Category Archives: Interviews

Redline Takes Us to a War Torn Mars This March

redline-1MARS. The near future-ish. A bomb takes out a city block on Harrison Station. The media rush to blame the local terrestrials (re:aliens,) however Superintendent Denton Coyle has a feeling that it may not be so simple… or maybe that feeling is Coyle’s hangover gut bomb. It’s unclear… like a 50/50 shot, it’s a mistake or explosive diarrhea. Maybe it’s both? In other words, it’s yet another Tuesday on Mars.

Out this March from Oni Press, Redline is written by Neal Holman with art by Clayton McCormack and Kelly Fitzpatrick.

I got a chance to talk to the team about this upcoming intriguing new series.

Graphic Policy: So where did the idea for Redline come from and how long has this been in the process of being put together?

Neal Holman: Years ago, I was doing research for a police procedural pitch, interviewing anyone who would talk to me online. I stumbled into meeting some people in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), who opened my eyes to a different world of detective stories. The police pitch stumbled and died, but I kept my research thinking I might use it later on. Fast forward a bit, I was working on a Mars colony pitch but couldn’t find an angle that I liked. Everything felt a little too forced. (I did way, way too much research on the soil content of Mars.) It wasn’t until I started thinking of it from a military lens that the pitch began to come together. I dug up my old research, and it was a fairly easy write from there on out.

GP: With sci-fi series, I personally think the look and design can be as important as the story itself. How did you all work together to put together this futuristic world?

NH: I gave Clay and Kelly a bunch of vague and probably contradictory notes to begin with, and they crushed it.

Clayton McCormack: Neal made it pretty clear right away that this was not a sleek, clean vision of the future, but one where technology is constantly busted and bulky. He also presented the Mars colony as being not too different from the way modern desert warfare looks and feels, so what we tried to do was create a future that definitely had more sci-fi leanings, but was also very relatable. So for me that meant making a lot of the weapons, vehicles and uniforms feel futuristic but still plausible.

Kelly Fitzpatrick: As a colorist, I’m typically last to the team equation. I took notes from Clay and Neal and I sent back some pages. We talked a bit about aliens and environment and uniforms, but overall it was a really smooth process- especially after the first issue. :)

GP: The colors are very limited in many ways yet avoids the stereotypical red you sometimes see with stories set on Mars instead going more for browns and even some green. Was this a specific choice to avoid the stereotypical Mars style?

KF: I wanted something dusty and gritty outside to conflict with the sterile environments inside. Mars isn’t super red in reality anyway. Keeping the colors muted helps create diversity when changing between places.

GP: How scoped out is this world that you put together? Is there some bible you created?

NH: I have a loose bible starting at the first Mars landing and progressing through the decades up to the start of Issue One. It is written in my weirdo shorthand and hopefully will never be seen by anyone else.

CM: I’ve seen Neal’s bible – it’s like John Doe’s diary in Se7en but with rocket ship drawings and all done in crayon.

GP: I noticed the military all have American flags on their chest and it’s not some united world government you sometimes see in sci-fi stories. Was there a specific reason you went that route?

NH: I personally don’t believe we will ever be under one utopian (or dystopian) world government. There may be joint task forces and etc, but our power structures are pretty set in stone. In later issues, we will start to hear about other countries getting their own footholds on Mars.

CM: Maybe I’m just a cynic, but I have no reason to think colonizing Mars would be different from any other colonizing in history. Maybe they work together in GETTING to Mars, but once they get there, it’s all countries for themselves.

redline-2GP: What are some of the influences to the series as far as stories or look?

NH: From comics – Queen & Country, Powers, Criminal, Hawkeye (Matt Fraction/David Aja version)
From books – The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Stranger in a Strange Land,
From TV – The Sandbaggers, The Wire, True Detective (Season One), Justified, a billion episodes of Dateline
From Film – Three Kings, The Hurt Locker, Waltz with Bashir, a ton more I’m blanking on.

Working on Archer with Adam Reed has greatly influenced how I think about story and dialogue.

CM: I actually had been thinking about Italian Westerns a lot for the overall feel. Those movies do a great job of really accenting how hot and gross the desert is, constantly dusty, constantly sweaty, and for me that’s Coyle in a nutshell. He’s in a constant state of discomfort. For the more futuristic aspect, I had a little bit of Elysium in mind, as well as Dredd – both futuristic, but still fairly relatable in their designs of tech and buildings etc.

KF: I’m a big fan of Matt Hollingsworth! I love his grit that he’s incorporated into several of his books. I also try and make all of my books look separate with their own identities. I wanted to incorporate something like The Wake meets Pretty Deadly. It seemed more western.

GP: I think some of the best sci-fi is allegories for what’s going on in the world. After reading the first issue, I get the feeling there’s quite a few real world issues this series touch upon. Am I reading too much into it?

NH: There are some definite ties to the present, sure, but honestly, I was really thinking more about world history in general, which is pretty loaded with these types of occupation and conflict. I also started writing it sometime in 2014, so anything that seems topical is a coincidence. My goal, however, was to push these larger themes to the background, while the mystery unfolds in the foreground. That said, our aliens (the Locals) aren’t representative of any group of people or people at all, really.

Lots of sci-fi either goes the Avatar route with sympathetic, human-like aliens or the Aliens route, where they’re more or less hungry sharks. Both of those opposing viewpoints are how colonists in our story view the Locals as well. We have no Teal’c or Seven of Nine to give us perspective. Some of us want peace. Others just want to bomb the Locals off the planet.  The Locals are intelligent. They have a society. They have clothes and technology. They can move rocks with what seems to be telepathy. They may help you…but they also may disembowel your daughter and wear her intestines as a belt. It’s that last bit that gives the war hawks all the ammo they need.

GP: The first issue feels like a sci-fi Sheriff of Babylon in some ways. Both are really crime stories set in a war zone. What is it about a war zone that opens it up to a crime story so well?

NH: Tom King will probably answer that better than I can, but I think it’s that right now, war imagery is something we are very, very used to seeing. It is omnipresent. That familiarity is an easy entry point to story, but rather than focusing on WAR in all caps, we are centered on a mystery.

CM: I also think that there is an inherent sense of lawlessness that comes with a war zone, fewer rules (or at least more rules being broken), power in flux, much more of a world of grey than black and white that really lends itself to that crime/noir genre.

