The weekend is almost here and that means Free Comic Book Day! What other geeky things will you all be doing? Sound off in the comments below. While you wait for the weekday to end and the weekend to begin, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.
It’s new comic book day tomorrow! What are you interested in? What do you plan on getting? Sound off in the comments below! While you decide on that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.
Working At GrayHaven Part 5: You Are Not Alone In The Abyss
I spent 5 years with GrayHaven comics as a writer, editor and friend to the company. In many ways I still consider myself the last of those things and I have many friends who still work with them. I bother Andrew Goletz far too much on Facebook, speak to great friends and ridiculously talented people on a daily basis that I either met through GrayHaven or grew closer with through the company. I also met people that I genuinely detest through my time there but I am very fortunate and grateful I met more good people than bad.
I’m not completely faultless, however. I made mistakes and not just one or two. I made a number of errors in judgment in ways I dealt with certain situations and dealing with people. No one is perfect, least of all me. However, the past is gone and it’s not coming back. I hope in some ways the stories that I’ve told so far have been somewhat interesting as to my creative process but this article will be a little more educational.
This article will highlight two volumes that highlighted the best and worst of my GrayHaven experiences. Ultimately I am very proud to have my name on both projects, they are both results of many hours of work that I think paid off in terms of output. However, delivering a high quality book sadly isn’t the only mark of how successful a book is.
Before I get to them though, I realized there was one volume I forgot about last week. So to prove that I am by no means perfect, I’m going to do a brief summary of the one GrayHaven story I did, that I honestly completely forgot about.
More than ever, let me stress that the following events I describe here are from my perspective only. Other versions of events can and probably will vary. I will do my best however to give you all the events as they happened. Anyone who would like to offer a different perspective that either is similar to my own or differs from mine is invited to do so.
GrayHaven Presents: Sci-fi/Horror
So yes, this is the one I forgot about, although I’m not sure exactly why, as it is certainly memorable for several reasons. The volume was a part of GrayHaven’s ‘Limitless’ line which was now looking to produce large, graphic novel sized anthologies which would even see some colour stories. By and large, due to cost, GrayHaven rarely had done colour before (with one notable exception we’ll get to shortly) but these volumes had a healthy amount of stories with colour in them.
The first of these was ‘Sci-Fi/Horror’ which was taking GrayHaven’s most successful genre and adding in a large science fiction twist on top. The volume featured a wonderful wraparound cover by longtime GrayHaven artist, Leo Gonzales who should be working on a big three book like 5 minutes ago.
When I was pitching my story, I had already delivered a few horror themed tales during my time with GrayHaven. I wanted something this time that would really stand out though, something that would be genuinely creepy. The first thing that hit me was an image of a man in a restaurant where all the people with him would be the same person. It was an unsettling picture in my mind but I wondered how I could make it practical. I literally built a whole story around this one image in my mind which is how the story that eventually became ‘REMWorld’ came to be.
Essentially REMWorld took place at a point in the future that (for an affordable price) you could customize your dreams. Wanting to get away from it all for reasons that were outlined in the story, the main character chose this new fad to have a wonderful dreaming experience. The trouble was that the tech started to malfunction and slowly but surely, the man’s subconscious turned the dream into a nightmare. When I came up with the concept, I thought it was something really different that I could cram as much creepy stuff as I could think of in. I could also use the advantage of the entire thing being a dream to give myself a certain freedom to do what I wanted and jump scene to scene with little or no explanation. After all, what is a dream if nothing but random?
It was several months later when it was already printed when I realized the story bore some similarities to the movie Vanilla Sky, which in turn was adapted from the Spanish film ‘Open Your Eyes’. I think however that REMWorld took the concept to a much darker place overall and I decided to never really let on about the similarity and hope no one noticed (until now, oops).
I thought the story turned out very well and it was really well illustrated by an artist named James Emmett. I can’t honestly comment what it was like to work with James because I didn’t have any communication with him. I wrote the story, I corrected the story after edits and poof it appeared. Almost like magic. I will say he did a great job and I hope to work with him more directly at some point soon!
The story also featured the debut of ‘Darma’, the virtual guide through REMWorld who took on a sinister personality as the story progressed. I loved Darma, I really did and if I have my way, she’ll be back.
So that brings us to the main points of this article. Sorry for the slight detour but now we’re about to dive in head first. Abandon hope all thee who enter the Abyss.
Tales From The Abyss Vol. 1-4 (and maybe 5?)
