Author Archives: Madison Butler

Mina Elwell talks InferNoct, Scout Comics

infernoctEarlier this year, publisher Scout Comics announced an impressive slate of new comics to be released throughout 2017. I talked to Mina Elwell, Media Director at Scout Comics and writer of InferNoct, an upcoming horror comic from Scout.

Graphic Policy: First, thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Could you please tell us a little about yourself?

Mina Elwell: Thank you! I think of myself as a research-based writer. I love hearing about bizarre things –history, mythology, biology, muttering on the subway. (InferNoct is mostly the last one.) Talking to me could go off in any direction.

GP: You’re writing InferNoct, which has been described as a “Lovecraftian” horror story. What can readers expect from this comic?

ME: There’s a kind of looming existential dread associated with Lovecraftian horror, going back to HP Lovecraft’s stories, that I wanted to capture with InferNoct. As horror fans, we’re a little desensitized to extreme gore. A lot of us grew up watching American slashers – we’re hard to shock. What makes Lovecraftian stories disturbing is the sense that we do not really understand each other, nothing we do really matters, and our sanity is fragile.

And tentacles. There will be tentacles.

GP: As a filmmaker, what is it like to switch between writing for film and writing for comics? Are there things that each allows you to do as a writer that you can’t do with the other?

ME: One of the things I really like about comics is how small our team is. Eli Powell and I are co-creators. Tristan Elwell is our color artist, Marshall Dillon is our letterer, and James Pruett is our editor. That’s it. I’m able to write for them and to them, with their specific styles in mind. My scripts have notes and suggestions for Eli, links to hats and sea creatures he might like to draw.

A film script, even for an indie film, is going to be seen by a lot more people. You’re writing for the lighting techs, and the PA’s, not just the director and the editor.

GP: How do these different genres and mediums allow you to explore different kinds of storytelling?

ME: Films (and TV of course) allow a wide variety of people to come together to create the same thing – it’s music, it’s cinematography, it’s costumes and props and makeup, it’s editing, it’s writing. It feels like you’re watching one vision, but you’re really watching the work of hundreds of people working for months.

Eli and I have always been on the same page. What you’re seeing is pretty close to what I first imagined.

GP: What were some of InferNoct’s influences? What drew you to the horror genre?

ME: Other than Lovecraft…

When I was creating the world of InferNoct, I thought a lot about the original 1973 Wickerman, and the way that our perceptions of the townspeople switch several times throughout. InferNoct is an American love letter to folk horror.

With Sam, the protagonist, thought about The Crying of Lot 49, my favorite Pynchon novel. She’s a very different kind of person than Oedipa, but they’re both trying to reinvent themselves, and struggling to face a new reality… or what reality means, depending on how you read it.

I really looked at Thomas Ligotti’s stories when I was thinking about fear. Nobody does fear better than Ligotti.

GP: Based on the description, InferNoct has a really intriguing and unique concept. It’s also not your first horror story. Do you find yourself trying to break or avoid horror tropes when conceptualizing new stories?

ME: In general, I try not to worry about it too much. If two people started out with the exact same concept, they’d probably end up with entirely different final projects. At the same time, most people are pretty familiar with the horror movie archetypes (thank you Scary Movie and Scream Queens) so there’s a danger that anything set in a cabin in the woods with several promiscuous teens will become a parody pretty quickly. Eli and I made the decision to take out a “Hello?” shouted into an empty house the other day… everyone knows that’s how you get killed.

GP: Though the comic isn’t out yet, you’ve been releasing Trauma Cleanup Reports on InferNoct’s Facebook page. This is a pretty awesome way to market the book, set the tone for the story, and show off Eli Powell’s art. How did idea for the trauma reports come about?

ME: I wrote the first Trauma Report as something to hand out at conventions – my first one was Flame Con. I was hoping it would be something to give people a taste of what the series would be like, through the eyes of a different protagonist. Once I started to actually meet people at the cons, and they were excited about the series, I realized I wanted to have something running until release that would help them remember us.

GP: Eli Powell’s art looks absolutely incredible in the previews I’ve seen. What does he bring to the story?

ME: Eli brings a lot of depth to the characters, especially Sam, who is the main character but doesn’t have a ton of dialogue. I think my favorite thing about Eli’s work on InferNoct though is that every time I look at it I find something new. He brings something so funny and twisted to it. I feel like I’m playing Where’s Waldo, except “Waldo” is the name of something slightly sticky with too many teeth.

GP: I was reading an article the other day that suggested humor is a necessary counterpoint to fear because it makes the fear more conquerable. For you, what role does humor play in InferNoct?

ME: Humor is a great way of dealing with fear. It’s probably the best way of exposing things for what they really are — though given our current political situation, it’s pretty clear that we can laugh at something and find it terrifying at the same time…

The humor in InferNoct is pretty dark. There are definitely a few “it’s funny because it’s so awful” moments. We meet a fairly absurd cast of characters who have some terrible things happen to them. Eli’s art is wonderful in that respect as well. In issue 1 I described our character Joey as distracted, and Eli did the most hilarious zoned out expression for him. Keep an eye out for that one…

GP: You’re also Scout Comics’ Media Director. As readers and comic fans, we get to see the final product rather than the behind-the-scenes. What are some of your responsibilities as Media Director? Is there anything that would surprise readers about your job?

ME: There are some really cool new series coming out of Scout at the moment, but since they’re brand new characters, you don’t necessarily know what to expect. I want to make sure it’s getting to the audience that’s going to fall in love with it. Michael Sanchez, our editorial director, is a real master of that as well.

GP: Last year, Scout announced an impressive slate of new comics. What Scout books are you looking forward to in 2017?

ME: There are so many good Scout books coming out this year. I’m really excited about Smoketown, which is coming out right now. Mindbender, written by our wonderful editor James Pruett, is available for preorder this month. If you’ve ever seen InferNoct at a convention, we’re often tabling with AC Medina, whose series Welcome to Paradise really developed alongside InferNoct. I’m looking forward to experiencing it as a reader.

GP: What are your favorite comics/comic-related movies or games?

ME: I grew up on Sandman. Is it surprising that I love horror and dark fantasy? For games, I’m all about Telltale right now. I love that style of episodic storytelling.

GP: I played through Telltale Batman about a month ago and am so ready for Season Two! I love comics because I find the episodic, interrupted narrative immerses you in the story and yanks you right back out. It’s really effective in building suspense between issues, and I was surprised how well that translated to video games.

ME: Absolutely, I think immersing the player in the world is something that Telltale does really well. They do a wonderful job expanding on existing universes. Wolf Among Us had some fantastic original characters that fleshed it out and made it feel real. Obviously, I love a strange cast in a strange world!

GP: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask you?

ME: Most commonly asked question: Yes! The colorist Tristan Elwell is my father. I’ve been watching him make incredible pictures my whole life; it’s pretty exciting to have him working on something with me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to actually get him to come to a con.

GP: Having grown up with comics like Sandman and an artist/illustrator father, did you always know you wanted to enter the comics field in some capacity?

ME: I’d be happy to be telling stories in literally any medium you can think of, but I’m thrilled to be working on a comic with my dad, who introduced me to comics as a little kid. Does it get better than that?

GP: Thanks again!

Mark Allard-Will and Elaine Will talk Årkade

Meet Mark Allard-Will and Elaine Will, creators of the retro-inspired comic Årkade, which debuts this year at Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The team is campaigning on GoFundMe, and I had the opportunity to talk to them about the campaign and the comic.

Graphic Policy: Hi! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please tell us a little about yourselves?

Mark Allard-Will: No, thank you, Madison. It’s a real pleasure to be interviewed by you Crowdfund_Team_PNGand for Graphic Policy. My name is Mark Allard-Will and I am a Writer, specialising and focussing on Comic Books, Graphic Novels, etc. Although I now call Canada home and call myself a Canadian, I’m British born and raised. My previous project, and most successful project to-date, was Saskatch-A-Man; a Canadiana comedy comic book that focussed on the Province I live in, Saskatchewan.

Elaine Will: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Madison! I’m Elaine Will and I’m a cartoonist and illustrator also residing in Saskatchewan, Canada. My main claim to fame is the graphic novel Look Straight Ahead, a story about mental illness which was a 2012 Xeric Award winner, from the very last grant cycle (a fact I’m pretty proud of!) The book was very well received and can still be read online on my website blog.e2w-illustration.com (I admit, the site is in desperate need of a revamp – soon, I swear!)