GP: The first issue had some solid comedy to it. Was that something you specifically wanted to add?

NH: Absolutely. I am a huge fan of dramas that have solid jokes, moments of sincere levity – the “peaks and valleys.” My favorite comedies all have dramatic veins. Conversely, anytime I watch a movie or show and it’s all doom and gloom and insanely serious, at a certain point I tap out. Everyone points to The Wire for being this earth shaking series – and rightly so – but I rarely ever see anyone acknowledge the humor in it. There are some solid jokes in that series, and I think that goes a long way into making you care about those characters.

redline-3GP: All of the characters have very unique, diverse, and solid designs about them. These aren’t generic soldiers in their armor. How did you come up with all of the specific characters? Was some of that done in the writing or was it more collaborative?

NH: Thanks! Most of the main cast are based on people I’ve known or a combination of personalities. Design-wise, Clay took the reigns there.

CM: Thanks, I appreciate it! Neal went out of his way to make sure that even background soldiers had some character to them, and I think his description of the main cast, as well as the way he wrote each of them, made my job a lot easier. For instance Coyle read as road-weary and desert-worn, so his gruff beard, constant slouch, and receding hairline felt pretty appropriate. And Simon is more or less the lighter, comic relief character, a little less cynical overall, so I tried to make him brighter and a little more animated when I could (just to name a few).

KF: I’m a big fan of using skin tone to differentiate characters! I actively make sure even the background characters have slightly different skin tones in all of my books. Everyone has a different skin tone in reality- so why should comics be white washed?

GP: Any plans on doing more stories set in this world?

NH: I would love, love to do the next arc (and more,) but we need to see if sales can justify it.

CM: I hope so, if sales warrant it – so as the man once said,  “get your ass to mars!”

GP: Any advice you have for folks wanting to get into comics?

NH: Keep writing and keep being your own worst critic. You have to be brutally objective about what’s working and what’s not and more importantly, why. If you’re on the art side, don’t ever stop going to figure drawing classes, and keep your online portfolio current.

And don’t be an ass. The world has enough.

CM: Don’t let anything stop you from just going out and making comics. I can speak from experience in saying that I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now if I hadn’t decided to start producing and publishing my own book about 8 years ago. I guarantee you you’ll learn a ton, and your work will just keep getting better. There’s never been a better time to get out and there and do it, so get out there and do it!

KF: Use social media! I can’t stress that enough. It’s a great tool to show you are a human being and that you are passionate. Twitter is my preferred go-to.

GP: Any other projects you all want to plug?

NH: Archer Season Eight debuts April 5th on FX, and it’s probably our best looking season to date.

KF: I’m really excited about the newest issues of Bitch Planet, Josie and the Pussycats, Shade the Changing Girl, Rockstars, and Supergirl: Being Super! Go check out my work!

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Talking All Time Comics with Josh Bayer and Mixing “Contemporary” with “Old School”

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-jim-rugg-cover-2In December, Fantagraphics announced a new superhero universe All Time Comics headed up by Josh Bayer. The line will feature a series of six comics featuring stand alone, interconnected adventures with a focus of retro crime fighting bringing together new cartoonists with classic creators.

The line of comics features the creative talents of Bayer, Herb Trimpe, Ben Marra, Jim Rugg, Johnny Ryan, Al Milgrom, Das Pastoras, Tony Millionaire, Rick Buckler, Victor Martinez, and Noah Van Sciver.

I got a chance to ask Josh some questions about the line, its influences, and what we can expect.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for All Time Comics come from and how long did it take from the initial idea to the announcement?

Josh Bayer: That’s a good question. It was an incredibly long time, from 2014 ‘til now. Looking back, that three years represents a ton of work under the bridge, writing scripts, editing contacting talent, getting worked lettered, colored, not to mention promoting and getting the work ready to print.

GP: With a shared superhero universe starting from scratch, that has to feel a bit overwhelming. How’d you go about figuring out what to characters to highlight with this initial batch?

JB: Beginning points are always hard. With All Time Comics, we started eating the sandwich from the middle. Not only did we jump into the middle of this endeavor, but we wrote the books as if there was a whole history, as if these are from an alternate universe where All Time Comics were an ongoing thing for decades. I wrote most of the books, or co-wrote them with Ben concurrently with each other, so if one book wasn’t the best beginning point the next one might be. That lessened some of that anxiety.

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-johnny-ryan-cover-2GP: What were your influences while putting this together? What are some of your favorite shared superhero universe?

JB: I don’t know if they influenced but inspired yes: Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics, Alan Moore’s 1963 line and some of Mark Grunewald’s Dp7 comics, and a few of the other New Universe books. Definitely, but mostly Mark Grunewald.

GP: One of the big things you hear folks talking about when it comes to shared universes is accessibility. Was that on your mind when you went about creating everything?

JB: Yes, but that’s more like something which makes sense in retrospect rather than something I planned.  I just wanted to make some books with my brother and my friends, and then with my heroes, it got more interesting as it went on.

GP: How much detail have you go into creating all of the characters? Is there years of backstory or is this the “birth” of these characters and universe?

JB: Not all the backstory is present, we really scratch the surface. We show Crime Destroyer’s origin in a one-page montage that is my favorite Herb Trimpe page. We don’t go into the other three heroes’ backstories, so there is a lot of that to delve into in the future, potentially.

At the same time Phil Jimenez was my teacher at SVA, he used to say that the modern comics industry sometimes thinks that everything needs a reason behind it and an explanation, but not everything needs an explanation all the time. So there’s checks and balances, we know the past of the characters, but you don’t necessarily need all that information to make them the best comics they can be.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-das-pastoras-cover-rgbGP: The folks participating on the project is an impressive roster of talent. How’d you go about recruiting everyone and what were some of their initial reactions?

JB: The younger cartoonists were mostly people I already knew. For the older artists I asked around. One of my friends Cliff Gailbrath was instrumental in getting me in touchy with Herb, and I think I contacted Al through his commission website. Once Herb vouched for me it opened a lot of doors. Aside from that I was really lucky and worked hard to impress those guys. I had never done as polished as script as I produced for Herb, but I wanted it to be as impressive as I could manage. I have no complaints about how that evolved I look back and I was very fortunate that this thing worked.

GP: How’d it get decided who would work on what project?

