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IM: If someone were to approach you asking for one piece of advice about comics, what would you tell them?
JCM: From a creative perspective—if you are looking to get into it to get rich (or to make a living), it is virtually impossible in the indy market. You have to do it, first and foremost, because you love to create and consider the monetary side as something that is nice, but not necessary. At the same time, you never know. Could be that one title that just seems to click on all cylinders and the next thing you know, everyone involved is EXTREMELY happy! A lottery ticket, if you will.
JCM: This is even tougher than the creative side. If you treat it as a hobby, you will get hobby results. If you want to build a brand… build a business… then you must be ready for the typical long hours, giving up time with the family and, yes, losing money in the beginning. Hey… just laying it out there.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers that we haven’t touched on yet?
JCM: Nothing other than that we want the whole comic book industry to go INSANE!
IM: Finally, how can folks keep up with you and your work?
JCM: Our website is www.InsaneComics.com. From there you can gain access to our storefront, as well as links to our social media platforms. On Facebook, we are Facebook.com/InsaneComicsDotCom, and on twitter we are @InsaneComics.
IM: Thanks so much!
My passion for self-publishing comic books was still deep within me during my 20s, but the problem I faced was finding artists to work with. I really enjoyed writing stories and wanted to leave the artwork to professionals. However, for years, I either met artists who were talented and had reasonable page rates, but didn’t have the work ethic to finish a 20-page comic book, or I would meet really professional artists who had the disciplined work ethic to make a full comic, but they wanted page rates far higher than I could afford. For years, I couldn’t find that elusive middle ground.
Interestingly enough, my cardboard craft Homemade Game Guru YouTube channel became that needed bridge that would help lead to the creation of Zelpha Comics! Through my YouTube channel, I met talented artists in both Canada and the US, who were looking for projects. Friendships developed with some of these artists, like George Leon and Dan Hammond. George Leon became my artist for the first one-shot issue of Paper Rock Scissors N’ Stuff Wars in 2012 and Dan Hammond teamed up with me to create The Adventures of Little Petalianne in 2016.
After attending my first comic book conventions as a vendor in 2016, I met even more amazing artists like Marie Jane Works and Greg Merritt. I decided the time was right to create my own company and go full press into publishing my numerous comic book concepts.
Zelpha Comics was named in honour of my grandmother Zelpha Watson. For decades, she was (and still is) a supportive positive voice in my life. Plus, I just LOVE her first name! My mother, Carol Davison, has also been incredibly supportive, ever since I moved in with her at age 19. With my collection of published titles growing, I plan to create a separate banner for my kids-comics under my mother’s name. Both my mother and grandmother are responsible for helping make Zelpha Comics a reality through their non-stop encouragement.
IM: What is Rock, Paper, Scissors Wars about? Ongoing or finite series or a one-shot?
LN: Paper Rock Scissors N’ Stuff Wars was first conceived in 2011, when I met a man visiting Canada from a small village in Mongolia. He played a Rock-Paper-Scissors hand battle against me. That interaction made me realize just how far-reaching and popular the hand game was. I decided it would be fun to put a story behind the hand battle and bring the ‘elements’ to life on their own distant planet. Paper, Rock, and Scissors would be sentient beings with their own kingdoms and societies, and with the same weaknesses as in the game.
To take things a step further, new elements were added to the battle. Plastic, Sand, and Water were created and also given their own kingdoms. Watching over everyone are the Anvil Gods, who know the secret to how life began on the planet.
Paper Rock Scissors N’ Stuff is meant to be crazy and weird, but with real life parallels about war, discrimination, forgiveness, and love. The artwork for each new issue will be provided by Greg Merritt—an amazing up-and-coming artist from Ontario, Canada. The series was intended to be a 100-page graphic novel, but I decided to instead come out with each issue in a five-part series. Based on how the five-issue limited series goes, an ongoing series will be created after.
Signed copies are available on Etsy.com: https://www.etsy.com/listing/505373977/
LN: On May 27th, 2012, my daughter Azura was born. The birth of my daughter inspired me to make a comic book series specifically to inspire young girls. I was in a very creative hyper-imagination mind-set in 2012. Being a fan of nature hikes and gardening, I ended up creating a mythical forest world filled with magic, odd creatures, and a group of super-powered flower sprites tasked with protecting everyone from the evil King thistle.
