92 Aces and Eights

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By Steven Pennella

92aces6Aces and Eights Press is a small press comic book publisher specializing in quality, creator-owned, digital first, comic books. Co-founded by Frank Mula (co-President, EIC) and Sal Brucculeri (co-President, Creative Director), AA88 prides itself in establishing new comic professionals with quality creator-owned projects. I met Frank and Sal back in July 2015 at the Great Eastern Comic Convention in Morristown, New Jersey and we discussed the possibility of an interview for Indyfest Magazine. Today the possible is now.

IM: Which character or comic book began you love affair with the medium?

92aces7FM: I have read comics for as long as I can remember. My father used to read them on his commute home and then pass them off to me. The earliest comic I can remember was SUPER POWERS V2 Issue 3. It was this great comic drawn by Jack Kirby and had Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Doctor Fate battling the Easter Island Heads come to life. Something about that comic really appealed to me as a kid. Could be the awesome Kirby artwork or the cool colors or, maybe, just the idea that these three superheroes all teamed up. I just loved it!

SB: While my first comic was the original black and white TMNT comic (not sure what issue…), my love affair with comics started with Batman. I was a 90s kid and my favorite show was Batman: The Animated Series, but when I found out there was a Batman comic, with stories I’d never seen before, I just had to read them. I was also reading Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and Jim Lee’s X-Men.

IM: How long have you two known each other?

FM: Jeez… has to be like ten years now, I would say. Sal is married to my cousin, so he is family.

SB: Yup, ten years. When my wife told me her cousin was just as into comics as myself, I was relieved. Not too many people I know are into comics, so to find some common ground with my girlfriend’s (at the time) family, I knew it was meant to be.

IM: Can you tell us a little about your professional life in comics before you started Aces and Eights Press?

92aces1FM: There isn’t much to tell there. I worked at a few comic book stores as a teenager, but I don’t have many credits outside of what we are doing with Aces and Eights. Most of my background on the creative side of things pre-comics falls into film, working on a few indy film shorts, most of which never really went anywhere.

SB: Well, I’ve been writing my whole life. I actually went to school for TV production in order to learn how to write comics. Is that weird? I have a few little credits here and there in comics, nothing to brag about. I started with a webcomic back in early 2013, finished it, and then moved on to C U Next Tuesday.

IM: Sal Brucculeri: You started the C U Next Tuesday webcomic in 2013? Was this originally part of the Aces and Eights Press, or did that happen later on?

SB: Yeah, the amazing artist Ibai Canales and I linked up through DeviantArt. I loved his art and basically laid it all on the line to try to earn his partnership. About a week or so in, and we were partners in our little venture known as C U Next Tuesday. We started it at cunexttues.com and, from December of 2013 to today, we update one page a week every Tuesday. AA88 Press is how we collect and distribute pages into serialized comic for print, as well as on Comixology.

IM: When did you two decide to form Aces and Eights Press?

92aces2FM: Sal had already been working on C U Next Tuesday and a few other projects. I thought it was really cool that he was making comics and doing his thing under his own label, which was called Captive Comics at the time. I decided I wanted to throw my hat into the comic book business ring as well, and started working on The Devil You Know. I pitched it around and had a few people interested, but for the most part, at the time, most publishers believed the market was oversaturated with stories that revolved around Heaven or Hell.

Both of us had pretty much hit a brick wall submitting to the upper echelon of comic publishers, and we decided to come together and create our own label as a home for these projects, as well as any other projects that would come our way that couldn’t find a home. We both felt that there were a lot of quality books out there… GREAT stories that deserved to be told… that we were getting shafted because new creators in comics did not have the network established to reach editors and decision makers to get published at a higher level.

Basically, we just said, “#@&% IT, WE’LL DO IT OURSELVES!”

SB: I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve made a lot of contacts with editors, writers, artists, and comic industry business people, and they all gave me similar advice, “Send submissions in because you have to, but even if you don’t get accepted, publish your work on your own.” You would be surprised by the names that have told me to stick to small self-publishing and focus on creating a brand before worrying about making it to top tier publishers. If you want my honest opinion, I think the current comic publishers want established writers and artists with name recognition, their friend who make comics, or people they could take advantage of, who they don’t understand how business works. Lots of people forget that making comics is a business, because it’s fun.

