I stumbled across this wonderful graphic (by Sudio Sudarsan) of a ‘writer’s ice berg’. Not many people, aside from we who write, know this world. It’s lonely, scary, humiliating, and painful. It’s also uplifting, soul bursting, and mind expanding.
I count myself the luckiest of women that I developed my craft and didn’t give up when people said, ‘no’. I am the most fortunate of writers to have realized that the process has to be planted in good soil, watered, and given lots of sunshine. And most important of all: let the process happen. Get out of your own way.
We writers should never sit back and say, I have arrived. I don’t need to grow anymore. I am at the top of my game. If you’ve read any of my interviews with really famous authors, they aren’t smug—far from it. They are striving to be better at their craft, just as you and I are. I’ve found, in my interactions with these authors, that the bigger they are… the humbler they are.
As Sudio states, “Writing is bloody hard work. When the writer puts ink topaper, he sits as a cat stranded on a hot tin roof. I’ve seen vapors emanatefrom my ears. A clear sentence is never an accident. Think about writing asstringing together a few sentences to transfer worthwhile thought from onehead to another. As a debuting author anxious to reach a wider audience, Iunderstand that you can never knock at the doors of creativity and expect ananswer. Writers wait for creativity to hunt them down, hoping their meticulousapplication of scents and well-practiced calls will attract it to within strikingdistance, only to accidentally run it over on the way home. How succulent isliterary road kill!“
Writers will all agree with Sudio. When a great character, a clever turn of phrase, or a brilliant twist in the story appears and slaps us upside the head…we are wholeheartedly grateful!
Regular readers of Indyfest Magazine might recall that back in issue #79, Chuck Amadori, Aghori Shaivite, and I chatted about Empress, a series on which Chuck and Aghori collaborate. Chuck is the founder of Isle Square Comics and writes all of their current titles. This month, he’s back with us to discuss another ongoing title of his—Tether.
IM: Welcome back, Chuck! What have you been up to since we spoke last?
CA: Creatively, I’ve been managing my current plate of titles. I’ve also been doing a lot of freelance lettering and writing. Also, I have been increasing my comic-con appearances; most recently, I appeared at the Niagara Falls Comic Con (Canada).
Here’s a quick truncated note-style status report on my projects.
Pale Dark: Ruvel is currently doing the line art for Issue 5. Issue 3 is now available via online retailers including IndyPlanet, DriveThru, Amazon and, as of June 17, Comixology. Issue 4 is in the coloring phase. At the end of 2014, I was surprised to learn that Pale Dark was selected as one of the best indie titles of 2014 by ComicBastards.com
Tether: I’ll get to that later in this interview 😉
Empress: The first arc is complete and available in single issues or in a collected trade (issues 1–4). Issue 4 is awaiting its ComiXology release date, but is, of course, available at the previously mentioned retailers. Currently, Issue 5 is almost done with the coloring phase. This issue begins the Brian Barr (aka Aghori Shaivite)-written arc. Also, Vicky Pittman takes over on colors.
Snake and Bang Bang Lucita: These two western titles that I collaborate on with colorist Nimesh Morarji are on temporary hiatus… but they will return soon. In fact, you may see Lucita #2 drop sooner, rather than later. The first arc is complete in script form for both titles, and I have already started scripting the epic crossover series Viperous Vixens.
Protector Vixi: Slowly progressing. This is the awesome all-ages title I collaborate on with artist Marcelo Salaza. The first arc is scripted, with the door open for further fun adventures for kids of all ages.
IM: Last time, you mentioned Tether in passing. Now it’s time to elaborate. So first off, what’s the elevator pitch?
CA: Tether tells the story of the Imperium, the last city of a once booming planet (now mostly barren). The Imperium has been built on an orbiting meteor, which is tethered to a mountain. The series features a multi-layered story, rich with characters like Alina and Zarran, young slaves whose struggles and triumphs parallel one another.
The opening arc of the series will cover Alina and Zarran’s escape from captivity, as well as introduce the power-hungry Emperor Trovaar and some of the different types of Genetaclones. The look of Tether has elements of Ancient Rome mashed up with very advanced technology. What Game of Thrones is to fantasy is what I envision Tether to be for sci-fi.
IM: Very often, books and other media carry taglines like, “Fans of X won’t want to pass this one up!” What other titles would you think that Tether’s target audience would be into?