It all seemed to be perfect, all the stars and the planets would align and all would be right with the world. Like I mentioned above, horror was GrayHaven’s strongest seller and people wanted colour stories from us and existing creators wanted a shot at telling bigger and better stories. When Andrew decided to start (at the time) the second spin off anthology to accompany the Gathering, a horror prestige anthology that would largely feature colour stories made the most sense. We would even let people tell one story over multiple stories and we even had a top tier creator to tell such a tale over the books initial five volumes.
We had all the boxes checked, a big story for a pro lined up and more ongoing multi-anthology stories green lit from Erica J. Heflin and Inverse Comics super guru Kevin LaPorte. It all seemed like it was going to go well.
Except it didn’t, it really didn’t. Since I had edited the second and third volume of the horror books, I was the natural choice to take charge on this project too. Since the workload was going to be nothing like none of us had ever attempted at the time before, I was joined in the editing chair by Erica J. Heflin.
Ultimately we produced four issues of the anthology that faced a multitude of delays, headaches and enough tales of woe to make anyone sit and wait for nurse to bring them their medication. The first two volumes in my view, quality wise, were among GrayHaven’s best and they both overtook my long standing favorite of Vol. 6 as the best material GrayHaven had produced. The third volume and fourth volumes were not quite as strong I felt but where of a really high quality I was very proud to be involved with. I even had a story in Vol. 3 of Abyss which I’ll get it in a moment.
There was only one problem (on top of all the other problems the book faced).
No one cared. We’d done everything right, we’d seen what people were buying, were requesting and had a pro on board and we gave it to them. Still, no one cared and the four volumes of Tales From The Abyss which were produced were amongst GrayHaven’s lowest sellers.
Then there were the problems involved in actually getting the books out. The book just seemed eternally cursed with problems that included but were not exclusive to the following
Writers being difficult
Artists being difficult
Writers not delivering scripts
Artists not delivering art
Writers refusing to change their stories for edits
Writers wanting their stories removed because they didn’t like another writer/artist in the same volume as them
Colourists being hard to come by, especially since GrayHaven were not paying talent at the time
Finding replacements stories/artists/colourists with sometimes not much time between the story needing to be done and the volume being printed
Of course, at the time anyone asked how things were going with the books, Erica and myself would smile and nod. I wonder if we had perhaps pooled our efforts we put into trying to get this book chugging along that we would have accomplished something a lot easier, like say solving world hunger or curing the cold.
Honestly, it was just hellish trying to get the books out. It seemed that the fruits of our labors were worth it because, like I said the volumes were great (by and large) and looked STUNNING but again…no one bought them. Sales were so poor that when GrayHaven revamped their website earlier this year, the volumes were pulled from sale and Vol. 5 (to my knowledge) was never made available for purchase.
I often equate my time editing to like being in a room full of spinning plates. My job was simple, don’t let the plates fall and I think I did that. I think I was pretty good at that but the Abyss plates were like cutlery that fights back or cuts off your hands if you touch it.
I’m a big believer in cause and effect. I think in retrospect that working on Abyss caused a domino effect that ultimately led to me leaving GrayHaven late last year. Perhaps everything would have worked out the same but if Abyss had been handled by another editor, things may have been different.
I do hope that if you find a copy, you do buy it because the stories (by and large) are rather brilliant. The talent that DID deliver and I COULD depend on, delivered in spades and did some of their best work. It also featured the first pairing between me and my future Sparks collaborator, Kell Smith for a story that was in the 3rd Abyss issue.
I’ve complimented Kell a bunch but I can’t stress how much of a fan of her work I was by this point. It was Erica’s idea to pair us together for the horror tale I wrote which was ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ and showed we had some creative charisma that would secure her place as part of team Sparks.
‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’, was something I conceived based on my absolute hatred of flying. It’s not just not liking to fly (which I don’t) but it’s the overall experience of it. Like I said in one of my earlier articles (available right here on Graphic Policy!!!!) I don’t like waiting. Like at all. To me, flying is just a constant state of waiting.
You wait to check in, you wait to get through security, you wait to get on the plane, you wait for the plane to take off, you wait on the plane, you wait to get off the plane, you wait for your luggage. I just despise it and being a tall fellow, I get ridiculously uncomfortable when I fly. I have often fantasized about being on my own on a plane but then kind of thought that would be rather horrible which is where ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ comes in.
I wrote a story featuring a man who woke up alone on board an empty plane. I just poured all my hate of flying into the story and I think it was pretty creepy (even though Andrew and Erica kept calling it ‘Glenn’s Langoleers’, le sigh). I think Kell did a wonderful job drawing the story and I think it stood proud among the usual high quality stories that Abyss delivered.