The flower sprites consist of five girls, each with their own unique powers and personalities. The youngest of which is Petalianne. She is a fun-loving and stubborn girl, who is very trusting and occasionally clumsy. Unlike her friends, she has no idea what her special power or ability is. The series centres on her growth and maturity into possibly the most powerful hero in the forest. The leader of the flower girls is Queen Azura—named after my little girl.
When it came time to decide how to publish the comic, I realized full-color comic books would be too expensive to make in small print runs. The decision was made to publish the Adventures of Little Petalianne as a ‘comic book children’s book’. A children’s book format allowed the content to be printed by print-on-demand operations at an affordable fixed cost per unit, regardless of quantity, and I could still write it as a comic, book complete with word bubbles and panel structure.
Two issues of the book series have been published and two more are planned for the summer.
Copies are available on Amazon’s international websites: https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Little-Petalianne-1/dp/0988014491
IM: What is your new series Harpie Vardith about?
LN: At Toronto Comic Con in 2016, my table was right beside a talented artist named Marie. As neighbors for the three-day convention, we eventually created a friendly dialogue and started discussing possible collaborations. Marie worked on some commissioned projects for Petalianne and my 150 Years of Awesome Canada trading card set. For Christmas 2016, she sent me a lovely Christmas card thanking me for the business contracts I provided and in that card was an image of one of her characters called Harpie Vardith. I instantly loved the idea and look of the character!
After a month of discussions and negotiations, I agreed to write the series and publish Harpie Vardith under Zelpha Comics. Marie owns the rights and the agreement is somewhat like what Image Comics is known for—creator-owned comics. Harpie Vardith is the first comic to be published by Zelpha Comics that is not my creation. The first issue will be launched (hopefully) at the Niagara Falls Comic Con in June, 2017.
Harpie Vardith will be a mature, full-color, ongoing fantasy series filled with demons, nymphs, monsters, and all sorts of weird creatures in a far off dimension. Vardith is one of four harpies who are neither good nor evil. They are powerful rare creatures other inhabitants on this world despise, yet need. Vardith is in a constant struggle to defend her Harpie clan, while being aware of the fact the other Harpies dislike her for various reasons. The Harpies are a ‘fractured’ group, united more by ‘species preservation’ than friendship or respect. Is Vardith meant to be a heroic figure or will she become a selfish bully to all those who need her? Her journey will be a complex one!
IM: Your site mentioned that you initially had problems finding reliable artists? Do you find this is a big problem for small press writers?
LN: If you are an aspiring comic book publisher who can both draw and write, you are golden! If, in an alternate universe, I could have continued to practice my art while receiving some encouragement during my teen years, my comic book career would have progressed earlier, for certain. I could have followed the path of my heroes like Dave Sim or Todd McFarlane. However, based on my reality and the need for talented artists to work with, there were challenges. Although publishing comic books has been a lifelong dream of mine, for almost two decades, I struggled to find the right artists to work with.
Simply finding someone who can draw isn’t the problem. It is finding the right artist for the genre of book you intend to publish, who is flexible with their page rate, and is committed to completing at least 20 pages consistently per issue. There also needs to be the right mental connection and a mutual respect.
But, to be fair to artists, there is a flipside to this equation too. As the writer and creator, you can’t expect sought-out artists to work for free or next to nothing. I understand the complaints artists have about creators who want artwork for free in lieu of potential future royalty payments IF the completed book sells. I have met many jaded artists who had negative past experiences with freebie work. That is a horrible deal I have never made to any artists I’ve spoken to. The comic book industry is a cut-throat business where even the most successful indy creators do not usually make any money until many issues into their series.
It took me a long time to find my current artists. Each one was met by chance—or call it ‘fate’—either online or at a comic-con. Sometimes you just have to wait until life puts you in touch with the right people.
IM: How did you find reliable ones?
