Category Archives: 82

Built to Rock

Built To Rock01 RHR COVER The Mission KABLAM2
A Talk with Jim Tramontana

By Ellen Fleischer

Red Hot Rebellion exploded on the Ohio music scene in 2010 and has been going strong ever since. From playing clubs and bars to having their music featured on web and TV soundtracks, they’ve been rocking it hard and playing for keeps. In January, RHR released their latest album, The Mission, together with a 60-page comic book. This month, Indyfest sat down with base player Jim Tramontana to talk about RHR—how they got to this point, what they’re doing now, and what they’ll do next.

IM: Who, or what, is Red Hot Rebellion?
JT: RHR is a band that also makes comics. Here is our bio:
“They don’t take it easy. They don’t take it too seriously. And they sure as hell aren’t taking it one day at a time. Dayton, Ohio’s Red Hot Rebellion have been trailblazing their kerosene-soaked, hard-hitting party soundtrack since 2010 and they honestly couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether you think it’s punk-ish metal or metal-ish punk, as long as you’re ready to put on your 64-hole dancing boots and kick holes in the walls of whatever venue they deign to destroy in your town. Red Hot Rebellion brings a noise that’s as equally indebted to the Ramones and the Dwarves as it is to anarchic 80s metal acts like Motorhead and M.O.D. Up until now, Red Hot Rebellion has been lurking underground like the dudes from C.H.U.D. Now the manhole covers are coming off and the party is spilling out into the streets. You’ve been warned”.

IM: What are your back-grounds?
JT: All three of us have been playing in bands since our early teens. We’ve toured the planet in filthy vans and rocked dive bars and listening rooms in various projects throughout that time.

IM: How did the band come together?
JT: We met how all people meet these days: Craigslist. I wanted to do a band that was kind of straight up rock ‘n’ roll with punk and metal intensity. I forget exactly what I posted, but it was enough to get Doug’s attention. We met at the Dayton Guitar Center—to make sure neither one of us was an ax murderer, we opted for a public place—and jammed out in the room where they keep the good guitars. After about three seconds, I knew Doug was the right guitar player! I play guitar too, but I am nowhere as good as Doug, so I said I’ll play bass and sing. We went through two deadbeat drummers until we went back to Craigslist and found Andris. He was so intense and awesome that we quickly nicknamed him “Andris Rebellion”— the band is kind of named after him. I wanted to call the band “Mustache Supernova,” but I was overruled. We played our first show at the now-defunct Blue Rock Tavern in Cincinnati on January 23, 2010.Red-HotRebellion-band-2015

IM: From what source(s) do you draw inspiration? What turned you on to rock in the first place? Are there any particular bands/singers that were particularly influential?
JT: Rock ‘n’ roll is the lifeblood in our veins. It’s why we get up in the morning and why we keep on truckin’ every day.
Music Influences: Motorhead, Ramones, Iron Maiden, Supersuckers, Social Distortion, Rancid, Clutch, Dead Boys, Dwarves, Robert Johnson, Judas Priest, BB King, Albert King, the King (Elvis Presley), Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Devo, and Taylor Swift.
Cultural Influences: comic books, cartoons, sci-fi, horror, Mexican restaurants and petting zoos.

IM: Are there any titles in particular that stand out for you?
JT: Star Trek, everything Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse Comics, The Tick, TMNT, Looney Toons, Metalocalypse, Venture Bros, Robot Chicken, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Firefly, Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, Game of Thrones, Professional Bull Riding.

IM: Where might we have heard your music before? How did you get your sound noticed?
JT: I have a small licensing and publishing company called Solid Arts and Science. (It is also the record label for Red Hot Rebellion.) Over the years, I’ve built up a list of music supervisors that use high-energy rock for their TV shows. Red Hot Rebellion’s music has been featured in numerous TV shows and web series, including: Chozen (TV), Nitro Circus (TV), Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory (TV), RealWorld/Road Rules Challenge (TV), Ridiculousness (TV), Good Vibes (TV), The Challenge (TV), Adam the Woo (web), Blank TV (web), ESPN (web), and Monster Energy Drink (web).

RHR The Mission Page 03 KABLAM2IM: Can you share some anecdotes about the band? Things that worked, things that didn’t, things you wish you’d known before/advice you wish you’d taken?
JT: We do just about everything ourselves, so it’s always a hit-or-miss proposition. We’ve tried farming some things out to others, spent a little too much money on it, and learned that it’s something we could do ourselves. For instance, when our last EP came out, we spent $1500 on a PR campaign that I could have easily done myself. So, now I do. I formed a small PR/Publicity firm called Dark Matter Publicity.

IM: Tell us a bit about your other albums?
JT: Our debut self-titled album came out in 2012. We released it ourselves on clear, red vinyl, CD, and digital download. It comes with a 10-page comic book, where each song on the album is a page in the book. It was mixed and mastered by punk legend Stephen Egerton of The Descendents.
Last year, we released a 5-song EP called Melt the Sky, and a 16-page comic book that came with a 4-song digital download called Black Magic Dynamite.