JB: I just made lists of my favorite people, made them offers, and shifted teams around based on their needs and availability. Each one was an experiment, and each one worked out. Believe me, I’d love to have 15 more teams of unlikely collaborators working together. It’s just a matter of time, money, and basic resources, not a lack of inspiration.

GP: Diversity seems to be on the mind of so many in the industry. Was that something you thought about when creating the characters and recruiting the talent?

JB: Having older and younger artists working together is a nice step towards representing those older and younger faces, but I’d like All Time Comics to be more diverse. Season one, we had four artists, all from similar backgrounds, even if we’re from different eras.  If there’s a Season Two, you’ll hear from a broader array of voices in some All Time Comics books we have coming out after these first issues.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-tony-millionaire-coverGP: The announcement talks about “old-school comics” and “contemporary storytelling.” What are those things to you?

JB: That’s a good question, since those are broad terms and are meant as a calling card to the public. Old School comics had a texture and an energy I liked. That energy was embodied by people like Al and Herb, and that energy is still around, not just in our books — it’s not like mainstream comics are done by robots. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve seen that I like in other people’s superhero comics. People like Ben and Noah are both contemporary and old school, they are traditionalist, and at the same time are interested in speaking to people in today’s world. And so am I. Old school and contemporary means the combination of all our efforts.

GP: There’s been the initial announcement and launch, can we expect more down the road?

JB: First, we need everyone to go out and dig Crime Destroyer, Bullwhip, Atlas and Blind Justice. After that? To be continued….

GP: Thanks so much for chatting.

Dark Beach Creators Open Up

OneSheet_NEWTo paraphrase Big Daddy Kane, “Making comics ain’t easy.” It takes a tireless creative engine on top of a relentless marketing machine. Many of the people we discuss only need to have one or the other. Some people need to be both to realize their dreams.

Michael Ruiz-Unger and Tucker Tota are that rare kind, capable of pushing their dreams into reality without the benefit of an establish publisher or marketing agency getting them out there. They turned to Kickstarter to get the first issue of their book Dark Breach made and are about to conclude a new Kickstarter for the second issue. In fact, you should take moment to check out the incredible art their new book is sporting here.

In an effort to enlighten us about an experience most of have (so far) only dreamed of, these writers are taking a moment to tell us about their book and the experience of making their dream a reality.

Graphic Policy: Do us a favor and tell us a little bit about Dark Beach and what people will love about it?

Michael Ruiz-Unger: Dark Beach is a story about a crime scene photographer who lives in a future world where Earth has drifted away from the Sun. Gordo, our main character, gets mixed up in a murder conspiracy that is fueled by his obsession with the Old Sun.

GP: How did you originally come up with this idea?

MRU: It was a mesh of ideas that collided together over a week or two during a heavy New York City winter. I had rented out a shitty apartment, which had only one window and a tiny heater. It felt like the sun didn’t exist. At the same time, I was reading about 1940’s crime scene photographer WeeGee. Everything about him was fascinating to me (the photos and the police radio he had in his car). The two ideas just seemed perfect together.

GP: How long were you working with it before it was ready to be set in motion?

MRU: It took about three years before I actually started cranking the wheels. I wrote a quick treatment for it with a friend, then Tucker and I rounded it off and made it comic book ready. I would say, as a film director, that being frustrated at not having the budget to film something of this magnitude really pushed me to make it into a comic.

GP: What percentage of the book is finished before you begin designing a Kickstarter?

MRU: I would say the book is about 99% done. The rest are little things we find here and there that get changed. We want to make sure that it is absolutely perfect before sending off to our printers. We also want it done because we only want to focus on the Kickstarter and push it as much as we can. You can’t just throw it up and let it go. You have to promote the hell out of it.

GP: You’ve finished your second successful Kickstarter. What is it about Dark Beach that you think really connects with people in a way gets them to invest before they have ever even read it?

Tucker Tota: A lot of that credit goes to the comics community. There aren’t many art forms where people are taking chances on indie creators. There is more than enough great content coming from the big publishers, so it’s really amazing that readers are willing to look to Kickstarter for new and original stories. That said, I think Dark Beach is an indie comic but feels like something you could pick up at your comic shop, mostly because we made sure to work with great artists and use high quality printing. We also spend a lot of time on our design and marketing, so it feels as professional as the big guys.

GP: When undertaking an endeavor like this for the first time, you learn so many “unknown unknowns”. What did you learn while making issue one that allowed you to be better prepared  issue two?

TT: The very first steps, finding your art team, figuring out how to tell your story in panels and pages, getting all that figured out for issue #1 made making #2 way easier. But we’re still learning and as we work on issue #3 I think we’re finally getting really comfortable with the process and telling the story as best we can.

GP: What did you find to be the best way to get people involved in the project?

TT: I think you’d have to ask Sebastian and Ray why they continue to work with us, but I think we all work together really well and I’m super happy to have found them. We have a group chat as a team and we constantly share ideas for the story so it feels like everyone is contributing and it’s not just us telling them what to do. We also send each other comics or movies we’ve been digging, so it’s a very positive and friendly experience.

GP: When you first started working on Dark Beach, did you create a proposal and shop it around? Who did you send it to?

MRU: We created a two-page sample, which we sent with a synopsis and an entire outline of the story and sent it to all the publishers. After months waiting for a response we realized what a giant waste of time that was. Those publishers don’t want to read a 10-page word document. So we said screw it, lets do this issue ourselves. Around that time we noticed how big Kickstarter was getting and how it was morphing into a place to not only jump-start your project but also sell finished products. I think we made the right move. The response has been great and even Guillermo del Toro pitched in to the Kickstarter.

GP: What made you decide to self-publish?

TT: If a big publisher had wanted to publish our book we probably would have taken the offer. But doing it ourselves has been a really great experience too. Interacting with the audience that we’re building from scratch is so rewarding and meaningful to us. And having full creative control over the project is priceless. It’s very encouraging to know that we don’t need someone to give us permission to make a comic.

GP: What were your backgrounds in writing/illustration that you felt comfortable taking on such a large endeavor?

TT: Mike has been making films for a long time and I write songs for my band Bad Wave, so story-telling is something we’ve been doing for a while. We definitely felt like outsiders when starting this comic, but really once you learn the technical aspects of telling a story through pages and panels, it’s all the same thing really. Characters, plots, settings, it’s all about a compelling story, the format is secondary.