LN: Time, maturity, YouTube, comic-cons, and plain luck resulted in the artist working relationships I now have. It took years of failed working relationships, plus the growth of my own maturity as a business owner, to understand exactly what I need from artists. I had to learn to say no to those artists who had the skills and great page rates, but lacked the dedication to finish an issue within the agreed-upon timeframe. As an example: I worked with one talented young artist who took four months to finish just five black-and-white inked pages of comic art I paid for in advance. She gave me excuses galore, but according to our contact, I needed the art in six weeks max! I loved her art, but her work ethic just wasn’t there.
YouTube was an amazing venue to meet fellow creative people who wanted to collaborate on new projects. Two of my artists approached me on there out of nowhere. They saw my cardboard art and offered their services for possible collaborations. After some back-and-forth conversations over a few months, actual friendships developed and collaborations led to working on comics together.
IM: You ran a successful Kickstarter for Rock, Paper, Scissors N’ Stuff Wars. How did you find the experience?
LN: Crowdfunding is a unique experience with so many variables that lead to success or failure. My Kickstarter was not my first crowdfunding experience. I tried three previous times, for completely different concepts, on Indiegogo and Gofundme and failed each time. Paper Rock Scissors N’ Stuff Wars was my first attempt with Kickstarter and, thankfully, the fourth time was the charm.
IM: Would you try another one in the future?
LN: I did start a new Kickstarter for my trading card concept, 150 Years of Awesome Canada. It was started on February 20th, but it will be cancelled before the end date. I realized from potential backer feedback that crowdfunding isn’t the best avenue to offer this product. I have also discovered a way to manufacture the concept and sell directly to consumers in a way I can afford.
Might do a future comic book-based Kickstarter in 2018. Time and demand will tell.
IM: Is there any advice you’d give someone considering crowdfunding a project?
LN: Oh God, yes! Firstly, do not begin a campaign thinking all your friends and family will automatically help you with financial pledges. One of the biggest eye-opening experiences during all my campaign attempts, regardless of the campaigns’ success or failure, was witnessing how few of my friends and family got financially involved. I was greatly disappointed by the lack of interest many people close to me had in my campaigns. You take it as a forgone conclusion that family and friends will pledge simply to help you succeed. That is not always the case. Mind you, some family and friends will step up in a big way and some will help share your campaign—but don’t be shocked when many don’t get involved for various reasons.
Secondly, expect many many ‘pats on the back’ and salutations of “good luck,” as forms of campaign participation. Before starting my second (failed) campaign on Indiegogo, I spoke to a successful crowdfunder who informed me, “If pats on the back were dollar bills, I would have the biggest crowdfunding campaign on earth!” To this day, many people are uncomfortable with giving credit card information online or becoming involved in a crowdfunding campaign. I constantly received positive well-wishes with each campaign and 99 per cent of the time, those who wished me “good luck” never got involved financially in my campaigns. I hate to make this sound so negative, but it’s a truth mainstream blogs will never tell you.
Start building your brand and mailing lists at least a month before starting your campaign. Three to four months ahead would be even better! The mistake I made in the past was starting a campaign and thinking I could then begin building interest immediately. You have to get people talking about your product/idea at least a month in advance, so that when the campaign begins, the pledges can start right away. Nothing looks worse than a campaign with no pledges in the first three days.
Create quality press releases and target media (television news, newspapers, blogs, radio, podcasts) you believe would find interest in your concept. Just one major news outlet or blog post can catapult your campaign to success overnight.
Especially with Kickstarter, you will get bombarded with messages from businesses promising to help you get backers and views. In just the first 24 hours of my new campaign, I received 14 emails from companies promising the moon and the stars—for a fee. Naturally, none of these services are free. Many of them are scams, while others are legitimate businesses, but there are no guarantees they can deliver what you THINK they will deliver. A small few probably can deliver on backer results, but the cost of their services requires a substantial big investment out of your pocket. Be very careful with these service offers and do your homework. I tried one of these ‘backer and promotion’ services during my Paper Rock Scissors N’ Stuff Kickstarter campaign. Even though they were a legit business and they relatively did what they said they would (listing my campaign on backer websites, press release distribution, etc.), my $200 investment netted only one pledge of $5. You don’t have to be an accountant to know that wasn’t a good return on investment.
