Jean-Paul Deshong is an artist who has published books for Dynamite Entertainment, Zenescope Entertainment, Image Comics, Arch Enemy Entertainment, and Dark Horse Comics. He also co-created and drew the indy book Goddammit Baby, This Is Soul. Jean-Paul has recently self-published his first solo outing, Sons of Fate (Origins).
IM: How long have you been making comics?
JPD: I’ve been in the comic field for going on 15 years now, at least professionally… and sporadically.
IM: What attracted you to the medium?
JPD: That’s easy. I was an 80s child that grew up on watching shows from the 60s Batman to Spiderman and his Amazing Friends, and everything else in between. There is also the fact that I had an interest to draw since I could hold a pencil.
IM: What kind of training have you had to get you to the professional level?
JPD: I went to art school through college. With all my formal training however, my best and most useful training is practice, practice, practice.
IM: Who would you consider to be your biggest inspirations, whether in terms of style/craft, or on a more personal/professional level? In what way(s)?
JPD: My biggest inspirations came from the comics I read, as well as the cartoons I watched as a child (including anime). I was always fascinated with cartoons, as I imagine every child was. But for me, that feeling was heightened when I learned that they were created by people.
IM: How did you get your start in comics?
JPD: I did a lot of independent books (very independent books) throughout college. Some of them were published, some weren’t. In 2010, I received my big break from Zenescope publishing. My first book was Grimm Fairy Tales.
IM: Where might we have seen your work before?
JPD: Well, that depends on how far and well you can dig. As I said before, you probably could easily find most if not all of the books I did for Zenescope (Grimm Fairy Tales, Neverland, Tales of Neverland, and Neverland Crossover), BUT I did a few books for Digital Webbing in the early part of the millennium. After Zenescope, I did Damsels: Mermaids for Dynamite Entertainment. I am currently drawing comics for Arch Enemy Entertainment (Big Bad Wolf and the upcoming Legendary). These books can be seen at the USA Today website and at arch-enemy.net.
IM: On to your current work, what would you say first sparked your interest in ancient Japanese history?
JPD: Along with my enduring and (cough, cough… clearing throat) complicated love for comic books in general, I am a fan of eastern art, especially anime and manga. When I started to indulge in the idea that I might create my own book, a samurai book seemed appropriate. I grew up on samurai and kung-fu movies.
IM: What is the basic story behind Sons of Fate?
JPD: A lost chapter in the history of ancient Japan and the code of the Samurai via an unlikely warrior from the most foreign of lands.
IM: The webcomic Fishing with My Father is billed on your website as a prelude to the series. Can you elaborate further? What more do we learn in the webcomic that informs the main title?
JPD: The webseries comprises stories that expand the Sons of Fate Universe. Fishing with my Father, as well as the stories that follow, are just that. I created the web series for two reasons. For those who read the graphic novel, they get ongoing content that tells a backstory to one of the protagonists (or even antagonists) of the graphic novel. The webseries gives the reader a greater understanding to those characters, and thus, a greater understanding to the Sons of Fate. It being its own self-contained story, it can serve as not only a bridge between the launches of the three books of the Sons of Fate trilogy, but also (the second reason) as a introduction to those new to the Sons of Fate universe, who are looking to see what the story is all about.
IM: In doing your research for this title, were there any surprises along the way?
JPD: Gotta give you a big “NO” on that one, thankfully. There was, however, A TON of research involved—and now, checks and balances—as I put the story together to make sure everything is accurate. That makes it a lot harder but, at the same time, I am ALWAYS finding and adding little things to add to the story.
IM: What can you tell us about the characters? What makes them tick?
JPD: Duty, love, loyalty, ambition, rage, enlightenment, and finally, understanding. …In that order.
IM: Was this your first time stepping into the writer’s chair? How have you been able to handle both the art and the writing on this series without getting overwhelmed?
JPD: Yes and no. Mostly yes… as a complication, NOT overwhelming. I wrote the ENTIRE series before I started drawing it. That was necessary in order to create the symbolism and nuance in the story. I found out (very quickly) that the “writer me” and the “artist me” are two different dynamics. In the experiences I’ve had before I wrote Sons of Fate, I found that I was always able to be more creative and expressive in the artwork when the writer “allowed me” to paint the scene they set up for me. When it came to writing my own stories, that seemed the best way to go. As an artist, taking the reins of the story, knowing the freedom I’d created, I noticed (only at the drawing stage) that details were left out. Creatively, it makes for a better book, but there were times when I had to go and define details that had stopped the process of drawing the pages; which took up more time. So, I wouldn’t say it was overwhelming, but frustrating. Fortunately, over time, both sides have come to a peaceful compromise and it is no longer a problem.
IM: What prompted you to go the self-publishing route with Sons of Fate?
JPD: I wanted to be hands-on 100 per cent involved in every process of the book. I’m a bit of a micro- manager, but this way, I have control over how the book comes out.
IM: How have you been marketing and promoting the book, thus far?
JPD: Ah yes, the dance. It’s not a two-step, or a Charleston… it is a complicated full-on ensemble. A Radio City Music Hall Rockettes meets Dancing with the Stars performance and, being the micro manager that I am, it is something I want to do. I love it. It’s tedious, but I love it. But I digress.
I’ve been hitting all of the social networks that exist (I’m open to suggestions), email lists, ad space, blog posts, you name it. Again, if you have a suggestion…
IM: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to self-publish their first work?
JPD: Don’t create something that has already been done (at least, to your knowledge). I know a lot of creators who are working on their iteration of an already popular series. To me, that is a tough mountain to climb and, in the end, if it’s too much like another thing, it won’t stand out. Create something new and creative and, if you are working on something like something else already out there, reinvent it to make it stand out. Saga and The Walking Dead are great examples of that. Saga being a space odyssey, and TWD being a different take on an established and saturated genre.
IM: Where do you go from here? What projects do you have next on your horizons?
JPD: I have a slew of other books and ideas ready to go after Sons of Fate. All the books are different and they all exist within the same universe, but for now, that’s all the sneak peek I can give you.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us that we haven’t touched on yet?
JPD: Yes. In creating art in the comic field, I wanted to do something that expanded outside of just creating a comic book. I want to give those interested in my work a COMPLETE experience. On blackberryjuice.net, I am able to do that. Those who subscribe to the website get free updates on not only new content brought to the site, but free art as well. From digital wallpapers to pay-what-you-want downloads of digital pinups, and from enhanced and colored versions of the webseries to viral videos, blog posts, and limited edition art prints in the gallery collection, I wanted to create an ENTIRE experience. A place where those interested could experience multiple facets of and artistic expressions of not only Sons of Fate, but the graphic novels that follow.
IM: Finally, where can we find your books and how can we keep up with you online?
JPD: Sons of Fate (Origins) is available on most digital distribution platforms, as well as Comixology. Lastly, the books are available in comic stores in and out of the United States and on blackberryjuice.net. All sources and links for purchasing everything Sons of Fate are available at blackberryjuice.net
Mike Wolfer started his comic book career after attending the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. In 1987, he self-published a series about a giant monster named Daikazu under his own Ground Zero Comics banner. He survived the Indy Comics bust of the 1990s and continues to create comics to this day. Mike’s been at it for almost 30 years, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. Mike recently enjoyed tremendous success with launching new projects through Kickstarter.com and is returning to his self-publishing roots after many years of writing and drawing for Avatar Press. Mike was kind enough to take some time from his schedule to answer a few questions. And… here… we… go!
IM: You attended the Kubert School back in the 80s. Tell us a little bit about that time and the people you knew.J
MW: That was an awesome experience. Not only did I receive instruction from some of my artistic heroes, but it was the first time that I mingled with fellow artists who had such similar interests. Keep in mind that collecting and reading comics at that time was still kept secret by a lot of us. It wasn’t as widely accepted as it is today. We (or, at least, I) kept it to ourselves for fear of being teased, so to be thrust into that environment with a bunch of other kids who loved comics, and who were artistically inclined like me, it was incredibly liberating and empowering. It was like a super-secret club for which you didn’t just attend meetings; you lived it 24/7. That environment helped me to break out of my shell of introversion and was a great learning experience for me, both as an artist and an individual. As for the people I knew, the entire class size was probably only around 45 students, and within that group, we had our own smaller rings of friends. After attending the Kubert School, many (probably most) of the people in my class never entered the comic field, or even the art field, but a few of my friends did, like Bart Sears, Lee Weeks, Graham Nolan, Mark McNabb, Mark Pennington, and some character named Steven Pennella. (Interviewer’s note: Mike was one of my roommates during year one.)
IM: You left after the second year instead of attending the full three years. What was the motivation behind that? Was it financial or something else?
MW: Well, it was basically a financial decision. I had to weigh whether or not I wanted to incur another year’s worth of student loans, and if it would be worth it to attended the school for a third year. What I had heard from upperclassmen and instructors was that the third year at the school was considered “Portfolio Year,” where there was much less instruction and students created works for inclusion in their portfolios. Maybe I was wrong, but I thought, “Why pay to do that, when I can move back to Delaware, get a job, make money, work on my portfolio, and not get further into debt while I do it?”
IM: Which teacher at The Kubert School helped you the most and which one could you have done without?
MW: I felt that some of the classes were outside the focus of the direction I wanted to go with my art, but I still learned little tidbits from every instructor, regardless of their field of endeavor. I’ve been asked, “What is the most important piece of knowledge you took away from the Kubert School?” I think it can be boiled down to these four things: (1) Joe Kubert taught me not to be afraid to exaggerate poses. (2) Milt Neil taught me that the best way to begin with the layout of a body pose is to think of the torso as a bean bag; get that gesture down first, then add appendages. (3) Jose Delbo made me keenly aware that your horses must never look like “Lassie”. (4) The best piece of advice, which I use almost every day, comes from Tex Blaisdell: “When in doubt, black it out.”
IM: You’ve been an indy comic book artist and writer since the late 80s. To what do you attribute your longevity in the field?