AA88 Press exists because we want to make comics that we believe, in with creative teams of like-minded individuals, who are passionate about making comics and hoping to turn it into their primary source of income.

IM: How do you divide up the responsibilities?

92aces3FM: We both pretty much do everything. I would say, if anything, Sal does the technical stuff, like the website and setting up the ETSY store and lots of the stuff that has to do with computers. I am very much from the Commodore 64 generation and most of that stuff is like voodoo magic to me. I handle most of the financial side of stuff.

SB: Yeah, teaching Frank how to use WordPress could have been a season of Sunday morning gag strips! It was a lot of fun, though. In addition to being the moneyman, Frank also handles the Twitter page. He just understands Twitter and is really good at updating and networking through Twitter. Frank is also the editor-in-chief, so he once-overs a lot of the work. I actually bounce ideas off of him all the time. Any hour of the day, Frank will get a text from me about a storyline idea I have for one of my current projects, and I also pitch him all of my comic ideas. He has a really good feel for the comic market, so is a great resource I am constantly using. I’m also the creative director of AA88 Press, which is basically me getting a feel for the comics we want to create, as well as marketing concepts.

IM: Your backgrounds are in radio, TV and film. What are some advantages to this, when it comes to creating comics and telling stories?

FM: In many ways, being a creator is a lot like directing a film. You, sort of, are the guy in charge of everything, but you need an entire team to make a great product. Your artist is both the cinematographer and the actors, your colorist provides the lighting, your letterer is like a film editor, and it is up to the creator (or creators) to be the driving force that keep everything together, as well as deal with the post-production side of things (distribution, marketing). It is a tough job, managing a million balls in the air at the same time, and it reminds me of my time spent on film crews, making independent shorts, filming guerilla style in NYC. Sort of a controlled chaos that is intoxicating and addicting in its own beautiful way.

SB: Comics has always been the goal for me. If majoring in comics was a thing, I would have done it, but it isn’t so I majored in TV/Radio (Rider University didn’t separate the two) with a focus on TV production. But it was all about learning how to write scripts for me. Personally, I don’t think there are any advantages, other than learning how to write different characters that have different wants, needs, personalities and dialogue.

IM: Tell us about some of your titles and what makes them stand out in the world of independent comics.

92aces4FM: The Devil You Know tells the tale of Greydon Cross, an ordinary man who comes home one day to find his family murdered at the hands of the Devil.  Driven towards vengeance, Greydon cuts a deal with Heaven. In exchange for powers needed to exact his revenge, Greydon will travel to Hell and assassinate Satan. However, there is one catch: if he succeeds in destroying Satan, he must take up the mantle himself. The story is brought to life by the team of Kellik Iskandar (pencils), Nunun Nurjannah (inks), Victoria Pittman (colors and letters), and Sal Brucculeri (edits).

It’s a fun action adventure story, with an underlying message of humanity’s inner darkness and I wanted to explore the concept that, within us all, is a person capable of death and destruction on a truly terrifying scale, and that person is held in check only by conscious decisions to do good. But what happens when you take away the little part of your brain that tells you not to do something wrong? Where would someone who is already in Hell, draw the line between good and evil?

Themes like trust, war, sex, and friendship all take on a different meaning without a moral compass to guide us.  To me, the series boils down to one simple question: what does it take for a good man to be king in a world of bad people?

While the series explores the inner emotions of humanity, it does so in a dressing of what could best be described as a Middle-Earth type of world with familiar biblical tropes. The series moves fast, at an almost video game-like pace, as Greydon battles his way through an endless horde of demons.  

It is going to be a wild ride and I hope that people pick up issue one and check out what we are doing, and stick with us. The team has really gotten into this world and these characters and it is reflected in each subsequent issue we do. The series only gets better with every page, and I think that is something readers can appreciate. The best is yet to come.