If your campaign hasn’t reached at least 33 per cent of its goal by the 14-day mark, or the half way mark in a 30-day campaign, statistically your campaign will not reach its goal. Yes, there are miracle stories out there about campaigns that somehow get a massive surge near the end, but they are rare like gold-pressed latinum (Trekkie shout-out). There is nothing wrong with re-evaluating your campaign, cancelling a sinking ship and starting a new campaign.
I could go on and on with enough advice to fill a small book, but I want to end off by saying, just do the best you can with what you have. Most crowdfunding campaigns do end in failure and you can always start a new campaign whenever you want. Failure isn’t a bad thing and it provides great opportunities to learn about your idea/business, yourself, and your potential consumers. If your campaign fails, you will have people telling you that ‘more could have been done.’ That is an irrelevant point, because even in success, more could have been done. We all have only so much money to spend and so much time to use. Crowdfunding can feel like a second job at times. Do the best you can without bankrupting yourself and if you don’t succeed, take a pause, review what happened, talk to your backers, learn from those who share poignant advice, and grow from the experience. That is the best you can do!
Novels and Short stories
IM: What is Hi, My Name is Karma about?
LN: Back in 2012, I went through a fun creative time I like to refer to as my ‘hyper imagination’ period. My daughter was born in May and life was moving along with such positivity. My imagination was going wild with ideas and I began to write a collection of different stories. Hi, My Name is Karma was my first short story attempt and the first work of dark fiction I put up on Amazon’s Kindle.
The concept of Hi, My Name is Karma originated from the ongoing real-life effects of the lingering 2008 American financial crisis. The concept played off of the broken American middle-class dream, the ideas of religious dogma, and the growing class warfare during that time. The story questions the boundaries of what people are willing to do to achieve a better life at the detriment of others.
The main character is a supernatural manifestation of ‘Karma’ in a childlike human form. She belongs to a group of children searching for a demon who is harvesting the souls of street kids for unknown reasons. The first book was meant to be part of a larger series of short stories centring on each of the children and the child smugglers they encounter. My desire is to continue the story as a comic book series in 2018.
The e-book is available on Amazon’s international websites: https://www.amazon.com/Hi-My-Name-Karma-Nuwame-ebook/dp/B00AH0ET78/
IM: What is NO! IS THE WORST SHE CAN SAY? LOL…THAT IS WHAT YOU THINK About?
LN: This book was my very first self-published work during my hyper-imagination year. No! Is the Worst She Can Say started off as a nod to my insanely awkward teen years as a comic book geek ‘nice guy’ who endured some embarrassing rejections from girls I wanted to date. The final book shared, not only my personal stories, but also the many entertaining stories I heard from men I previously worked with during numerous temp jobs in my 20s.
We have all heard the saying, “NO is the worst thing a woman can say or do,” in regards to picking up women. To this very day, I see this saying as the biggest falsehood of the dating world. This false saying, and the truth about how rejections shape our self-worth and perceptions of women, are the greatest secrets men keep to themselves to avoid ridicule and embarrassment in a society that dictates we be macho 24/7 and never concede defeat. In actuality, “No” is by far the NICEST rejection a woman can provide to a gentleman. This book provides examples of the extreme other side of the rejection spectrum! Ever imagine a woman spitting in your face for just saying “hello”? Did you think it was possible for one girl to ruin your entire vacation because she saw you as a toy to torment for her amusement? How about dealing with out-of-control teenage girls or dealing with a stalker who doesn’t want to date you—but continues to stalk you?
“NO” IS THE WORST SHE CAN SAY? LOL…THAT IS WHAT YOU THINK is NOT about insulting or bashing women! Nor is it about telling men what to do or how to score. Instead, it’s an open platform to every average guy out there who has stayed quiet about their embarrassing and disturbing rejection experiences. The hope is that this book will let men know they are not alone. Solace can be found when men actually open up about the realities of finding love, while exploring the nonsense we all have to put up with now and then.