GP: Your comic Årkade is currently up on GoFundMe. Can you describe the project?

MAW: Sure can. Årkade, in a nutshell, is a metafiction comic book that fuses styles and genres; which, for us, is the old ham-fisted American and British produced Viking movies where the cast knowingly misused Middle English and late ‘80s, early ‘90s family adventure movies. Our medium to fuse the two is defunct Video Games (albeit fictional Video Games of our creation). This story is a one-shot, it’ll be perfect-bound like a graphic novel and we’ll be adding some goodies in there too, like a Pin-up/Tribute Art Gallery that features some Artwork by a diverse range of Canadian Cartoonists, Artists and even an American Comic Book Artist.Crowdfund_Story

So, the GoFundMe page acts just as any other Crowdfunding page would and does, people who help us pay off our printing bill by backing the project can get preorders of the physical Book, digital download and a plethora of other goodies, including some advertising opportunities, limited signed and numbered sketch cards and the chance to receive some art of yourself drawn as an Årkade character.  

EW: What Mark said – one thing I’ll add is that I wanted to do a comic that incorporated glitch art (as I have yet to see that – although, it may exist now) and asked Mark to write a story which might allow me to indulge in that.

GP: What were some of the movie and game influences for Årkade? What inspired the AxeMan character?

MAW: For me, when I writing the script, I absolutely wanted to throw some homage to, what in my mind is the pinnacle of adventure metafiction movies, The Neverending Story; and that’s certainly where the fiction-to-“reality” crossover and the race against impending doom narratives of Årkade take their base from. I think for many of us whom grew up before story-driven video gaming, we have a certain love affair held out for the old side-scrollers and Arcade house games and certainly a big motivator for how I envisioned the video game world of the Vikings was a Sega Genesis titled called Golden Axe.

EW: I was born in ’85 and pretty much only played side-scrolling platform games growing up – I was given a SNES for my 7th birthday with Super Mario World as the pack-in game. A couple of years later I got a Sega Genesis as well, because I was a rather spoiled only child. In fact, I never really grew into a next-gen gamer…at some point I just couldn’t keep up and I still enjoyed the old games enough I didn’t feel a need to upgrade. I definitely know that I’m missing out on some great modern games and I really want to find the time to play a few soon.

Sorry to go off on a bit of a tangent there – there’s a little bit of pixel art in the comic that’s definitely inspired by the graphics of the old 2D sidescrollers. I actually usually point to Sonic the Hedgehog as my biggest artistic inspiration, as it was the original comics published by Archie that instilled the desire in me to become a cartoonist!

GP: This isn’t the first comic you have done together, how has your storytelling evolved as your comics have progressed?

MAW: Well, I think that’s a really neat part of working together and furthering together as we do; as we’ve moved on to different projects together, Elaine will give me some ideas of what she’d like to see in the visuals of the World, etc, and I’ll see if I can make it work in plot development and later in scripting. We’re definitely very good at bouncing ideas off of each other, which I think helps to flesh out something really exciting.

EW: I think we definitely make a good team. Mark’s scripts are so easy for me to visualize. Due to his background in film, he’s able to nail down what he wants to see drawn in each panel and describes that in great detail, so much of the work is already done for me before I ever sit down to do thumbnails.

GP: Though there have been other comic adaptations of video games, Årkade is unique in that it incorporates the side-view angles and pixelated graphics of a side-scroll video game. What were the challenges of adapting the medium for print while staying faithful to the style?

Pixel_Panel2EW: When designing the pixel art I went so far as to make sure the character sprites didn’t contain more than 16 colours – the standard for a single “palette line” in a 16-bit game. Depending on the console, there could also be anywhere from 64-256 colours on screen at one time, so I stuck pretty firmly to that in the pixel art as well.

For the rest of the artwork I went for a pretty cartoony cel-shaded style.

GP: Elaine, Årkade is different from your other projects Look Straight Ahead and Dustship Glory. How do these different genres allow you to explore different forms of storytelling in comics?

EW: I decided to go for a much more straightforward storytelling style for Årkade. One of the hallmarks of my style is tilted, oddly-shaped or jagged panels corresponding to moments of tension in the story. I think I sometimes have a tendency to create odd page layouts or differently shaped panels just for the sake of it, and not always when it serves the story. So, I wanted to draw a comic that didn’t have any of that for once and then slowly start to bring it back in later on (you see a bit of it towards the end of Årkade, once the game world starts to fall apart).

GP: As an artist, what is your favorite part of telling different types of stories?

EW: I suppose, trying to figure out the best art and storytelling style to set the mood! And the challenges that presents. It can be frustrating sometimes, of course, when I’m sitting down to draw a new story and realize it’s full of things I don’t really know how to draw…but this always ends up being beneficial later on, even if I don’t realize it at the time. I think the horses in Årkade are pretty sweet looking, and that’s because I had plenty of practice drawing them in Dustship Glory! ;)

GP: Mark, were there challenges in capturing the spirit of a video game in a print medium?

MAW: That’s a really great question. For me personally, not so much; it’s introduced very early on in the story and falls in to place as AxeMan reminiscing about the days gone by when he and his game cartridge were played with routinely and beloved by players and continues with a Jay and Silent Bob-esque retro game collector and restorer in our modern timeline. Despite the story being metafiction (where you have at least some free reign to ham things up), the only real challenge was to make sure I didn’t get too quirky on any one particular element in those dynamics.  

GP: Nostalgia is kind of “in vogue” right now, with the return of 1980s and 1990s fashion and the popularity of movie and television show reboots. What role does nostalgia play in the comic? Was there a game or movie you were feeling particularly nostalgic for when developing the story?

MAW: Definitely. For me, it was movies such as Neverending Story, The Goonies, The Last Action Hero and ET. In terms of games, beyond the aforementioned Golden Axe, I’d have to say the Sonic The Hedgehog games and a great Sega Genesis title called Wiz ‘n’ Liz.

EW: As I mentioned above, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a big influence (particularly the art direction of Sonic CD, as it’s just so different from the rest of the classic series and has a really interesting “technology bonded with nature” thing going on). I think that we were also inspired by the movie Wreck-It Ralph, its existentialist themes and the wonderful feeling of nostalgia it created from an entirely fictional arcade game – in fact, I usually Elevator Pitch Årkade as “Wreck-It Ralph With Vikings.”

GP: What are you most excited for readers to see in this comic?

MAW: For me, I’m really excited for readers to see my quirky, fun writing take on new legs outside of Canadiana into something that’s fun for all ages. I’m also really hoping this will just be a nice big blast of nostalgia for people too.

EW: Everything! We really gave it our all for this one and I think lots of folks will love it – not just for the nostalgia factor, but because I think it’s a really fun story.

GP: Congrats on being able to debut Årkade at Toronto Comic Arts Festival! Where will this comic be available after TCAF?

MAW: Thank you. After the show, the comic will be available in stores across Canada and from our online webstore, we’ll be updating people of the exact purchase link on our Social Media platforms when it goes live. The best place for people to keep up-to-date is on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CuckoosNestPress

GP: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask you about?

MAW: Just to say a huge thanks for having us and putting us up on Graphic Policy and to say a huge thank you to all the backers and sharers of the crowdfunding page, it really does mean a lot to us.

EW: Yes, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with us and for featuring us on Graphic Policy! The crowdfunding campaign is up until April 9th.

GP: Thank you so much for your time!

EW: Cheers! :)

Review: Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys #1: The Big Lie

nancyhardy001covcsubhackNancy Drew and Frank and Joe Hardy have had numerous incarnations over the years–Nancy has been developed for younger readers, young adult readers, and the PC gaming crowd with a successful (and ongoing) series of games by Her Interactive. The Hardy Boys have had similar incarnations throughout the years, often teaming up with Nancy in TV shows, in the Her Interactive games, and their own less successful video games.

The original Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book series are classics that have not aged perfectly, and both series have been revised to remove content that contributes to racial stereotyping. Last year, CBS dumped the pilot of the TV show “Drew” for being “too female,” and despite numerous spin-offs over the years, Dynamite Entertainment’s new series Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie is the first new media for these characters in a while.