MW: That’s a tough one. It might be due to my continued growth and evolution as a writer and artist, or my prolific output of work. I always have more than one project in the works at any given time, so the sheer volume of stuff that comes out with my name on it probably helps. My passion for creating, and the devotion I put into trying to create complex, continuing stories probably plays a part, along with how I communicate with followers of my work and show them my gratitude whenever possible. But that’s if the word “longevity” translates to, “people continuing to buy my work.” If the question is, “How do I keep coming up with new ideas?” then the answer is, “I have no idea.” They just come to me, and I’m always plotting, even when I’m not aware of it. I’m a storyteller at heart and you can never turn that off, so needless to say, I have more ideas than I can possibly put into print.
IM: You started self-publishing under your Ground Zero brand in the late 80s. The first comic you created was about a giant monster named Daikazu. Will we ever see him again? Please????
MW: Ha ha! Daikazu’s return is always possible. Anything is possible when you’re self-publishing. Daikazu was the first thing I published, and such an interesting learning experience. Not only was I working on shaping my rather amateur artistic skills into something a little more polished, but I was learning every aspect of the business, from production (writing, drawing, lettering), to publishing, to printing, to marketing, to distribution. The list goes on and on. I wish that every comics writer and artist could enter the field the way that I did, as a self-publisher, so that they could have a firm grasp on just what it takes to get a book on the racks and all of the steps involved. Quite a few comic pros only know, “I do my thing and get a paycheck, then the book is in stores.” I feel richer for knowing all of the aspects of taking that “thing” and getting it to press and into stores and I have a great appreciation of the process and respect for budgets, which other creators might not have.
IM: You started Widow a few years later, and she’s made the rounds in Boundless Comics. She was published under Everette Hartsoe’s London Night Comics brand. What was it like working with him?
MW: I self-published Widow for two miniseries, then London Night made an offer to publish the third series. Sales were awesome, with Widow: Metal Gypsies #1 making it into Diamond Comic Distributors’ Top 100 for the month of its release. They published two of the three issues of that miniseries, as well as four issues of the black and white reprint Fangs of the Widow, before unceremoniously and unexpectedly pulling the plug. To this day, I still don’t understand why. I was called on the phone and told, and I quote, “Hey, Wolfer. Cancel Christmas. We’re gonna have to cut you loose.” So I finished Metal Gypsies at Ground Zero Comics, published the follow-up Widow: Bound by Blood mini, and continued Fangs of the Widow up to issue #14.
IM: At one point, Ground Zero started publishing titles from other artists, like Dan Parsons’ Harpy. What was it like being a big time indy publisher and why did you stop?
MW: You asked, so here it is, straight up. I was facing the prospect of bankruptcy in the mid/late 90s, but not because of low sales. I was in incredible financial debt because I was screwed by a slew of creators whose books I was soliciting as new Ground Zero titles. I was paying people out of my own pocket for drawing pages. They’d do a few, get paid, and then disappear without ever getting close to finishing their books. I was printing posters and promo cards, soliciting comics and paying for full page ads in Diamond Comic Distributors’ PREVIEWS catalog. I was spending all kinds of time doing promotional work and building and running ads in my own books, and every last one of those series came to a dead stop without the creators delivering what they had promised, so I had no completed books to print and sell to recover my advance expenditures. The only person who I worked with who was a pro from start to finish was Dan Parsons, and to this day, I admire him for his professionalism and moral compass. Because of all the money I was putting out on those projects with nothing coming in from them, I subsequently couldn’t pay my own Widow printing bills. To top it off, this all happened during the comic market “crash,” when speculators left in droves, sales plummeted, and publishers, comic shops, and distributors around the world were driven out of business. It was a mess. I was around $24,000 in debt, but spent the next ten years paying it all off, because I was not about to declare bankruptcy.
IM: After Ground Zero, you were approached by Avatar Press and started writing and illustrating for them. What were some of the advantages they offered versus being your own publisher?
MW: While I was going through all of my financial hardships, they made the offer to take on Widow and, as you can imagine, the benefit was that it allowed me to recover from the horrible beating I took as a self-publisher. I was able to focus on creating, rather than running a company, to catch my breath and use my page rate from my Avatar work to pay off those debts I incurred as a publisher.
IM: You’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best writers in the biz, like Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis. How has that helped you with your own writing?
MW: I’m sure that there’s some osmosis that goes on, whether it’s from illustrating stories from their scripts, or succeeding them as writer on books they began. Every writer has his or her own style and, naturally, I have my own, but when I take over writing on a book like Warren Ellis’ Gravel or Garth Ennis’ Stitched, I look at what they did, get a feel for the ambiance, and do more of “that.” It might not necessarily be what I would do on a series I’m creating from scratch, but it’s not my job to take over and switch things up. I want to keep readers comfortable, and to try to seamlessly mesh with the feel that’s been established by the previous writers. There’s much talk about a writer’s “voice” being evident in their work. That’s what I try to replicate, but I try to do it unconsciously. No one wants to read a book that’s trying too hard to sound like someone else wrote it.
IM: You’ve written and illustrated licensed properties while at Avatar, such as Jason from Friday the 13th, and created stories based on Night of the Living Dead. How is that different from creating stories with a Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis? What are some of the politics involved with a studio character?
MW: Each series or character that’s licensed has its own unique requirements that must be fulfilled, but really, they’re all basically the same when it comes down to the approval process. The final word lies with the license holder, which is how it should be. Truthfully, sometimes requested changes make for a better product, and sometimes they seem arbitrary and pointless. Working with Warren and Garth are both examples of “making a better product.” Working with George (Romero) and John (Russo) on Night and on Escape of the Living Dead was wonderful. Working on Friday the 13TH for New Line Cinema was different. They had an approval panel that would go over every script, page, and cover, and sometimes I couldn’t understand why changes were being requested. I did a cover where Jason has split a guy’s head down the middle with his machete. I was requested to make an art correction to remove the gold chain from around the victim’s neck. Why? Not a clue and does anyone care? I did a cover with a couple making out in a hot tub, with Jason hovering menacingly in the shadows behind them, with basically only his mask barely visible. I was asked to add a machete. I was going for moody, and relaying the idea that Jason doesn’t need to be flashing a machete in every picture, that he can kill you with his bare hands. Okay, fine. Whatever. I’ll add the machete. Another cover had Jason looking badass in the woods, and the suggestion was to add a suburban house in the background, because “when we see houses, we think security, and we should feel that there’s no security from Jason.” Right. In the middle of friggin’ woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake, there’s going to be a suburban house. Luckily, we got past that one without making the change. I think I flat-out refused to do it, if I remember correctly.
IM: It’s my understanding that some of the artists you work with at Avatar are from other countries. What are some of the challenges with working with people from different cultures?
MW: Right, I’ve worked with creators from all over the world and, as long as there’s a good translator for the script, it doesn’t matter where we all live. When I’m writing panel descriptions in scripts for foreign artists, I have to be careful not to use anything in the way of American/English slang and use as few contractions as possible. Those tend to be confusing for translators. But yeah, if I were to say, “The hero is totally kicking the zombie’s ass,” or “the hero is beating the hell out of the zombie,” the images we get from the artist might be quite literal, or they’ll be utterly confused. It’s specifically what the script asked for, but not the intent of the writer. So for those examples, the proper description would be, “The hero is fighting with the zombie and profusely punching it. The zombie is being injured and is losing the fight against the hero.”
IM: What gave you the bug to return to self-publishing?
MW: It was mainly a financial decision. At one point, I was writing Gravel, War Goddess, Lady Death, and Night of the Living Dead, and drawing Gravel, all for Avatar Press. But low sales and other factors forced the cancellation of many of those books and there were no new projects to fill that void in my income. I had to do something to pay the bills. I had quite a few series proposals that Avatar wasn’t interested in, so I pitched those to several mid-size publishers, but nothing ever transpired. I’d also been yearning to try self-publishing again, because I did enjoy controlling the output of my creative work, setting my own schedule, etc., so I figured, “Why not do those dream projects for myself, rather than shop them around to other publishers?” And Mike Wolfer Entertainment was born.
IM: You returned to your self-publishing roots with Ragdoll and Countess Bathory. You’ve had a few successful Kickstarter campaigns. What have you learned about crowdfunding after the first campaign that made it easier to succeed in other campaigns?
MW: I haven’t the slightest clue. I really don’t. All I can say is that I’m so grateful that I have a solid core of fans who are aware of and who are tapped in to Kickstarter, who are very loyal and who are helping to make these dream projects come to life. For me, the Kickstarter for The Curse of Ragdoll was an absolute experiment, just to see what would happen. I set my goal low, crossed my fingers, and promoted the hell out of it all over social media, to the best of my ability. And it paid off, with the final total exceeding my goal by 136 percent.
IM: When it comes to Kickstarter, what was the biggest mistake? Biggest surprise?
MW: The biggest mistake was underestimating domestic and international shipping costs, and not taking into account that those rates can change at any time. The biggest surprise was how giving my fans are, and how willing they are to drop half a week’s pay on unique, collectible items to add their collections. I thought that some of the higher ticket tiers might be unreasonable, but I think that many supporters know that their money isn’t going just to “pay for stuff,” it’s going toward directly supporting ME, so that I can create more stuff for THEM. And that is what it’s all about.
IM: You recently announced your intention to distribute Ragdoll as a monthly title vs. Kickstarter campaigns for graphic novels. What’s the motivation behind this?