CA: Its scale and gritty nature will appeal to Game of Thrones fans… also fans of Mad Max will enjoy some of the Wastelands story lines. The level of world building can be likened to Dune.
IM: Who are the other members of the creative team?
CA: As of issue 3, the new permanent creative team has Edson Alves on lines and Matheus Bronca on colors. Edson brings his adept layout skills to the project. Issue 1 features the lines of Alex Reis who helped establish a lot of the look, while issue 2 features Ruvel Abril and Marcelo Salaza splitting line art duties since Alex was busy working on Snake (one of the Isle Squared & NimProd Comics collaborations). I didn’t want the Tether story to be on hold for too long, so those two awesome guys stepped up to help me out until I found a permanent artist. Nimesh Morarji colored the first two issues… but lucky for him, his work on Tether helped him get a rush of contract/commission work. Too many paid commissions to continue on the series in fact. And deservedly so… Nimesh is the type of colorist who brings his style and keen artistic judgment to any comic project. Every color, every shadow, every highlight… Nimesh has a clear vision that adds so much character to the lines. I really feel lucky that we were able to find Matheus, another fantastic colorist, who outdoes himself with every single new page to fill Nimesh’s big shoes.
IM: How did you meet up? CA: I met Nimesh on Deviant Art. While he was coloring a previous incarnation of Protector Vixi for me, I asked if he needed any writing services… As we talked more, we realized we were on the same page in terms of what we thought the Western genre needed for a revamp. Soon I was writing three Westerns for him to color (the third being Xibalba). And so, this is how the Isle Squared and NimProd collaboration came to fruition. Edson, Alex, and Matheus, I met through artist Marcelo Salaza, who manages Pencil Blue Studios comics, out of Brazil. Edson previously worked on the book Bang Bang Lucita, which Nimesh and I collaborated on. Matheus colored the first arc of Empress. After leaving that title, he took over the colors on Tether and one of my other titles that Nimesh also colored previously, Pale Dark.
IM: Who are the main characters in Tether? What makes them tick? What pushes them onward?
CA: There really isn’t one central character. Although so far, in the first couple issues, the book has focused mostly on Alina and Zarran. Alina has been enslaved and forced to fight in the arena as a gladiator. She catches the eye of mad scientist Dr Murrell and is then subjected to some torturous experimentation. There is so much more I can say, but I want to avoid spoilers here. Zarran is also a slave, but instead of being forced to fight in the arena, he spends his days dreaming of escaping the hard labor of the mines. He’s actually a rejected model of Overseer (one of the castes of Genetaclones), so he doesn’t really have anywhere to fit in. Alina is a human who is enhanced by science, while Zarran is a clone created by science who gets enhanced by nature. Other characters include the masked Emperor Trovaar, the femme fatale Dr. Cybin, Primus Plask, Raver, Ritter, Trino, Saami and Velang.
IM: I can’t help but notice that your Twitter handle appears to be named after one of your characters! What is it about Zarran that you identify with?
CA: Well… the name Zarran goes way way back to my years in the military, when I first got the writing bug. I started a project where I named the main character Zarran. This was about the same time that the internet was first exploding. So when it came time to set up my first email account, I chose the name of the character Zarran as part of my email address. So that has stuck with me through the years.
IM: Tether #1 opens with a scene that immediately brings to mind the circuses of Ancient Rome. To what extent would you say that Roman culture and society inform the world of Tether?
CA: I did a lot of research on ancient civilizations, like Rome, Egypt, etc. So a lot of the culture shares similarity with Rome, especially the hedonistic nature of the upper class. Since Tether takes place on an unknown (non-Earth) planet in an unknown time, I was inspired to sprinkle some of the look from our past. I really want this story to show the extremes to which this world has decayed… and the fact that this decayed morality, as well as the decayed planet, are the humans’ own fault.
IM: Are there other influences that inspired your world-building?