GP: What’s your plan for distributing the book?

MRU: We plan on continuing the distribution ourselves. It’s tough when you only have one book out. People think you’re a one-time deal, that you don’t have it in you to make a whole series, but that’s not the case with us. We’re going the whole way. Surprisingly, some comic book stores that we’ve encountered don’t really care to feature independent comics books. To me, the most interesting stuff was in the indie section! Like when I found Justin Madson’s Breathers series. That was a game changer for me, not what the factories were pumping out weekly. But I get it, people have to make money. Also, we’re on Comixology!

GP: If you were approached by a publisher who wanted to pick up the book and get it out there for you, what would you be looking for before agreeing to that?

TT: I would want to know what we’re getting in exchange for giving up our intellectual property. If they can get our story out to a much larger audience, more than we could on our own, we would certainly consider that. But giving up the rights to something you create is a big deal to us, so it would have to be worth it.

Having read the first two issues, be assured Dark Beach is an awesome read that manages to thrive outside of any one particular genre. Their Kickstarter is ending in a few days so jump on board and be a part of making great, new comics!

Patrick Healy is a writer and artist, making pins and taking names. Check out his latest Kickstarter here!

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray Bring the Hype

hype-excerpt_page_1The United States military has a secret weapon: an individual who wields the superhuman abilities of immense intellect, speed, power, and strength. The cost? This power only lasts forty-five minutes a day. Noah Haller is HYPE, a man who is forced to undergo complete cellular regeneration twenty-three hours each day to retain his capabilities.

As Noah works to solve the world’s complex problems, he struggles to achieve the emotional balance and understanding that comes naturally to most humans. Scientist Amanda Marr aids him in his journey, but loyalties are tested as a terrorist group threatens the world with a deadly pathogen.

Hype tells the story of a genetically designed super human who can only live for one hour a day.  It was created after a successful, fully-funded Kickstarter campaign put together by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, comic industry vets behind other titles such as Harley Quinn, Powergirl, and Jonah Hex.

The two have successfully be using Kickstarter to launch numerous projects and I got a chance to talk to the two creators about their latest release.

Graphic Policy: Where’d the concept for Hype come from?

Jimmy Palmiotti: It was something Justin and I have had as a concept for quite a while…I remember even back in the early 2000’s having Michael Golden do a version of the suit he wore that we never used. Like a lot of what we do, some ideas just sit and wait till the timing was right.

Justin Gray: It definitely feels like we’ve been living with Hype for a long time and it has evolved and grown but the core concept has always been the same – what if you had superhuman powers but could only use them for one hour out of every 24 and the rest of the time you were in a coma. Would it be worth it? What kind of life would you have?

GP: How long has been since the initial conception to it being released?

JP: I would say about 10 years.

JG: It does take a while for that karma wheel to roll around.

hype-excerpt_page_2GP: The comic reminds me a lot of Frankenstein with a “monster” having to learn humanity. Was that an influence on the story?

JP: The evolution of the concept and idea were never referencing Frankenstein. It was more of us looking at where technology would go next and imagining what would happen if they could pull off this kind of an idea and how it would work as it matured.

JG: Frankenstein is a quest for humanity to have godlike powers, to become masters of death. With Hype our character of Noah has these incredible abilities and is responsible for saving so many lives but at a cost of his own life. The fun stuff is that Hype is kind of like the show 24 distilled down to 45-60 minutes. There’s no room for mistakes, failure and the real meat of the story is Noah’s struggle to feel connected to the world he is saving both physically and emotionally. That’s the beating heart of the story.

GP: In exploring that there’s a lot of time spent without action and focused on simple human interaction. How do you find it balancing that with the action sequences within the graphic novel?

JP: We follow our instincts and then edit and rework scenes and even dialogue till it feels like the perfect balance. With Hype we felt it was important to make a human connection with each character, even more important than the actual action that is happening. If a reader cannot relate to what they are going through, then the story, whatever it may be going forward, falls apart.

JG: With this kind of story the action elements are much easier than answering the questions of what happens to Hype in those fleeting moments when he is activated and tackling the emotional elements.

GP: The story is interesting in that while Hype is a man those in power over him are two women, including the direct head of the program. Was there any underlying themes you thought about with that dynamic?

JP: Not at first, but as the story started to find its legs we saw that the maternal relationship with Hype was an important one and that learning from someone of the opposite sex about the world around them might be a more natural progression for someone born later in life. Justin and I have always written really strong female characters, so on some level it is a natural thing as well.

JG: When you look at the two women they’re oppositional in their goals and that also helps define the duality of Noah’s life, he’s the emotional product of both sets of interaction.

GP: Speaking of themes, the story is about a genetically designed super human, and though it may sound like science fiction this is real science. How much did you look towards the real world for this?

JP: We are both totally interested in science and the science community and that is where the original idea came from, with a little added futuristic thinking thrown in. Since we started writing together, science has always played a big part in our work. Our first project together was called The Resistance about the world hundreds of years from now and how society was functioning. All good Science fiction seems plausible to me. Hype seems like it is about 15 years away from becoming a reality.

JG: Not only the science but also the psychology of it. Some of Hype was directly influenced by the fact that some drone operators, carrying out missions hundreds of miles away from their actual location, suffer from PTSD. There is a lot of talk about people being desensitized by violence so I personally found it fascinating that even in an environment that is similar to Ender’s Game the videogame aspect isn’t enough to fully divest us from emotion.

GP: When it comes to the design of the characters and the world, how much was you two versus artist Javier Pina?

JP: Javier is a brilliant artist and storyteller and we loved what he did with the book, but the design was given to him because we had Amanda Conner design the actual suit he wears and his look, down to the very small details. What Javier did was bring the entire look and world around him to life. We got very lucky working with such a talented artist.

JG: I couldn’t agree more he captured the full spectrum of what the story is trying to convey.

GP: The comic was funded by Kickstarter, which is a platform you’ve used quite often in the past. As creators what advantages and disadvantages do you see in using it for your projects?

JP: The obvious disadvantage is no one funds your project and you wasted a lot of time and money, but we have not had that happen so far because we understand that we are selling not only a project but offering up a store worth of items that people might want to buy in the process. That said, we have a wonderful group of people that follow us from project to project and have learned over time what they are looking for in a Kickstarter. We love using the platform because it gives us direct contact and conversation with the people that support us.