MW: Initially, I was going to publish a string of graphic novels, maybe twice a year, and fund each one through Kickstarter. But the critical and fan response to The Curse of Ragdoll was extremely positive, and it won a few awards, even tying for first place as Best Original Graphic Novel of 2014 in comicattack.net’s yearly Readers Poll. I also looked at the numbers. The Curse of Ragdoll was not distributed to stores, and is only in the hands of just under two hundred people, those who backed the Kickstarter. There are a lot more than two hundred people out there who follow my work, but if they’re not connected to me via Facebook or Twitter, they have no idea the book even exists. Also, I didn’t want current Ragdoll readers to have to wait six months between each new installment of the story, so I decided to form Mike Wolfer Entertainment, put out the Ragdoll story in regular, monthly installments, and distribute it through Diamond Comic Distributors. In that way, I’m reaching more readers who would enjoy my work, and I’m giving my current Ragdoll fans regular monthly doses of scary, sexy goodness. The story itself has also grown, as has the cast of characters, so I’ve changed the title to Daughters of the Dark Oracle, to better reflect the wide range of characters we’ll see. Ragdoll herself will be a recurring player throughout, but she’s not necessarily the focus of each series. I’ll be doing a string of miniseries, by the way, so that it will be easier for readers to collect. The first will reprint the first, four-issue Ragdoll adventure, titled Daughters of the Dark Oracle: The Curse of Ragdoll, followed by Daughters of the Dark Oracle: Orgy of the Vampires, which will be five issues, and include the Countess Bathory one-shot I funded on Kickstarter. I’ll be running Kickstarters for each “Daughters” miniseries, too, to make sure that I can cover all of the upfront production, printing, and creative expenses for each.
IM: Your books will be distributed to comic shops via Diamond. Is your relationship any different with them now, compared to the Ground Zero days of the 80s and 90s?
MW: Surprisingly, the relationship, the contracts, and the publisher requirements are virtually identical to what I knew back in the 90s.
IM: Where do you see Mike Wolfer Entertainment in five years? Will you publish or distribute works from other creators?
MW: I’ve been down that road before and I’m not going there again, unless it’s with someone who I know well and trust. And if I entertain the notion of publishing the works of others, I’m going to have a much different contract with creators, to ensure that what happened to me in the 90s never happens again.
IM: Would you ever consider letting other artists work on your characters? I know someone that would love a crack at Daikazu.
MW: Ha! I’m not opposed to the idea, but it’s not on my agenda at the moment. Pow Rodrix and Andres Ponce did a great job portraying Emma/Widow when she was a supporting character in War Goddess, but we’ll see what the future holds. Right now, Daughters of the Dark Oracle is priority, and if that’s successful and I branch out into other titles, I’m going to need some help!
IM: Would you be interested in licensing the rights to a horror movie character or franchise, such as Jason or Freddy, and publishing work under your own banner?
MW: Nope, not at all interested. I’m an all-around creator (conceptualizer/writer/artist/publisher), so there’s no need to use someone else’s creations in my self-published works. Mike Wolfer Entertainment is all me.
IM: You also announced more Kickstarter campaigns. What are your plans and what will you offer?
MW: From March 9 to April 8 was the Kickstarter to fund Widow Archives, which is a four-volume set of trade paperbacks, reprinting all of the Ground Zero Comics’ series. Then on April 20, I launched the Daughters of the Dark Oracle Kickstarter, to fund the first miniseries that hits stores beginning in July of this year. Sometime in early May, I’ll also be doing a peripheral crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for Maximum Rissk, a one-shot comic that features the adults-only origin of the Widow villainess. My rewards tiers have a slew of cool collectibles, like trading cards, autographed sets of some of my more popular past works, Oracle (Tarot) Cards, art prints, original art, variant covers, action figures, you name it.
IM: Your Widow character was licensed to a toy company and was an action figure. Could you tell us about how that came about? Any possibilities we’ll see Ragdoll action figures, or other characters from the Wolferverse?
MW: The deal for the Widow action figure was all a part of signing on with Avatar Press. They set up their own merchandise company called Bolt (later Rendition), and Widow was just one of a number of action figures they produced. As for action figures of Ragdoll or my other characters, it will all depend on whether or not there is a demand for them. From what I’ve heard, creating the sculpture, prototype, and die for a figure is ridiculously expensive, so there would have to be a very high demand for something like that.
IM: Here’s a hypothetical situation: You’re talking to a guy with a full-time job, wife, kids and real-life responsibilities who wants to self-publish and get his own graphic novel or comic book out there. What advice would you give them?
MW: That’s pretty simple. Concentrate on the real world first. If you have any spare time, work on your project on the side. Get a couple of issues completed before even considering publishing. Show that work to others in the field and hope for honest critiques. If people in the industry, or real comic book readers, aren’t telling you that it’s killer, keep working on your skills. Only after you’re being told by people who know what real comics look like should you even think about taking on the labor-intensive tasks of marketing, promoting, and self-publishing a comic. Do not quit your day job, even after you’ve published that first issue. You have to be realistic and you need to do your research of the field to know what to expect from sales. It’s a terribly competitive market, and although there are ways to carve out your particular niche and attract your own readership, this often takes many, many years. And no matter how much your close family and friends tell you that your comic book is so amazing, don’t listen to them. They’re just amazed that you can do what you do. But they don’t know what a professionally written and illustrated comic book looks like. Trust me on that.
IM: How did you handle a real job and self-publishing in your younger days?
MW: I continued to work my full-time job for the first eight years of my self-publishing career, so as you can see, I took my own advice that I just gave in your last question. I got very little sleep for those eight years, that’s for sure.
IM: Besides being a writer and artist, you’ve also dabbled in the music and ghost hunting industries. Can you tell us a little about those worlds?
MW: Just for fun, I’ve been in several bands over the years, first as a bass player, and later, as lead singer. It was all rock/metal/disco stuff, if that makes any sense. I’m also (believe it or not) a paranormal investigator with Haunt Squad, a Delaware-based group. I’ve been a member of several other area teams, and have seen and experienced things which are absolutely mind-blowing. I first pursued paranormal investigating as a hobby, just something fun to do on weekends, but after experiencing what I have, it’s become a permanent side-project of mine. Haunt Squad is composed of me, Ragdoll letterer Natalie Jane, and our friend Vinny Gomez. We were all investigators in Diamond State Ghost Investigators, before we decided to branch out and form our own, close-knit team. We’re having a blast doing it, particularly our bi-weekly podcast in which we talk about not only our paranormal experiences, but creepy comics, movies, games, or whatever geek culture stuff we want to discuss. You can find Facebook pages for those at www.facebook.com/hauntsquad and www.facebook.com/hauntsquadpodcast.
From the Republic of Bulgaria, two brothers emerge to bring you a rich storytelling experience influenced by the ancient lore and fantasy of their homeland. The works of this two-man powerhouse have been well received around the world and now they’re promoting their newest story: Samodiva’s Kiss. We sit down with the 26-year-old Emiliyan Valev, and 29-year-old Stanimir Valev, to find out what makes this duo so dynamic.
IM: So, it’s not every day you see two brothers embarking on this path of storytelling. How did you two come to the point as a duo?
EV: Since we were kids, we’ve been sharing common interests. Growing up with classic fairy tales, cartoons, comics, and movies, we were creating new stories using our favorite characters or ones of our own.
SV: My brother was always by my side. Combining our ideas and visions was an amazing experience! We were telling unique, exciting, and compelling stories, thanks to this synergy. Writing and drawing have been the best ways of expression for us both. Creating comics is the art form that gives us the freedom we need in our work.
IM: Do you both write and draw, or do you stick to certain roles?
EV: We’re both involved in the creation of every aspect of our work.
SV: Yes indeed. Writing, concepts, illustration, lettering, design, etc.
IM: How would you say you two work together as a team? What are the dynamics at play here?
EV: The dynamic is pretty natural. We’re throwing ideas back and forth. We pick the story to tell and start working on it.
SV: It unravels beautifully before our eyes and we share it with our readers.
IM: You guys have published quite a few works to date. Can you tell us what-all you have released so far? Did you self-publish any of these works?
EV: Our work is well received internationally. Our works have been published in the US. Our comic Dreamroad (Seqapunch Quarterly #5, 2013); Epiphany (Unfashioned Creatures; A Frankenstein Anthology, 2013); Rise of the Forsaken (Grayhaven’s Limitless Steampunk Anthology, 2013); In the Mood and Mysterious Ways (Indie Comics Quarterly #1, 2014), which are nominated for Spectare Creative’s Independent Comic Award, and Arrow of Time (Dois-Indie Comics Quarterly #2, 2014), which was also nominated for Spectare Creative’s Independent Comic Award.
SV: Our works have been presented in international publications, showcasing indy artists and comics creators, like Parabellum (Republika Srpska, 2011, 2013), COMICS (Romania ,2012, 2013), Pocketfulmag (Turkey, 2013), Co-mixer (Bulgaria, 2013), METROPIA (Argentina, 2013, 2014), Postapokalypse (Sweden, 2014).
The Bulgarian audience is familiar with our works from: Царете на България/Bulgarian Kings (2008); Слава/Fame (2009); BG Art Class (2011); Public-Republic (2012); Аз съм Българче/I Am Bulgarian (2014); Hi Drive (2014); Автокласика и Мотоциклети/Autoclassic and Motorcycles (2014); Български Ловецъ/Bulgarian Hunter (2014–2015), STORY (2015).
We’re the creators of the first Bulgarian digital graphic novella Under My Skin (2011). It’s been presented at festivals and exhibitions in Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, and Macedonia. You can check out its trailer here (Translation from Bulgarian to English follows below):
Emiliyan Valev and Stanimir Valev Present
How much do you want to fit in?
How many masks do you put in your life?
With your family? With your friends?
When are you truly yourself?
Can you put all these masks down?
And before who?
Are you ready to reveal yourself?
The Graphic Novella Under My Skin
Introducing Samson/Fated; Introducing Varkolak
Our graphic novel Samson was showcased in the literary and arts magazine СТРАНИЦА/Page (2014). This is the first publication of a Bulgarian comic strip in a Bulgarian literary magazine.
IM: I see your series and works being featured in quite a few different publications and you have won awards as well. Can you tell us about your well-received success?
EV: We’re happy and honored to share our works with so many people in different countries. We’re proud of our achievements, but the greatest award for a creator is the audience’s warm reception.
SV: We’re working hard, always being honest with the reader, and creating the stories we love. We’re happy when the reader is taken on an unforgettable journey through our works.
IM: What is Samodiva’s Kiss about?
EV: Samodiva’s Kiss is a series inspired by the richness of Bulgarian folklore, history, and beliefs. A young hunter’s quest for love in the world of fairy tales and the supernatural, as he becomes part of it.