IM: And now, you’re not only launching the Mission album, but you’ve also released The Mission comic book! How did you decide to go that route?RHR The Mission Page 13 KABLAM2
JT: I’ve always loved the idea of a concept album, an album that tells a story. Some of my favorites being Sgt. Pepper (Beatles), Operation: Mindcrime (Queensryche), and The Downward Spiral (Nine Inch Nails).
With our first album, I decided it was telling a story as an afterthought. We recorded all the songs and then I wrote a story that tied it all together. We released it as a one-page-per-song comic book that came with the LP.
For The Mission, I wanted to go big time. We frequently lament about how popular music is in terrible shape. Which led me to think, ‘What if aliens have been listening to our music and they’re fans, but now we’re disappointing them because our music has become so weak and boring? What if the only way Earth is going to become part of a great community of advanced galactic cultures is by having a thriving Rock scene? And we’re blowing it. What if the aliens decide to set us back on the right path by sending a band to Earth to show humanity how to ROCK again?’ So… that’s us. We’re the aliens. We’re that band. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.
We’re all comic book fans and, since we put out a 10-page comic with our first album, we’d started doing a few comic book conventions. People responded really well to the idea of an album and comic being two sides of the same coin, so I wanted to create something bigger and better for the second album.
The comic and the album versions of The Mission both tell the same story, but from slightly different perspectives. With the comic, you are a third-person observer of events, while the album is more from the perspective of the band itself.
It’s not ‘Pages 1–5 is song one; Pages 6–10 is song two;’ it’s a little more fluid. There are times when exact lyrics show up as dialogue in the comic book, and there are other times when a song is a reaction to an event or character(s) in the story. They can be read/listened to separately, but each enhances the other. So, you’ll get the best, most complete experience by taking them both in. But it’s totally up to the listener/reader. It’s their experience and how they choose to get it in their brain is up to them—which is why I also created 13 lyric videos, one for each song, using art from the book, live footage of us, and animated GIFs.
Since YouTube is the biggest music discovery platform out there, I wanted something else different and unique to tell the story. It’s a complete 360 degree multimedia experience!

IM: Tell us a bit about the creative team behind the comic. Who are they? How did you all hook up?
The comic book interior was illustrated by Chris Martin of Studio Akumakaze, a comic book studio here in Dayton. We met them through a mutual friend, photographer Nikki Forte. Studio Akumakaze took my crazy story outline and turned it into the beautiful 60-page mammoth that it is today. I originally wanted a 28-page comic, but the story I wrote could not be contained in a mere 28 pages! Chris Martin interpreted it and sketched it out, page by page, until it clocked in at a whopping 47 pages (the last 13 pages of the book are the album liner notes). We did a Kickstarter back in February of 2014, which helped fund the art and production costs (for both the album and the comic).
The cover was illustrated by Rus Wooton, who is, like, the number two comic book letterer in the industry. Ever head of Walking Dead? Yeah. He letters that comic book. Dude is a badass.
The liner notes in the back of the comic were illustrated by Ben Lande, an amazing artist from Atlanta. I am working on a horror comic with him now that is set in the mid 1990s and has lots of supernatural mystery, action, and 90s music references.

RHR The Mission Page 34 KABLAM2IM: Were there any challenges that came up in creating the comic (expected or otherwise?)
JT: We went through four different colorists before we found Lexie Holliday. The others were too busy, I guess— or couldn’t handle the work load. It’s a biiiiiig comic.

IM: Is this something that you can see continuing? (Either The Mission #2 or more comic book tie-ins for future albums?)
JT: Yes. I can safely say we’ve been bitten by the comic bug. We are currently brainstorming ideas for another RHR comic book and I’m working on two or three other secret comic projects. Once they get nailed down, I will definitely share! Now, whether or not the next RHR album has a comic-album tie-in, I’m not sure… but there will definitely be more comic-related stuff in our future!

IM: What advice would you have for someone new to the indy scene, be it in music or comics?
JT: Make stuff! Create! Write! Draw! Play! The only way to get better is to do it and the only way to produce anything is to do it yourself. Don’t wait to be “discovered”—get out there. Play shows, attend conventions, meet other musicians, bands, creators, etc. Focus on your craft and keep improving.

IM: Where does Red Hot Rebellion go from here?
JT: We are doing one big show or one comic convention per month for the foreseeable future, until the phone calls come in from the Universal Music Group and Marvel Comics. We are also going to be recording a split with Duderus and Legbone in about a month, which should be out on FM Records by summer. We actually sell a fair amount of records in Europe, so mayyyyybe a tour over there at some point.

IM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know that we haven’t touched on yet?
JT: We’re all super nice and like to chitty chat. Come say HI at a rock show or a convention some time!







Leave them Howling

Leave Them HowlingVavara3
An Interview with Vin Varvara

By Mark Turner

Horror in comics is a stylistic story telling structure that is quite often difficult to master. For those who practice the craft, a love of the medium and a passion for things that go “bump” in the night is a must. Case in point: Vin Varvara and his graphic novel The Howler, the story of a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, on the run from the law and the beast that lurks within. A throwback to classic comic tales from the pages of DC Comics’ Swamp Thing and Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk, The Howler captures the spirit of the late night creature feature from a bygone era.
Vin Varvara, writer of the graphic novel The Howler took time out of a busy schedule to share a bit about his career, love of monster mash-ups, comics, and the monster that lurks within The Howler.

IM: What is your professional background/training? How did you get into comics?

VV: Funny thing about that, I actually never really had any professional training or came from a professional type of background. I never went to art school or took specialized writing classes for comic books. Everything I have done in comics so far just came from a combination of me trying and learning through trial and error. I also take some time to read interviews from other comic creators, and talk to other creators that are just starting out – like myself – about their experiences working in this industry.
Vavara howler face2I got involved in comics when I was very young. I remember my first exposure to superheroes didn’t even come from comics! I used to watch reruns of the old Incredible Hulk TV show with Bill Bixby, the old 60s Batman with Adam West, and the Spider-Man cartoons and his appearances on the Electric Company. It wasn’t until later, when I saw a Spider-Man comic on the old spinner racks of my local grocery store, that I had to have it. Funny thing, looking back on it, that Spider-Man comic didn’t even have Spidey on the cover. It was a menacing shot of the Vulture, of all characters, in these really crazy colors, and menacing pose. For some reason that I just can’t explain, the book just stood out to me. I read through the book a bunch of times that day and I was instantly hooked, wanting to read more and more! Yeah, I was definitely down the rabbit hole at that point.

