10 Questions: The Gathering Edition – Brad Nelson

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.

George AmaruNick FrancisTravis M. HolyfieldJames O’Callaghan
Elena AndrewsVictor GischlerNathan Lee JamesChris Page
Arcadio BolañosAndrew GoletzSean LeonardAmanda Rachels
John M. CokerDoug HahnerWilliam LevertJason Snyder
Marc DeschampsErica J. HeflinMarc LombardiSam Tung
Donal DeLayGary HoganGlenn Matchett

Up next is writer Brad Nelson.

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

Brad Nelson: My Gathering work is actually a return to comics for me after more than a decade. Way back in 1999 and 2000 I created, wrote, and self-published the first issue of Gabriel: The Facts of Death with the insanely talented artist Owen Freeman. Back then we printed about a thousand copies of the book and debuted it at Wizard World 2000 in Chicago and had a nice setup in Artist Alley and sold a few hundred copies, but to be honest I was young and wasn’t in any way prepared for the business side of comics and never made enough to print the second issue. Despite the praise we received and kind emails and letters I was a little disappointed in myself with how things went down and then I just got really busy with life and thought I had left comics behind.

My jobs kept me busy, then marriage and kids, and after a few years away from reading comics I jumped back into things in 2005 and joined the Jinxworld message board run by Brian Michael Bendis. Along with my return to reading comics I started to craft a whole ton of new ideas for comic book stories. I started out with a couple of pitches for Marvel that I ended up retooling into my own superhero stories and then I started to rework the idea that started everything, Gabriel. But when the opportunity to work on The Gathering came along I dropped everything and wanted to branch out and try something different (shorter stories and within the confines of a predetermined theme) and I feel very proud of what I have managed to put together and I’m excited for people to read what I have coming up down the road. I have been very fortunate to have been paired up with some very talented artists like Mike Bunt in my first story and Brian Defferding in my second and I think people are going to continue to be blown away by the level of talent GrayHaven puts out there issue after issue.

GP: Were you a fan of comic books before?

BN: Absolutely. I have been reading comics since I was about seven or eight years old, so going on thirty years now and I have always been a fan of the medium. My Dad brought home an oversized Marvel comic book that told the origin of Captain America and from that day on I was hooked. I was probably twelve years old or so when I first started buying books on regular basis at a little shop called Legacy Games that later moved and became the mega popular comic book haven in Minnesota – The Source Comics and Games. I have had a box at that store pretty much ever since. Over the years I have filled that box with everything from Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and Sandman to Spider-Man, Captain America, and X-men.

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

BN: Yes. With only a couple of periods where my income couldn’t support my habit I have been reading comics for most of those thirty years or so. As a kid I read mostly superhero books but as a teenager Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was the first thing I really remember me branching out on. That, Dark Knight Returns,  and Watchmen really showed me what was possible in the medium beyond just capes and tights, and later on Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon really inspired me to write comics. So yeah, I still read and enjoy a lot of superhero stuff from DC and Marvel but most of my pull list is made up of books like Fables, The Walking Dead, Scalped, Criminal, Morning Glories, Saga, and The Boys.

GP: How did you get involved with The Gathering?

BN: I came in a little later than some of the other Gatherers but I had been watching from a distance for a while. I had planned to pitch very early on to some of the books but life just got in the way and after keeping up to date on things via the DCU thread on Jinxworld I saw another opportunity to pitch and I took it. Luckily Andrew and the rest of the editors saw something in my work and gave me a shot and here we are today.

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

BN: It was huge. I had never done anything like that before and as challenging as it was at times to go out of my comfort zone it was a lot of fun. I’ve never written a horror story for example, but after what I put together for Horror Vol. 3 I really have some ideas for more. My story in volume 13 (Young Readers) was a blast as it was written by my eight year old son Logan and I and I have always wanted to write a Western story. My Dad is a Western buff and his passion certainly inspired what I put together for that volume. Going forward I want to try to pitch more to volumes outside my comfort zone and try to spread my wings as a writer and not confine myself only to either writing superhero or adult themed crime fiction.

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

BN: Read, write, and draw. It’s as simple as that. For writers, don’t just read comics. Read as many different genres as you can and study story structure. Study how Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy do it. Pay close attention to the way Stephen King crafts a story. Or David Mamet. As brilliant as Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Brian Michael Bendis, Scott Snyder,  Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Brian K. Vaughan are you need to have your own voice and your own brilliance that is influenced by more than just comics. Read comics, novels, screenplays, anything you can get your hands on. Write every day. Even if it is just a paragraph or a few nonsense sentences you should get in the habit of writing every day. Write what comes naturally to you and if it’s something you truly have a passion for with enough practice you will get better. I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life so my only advice for artists would be to keep practicing and work on telling a sequential story. There are millions of people who can draw a pretty picture, but it takes a different kind of talent to tell a great sequential story.

But to break in to the business I would suggest a few things. For the most part, unless you’re the second coming of Shakespeare you are not going to get a job with Marvel or DC right out of the gate. The only real options are to pitch to an anthology series like The Gathering, self-publish your book, or hire an artist, letterer, and colorist out of your own pocket and pitch to Image or another publisher willing to look at it. With enough practice and enough exposure your resume will speak for itself and if you’re good enough with enough hard work you’ll make it. I know a lot of people who have succeeded in this industry and some of the best took years to get there, don’t expect to be writing The Punisher or drawing Batman overnight.

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

BN: Less can be more. I am a rather long winded person and tend to write a lot more than I need to and initially it was challenging to get a story down to just a few pages. But I think that is the brilliance of this format. If you can take a story that could easily be stretched out to full length and condense it down to just a few pages and still tell a cohesive story well then that’s something special. I have learned that making use of the space you have is important and that doesn’t mean cramming as much dialogue into a panel as you can.

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

BN: Sure, in a sense. On Demand printing wasn’t really available when I was getting started. You really only had a few printing options available and most were very expensive. The only really affordable option was Preney Print and Litho and they did a lot of the newsprint indie books like mine. Today there are many more options and cheaper services that provide a higher quality look to boot but it still isn’t easy. It really still boils down to either having a great idea or self-publishing, but anthologies like The Gathering are making it easier for talented creators to get their foot in the door for sure.

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

BN: I think if something like this existed in 1999 and 2000 my career might have been very different. I think in a day where it seems big publishers are less likely to take risks and even well-established professionals can’t get approval to do projects they really want to do all these new technologies are a very important tool and something that will only increase in the years to come. Movies, TV, music, comics will all be impacted by the idea of allowing fans to fun their favorite creators’ projects. Look at what Amanda Palmer has been able to do for example. I see a lot more of that and a lot less involvement from the so-called gatekeepers in the years to come. To me that is a good thing.

GP: What can we expect from you next?

BN: I have a story in the upcoming Western volume of The Gathering with the incredibly talented artist Danos Filopoulos and I will have one in next year’s Hey Kids! Fairy Tales (with Lex) and Hey Kids! Superheroes volumes as well. I am also working on a few pitches for future volumes of The Gathering and I am reworking my self published series Gabriel for future publication. I have a few other projects I am cooking up and basically just writing, writing, writing. Between that and my day job, my wife, and chasing after my three young boys it makes for a very busy but very good life.