SV: This is an epic adventure story. Yovo is a young hunter who accidently disturbs the guardian of the forest, Vida Samodiva. Blinded by her hatred for humans, she takes his life. When she looks at his lifeless body, she remembers seeing him before. He’s always been good and respectful to the creatures from her domain. She brings him back to life through Samodiva’s magic. A strong connection is formed between them. Yovo falls in love with Vida, but they can’t be together. They’re too different. Vida goes to the Samodivas’ home, End-World. The changed and resurrected Yovo will fight to the very end for his love. His amazing journey begins. He wants to go to End-World and be with Vida Samodiva. He meets creatures from Bulgarian tales and legends on his way.
IM: How did you two find your inspiration in writing it?
EV: Bulgarian folklore is incredibly rich, unique, very beautiful, and ancient.
SV: It’s a great pleasure, and quite a challenge, to work with such marvelous source material!
IM: Can you tell us a little about the characters?
EV: Yovo is brave and goodhearted. His feelings make him impatient and impulsive. He has too many questions, but no answers. The creatures from the mystic world hold their secrets. Sometimes they help him, but sometimes they use him for their own hidden agendas. Vida is a Samodiva—an entity in Bulgarian folklore gifted with unimaginable beauty and astonishing strength. The Samodivas are protectors of nature and often depicted as cruel and violent with its trespassers. Vida is confused by her feelings for Yovo.
SV: Yovo crosses paths with werewolves, vampires, and legendary creatures like rusaliya, marok, and zmey. His best friend and most faithful companion is Sabotnik. He is born on Saturday and, according to local beliefs, he’s gifted with seeing the world of the supernatural. A blessing and a curse, his power defines his life. Another recurring character is Bendida—a Slavic goddess of hunting. She’s trying to prepare Yovo for what is about to come.
IM: What’s next for you two brothers?
EV: We’re always working on new and diverse projects.
SV: We invite everyone who wants to find out more about us, our work, and what’s next, to visit our blog.
IM: Where can readers find your published works and more about you two?
We have another blog at amilova.com—an international site and online community devoted to comics, manga and video games with more than 600 authors and 80,000 members: http://www.amilova.com/en/members/42691/eandspresent/. There, you can find links to publications, news, and detailed info about our work.
We would cordially like to introduce you to poet/musician/artist David Nicoll. David Nicoll was inducted as an International poet of Merit with the International society of poetry in the Sheraton Hotel in Washington Dc in 1997 and made it to the semi-finals of their poetry competition, from among 2000 selected poets from all over the world. He was selected for the International Who’s Who of Poetry in 2012.
He was also a guest artist on Radio Wicca International who will be playing music from his CDs.
And it all started here. David Nicoll’s first released literary work is Thoughts and Reflections, and his first CD is David Nicoll and Friends Volume 1.
Now on to the interview. Let’s get to know this awesome artist, shall we?
IM: When did you get started in music?
DN: I have loved music since my teenage years and started playing about twenty years ago.
IM: What made you get into the art of the spoken word?
DN: It was not a deliberate act; poetry came naturally to me!
IM: How long have you been writing?
DN: I have been writing poetry and short stories for the last thirty years.
IM: Which do you prefer to create: books or CDs?
DN: I love creating both books and CDs, as they each have different qualities.
IM: Who (or what) are your artistic influences?
DN: Nature, humor and humanity
IM: Who are you reading?
DN: Deepak Chopra, Synchrodestiny!
IM: Do you participate in live shows/readings?
DN: Yes, I do!
IM: What are your favorite composition tools?
DN: A pen and writing pad!
IM: Which is closer to you music or poetry?
DN: Poetry first!
IM: What do you listen to?
DN: South African musicians
IM: Do you play any instruments?
DN: Yes I play djembe and guitar
IM: Do you enjoy collaboration?
DN: Yes I do and I have done quite a few with many friends and fellow musicians!
IM: In your creative process, which comes first when creating music, the words or the melody?
DN: The words!
IM: Can anyone beat Batman?
DN: His wife, no doubt!
IM: How do you feel about Cannabis?
DN: I don’t! What do you feel about it? (Editors note: This interviewer LOVES it!)
IM: What do you personally like about creating art?
DN: I love it!
IM: Do you have a Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram?
DN: I’m on Facebook, WordPress and Instagram!
IM: Got a website?
DN: Not at the moment!
IM: Please take this final question and use this space to promote any projects, peddle yer products and give your shout outs!
DN: I have two books available on Amazon.com and KDP books! Thoughts and Reflections contains poetry, short stories, and humor, with some matching full-color photos and illustrations. It also includes a letter from President Nelson Mandela, which he sent to me after he received the poem “Peace and Harmony!” in 1995.
The other book is called POKES POetic joKES, which is just what it says! If you have a sense of humor, then this book is for you! There are also matching illustrations for some of the POKES.
On Reverbnation under David R B Nicoll I have the following CDs: David Nicoll and friends, Volumes 1 and 2; Treat it so; This is MAD2; and On Days Like These. The last three are collaborations with Mervyn Fuller on composition and production, Mike Pregnolatu on lead guitar and keyboards and Mike Laatz on Saxophone. We are known as MAD, Mervyn And Dave!
Marcos Farrajota is a Lisbon-based comic book creator and publisher. He is a founding member of Chili Com Carne,* a “non-lucrative young artists organization, whose functioning is established upon the free and spontaneous cooperation of its members,” which was formed in 1995.
Chili Com Carne has organized exhibitions and published a wide range of ‘underground’ comics. Examples include:
The Dying Draughtsman – Francisco Sousa Lobo
Kassumai – David Campos
Love Hole – Afonso Ferreira
Zona de Desconforo – v/a
Erzsébet – Nunsky
Pénis Assassino – Janus
Terminal Tower – André Coelho and Manuel João Neto
Chili Com Carne also created Mmnnnrrrg in 2000, an imprint producing outsider art and very experimental materials. They have recently started to release music** as well as comics.
Marcos prefers to promote others’ work, keeping his own work very low-key. He is also very keen to promote an initiative by the Portuguese Government which provides funding for publishers outside Portugal who seek to publish Portuguese books.
Marcos tells us more.
IM: What’s your background?
MF: Well… I studied Enterprise management, but never finished the University course… I guess I can blame comics and punk DIY culture, hahahaha… I got into the fanzines scene and started to do one in 1992. It was titled Mesinha de Cabeceira (Bedside Table). Then I worked here and there, the usual way again: xerox copies, autobiography comics, getting pissed and stoned, getting pissed with the comics scene, doing DIY and becoming famous for 15 minutes with the Loverboy series. Then I went back to zines, started doing DIY again, got really fucking pissed with the comics scene, but continued to do stuff… In the middle, around 2000, I started to work at Bedeteca de Lisboa (the Lisbon public comics library) which has been my bread work, my day job, ever since…
IM: Are you a creator as well as a publisher?
MF: Yup! But a shy one… I do autobiographical comics, but also gig and records reviews or essays in comics form.
IM: What is the Chili Com Carne organization?
MF: Bunch of people from different backgrounds—literature, music, comics, design, fine arts, theater, cinema, etc— getting together and starting to create an official organization to make things better, bigger, and stronger. Around 2000, we started to focus more on publishing and less on performance, so we’ve continued like that, publishing mainly authors of comics, literature, essays, drawing, and even one vinyl record— the very groooooovie 10″ of Çuta Kebab & Party! Have fun and dance to it at http://facamonstro.bandcamp.com/album/k-p-ep-10
IM: What sets Mmnnnrrrg apart from Chili Com Carne?
MF: MMMNNNRRRG is a solo project of mine created in 2000 with the intent of publishing all the comics that nobody wants! It’s been a “dynamic duo” project with Joana Pires taking care of the design and my bad moods since 2010, hahahaha. Most of the label aspect is connected with an “art brut” feeling of art with no compromise and no fixed genre. The idea was to publish unique voices in comics and illustrations, like Mike Diana (no introduction needed, I hope!), Tommi Musturi (from Finland), Anton Kannemeyer (from South Africa), Marriette Tosel (she was chosen for a Society of Illustrators contest last year!), Neuro (from Romania), Aaron $hunga (an internet legend with his bloody funny Vacuum Horror, you know that one?), Portuguese André Lemos, etc…
IM: What types of events does Chili Com Carne organize?
MF: In the past, all sorts (art shows, gigs, etc…). The most important was co-producing Feira Laica, a small press show that was active between 2004 and 2012… Now we just do weird book release events if that happens that way…
IM: Are the Chili Com Carne and Mmnnnrrrg comics creator-owned?
MF: Yes… we are small labels who think more about promoting authors that are actually selling as our economic reason to exist. Our work is voluntary— nobody lives on the book sales.
IM: Who are the target audiences for Chili Com Carne and Mmnnnrrrg comics?
MF: What? Anybody, I don’t believe in targets; we don’t have firearms in Portugal, hahahaha. I think anybody should read our comics. Of course, some of the comics are a bit “rude”— like Mike Diana or Aaron $hunga, or even my stuff for sexual content, violence, and “bad language”— but most of our comics are about life, so if you’re 64 years old, or 14, you should read whatever. Making targets is like economic censorship!
IM: How do you rate Issuu as a distribution platform?
MF: Nothing to say… I thought it would be important to promote our books, but I’m not sure if we’ll actually sell any because of that… but it’s good to have an online pdf that you can incorporate in blog posts showing how the book is. …no big opinion on that!
IM: What is the Portuguese comic book scene like?
MF: Tricky question, because I’ll be always crucified if I say something or other about the Portuguese comics scene, because there’s quite a rich scene of very different groups of people (I say this, considering it’s a small country). So if I defend some point of view, some guy will say I’m doing lobbying… Anyway, let’s say you have good artists but no professional labels that can sustain their output. So many artists in the past just gave up doing stuff, even if they were super-good like Pedro Nora. So, if you draw super-heroes/American stuff, well, there’s a good bunch of them even working for Marvel right now like Jorge Coelho. But if you want “art comics.” there’s been highs and lows since the 70s (after the revolution of 25th April, 1974) but always ending in some kind of failure or disrupted evolution.