As a child, I read and collected each of the original 56 books and read a few Hardy Boys stories, something that consumed my elementary school reading habits. Then I moved right on to Mary Higgins Clark and Agatha Christie in fifth grade, lamenting the fact that Nancy never got to solve any murders.

Nancy, Frank, and Joe will get their shot at solving a murder with Anthony Del Col and Werther Dell’Edera’s Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. The first issue isn’t perfect, but it’s an enjoyable tribute to the original series. When Frank and Joe’s father is murdered, they become suspects. Frank and Joe must team up with Nancy Drew to clear their names and get to the heart of a murder that rocked the otherwise sleepy town of Bayport.

The story is a much more intense take on the mysteries these teenagers usually get to solve. NDatHB #1 toes the line of “gritty reboot,” but on a gritty reboot scale of 1 to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, this comic rates about a 3.5.

Dell’Edera’s art sets the tone for a modern comic that feels vintage. Halftone and crosshatching makes the book feel like an old comic strip or book and makes the comic feel true to its source material. The art dramatizes the page with heavy shading used judiciously. It’s noir without feeling too noir for a comic about a bunch of teenage detectives.

Stefano Simeone incorporates subtle sepia tones, further enhancing the vintage feel. The colors shift well with the mood, enhancing the building anger of Frank and Joe’s interrogations and setting the tone for some tense party scenes later in the book. Simeone’s muted colors also serve to keep the story from getting too dark, literally.

The biggest issue NDaTHB #1 has is that the art and writing are sometimes at odds with one another. The decidedly vintage art style and ambiguously clothed main characters meant that I had a hard time parsing what time period this book was set in until Frank said, “Collig’s not the smartest app on the phone.” I have never heard one of my fellow Millennials speak this way and probably never will, but points for trying.

For the most part, though, the dialogue captures the sass that have gotten Frank and Joe into trouble many a time, balancing it out with more serious moments. Nancy Drew steals the show entirely, and I’m excited for her character based on her cool leather jacket alone.

The first issue of the comic wasn’t perfect, but showed a lot of promise. Mystery fans, fans of the original series, and fans of Hope Larson and Brittney Williams’s Goldie Vance will likely enjoy Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys for its vintage charm, amped-up drama, and superb art.

Story: Anthony Del Col Art: Werther Dell’Edera
Story: 6.8 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.9 Recommendation: Read

Dynamite Entertainment provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Graphic Policy Celebrates Women’s History Month: Our Favorite Women in Comics

patsy walker aka hellcat 1 featuredLogan: Kate Leth, Brittney Williams, Megan Wilson, and Rachelle Rosenberg’s Hellcat has been a joyful celebration of superheroes, young people, and queerness. I will miss its humor, chibi style art, and especially my bi bae Ian Soo when it ends in a couple months.

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Alex: Faith (Valiant) I really can’t understate just how enjoyable this series is. There have definitely been some issues stronger than others, but each and every one in the ongoing series (and preceding miniseries) has been nothing short of a pleasure to read.

Jody Houser, Marguerite Sauvage and the revolving cast of artists have taken Faith to stunning heights in an effortlessly charming and warm series that will make you fall in love with comics all over again.

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Shay: Gail Simone brings me LIFE! As does Roxane Gay! And I’m really loving Amanda Conner and her hubby’s direction for Harley Quinn! Also, loving Marguerite Bennett for the realistic portrayal of lesbians in Batwoman!

animosity3

Joe: One of the best titles in the last year is Animosity from Aftershock. This fantastic story is written by Marguerite Bennett who has taken the comic book world by storm lately, and drawn by Rafael de Latorre. Basically, society has collapsed when animals can talk and decide to take over the world from humanity. Instead of a boy and his dog adventure like we’ve seen so many times, we get a girl and her dog. Jesse and her hound, Sandor are not only an awesome pair, but the story is about Jesse’s growth into womanhood without a mother figure. Sandor knows he cannot help like her mother could, but he learns to rely on the other female animals to guide her. It’s brilliant, and everyone should be reading it.

nocenti-daredevil

Patrick: Ann Nocenti’s run on Daredevil blew my mind when it was coming out. It was so different from what I’d been used to seeing from Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller – a strange urban poetry that was as close to magic realism as I’d ever seen in mainstream comics. With an off-kilter humor – the Human Torch showing up in a tight t-shirt reading “Bad!” – twisted romance, and psychodrama. Her writing was like nothing else on the stands.

A huge thanks to the editors and publishers behind the scenes who made a ton of great comics happen: Jenette Kahn, cat yronwode, Diana Schutz, Louise Jones/Simonson, Ann Nocenti, Shelly Bond, Alisa Kwitney, and most especially the inestimable Karen Berger.

Troy: It was a bit short lived, but I think there was a Defender’s title by Cullen Bunn about Valkyrie being tasked with assembling Midgard’s Valkyrie. Fear Itself the Fearless was kind of the prelude series to that. I really would have loved to see this series fleshed out.

monstress #5 featured

Madison: It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Monstress and Bitch Planet. They’re not for everyone, but they’re two of my go-to recommendations for people who love science fiction or fantasy. Elizabeth Breitweiser, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Jordie Bellaire consistently blow me away with their incredible colors.

Brett: I’m slightly obsessed with M. Goodwin’s Tomboy which is published by Action Lab: Danger Zone. The series follows a teenage girl whose best friend is murdered in a corrupt cop/conspiracy and she gets posessed by an avenging ghost in a way. Think Kick-Ass but a teenage girl in the lead and a manga influence to it all. An amazing mix of horror, action, and manga the hero Addison is a teenager that can kick ass and get some vengeance.

Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee talk Simon Says: Nazi Hunter

simon-saysSimon Says: Nazi Hunter tells the story of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor-turned Nazi Hunter. The comic is on Kickstarter, where creative team Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee are hoping to fund the printing and production of the first issue and expand the comic into a graphic novel-length story. We chatted with them about their project, and what we can learn from this politically relevant story.

Graphic Policy: Hi! Firstly, thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your Kickstarter for Simon Says: Nazi Hunter. Would you like to introduce the creative team and tell us a little about yourselves?

Andre Frattino: Hi, I’m Andre Frattino, and I’m the writer of Simon Says: Nazi Hunter.

Jesse Lee: Hello! My name is Jesse Lee and I’m the artist for Simon Says. I’m a recent graduate who’s working on starting my professional career as an artist. Right now, I sling coffee at a local cafe. I like coffee. Like… a lot.

GP: Simon Says is live on Kickstarter right now. Could you describe the project?

AF: Simon Says is a comic inspired by famed Nazi Hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal was an Austrian of Jewish descent, who survived the war when the Nazi put him to work as an artist painting swastikas on train cars. Through hardship and torture, he survived, but unfortunately, most of his family did not. Wiesenthal spent the rest of his life devoted to hunting down Nazis who escaped prosecution after the war. Some called him the “Jewish James Bond” and I think that nickname fits the idea of our comic nicely.

JL: It’s a story about vengeance and justice, loss, and absolution. It’s about how one man decided to take a stand against individuals responsible for the genocide of millions. 

GP: Based on the Kickstarter previews, the art and storytelling vibe really well. How did this creative team come together?

AF: I’ve been mulling over this idea for years, and initially had in mind to illustrate it myself. However, I wasn’t convinced my style fit the level of precision and detail a project of this magnitude demands. Jesse and I had met a few years ago and discussed the idea of a collaboration. With his style, it felt like a no-brainer to get him on it, and I was very fortunate that he said “yes.”

JL: Actually, it was completely by chance. I met Andre working a night shift at the cafe. He was sitting by himself with his laptop and there wasn’t anybody else inside. I saw him drawing on a tablet and I asked him if he was working on anything. After chatting a bit, he tells me he works for SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) and that he also writes and produces comics. He gave me his card and I gave him my Tumblr to look at my art. Fast forward a few months later, Andre contacts me about a project he’s working on and asked if I would be interested in being his artist. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the first artist to work on this project. Andre had another guy working with him, but for reasons unknown, he left and Andre asked me to hop on the project. The rest is history.

GP: You mentioned that Simon Says is influenced by noir and pulp fiction and films like Schindler’s List and Inglorious Bastards. Were there any comics that had an influence on Simon Says?

AF: If I had to choose a couple that mostly influenced my storytelling, it would have to be Art Spiegelman’s MAUS and Frank Miller’s Sin City. Spiegelman had a very forward and frank way of putting his story. There was no glitz and glamour to his storytelling. He told it as it needed to be told. From Miller’s Sin City, I think the biggest influence is in Simon’s inner monologuing, which Sin City’s Frank did such a great job of doing.