CA: TETHER has been around since 2005, except it used to be called Crimson City and existed in a very different incarnation. I was collaborating with digital artist Adam Bloch on turning Crimson City into an animated series of shorts… but we got busy with other things and soon moved on. Eight years later, after I finished writing Pale Dark, I decided that I wanted to finally bring Crimson City to life. One of the first changes I made was to the title… now called Tether. With a new found sense of inspiration, I finished scripting the first six issues within a week. I showed Adam where I had taken the story and we planned to collaborate once again, with him doing the art, but he had prior commitments. So, that’s when I recruited Alex to do the Issue 1 art. As far as the look of the world… I wanted it to feel like there is a lot going on in the world… stuff that the reader will learn about in future issues, as they learn more back-story and secret motivations. This world feels lived in and there are signs that this was once a thriving planet. There is a clear line between the lives of the poor and the lives of the elite.
IM: Were there any areas that you needed to research prior to writing this series?
CA: I researched about the Roman Legion rank systems and measurements. The design of the city was originally going to be just a plain old elevated city, but we researched other ways a city could exist off of the land surface. Also, because I fill in so much back story and use flashbacks a lot in some issues, I mapped out a lot of this world’s history prior to scripting.
IM: Any elements that were particularly challenging to write/translate onto the printed page?
CA: Handling the hedonistic lifestyle of the Emperor is sometimes tough. These characters have a moral set different from us… they will do shocking and confounding things. Also, I’m looking forward to when Alina gets out of captivity and can wear some real clothes. I never intended her image to catch on so much with her in the rags. That was only to show how little they regarded the slaves. Don’t worry, I promise she’ll be in her proper outfit by the second arc, if not sooner.
IM: Over the course of the series, where do you see yourself taking the characters?
CA: There will be a lot of growth for Alina and Zarran as they learn more of the world and build new alliances… and more characters will be introduced. We’ll get some back-story sprinkled throughout. I even have an issue scripted that gives the origins of the planet’s condition and why Emperor Trovaar wears his mask.
IM: What can readers expect? (Beyond the unexpected, of course!)
CA: Expect a sci-fi epic that will simultaneously invigorate and infuriate readers.
IM: How have you been handling the marketing and promotion end?
CA: I’m all over social media promoting this title, along with the other Isle Squared titles. I also have done a couple comic-cons. When I started writing this title, I really really wanted it to be picked up by a bigger publisher. Though I continue to dream it, I’m content just telling the story. Though it still remains a goal of mine to be published with Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, or Avatar. Primarily, because I love the books those companies are putting out and I would be honored to be in their catalog. Whatever the case, we need readers like you. Without you reading this title and spreading the word, we’ll just be a grain of sand in the sandbox.
IM: Where do you go from here?
CA: We’re going to finish through Issue 6 (first arc), then take a couple months off… then get back to it. I’ll continue having new issues available on Comixology, IndyPlanet, DriveThru Comics and Amazon. Perhaps we’ll find our dream publisher and become even easier for readers to access in local comic shops.
IM: What’s on the horizon?
CA: Time will tell… but I sure hope it’s something fun.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t touched on yet?
CA: Thanks for reading Tether and please, help spread the word about this series.
IM: Finally, where can we get our hands on Tether and how can we keep up to date with you?
Rick L. Phillips is the author of several books and short stories, including: War Between Two Worlds, Dinky the Elf, the Project Hero series and Last Train to Murder. He contributed to and edited the With Great Power anthology. He was born in Covington, Kentucky. He studied Radio, TV, and Film at Northern Kentucky University, and is a voice actor as well.Indyfest asked Ricky about his career and future plans.
IM: What is the Project: Hero Series about?
RLP: Project: Hero is a science fiction superhero series. A semi-retired but wealthy superhero hires younger heroes to work for him in menial jobs. He overpays them so they have enough money to live off of and gives them time off to fight crime. He does this because his old friend and mentor Flag-Waver, a World War II superhero, was found homeless and dead in the streets. He didn’t want that to happen to any of the new heroes since they would risk losing their jobs if they kept leaving work to stop crooks. Since their jobs in their private lives aren’t high-profile there are very few people who would miss them. I plan to use Project: Hero as an umbrella title. It may deal with the heroes as a group, or just one or two of them on an adventure. The latest is Project: Hero Atlantis Under Attack, and has the whole group fighting to save the under the sea city of Atlantis and, eventually, the whole world.
IM: Can you tell us more about the “With Great Power” project (and the charity the profits are going to)?