JG: Absolutely, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have found a growing audience that gets what we’re trying to do with each project. That’s kind of remarkable when you look at the diversity of our offerings in terms of genre and content. Abbadon and Hype are very different projects from Forager and Sex & Violence and yet there’s this incredible groundswell of support from amazing people looking to back these projects.

GP: What lessons have you learned over the various projects you’ve done?

JP: Offer what you can deliver, keep the packages small, offer up skype sessions, figure out your mailing fees beforehand and always deliver what you promise on time.

JG: Jimmy is right and we continue to learn about the platform with each campaign. One of the fundamental lessons is to add reasonable pledge tiers that offer value to the backer. I’m launching a brand-new Kickstarter this month for a book I’ve written called Jail Bait & Trailer Trash. I’ve painstakingly gone over every tier, revised it dozens of times based on watching people run their campaigns. A lot of times friends and even strangers are asking me for advice and tips. I’ve learned that is it isn’t enough to have great content and art you need to make people aware of your campaign and know your target audience. Too often I think people look only at the successes, especially the projects that raise well over 100% of their goal and don’t spend enough time analyzing the many more that fail.

GP: The comics ends and leaves open a wide world, any chance we’ll see more?

JP: Yes, we sure hope to do a second part in the future, but for now we sit and wait to see how the book does in bookstores. If it does well, we will deliver more. It is as simple as that.

JG: Like the man says. If there’s a demand, then we’ll be happy to fill it.

GP: Thanks for your time!

David Pepose and Jorge Santiago, Jr. Talk Spencer & Locke

SpencerAndLocke_001_000USETHISONEWhen his grade-school sweetheart is found dead, there’s only one friend Detective Locke can trust to help solve her murder — his childhood imaginary panther, Spencer. But when they face both a vicious crime syndicate and memories from Locke’s traumatic youth, can this unlikely pair survive long enough to find the truth?

Spencer & Locke is the brand new series from writer by David Pepose, artist Jorge Santiago, Jr. with colors by Jasen Smith, and covers by Santiago and Maan House. The first issue is a fun noir/crime comic with a Fight Club/Calvin & Hobbes twist to it all.

I got a chance to talk to David and Jorge about the series, its influences, and combining comedy with a dark crime story.

You can preorder the comic now. The code for the $3.99 main cover is FEB171049, and the $4.99 variants are FEB171048 and FEB171049!

Graphic Policy: Where’d the idea for Spencer & Locke come from?

David Pepose: Honestly, Spencer & Locke first got started as kind of a thought experiment — I think so often these days, comics are written as just storyboards for a film or TV adaptation, but I wanted to write something that really played to comics’ unique strengths as a medium, things like page turns, panels and pacing, shifting art style, that theatrical use of visuals, you know? I wanted to write something that would specifically tap into comics’ unique bag of storytelling tricks.

To that end, I had wanted to try to age up a children’s property, to see what kind of grounded twist we could put on things — and one day, I saw a remixed version of a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin had been put on medication, and now he had no use for Hobbes anymore. That idea made me laugh, but then it made me think — what kind of upbringing must this kid have to turn what we’d consider a pathology into his own best friend? As an old-school Frank Miller fan, suddenly this image clicked in my head — this sort of Sin City bruiser, beat-up, bandaged and grinning maniacally in the rain, holding a stuffed animal in his hand. That image really brought Spencer & Locke into being — I needed to see that image come to life.

SpencerAndLocke_002_000GP: How long have you been working on the series?

DP: I wrote the treatment and the first issue of Spencer & Locke way back in the summer of 2014, actually, so this book has been a long time coming! Once Jorge and I connected, it took a few months for us to get our pitch together — our biggest challenge was to find the right colorist for the project, but once Jasen Smith joined the team everything started to click.

It’s funny, because after taking nine months for us to get the pitch packet ready, Dave Dwonch over at Action Lab emailed me back to ask our timetable… maybe an hour after I sent our submission in? We signed right around Christmas in 2015, and wrapped on all four issues on Halloween of last year. In certain ways, it felt like we spent much longer on the book, but in other regards, it feels like it went by in just a blink!

GP: How did Jorge Santiago, Jr. come on to the project?

DP: Justin Jordan talks a lot about his process, and how he and Tradd Moore connected to create The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, but to boil it down quickly, Justin had said that he had found Tradd’s work online, and that he was a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. I had known the school had a sequential art program, but seeing Tradd in action made me realize that there were plenty of other young, talented artists who were just one book away from making their big break.

With that in mind, I went online and looked up portfolios from as many SCAD graduates as I could find, and I remember being immediately struck by Jorge’s website, where he said he made comics with “stupid amounts of passion.” At the end of the day, it’s that kind of passion that’s going to make the difference between success and failure for a comic book project, and I knew right away just from that — on top of the expressiveness and energy and thoughtfulness Jorge brought to his pages — that this was the guy I wanted to work with.

spencer_and_locke_1_preview-2GP: For the design of the characters themselves (and the comic as a whole). How much was that you David and how much was you Jorge?

Jorge Santiago, Jr.: When we started working on the pitch, David gave me character descriptions, which were more like histories, really. I tried to use that when I was sketching to imply the character’s upbringing and mood in a character design that didn’t give away too much. David was really specific about the moods that the scenes were to invoke so there was a lot of back and forth between us on the best way to convey each and every issue. The longest stage of the entire process was working out the plans for the pages.

GP: There’s a balance of humor and darker noir. As an artist, how do you balance that, especially in the scenes where the comedic elements really stand out?

JS: The two things I use to vary up drama and comedy are expressions and angles. I will choose a more direct, straight on angle for comedy and use the character’s expressions to do the heavy lifting of the comedy. When I’m doing noir, I want the camera and paneling to be a character as well, and I’ll place them where I can best convey the drama of the situation and the mood of the character. When the two mix, like doing an action angle for a comedy scene or a straight on scene for something dramatic, it can end up losing impact in the drama side, or making the joke seem serious in the humor side.

GP: The concept is really creative and lots of fun. There’s some aspect of Calvin & Hobbes and a good noir story it too. The two are totally different genres. How was it bringing the two together for one story?