JL: For me, I’d have to say Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I’ve always had it set in the back of my head while working on the pages. It’s raw, emotional, and dauntingly haunting. With an atrocity such as the Holocaust, everyone has the sensibility to empathize with an event so devastating and tragic. But, when you’re witnessing the horrors through the eyes of somebody who’s actually been through it, your senses are on an entirely different scale. 

GP: What would you say your biggest comic influences are as creators, and what sets your story apart from others?

AF: Quite by accident, most of my previous works are heavy handed in their pull from history. I think that I excel in storytelling that is grounded in historical roots and tries to educate while entertaining. I think that comics have a relatively untapped talent at that. Some of the best comics I know are based in reality (with a bit of a spin) and don’t rely on capes and masks. Don’t get me wrong, I love superheroes, but I think it’s something that’s widely overdone, and there’s too much great material in our own world that doesn’t get utilized.

JL: Too many to list but these guys really know how to lay the ink down and they’re just some that come to mind: John Paul Leon, Borislav Mitkov, Marcos Mateu-Mestre, Andrew Mar, and Jorge Zaffino. Aside from there not ever being a comic about Simon Wiesenthal, this project stands out among a saturated market of superheroes and muscle heads. While I thoroughly enjoy mainstream comics, this is a story about a hero without a skin-tight suit.

GP: This comic is based on the life of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. Could you tell us a little about Simon’s story and how this impacted you as creators and how it has guided the direction of your project?

AF: Simon’s story, like everyone who survived the Holocaust, is a story of immense sorrow and heartache. It’s absolute hell on Earth, and anyone who hasn’t lived it (including, obviously, myself), could never seek to imagine what it was actually like. All we can say with certainty is that it changed people. In Simon’s case, it transformed him into a crusader for justice, as it did many who decided to take up the role of Nazi Hunter. This story aims to spark the recognition of those heroes in the next generation and the next generation. The farther we grow from the generation that actually experienced the war, the more likely people will forget, or start seeing it as “an unfortunate part of history.” I’m not talking about Jewish descendants, I’m talking about EVERYONE. We can’t let society forget that people who suffered didn’t fade into obscurity afterwards, they fought.

JL: I really admire the fact that Simon didn’t just seek revenge, he sought justice. He never killed any of the Nazi war criminals he captured. Instead, he made sure they stood trial for their crimes. That speaks volumes of his character and his code. Essentially, he was a real-life Bruce Wayne. It’s cool to know that you get to work on a story of a man who is pretty much Batman!

GP: Comics have always been decidedly political, and Simon Says is no exception. Was its development reactionary to current politics?

AF: Like I said, I actually came up with this idea back in 2008. I think that the current political environment is frighteningly coincidental, but also frighteningly similar to what happened to Simon Wiesenthal and millions of people. Part of me wonders how I held onto this project for so long and how RIGHT NOW, became the time we acted on it. Jesse and I have actually been collaborating since early last year, so the timing…it’s scary, but it makes our project 100x more potent and necessary.

JL: As much as I’d love to say we planned this all around the current state of affairs, this project was in development a significant time before any of the chaos here in the U.S. started breaking out. That’s not to say that it isn’t any less pertinent. I find this project incredibly relevant as it connects readers personally to a victim of Xenophobia, which is so prevalent in our country today. We can’t ever forget the past and the lessons it’s entailed. Hopefully, this project can remind us of that. 

GP: This Kickstarter is for the production of issue one, and it’s clear that this is a passion project. What led you to develop Simon Wiesenthal’s story?

AF: I quite honestly cannot tell you. I rack my brain trying to remember how I learned about Simon Wiesenthal. I know it happened sometime in 2008, but I can’t remember how. I have been fascinated by World War II and the Holocaust since I was in high school, since I read Elie Wiesel’s Night. How could there be a scarier series of crimes and events against humanity by a people who claimed to be pure and superior? Only to transform themselves into the monsters of legend?

JL: I’ll let Andre answer that one!

GP: That being said, what do you hope readers take away from Simon Says?

AF: To quote Simon Wiesenthal: “For your benefit, learn from our tragedy. It is not written law that the next victims must be Jews.”

JL: History must not repeat itself. It’s like Simon’s famous quote, “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”

GP: Is there anything else you would like to discuss that I didn’t ask?

AF: Roughly 500,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive today. Most of that number lives below the poverty line. We want to exceed our fundraising goal of $5,000, and if we do, we’ll donate a portion of that excess to charities that support and care for survivors who still need help. I never knew him, but I honestly believe that’s something Simon Wiesenthal would’ve wanted us to do.

JL: Thanks for your questions! You guys rock!

GP: Again, thank you so much for your time!

This project is up for funding on Kickstarter until February 28.

Tyler James of ComixTribe and ComixLaunch talks Kickstarter

comixlaunchAs the start of our Kickstarter coverage, I kicked off the year by interviewing Tyler James, who is a publisher at ComixTribe and host of the ComixLaunch podcast. As a successful project manager on Kickstarter, he graciously shared some of his knowledge on the makings of strong Kickstarter campaigns.

Graphic Policy: First, can you give us a little bit of background on how you first got involved in Kickstarter Projects? Were you skeptical at first or did you dive right in?

Tyler James: When I look back, I sat on the sidelines. I didn’t launch my first campaign until mid-2012 and it seems like it had already been here forever. But if you think about it, Kickstarter would only be in like, first grade if it was a human. It really was a game-changer in a lot of ways. I remember the first four projects I backed didn’t get funded, so it wasn’t until early 2012 that I started following projects that were doing really well.

I originally had a misconception or a mindset issue that really held me back with Kickstarter because I was looking at Kickstarter as a non-renewable resource. Like, you got your one Kickstarter card that you could play, and so I was like, “I’ve got to wait for the perfect project to launch Kickstarter” because I thought, “maybe you get one shot to go to the well on that.”

What I didn’t realize was that whether Kickstarter was a finite resource or a renewable resource depends on how well you run your campaign. If you run a kickass campaign, you’re going to excite the fans you already have, you’re going to draw new fans, and if you treat them well and treat your backers well, they’re going to be asking you when the next campaign is.

comixtribe-logoI studied the platform for about a year, year and a half and sat on the sidelines for a while before actually pulling the trigger. When I launched, I launched with a pretty cool anthology project and it did great. It was our first hardcover project that we did, and we shot for an $8,500 goal and raised $26,000 which was, at the time more than I had made in the previous four years of making comics.

It really ignited the growth of ComixTribe from there. That first Kickstarter really did kickstart things not only on Kickstarter, but for ComixTribe. It helped us get off the ground and put us on the map. I look at the growth and the things we’ve been able to do since and a lot of that goes to the initial success we had on Kickstarter.

GP: So, how many projects have you had on Kickstarter so far?

TJ: I’ve managed nine projects between me and my collaborators, and that’s across a couple of different Kickstarter profiles. I’ve managed my projects, I’ve worked with Joe Mulvey, who is a ComixTribe creator for his Scam Ultimate Collection hardcover and John Lees on his Standard hardcover. That’s one of the things we at ComixTribe realized. We can put out hardcover collections that are as good or better than any publisher on the planet can do, but the only way we can do that is with the support on Kickstarter.

The Diamond model for those oversize hardcovers, for what get ordered in the shop, that would never happen. The awesome thing about a platform like Kickstarter is that we can actually compete with the support of our small but dedicated fanbase and then make really great books. Kickstarter has enabled us to make awesome products, which is cool.

I also, working with Jason Ciaramella and Greg Murphy, started a new brand for children’s books that adults actually want to read, and that became the C is for Cthulhu brand. That’s the first book we did, and so I’ve managed three projects with that and I think those have done over $100,000 in funding just for the Cthulhu stuff.

All in all, I’ve managed nine projects that have raised over $220,000 with the support of 5,000+ backers. It’s been a lot of experience.

GP: It sure sounds like it! And now you’re holding Kickstarter workshops and challenges. Since the most recent one just ended, can you talk a little bit about the 6 Day Kickstarter Challenge?