IM: How did Howler come to be?

VV: I’ve always chalked up Howler’s creation to one of those stories you hear about where you are working on a different project and you get a welcome unexpected result. Howler’s creation started when I was approached by Jemir Johnson (creator/writer of the Jay Nova series of graphic novels), who had told me he and Matt Wilbekin (creator/artist of Vigilance) were putting together a small press publishing company (that would eventually become Creative Elamentz Studios). I was asked if I wanted to be a part of it. It took me all of about five seconds to think about it and say yes! So, I got down to work on creating a character that I would bring to Creative Elamentz. As I was sitting at the computer, figuring out this one character (who I called Retribution)’s bio, abilities, allies, enemies, etc…, I got to the allies section. I had one of those stray thoughts about how cool would it be if there was a werewolf character in the mix of this story. So, in the Retribution character’s bio pack I had jotted down under allies, literally something along the lines of “something—something—werewolf”. Then it happened. I’ve read stories from other authors about how their characters would just come to life and tell the author their story. Well, this happened to me, once I began to give this werewolf character—that would eventually become the Howler—some thought. As corny as this may sound, this werewolf came off the page and basically guided me in the storytelling. So, Retribution was put off to the side for the time being, and this werewolf got my full attention! After a few feverish hours of sitting at the computer, I became familiar with the story of Chris Stevens, the protagonist of our story, as he is cursed with being a werewolf. Chris, who now has to try to find a cure for his condition while on the run as a wanted fugitive, because the authorities have accused him for the murder of his family. Even with all that drama alone, you have the makings of a powerful story, but then, you add in, while on his journey to find a cure, Chris comes across creatures that are based in the supernatural/ mythology. So now, also added to the story, are old fashioned monster-versus-monster fights. Put all of these elements together and you have the ingredients of a great story!

howler fc 6-22-14IM: Stylistically, the storytelling in Howler is a bit of a throwback to such titles as Swamp Thing and The Incredible Hulk from the 70s, in that it has a strong horror/creature feature-type vein running through the work. What would you say influenced the tone of Howler?

VV: Thanks for noticing the style for The Howler, Mark. That was what I was aiming for. The classic Len Wein and Alan Moore Swamp Thing stories are just great reads, as well as the Hulk comics from the early 80s. Howler’s style was also heavily based in the old Universal Monster movies of the 30s and 40s. I remember watching those movies and just enjoying them. I’m sure they heavily influenced me on a subconscious level when it came to developing the Howler. Looking back and ahead when it comes to the Howler, I’ve always kind of likened the beats of the story to “The Fugitive meets The Wolfman”.

IM: What do you think Howler brings to the genre that other horror/hero titles lack?

VV: I’d like to think that the Howler is a return to those big fun classic monster-versus-monster fights that you used to see in the older Marvel horror comics, back in the 70s and early 80s, like Ghost Rider, Tomb of Dracula, and of course, Werewolf By Night. But I also would like to think that Howler, in regards to this graphic novel and future stories, will be able to bring old-style suspense and classic horror that readers may have checked out in the older EC comics titles, like Tales from the Crypt. I guess, to really answer your question, Mark, I’d like to think that Howler offers a throwback to old-school horror, while still being grounded with contemporary sensibilities.

IM: Did you grow up reading comics? What were some of your favorite titles? Any influences that inspired you to create?

VV: Oh, absolutely. I’ve been reading comics since I was eight years old! I remember, when I first started reading comics, I was taken aback by all these different titles that were on the spinner racks of my local grocery stores. (I didn’t come across comic shops until a few years later.) But I always had a few favorites that I had to read every month, like Bill Mantlo’s run on the Incredible Hulk and John Byrne’s run on the Fantastic Four. The one favorite title where I had to have every issue, because I was so hooked by this book—and it had a heavy influence on my creativity—was Chris Claremont’s amazing run on the Uncanny X-Men. Now, I can probably go on and on about Chris Claremont’s run on the X-Men, which would bore your readers. So, all I’m going to say is that as a writer, I truly appreciated what Mr. Claremont did with this group of misunderstood heroes. By injecting personalities and fleshing out each of the X-Men, it got to the point that you, the reader, were fully invested in the X-Men. You found a way to identify with one or all of them, because even though they were fictional characters, it read like real people dealing with real everyday problems (things such as acceptance in a society that doesn’t understand or approve of those that are different). These are problems that are still relevant today. The stories were so rich in these characterizations that you had to keep coming back every month, because you cared. Mr. Claremont made you care about the fates of fictional characters. That is an incredible feat for any writer to accomplish, and it’s something that I aspire to achieve in my writing too. Not only do I want people to read and enjoy the Howler, but I really want them to have the same type of feelings for Chris Stevens and Howler’s struggles, just as I had I felt for the X-Men. I’ll also just want to add that Mr. Claremont showed me that you can indeed write a strong female lead character, and not every female character in comic stories needs to be the damsel in distress.

IM: Where did the idea for Howler come from? How did the creative team come together?