I’m guessing that these last two years, things have been getting up again with some “new kids on the block;” very small labels working really tightly with the artists, but more important, there’s more Portuguese books coming out translated in other languages—which is really important, because (again) it’s a small country, with a small number of comics and graphic novels buyers/consumers, small sales, small feedback (press, media, public, etc…). So, if you do a book here, the sales will be—even if it’s a “bestseller”— too small to pay artists to continue their careers (mainstream or artsy). Being published in more countries helps to get a bit more of money and/or recognition that just working for Portuguese market. Promotion abroad is happening a lot; you don’t only have mainstream guys working for US, but also wonderful brand new art-comics from Amanda Baeza being published in Latvia… and “old” 90s graphic novels being translated/published in Poland, France, Italy… I’m crossing my fingers that something exciting will happen in the future!
IM: You mentioned that the Portuguese Government runs a program to help Portuguese creators get their work published overseas. Can you tell us more about the program?
IM: Have you used the program yourself— as well as promoting it on behalf of the government?
MF: No, never… I’m quite low-profile on my work. I prefer to promote other people’s work…
IM: Are you affiliated with the program?
MF: No, I’m promoting because it’s important to let foreign publishers know this exists… doing it for free, but also doing this hoping some publisher may interested in the books I published, of course!
IM: If a publisher wanted to use the program for say, Chili Com Carne and Mmnnnrrrg comics, what would the process be? Would they contact you directly and work out an agreement, then apply for the grant?
MF: I guess so… I mean, I think you can apply the program if you have signed agreements with editors and translators… or authors! But, hey, just read the link for the program; everything is there!
IM: How do you market your group’s comics (promotion, marketing and selling) Do you advertise or do interviews or do signings in shops? How do you let people know your work exists and encourage them to buy it?
MF: E-mail, blog, Facebook, Issuu— all digital… then, of course, sometimes some critics pick up the books and write about them in newspapers and once or twice on TV… but you know, zero budget for promotion, just using the ‘net thing, like all the poor and oppressed use the web to have some voice.
IM: Is Chili Com Carne a closed group or are you looking for submissions?
MF: We are open, but it depends on the projects. The last anthologies, for instance, have been very focused on particular themes or forms. Right now, we’re promoting— making an open-call— to foreign people that worked or studied in Portugal. It’s a book about how you look at Portugal and Portuguese society with “other eyes,” but not as a fancy futuristic point-of-view; we want autobiographical comics from those who actually LIVED here and not only visited it…
IM: What effect has advancing technology had on the industry? Do you think the internet has made it easier for people to self-publish, and distribute their self-published work?
MF: Well, of course it made it easier. In the old days, you had to write and spend money on stamps— and there was the risk in not knowing what you were buying… Of course, that was also really exciting, but now you can find wonderful stuff from Portugal, the US, Latvia, Peru, Croatia, or anywhere in the world. And this is only the beginning of the conversation; now you can design a book easier, etc, etc, etc…
IM: Do you think the number of self published comics, print-on-demand comics, digital comics and web comics makes it more difficult for individual creators to promote and market their work?
MF: Yeah, but what are the options here? We all stop doing stuff? I think people should be conscious of the contents and artistic value of our production… I think some people just draw some stupid thing and they just put it online or xerox it or whatever… but still: 1) is not that that mainstream press does also? and 2) if it’s bad stuff, you do 25 copies and the world will forget it; if it’s good, something else will happen sooner or later…
IM: What titles do you have planned for the future?
MF: There’s a new QCDA anthology, that “emigration” anthology Zona de Desconforto, new books by Dileydi Florez, Filipe Felizardo, Francisco Sousa Lobo, José Smith Vargas, … an essay about punk and comics by me… all this by Chili Com Carne. As for MMMNNNRRRG, there’s a new book by Aleksandar Zograf coming, maybe an omnibus of Simon Hanselmann, and one music split tape just came out with music from Melanie is Demented and Black Taiga— MMMNNNRRRG is celebrating 15 years in May!
IM: Will you be attending any upcoming conventions?
MF: I’m going to Poland twice this year, not sure about Crack (in Rome, not the drug) and national events like the Comics Festival of Beja and Feira Morta…
IM: Are comics known as “comics” in Portugal?
MF: No, it’s BD or Banda Desenhada, a French influence of Bandes Dessinées … Before the 60/70s they were known as “histórias aos quadradinhos” (stories in small squares/panels).
* Chili Com Carne* is the Portuguese version of Chilli Con Carne.
** After the interview Marcos contacted us with information on MMMNNNRRRG’s first musical release. It is a split-tape (cassette tape) of Melanie Is Demented and Black Taiga. It is being sold in the Chili Com Carne website’s online shop (in the MMMNNNRRRG section).
Weblinks (they have content in English and Portuguese)
Everywhere you turn, there is a want-to-be writer. Most start a story and never finish. A majority of those who finish don’t know how to edit successfully. Others can edit, but fail to see the value in critiques or test readers. And every single one of them wonders if their story is worth telling—or worth buying.
Writers also overflow with ideas; it’s part of their psyche. So, why don’t they act on them? And the one that they pick might be discarded along the way, because it didn’t blossom as it should have. So, how do we know if we should invest so much of our lives into the tale?
There are many how-to books telling you about the passive voice, opening hooks, and character charts. They don’t address a writer’s gut feeling or sixth sense, and fail to touch on those habits and hints that serve as flags showing you are following the correct plot. Let’s go through some of the indicators that assist me in deciding if a story is worthy.
You start talking about your book before finishing
Are you antsy to spread the news about your new book even before finishing it? Heck, you’re not even finished the first draft and all you want to do is cry out, “Look at my new book!” All that blood and sweat, and tears if you’re like me, and all you want to do is talk about how you’re getting little Jonny home in chapter five.
The right dialogue
Do you venture out into the world and eavesdrop on people to see if someone has that special voice? Bill talks like that guy; let’s listen just a little bit longer. Or maybe, a waitress says something the way one of the waitresses in your book should talk. They flip their hair the right way or something. I came across someone who looked just like one of my characters and stared at her for a long time. Have you had that happen?
Harper Lee has nothing on your book
If you had a limited amount of time to write just one book, would you choose to devote your days to this one? Maybe you only have so many words in you. Note: Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird in the 1960s, and is only now talking about releasing a second book.
The story means something to you
You have an urgency to write the story. It has to be done before you die. The message has meaning, and the impact will be felt. It is educational, enlightening, or key to improving the quality of the reader’s life.
Rewrites wake you up
It’s like a bolt of lightning out of the sky and your eyes light up when you find a way of rephrasing a line in the perfect way.
Sleep takes second place to the scenes
You inadvertently see your novel playing out before you whenever you try to relax. It could be the apex of the book or a pivotal scene that has eluded you for ages, but it comes out when you try to relax and close your eyes.
You cannot keep up with your mind
The story eats at you. And even when you write over 70 words per minute on the computer, it’s still not fast enough. The plot spews forth and the characters are eager. It’s not difficult to tell it, and the feel is right.
Your notebook is full of phrases
I keep notes on my smart phone. It is always with me and, every once in a while, I have to write down something a character would say. Or it could just be a little phrase someone in the story would have running through their mind. Maybe it is an action taking place. But it needs to be recorded.
Your thoughts are always on ways to tighten a sentence or paragraph. Even when you are ready to do the next one, it hits you that there is something missing and it is hard not to go back and rewrite the work a little to tighten it up.
Hunting for similarities
You know someone did something the same and now you need to know what they did in order to either make it look right, or not copy them. This happens all day long.
Wanting to get it right
Whether its clothing, food, geography, weather, flora, fauna, genealogy, or culture, you are diving in with research in order to make sure you are perfect. The story has to be right; you don’t want to spoil it.
That point in your story you know someone will come to and be overwhelmed. It’s the bull’s eye, on target, the perfect ten in writing. It will leave the reader with a contented afterglow, making them glad they bought your book. And you know it is there.
You don’t want to insult the reader with wasted words or fluff. It is a hunt to seek out every spark, fear, thrill, and sensuality at its climax. You don’t just want to take the reader to the edge; you want to push them until they are fighting to hold on… until they drop over that edge. You define the category for them with just mere words.
You grab traditionally-published books in order to look exactly like them. The reader will not be able to tell if this is an indy book. You pride yourself at being an independent author, but you want the work to look like it came out of the biggest New York publishing house just yesterday. So you take your time and study the pagers from cover to cover.
The opening makes you proud
That first line, a gasp of breath, enriches the mind and powers the imagination of the reader. You are so proud of it that you can recite if by heart. You are thrilled by it, and you never will tire of hearing it. The impact is awesome.
And this is how you know you are on the right track with a novel. How many of them did you check with your current work in progress? Is this the book you were meant to write?
Diego Publishing is a London-based publishing company that was founded in 2012. Their plan is to introduce their unique variety of comics to American audiences and readers worldwide. Most of their titles are successful Italian comics that are being translated for American audiences. They also recently debuted a successful Kickstarter project called the European Comics Journal at the London Comic Con. It’s always a tough challenge for new publishers to make a mark in this industry and the CEO of the company, Giuseppe Pennestri talks about the hardships and challenges in bringing an international band of Italian artists to a worldwide forum and how American comics have influenced the readership of the world in general.
RM: Kickstarter has become one of the leading sources in funding much of the indy comics coming out these days. You’ve already funded the European Comics Journal. Do you plan to fund your future projects through Kickstarter as well?
GP: Yes, I do. We are a small press company with limited resources; consequently, crowdfunding is an important part of our financing strategy. It was clear from the beginning that the readers would be very few, but we started this project primarily because we wanted these volumes to exist; we wanted give to those brilliant authors the opportunity to reach a wider public, and of course for ourselves. To contain costs we have opted for POD (Print on Demand), that allow us to print the amounts we sold at Conventions and our website. Starting a publishing company is a costly and hard task, therefore crowdfunding does indeed mean the difference between bringing new titles to life or not! We do our best to keep prices at a level that allow us to balance the costs, often even without gaining anything, and to reinvest the eventual small profit margin in the production of new books. Definitely, we don’t make the profits larger publishers do. I admit that several people in and out of the publishing world have told me that I have courage in starting such an endeavor (a polite euphemism for smiling at us as though we were crazy). Kickstarter is not just a financing source but, more importantly, a marketing tool that can help us raise awareness about our titles. Consequently we’ll soon launch a new project.
