Kickstarter Spotlight: The Collaborative Development of Schismatic
by Andrew Adams
A few days ago I released my first comic book through Kickstarter. It’s a revenge thriller set in a fantasy world, titled Schismatic, which I wrote the script for. And we’ve been overwhelmed with the positive response that we’ve received in the first few days. We’ve gotten enthusiastic personal messages from readers, over a quarter of our (relatively ambitious) goal in less than 48 hours, and the issue has even wound up in the hands of movie producers considering it for a film option.
But it took many failed attempts for me to finally get a full issue of a comic book produced. For several years I developed comic book ideas and wrote scripts on my own. Once they were complete, I would scour the internet for talented artists, send the scripts to artists whose styles I felt matched the tone of my writing, and wait anxiously to see if anybody was willing to make a comic book with me. I felt I had to do have a script in advance to prove to an artist that I could write a high-quality script worthy of their attention.
It failed every time. Most artists would pass completely, and the few who did begin to work with me would inevitably drop off of the project (for very valid reasons). It became very hard for me to find an artist whose passion for my projects matched my own. Which makes sense. After all, I had birthed this project into the world and it was full of my own ideas and not theirs.
There were two downsides to this approach which, in retrospect, seem incredibly obvious. One: it made me too precious with my own work, and less open to new ideas. Two: the incentives for an artist to work with me were weak. An artist would sign up either for financial reasons (except that my page rates were terrible) or to gain exposure in the industry (except that I only wanted to work with talented artists, and the big publishing companies would often scoop them up before we were done).
After my third failed collaboration in a row, I got frustrated. I went back to the Internet in search of a talented artist to work with. And I discovered Rachael Briner’s portfolio on the website for Savannah College of Art and Design’s Sequential Art program.
I loved her style and could tell she was talented instantly, and a strong visual storyteller. But I didn’t have any story ideas that seemed right for her style.
Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We were forced to develop the story as a team, and I’m convinced this is why Schismatic has been successful so far.
I wrote her an e-mail which read, “I’m a huge fan of your art, and I’d love to develop something for it. I want to try writing/developing a series for an artist, instead of finding one after the development is done. So I don’t have anything super specific for you yet. I’d want to hear what you’re interested in, pitch you some ideas, and see if anything catches your eye.”
She responded with tentative interest. She wasn’t on board yet. But she told me, “I’m drawn to realism, slice of life, fantastical, and mythological stories. I’m not too picky on mood; I enjoy both uplifting and feel good, as well as dark and intense.”
I went back to her DeviantArt page and noticed that all of my favorite work of hers featured fantasy worlds or creatures. I also saw, listed under her favorite movies, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. And it sparked something. What would happen, I thought, if Tarantino wrote a fantasy story?
I pitched several one-sentence ideas to Rachael, including that one. And that’s the one that excited us both, so I pursued it.
I spent several days revisiting all my favorite fantasy stories and all my favorite crime tales, trying to identify which elements most attracted me to each. I brainstormed a variety of possible stories that all involved crime, heists, and revenge, and mapped them onto a few possible fantasy worlds. And when I shared the work with Rachael, she once again got most excited about the idea that I was most excited about. Maybe I pitched it more enthusiastically because I was more into it, or maybe our tastes just magically aligned. Whatever happened, it worked.
That idea, essentially, was: “What if there’s a world with thousand-foot tides, and a cult that worships deep sea creatures? And a pirate kidnaps our hero’s son for the cult, so they have to go get him back?”
Rachael responded later that day with concept sketches, which I hadn’t requested.
She wrote: “An idea I played with is that the cult members are humanoids who attempt to make themselves look like their god. You said deep sea creatures, so I referenced those. I imagined that there would be different levels of transformation. Some would paint their skin black and dress up to look like their god with masks, others would ingest chemicals to make their veins and insides glow to look, and some would even surgically alter their selves: removing lower jaws, ears, and adding prosthetic teeth and more.
She also had an idea to make the villainous cult leader female, for smart thematic reasons.
Absolutely none of these ideas were mine, but I loved them. They instantly became a part of the story. And while I fell in love with the image of the woman in the headdress, I didn’t think she was scary enough to be the villain. So I went off and I wrote a two-page document imagining the backstory of this mysterious figure that Rachael had sent me, and what could have happened to make her more intimidating.
Rachael responded to that document, once again, with more concept art.
And when I saw Figure #6, I felt like I suddenly knew the character.
This is how the entire process happened. I would pitch ideas to Rachael, and she would return with concept art that took it to the next level and introduced new elements I’d never thought of. Which would, in turn, inspire even more ideas in me. The mythology of the world kept getting deeper and denser, because we would share ideas that inspired one another.
We developed a rule, that the best idea goes into the story no matter who comes up with it. It was pure collaboration, where our ideas mixed and blended to a level that I no longer know who came up with what. And soon, we had a script that I loved. But, unlike other projects, I was not possessive of it. Even though it felt entirely like mine. Rachael appeared to be working in the same headspace: passionate about the project on a creative level because she owned it, but open to new input. It has become one of the smoothest collaborations I’ve ever been a part of.
And now that the first issue is released, the comment we hear most often is that our lead villain is terrifying. After incorporating Rachael’s ideas, this is what the “pirate” from my pitch became:
Her name is Jarra, and she does some terrible things.
If you’d like to read Schismatic, the first issue is available for immediate download to anybody who pledges $5 or more to our Kickstarter campaign.
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