VV: Going back to the creation of the Howler, I always found the myth of werewolves appealing and was captured by their stories, whether it was “The Wolfman,” “Werewolf By Night,” or the first “Howling” movie. I always liked the concept of werewolves and they were part of my subconscious for years. So, again, when I was working on Retribution for Creative Elamentz, I just saw an opportunity to take a shot to explore the werewolf mythos.
The creative team came together pretty quickly, if I remember correctly. After I had written a couple of the stories that are featured in the Howler graphic novel, I knew that I had to find an artist to bring these stories to life, because I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life! So, I had put a want ad in the old Comics Buyer’s Guide magazine, and this talented artist by the name of Bill Young had answered my ad and sent me his submission samples. Now, Bill sent a few samples, some superhero, some sci-fi, but the one submission that he included, without any prompting from me, was this incredible painting of a werewolf. How could I not offer Bill the job after seeing that submission piece? After a couple of email exchanges with Bill, he was on board and quickly began working on the stories that I had already written, while also tackling the other Howler stories that I had finished writing, that are part of the Howler graphic novel.howler bc 6-22-14

IM: With the graphic novel, the reader can clearly see a progression in the art style as the story progresses. Would you say that your storytelling abilities underwent a similar evolution over time, as the project was worked on? If so, in what way would you say your writing changed?

VV: Yeah, absolutely. As I was writing the different stories that comprise this Howler graphic novel, I did notice that my writing style changed. I always attributed the change in writing style to me becoming more and more familiar with the characters, and being totally drawn into Howler’s world.

IM: When writing, do you tend to work full script or Marvel style? How did this eventually affect the end product of Howler? What challenges did working in that style present to the creative team? How did they overcome them?

VV: When I write a story, I always write in full script format and I rarely deviate from that format. When I do get the finished artwork back, I may tweak dialogue for a couple panels, depending on how the artwork in that specific panel is laid out. But yeah, I write full scripts. I just feel more comfortable getting the whole story out at once, beat for beat, as opposed to doing it in a piecemeal fashion.
Let me tell you what a talented artist Bill Young is, and what a pleasure it was to collaborate with him on this graphic novel. When I sent Bill the scripts for the Howler stories that would comprise this graphic novel, he just rolled up his sleeves and dove in. There were times where, in the script, I may not have been as descriptive as to I had envisioned how a panel should be, but Bill would nail the panel exactly as I wanted it. It’s like he was a mind reader! All jokes aside, though, what you see in the pages of The Howler is the direct result of stories written in full script format, and drawn by a talented artist, who was able to take my thoughts, bringing them to the comic book page.

IM: The graphic novel represents just the beginning of the adventure. Are there plans to pick up the story in another GN, or a series? If so, do you have an idea of when the next installment will be making its debut?

VV: As much as I would love to do a Howler monthly comic series, it is not feasible for me at this moment. Perhaps someday, depending on how sales go, and if Howler catches on with the readers (fingers crossed), I could revisit my stance on a monthly series. But right now, I’m happy with having Howler come out in original graphic novels. Besides, I’m sure the readers would like to get the whole story in one book, rather than having to track down multiple monthly issues.
But, to get back on track, I’d like to take this opportunity to let you and your readers know that, yes, there is a sequel for the Howler already written. This new story will also be a graphic novel. As for when the new story will be released, I cannot say at the moment. Unfortunately, Bill Young has moved on to other projects and is unable to keep up art duties with the Howler. As much as I will miss collaborating with Bill, I understand his need to move on to other projects and wish him nothing but the best. So, I’m going to take as much time as I need in finding someone who is talented enough to take up the art chores and bring Howler to life.

IM: As a writer, would you say that you practice your craft daily? What kinds of habits do you practice to keep you skills sharp and ensure you have a professional work ethic?

VV: I do practice my craft in some fashion on an almost daily basis. Whether I’m plotting stories, writing down some stray outlines for stories, working on character bios for new characters, or just writing a script, I’m working on my craft as a writer. I admit, some days, I find it harder than others. On those days, you find you have to work even harder. It’s always easy to write when the ideas are just flowing out of you. Sometimes, the most rewarding ideas are the ones that you have to coax out of you through maximum effort. But, even when I’m not writing stories, I’m always thinking of story plots.

IM: Aside from any future plans for Howler, are there any other genres that you would like to explore?

VV: Well, I am pretty comfortable within the horror genre and love exploring that world and all the different mythologies that encompass the genre. But it’s also good to step out of your comfort zone. I wouldn’t want to be pigeon-held to one specific genre. I’d like to explore other genres, like the superhero genre, and I’d love to try to create one of those epic sci-fi space operas, similar to Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica.

IM: For you, what would you say is the most rewarding aspect of working in the comics industry and what would you say is the most challenging?

VV: Hands down, the most rewarding aspect of this whole process is watching the step-by-step process of how a passing stray thought takes on a life of its own; going from script to art to finished product. It’s the watching the characters that you have created being brought to life! I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching this process happen. It’s definitely worth all the hard work that is put in to get the graphic novel finished.
For me, the most challenging part of working in this industry is the whole marketing, advertising, and trying to get the book noticed. As much work as it took in creating the characters, the stories, and the graphic novel itself, it was fun work. When it comes to actually driving people to the book, I find it to be the hardest part of this process. I hope that this interview is able to direct people to, where they can purchase the Howler, a 165-page graphic novel written by Vin Varvara with art by Bill Young, in either paperback or Kindle formats, for under $10.00! See what I did there?

