Interview: Women of BOOM! – Chandra Free

Chandra Free 2It’s Thursday which brings us a new interview and our 13th “Women of BOOM!” feature, spotlighting the many kick-ass women that work at BOOM!, Archaia and KaBOOM! We’re focusing on everyone, editors, designers, writers, artists, you name it! We’re making sure to include the hard-working folks whose contributions are often overlooked in the process.

BOOM! (and KaBOOM! and Archaia) has given us unprecedented access and the chance to ask questions to their staff, and creative teams, to find out why the publisher is so successful in hiring women and their experiences in the comic industry as women.

Chandra Free is an independent creator, writer, illustrator, artist, and is up to the plate this week. She released her creator owned series The God Machine through Archaia, acting as both artist and writer. She’s been an illustrator on Fraggle Rock Vol. 2 and artist for Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, both for Archaia.

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

Chandra Free: It was always destined to happen. When I  got out of high school, I already wanted to put my book The God Machine out there. Of course, college got in the way, and I grew as an artist. In 2005, I “took a break” from college and started to discover my own artistic voice…  one that wasn’t my professors. With this, I was producing new digital illustrations, and one in particular was a piece of fanart for Gloom Cookie. I sent it along to Serena Valentino (the writer of Gloom Cookie) for her to see. She was so excited about my artwork that she asked me to try out for her upcoming comic, Hell’s Cafe! I did sample pages and everything! Sadly the project didn’t go forward during that time for many reasons, but it was my sample pages that she ended up posting online that caught the eye of Drew Rausch. Now, Rausch wanted me to do a pin-up for him, which I did. So impressed, he asked me to be his colorist on his book, Sullengrey. I did the first two issues of his second volume. This was my “initial” involvement with the comics industry. All creator-owned endeavors.

GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?

CF: I did, all kinds of comics too. When I was in grade school I read things like Garfield, newspaper comics, Disney Adventure, then later the weird stints Marvel had with the “then current” Disney movies. My mom always collected weird comics like Tom & Jerry, Heckel & Jeckel, The Three Stooges, and a bunch of old Marvel and DC titles that I’d always look through when I was a kid– but I never read them, just gazed at the pictures. I tend to gaze even to this day! FYI My mom also bought several copies of the Death of Superman when that came out…hahaha! Oh…

When I was about thirteen years old (this is around 1995), Marvel put out 11 issues of Disney’s Gargoyles. Oh man! I LOVED that comic so much! It featured Amanda Conner as the initial artist, and it was a more adult story. Conner made Elisa look so cool! Like kick your ass kind of cool. I would try and draw Conner’s version of Elisa all the time! I wanted to get an edge to my drawings (granted I was in middle school at the time.) The writing in that series made Elisa a multifaceted character, more fleshed out, filled with guilt and justice, and she wasn’t afraid to right the wrongs of her past by putting herself in danger! I collected all of those issues! I still have them bagged and boarded too. I was heartbroken when the next issue didn’t come out. I’d visit all the comics shops and turnstyle racks to no avail!

Around the time Gargoyles was coming out I was also getting into X-men, and I needed to know everything about them. I had seen the cartoon, but I really wanted to know what i was missing out on– the real lore! I don’t know how we did research back then; there was internet, but that was all bbs’ and various pages with info on them! In addition to all of that, I wanted everything with Psylocke! Don’t ask me why… maybe because she reminded me of anime characters? The issue that stands out the most was Psylocke vs. Sabertooth with Joe Madureira doing the art – and you can really see the anime influences there! I was so infatuated by Psylocke that I wanted the Sega Saturn game with her in it, until I learned it was a terrible port of the original arcade version, then I snubbed it and went on with my life!

I picked up the early issues of Archie’s Sonic comics. I didn’t make it past #50, I was getting tired of the story! I think I was mainly into those comics because I was going nuts over the original 16-bit games. They’re still making Sonic comics…

I never stopped reading comics. I had my time with manga and SLG titles during my teens and early ‘20s.

Currently when I find the time, I will read my friends’ comics, slice-of-life comics, and dark bizarre comics. My all-time favorites currently are Daytripper, DE:Tales: Stories from Urban Brazil, In the Flesh, Fell, Sleepwalk (Optic Nerve), Shortcomings, The Killer, From Hell, Courtney Crumrin, Paradise Kiss, and Critical Millennium (that has nothing to do with the fact my boyfriend wrote it, it was in my pullbox before I even met him! PLUS! It’s an original science fiction story! You don’t find those that often!)

The God MachineGP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?

CF: In 2007 I was pitching The God Machine at New York Comic-con. I had six packets to give to potential publishers. Each packet had everything in it, my black and white comic pages, my synopsis, character designs, full color illustrations– the works! I pitched to Mark Smylie (then owner of Archaia), and he immediately wanted to publish me based on my pitch package and my colorful illustrations! The only thing was that I needed to make my pages like those color illustrations in order to make it happen (Archaia only did color books at the time). I was mortified! I had picked out black and white as the format so I could be quick and produce my pages at a fast rate. Color wasn’t a fast thing for me to do. I wouldn’t take up Mark’s offer to publish me until seven months later when I had a break-down about what I wasn’t doing with The God Machine. I contacted my friend Alex Eckman-Lawn about what he thought of Archaia, and he said Mark had been asking about me the week before! I made that much of an impression. I took this opportunity immediately! If Mark Smylie wanted full colored pages, then by golly that’s what he was going to have! In late 2007 I would sign with Archaia as my publisher for The God Machine. It’s worth mentioning that Mark was right. My book looks and reads much better than it ever did in black and white. I have never regretted making it this way.