SB: C U NEXT TUESDAY is written by myself with art by Ibai Canales, and is a horror/noir with a bit of comedy thrown in where applicable, following Detective Tuesday, aka the Bride of Frankenstein, solving cases in the monster community, which is filled with urban legends, monsters, and myths from around the world. When I started writing it I didn’t think there were enough strong female leads in comics, so I made one. I’m into tough characters that have something to say, both internally and externally. She has a shitty sidekick in Robert The Doll, a smart-ass cowardly doll begging for a friend. She also has her partner, Officer Pigstein, a humanoid Pig, who is basically a tough New York-like cop, ready to do what he has to do to get the job done.

BADAASSARY is a project written by me with art by Jason Rivera. Its a post-apocalyptic parody set in a post-Civil War 2 divided America, following a mercenary named BAD, whose demon mother and angel father live on his shoulders guiding him as his moral compass. BAD, along with his adopted mercenary father Merci, computer hacker Screen-Shot, and a little orphan girl named Sarah, travel around looking to make money by any means necessary… typically taking an ultra-violent, ridiculously comedic approach. We go balls to the walls with the script and art, constantly trying to push each other to make the most absurd things happen in the book.

I’m proud to say that both Ibai and Jason are not only my partners, but two of my best friends, in and out of comics. I talk to them every day and tell these guys everything that goes on with my life. I’m so lucky that comics put them in my life.

IM: Who are your biggest influences as far as writing and drawing comics and what are the most important lessons you’ve learned from them?

92aces5FM: Buffy the Vampire Slayer! It is a little dated now, and the special effects don’t always hold up, but the writing on that show was a collection of some of the most brilliant minds in entertainment. I loved the subtle infusion of humor with horror and the range to hit such powerful and real moments in one scene, and have a laugh out loud gag in the next. There is an episode in Season 4 called Hush, that just might be the best single episode of television ever. That style of writing, dark with a bit of humor, is most definitely my wheelhouse.

SB: I love comics. When I decided to really give comics my best shot, I started studying every comic I read, good or bad. Every comic has something it could teach an aspiring writer. Frank could tell you, I don’t just read comics on a weekly basis, I study them. I look at everything: panel layout, shot angles, dialogue, plots, character expressions and body language and, most importantly, pacing.

I believe my biggest influences in writing comics come from the comic writers I’ve read for years. Matt Fraction has always been my favorite comic writer, because of the types of stories he tells. His plots and dialogue, the way he blends all of these unique ideas into a story is just perfect, in my opinion… The way Scott Snyder paces his comics and gets you to stand in the shoes of the main characters is amazing. Brian Michael Bendis may have the snappiest dialogue in comics and the way he builds relationships is top-notch. Robert Kirkman makes you care about every single character he writes, and he just hits character beats spot-on every time. Mark Millar, Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Erik Larsen, Skottie Young, Grant Morrison, all of these guys are amazing writers who, in some way, have influenced me in wanting to be better. I’m also a huge Quentin Tarantino fan; his film scripts are genius.

As far as art goes, Skottie Young, Tony Moore, Wes Craig, Jason Latour, Erik Larsen, Howard Chaykin, Humberto Ramos, David Aja, Joc, Greg Capullo, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Frank Miller, and Todd McFarlane are all artists who just make me wish I could get to the level where I could work with any of them on a project some day.

IM: What do you look for in an artist before you decide to work with them?

FM: I look for people that are like-minded to my goals and are driven to make a great comic and showcase their talents. Someone that believes in the project and isn’t afraid to make changes and take some ownership of the project; a constant professional and on time with pages. There is nothing worse than an artist abandoning a project on page fourteen of a twenty-page comic.

SB: I agree with Frank, but I would like to add to that. I always ask artists what they want from the comics industry. If an artist is just looking for a paycheck, then I’m probably not going to work with them. I want to work with artists who are passionate about the project they are working on and want to say something creatively. Every issue I write, I want to be a better comic than the last, and I want to work with artists who feel the same. Working with someone who wants to build a name for themselves in the comic industry, to me, is better than working with someone who just wants to make money. An artist, while it will probably be through email, is someone you will spend a lot of time with as a writer, and I want that partnership to turn into a friendship because, in my opinion, you will always do better work when you are having fun messing around with your friends.