It was a shame that not many people got to read them. It seems strange now that after all that effort to put out the books that they’re gone now. All that time spent keeping those plates spinning I’ll never get back. Still, I delivered what I thought were great comics and that was my job so I can hold my head high at least in that regards.
Sometimes though, there comes for a need for a comic where sales aren’t the primary force behind making them. Sometimes you’re compelled to make a comic for something higher, something that sadly can emanate from tragedy.
You Are Not Alone Vol. 1 and 2
On December 14th 2012, America went through a great tragedy that is known as the ‘Sandy Hook elementary school shootings’. I won’t the events of what occurred on that day because they are well known and you can find every opinion possible on the tragedy readily available online.
How it affected GrayHaven was down to how the tragedy affected our publisher, Andrew Goletz. He felt compelled to do something in response to this heinous act and that is exactly where the concept of ‘You Are Not Alone’ came from.
The volume was going to be the biggest thing that the company had ever attempted. It was going to be an anti-bullying oversized graphic novel that would help those that looked to help people that were treated differently because of their appearance, their race, their sexuality and other things that people can pray upon. It also looked to help those that were dealing with issues that would perhaps lead to self harm or anorexia and who to call and/or contact in relation to these issues.
It was an extremely worthy project and one I was eager to be a part of. I was heavily bullied when I was younger and wanted to help with the project that would hopefully help others get through similar experiences. I wasn’t part of the initial ‘You Are Not Alone’ (or YANA as it became known) conceptual team but I was eager to offer any help I could.
Sadly, I was told that I wasn’t needed. I’m sure Andrew wouldn’t mind me quoting him directly as he told me ‘I don’t think you’re a good enough editor’.
I was furious and I think that one sentence was another big contributor to me eventually leaving GrayHaven. In retrospect I think I should have been more understanding and realizing that this was the most important thing that GrayHaven had ever done and it was much bigger than any of us. I like to count Andrew as one of my closest friends and although we have had many, many arguments over the years about a number of subjects I don’t think he has ever done anything to intentionally hurt me. Still at the time, I was angry and I just decided to pitch a story to the book in the hope that I could help someone with what I was allowed to contribute to the volume.
I wrote ‘00110001 (binary core for the number ‘one’) is the loneliest number’ which dealt with the very modern and real problem of Cyber Bullying. I was tempted to tell a more personal take based on my own bullying experiences but I thought that there would be a lot of those types of stories. I wanted to tackle an important issue that I didn’t think anyone else would think of (I was right). I think I did a good job on the story and I asked previous collaborator, Paula Cob to do the art chores. She did an exceptional job and I think the story hit all the beats that I intended it to. In truth, You Are Not Alone is filled with many personal and harrowing tales that in truth nearly moved me to tears the first time I read it. I think it truly lived up to its purpose and I was proud that my story was a small part of it.
There was a long gestation period for the project and eventually Andrew asked me to come on board and help get it out. I can’t honestly remember what the problems were or how much work I did to help get the book out, all I remember is how I reacted. I reacted like an utter ass who continually threw Andrew’s words about my ability as an editor back at him.
I did the job I was asked to do because I always did but looking back I should have just swallowed my pride and helped the volume (which again, was much bigger than me) get out but I decided to be difficult while doing it.
Eventually the book came out, it was a big hit and we heard a lot of stories from people who it helped. We also got the most media coverage than I believe any other GrayHaven anthology and a follow up was soon seen as a necessity.
In a true 120, instead of not having me involved at all, Andrew gave me the responsibility of producing ‘You Are Not Alone 2’ all by myself. Although it wasn’t quite as large as the first volume, the second one was due to be larger than any editor had delivered by themselves.
I was intimidated by this and knowing how important the project was, I wondered if I was capable. Then, one of my fellow editors told me point blank that they didn’t think I could do it. Like a bull that had seen a red flag, I swore that I would prove them wrong and worked my ass off to make sure the volume would be ready to go by September 2014.
Along with the other books I was looking after, I can honestly say that You Are Not Alone 2 took most of my attention. I asked for help from as many artists and letterers that I could think of but never once did I contact another editor. The gauntlet had been thrown down and I was going to deliver this volume over the finish line and I was going to do it by myself.
Which I did and I think I delivered a beautiful volume that featured great stories by a multitude of creators. I was told to have it ready for production for September and I did that, only needing lettering done on a handful of stories but I had done everything else. I had read through the hundreds of submissions, I had edited the stories, I had assigned artists, I had dealt with even more submissions once they reopened and I got as many stories lettered as I could without any budget.