Get it Online:
Interviewer: Mark Turner


Universal Appeal

Universal Appeal

An Interview with Brandon Rhiness
By Steven Pennella

Brandon Rhiness, a citizen of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is a Master of the Higher Universe. Brandon—along with his friend Adam Storoschuk—self-publishes a comic book line under the Higher Universe Comics label. They have several titles available, including Misfits, Stargirl, and Ghoul Squad. Brandon writes the comics and has hired artists from all over the world to work on his titles and projects. His universe is self-financed. Brandon pays to create the Higher Universe out of his own pocket: no crowd funding, no investors, and no Kickstarters. We recently interviewed Brandon and asked his thoughts on self-publishing, comics, and his creative influences and process.Brandon's Picture for Comixology

IM: Tell us how you first got into comics. What were your favorite titles?
BR: I first got into comics in Grade 5 science class. It was the early 90s when the first series of Marvel trading cards came out. I knew all the major superheroes, but I was never into comics. Some kids in class had the trading cards and when I looked at them and saw all these superheroes I thought, “This is so cool!”
I began buying the trading cards myself and soon began using my paper route money to buy comics. An issue of The Punisher was the first comic I ever bought and it was always my favorite comic. I still collect them today.

IM: Which writers from the comics had the most influence on your storytelling?
BR: Mike Baron and Chuck Dixon were always my favorite Punisher writers, so as far as comic book writers go, those guys are at the top of my list.

IM: Do you keep up with comics now, if so, which titles are you reading?
BR: Yes, I still read comics. I grew tired of Marvel and DC last year, so I stopped reading anything put out by them, except for a couple titles (including Punisher). So, I’ve mainly been reading IDW. and Dark Horse titles. Plus any cool indy stuff I come across.

Stargirl #1 Cover AIM: What made you decide to begin self-publishing your own titles?
BR: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had lots of ideas for comic book stories and characters. When Higher Universe Comics co-founder Adam Storoschuk and I met, we began putting together what would eventually become our Misfits title. I wrote about fifteen scripts for that series and about another five for my Stargirl series. They existed in script form for several years, before we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer. Up to that point, we’d been working on the stories and talking about it a lot, but never actually producing anything. We decided to jump in and start making the comics, while figuring out how to do it along the way.

IM: Tell us about how you find your artists.
BR: It’s easier these days, because we get artist submissions all the time and we have enough of a body of work out that people take us seriously. So now, we have no problem getting artists.
But in the early days, we’d post a “Comic Book Artist Needed” ad on Craigslist and Kijiji in every major city we could. All over North America and the rest of the world. We’d get a few hundred responses and we’d filter them down until we found someone whose work we liked that fit into our budget.
As we met other people in the indy comics business, we’d ask them to recommend artists. That made it easier to find people who were reliable.

IM: There are a lot of talented people in the US who would love to do their own comics, but are reluctant because of financial reasons and the fact that you have to make enough to pay your bills and get your own healthcare. Are the socio-economic conditions friendlier to creative people and self-publishers?
Balloon Boy #1 Page 14BR: I can only speak from my own experience, but I think it comes down to how badly you want it. Adam and I put a lot of money into Higher Universe Comics. It’s by far my biggest expense. I don’t have a family to take care of, so I understand that not everybody is in the same boat as I am. But, at the same time, we didn’t start off by putting a ton of money into it.
The first comic we ever produced was the original version of Stargirl #1. We found artist Brittni Bromley through an ad we posted and we had her do one page every two weeks. Every second Friday, she’d turn in the new page and I’d pay her page rate out of my paycheck. It took an entire year to finish it, but it got finished.
I think so many aspiring comic book publishers think they need a lot of money up front, but they really don’t. They can just do it the way we did. We’ve never had a Kickstarter or had investors or anything, but we still manage to produce four ongoing series and other projects.
I know what it’s like to be scared of putting money into it in the early days. But you have to make some sort of sacrifice. I know people who say they want to make comics, but they say they’re broke. They’ll try a Kickstarter campaign and it will fail. So they just give up. Meanwhile, they’re spending money on all sorts of other stuff. They don’t understand that if they just set aside a small amount every month to pay an artist, by the end of the year they could have a whole comic done.

IM: Is this your only gig, or is there a day job helping finance this?
BR: Adam and I still both have day jobs. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.

IM: Give us your elevator speech on how to set up a self-publishing comic-book empire.
BR: The main thing is just diving in and figuring it out for yourself. The way we do it may not be the best way and it might not work for you. But you can’t just sit around dreaming about it or waiting to get noticed by a big comic book publisher. You need to take massive action.
Write a script. Find an artist you can afford and get them to start drawing your comic, one page at a time. Set a schedule. One page every week or every two weeks. Or four pages every two weeks. Whatever you can afford. Hire a colorist to start coloring the pages. Hire a letterer to letter the pages.
When all the pages are done, try to publish it on every digital comics platform you can find. Then order print copies. We order ours through Ka-Blam Digital Printing. There’s no minimum amount. You can order one at a time if you want, so there’s no excuse not to.
Ghoul Squad #1 New CoverStart selling your comics to anyone you can. We sell our print comics for ten dollars each. Some of that money goes into making more comics and some goes into ordering more print copies that we sell, and so forth.
Then begin making your second comic. Contact podcasts, reviewers, and anyone else you can that can help publicize your comic.
That’s how we did it. It takes a lot of work and you have to put time and energy into refining your process and making it easier and more efficient for yourself. If I can write several comics a month, while supervising every aspect of the business, and work a day job, so can you!

IM: How many unsolicited submissions do you get on average?
BR: I’d say between one and ten a week.