The e-book is available on Amazon’s international websites: https://www.amazon.com/Worst-She-Thats-What-Think/dp/1481033816/
IM: What is Smoking a J with Jesus?
LN: Religion is a tricky and contentious subject for most people. I grew up in the Catholic Church during most of my childhood, and by high school, I began to question everything. By college, I completely distanced myself from the church, yet I still found fascination in the fantastical stories and dogma of the faith. In 2013, using a ridiculous pen name and publishing under a friend’s upstart publishing company, I wrote a fictional adventure called Smoking a J with Jesus. And yes, I am an unashamed occasional smoker of marijuana.
Smoking a J with Jesus is meant to be both humorous and enlightening with a dash of teenaged immaturity and vulgarity in its exploration of religious dogma. New unheard-of biblical revelations are expressed through a simple story about a confused, young, foul-mouthed, teenaged boy lost in a park. The teenaged protagonist finds himself in a lush park setting, inhabited by faceless drone-like people and religious figures who take advantage of the faceless hoard. Upon seeing the abuse and questioning his belief in a higher power, the confused teen is confronted by Jesus. Jesus helps him understand the untold secrets of creation and God, by way of a jaunt throughout history.
Utilizing a special strain of marijuana called Quadruple-H (Holy Hosanna Heavenly Herb blessed by Buddha’s flatulence), Jesus reveals debatable, logical, insane, and downright controversial ideas about the life and extinction of the dinosaurs, the fallacy of Satan, the dichotomy between free will and God’s will, the true power of human greed, animal souls, the harsh reality of dying on the cross, proof of aliens, the normality of the Pope, the concept of heaven, and the greatest mystery of all—why God no longer interferes in the lives of people as he once did in Old Testament.
Smoking a J with Jesus is about asking uncomfortable questions in order to create a stronger bridge towards God—even if that bridge is lined with weed and bizarre theories meant to make you ask questions you were always afraid to ask!
The e-book is available on Amazon’s international websites: https://www.amazon.com/Smoking-Jesus-theories-religion-universe/dp/1484092929/
IM: Tell us more about the “150 Years of Awesome Canada” trading card set.
LN: 150 Years of Awesome Canada is my love note to the country that has given me so much since my birth in Toronto during the winter of 1977. It is my gift to fellow Canadians and those abroad who feel as deeply as I do for Canada.
150 Years of Awesome Canada is a unique combination of a multiple-set trading card series and large-format coffee table book. This coil-bound creation contains numerous trading cards featuring Canada’s history, landmarks, all provinces and territories, wildlife, social achievements, indigenous peoples, and inventions. Each glossy card-stock page contains eight to twelve cards with cut-lines readers can use to individually cut out any card desired.
The contents within 150 Years of Awesome Canada go beyond regurgitating just simple historical facts and generalized concepts about Canada. The book contains various ‘subsets’ of five to eight cards that tackle intriguing topics, such as the growth of gay rights, free trade, NATO, universal healthcare, major disasters, the growth of Canadian cities, Canada’s prime ministers, women of distinction, Canada at war, and even Canadians that have heavily influenced the billion-dollar North American comic book industry. It should be noted that comic book legend Dave Sim (Cerebus the Aardvark) is featured and is a supporter of the concept.
150 to 1,500 copies are planned and the cards will not be re-printed after 2017. I want this set to be a one-time cherished collectible for those who purchase it. More information can be found at: http://www.zelphacomics.com.
IM: What is your background?
LN: I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My father is from an African country called Togo and my mother is from Jamaica. I’ve lived in Canada my entire life. The bulk of my family lives in The United States.
IM: Will you be going to any shows/conventions?
LN: Oh yes! I love the comic book convention circuit and this year, I will be at Canadian comic book conventions in Toronto, Niagara Falls, London, and Hamilton. In the United States, I will be attending comic cons in Miami (FL), Ann Arbor (MI) and probably Buffalo (NY). I’m still finalizing the shows to attend.
IM: How do you market your work?
LN: Mostly through YouTube, Facebook, at the comic book conventions I attend, and through targeted press releases. As a business owner with an extremely tight budget, I am extremely picky with how I spread the word on any new initiative created. Comic book blogs are also a great way to spread the word on new comic book titles.