In truth, I think the effort to put out You Are Not Alone 2 burned me out. Other things happened after that, things were said about me and to me that along with everything else that had occured, caused me to leave GrayHaven. It broke my heart because I had invested so much effort, time and finances into the company and I was now feeling I was no longer welcome.
Whether that was true or not, I’m not sure. There are people I am still very close to there and there are those that after I left, decided to set fire to my virtual chair at the table and pretend I was never there at all.
On a final note, I want to talk about the story I wrote myself for YANA 2 which was called ‘Someone for Anyone’ that was wonderfully illustrated by Dan Laurer. The story featured an old bear in a toy shop that was never paid attention to and was picked on by the more popular toys. Finally, one day a little girl comes into the shop and takes him home. I had long since been criticized by other editors for the amount of words I would use in a story and decided to tell this one without any words or captions.
I think the story met that challenge and Dan did a great job telling the story without one word of dialogue. I had met Dan through chance when looking for an artist for a sc-fi ‘Alterna’ anthology where he delivered in spades on a story that I’m hoping sees the light of day very soon.
Dan has worked in the industry for years and is a great talent and I hope I am lucky enough to work with him again someday.
Still, I think it’s very ironic to look back at that bear, now my time at GrayHaven has come to an end. It was a good toy but it still sat on a shelf, ridiculed by the other toys on a daily basis which caused it to feel undervalued and alone.
One day, the door opened and someone appreciated the bear for what it was. I hope that one day, the door will open and someone will do the same for me.
Many thanks to Andrew Goletz for letting me do these articles and letting me say what I wished. I’m sure I’ll be annoying him about something before you finish this.
Next: The rise of Indie Comics
Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett
Good day folks, after a brief hiatus courtesy of a wonderful honeymoon I’m back with more of my thoughts. For the first few articles I talked a little about launching my own comic and some thoughts from behind the comic creator curtain. Today I wanted to take a break talk about some issues in the comic industry that are getting a lot of attention.
There are things I feel should be said that aren’t and if no one else is saying them I might as well do it.
Something that has been a major issue in comics for nearly as long as they’ve been around is gender and the balance between female characters vs. male characters and female creators vs. male creators. Both are subjects that come up time and time again and I’d like talk about both, starting with female characters and how they are perceived/treated in the past, present and future.
Okay, hands up who can tell me who the character above is? Don’t rush all at once now. That’s right its Wonder Woman who is not only one of DC’s earliest characters (she was created way back in 1941) but is presented as one of their biggest. Indeed it could be argued that Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable fictional characters ever.
Show an image of the character to most people in the world and would at least be able to identify her as Wonder Woman. This is because she is presented as one of DC’s ‘trinity’ alongside Batman and Superman. She has featured in TV shows, cartoons and a lot of merchandising. She’s also been a fairly regular member of the Justice League even at times when Batman and Superman weren’t.
The reason I talk about her now is that despite the fact she is so recognizable and she is represented by DC as a major character, her past often has her playing second fiddle to her main counterparts. Despite being DC’s third most recognizable character, Wonder Woman has never quite had the same exposure in comics as Batman and Superman.
Almost since their creation, Batman and Superman have had at least two titles each per month and often, a lot more. Usually Wonder Woman has one book that is her own, a title that in the past has had minimal sales success. This is not for lack of trying on DC’s part. The company has tried everything from big name creators to relaunching to even having mainstream novelists take over writing duties to raise sales. To date, every attempt has ultimately met with the same minimal success.
Even today, the Wonder Woman title is coming to the end of a creative run that has not only been critically acclaimed but commercially successful compared to past years. Whether this will continue after the current team leaves is uncertain but the most recent issue’s sales numbers was available were from July 2014, when the title ranked 77, selling 37,431.
The third most recognizable character DC has to offer and she was outperformed by 76 other books that included the likes of Moon Knight and Archie. I’m not here just to talk about Wonder Woman but I feel that she is the best way of illustrating my overall point.
No matter how well known they are it seems that female characters are almost treated as secondary to male leads.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t books out there that feature female leads that sell very well because there are lots of those. However these books generally feature said leads as part of an ensemble cast. Books like Justice League, Saga, Avenger’s, X-Men and Walking Dead all feature great female characters. They are however associated with the overall brand rather than the main stars. Even Wonder Woman’s own book is outsold by one where she is mentioned in the cover but gets second billing next to the books co-star Superman.
Currently the highest selling book that stars a female lead and presents itself as such is DC’s Harley Quinn which in August 2014 (leaving out September due to DC’s wacky 3D variants) number 7 on the chart and sold 71,522 copies on its most recent issue. This meant that the female fan favorite outsold most of Batman’s books, Wolverine, Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy among many others.