TJ: Certainly. So in the middle of 2015, I launched a podcast called ComixLaunch. With ComixTribe, since the very beginning, we’ve always been doing two things. Sort of putting out our own books, under the ComixTribe label, and sharing what we know and what we were learning in the process, from going to complete unknowns to building a small press from the ground up. We earned a lot of goodwill doing that and a lot of our articles have been shared across–we’ve gone back and forth with Graphic Policy several times and had good relations with the folks over there.

As I was sort of paying attention and as I was continuing with Kickstarter and looking at the ComixTribe stats, the questions that were coming up the most and the articles that were getting the most traffic and uptake, the things I was hearing most about and the questions I was getting most at conventions and in emails were all around Kickstarter. I’d found a couple of kickstarter podcasts that I really liked that I got a ton of value on and good ideas from and one of my favorites stopped putting out new podcast episodes.

I’d started getting the podcast bug myself and was listening to a bunch of podcasts and in early 2015 and I thought, “you know what, there’s a need for this, there’s a need for a show that will go really deep and focus on mindset strategies and tactics for crowdfunding,” specifically for comics and graphic novels, but so many of the principles can be applied to any genre.

The idea was that being that focused and niche, it’s not going to be a blockbuster podcast, but there will be some creators out there who absolutely need it. That was what I launched ComixLaunch with.

In mid 2015, a little less than half of all comics projects got funded on kickstarter when we launched the podcast. I know how much ink, sweat and tears goes into launching, and dreams, creative aspirations and emotions go into launching a Kickstarter. The fact that it’s such a coin flip for creators was gutting to me, and that’s why I launched the podcast initially.

The podcast has been running weekly since we launched, which has been really great and it’s been a tremendous experience for me. As we’ve continued, to see and say, alright, how can we continue to add value and give creators a nudge? One cool thing, statistically, since I know Graphic Policy loves statistics, when I started tracking the comics success rate on Kickstarter, it was 49.95 percent, and since comixlaunch launched,t he overall kickstarter success rate has gone down 2.5 percent and comics have gone up 2.2 percent, so comics are trending in the right direction.

Obviously, ComixLaunch can’t take all or most of the credit for that and the creators out there and the community are pretty special when it comes to Kickstarter, but I think we’re helping. Our reviews and the feedback we get from creators are making an impact, but I think we can continue to do better. One of the things I found, because I try to survey and talk to my audience all the time, one thing that’s a little disheartening or points to the challenges, 70 percent of my audience haven’t launched projects on Kickstarter. There are a lot of reasons for that–creative inertia is one of them, you’ve got to get moving to keep moving and once you’re stuck, it’s hard to get unstuck.

I think a lot of creators don’t know what they don’t know, and so the challenge is the idea of “let’s try to do it at the beginning of the year, let’s get creators moving and if they’re already planning their Kickstarter, let’s make them better, and if they’re just getting started, let’s get them started on a good footing.” That was the big idea behind the challenge. Let’s spend six days, and each day there will be a lesson and a challenge activity associated with it.

This is something I could have done myself and put together the challenge and the lessons, between ComixLaunch and last year, when I decided to put together a full course called the ComixLaunch Course, which is basically a step-by-step system. Now that i’ve done nine projects I don’t recreate the wheel every time, I actually have a set system that i put in place to plan and launch and execute and fulfill my Kickstarters. So in January of last year I did a pilot program and took eight creators under my wing and taught them the strategies and tactics and systems that I use, and had a lot of success.

That was the pilot version of the ComixLaunch course, so I could have taken some of those lessons and done the challenges myself, but I thought it would be more fun and more of an event to reach out to some of my past ComixLaunch guests and people that have had success on the Kickstarter platform and who have the heart of a teach and like sharing what they know with other creators. I reached out to five other creators and asked them if they want to participate in the challenge and everybody said yes, so I taught day one and then I had five other creators–Dirk Manning of Nightmare World, Ryan K. Lindsay, Russell Nohelty of Wannabe Press, the folks from KrakenPrint, and Madeleine Holly-Rosing who’s the author of Kickstarter for the Independent Creator.

A great collection of guest instructors, and I’d set an initial goal of getting about a hundred creators and a stretch goal of about 250, and last I checked we had about 270 that actually registered for the challenge. It was definitely a big success and something that went from idea to “hey, this is a real thing that’s happening” in about two and a half weeks.

GP: With that success, do you think you’ll be holding future Kickstarter challenges?

TJ: Yeah. Right now I’m still sort of in–this is a big experiment, right?–so I’m getting some lessons learned and feedback from creators. Over the next week, we’re going to leave the challenge open, all the activities and lessons and challenges and resources were housed within a private Facebook group so people could register and get in. We’re going to keep it open for a couple of weeks, so if somebody hears about it and wants to hop in, it’s still open and they can go to comixlaunch.com/challenge and they will get started on day one and can do it on their own time.

I’ll be getting feedback and seeing what people liked, what can be improved and doing some debriefs and we’ll likely run it again. By and large I think it was a big success–a lot of work, because it was the first time doing it, and it’s kind of par for the course–whatever you think something’s going to take to get done, plan on it taking ten times as much work to get done. That’s a lesson most Kickstarter creators will find out, so be careful of those great ideas. But it’s been a great experience.

It’s great because there’s a range of teaching styles and approaches from creators, and different creators resonated more, some less, but it was a good cross-section. I’ll probably survey the challenge group and get some feedback and suggestions going forward, but it’s something I plan on holding again.

Right now, for the next couple of days enrollment is open and will soon close for the next section of the ComixLaunch Course. I’ve got a new batch of creators I’ll be working with starting in the next couple of days and we’re going to be working together to plan and execute and launch their Kickstarter projects using my system. A bunch of the creators in the challenge will be upgrading to the ComixLaunch Course and working with me.

I think the great thing is that everyone who participated in the challenge got something out of it and I know I did, as well. One of the things I think is very important, especially in the winter when conventions are fewer and farther between, is keeping that community going. Within the challenge group, people were signing up for each other’s emails, sharing their Facebook pages and backing each other’s Kickstarters for the folks who have Kickstarters going right now. So much of a successful career is having a network, and anytime i can help facilitate connecting creators with other creators doing cool stuff is definitely a valid and worthwhile use of my time.

GP: Why do you think–I’m sure part of it is because ComixLaunch has given creators a resource on how to build up their Kickstarter skills and whatnot–but what else do you think has been a factor in the growth of comics project success rates on Kickstarter?

TJ: I think there’s a few things going on. I think comics creators, probably more than a lot of categories, set more attainable goals. You look at the success rate for tech projects and it’s something like, sub-20 percent. I think it’s like 18 percent, and a lot of that is because just to get those things off the ground, they need forty thousand, eighty thousand dollars, just to make a prototype.

With comics, most of us are used to putting some skin in the game, rolling up our sleeves, doing it for the love and really, a lot of the time, comics creators are just going to Kickstarter with help printing and maybe some colors, or to recoup some of that stuff. We’re not always going to Kickstarter and saying, “We need to raise ten, twenty, fifty thousand dollars,” especially if we don’t have a big audience. I also think, more so than most industries, there’s a lot of mutual support–creators supporting other creators. I feel like we do have a good community where people are more likely to share what other people are doing, and I think that’s a good thing.

There’s a lot of negativity that you’ll see if you’re on quote-unquote Comics Twitter, but I feel like you get so much of what you focus on.

Every year, if you look at any year-end recap, “what do you want to see in comics?” article, diversity in comics is a thing. If you look at Kickstarter right now, you’ll get all the diversity in comics you could ever want. And you’ll also see a lot of creators sharing each other’s stuff.

I think we have a community that, by and large, a lot of good information gets shared. I don’t know that it’s all that cutthroat. I hope that over time, the message of ComixLaunch is that Kickstarter is not a zero-sum game, and that my success on the platform does not mean your success is less likely. That was a big thing behind the Six Day Challenge. One of my most recent podcasts was about your mission, your impact, and your legacy.

I sort of threw down the gauntlet and said, “The goal for ComixLaunch and everything we do going forward is to make comics the category that has the highest success rate on Kickstarter.” To do that, that means better projects and better prepared creators. I don’t think every project deserves to fund on the Kickstarter platform if the project is not well thought out–Kickstarter should never be looked at as an ATM or a given, but there’s no reason that only 5 out of 10 need to fund. Why not 6 out of 10? 7 out of 10? So a big part of the ComixLaunch challenge was how can we best impact that? Right now comics is the third highest category on Kickstarter, but we can do better.