IM: What do find to be the most effective way of getting your work noticed by the comic-book buying public? Do you prefer conventions, podcasts, word of mouth, etc.?

FM: I have tried them all and none of them can really compare with the marketing push that the big publishers can make. Out of everything, social media has been a big help. Twitter especially.

SB: The most effective way of getting your book noticed? Get a multi-million dollar corporation to purchase your brand and make movies off your characters. Until then… conventions, podcasts, and social media will have to do! 🙂

IM: Do you prefer getting a table at a smaller comic conventions or larger shows? How often do you show your stuff at cons in a given year?

FM: We are still pretty new to the whole convention scene. I prefer larger shows to smaller ones. Sometimes you get a little lost in the crowd, but the visibility of the comic can be a huge boost. We attend a bunch of cons as fans, but only a few each year as exhibitors. Hopefully we up our convention presence in 2016.

SB: What he said…

IM: What’s the hardest thing about getting people to care about your work?

FM: It is really hard to get a non-comic person to read your book. I have family members and close friends that have never read my books, simply because they don’t read comics. That sort of storytelling doesn’t appeal to everyone and it is nearly impossible to break people from that ‘comic books are for kids’ mindset, especially if they never had an affinity for comics in the first place.

SB: there are over 90 pages of C U NEXT TUESDAY available for absolutely free at cunexttues.com. Each week, I see around 100 different viewers come to the site and read it. I’ve been doing this since the end of 2013, it’s 2015, and there are only around 100 people who care. In the grand scheme of the webcomic readers out there, that’s a small percentage. I think with just a huge oversaturation of available comics, both new and old, it is really hard to stand out and make people care. But I was given advice from a well-known 20+ year comic creator, and it’s this: “People won’t give a shit about your comics until people give a shit about your comics.” It didn’t make sense to me until I really thought about it, but he is absolutely right.

IM: Have you run a Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding campaigns? If so, what was the experience like? How time-consuming was it and how did you handle it while running your publishing company and dealing with real life?

FM: I will let Sal answer this one, after running lead on more than one successful Kickstarter project.

SB: I’ve had two successful Kickstarters and one failure. My failure was my first attempt, and it failed because I wasn’t ready. I was 24 years old, with an artist who was in it for the money, and I had no comics network. It was going to be my first comic ever; thank God it failed. As for my successes, the first was for Ninja Baseball Man, Volume 1, based off of the cult-classic video game Ninja Baseball Bat Man, created by Drew Maniscalco. My second and recent overly-successful Kickstarter was for the first issue of Soul Men, with artist Ibai Canales.

Kickstarter is a grind; it’s like having a third job. Think about it. I have a day job where I’m a software admin and shipping/parts sales manager, then I come home and write comics, and then I was also promoting a Kickstarter. Dude, it was brutal. I pre-promoted with some email address capturing website to run pre-marketing campaigns for the Kickstarter. Once we were live, I emailed every person individually, just so I would let them know it was me, personally emailing them and not a cued spam message. Then, I was doing around 2–3 podcasts a week, promoting. When I wasn’t doing any of that, I was tweeting, posting on Facebook, and jumping on and off of message boards talking to people who I’d interacted with before. That was all for around 2–3 hours a night, before bed. Did I mention I had a 20-month-old son while I was doing this? I didn’t run off of sleep, I ran off of coffee and chocolate.

IM: On average, what’s the breakdown on a crowdfunding campaign? Is it mostly friends and family, or new fans?

FM: Once again, I will defer to Sal for this question…

SB: I’m going to be honest, around one third of my funding came from friends and family. One third of my backers were fans of C U NEXT TUESDAY and the final third were random people from Kickstarter and Twitter. (Kickstarter runs schematics and I can see where people came from.)

IM: Tell us where we can find your work .

FM: You can check out all our projects at aa88press.com and follow us @aa88press on Twitter. You can also find the link to our books for sale on Comixology.

SB: cunexttues.com, aa88press.com, and comixology.com are where you can read a bunch of our stuff. We are on twitter at @aa88press, I also have my own twitter account @SalveyB and I have a little blog at salbrucculeri.com. Also, we both have columns at comiccrusaders.com!

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