Harley Quinn has been a character that has always played against the odds and won. A very good friend of mine and talented creator in his own right, Ray Goldfield once said ‘For every Harley Quinn you get 1000 Poochie’s.’ I agree that a female character with adoring fans like Harley is especially rare The fact that her book is performing so fell on such a consistent basis is a surprise to many.
However, the next female led title is Batgirl which is a whopping fifty-three places below Harley’s Top Ten book at number Sixty, selling 34,590. Below her is where we find Ms. Marvel at sixty-six and so on and so forth. In-between are the books that feature female characters primarily as part of an ensemble cast.
For as long as I’ve been reading comics I’ve been hearing the same thing and I’m sure you have heard it too, ‘There should be more female characters in comics!’ Well there are many that feature in a variety of books but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for them.
To their credit both Marvel and DC have made quite the effort to have more female led title’s in recent years. Along with Harley Quinn we’ve also had books like Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman and more. At the New York Comic Con it seemed that Marvel was intent on announcing a treasure trove of new female-led books because people are asking for them. They’re even giving obscure characters like Squirrel Girl and new characters like Spider-Gwen/Silk their own titles to meet a demand that people insist is there and that the figures achieved by Harley Quinn would indicate.
Yet with the demand not supported by sales, Marvel has already announced the cancellation of She-Hulk after twelve issues and it could be a similar story for Captain Marvel/Black Widow (although either or both could be relaunched).
Title’s that have a female lead are certainly headline grabbers and do get a good bit of buzz initially. It seems like a bit of an event when a new female book is announced…almost a novelty. I think that’s what I find most strange about how female characters are often marketed. No one would bat an eye if a character like say…Cyborg got his own book but if Thor gets a gender switch it’s time to stop the presses.
I have been fortunate enough to be complimented many times on my handling of female characters in Sparks and Living With Death. Both books were created with female leads in mind and almost in every interview I’ve been asked ‘How do you write women well?’ I suppose the answer to this is the same reason that I’m writing this article. I love female characters because I love characters period. Some of my favorite characters just happen to be women, just like some of my favorite characters happen to be males.
Writer of Game Of Thrones (among many other things) George R.R Martin once said something I really liked when asked how he can embody characters like Daenery’s and Ayra with such life and power. He simply said ‘I’ve always thought of women as people’.
I think that says it all. To me we will truly have achieved equal standing for male and female characters when it isn’t talked about anymore. There will be no headlines about Thor being a women or that Captain Marvel is getting her own movie. It will just be considered part of the norm and that’s what I want to see., a comic market where female characters are treated the same as male characters. It will no longer be a big deal that Marvel, DC, Image or anyone has a book with a female lead; it’ll simply be them launching a book like any other. No one raises an eyebrow when Batman gets a new book but if Wonder Woman got a secondary title there would probably be national headlines. That is not how it could, or should be.
In closing, yes things are changing. There are now more female led titles than in the past but it has taken us nearly Seventy years to get to the point where these books are given a chance . I don’t want to wait another Seventy for comics to take the next step.
Next: Female creators
Many thanks to Mary Sheridan for helping me put this together!
Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett
I was in high school at the time that the internet was really coming to prominence. I remember sitting in Economics listening to my teacher make the less than radical prediction that the internet would change the way businesses work. It would give small businesses a whole new potential customer base and give businesses a global market to play with.
The same applies to comics, the internet has given small press creators a whole new avenue to showcase their talents. Whether you sell comics directly from your own website (such as GrayHaven does) or market your talents by offering great free content via webcomics (for some exceptional ones check out GrayHaven regular Donal Delays ‘Daring Adventures’, Jason Snyder and Michael Sumislaski‘s ‘Horntoad Sam‘, Nathan Lee James ‘Moonlight Motel‘ & John Clerkin and Ann Harrison’s ‘Bunsen Bunnies‘) it’s now easier than ever to get your work out there if you have a desire to make comics.
The internet has also opened up the door to crowd funding like Kickstarter, Patreon, Indigogo and many more to creators who have the desire or the talent but perhaps not the resources to bring their product to market. Making comic is expensive and you will undoubtedly lose more than you gain but like I said to a fellow writer many years ago ‘if you’re in comics to make money you’re probably in the wrong game’.
When Sparks was released I already had established a few connections through GrayHaven and from my previous solo outing in ‘Living With Death’. I’ve never been to fond of convincing people to buy something from me but no matter what job you do, sales will have some aspect of it, even if you don’t realize it. It’s important in comics to push yourself out there because especially when it comes to super small press work with characters that no one care about but YOU then you’re hardly going to get people banging at your door to buy a copy.