I have some other things I’ll be putting out over the next year. I have a book on Kickstarter page design that will be coming out later next year, which is another thing I can add to the mix and help make better projects and get more funded and help make an impact.

GP: You kind of touched on something I was going to ask you about as well, which was are there things that crowdfunding allows authors and artists to do that they wouldn’t get to do otherwise?

TJ: Oh yeah, definitely. There are so many creators out there on Kickstarter that have been able to have tremendous impact. You look at some of the stuff that Spike Trotman does; I don’t know that there’s many quote-unquote big or standard publishers that would jump at what she puts out, but there’s definitely a big audience that she has built for herself, and Kickstarter allows her to go directly to that audience and do it in a way that really magnifies the audience she does have and allows her to put out great books and great projects. There’s so many examples of that–just about everybody is an example of that.

A creator that I work with that was a creator in the pilot version of the ComixLaunch course is a guy named Joshua James, and he’s a very talented artist who has been working for other people’s projects forever but has always been pushing his own creator-owned stuff to the side. What Kickstarter allows him to do is not just get his book out there, but he was able to get it funded, his first project, and carve out a little bit of time for himself to do his own project. That’s exciting, too.

It’s been talked about, but Kickstarter does invert the funnel where it puts funds directly into the creators’ control first, where in the publishing model creators are often the last to get funds. It always seems a little bit backwards, though having done the publisher side as well, I know why that is, especially when you’re talking smaller books, smaller projects, and smaller print runs.

GP: And I would think it allows each member of the audience to ensure they get something out of the Kickstarter as well, instead of going to a store and finding that the first, second, and third printing of something is sold out.

TJ: The ability to have your favorite author know that you backed him or that you bought his book, that wasn’t possible really prior to Kickstarter in a lot of cases, right? You buy a book off a shelf and no one knows that, but here you have a direct connection to some of your favorite creators and support them directly. A lot of creators get super creative with rewards–from original art, to original stories, to getting your name or message in a book. There’s so much cool stuff you can do with Kickstarter.

There’s a quote by a guy named Jeff Walker, who’s a master of launches and has been doing it for years that’s like, “If you can turn your marketing into an event, you’re going to transform your results” and that’s really what Kickstarter does. Kickstarter campaigns, when done well, they’re events, and events get people fired up, and when people are fired up, good things happen.

GP: It’s nice that it also gives people a way to directly support creators instead of other publishing models, which don’t necessarily do that.

TJ: And you get that direct, instant feedback, too. I go in and back a book for ten dollars and immediately see that I just made him ten dollars closer to his goal. And even those little psychological triggers all contribute to the special sauce that is Kickstarter. It’s pretty amazing.

GP: What would you say is your best single piece of advice for someone looking to launch a Kickstarter?

TJ: Well, besides listening to ComixLaunch, my best piece of advice would be to go to comixlaunch.com/session050 and listen to ComixLaunch Episode 50, because I asked that same question to fifty creators, and so fifty successful Kickstarter creators shared their number one tip.

My Number One Tip A would be to do that and my Number One Tip B would be that you don’t have to launch alone. You should be rallying a support team, because one of the things in surveying and talking to so many creators about their kickstarter process was that for veteran Kickstarters, one of the things that just kept coming up and coming up was the emotional rollercoaster that is running a Kickstarter campaign and the loneliness of running a Kickstarter campaign.

It might sound a little weird but in every Kickstarter campaign there’s the high of launching and the high of finishing, if you’re successful. But in every campaign, and it’s happened to me for every single campaign, there’s a low in the middle. I call it the “dead zone” where you’re not sure if you’re ever going to get another backer or you might, in some cases, backers drop off and your totals go down, and it’s an emotional thing to go through as a creator. You really do feel like your work is out on display and there’s a judgment thing.

That’s why so much of what I try to do with ComixLaunch is try to make it feel like there’s such a community, to make it feel like when somebody who’s a ComixLaunch listener is launching, they’re not launching alone and they’ve got people rooting for them. That’s really where the value came in with the ComixLaunch course. In the first version we had eight creators, and we’ll probably have a lot more in the next one we’ve got going on in this next January version, but those are all creators who are rooting for this person. They’ve watched this person build their campaign alongside your campaign and it’s impossible not to root for them and share strategies and provide real-time feedback.

People that want to work with me in the course, that’s great, but if not, find somebody else that’s launching or working on a Kickstarter and buddy up, be an accountability partner. I tell most people, if you can think of the time in your life when you were in the best shape, you probably had a coach or a workout partner or a team that you were working out with. Same goes for doing something that’s a big event like a Kickstarter. You want to team up, put together your Justice League, and don’t launch alone if you don’t have to.

GP: And on the flip side of that, what do you think is the biggest mistake you see people make when they launch a campaign?

TJ: There’s a reason it’s called “crowdfunding” and that’s because the crowd is always going to come before the funding. Seth Godin, who is one of my favorite authors, says that Kickstarter looks like a shortcut, but it’s not, it’s simply a profit maximizer. It’s a maximizer of the audience you already have, and so if you don’t have an audience, your first job, before you start trying to film a video, or craft a great Kickstarter page or dream up rewards, is you have to build that audience.

I have a workshop I do–a free workshop–called Ready for Launch, which is basically how to get a Kickstarter funded even if you don’t have a big social media following. I’ll be doing a few more of those this year–comixlaunch.com/ready is where people can sign up for that. Basically, your job number one is to energize and excite a crowd before your project. Too many creators make the mistake of going away and working in their basement in solitude for weeks, months, years, and then they launch to crickets. That can be completely avoidable but you can’t work in the dark and you need to build and audience. The good news is, there are strategies that we talk about that help you do that.

GP: Yeah. Like, Beyonce can just drop an album because she’s Beyonce, but that doesn’t just work for everybody…

TJ: Yeah. Everybody’s going to talk about that. So many creators, I think, don’t want to market themselves and they don’t want to market their work and they want their work to speak for itself but the problem is, your work will never speak for itself if nobody’s reading it. More often than not, people aren’t going to read your work until they know, trust, respect you.

That’s one of the challenges inside the challenge by Dirk Manning that was very well received, and it was all about building a more professional brand for you as a creator and one that’s going to help sustain you and support you. Dirk has had more than $100,000 worth of projects on Kickstarter over the past few years, and it’s a testament to the personal brand that he’s built. Somebody that built most of that without the support of giant publishers and it’s great to see.

GP: Last question for you: Do you think there are any downsides to Kickstarter?

TJ: Here’s the downside of Kickstarter: Creators don’t have a beyond Kickstarter strategy. Kickstarter works so darn well, but the reality is, you can only run so many Kickstarters, and if Kickstarter becomes your sole channel and you only run one or maybe two Kickstarters a year, what are you doing the other ten months to build a brand, to make sales, to grow an audience, to energize your audience? That’s definitely something a lot of creators struggle with. Kickstarter does work so awesomely but you need to have a beyond Kickstarter strategy as well. Because Kickstarter can work so well, I think it can make creators a little bit lazy about some of the other stuff like building an audience year round and finding ways to sell products and books.

That’s one downside. There’s lots of little nits I have about the Kickstarter platform, but one of the questions I ask all of my guests on the podcast is, if the powers that be at Kickstarter were listening, what’s one thing you would improve about the platform? So we’ve got a whole laundry list of things–better management for add-ons, better ability to see in real time what the actual profitability is of your campaign outside of the gaudy funding number because that funding number looks great, but 20-30 percent is already allocated toward shipping and isn’t available to spend. There are little things here and there, but by and large I think that Kickstarter keeps getting better and better. I think Kickstarter Live will really get going in 2017, it’ll basically let anyone turn their own Kickstarter page into a live telethon, which I think some savvy creators are really going to run with, and I’m excited to get my hooks on it.

Another thing I think Kickstarter is doing–and my most recent podcast was on this–I think Kickstarter sort of realized one of the problems they are having is the perception of a Kickstarter project is this huge, gigantic undertaking, and for some creators, they’re ready for that, but a lot of creators aren’t.

I think Kickstarter is realizing, oh crap, we’ve got a lot of creators who have logged on, hit “Start Project” and then never started it. I’m willing to bet that for every project that’s launched, there are four or five projects sitting not launched, and many of those–most of those–never get launched. I think Kickstarter has noticed those, because this month they’ve started a Make 100 initiative, where they’re basically encouraging creators to launch a project where they’re going to make a hundred of something.