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

CF: I’m a freelance creator and illustrator. I create my own stories, in which I write and draw them. My primary focus is my title, The God Machine. I have done other projects , as well. On Fraggle Rock, I worked as an illustrator, and for Mice Templar, I have been a cover colorist.  I have adapted two stories for the anthology series Graphic Canon, and illustrated for Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes. I have done numerous pin-ups, album covers, and personal commissions. I’m also the Art Director at BLAM! Ventures, for books like SPACE:1999, and FRENZY. I’ve also made sure there was visual continuity with SPACE:1999 with dealings of likeness rights.

GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?

CF: Make sure you understand what it is to tell a sequential story. It’s more than pretty pictures, it’s about capturing the right moment. It’s more than a battle scene with zippy dialog, it’s about capturing character and story arcs that will bring your readers further into your story. Know the jargon– what’s a panel? What’s line weight? What’s a splash page… all this and more! Educate yourself! There are tons of books out there that are literally titled, “Understanding Comics.” Pick them up, read them! Make sure you know how to write and/or draw, too. The fundamentals!

Moving on from basics– so you want to break in?

Have a great portfolio! Find out what the publisher you’re pitching to wants from you, and make sure you have that. Meet the editor of the publisher you’re looking to pitch to at a convention. You’ll more than likely you’ll get more out of that than by sending in a submission. Be prepared for criticism from the editor! It is not an attack on you personally; it’s to help you get better or even understand what the publisher is looking for. Most importantly, NEVER show work that you’re not happy about, that’s  incomplete, old, or anything that shows your insecurities. Show them your best and newest stuff. Exude confidence in your work, but not to the point of smugness. Listen to what they have to say, be receptive, and courteous. All of these things will take you far.

Don’t expect fame, fortune, and an easy ride. It’s hard, laborious work that will tax your nerves, your esteem, your free-time, and will barely reward you in the end. But I have to say, there’s something to be said for making your own title and reaching people. Something that is intangible and amazing! Trust me on this, it’s worth all those tears smeared all over your comic page at 3am when your deadline is at 10am.

GP: We notice that when it comes to women in the comic industry, BOOM!/Archaia has a lot of diversity present. Why do you think have they succeeded when so many other publishers struggle with this?

CF: Companies like BOOM!/Archaia, and other indy comics companies, seem more geared to diversity and unique titles that usually comes from one creator or a small group of people. Gender doesn’t have anything to do with their selection, but instead, its what  title the creator is bringing to the company. It’s based on: 1.) if the title is right for them, 2.) if it’s great, 3.) and if the market is looking for something like it (or even if they want to strike out with something different and daring!). Indy companies are interested more in stories than meeting status quo, otherwise they would be in direct competition with the big two who have corner the market in a lot of ways.

GP: We’ve heard horror stories concerning women in the industry, have you ever seen or been discriminated/harassed and if so, how did you handle it?

CF: I haven’t exactly faced it internally in the industry itself, yet, but externally online, and at conventions, I have.

I once had a book review that focused on me, personally, where the reviewer said he was in love with me and messed up my lead character’s name in the process. Not sure how I feel about that. It wasn’t professional at all. I have no issue with somebody saying they loved my work, but don’t make it about me.

I’ve also been confused as being a “booth babe” instead of the creator, so much so that a dude went behind my table at Archaia and came and kissed me on my arm! He went back to the front of the table and asked me why I was there. I never felt so violated before! It wouldn’t have been cool of him to do that even if I had been a booth babe! That kind of behavior is unacceptable. Learn some respect for your fellow humans, who happen to have different sexual organs than you.

Other times, when I had my ex-husband at my booth, everybody would go to him first and ask if he did my work. This would happen a lot. I can also be the only person at the booth, explain my book, have by banner with my name on it, and still be asked if I did it. In some cases, I don’t know if it’s just that the people didn’t use common sense, or if I’m being discriminated against. I often do get surprised looks, though, as if I just blew their minds. I hate it.

In all of these instances, I haven’t had much in the way of handling it, other than to continue on. But you know what’s really awesome? When a father continues to bring his daughter back every year to show her that, she too, could be a comics creator… and all the BS of all the other events melts away. It’s the other girls and young ladies that I have effected in one way or another, and have inspired to create their own comics, that make everything okay. Heck, I think I’ve inspired some boys out there, too! That’s what really matters at the end of the day.

GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?

CF: Don’t give up hope. This industry will try and test you, but you have to come out stronger. Your gender has nothing to do with your skill, talent, and intellect. Focus on what matters the most to you, whether it’s creating your own epic, writing a webcomic, or drawing a fantastic comic– you do it! Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. Be wise and take real criticism in mind, but don’t let it drive you away.

And most of all, LOVE what you do. It will take you far.