics now it boggles even my own mind. So it’s hard for me to pick favourites. The Big Two still take up a lot of my reading time, though I’ve always been more a Marvel guy. I’d have to say that Daredevil by Mark Waid and Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are easily the best comics from Marvel and DC. Wolverine and the X-Men, Winter Soldier, Fantastic Four/FF, Animal Man and Swamp Thing would be close behind. American Vampire, Scalped and Fables from Vertigo and Fury MAX from Marvel MAX are also high on my list.

Outside of the Big Two, Image and IDW are also doing incredible books right now. Peter Panzerfaust, Revival, Planetoid, The Activity, Blue Estate, Severed, Mind the Gap and Pigs from Image, the full line of Transformers books, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Smoke and Mirrors, Locke and Key and Memorial from IDW are always highlights too. Then there’s the likes of The Boys, The Shadow and The Spider from Dynamite, Rachel Rising by Terry Moore from his Abstract Studios.

I could keep going all day.

GP: How did you get involved with The Gathering?

JO: I became friends with Andrew Goletz on the Brian Bendis Jinxworld forum, and saw that he’d just finished recruiting creators for what would become the first volume of The Gathering. When he started accepting submissions for the second one, I pitched an idea for a story. I ended up having to back out of that volume, but came back and pitched for the fourth issue which became my first published work. I later pitched a story for our Adventure themed issue, which very nearly got cancelled due to lack of interest. Andrew floated the idea of tying all the stories together to make it one single story, but was afraid a lot of them would conflict, but after seeing the other pitches I came up with an idea that fit almost all of the stories together fairly logically. Andrew asked me to take lead on the issue, and not long afterwards asked me to come on board as a full time editor and I’ve been working full time with the company ever since.

GP: Each issue of The Gathering has a theme, how did that factor into the comic creation?

JO: It factors in quite a lot. One of the things Andrew, and now the editing team, have to do is think about coming up with new themes so that we’re not retreading old ground on a regular basis, since some themes don’t do as well as others. We only have so many issues each year, so we don’t want to limit ourselves on a creative level to only doing Sci-Fi or Western or Fairy Tale issues when there could be some creators that really want to take a stab at writing Romance or even something more mature.

That’s why we spun off Horror after its third volume in The Gathering and created Tales from the Abyss and why we’ve come up with a line of mature books that’s starting this October and continuing each year, and a line of books specifically aimed at kids too.

Trying to decide what new themes we can run with and that might appeal to creators and fans alike is one of the most nerve-wracking and fun jobs at GrayHaven. We’ve come up with interesting ideas and a couple of crazy ones too.

GP: What advice would you give to independent creators just breaking into the business?

JO: Be professional, timely and above all, patient. Breaking into the industry is a slow, slow, sloooow process. Bringing out a first issue of your fantastic new series is all well and good, but you’ve got to build your fan-base and then KEEP that fan-base. If you don’t bring out your second issue in a timely fashion, people are going to lose interest and forget all about you. So before you even release that first issue, make sure you have a plan in place.

If you’re a writer, make sure you have money set aside to pay your artist so that you keep it worth their while sticking with the book. A writer can belt out a script in a day if they put their mind to it, but an artist has to put a lot of time and effort into the books production so if you have a 6 issue mini planned and your artist isn’t getting anything out of it, they’re going to quit. And rightly so.

If you’re an artist, be professional. If a writer is paying you for work, don’t go dark on them and go weeks without updating them on the production of the book. Provide some scans. Stay in touch. Discuss things with them. If something isn’t working for you, don’t just change it without telling the writer. Make your case and see if you can work something out.

And as I said above, be patient. You’re not going to put out an issue of a comic and then be writing Superman, overtaking sales on The Walking Dead and jetting off to Hollywood to start production on your 6 part movie adaptation of your comic. If that’s your goal, it’s going to take time. You’re going to have to get noticed. And the best way to do that is slowly and politely. Talking for 30 seconds with an editor at a convention then bombarding them with 50 emails a day like you’re best friends afterwards is just going to get your email address blocked.

And remember who you’re working with. I don’t know how many messageboard posts, tweets and facebook posts I’ve seen directed at various editors with GrayHaven, where a creator was asking “Who’s the editor on that book I’m in again?” or “Who am I supposed to be sending this finished work to? I forgot”. Editors have a LOT of people to keep track of and remember. If an editor sees a creator who can’t keep track of one or two editors they’re working with, that editor is going to be less likely to seek that creator out for work.

Listen to feedback and criticism. But don’t be too hard on yourself when you receive it. Take it in and learn from it. If you’re submitting something to a company, be prepared for rejection. Lots of it. Don’t give up when it happens. Work harder at your craft and keep trying. And in the meantime, self-publish. The best way to improve and get noticed is to continue producing work.

Just create your comic because you have a comic that you want to create. Write, draw, ink, whatever. Just do it because it gives you pleasure and it’s something you want to make a career out of. Make a deadline and work to it. Don’t push it back just because you can, stick to it. Be pleasant, happy and enthusiastic in the creation of your work, and that will get you noticed and remembered by potential fans, and hopefully editors and fellow creators.

GP: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through your experiences?

JO: Probably that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought about what it takes to make a comic. I’ve also learned how important it is to stick to deadlines and communicate with creators and editors.

GP: Do you think it’s easier today for creators to get published?

JO: Definitely. We’re living in an age where someone can create a comic and post it on their website and build a fanbase strong enough to make a printed comic viable. We’ve got websites that are dedicated to helping to raise funding to publish books, printing companies that independent creators can use to print their comics up at fairly reasonable rates.

It’s a great time to be an aspiring comic creator in my opinion.

GP: How do you think technology like social networking or crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter are impacting comic book publishing?

JO: Hugely. We’ve found huge success with Kickstarter, and I don’t know if we’d be as big as we’ve gotten right now without it. The successes of our various kickstarts have made it possible for us to produce more books, which in turn have gotten more new creators published. Now we’re seeing the likes of Garth Ennis and Gail Simone, among others, turning to kickstarter to fund their personal projects rather than depending on pitching to a publisher and hoping for the best.

Sites like Twitter and Facebook help spread the word of a books existence pretty well too, so I can’t recommend them enough to people. And I say that as someone who hates using social media sites.

GP: What can we expect from you next?

JO: Next up from me is the release of our mature readers book, The Dark Anthology, which should be released in October. Then there’ll be The Gathering: True Ghost Stories which is due for release at the start of next year, the War volume which should be out mid-next year and the second volume of The Dark, which will feature a well known creator in it too. In the meantime I’m also going to be editing fellow editor Erica Heflin’s various mini-series, the first of which, a twisted sci-fi story called Mother and Son, has just had its first issue see release. Mother and Son is the first book in what is Phase Two of GrayHaven Comics, where we’re moving away from being almost solely an anthology comic company and into creators working on bigger passion projects. I’ve also edited Flesh of White and Of Wolf and Woman for Erica, which should be released within the year. We have a lot more coming with Phase Two, a lot of which we’ll be revealing at New York Comic Con this year.

I’m also overseeing a webcomic anthology that is being worked on right now. It’s being started by new Irish writer, and good friend, Sean Leonard and then he’ll be followed by a new creative team and so on. We should be launching that on the website as soon as we have a few stories completed.

And I’m also scheduled to write a 6 page story for the Tales from the Abyss series, and then I’ll be focusing 100% on the editing again for the foreseeable future.