I’ve been to conventions both big and small, some great while others weren’t so great. In both instances I saw small press people sitting watching literally hundreds of potential customers pass them by. Meanwhile I see others who have what my wife would refer to as ‘the gift of the gab’ which means they can draw the attention of people and get people to buy their product. It all depends on your personality of course but tables at conventions (big or small) are pricey and it’s a hard truth that you have to fight hard for every sale.
I won’t say I’m particularly good at it either, I’ve been behind that table and looking at people with an expression likely shared by deer’s moments before an encounter with a car. It takes me a while to get going but like I say, I know no one will come to me so I have to do it. Even top tier creators fight hard to make sure their books are brought to people’s attention. Space in comic shops is precious and creators will want to make sure their books get a spot.
So when Sparks was a released I took advantage of the connections I had and started e-mailing people. I had previously garnered a lot of positive press online and locally for ‘Living With Death’ so it was a little easier. Much to my surprise, people had enjoyed ‘Living With Death’ quite a bit more so were easier to convince to check out ‘Sparks’.
It wasn’t all easy of course. To get reviews you have to supply free copies and like ‘Living With Death’ there were review sites that said they would take the time to look at ‘Sparks’, were given a free copy and I never heard from them again. It’s to be expected because much like space in a comic shop, space on a website can be precious. You’re going to get more hits (and more revenue) talking about the latest Marvel or DC ‘event’ rather than a review of a small press comic. I can only assume the people that I didn’t hear back from didn’t care for the work.
I did get quite a few favorable reviews though thankfully. My efforts paid off as I believe as of this writing both Living With Death and Sparks are the most reviewed books that GrayHaven has produced. This is what happens when you make a little bit of a nuisance of yourself I suppose but like I say, people won’t come to you.
It also meant that Kell Smith got a little bit of a spotlight too. People last week could probably tell I’m a big fan of Kell’s and I want to see her get the success that her talent warrants. Every time I get into a working arrangement with someone on a book I am always eager to share other opportunities I spot for their creative expansion.
People bought the book and seemed to enjoy it. The moment I had worked 12 years for had come to pass. Hearing people’s reactions to the last page of Sparks is often a priceless moment and one I find incredibly gratifying.
Making comics is hard, it can be pricey and it’s something that I have more than once (or a hundred times) considered throwing the towel in on. I’ve lost friends, had people steal money from me, break promises and say things about me that aren’t true. It’s a messy world, even at a level where not many people know who you are.
Moments like the one I described above however make it all worth it. Even if one person read Sparks and demanded more, it means more to me than anything else. Now the book is out of course the journey doesn’t end. You think about what’s on the horizon and doing better than you’ve done before.
It’s easy to make a comic when people don’t expect anything of you. Try doing it when people expect it to be good. That’s the challenge myself and Kell face now and I can’t wait.
Next: I’m headed on honeymoon for a few weeks. When I come back I’ll be talking to Brett about what’s coming up. I’ll be talking women in comics, female characters, the rise of indie comics, Living With Death, editing, some of my GrayHaven shorts and more. Hope to see you all when I get back.
Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett
Those that know me will probably be familiar with the fact that if you meet me and talk to me for a significant length of time, you’ll discover my passion for Doctor Who. I could write an entire article on that show itself but for now I want to use it for an analogy.
In the show, one of the Doctor’s foes ‘The Master’ was recently revealed to have a constant drumming in his mind. This noise was the explanation for his villainous ways by and large, I mention it because I too have a similar sound in my mind. It’s not a drum though, it’s more like this.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Patience has never been one of my attributes. In an infamous issue of classic X-Factor, Peter David wrote a rather famous bit of dialogue from Quicksilver about how he constantly feels pissed off because compared to him, everyone moves so slow. I’m a little like that but I don’t have super speed to blame, I can sometimes just be an impatient jerk.
I’ve always done things fast in terms of deadlines. In University and in comics I heard people jest that I would have the assignment done before there was even an assignment due. I just liked to be early which was a trait I picked up from my mother who at times liked to be 5 hours early for a flight at the airport.
This expediency can be a blessing, I’ve never missed a deadline and people tell me I’m dependable. Of course it can also be a curse because I work at such a rapid rate, I expect everyone else to as well. I need everything done yesterday and in the world of comics, things tend to move at a general glacial pace. I’ve written scripts for volumes that have seen a year (or more) from me finishing my part to it being in my hands. There are still scripts I wrote back in 2012 that I’m still waiting to see published.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
My impatience has led me to make bad decisions, cost me friends and more negative things than I care to remember. It has also allowed me to be an editor at GrayHaven that has more output than any of my peers with regards to completed volumes.
