While I was on vacation, I saw a tweet from Ben Kreger lamenting how difficult it could be to get some promotion for your comic, so naturally I reached out to him.
Ben has spent the last seven years writing, lettering, and publishing comics under his imprint Warrior Innkeeper Creative (formally Warrior Innkeeper Comics). He has written in many genres and for many age groups, but his two favourite titles are Black Suit Of Death, a mature tour de force and the all-ages The Less Than Historical Adventures Of Li’l Lincoln. The highlight of his career may be when his adopted home town of Independence, Oregon commissioned him for two very cool projects.
I was able to take a few minutes of Ben’s time just before the launch of the Kickstarter for the scond issue of Black Suit Of Death. You can find the Kickstarter for #FundBSD2 here, as well as a review of the first two comics in the Black Suit Of Death series (posting later) – but I’ll save you a bit of time and let you now they’re both fantastic issues. Talking to Ben, and reading the comic he co-wrote has been an absolute joy.
Graphic Policy: What did your home town commission of you, and how did it come about?
Ben Kreger: I have had a somewhat of a nomadic life. When I was young my family moved between Oregon and Washington and back again so I’ve never had roots sorta speak. When I landed in Independence, Oregon, I found the city to be what I was looking for when it came to a place to raise my kids. I never dreamed I would grow roots here.
That all began when I attended an open meeting the city was having to discuss plans to open up tourism in our town to help boost the old downtown. Meeting the people who have influence in the city was the beginning of the network which lead to me eventually meeting the mayor and presenting my comic book publishing as a new local business to other business people in town.
Not long after the Mayor had his people contact me and before I knew it, I was writing and organizing a small anthology of stories based on the otherworldly encounters people are said to have had in the buildings of downtown.
Spirits of Independence: A Ghost Walk Companion, was the first time I was paid as a writer. So it was kind of a big deal. It was sold during the City’s Hops & Heritage festival. I regret not working more comp copies into the agreement because it has been a best seller and I really wish it was I that was selling it ;)
GP: So in a nutshell, how would you describe Black Suit Of Death?
BK: Well, first off, a proper description wouldn’t fit in the space an average nutshell could provide. The Black Suit of Death has taken, Ed and I nearly half a decade or more to figure out how to describe it, as the comic doesn’t quite fit in one genre, but our elevator speech goes like this, “The Black Suit of Death is a satirical, sci-fi, comic with elements of horror. The comic follows the exploits of Edd Grimes, a depressed college student who on the verge of suicide discovered an alien bio-mechanoid suit of armor which happens to be the suit all myth’s and legends of the grim reaper are actually based on. Edd becomes the modern day pilot of this suit, thus becoming today’s grim reaper.”
Honestly, that doesn’t even come close to a real description of what we’ve created but it seems to cause interest enough for readers to pick the book up at conventions.
GP: The idea has been kicking around for quite some time for yourself and co-creator Ed Ellsworth. What’s it like to finally have it out in the world?
BK: Having this bizarre world we’ve created finally out of our heads and in print for the whole world to see is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The fact we have fans is somewhat strange. Sure, we work very hard to make sure the stories we tell are the absolute best we can write, and well, we have some of the most amazing artists in the biz working with us, so even if our words suck, the book looks killer! It’s been a treat to not have any real negative reactions, we both feel very lucky about that – though our cynicism expects it to happen any day now, and our depression, reminds us that we could be better. ;)
GP: There’s a distinct shift in style between the prelude and the first issue. Can you talk about that a little?
BK: I could talk a little but what would be the fun in that?
Of course, to answer the question, the shift in style came because of the script for The Black Suit of Death #1. Originally we had hoped Stefano Cardoselli would be the lead artist on the series. In Ides of March, Stef’s sharp angles and exaggerated art, mixed with his detailed settings really helped illustrate the madness boiling inside the inventor of the Black Suit of Death (B.S.D.), Doctor Philo Seitsan, and it worked very well for that story. However, when I’d hired him to draw a 6-page #0 issue – that was meant to introduce the series protagonist, Edd Grimes, I discovered his particular style wasn’t going to meet the needs of the story.
Then of course I ran out of money and wasn’t able to finish the #0 issue, so it sat on a digital shelf for years. After attempting to revive it with another artist, who wasn’t able to deliver, I called it quits. I almost called it quits all together. But Ed really pushed for us to continue work on the series scripts. When the opportunity came around to work with Dexter Wee, I grabbed it! I’d followed Dexter’s work for some time, first discovering the webcomic Cura Te Ipsum after meeting the writer at a convention here in Oregon. And once we had Dex on board we felt we’d really have to deliver the best possible script we could manage. The Black Suit of Death #1 went through almost seven rewrites since it was first written way back in 2011.
GP: How many issues do you have written so far? Do you have an ending in mind for the series?
BK: When we brought Dexter Wee on board Ed and I felt we’d really have to up our game. So while we had nearly six issues completed, going back and looking over them, we weren’t that happy with them. We currently have the next two issues completed (that would be issue #3 and #4) and issues #5-#7 either in progress or needing a second draft+. That said, issue #3 will get at least a once over before it goes to Dexter for illustration. In addition to that we have plotted out twenty-seven stories concluding this series with a 6-part series tentatively titled “Battle for the Planet!” That last story will tie everything together, including things set up in Ides of March.