RM: The American comic market is almost totally dominated by superheroes, but the European market is totally different. Why do you think that is? Also, do you think that will ever change?
GP: I believe it’s already changed. Marvel and DC dominate with their superheroes titles—which sell for the art not for the stories— but people who actually READ comics have turned to new realities; I am thinking about awesome titles like Scalped, DMZ, and Preacher, just to name few. Readers want good stories supported by awesome art; this is what we deliver at Diego Comics Publishing.
The reason Marvel and DC dominate the US market is simply because they have the money to do so, money that nowadays comes from related toys, TV series, cartoons, and cinema. Money generates money. It’s a circle. It’s the continue rebooting of the same characters from the thirties and sixties. I admit that my knowledge of American superheroes is limited to the more popular names, like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Capitan America, X-Men… therefore, I’d like to ask when was last time that a successfully new superhero character was created? Personally I have a preference for ‘classical’ comic heroes, such as Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake… old school heroes without superpowers. Nowadays, I see many young creators—also on crowdfunding platforms—that mock the superhero genre. Why? Comics are a product of creativeness, not only of illustration but of storytelling. Heroes are ordinary people whose actions turn them to heroes. I believe that giving a favorite superpower to a character is easier than telling a strong story about the actions that turned the ordinary man into a hero. Does it make sense?
RM: Are you going to consider publishing some of your graphic novels through Comixology soon?
GP: Yes, it’s on our schedule. We are having small problems with getting the files to follow the requirements Comixology has, but we’ll soon have that sorted. Meanwhile, we have our titles on sale via another North American website, Drive-Thru Comics, which is smaller than Comixology, but offers us the opportunity to promote our titles on the other side of the pond.
RM: Also are there any plans to release some of the books through Diamond print distributions?
GP: Yes, there are. I had meetings with Diamond and other distributors last week at the London Book Fair. We are also planning new covers by renowned illustrators in the US to increase our visibility on the shelves.
RM: As the CEO of the company and a literary agent, do you plan on expanding towards American creators as well?
GP: One step at a time *smile*. Currently, my plate is full with European authors. I have a few ideas on how to publish independent US creators in the European comics market, which I will develop by next year. I can say that the second issue of ECJ (European Comics Journal) will host a section dedicated to US creators.
RM: What makes Diego Publishing titles stand out from other books coming out?
GP: Our authors are bestsellers in Italy, which gives us a guarantee on the quality of the stories and drawings. We at ‘Diego’ do our part by printing awesome volumes and making quality translations. It is essential, because one of our goals, as stated, is to provide the reader’s eyes the joy of seeing good mastery in drawings and inking of the great comics artists, and to feed readers’ minds with awesome storytelling. The characters of our titles are intriguing and well-developed, which has given us enthusiastic feedback by our readers and by a few reviewers. Our characters don’t have superpowers—Desdemona is a regular university student by day and radio DJ by night—but she is able to speak to the soul of the reader; Rourke the Hexbuster—although it has supernatural and magic content—is a story about family relationships; then we have Adam 2.0, an unusual comic book that has to be read to the end.
RM: Do you plan to expand Diego beyond Publishing? Towards gaming, movies or television venues, etc?
GP: Again, I am open to any prospect that can arise. All of our characters can easily be adapted into other media; actually Desdemona is currently being adapted into a TV series in Italy. In the last three years since I started this project, I have built a network of contacts in various sectors, but it will take time—and popularity— to turn them in a business project. We have a saying in Italy, ‘La gatta frettolosa fa i gattini ciechi’ (The hasty cat gives birth to blind kittens). In other words, “the world wasn’t made in one day.” My main objective right now is to focus on building a base of readership for our books that will guarantee that amount of regular sales needed to consolidate our finances, and then we will be in a position to grow and expand.
RM: What are some of the upcoming titles readers can look forward to from Diego?
GP: The three comic characters we have started to publish, Rourke the Hexbuster, Desdemona and Adam 2.0, include several books that will take us in to 2016 to complete the series release. We have already selected a few more authors to include in our catalog for both graphic novels and fiction. I aim to have published ten new titles a year—the main topics will be fantasy and sci-fi—but I’d like to have a western too. Moreover, the European Comics Journal offers us the opportunity to expand our selection of authors from other European countries, both by publishing short comics stories in the magazine or full new series in volumes. On that front, we have just launched a new Kickstarter to finance Issue #2! You can support us at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/582218041/european-comics-journal-02-lgbt-characters-in-comi
Indy comics have always had an original voice and the titles from Diego range from fantasy to beyond. You can find their titles at Drive-Thru Comics, and hopefully soon, at Comixology and a local comic shop near you. You can also find out more about the company and their titles at their website: http://www.diegopublishing.co.uk/
I love music. I really do. I get it from my mother. There’s this thing she and I can do and it sometimes drives my wife crazy. We have the ability to hear every instrument individually in a song. That is, we can separate it with our hearing, and hear what each instrument is doing. My wife chides me, because she can only hear the song as a whole. Hearing each instrument separately really increases the enjoyment of listening to music as a whole. I also love comics. I love seeing the artwork and following the stories and the journeys of the characters. Hence the reason I was really intrigued to interview Phil Buck, a musical protégé who has found a fantastic way of merging his two loves: music and comics. He was born and raised in Memphis, TN, where the musical culture is prominent, and he fell in love with music and comics at an early age. We recently had a conversation with him about his work and his latest projects.
IM: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what it is you do that relates to comics and music.
PB: I was first into comics when I was very young. I believe I was between the ages of nine and twelve when I was a rabid fan of Marvel. I used to collect the Topps trading cards for all the Marvel heroes and villains with my brother. I had binders full of these cards. But as I grew from a pre-teen to a teenager, I lost my comics obsession and music took the main focus in my life. I grew up in Memphis, TN, where music is a part of the cultural DNA. I first learned to play piano at a very young age, but I really cut my teeth as a musician in my early teen years, playing bass in numerous bands ranging in genre from blues, funk, and rock ‘n’ roll to jazz and later “jam bands”. Music was my main creative outlet for many years. I focused on playing bass, but I also became proficient on guitar, keys/piano, beat production and electronic music programming and arranging. From the age of 15 until the present day (I’m nearly 31 at the time of writing), I worked very hard at learning music. While I learned music theory, I also began to focus on learning how to promote and market music. I also spent some short time in college in a music industry program. Throughout numerous different musical projects, it proved to be a very difficult task to get my music heard and recognized, as the market is very, very saturated, these days. Long story short, as a result of my exercises in trying to promote and market music products, I came upon the idea of combining music with a comic book.
It seemed like music got lost in the mix of all the activity on the internet and social media, but any visual art could connect with audiences online far more directly than music. When you share your music on the Internet, you have to compel the viewer to push ‘play’. And many times, they simply don’t hit ‘play’ and just keep scrolling. But with any imagery, when they see it, the job has been done. You can connect with your audience immediately. This was a profound idea to me.
This all seemed like a simple idea at first, but I learned very quickly that creating comic books and doing it well is no easy task. I began to delve deeply into the discipline of creating comics. It was roughly about five years ago that I began my journey to create comics, and it has all been solely focused on the comic book series Those Shadow People. Much of my practicing has led me to find opportunities with other comic book creators, who have allowed me to expand my writing and lettering portfolio, as well. Now in 2015, I am not sure if I am more compelled to create comics or music, but both of these creative outlets have a deep passion within my heart.
IM: Who are the people that most influenced you as an artist?
PB: As this question relates to Those Shadow People, I was highly influenced by the Gorillaz. I can clearly remember the first time I saw the music video for “Clint Eastwood” late at night on MTV. It was a profound moment, because I was immediately drawn in by the animation. At first, I’m not even sure I really paid attention to the music, but I was hooked by the ideas and the character renderings and how it all came together as one cohesive idea on the screen. This is clearly, for me, a huge turning point in my life, where I began to focus on making visual elements to be combined with my music. In time, I came to discover more of the musical side of the Gorillaz and I was immensely inspired by Damon Albern as well as the way he used the Gorillaz as a project for world-wide collaboration over many genres. This idea also affected me deeply and that is much of the reason that the musical element of Those Shadow People consists of a very large group of people spread out all over the world. While Gorillaz is clearly the catalyst for my current endeavors with Those Shadow People, my musical influences are much more diverse.
At the earliest point of my musical journey, I was mostly influenced by the alternative rock bands that were so popular during my formative years. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sound Garden, Rage Against the Machine, and plenty more were the types of bands I grew up listening to and who compelled me to want to be in a band. My friend Michael Johnson, who lived in my neighborhood, just a few blocks away, was the first person I knew who was in a band. I used to go over every night that I could watch the guys and gals practicing. I was so inspired and I knew just watching them that I had to be in a band. Jeremy Sykes, the bass player in the band (12 Walruses) was kind enough to gift me a bass guitar. From the day I received that bass, I would spent countless hours in my bedroom, learning scales and just trying to get up to a point I could join a band.