It was this double edged sword of a trait that led to Sparks artist A leaving the book, or rather me asking them to leave. I think they worked on the book for 6-8 months (maybe more, maybe less) and produced 2 character sketches in that time. I tried to be patient with them (or as I could be) contacting them every 2 months or so for a progress update. Eventually I decided to tell them that due to the delay the project had been cancelled.
I did this so I could find someone else. The project of course wasn’t cancelled but I felt this was a decision that was best for the book. I wanted someone who could really dedicate their time and focus to Sparks. As talented as artist A was, that wasn’t them.
Over this time things had expanded quite a bit at GrayHaven. When I went to Andrew to ask about a replacement artist, he told me that I had to look outside the group of artists working for the company. This made sense to me because since GrayHaven doesn’t pay its contributors, we had to make sure the artists we had were put towards putting out the volumes.
Also by this time, the money I had saved to perhaps pay an artist had been used on another project. I thought back pay was my best option.
The right and wrong of back pay vs. payment is something I will maybe talk about in future. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it here, I just know] what I’ve spent trying to break into comics I have never really gotten back. I’ve even had people steal from me and heard many stories from people who were stolen from. Sometimes making comics isn’t all its cracked up to be.
Along came artist B who said they had a day job, loved the project and back pay wasn’t a problem. A number of months later artist B then contacted me saying they had received an offer for a paying gig and would return ‘if they found the time’.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Being frank, I found that artist B’s work wasn’t suitable to what I was looking for so for a change it seemed that things were in my favour. I needed someone who would care about the project, whose work I liked and someone I could trust. By this time GrayHaven had progressed on with more ambitious projects than my little British set one shot and it seemed to had been largely quietly forgotten. I don’t blame the company because you have to keep going forwards. If you spend your time on each problem project you’ll drive yourself insane. I was largely left to my own devices and because of that, I went to the artist who I had wanted from the start, just like it was some sort of odd destiny.
I first became familiar with Kell Smith’s work when she did a cover for us for our 8th anthology that centered around the theme ‘myth’. It was a beautiful cover harkening back to the classic sword in the stone tale that featured King Arthur’s discovery of the mythical sword Excalibur. When I first saw the cover my question was ‘Who is this Kell Smith person?’
I was treated to more lovely covers, prints, pencils and colors by Kell who seemed to be a Swiss army knife of talent. I even had the fortune of working with her on the third volume of GrayHaven’s premier horror title ‘Tales From The Abyss’.
I contacted Kell with the story of my (at that time) over 2 years of headache’s and proposed she join me. Given my misfortune to this date I didn’t expect a yes. I think Kell is immensely talented and GrayHaven was very fortunate to have someone like her, I didn’t think she would be interested in working with me.
It turns out I was wrong. Kell loved the idea and it seemed that fate had led me all the way back to her. She delivered in my view, beautiful work and brought Mel Sparks, Kathy Ericson and Barry Patterson to life. I was left speechless the first time she showed me the cover because I was brought back to that classroom where it had all been conceived and all the pain, disappointment and broken promises were suddenly worth it.
However getting a product in comics is one thing, getting people to buy it is another.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Next: Release, Reviews and Marketing
Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett
We continue our interview series with members of The Gathering and GrayHaven Comics. We’ve put out the same questions to numerous individuals and can compare their responses. A hopefully intriguing interview series.
Graphic Policy: How did you get started in the comic book industry?
Cassandra James: I mostly got started through places online like DeviantART and Digital Webbing. By talking with people and learning about the behind-the-scenes production of comics I was able to not only network but really become serious about getting a career penciling comics.
Despite wanting to be a penciller my first professional gig was a small coloring job for Devil’s Due Publishing that I got through a friend on DeviantART, Tim Seeley.
GP: Were you a fan of comic books before?
CJ: Yes! When I was little I used to read the Disney and Sonic the Hedgehog comics and as I got older I became obsessed with the X-Men and Justice League cartoons. It was natural for me to then move onto cape comics as I got older. Characters like Wonder Woman and Professor X have been with me all my life.
GP: Do you read comics now? If so, what are some of your current picks?
CJ: Sadly I don’t have as much time to read comics as I used to but I have a stack of trade paperbacks next to my bed and am constantly buying things on ComiXology. I’m currently really enjoying Dark Horse’s new Conan the Barbarian series, DC’s Ame Comi line, Image Comics’ reboot of Glory and the new Captain Marvel from Marvel comics.