IM: Where do you sell your products?
LN: Beyond comic book conventions, I love websites like eBay, Amazon, Kijiji, and Etsy. Some sales come directly from my zelphacomics.com website.
I have no interest in large ‘big box’ brick-and-mortar stores. I will eventually look for comic book distribution to ‘mom and pop’/independent retailers, but that is part of my 2018 long-term plan.
IM: How important do you think it is for creators to have their work in bricks-and-mortar comic book shops, as well as online?
LN: The reality of the comic book business is different than that of most industries. Regardless whether you are a comic book publisher or just a fan, we all know Diamond Distribution is the monopoly distributor to the specialty comic book retail market. As a publisher, you can approach individual comic book stores, but this is a personal decision based on how many stores you can convince to carry your comic, where they will place your comic on the shelves, and how much you can charge per book to make it worthwhile.
Personally, I do not sell to individual comic book stores—although I know the owners of many of them— because I do not print in high enough quantities to provide a discount that will result in both my company and the retailer making money. I also know the competition for shelf space is insane and Marvel, DC, Image, and the like have priority. Selling at comic book conventions in artist alley spaces nets a better return and helps build a fan base.
With that being said, the goal of any small publisher is to eventually get into Diamond’s Previews catalogue. That catalogue is what retailer stores worldwide use to order new comics. If you want to grow your business into a company that publishes on a monthly or bi-monthly schedule and with global sales, then becoming a Diamond vendor should be the long term goal. It is for Zelpha Comics!
But for now, selling at comic book conventions and selling online works and does the trick.
IM: Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own comic?
LN: If you are passionate about publishing your own comic book series or graphic novel, you have a well thought-out story, and you have the artist/artwork to compliment the narrative— go for it! I wasted so much time dreaming of publishing comics instead of just doing it. Fear of failure will always lead to a fear of starting.
As a business, do create a financial plan and be aware of how much it costs to print a book versus how much you can sell each copy for. I have seen indy publishers at comic conventions overcharge for their comics to the point they make little sales and lose money over the course of a weekend. I’ve also heard of indy publishers printing 5000 copies of their first-ever book and not being able to sell that many copies.
What is my ultimate advice to aspiring publishers? Publish one bi-monthly comic with B&W internal artwork and print no more than 1000 copies (500 would be even better). I mention B&W artwork because it is far less expensive to print than color. You can get away with charging $5 per issue at conventions and you will make money! Go to as many quality comic book conventions as you can and once you sell at least half your inventory, you know it is time to start on issue #2.
Also, build a database of customers by asking for their emails. Hand out business cards or postcards. Create a website and/or blog about your project. The main thing is keeping your dream going until the dream becomes your reality!
IM: What future plans do you have?
LN: Growing Zelpha Comics into a respected comic book publisher with at least four ongoing titles by 2018 is the main plan. My desire is to attend ten comic book conventions per year— both in Canada and the United States— and, by late 2018, secure Zelpha Comics’ spot in Diamond’s Previews catalogue. Securing advertisers to work with Zelpha Comics is also in the cards once circulation increases. Ad revenue is always a good thing for the bottom line.
IM: Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?
LN: Like many of my nerdy brothers and sisters out there, especially of my generation ‘X’, my origin story began from a socially-awkward adolescence. Depression, loneliness, strained family relationships— that stuff was my cup of tea for years. Through those years, creativity and comic books were always a constant positive. My escape from a past reality… which would eventually become my current reality!
To all of my fellow comic book and creative souls out there, let your imagination guide you towards your goals. Find strength from those people who believe in you and make sure YOU are your biggest fan. This might come off as corny or simplistic advice, but as someone who has lived it, I know creativity is the safest pill available to save the mind from dark places.
I think I have said enough now and, hopefully, readers have found my journey interesting. Pass by Zelphacomics.com to learn more or to say hi. I love comic books and I hope the industry continues to grow strong! It took a LONG time for comic books to get the respect the medium has always deserved and only through new innovative stories from indy titles will the industry continue to mature. All the best to my fellow comic book and crafting fanboys and fangirls worldwide!