DP: I found the two played off each other really smoothly. The thing is, even the most casual comics fan knows who Calvin and Hobbes are — and so there’s this iconography that you immediately know and recognize just from cultural osmosis, which we were able to play with and subvert in lots of different ways, like turning the red wagon into a red Challenger, or turning the bratty girl next door into a murdered former flame.

But the thing that I think both Calvin and Hobbes and Sin City have in common, that I think Spencer & Locke really plays into nicely, is that they both have these unique, subversive voices that are just clearly unmistakable — and that kind of pedigree works for Spencer & Locke, whose entire premise rests on this kind of subversion from literally our first page on.

The other thing is, because we’re able to play off this action-packed detective noir story off of the story of one child’s harrowing childhood, I think we’re able to really tell a human story here — yes, people might be interested in Spencer & Locke just based on the shock value of “what if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City,” but once you get into the narrative, we actually delve deeply into trauma, depression and mental illness. Sort of this question of the lengths the mind will go to protect itself, you know? And I think it’s that story of Locke’s redemption upon returning home — upon facing down the demons of his past — that I think will pull on people’s heartstrings in a way they might not expect.

spencer_and_locke_1_preview-3GP: There’s clearly influences here of Calvin & Hobbes and Sin City. What else was the series inspired by?

DP: Oh, man. I had a ton of influences that came together in the blender for Spencer & Locke. Movies like Memento, Fight Club, everything from Quentin Tarantino. True Detective. ‘90s Batman, particularly the work of Devin Grayson. Ed Brubaker’s Criminal. Afterlife with Archie. Tradd Moore’s Ghost Rider. Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Dan Slott. Darwyn Cooke. And absolutely, definitively the voice of Frank Miller, whose Daredevil: The Man Without Fear made my eight-year-old self-realize real people write these books. And Bill Watterson, whose mastery as a cartoonist is just unparalleled. He is truly (and obviously) an aspirational figure for me.

GP: I could see that aspect being almost comedic, but the story is a serious crime comic, did you find yourself trying to downplay that comedy considering the nature of the comic?

DP: Actually, for me, it was really the opposite — yes, Spencer & Locke is this kind of pitch-black parody, but the thing is, out-and-out comedy is hard! For a drama, you just have to have the story math add up, but for a comedy, you have to do all that and be funny. So rather than add a ton of pressure to have that sitcom pace of jokes, it became apparent fairly quickly that we could use humor instead to defuse what could turn into an oppressively bleak premise.

Thankfully, the characters of Spencer and Locke have these great voices and points of view that really let the comedic moments flow naturally, in that sort of buddy-cop vein — watching them bicker and banter is part of what makes our series tick, and watching them interact as both children and adults I think really will get readers invested in their journey as detectives.

spencer_and_locke_1_preview-4GP: When it comes to Spencer & Locke, are the rules you came up with in how the two interact?

DP: I described Spencer and Locke’s real-world dynamic as something like Tyler Durden in Fight Club — Locke (and by extension, the reader) might be able to see Spencer, but that means we should all be wary that we’re following an unreliable protagonist here. Anything we see Spencer do, chances are it’s Locke’s imagination filling in the blanks for something he himself has done.

But without giving too much away, we’ll be playing with the rules more and more as the series progresses. Spencer might be a benign pathology, but he’s still a pathology, and as we test Locke physically, mentally and emotionally, we’re going to be testing our heroes’ dynamic as well.

GP: The comic is really interesting, and I don’t want to give away some of the fun twists, but interactions aren’t always what they seem. When writing those, is there a difference in how you write those versus some of the other conversations?

DP: The contrast between how Locke interacts with Spencer and how he interacts with the rest of the world is I think the central tension of Spencer & Locke — our tagline is actually “His partner’s imaginary—but the danger is all real!” And I think it’s easy for Locke to take for granted that he can see Spencer, that he always has backup, that he’s never alone.

But that means it’s also easy for Locke to have an inflated sense of security — sure, Spencer might act as his instincts and intuition as a cop, acting as the eyes in the back of Locke’s head, but at the end of the day, there’s only guy in this room who’s going to be taking a punch.

And for me, it’s been kind of fun imagining how the rest of the world might see Locke. I think casually it’s easy to miss what some weirdness in his behavior — mumbling to himself, ordering an apple juice that goes untouched, his seemingly insane leaps of logic that always seem to stick the landing —  but I think the closer you get to Locke, the scarier he gets. This is the product of a truly terrifying upbringing, and as readers will discover, Spencer’s just a big housecat when you get to know him — it’s Locke who is capable of some real viciousness.

GP: For the art, was there any influences you used? Are there art elements you feel really stick out for a “noir/crime” story?

JS: I had a lot of influences going into Spencer and Locke, I wanted to be sure I had the right ideas in mind before I even drew a panel. I had a Torpedo graphic novel next to my desk for most of the drawing of the book, and I used many modern noir sources for other inspirations: books like Last Days of American Crime, Criminal, Fatale, and Blacksad were the biggest influences on my approach. I think a noir/crime story really needs the tragedy. When I think of what makes a movie like the Godfather, or a series like Breaking Bad a great crime story is that character descent into darkness. In both those examples, and in the books I brought up before, a good character is challenged by evil, and they have to dip their toe into this underworld to either survive or find a sense of justice. My greatest challenge with the book was showing that struggle in Locke; making sure that it was clear this man was broken and was trying to do right by himself and the people he loves, but will that make him a monster in the end? That’s what makes a crime story to me, I just hope I achieved that feeling.

spencer_and_locke_1_preview-5GP: You’ve been on my side in comic journalism, how does it feel like being on the other side releasing something yourself?

DP: It’s definitely a surreal feeling — but one that I think is informed by the skills I picked up on the job. I view journalism, both comics and otherwise, as a never-ending learning experience, and I was struck both by how much comics journalism prepared me for this book, and simultaneously how little I actually knew about being on the creators’ side of the table. (And I got my start interning at DC Comics, so it’s not like I hadn’t seen a comic be produced before!)

But I’ve said this before, and I think it really holds true — comics journalism, in a lot of ways, feels like comic book graduate school. You learn a lot about theory and you get a sense of where your politics lie, and it was particularly instructive for all the non-creative things you have to do to make a book work — finding the right caliber of creative partners to work with, learning where and how to promote your book, understanding Diamond and the preorder system. Knowing the industry landscape and knowing who the industry players are really helped Spencer & Locke hit the ground running.