GP: How did you get involved with The Gathering?
CJ: I love this story. One morning I woke up, sit down at my desk with a cup of tea to start my morning email checking and what-not and see that I had a private message over on the Bendis boards, it was from Gail Simone. I opened it and burst into tears; my husband (who’s sitting next to me) panics and asks me what is wrong. I can only smile and point at my screen; Gail was asking if I’d like to illustrate a story she’s written for the next Gathering anthology.
At this stage I haven’t had much comic work and was still very green, so to be asked by one of my favorite writers to draw one of their stories was a pretty big deal. Since then I’ve been able to work with some amazing creators on various Gathering anthologies, it’s been so much fun and I’m so honored!
GP: Each issue of The Gathering has a theme, how did that factor into the comic creation?
CJ: For me it doesn’t factor in too much, mostly because the writer already has the story written by the time it reaches my hands. Although obviously I try and match the style the writer is going for with my art.
GP: What advice would you give to independent creators just breaking into the business?
CJ: Network, network, network! Every gig I’ve gotten has been from posting on a forum or through a friend or creator I’ve previously worked with. People in the industry are very cautious about working with people they don’t know, but one glowing recommendation from someone already in the business will go a long way. (This is why it’s also not a good idea to burn bridges and be a total jerk to an industry pro. The comic business is small and word travels fast, don’t cost yourself a career by acting like a jerk.)
Even if you’re an artist there is a lot you can learn from an editor or a writer and vice versa. Posting your work online is a great way to not only get it seen but to get feedback you may not get anywhere else.
GP: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through your experiences?
CJ: Deadlines are important. You may look at a comic and think, ‘I can draw better than this, why did this artist get hired?’ The answer to that is usually because said artist could deliver the work in a timely manner. You may produce work that looks like Da Vinci but if it takes you a week to draw a comic page, you’ll never be hired because companies don’t want late books.
The hardest thing for me as a professional was upping my page rate, but with practice and hard work it did happen. I went from one page a month to being able to knock out 6 rough penciled pages a day for my latest Image book.
GP: Do you think it’s easier today for creators to get published?
CJ: I think so. With websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo it’s been possible for independent creators to self-publish their own books. Not to mention the success of web comics as a publishing medium.
GP: How do you think technology like social networking or crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter are impacting comic book publishing?
CJ: I think they’re a great way of getting books that may not be looked at by the bigger publishing houses out there printed. I was also a part of the successfully funded Womanthology Kickstarter campaign, we had no idea when we started that we’d end up raising over $100,000 in a month.
I think Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are great places to garner support not just from a monetary standpoint but from a market research standpoint. I can only hope that places like Marvel and DC are taking notice of the comics that not only do well, but outstanding well and try and emulate that success for themselves. I feel that many of the bigger comic publishers like the Big Two don’t really take risks with their books, they pander to the same 18 – 30 year old male demographic and I think that successfully funded projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo prove that comics are for everyone and can be sold to anyone if you do it right. Comic fans have a lot of money that they’re willing to hand over if you’re willing to produce top quality, original books.
GP: What can we expect from you next?
CJ: I have two more Gathering issues to do (one is an erotic issue, reowr!), the Valentine TPB from Image is coming out in September and the Sparks one-shot written by Glenn Matchett sometime next year.
But besides that no big plans, fingers crossed that I’ll have some big works to lead me into the New Year!
GrayHaven Comics has been hinting about their Phase Two for a while now and we got the first of their announcements last week. Over the weekend they announced more projects, further diversifying their projects and showing why they’re an independent publisher to keep our eyes on.
GrayHaven Comics will be aggressively expanding their publishing line. New One Shots, Mini Series and Ongoings will begin to roll out over the next few months through New York Comic Con and into 2013
In addition to print collections of several of their popular web-comics there’s also the one-shot Sparks, a hard boiled detective drama by Glenn Matchett and Cassandra James and My Geek Family, a heartwarming slice of life tale by Doug Hahner and Dober-Man, a love letter to the Silver Age of comics by Travis Holyfield and Ed Whatley.
They’re also releasing 5 major projects in the first quarter of 2013:
Chronographer– a time travel mystery by Erica Heflin, Fabio Pio, Edson Alves and Carlos Paul Tomorrow– sci-fi superheroic epic mini-series by Jason Hissong, John Coker and Devin Taylor Run Like Hell– the comic adaptation of the hit YA Thriller by Elena Andrews and George Amaru
11:59 – a post-apocalyptic horror series by Andrew Goletz and Nick Francis Titanium Star a Sci Fi/Western series of mini series by Victor Gischler and Sam Tung