RLP: The book is a series of short stories that follows a comic book from one person to another. The comic book is Amazing Fantasy #15, which had the first Spider-Man story. It was also the first book to immortalize the phrase “With great power, there must also come, great responsibility.” A story might end with a person losing, selling, or giving away the book to someone. The story by the next author would have to pick up where the previous one had left off. It goes from 1962 to the present. So far, the book has raised money for Campus Crusade for Christ and Jews for Jesus.
IM: Can you tell us more about the “Last Train to Murder” project (and the charity the profits are going to)?
RLP: This book is no longer sold online but may be sold when I make personal appearances. It was to raise money for the Davy Jones Equine Memorial Fund and I was given the OK to do so by the family of Davy Jones.
IM: Did you set up Dinky Publishing for self-publishing Dinky the Elf?
RLP: Originally, I was selling all of my books through companies like Createspace and Lulu.com, who publish books for authors. I set up Dinky Publishing so I would have the freedom to write what I wanted to, and so, if anything like movies or TV shows were made from my books, they would only have to talk to me, and not the publishing companies. My first book was my children’s story Dinky the Elf and I named it in honor of my first book.
IM: If so why did you decide to self publish?
RLP: I tried the traditional route with Dinky the Elf and only got one company that was interested. However, I was the last one they signed to a contract before they went out of business. I asked for the publishing rights back. They kindly gave them back to me. After being disappointed with the traditional route I decided to self-publish. That’s not to say I won’t try the traditional route again one day, because I might, but I am enjoying the freedom that comes with self-publishing.
IM: You do voice acting and announcing. Do you, or are you planning to make audio versions of your stories?
RLP: I do have an agent for my voice acting and announcing. I do hope to make audio versions of my books in the future.
IM: You’ve done some editing. Did you enjoy it and will you do more in the future?
RLP: I really don’t care for editing. I don’t plan to do much of that except on my books.
IM: Do you still work on any film projects?
RLP: I’ve only worked on one film and that was as a production assistant on “The Spider’s Web.” That was years ago and not related to the book With Great Power, or Spider-Man. I am open to working on film projects in the future and, hopefully, about Project: Hero or Dinky the Elf.
IM: You’ve done children’s and adult books. Is it difficult to adjust for those different audiences?
RLP: Not for me.
IM: Is writing short stories very different to writing novels?
RLP: It depends on the story. I prefer short stories, since they get right to the point, but novels are fun, too. I think my latest book, Project: Hero Atlantis Under Attack, is the best book I’ve done so far and my best short stories are Peanuts Big Adventure and Altered Circuits.
IM: You’ve been published and self-published. Do you have a preference?
RLP: I prefer self-published.
IM: How do you distribute your work?
RLP: Right now, only on the internet through Amazon, Createspace, Lulu, Barnes and Noble, etc., or through personal appearances. I am trying to get them in brick and mortar stores in the future.
IM: How do you market your books?
RLP: Interviews like this, personal appearances, and social media.
IM: What appearances do you have lined up?
RLP: I will be at the Burlington, Kentucky library on June 27th. I’m trying to get something at the Independence, Kentucky library, and I’m waiting to hear about one in Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall at Books by the Banks.
IM: Do you think the Internet has made it easier for people to self publish, and distribute their self published work?
RLP: Yes! Self-publishing use to be looked down upon and could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now it’s been elevated to a more distinguished position and doesn’t cost as much. Just because a big-name publisher isn’t interested in a story doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story or well-written.
IM: How important to do think it is for creators to have their work in bricks-and-mortar shops as well as online?
RLP: Very important. A lot of books, people buy on impulse. Some of my favorite books, I bought just because I saw them on the shelves at my local store. Maybe I was a fan of the author and didn’t know it was for sale, or maybe I just thought it looked like an interesting story.
IM: You have a blog on BlogSpot. How do you rate this platform?
RLP: BlogSpot is very easy to use.
IM: What future projects have you got in the works?
RLP: I have a lot of stories planned, but right now, I am working on a murder mystery set in 1976 on the 4th of July. As I’m sure you know, that date was the bicentennial celebration of the United States of America. I’m helping someone with a romance story and I plan to work on the next book in the Project: Hero series and other stories.
IM: Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?
RLP: I hate to be pushing Christmas, but I’d like to tell you about Dinky the Elf. It is a Christmas story, but children can enjoy it any time of the year. Dinky is the smallest elf at Santa’s workshop. He is too small to do anything. He wants to help, but can’t. Instead of giving in, he finds a way to make things work for him, Santa, and all the children of the world. It really sends a positive message to children.