But at the same time, I feel like writing a comic is like having a kid — no matter how much you read up on it or how much you think you know, you’re going to be caught completely off-guard with how challenging the work is, or how rewarding and invested you’re going to feel doing it. I think writing a comic of my own has certainly changed how I view comics journalism, and how I would look at and approach a book. The whole experience has made me appreciate even more the types of writers and artists who try to stretch themselves creatively (even if it doesn’t necessarily work out in execution), while it’s only made me more frustrated if I see an assembly-line approach. Creating comics is a privilege — don’t phone it in!

GP: What advice would you give to someone interested in releasing a comic themselves?

DP: Writing is easy — but writing well is hard. I spent a long time figuring out what I did and didn’t like about comics before I even put pen to paper, and I spent even longer churning out some truly terrible stuff that will never, ever see the light of day. So the first thing I’d recommend for new writers is to churn through their awkward first stories quickly — I remember spending a solid month just writing quick six-page scripts, just to get to a beginning, a middle, and an end. The momentum of finishing what you start is crucial.

Once you’re at that stage, you can start to build onto something bigger. Figure out why you love these characters, what moments and qualities would make you want to follow them for an issue, or an arc, or a series. And the other thing that was incredibly helpful for me as a writer? Writing with a “dessert-first” mentality — you certainly don’t have to write your story in order, and the more landmarks you flesh out, the easier it is to create the connective tissue to get there. Once you figure out where your destinations are, you can afford to take the scenic route!

The other thing is to find collaborators who you know have talent, who bring something to the table that you can’t. I’ve been really fortunate to work with Jorge, Jasen and Colin, as well as our variant artists Maan House and Joe Mulvey, and they each brought their own flavor and their own experiences to the book. But making great comics is rarely a solo act, and picking the right people to work with is absolutely crucial to making your project a success.

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!

PBS NewsHour Spotlights Comic Writer Gene Luen Yang

Comic book writer Gene Luen Yang continues to make the rounds as an ambassador for comics. Around Christmas, PBS NewsHour released a feature spotlight Yang who was one of 2016’s MacArthur Fellowship winners and a national ambassador for young people’s literature. If you haven’t gotten to hear Yang speak it’s well worth it and very inspiring and insightful.

Toni Fejzula Talks Dead Inside Plus Design Sketches!

dins-1-cvrThe Jail Crimes Division of the Sheriff’s Office in Mariposa County investigates crimes committed inside county jails. With a limited number of suspects who can’t escape, these are usually easy cases to solve-but not this one. As Detective Linda Caruso gets closer to the heart of the case, she discovers uncomfortable truths about her friends, her job, and herself.

Perfect for fans of crime and prison television, Dead Inside is written by John Arcudi with art by Toni Fejzula.

I got a chance to talk to Toni about the series and he provided some cool sketches and art for the comic series.

Graphic Policy: How’d you come on board Dead Inside?

Toni Fejzula: John offered me to work on this at the end of 2015. I was available so I didn’t hesitate. We’ve known each other since 2011–when he saw my blog and decided to contact me. Since then we’ve been talking about doing something together. Dark Horse hired me to work on Veil (with Greg Rucka) thanks to him, then came a Lobster Johnson one-shot issue with John (subtitled The Glass Mantis) and finally this. I heard that John had this idea a long time ago in his head, so I guess when he finally decided to realize it, he thought I was the right person.

GP: What about the series intrigued you that you wanted to work on it?

full-body-05-1TF: The possibility to design realistic characters and develop them in a closed space and realistic environment, but even that doesn’t mean the approach needs to be entirely realistic. I love to feel that the characters I’m drawing have a real emotional background. As there are no fantastic elements here, you really focus on these people’s drama and you try to reflect it on paper.

GP: One of the things that stands out to me after reading the first issue is the diversity of the look of characters. When it comes to the design of each, how’d that come about?

TF: I always start emphasizing the differences between characters regarding their silhouettes, proportions or shapes. I make sure there’s no confusion between them so each of them has a unique form. I influenced by the mid-20th century modern painters (Lucien Freud. Francis Bacon, etc.), and some sculptors (Brancusi, Giacometti, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, etc.) and they all had a very peculiar sense of volume that I tried to learn from. Sometimes, to set down the style for inking, I try to imagine that I’m carving on paper, for instance.

GP: A lot of your art that I’m familiar of has more of a horror tinge to it and this being a murder mystery there’s some overlap. What do you think the two styles of story have in common as far as looks?

cover-sketch-01-1TF: Technically speaking, the tools I’m using to create the oppressive and dense atmospheres in each type of stories are quite the same, therefore I don’t feel they’re distinct in that sense. I mean, a murder is something quite horrific too, so the main difference is that the terror is based here on something real, not supernatural. It’s stronger in many senses because it’s tangible.

GP: An aspect of the art I really enjoy is how grounded it looks, not just with the look of the world, but also the clothing everyone wears. It feels realistic. As an artist, are you looking at fashion and thinking through what they’d actually wear in real life?

TF: Oh, yes, when I imagined their clothing I tried to make them realistic. John helped me pretty much in that sense too. The only aspect that’s a bit old fashioned are those women’s jeans or trousers, they’re inspired from the seventies era because I like them far more then these that I see nowadays. I chose the orange prison dresses because they seemed like the right aesthetic to me, although I’m not sure these are really used in this kind of prison. For Linda, I chose a jacket I saw Rachel Weisz wearing in The Whistleblower, by the way.

GP: The issue takes place in a prison and morgue, locations we see a lot of in movies or tv shows. What type of research have you done as far as that? Have you mapped out where everything is in the prison?

sketch-warming-up-1TF: Although I watched many documentaries, John had a very clear idea on what environments he wanted to employ, so he’d send me huge zip files with many reference images before starting every issue. My notion of this prison is completely psychological. I draw the atmosphere and lighting on what each moment of this story needs dramatically speaking.  I have a vague idea of the map of the prison because I analyzed a lot of them, but there are no fixed placements here.

GP: How long does it take you to usually complete an issue?