IM: What’s the best advice you can give to a newcomer looking to either get work or start their own line of self-published comics?
BR: If you’re looking to get hired as an artist or writer, make sure you really work at your craft. When the original Stargirl came out, I thought I was a pretty good writer. I contacted my favorite writer Mike Baron and asked if he’d read my comic and give me feedback. He was nice enough to do it. So I mailed him a copy and he wrote me back, basically saying, “You need to work on your writing.”
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but he recommended I read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. I bought it and read it and realized how much work I needed to do. I began making a real effort to improve my writing. And I’m surprised at how much I’ve improved over the last few years.
Same thing with art. Make sure you’re improving all the time. Make sure you have a good portfolio that contains panel-to-panel sequential art. So many artists who submit stuff to me don’t have any sequential art. They just have a bunch of pictures of Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Deadpool. That’s not what any publisher or editor wants to see.
Make sure you have a strong portfolio and make sure you’re professional. Be someone people want to work with.

Ghoul Squad Page 4 lettersIM: Who are some of your favorite comic artists, and is there a particular style or look you prefer to see from artists submitting work to you?
BR: I like many different comic book artists and I appreciate various styles. I would have to say David Finch is one of my favorites. I don’t have a particular style I’m looking for. When hiring an artist for a particular series, I look for someone who has a style similar to how I envision the artwork in my head. Sometimes I’ll come across an artist’s work and think, “That would be perfect for…” whatever series I’m considering putting into production.
For example, with Alley Cats, I had the idea in my head, but had no intention of beginning production on it. But then Ember Cescon submitted her artwork to me and I thought it would be perfect for Alley Cats. So I started writing it and, next thing you know, Alley Cats is finished!
Some artists’ styles won’t work for certain series. There has to be a match between the artist’s style and the way the series looks in my head.

IM: You have eight titles featured on the Higher Universe website. Do you have a favorite?
BR: Oh, wow. That’s like asking which of your children your favorite is! I like them all for different reasons. My favorite to write at the moment would have to be Ghoul Squad, just because Varney the Vampire is so hilarious and fun to write.
I’m also really into our Boy with a Balloon for a Head limited series, just because it’s so different from what I normally write and it’s such a great story.

IM: Can you give us a little back-story about what inspired you to create some of your titles? What are the differences/similarities when creating Stargirl vs. Balloon boy, for example?
BR: The stories—and the inspiration behind them—vary from series to series. That’s what I love about making comics—you never know where an idea will come from.
Misfits is an idea originally created by Higher Universe Comics co-founder Adam Storoschuk. He had drawn all these characters, but didn’t know what to do with them. When I met him and we became friends, I eventually put the characters into a story and began writing scripts about them. That became the Misfits series.Stargirl #1 Page 47 High
Stargirl came to me one day, when I was working in a store. Music was playing and there was this song that had the line “Space Cadillac”. People might even know the song, but I don’t, lol. After hearing that, an image came to me of a teenage girl flying around in a pink space Cadillac with a talking dog. That eventually turned into Stargirl.
Ghoul Squad and Boy with a Balloon for a Head both came from drawings Adam did that gave me an idea for a story.
Alley Cats just came from an idea I had of anthropomorphic cats hanging out in a back alley.

IM: Every writer goes through writer’s block. What do you do to get out of it and can you describe the “aha” moment when your story comes together.
BR: When I was younger, I got writer’s block all the time, but I rarely do anymore. I think it’s because trying to write several comic book series and keep turning in page scripts to the artists while working a day job didn’t give me the luxury of writers block. I had to do the work, so I just blasted through it and continued writing.
I’m writing so many things now that, if I get stuck on one, I just move onto another, then come back to it later.
The “aha” moment is a great moment! I love brainstorming about stories and ideas. If I get stuck on a certain plot point or other issue, I’ll usually just keep brainstorming and thinking of different ideas until one fits. It’s like thinking about it without thinking about it. If you focus too much on the problem, you’ll get stuck.
I find, if you just work and think fast, your brain won’t stop long enough to let you get stuck on something. So you’ll have a lot of those “aha” moments. I also spend a lot of time tossing ideas around in my head before I begin writing. So I’ll have most plot and character issues figured out before my fingers hit the keyboard.

IM: Your titles include interviews with independent musicians and bands. It’s an interesting concept. What inspired you to do this? Do the bands cross-market your comics when they are performing?
BR: The main motivation, at first, was just to have more interesting content in our comics. It works as a cross-promotion too. In exchange for us promoting them in the comics, they’ll promote our comics to their fans.
I just like networking with other creative people and sharing cool stuff. We started off interviewing and profiling bands, but have also done pieces on artists and independent movies. I’ve since become friends with many of the people we’ve profiled in our comics. It’s always cool to meet new people doing cool stuff, and helping them share it with an audience they might otherwise not be able to reach.

IM: Any chance we’ll see titles based on any of these bands?
BR: Not at the moment, lol.

IM: Besides the website, where can we find your titles?
BR: They’re on all the major digital comics platforms. And print copies can be ordered through the website. You can even shoot us an email at, and we might be able to give you a deal.
You can also sign up for our email list on the website. You’ll find out when our new comics are out before everyone else and you’ll have a chance to buy them.
We really believe we’re putting out some cool, original stories and can’t wait to share them with everybody!

A Written View – About Editing

by Douglas Owen

I want to try something different this year. If you know anything about the publishing industry, you’ll know that for me, sitting here on December 27th, it is time to get the February edition of A Written Word, well… written.

This year, I’m going to include podcasts of my Written Word column, just to have something a little different out there. Yes, this is risky, but I’m sure it will work. This can be run parallel to the changes happening in the magazine and maybe it will increase our reach, as our publisher, Ian Shires, changes the format (just a little!) to encompass all things indy.

Let’s dive right in with this column and talk about editing!