With two successful Kickstarters under his belt, one currently in campaign mode, teaching comics to future generations, and numerous books behind him, Stan is a busy, busy man. But through the powers of modern technology, we were able to catch this Denver native just long enough to ask him a few questions about his craft and get some helpful insight on the crowdfunding craze that is sweeping the comic world.
IM: You are not only an illustrator, but you’re also an instructor. When did you realize that illustrating AND teaching were both your callings, and where do you find the time?
SY: When I first started doing conventions, I routinely offered instructional panels about writing and marketing self-published comics, so that’s probably where the teaching started. At that point, I hadn’t really had the confidence to teach much in the way of illustration, since my educational background was in accounting, not art.
In 2007, after I had been freelancing fulltime for a couple of years, my long-time mentor Tom Motley decided he and his family were going to move to Brooklyn, but he didn’t want to leave all of the summer camps he had been teaching comics at in a lurch, so he trained me as his replacement. Shortly after I began to teach, the Community College of Aurora and the Denver Entertainment Art and Design Academy (Dead Academy) also came calling.
Around 2011 or so, I began to realize that I was spinning my wheels financially and professionally, so I decided to take a sabbatical from teaching for a year, which turned into two years (2012–2014), which actually was the best thing I could do, as it allowed me to travel to conventions in the summer that I hadn’t been able to go to, and to work on personal projects that I had tabled for five years, and explore new avenues for my creative outlet, like children’s picture books.
This summer will be the first year that I’ve taught summer camps in two years, but not a full load. While I have continued to do two-hour workshops at schools and libraries from time to time and do private tutoring, long story short, I guess I have determined there isn’t time. Between the syllabus preparation, the grading, and the out-of-class student contact, it’s really not something that’s easy to balance with creating proprietary work, gigs, conventions, and freelance.
IM: You have been through a couple different Kickstarter campaigns as an artist. Any advice you can give to readers about to embark on their own crowdfunding venture? What would you have done differently if you’d been given the chance?
SY: My advice would be to contribute to other compelling campaigns and see how they structure their campaigns and ask yourself, “What got me to contribute to this?” Make sure to do this within the product genre that you’re pursuing, to give you a closer baseline comparison. You’ll probably contribute to some campaigns that succeed and some that don’t. Do a post-mortem on them and try to figure out what worked and what didn’t. There are a lot of case studies that you can look at out there and right on Kickstarter’s site, but there’s nothing like actually participating in one to give you some real-time data. You might even reach out to the folks running the campaigns to get it straight from the horse’s mouths what they thought they could’ve done better and what worked.
The most important thing to ask yourself, which is something someone asked me on Facebook (someone who didn’t contribute to my campaign incidentally), “Why would I want to contribute to something you’re going to be selling to the public later on anyway?” That really is the trick. If all you are going to offer is your comic book, then who cares? You need to give project backers levels of contribution that allow them to feel like they’re getting something now that they can’t get later.
Also, set your goal low. Don’t go pie-in-the-sky. If you raised $2000, and your goal was $15,000, and your campaign ends and isn’t funded, and you find yourself saying, “Aww, I would’ve still done it for $2,000”, then you were too greedy and set your goal too high. Find a level that would not leave you financially struggling and make that your goal. Make sure to include costs of postage, stretch goal incentives, and anything else you can imagine needing to pay for. For me, my goal was to pay for no less than the printing of 500 copies of the comic and postage.
Stretch goals incentives are important as a way to give current backers a reason to spread the word or up their contributions. My stretch goal incentives were easy to fulfill, as all but one of them were PDFs of other comic books I had created AND which were mentioned in the Vincent Price comic (the story is a story about me doing zombie caricatures at a comic book convention), and original art from the creation of the book (I had a bunch of inked characters that were going into the panels that I had drawn separately that I would simply cut apart, sign and enclose with the comic books I would be mailing out).
In the end, I want my backers to feel like they got more than they paid for, so the next time I run a campaign, they’ll consider contributing. My backers at the $5 level got, as stretch goal rewards, 250 pages of my digital work and a printed thank you in the book. My backers at the $10 got all of that, the printed book and signed, original art. Even folks who backed me at $1 get all of my updates, which include video tutorials of my process.