TF: Two months, that’s what we accorded when I started working on this. I’m still a bit slow for US market work, I know, but I’m working on that…

GP: Technology seems to have really changed how artists and writers collaborate and the artistic process. Generally, how do you work? Is it digital? Pencil and paper?

prisoners-1-1TF: My finished black and white art is usually pencils, inks, and paper because I love traditional inks. Although I worked a lot with computer art I never managed to reproduce the fluidness, precision, and manageability of traditional brushes and pencils. It’s also not that easy with layouts and pencils because I often change my methods. Sometimes I do digital pencils because these can be faster, but I control better the composition when I work on real paper. On the other hand, I love having originals …

GP: What advice would you give an artist trying to break into comics?

TF: I think that your art (because this industry is based on artistic values) is a game you must play very seriously. The game notion is about the idea that you should never lose your sense of joy and enthusiasm to discover new things in your work. The seriousness concept is referred to the idea that the only way to achieve the previous notion is through the strict professionalism and hard work.

Very hard work is the only way to get somewhere, I think. The sense of sacrifice and, most of all, the fight against your doubts are very important concepts, because you most certainly won’t have immediate compensations for what you’re trying to do. You must convince people you’re working with that you’re doing the best for the project. When you work on something that’s the only thing that matters. Do the best art you can, try new things and try not to be late. There’s nothing worse than the feeling that the person you’re working with isn’t really involved in what you’re creating together.

GP: What else do you have coming up in the new year you can tell us about?

TF: I confess I still have no specific stuff. There are some ideas and projects I want to do, but still nothing concrete, I’m afraid… I was so focused on Dead Inside since April this year that I had no time to work on new things.

Talking Justice League vs. Suicide Squad with Joshua Williamson and Jason Fabok

jl_ssquad_cv1_dsJustice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 introduces the League to Amanda Waller’s Task Force X for the very first time! And while they’re busy fighting each other, a character from the League’s past makes his REBIRTH return (hint: bringing his nosebleeds with him) and creates his own team of bad actors, villains you never saw coming!  Written by Joshua Williamson and art by Jason Fabok (with different artists for each issue) the first issue is action-packed.

Announced in September, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is a six-issue mini-series with two being released in December and four in January and will tie-in with Suicide Squad #9 and 10, and Justice League #12 and #13.

The series has been a long time in the making beginning even before Rebirth started. Williamson was initially pitched with the idea by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok had been on a break after drawing the previous DC epic “Darkseid War” but was lured in by the epic nature of the story.

I got a chance to talk to the two and get the scoop as to what we can expect from the event series and a bit about the first issue.

Graphic Policy: With the two teams being so high profile, what pressure do you two feel as creators knowing that there’s possibly more than comic fans looking at this?

Joshua Williams: One of the rules is that you never know when it’s someone’s first comic. Every time I try to write a book I try to keep that in mind. When I was a kid I didn’t start reading a comic at number one. Sometimes the numbers were super high when I started reading. As a kid I was able to pick up what I needed to do and move forward. Part of the challenge is how do you do that? How do you create a comic that feels familiar and allows it to be open to someone coming in. That part wasn’t too intimidating. A book of this size was definitely intimidating. But I think that’s something for creators to do with the title they’re working on no matter the number. You always have to prepare yourself that it might be their very first comic. You have to keep that in mind. With a book this big, we did the same thing.

jl_ssquad_cv1_gfrank_varGP: What about you Jason? People might be coming in from the cinematic or live action worlds. How does that influence what you try to do with the art?

Jason Fabok: I do find that I do draw upon a lot of the looks you see in the films and movies. I like a lot of the designs coming out of Hollywood you see for superheroes. They’re not afraid to tweak things and change things. At the same time I want to always make sure the characters have that classic look and feel to them. This book here I was the least stressed out in that sense thinking about what are people going to think because I had just gone about that for two years with Justice League and I felt like that was the pressure cooker. This was the biggest book I ever worked on, Justice League with Geoff Johns, all eyes are going to be on this. After that I feel like I passed the test so coming on this I was prepared.my

My philosophy is the same as Josh. Every book is somebody’s first comic. Every book is an opportunity to do your best, put the most time you can into it, work for excellence, not for perfection, and try to put out the best comic you can so when they buy that comic book, no matter how much it costs, they’re going to get their monies worth. That’s something I’ve always tried to do. I always tried to go that extra mile to make sure each story is special and each book has all the detail and epic feel that someone is expecting when they buy a comic called Justice League vs. Suicide Squad. I’m very happ

I’m very happy with how it all turned out. I just got my copies and looking through them. I’m really happy with the colors that Alex Sinclair did on the book. It looks spectacular. I’m pumped for people to read it.

Graphic Policy: There’s obviously implications for other series and characters. With this type of story, how does that differ than doing a comic like The Flash?

JW: I think with Flash, one of the advantages of Flash having, beside the fact I love the Flash, is Barry’s perspective and I really focus everything around it. It comes down to what does this mean to Barry and how is this a Barry story and does it impact Barry? For this it really comes down to how does it impact all of these characters and all of these characters’ perspectives as well as how does it impact the DC Universe going forward. That definitely was a challenge there. But, with The Flash I get to write all of these personal stories with him and that takes precedence over these big budget action stuff. With this event, I didn’t have to worry about the supporting cast or all of these smaller moments. There’s lots of that character stuff in this series but I got to focus on something bigger. I got to focus on this non-stop blockbuster action.

JF: This book is a little unique in the sense that it’s a one-shot. Josh is on there and scoping out this epic story. He’s been in there working on this since the spring or even sooner and he’s now seeing it come to fruition. I’m just the first batter up I guess taking on issue one. For me it was really a unique perspective to be working with other artists. I didn’t work too closely with the other artists but I was seeing other pages come in while I was still working on issue one and they were tying in things I had put in issue one into issue two, issue three. I was just blown away by the art coming in. It made me step up my game. I was seeing what Tony Daniel was doing in issue two which is fantastic. It was a unique project for me to take part in, in that sense. Josh made it very easy to transition into this book. Josh and Geoff Johns’ writing style is very similar. So I felt right at home working on issue one. I’m very proud of this work. Josh should be very proud of what he has written. And I think fans are really going to enjoy the series and the book. There’s going to be lots of twists and turns and surprises. I hope the really dig issue one, especially the last couple of pages.

GP: It’s some great splash pages. Thanks so much and can’t wait to see what comes with the rest of the series!

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