Someone told me the difference between a good book and a great book is all in the editing. Finding the right editor is crucial to making your words sing. This is a truism: something that is correct without ever having to look it up.

Over two years ago, I was given the novel Prossia to read and rate. I was only able to read half of the novel before putting it down and shaking my head in bewilderment.

Before I begin on this book, let me preface this article with the following: I have made the same mistakes that are in this novel. Did I learn? Yes. I now choose my editors carefully.

A good editor would have found the errors in the novel easily, and fixed them quickly. The narrative would have smoothed out and become perfect and the story line’s biggest mistakes could have been removed. In other words, it would have gone from one star to four very easily.
As they say, a good editor is worth their weight in gold.

But, before you get a piece edited, you should look at the following and fix what you have already. Here is a short “to do” list for you:

1. Isolate a significant word, phrase, or sentence on its own, then add emphasis.

Before: Deacon glanced back at the sea of orcs, gasped for breath, and wondered if he would be able to keep outrunning them over the plains of Vasillian. He looked down at the jewel-encrusted statue. All this for a few hundred gold Paperons, and the loss of a good friend. He imagined Flynn egging him on, but his dead companion probably wanted company in Greassaria, the world of the afterlife.

After: Deacon gasped for breath, and glanced back at the sea of orcs scrambling across the plains of Vasillian. The jewel-encrusted statue weighed heavy in his hand, and he missed Flynn. The old thief should have been here, but he was probably egging on the orcs from the afterlife. All this excitement for just a few hundred gold Paperons and the loss of a good friend.
Notice how the last sentence tells of the loss of a good friend. It is the way to weigh down the ending and make people want to keep going. That is the isolation factor in play. Also, the start is Deacon gasping for breath. It adds tension, especially with the orcs right there.

2. Combine and reword for better flow.

This one causes a lot of writers to stumble. Each sentence is its own person, and writers often break everything up, which causes a stilted narrative.

Before: Peter reached out. He touched the button. Claxons sounded. Guards entered the room. He heard weapons draw. Greg lifted his hands in the air to surrender.

After: Peter reached out his hand and touched the button. Claxons sounded. Guards entered the room and Greg heard weapons draw, so he lifted his hands to surrender.
The sentences are complex, but not overly so. What needs to be isolated is, and the flow is no longer stilted.

3. Runaway sentences.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen. A writer wants to put just too much into a sentence and it becomes a run-on. Note: your average sentence length should be between 18 and 27 words. Try not to exceed 45 words, or your audience will stumble. They forget the start and sometimes have to go back and reread. Intersperse short sentences as well. It gives the reader a break.

4. Vary the length of your sentences, as well as the structure.

It’s a best practice to vary your sentence lengths and type. In this way, you can avoid monotony and steer clear of an amateurish style. It will also enhance the mood and impact the effect you are reaching for.

In a paragraph, it is best to have many different sentence lengths. And for scenes, it is suggested to avoid too many short, choppy sentences. This does not include action scenes, but that is another subject.

5. Rearrange elements within your sentences and/or paragraphs.

I suggest this all the time when critiquing the work of others. Move this sentence to the first spot in the paragraph, or switch these two subordinate clauses. The changes make the words pop off the page better.

6. Throw the gerund (-ing verb) back a few words.

Creeping to the back room, the thief stood listening. Hearing no peep, he opened the heavy door. Seeing no orcs awake, he stepped through the door.
Asleep yet? Get the idea?

7. Vary each sentence’s beginning.

Try not to put the same word at the beginning of each sentence in your narrative. It drives a reader insane when you start two, three or more sentences the same way. It is the “I” syndrome in the first person, or the “He” syndrome in the third. Change it up. Look at your structure, reword if needed.

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It’s a Party

Party Girl AdditionalImageIt’s a Party at Taurian Films

An Interview with BJ Lewis

By Louise Cochran-Mason

Ultra-low budget (aka micro-budget) film-making has many of the same problems—and freedoms—as self-published comic book creators (e.g. funding, building and retaining a team, and distribution).

Taurian Films is a micro-budget production company owned by BJ Lewis and based in Denton, TX, who is putting the finishing touches on season two of their show, Party Girl (for their May 4, 2015 release date). Taurian Film’s previous work includes a webseries called Insourcing; an office-centred comedy (with a lot of adult office banter), and a Power Rangers parody called Dial-A-Ranger.

Their current show, Party Girl, is a weekly superhero series, which BJ produces, writes and directs. BJ spoke to Indyfest about it.

10915316_902941933052187_7495321648358132745_oIM: What is Party Girl about?
BJL: Party Girl centres on Rachel Buchanan. She’s a girl like any other, trying to find her place in life, as she deals with the complications life throws at her. One of those complications was an overbearing mother, bound and determined to live her former gymnastics glory through Rachel. Rachel, who was a gymnastics prodigy, recognized this and quit, vowing to not be who her mother wanted her to be.
She stumbled into the Party Girl identity after stopping a fellow student from exacting revenge on the people that bullied him. She earned the name ‘Party Girl’ in that encounter as an insult from the boy and soon, rumors and innuendo helped it spread. Rachel decided to run with it and truly become Party Girl, masked hero for Pyramid City. Of course, there is a lot more to it than that, as Rachel finds herself making friends, making enemies, and lying to those closest to her to keep her identity a secret.
The first season sees Rachel becoming Party Girl and settling into the identity and the good she can do. The second season finds Rachel in a different place. She has become a local celebrity as Party Girl and spends more time posing for selfies than she does fighting crime. But even if she is ready to be off the streets, the enemies she has made are not as ready to let her go.