A hundred isn’t a huge number, most people can do a hundred of something and everybody knows a hundred people, but it’s not a small number either. If you sell a hundred books at a convention, you had a great convention. What that tells me is that Kickstarter is trying to make it so that people understand that hey, you don’t have to make $50,000 or $100,000 to make it worth your time.

That’s a trend I think we might see a little bit more, with Kickstarter encouraging people to get off the fence and maybe not go for a huge project, just tone them down a little bit.

GP: That’s a good way to get your feet without having to go all in on something, because it is daunting. I took a class where we had to make a fake Kickstarter and it was so much work! I don’t know if people realize how much goes into it.

TJ: One of the things I concluded the challenge with was I put together a Kickstarter self-assessment. You can go to comixlaunch.com/assessment and take this, but basically what the assessment is, is it asks you 16 questions and asks you to rate yourself on 16 different elements of running a Kickstarter. I was just crunching some numbers–we’ve had over 100 people take the assessment now–and I asked people to identify themselves as “never launched a Kickstarter” and “have launched a Kickstarter.”

What’s kind of interesting is when you average out everybody’s overall Kickstarter self-assessment score, the people who have launched a Kickstarter and the people who haven’t, I don’t know what you would think, but I would think that the people who’ve launched, their scores on things like “how prepared are you to make a Kickstarter video?” and “do you think you’d survive the Kickstarter dead zone?” or “how confident are you that you could make a page that would be compelling?”–I would think the scores for people who have launched would be higher than people who have never launched. But actually, they were within .1 percent of each other, with creators who have never launched a Kickstarter rating themselves higher in confidence than people who have.

That actually doesn’t surprise me too much, once I think about it, because you don’t know what you don’t’ know. Something similar like that happened–I asked the same question to people that I’ve worked with and asked them to rate themselves on skill. And people with no comic book credits to their names tend to rate themselves 3-4 points higher in skill than people with actual books with big name publishers. You don’t know what you don’t know. I just thought that stat was a little interesting.

GP: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us!

Madison’s Favorite Comics of 2016

Last year I prioritized cutting back on cape books and diversifying the publishers and stories that I read. Though many of the comics I read weren’t published in 2016 (especially ones I read during Women’s History Month) I still found it hard to narrow down the list of ongoing series I particularly loved throughout the year.

Here are ten comics I couldn’t put down in 2016:

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10. Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams

This is a series I would have loved as a child. Goldie is the perfect mix of Nancy Drew and Eloise (of Plaza fame). Goldie Vance is great for a younger audience but doesn’t shy away from emotionally complex stories. Goldie and her friends are well-rounded characters with a wide range of interests who readers–young and not-young alike–will be able to relate to.

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9. Elasticator by Alan C. Medina and Kevin Shah

Elasticator is the kind of smart, political superhero comic I wish was more prevalent. The writing is fresh and interesting and Shah’s art is lively and animated with great colors from Ross A. Campbell.

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8. Snotgirl by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung

Lottie Person is just about as far away from Scott Pilgrim as you could get, though they do, at times, share a similar self-absorption. Snotgirl quickly became one of my favorite series of the year, because while not many people can say they’re successful fashion bloggers, they can likely relate to Lottie’s personal problems. Leslie Hung and Mickey Quinn provide gorgeous, vibrant visuals and the best wardrobe in comics, to boot.

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7. We(l)come Back by Christopher Sebela and Claire Roe

Reincarnation? Check. Assassins? Check. Shadowy organizations? Check. A+ fashion choices? Check. Reincarnated assassins in love running from other assassins who are trying to assassinate them? …Also check. What more can you want from a story?

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6. Shutter by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca

Shutter is one of Image’s most underrated titles. The story follows Kate Kristopher, the daughter of legendary explorer Chris Kristopher, and her discovery of some little-known family history. The comic is consistently interesting not only because of its plot, but because del Duca and colorist Owen Gieni are constantly experimenting with narrative structure and using different techniques to influence how the story is read.

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5. Clean Room by Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt

Clean Room is a creepy psychological horror comic about journalist Chloe Pierce’s investigation of self-help master Astrid Mueller, who Pierce suspects is more cult leader than anything else. Or is she? Mueller is a fascinating character, and the unknowable question of which side she’s actually on only adds to the story’s suspense.

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4. The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

What if you could be a god, but you’d die within two years? Consistently equal parts entertaining and heartbreaking with consistently incredible art and color from Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson. You’ve probably heard of this one.

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3. Mockingbird by Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Sean Parsons, and Ibrahim Moustafa

One of the few superhero comics I read this year, Mockingbird was one of my absolute favorites. Cain writes Bobbi Morse as confident and smart, and the result was a fun mystery thriller with gorgeous art. The series also featured some of my favorite colors and covers this year, by Rachelle Rosenberg and Joelle Jones.

By the time I write my 2017 list, I might be over Mockingbird’s cancellation.

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2. Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Val DeLandro

2016 was light on Bitch Planet–only four issues were released throughout the year–but continued to provide insightful and relevant commentary in what turned out to be a period of rapid change in the real-life political landscape.

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1. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress started strong in 2015 and only got better. The main character, Maika, is a teenage girl living with a monster inside, something she learns to live with and use to her advantage as the plot develops. Monstress is full of unrepentant female characters set in a stunningly rendered fantasy world.

Review: Elasticator #6

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-10-56-54-amMikey Mazzagatti’s story comes to an end with the latest issue of A.C. Medina and Kevin Shah’s Elasticator. The previous chapters chronicled the rise of Brother V and his drug empire–and the life-changing effects they had on Mikey.

Despite its limited run, Elasticator has pulled off a thought-provoking story over the course of six issues. Superheroes have always been a political entity, and by focusing on some of the people who were most affected by the 2008 recession. Elasticator takes the reaction to the recession to some improbable extremes (superpower-giving drugs, for example), but all events are underscored by a focus on humanity.

Issue six jumps right into the fray. The fight for Brooklyn’s fate was set up throughout the previous issues, and Medina and Shah waste no time in diving into the conflict. As with previous issues, Elasticator distances itself from other superhero comics by pausing on those affected by the events as they unfold.

The pacing of the story has always been quick, but moments where residents of an apartment building band together to save a small child slow the frenetic pace just enough that the story isn’t a wild rush to the finish. The timing of Elasticator has always been narratively jumpy, but the story is bookended by scenes that mirror the introductory issue, bringing everything full circle.

The effect is a cool storytelling trick. Mikey has visibly and emotionally changed between his first appearance and his last even though very little time has passed while he told his story. The ending is complex and somewhat unexpected. Without getting too spoilery, the ending is ambiguous and multifaceted, forcing readers not just to think about the outcomes, but how events influence people in different ways.

Shah’s art and Ross A. Campbell’s coloring are, as they have been, perfectly geared to the story at hand. The fights have dramatic flair (pages 6-8 are tons of fun to read) but the quiet moments don’t lose any of the lovely vibrancy present throughout the comic. Shah’s style is expressive and lively, perfect for the tone and pacing of the story.

Elasticator–though not for all audiences–is a fun comic that packs a punch, and with a team that works as well as this one, we can hopefully look forward to future comics.

Story: A.C. Medina Art: Kevin Shah
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Graphic Policy was provided with a FREE copy for review

Ms. Monster

bitch planetDuring my undergraduate study, I spent an enlightening semester learning entirely about women writers and how they write women and girls. It’s something I’ve carried with me, especially in reading comics. While it is now less rare for women to occupy a central role in comics, the field is still overwhelmingly male-dominated and male character-centric. This often leaves female characters in a space that is Other, or separate from the norm.

With creator-owned comics on the rise, women are now able to carve spaces in which to tell their own stories. Two stories in particular, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro’s Bitch Planet and Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress, challenge the Othering of femininity by exploiting the connection of femininity to monstrosity and allowing characters to reclaim this aspect of their identities by embracing the monstrous.

It is possible to understand this reclamation of identity by using Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection as a lens. Kristeva is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, psychoanalyst, and feminist whose work spans multiple disciplines but is prominent in structuralism and poststructuralism.

Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection outlines Kristeva’s theory of abjection in a very French and somewhat complex way. The abject, by definition, is a “non-object” that lingers in a person’s psyche as a consequence of repression. The abject disturbs system, identity, and order. To abject something is to other it from the “I,” pushing it away from the self to maintain personal boundaries.