My good friend Chris Nicotera was an accomplished guitar player and he took me under his wing and began teaching me about “good” music. Looking back, I laugh at little bit at this idea—because nowadays, I love almost all music—but at that point, I took the opinion of my new band-mate very seriously and thus, began a long period of musical snobbery. That being said, I was turned on to lots of really great musical influences. Thanks to Chris, I began to listen to older rock ‘n’ roll artists, like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, CREAM, and Frank Zappa. The influence of this bluesy and funky music began to dominate my style and taste. Funk and soul music also became a central influence on me at that time, as I learned about music from The Meters, Parliament/Funkadelic, Tower of Power, The Neville Brothers, and more. That funky type of music led to me discover fusion and, more importantly, the wide range of sounds that Herbie Hancock has produced throughout his long and prolific career. From his days with Miles Davis to the fusion sounds of the Headhunters, I have always found Herbie Hancock to be one the artists I am constantly inspired by and drawn back to. Growing older and continuing to develop my musical taste and, thanks to my band-mates John Daniel and Dave Benedict, I began to learn about the sounds of jazz, and artists like Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Freddy Hubbard, John Coltrane, and so, so many more. I also fell in love with the bass player Jaco Pastorius, and his sound and style of playing bass changed the way I approached playing bass myself. After my time at college, my musical style began to change and my time in bands came to a short hiatus. I became highly focused on the newer styles: hip hop and, subsequently, electronic and beat music from artists like RJD2, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and Pretty Lights. This type of music really helped me shift my musical focus from performance and “working on my chops” to composition and vision. I spent much more time on my computer, creating beats and recording numerous takes on each different instrument by myself. My goals shifted toward creating an entire musical experience on my own and trying to take the pure idea in my mind and lay it out as perfectly as possible for the listener. This is still a big part of my creative process, but luckily, the pendulum has swung back toward more collaborative efforts, as well.
While I have talked very much about my musical influences, many readers of Indyfest might have more interest or find more insight in my writing background. I must first say that I also spent a good portion of my education in high school and college in a theater and film/video curriculum. Most of my influence toward storytelling and writing is based off my experience with film and TV shows. Some of the biggest influences on my writing are not primarily comic books, but movies and, more recently, TV shows. I love David Lynch, and especially, what he did with Twin Peaks. I feel that show had a great influence on Lost and thus, I found much inspiration in that show and from Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff. The dramatic writing of Vince Gilligan and crew on Breaking Bad, and now Better Call Saul, are huge to me. I have always been wildly inspired by sci-fi movies and TV shows. I am a big fan of Star Wars, and more so Star Trek. I also LOVE fantasy books, like The Lord of the Rings, the Wheel of Time, and yes, even Harry Potter.
It’s very difficult to choose any one among these influences as the chief source of inspiration, but it’s quite clear that all these influences have come together in the creation of Those Shadow People. Ideas from sci-fi, fantasy, drama and superhero comics are all at the forefront of the creative ideas that drive me to keep writing and developing the characters and the world of Those Shadow People.
As for comic book influences specifically, I’d have to speak of that in two phases. In my earliest years, I really didn’t even know whose writing I was reading or whose art I was looking at, but I loved the superhero comics of Marvel and DC. Those superhero stories definitely left an impression on me from an early age and compelled me back toward that type of work later in life. When I decided to try to make a comic book myself, the first thing I did was go to a comic book store and just buy up a bunch of random books. I was totally out of touch with what was happening in the industry, so I just took a shotgun scatter approach and grabbed whatever looked good when I flipped through the pages. Initially, I was buying comic books as reference material. I felt the need to read and absorb if I was going to create this type of art. Over time, I became hooked on many of the stories and my comic book obsession was renewed. Shortly after simply reading for inspiration, I found myself purchasing five to ten books weekly, to keep up with the characters I had missed so much. My strongest comic book influences are probably the folks who have made a name working at the Big Two, but also, with their own books. I love the work of Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, and Rick Remender. Fear Agents and Black Science are both books that inspired me toward world building and epic, mindf*ck types of stories. Jonathan Hickman and his latest run on Avengers and, more so, New Avengers is a really fun and inspiring read. I also love what Fraction has done with Hawkeye and his own series, Sex Criminals. More recently, I have been turned on to The Dying and the Dead and I really enjoy the epic nature of the storytelling that’s grounded in this kind of more gritty and grounded “American hero” type of narrative.
IM: What is your motivation to create and keep on creating?
PB: That is such a deep question, but I will do my best to answer it. I do feel that my creative motivations are the things that I get up for in the morning. I work a job as an optician and I have done this type of work for nearly ten years. I’d like to think I’m very good at it, but I don’t jump out of bed in the morning pining to make and sell glasses. Every night, when I go to sleep, I am pondering new and different ideas for music and storytelling and every morning, when I wake up, I look forward to the next moment I can put these ideas into practice. I think, more than anything, creative endeavors are like my connection to God, or whatever you believe that to be. I find that I am compelled to take on creative work without any real reason why. It’s more about the how, the process, for me. The act of creating simply puts my mind at peace and I feel most whole when I work toward a creative goal. I know that might sound cheesy to some, or just plain crazy to others, but I really feel like I have an underlying purpose on this planet to create something. I think I am still searching for that one thing that is my real contribution to life, but I don’t know that I would ever know it if I found it, or if I would stop working if I did.
To speak to a more practical angle, I think that art, in its many forms, is sometimes the only thing that keeps a person going in the worst of times. I would like to believe that just one of my creations was profound enough that someone in their darkest hour found inspiration to keep going. I hope that just one piece of my art was enough for someone to shake off their funk, jump up, and get back into life. And then, hopefully, they in turn do the same for someone else. In the end, I think that’s all we can really hope for, in our art and in life in general.
IM: Tell us about your first project. What was the experience like?
PB: My first project as related to indy comics was Those Shadow People. That was quite a learning experience. Originally, when I thought to combine music and visuals as one, I imagined doing animation. But animation felt like too lofty a goal and, for some reason, in my ignorance, I thought comic books would be ‘easier’. LOL. Boy, was I wrong. I learned very quickly that making comics is a giant process and, if you have a serious goal of doing it well, it’s even harder. Luckily, my first book, Those Shadow People #1, was executed by just myself as the writer and one artist, Erik Turner. While the size of the team helped to keep the logistics more manageable than, say, having a larger team with a writer, a penciler, an inker, a colorist, a letterer, and an editor, it didn’t necessarily help us have perspective on how to make the project the best it could be. In the end, I think the project turned out to be a bit more work than I could truly handle and my relationship with the artist, who was also a friend, suffered at times, due to the stress that the project created. The upside of the first issue was that I really began to learn how much time and work it should take to create a comic book. And those lessons have carried through to the next issues. Issue #0 still suffered from some of the same logistics problems, but I think that I’ve finally gotten a handle on the process with Issue #2.
IM: How did the idea for your project emerge?
PB: I’ve spoken a little bit about this in some of the earlier questions, but I’ll rehash just a bit here. The idea for Those Shadow People emerged from two different catalysts. One, the first time I saw the Gorillaz music video on TV, and Two, when I realized that, in order to break through all the noise on the internet with your music, bands could really benefit from a strong visual element. To explain a rough timeline, I was in a band called The Biz for a few years and our music was very upbeat, electronic dance music, for the most part. But in our downtime, my band mate Tim Santos and I would write and record music that didn’t quite fit with the sound of The Biz. It was more chill and emotional and we found that we couldn’t quite work it into the sets we played with The Biz. Over time, we built up a large stockpile of music on our hard drives that we just didn’t know what to do with. One of the songs, which later became “Open Your Eyes” on our first vinyl for Those Shadow People, used a lot of imagery in the lyrics that really inspired me to write. I felt like the lyrics were like these little Easter eggs into a bigger story. And so, we started talking about what would later become Those Shadow People. I think I probably spent two years just creating outlines for the story while we kept recording more music and, finally, it was time to make a comic book. It took a few months before I could find an artist interested in taking on the project. I happened to have lots of friends who were illustrators and/or graphic designers, so I started reaching out to them, but no one took an interest in the project. Finally, it dawned on me that I had met an artist at one of The Biz’s local shows. It was Erik Turner. He basically makes his money as an artist by creating art and then setting up shop at local shows selling his work. At the end of our show, he brought me a small art card with his info on the back and I held on to it. Then one day, I remembered the card and I found his info on the back and we began meeting regularly at a local bar to drink and talk about character ideas. After many more months, we had created some great character renderings based on my rough sketches and the ideas we hashed out together. Finally, it was time to make a comic book. The rest is, well, history.
IM: How many books have you worked on to date and which is your favorite?
PB: This count will be somewhat unofficial, but I have worked on a total of seventeen books as a writer and five books as a letterer. (I say ‘unofficial’ because, so far, many of the scripts I have written for creators have yet to see the light of day). I must say, I have had the most fun working on books as a writer. This may seem like a cop-out, but my favorite is easily my own book, Those Shadow People. I have worked on some other great projects with other creators and my next favorite would be the webcomic The Not So Golden Age, created by Joseph Freistuhler. I was lucky enough to be brought on to this project to write the first issue, and it’s just a joy to write comedically for Joseph’s project. As for Those Shadow People, this project is my baby. The characters are, for the most part, based on myself and my friends. The story is a massive epic in my mind, and the time spent bringing it to life is unmatched, so far, by my work on any other project. To be more specific, I think that Those Shadow People Issue #2 is my most favorite book to work on in my career. Issue Two is the first issue where the pacing of the story is just right, the art team is a finely-oiled machine, and the timeline has been much more viable in supporting an ongoing comic series. It will probably be many more months before it is released, but I feel that this is the best showing in the series so far, and it will come out far sooner than the gap we had between Issues #1 and #0.
IM: What is your assessment of today’s independent creator industry, and what do you think the industry needs?
PB: I am so glad that you asked this question. I am excited about answering, because much of my learning curve in creating Those Shadow People has been in getting to know the ins and outs of the indy comic industry, and in meeting and getting to know so many of my fellow creators. I think the biggest detriment to the independent creator industry is simply the blanket term that gets applied to so many creators of all calibers. There are some really amazing creators out there, who have a tireless work ethic and a commitment to quality that rivals Marvel, DC, Image, Valiant, etc. But there are also some really terrible creators who have spent little to zero time learning their craft or the ins and outs of the industry. I think the fact that so many of these inexperienced creators try way too soon to get their voice heard reflects poorly on the state of the indy comic industry. This type of behavior is a major detriment to the people who are working so hard to learn and to do it right. I’ve seen this same scenario in the indy music scene. People feel like they learn to play a guitar or make a beat and they should suddenly be a rock star. Ego takes over and commitment to the craft is not even a concern to the artist. With all that being said, I don’t want to discourage newcomers from trying to learn and get into the industry. I just want to advise and caution these newcomers to take the time to learn, listen to criticism with an open mind, take it to heart, but then don’t stop working and trying to learn. Being a humble artist goes a long way, and I think that if more new creators would try to remain humble and spend more time with their heads down working, the whole indy comics industry would benefit to a great degree.