GP: The first issue of Black Suit Of Death is a successful Kickstarter story. Did you ever expect to be able to reach three stretch goals?
BK: Short answer, No. We were hopeful but near the end there when we were sure we’d be dead in the water missing our mark once again. The Kickstarter was at around 70% and holding for an entire week! We needed around $2k to hit the goal and it wasn’t looking good. Then out of the blue, two anonymous Backers dropped a brick load of dough our way. I’ll be honest. When those pledges came in and we spilled over our goal, I wept. Full on tears streaming down my face, choked up voice, “Why do they believe in me? What have I done to deserve this kindness?”
My mind was blown! For someone to drop $20 bucks on your project it’s amazing and you ask those same questions because the generosity of Backers is quite overwhelming, then when someone drops $1,000+ …damn if it doesn’t take the rug right under you, but in a very good way.
When we hit $7,000 and almost 200 Backers, I can safely say, no, we didn’t expect that, hoped for it, obviously, but no expectation, and nothing could have prepared us for it.
Ed, who lives in Arizona, found one of the local pizza joints here and surprised me with a pizza delivery in congratulations. I’ll have to think of a way to pay it forward when this one ends on a high note.
GP: Speaking of high notes… Issue one deals with some pretty dark internal stuff with Edd Grimes struggle with depression. That was some starkly brutal writing that couldn’t have been easy to write?
BK: Strangely enough, stuff coming up in Issue #3 was much tougher to write, not that what we created in Issue #1 wasn’t. Ed and I both battle Depression, and I won’t speak for him, but sadly I have made a couple attempts to end my life… that said, writing about it is actually my personal therapy, my comic therapy. So, while, yes it is difficult, it is also helpful, if not necessary in maintaining my sanity. Of course, I like to give credit where credit is due, Ed was the one that wrote most of the captions – that guys a dark, dark dude, man. lol!
GP: I was wondering if there was personal experience there; the writing had a very honest feeling to it. How did you and Ed end up working together?
BK: Well we’ve been friends for 20 years or so now. When we were young and I still had long flowing hair a group of us went to see the hot movie Scream. Sometime later, none of recollect when exactly, but we found ourselves rather bored with access to a camcorder. So what do teenage boys on the cusp of manhood do with a camcorder and too much free time? Make a parody of a popular film of course!
We didn’t have money so we used Ed’s “Apocalypse Cloak” and faceless hooded mask in place of the screaming from the movie, and we didn’t know any girls so we used Ed’s sister’s Barbie doll for Drew Barrymore, and her dollhouse for Drew’s house. Then we “acted” out the first scene from the movie and hilarity ensued! After LOAO, we picked ourselves up and discovered something original in that parody – we called it The Black Suit of Death…
Skip ahead about 15 years and I’m just back from first tour of duty (U.S.Army Corps of Engineers – Idaho National Guard) and I was having a rough time. But after a couple friends got me into making comics with them things began to turn around. It was my buddy over at Darkslinger Comics who had me create my own imprint – then called Warrior Innkeeper Comics, now Warrior Innkeeper Creative.
I had been working on an all-ages book but also wanted to do something a little more mature, something I could swear in. Ed and I had been emailing each other more than usual, he was worried I go shoot up s college campus or something… to this day, I’m not so sure he was joking.
We had gotten to reminiscing about the good ole days, as we often do, and Black Suit of Death had come up. We proposed the idea of turning it into a comic book because we would have to struggle with the costs of making it a movie, as we had done with disastrous results in our youth. We both dug into our notes and shared each others versions of the screenplay we had written. It was Ed who suggested that since we don’t need a budget for sets and costumes, maybe we could take this supernatural comedy and slide it more toward science fiction.
After we invented Doctor Seitsan we knew we were onto something really cool.
GP: What’s next for you and Ed?
BK: Ed’s satirical writing is beginning to get noticed, so I imagine he’ll pursue that more and more in the coming years. We both have a novels based in the universe of Black Suit of Death which explore the origins and history of the Utopian’s from Ides of March that we are seperately working on, though there has been some collaboration. I also have a novel I’m struggling to complete called Little Girl, Dead, and I’ve a Facebook page for it already where I am sharing the journey of writing my first novel with social media. Neither of us have plans to abandon Black Suit of Death anytime soon. There are three spin-offs already in the planning stages and of course after Issue #27 the series will begin anew with the next pilot of the B.S.D.
GP: Anything else you want to promote?
BK: I think I just did ;)
GP: Fair point. Where can folks find you?
I love that you use the word folks. As one who grew up a farm boy, it’s a favorite of mine.
Folks can find me and my work best through social media. I’m a bit of an addict when it comes to Facebook, even though I enjoy Twitter much more. If you do a search in Facebook for Warrior Innkeeper Creative or The Black Suit of Death you’ll find me right away. On Twitter it’s important to remember they have character limits on names so I had to omit the last “e” in @WarriorInnkeepr. We also have a websites for BSD and that’s blacksuitofdeath.com
GP: Thanks for your time!