Monstress01_CoverA simple example of this sort of behavior is food loathing. This is a common behavior, especially in children, but the dissonance between something that is supposed to nourish and the unpleasant taste or nauseous feeling causes abjection. If you hated broccoli as a kid or avoid a certain food after eating something and getting sick, this is a basic form of abjection.

Abjection can also exist among people, so when discussing abjection it is important to make a distinction between subject, object, and abject. The subject is “I.” (When you, reader, speak about yourself, your thoughts, you say “I.” You’re subject.) Now table that thought for a moment. The difference between object and abject is contingent on one point. Objects hold weight and meaning. The abject is not an object because it does not hold weight. The only “object” quality the abject possesses is that it opposes the “I.”

One example Kristeva uses to distinguish each definition is that of a corpse. Kristeva says corpses are simultaneously subject, object, and abject–the body was once a person, a subject, but became object after death. Corpses are also abject because they force us to consider the uncomfortable truth of our inevitable deaths.

What both the food loathing and corpse examples have in common is the idea that they are improper or unclean. People and bodies will abject things they deem “incorrect,” but what is unclean, gross, or incorrect doesn’t directly cause abjection; they create a disruption of a person’s system, identity, and order and that causes abjection. Disruption of the boundaries demonstrates their fragility.

Abjection of people is driven by a failure of one member of a group to recognize its kin. This same lack of recognition drives fear of what has been deemed Other. A person possessing some quality that has been deemed “incorrect” on a larger social scale causes a lack of recognition, which is perpetuated on an individual level. This creates a cycle of fear and rejection by engendering disgust for the “not normal” or “not human.” Social constructs are upheld and continue to oppress the abject.

BitchPlanet02_CoverAccording to Kristeva, one natural reaction to abjection is religion, which is an attempt to create order where the abject has disturbed it. Using this reasoning, the formation of governing bodies–including the Cumaea in Monstress and the male-led government in Bitch Planetare an attempt to control the abject.

Kristeva says another natural reaction to the abject is to create art. Using comics to explore the abject allows both readers and creators to approach the subject in worlds both fictional and real. The settings of the comics discussed here (an off-world prison and an alternate version of early 20th century Asia) allow writers and artists to discuss issues present in real life. The main characters of both comics are monstrous women, all of whom are attempting to create their own space in the world. Comics give these creators a space to both examine the abject and criticize the social systems that oppress the abject in a fictional world, as well as in our real one. (Bitch Planet also accomplishes this by including essays in the backmatter of single issues.)

In Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro’s Bitch Planet, women who are determined “non-compliant” are shipped to an off-world prison. Non-compliance in women is determined by any number of “crimes,” including being “aesthetically offensive,” obese, or transgender. In Bitch Planet, misogyny is taken to an extreme level. Women who fall outside of a narrow box of acceptable gender behavior and presentation and individuals who don’t conform to traditional binary standards are punished for existing. It’s a harsh critique of the standards women are held to in real life–both behaviorally and aesthetically.

Monstress, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, combines a number of fantasy elements that make up an alternate Asia, which plays home to Maika, an Arcanic teen. The Arcanics’ magic makes them highly desired by the Cumaea, a religious order that uses Arcanic Lilium to enhance the powers of its members. Arcanics are regarded as a lowly sub-human class, which allows the story to explore themes of racism and slavery. Since it is told from Maika’s perspective, much of the story also focuses on her strength (inner and outer) as she resists the oppressive force of the Cumaea.

Monstress05_CoverThough they take place in vastly different worlds, Bitch Planet and Monstress feature protagonists who have been Othered in some way. The characters readers are meant to root for and maybe even identify with are seen as non-human because they disrupt established social structures and system, identity, and order.

Inmates of the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost are abject for any number of reasons, from not being feminine enough to “driving” their husbands to infidelity. They are treated inhumanely, used only as an example for other women and bodies in sport. The women find a sense of community with each other, bound by their monstrous qualities.

Maika of Monstress is introduced as a slave, immediately establishing her as abject and Other. This is only furthered when readers learn of her powerful psychic connection to a literal monster that she refers to as her “hunger.” Maika is considered a monster even before she embraces this title.

The pathologization of women’s behavior in Bitch Planet and demonization of Arcanics mean that these characters are considered monsters regardless of whether their behavior reflects that designation. Neither comic is subtle about its connection of femininity to the monstrous, and both take care to show that women’s experiences with society intersect differently based on race and sexuality.

The metaphor of the monstrous is accessible in Bitch Planet, where the particularly relevant issue three focuses on how women are punished for attempting to conform to social standards (taking part in harmful diets and beauty rituals) and for living outside these standards (in which case they are made social outcasts). The metaphor is equally accessible in Monstress, where Maika quite literally lives with a murderous monster called Monstrum inside of her. The Monstrum, though dangerous, helps Maika to defend herself against threats and to withstand constant dehumanization.

These works are important because they bring to light issues that some readers may not experience because of their social or economic privileges. By forcing readers to interact with abject concepts, these stories also force readers to consider perspectives they otherwise wouldn’t because readers themselves wish to escape the uncomfortableness of the topic. These stories also examine institutions which have been founded on oppressive platforms whose original intent was to protect the privileged from the abject.

Despite being considered monstrous, the characters in either comic embrace this aspect of their identity. Inmates in Bitch Planet use their strengths as non-compliant women (both physical and mental) to fight for their freedom. While Maika’s goal is to find answers about her mother’s death, she also uses her monstrousness to protect other Arcanics and fight the Cumaean order. This is a way to claw back at the systems that have rejected and othered them and to reclaim their identities and their rights to live a free and happy life.

Characters pushing back against oppressive systems reflect the real-life struggle for equality between the abject and those who have abjected them. These characters want to be seen as an “object” rather than Other in the sense that this would allow them to be recognized by their peers as non-abject and human.

Though Bitch Planet and Monstress explore vastly different worlds, they both offer a unique approach to examining the abject. And as female characters fight for and claw out their own space in their worlds, their creators do the same in ours.

This paper was originally presented as part of the 2016 Comics and Popular Arts Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Review: Monstress #7

monstress07_coverMaika’s journey of discovery takes a somewhat darker turn in the latest installment of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress. You have been warned.

After sacrificing what remained of her left arm to defeat the Cumean Mother Superior, Maika has returned to her mother’s home with Kippa and Ren in hopes of getting answers about the mask and photograph she’s been carrying. Maika’s life before the story began has been slowly revealed in fragments, and her trip home allows for natural development of her background. Readers meet some new people from Maika’s past, each of whom are equally as interesting and surprising as every other character.

While this issue explores more of Maika’s history, it also explores the rising tension between her and Kippa. Kippa, though loyal, has grown as a character immensely since her introduction. As she grows, so does her kindness and sense of right and wrong. In the first arc of the story, Maika grew steadily more ruthless as she recognized the Monstrum’s power. Though Kippa is young and innocent, her moral code is strong and the story offers no clues as to how the growing conflict between the two will be resolved.

Monstress #7 also explores a little more background on Ren, a nekomancer. The nekomancers are, as their name implies, cat necromancers, which is not only an interesting and unique concept, but also one of the best puns in a comic possibly ever. Bringing in the different groups keeps the comic well-rounded and balanced, and introducing them little by little.

Despite the increasingly detailed and complex worldbuilding, the comic doesn’t feel inaccessible. The experience of reading Monstress is, as always, fully fleshed out with Sana Takeda’s beautiful illustration. The amount of care and attention that goes into each character’s expressions and clothing contribute just as much to the worldbuilding as the lore of the story. The inclusion of detail in everyday scenes–filigreed perfume bottles, brocaded clothing, carved stone pillars–makes a lack of detail especially noticeable. Takeda applies a lack of detail masterfully, using it to emphasize the lack of control Maika has over her hunger.

The colors emphasize the detail and set the mood. Monstress is often serious in tone and deals with dark themes, but the comic itself is rarely visually dark. Dynamic, layered colors build up and add to the magic of the series. The amount of thought put into the colors and detail make Monstress an especially gorgeous fantasy epic that will stand the test of time.

Story: Marjorie Liu Art: Sana Takeda
Story: 10.0 Art: 10.0 Overall: 10.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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