IM: How did Party Girl get started?
BJL: I started checking out a lot of web series online. I thought about trying to work up some sort of pitch package to try and get the attention of networks to even take a sniff at the project. When that actually started seeming to be more of a long-shot, I thought about doing it myself. I had done small, local, cheap shorts before. I could do it, I thought. I liked that idea anyway. What I wrote was going to be how it was; there was no need for me to have someone else edit the main show, because I was going to do it myself.
So I wrote up the series. I’d had the character of Party Girl in mind since I was in high school and thought, with the tweaks I’d made over the years, that it would catch on. Not long after writing it, I began seeking casting for it, some of it coming from past projects I’d worked on with people in the DFW area, and a lot of people who were new to me as well. People dug the story and the opportunity to play the characters I had written and then, we were able to get the show going.

IM: Who is its target audience?
BJL: The typical demos for superhero shows on TV and in movies today. Men and women, boys and girls… probably ages 13 and up, for language’s sake. There’s no sexual content to the show, so anyone can watch, really, if they want to see a good dramatic story play out through the lens of a super hero.10679702_862064780473236_6956363674883274524_o

IM: Is it an ongoing or finite series?
BJL: It’s an ongoing finite series. We’re in the midst of the second season and I have the third season planned, as I have a specific three-season story to tell. If someone came along and wanted to give us some money to fund more than that, I’d certainly take it and I have other stories I could tell, but right now, it’s set for three.

IM: What is your background?
BJL: Born and raised in Washington, DC. College educated in Louisiana, earning my bachelor’s degree from Louisiana Tech University. Currently living and working in Denton, TX, for the Denton Record-Chronicle. I cover county government and provide video content for the web.

IM: Has being a journalist helped with film (in terms of contacts, promotion, etc…)?
BJL: It’s helped in us being able to use certain locations. Museums, warehouse buildings, etc. It hasn’t really made an impact in promotion that I have noticed. It hasn’t helped in my wallet, I can tell you that. Journalists (at least me, anyway) don’t make much. And I put every dime I can scrape into this project.

IM: Are there many resources for ultra-low budget film-makers?
BJL: There are lots of web sites and forums and videos and such to help film-makers of all levels and budgets. What’s good about the internet is you can find information easily, but then again, you can find so much of it, you spend a lot of time trying to sift through and figure out what you need to pay attention to and what you can forget about.

bull sketch03 black backgroundIM: Is it challenging to retain the cast and crew on an ultra-low budget series?
BJL: It is in some ways, yes. Since, for the bulk of them, it’s volunteered time. They do it for experience, for demo reel material, for networking, any number of things. I have been blessed to have assembled lots of talented people from all experience levels, from folks who have been on the set of big-budget Hollywood films, to those who have never tried acting before and are dipping their toes in it through my project. And, especially in the DFW area, a lot of actors are doing a lot of things and trying to get more and more work. Big work—paying work. So, you get some people who are good for a few months, and then things pick up for them and you never see them again. Or you get people who don’t take you or your project very seriously, because it’s non-paying. I have some very talented people and I wish I could pay them all what they are worth. I am just fortunate enough that the script and the characters I present to them and the quality that I can put out on the show has been enough to keep them around, at least for a little while.

IM: Do you use, or would you consider using crowd-funding?
BJL: I plan on using it to help pay for some sound work for season two. One of the big issues of season one was the audio, which was good in places and just brutal in other places. Of course I did all that myself and I will be the first to confess that I know little about sound engineering. I have been looking at rates and people to get to do the work, and will be looking to raise some money to help supplement the money I can put in for it.

IM: Are you planning to make (book or comic) tie-ins? And merchandise?
BJL: I definitely want to give more content, more story than just the episodes of the show. We plan on releasing a digital comic prologue to show the events between the season one finale and the season two première, as well as en epilogue that shows what happens after the events of the season two finale. I’m kicking around the idea of other sorts of untold stories or stories between the episodes. But that takes money to pay an artist for, of course. I had ideas and a plan for season one ‘between-episodes’ comics and still may produce them—if I can get the money together to do them—so the entire story of Party Girl is able to be told.
And, of course, we will have shirts, but we’re also trying to figure out what other applicable merch we can have at the ready for the May release of the second season.

IM: How is Party Girl distributed? Is it exclusively on YouTube?
BJL: Season one and soon-to-be-season two have been online on at the YouTube page for Taurian Films, The links are also embedded on the Taurian Films web site. We’re also looking at several other channels, outlets, anything of any kind for us to be able to show the show. Outside of that, the show is on a small handful of Roku channels, both free and premium. We’re looking at having the first season available via the web site or the Create Space page with Amazon.

IM: How do you fund Party Girl?
BJL: Whatever I can scrape together out of my own pocket, mostly. And we take whatever other favor, donation, anything to keep it going.

IM: How do you market Party Girl?10387100_850818154931232_6770766175350728876_o
BJL: Social media, visiting DFW-area conventions, though we’re looking to branch out soon to events in other states, if they are worthwhile and not too out of the way. We’re starting to look at marketing firms, as well, for help in getting the word out. Putting up flyers, trying to engage people and to get them to check out the show. Still lots more room to grow in that endeavour.

IM: Have you got other series you are planning to make?
BJL: I have a laundry list of projects on deck. Of course, Party Girl takes up most of my time and thinking, but I do have an action-drama feature that we are developing, with Annie Cruz set to star in it. Of course, that and the other things I do boil down to money. That’s what I want going forth: to do a project and have backing behind me when I do it; that’s the goal.

IM: Thank you BJ for taking the time to talk with us!

BJ Lewis:
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