IM: In your opinion, how difficult is it for an independent creator to make a living today?
PB: Well, this may be one that I am not truly qualified to speak on, as I have yet to make a profit off of selling my own comics. On the flip side, I have had some great success marketing my writing and lettering skills to other folks for a fair wage. All that being said, as is similar with any creative vocation, it’s going to be pretty difficult for a while. I think that if any independent creators plan to make a living off selling their own original book, they may find this to be a very long uphill battle. Comic book fans don’t like new things. It’s just a fact, and if you plan to try to make it big off your own original idea, then I would tell you to expect to spend YEARS sinking your own money into paying printing costs, professionals, convention fees, shipping, etc., etc. If you have the gumption to complete a book, or even a few books in a series, then you might find some success in pitching your project to some of the smaller publishers, but this will still not be enough to make a living. More than anything, if you want to make it as a comic book creator, you have to diversify your portfolio and take every opportunity you can get. Build your portfolio, get out on the scene, go to cons, join every social media group, and then, after all that, expect to spend many years keeping up these activities before you make any good money. If the creator is willing to learn their craft and then offer that as a service to other creators, they may find that making a living off comics will be more viable. For instance, most of the funding for Those Shadow People has come from doing graphic design, writing, and lettering for other people, not always comic-related. Also, keep in mind that as an indy creator, you are basically a freelance worker and that has many of its own hurdles to deal with outside of comic-related obstacles. Taxes, health insurance, advertising, etc. are all concerns of a freelancer in any industry and you will need to prepare to deal with those, as well. I think that, for anyone trying to make it as an indy creator, you would be very wise to have a full-time job that can pay your rent and then plan on getting very little sleep, as you spend your early mornings and/or late nights and weekends to fulfill your comic book-related goals.
IM: Do you use social media? And if so, how has it helped in getting the word out about your work?
PB: Yes, I use social media religiously. And I have found it to be a major help in, not just getting the word out, but also helping me to develop my career in the comic book industry as a whole. If you come to social media with the goal of advertising your creation, you may not get much traction. Shameless self-promotion is so prevalent online that you’re going to have a really hard time getting anyone to really care about your project by just spamming the masses. In my experience, the best thing you can get out of social media is networking. I have met all of the artists I work with for Those Shadow People through Facebook and the comic book industry groups on Facebook. Also, I have met so many fellow creators who are doing fantastic work. These people inspire me to work harder and learn more every day. When I see what they are doing, I learn. And, in turn, I try very hard to spread the word about other creators’ projects. And, trust me, that goodwill comes back to you. I think that, if you approach social media the same way you approach most things in life, (and by that, I mean be polite, be humble, treat others the way you want to be treated), you will find success. But if you go on Facebook simply to spam your Kickstarter, well, then you may be disappointed by the results.
IM: What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish as a creator?
PB: At this point, the most important thing I hope to accomplish is that I get to tell my story, the whole story. Those Shadow People has a sprawling narrative that will take at least 12 issues to really unfold, and my big goal is to keep grinding until the “meat and potatoes” of that story has come to light. There are many tangents to be explored and next episodes that could take the helm after the main story, so I hope to take it even further, but more than anything, I just want to get the ideas out of my brain and on to the page. I have a few more ethereal goals, which are mainly to keep meeting and supporting the comic book creators and musicians out there. I think every day that I learn and grow, I have accomplished a major goal in my life. So more than anything, I just want to keep that going until the day I die.
IM: What are your future plans and where do you see your career in the next five years?
PB: In the future, I would like to work on another comic book project of my own creation that is not attached to a musical project. I never would have expected this when I first set out to make comics, but I really love the work. Adding the musical element to the equation makes the production exponentially more work and more expensive. It can be very tasking to complete just one release of this nature. So I think, for me, working on a comic alone would be liberating. In the next five years, I hope that I am doing much of the same activities, but just doing them better with more people and, ideally, spending a little less time at a day job and more time working on creative projects that truly inspire me to wake up in the morning. Also, I hope that within the next five years I could achieve a great dream of mine, which is to combine the music of Those Shadow People with animation based on the comics. This would bring my journey full circle back to the original inspiration I gleaned from Gorillaz, and I think that this execution of the project would really resonate with people and help to take the project to another level.
IM: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming an independent creator?
PB: I covered much of my opinion about this in a couple of the earlier questions, but hopefully, I can sum up that advice more succinctly here. My advice is this: Spend as much time consuming art as you spend creating it. If you want to make comics, read lots and lots of comics. Work harder than anyone you know to learn and practice your craft. If you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to be an illustrator, then draw. And do this as much as possible. I mean, every day. Don’t stop. Never take a break. If you can’t draw anymore, go to a museum, read a comic, watch a YouTube video that teaches you a new technique. More than anything else, stay humble. No matter how good you get, you can always get better. Your relationships are the key to your success, so never, ever treat someone in a way that your mother wouldn’t be proud of. Be kind, be honest, be true and just treat others like you would want to be treated. Being a decent person goes a long, long way in this industry (and all walks of life, for that matter). And remember, at the end of the day, no matter how bad someone treats you, take the higher road. Don’t take a bad experience as an excuse to become an asshole. If you get some harsh criticism about your work, just remember there is no such thing as bad publicity. At least someone took the time to look at your work, and that’s saying a lot these days. Also, one other thing: be prepared to spend some money. If you really want to make it, you can’t expect to get everything for free. Spend money on advertising and you build a relationship with that press outlet. Spend money on an inker who is better than you and your project will look better, but also, you have another person spreading the word about your work. I think the Beatles put it best when they sing in “The End,” the last song of their career together on Abbey Road, “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”
There are some comic book coffee houses popping up across America, where folks can relax to some music and read their favorite comic book. I think Those Shadow People would fit nicely into such a setting. I see only big things in the future for what I think is a great idea and a unique approach to merging two creative forms. I urge you to support this great creator.
The creation of any work of art takes a certain amount of passion and faith to endure the hurdles faced by anyone engaged in anything creative. How much more powerful is the endeavor when one’s faith is the subject given that very same passion? Such is the case with Ancient Wisdom Comics and their current project, The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Armed with an intense interest in the Gospels, and a desire to visually bring them to life, this creative team has stepped out to create what promises to be a moving tribute. These books attempt a broader picture of the familiar Bible tale, bringing the individual players into sharper focus, and thus, hopefully providing a more comprehensive understanding of a story most believe they already know. Taking time out of a busy schedule, writer Aaron Trudgeon shared a bit about the company’s current endeavor and what makes this project so unique.
IM: Currently, you and the team over at Ancient Wisdom Comics are working on adapting the Gospels of the New Testament into a graphic novel. Could you share a bit about this project?
AT: The project is entitled The Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a planned graphic novel of the Gospels that will have 109 chapters, with 16 pages in each chapter. The project will include original art and cut-and-paste images, as well as stock religious images to help tell the story. The images help tell the story, but the strongest point is really writing. I would say it is written culturally from a western mindset, with a very linear approach to the story going from point A to B (early start to the ascension). The team is aiming to create a work that merges all of the Gospels into one continuous story that is 99 per cent accurate in terms of how it relates to the source material.
IM: With a planned extended version of the Gospels clocking in at 109 chapters (at 16 pages for each chapter), how do you manage that work load? It sounds like a massive undertaking. Who is the creative team involved with the project? In terms of creating the look for the book, how did you come about taking this approach?
AT: Yes, it is quite a work load, but it is fun. I’m learning a lot and religious reading interests me. I have a team, but I’m the main producer, I just met with my first proofreader today; we did chapters 52, 53, and 54. My second proofreader is my wife Carol. Working with two proofreaders goes a long way in helping reduce all the small errors; I have others on the team to help check accuracy of content. I’ve been working on this a long time. I finally started to write in January of 2012, back when I still had a decent job working at a hospital. The hospital closed and I soon ran low on money, so we started using stock pictures. I quickly realized it worked quite well. Any scenes that I could not match up with stock images, I had an artist draw. The main artists are Larry Blake and Rachelle Westmoreland. The project also includes art unique to certain issues, including work by Larry Blake, Sean Bieri, George McVey, Dan Hyson, and John Nagridge. At this point, it’s turning out quite well; all chapters are written out and almost all pictures are done. We just have to be patient till the proofreaders are done.
IM: What would you say someone who reads this project will come away with?
AT: I would say with some confidence, that if someone were to read this, they could pass Christianity 101. Also all of Christianity, all denominations, everything out there was considered; only what stood the test made it into this project.
IM: Would you and the team over there at Ancient Wisdom Comics consider yourselves to be fans of the medium? Is there anything that you are reading currently that inspires you?
AT: Yes, we are comic book fans—also zine fans—who have been creating for years. We have a lot of mini-comics we have been doing for years. One comic book which we created in the late 90s is called Christianman (art by Larry Blake). It was a one-shot deal, but since that, and up to this point, we have been creating many mini-comics and zines. As far as my reading goes, I read all the time. Usually, I’m going through a book, but most of my reading has been this gospel comic, lately.
IM: Of all of the books in the Old and New Testaments, what made you decide to tackle the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
AT: I think that we decided to do the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of our interest in Christianity. Since Jesus is the focus of Christianity, the best place to focus our project on would be the Gospels.
IM: When is the project slatted to debut and where will fans be able to find it once it is available?
AT: Hopefully, by the end of this year or early 2016, it will be ready. Once it is, we think putting the book on Amazon would be a good idea; not sure how it would do in comic shops, since it is a hodgepodge of art, as we stated earlier. The writing is the strong part, pictures are just a help.
IM: Where can fans learn more about the project and Ancient Wisdom Comics?