IM: What it was like to work on the SubCulture Omnibus and Show Devils?
SY: The SubCulture Omnibus was a collection of the work that Kevin Freeman and I created as a part of the SubCulture miniseries published with Ape Entertainment, and the six-year run of the subsequent webcomic featuring the life stories of characters who hung around a Kingdom Comix. When Kevin and I decided to do an omnibus TPB, it was the first Kickstarter project I ever was involved with. He launched it, recorded the video, and did the marketing, but he collaborated with me on the reward levels and stretch goal incentives. Before that, I had no idea what a stretch goal incentive was, and how important it was to getting people off the fence. The main thing we learned was how quickly the stretch goal incentive costs would add up. We ended up doing a pack of gag trading cards featuring our characters, button packs, drink coasters, dice packs… in the end, even though we almost tripled our goal, there were no “profits” to speak of.
Show Devils #2 was a comic book of short stories featuring The Enigma and Serana Rose and written by Daniel Crosier that, among others, featured my art and some digital coloring. This project didn’t really involve me quite as much, and it ended up being barely funded, but I think there weren’t enough low-level incentives and the critical question of “What am I getting that I couldn’t get at the store?” probably wasn’t answered as quickly and easily. Plus, the goal was relatively higher. SubCulture was a monster book—344 pages—where the Show Devils book was a 32-page comic. Despite that, the goal for Show Devils was double that of SubCulture.
IM: Your resume is as impressive as it is lengthy. Can you tell us about some of the other projects you are involved in?
SY: Currently, most of my projects are personal. I’m working on several children’s books, the most finished one being There’s a Zombie in the Basement, a rhyming picture book inspired by my son’s fear of my zombie caricature artwork. I’m also trying to get my next graphic novel project off of the ground, Regret: A Cancer Survivor’s Story, about my best friend’s battle with cancer. I’ve also been working with my son on creating his books, which we are doing exclusive print runs for him to sell and sign at local conventions. He sold out of Pony & Zombie and the Runaway Dog at the Denver Comic Con.
IM: Your style differs greatly in each of these series. Can you talk about the importance of being able to stay open to different styles as an artist working on various projects?
Well, that’s probably the most important thing to learn about freelancing. No matter what you show folks in your online portfolio, inevitably, someone is going to ask you to draw in a style they don’t see, and you have to ask yourself, “Can I pull it off?” That’s kind of what happened with SubCulture. Before that, my comic style for The Wang (http://stanyan.me/books/the-wang/) was described as “What the Simpsons would look like if Frank Miller drew it.”). Kevin asked me to draw the three main character designs in various different ways, and he’d let me know which he liked best. Of course, he liked a style I’d never tried before that, and that’s how my style developed.
Fortunately, I have a learning personality, and I LOVE stretching my artistic abilities and trying new things. Doesn’t make for a cohesive portfolio, but it allows me the confidence to tackle projects that may be beyond my previous abilities.
Who would you say your inspirations as an artist were?
My oldest influences were from the funny pages: Jim Davis, Bill Watterson, and Gary Larson. I really wasn’t much of a comic book reader growing up. But, when I became a teenager and started creating comic book stories, my influences started with R. Crumb, Bob Fingerman, and Alex Robinson. Then in 1998, I went out to the San Diego Comic Con with a backpack full of self-published comic books to trade with anyone who would trade with me, and I met a whole new crew of folks who became influences, including Jim Mahfood, Andy Ristaino, Scott Morse, Robert Kirkman, and Tony Moore.
IM: Any dream series or title you would work on and why?
SY: Believe it or not, I consider myself more of a writer than an illustrator. As an illustrator, of course, I’d love to illustrate for the Walking Dead, but I don’t know that I could hack the deadline schedule. I actually reached out to David Wellington about the possibility of turning his Monster Island book (or trilogy) into a graphic novel series, but he said it was out of his hands and up to the publisher what they wanted to do with it.
As a writer, my dream jobs would be to write for any of the following: South Park, Phineas and Ferb, or Martha Speaks.
Of course, my real dream is to have one of my projects hit it big and be one of these things other people dream of writing or illustrating for.
IM: What does the future hold?
SY: I think I’m going to slowly transition my career to the children’s book industry after I finish with Regret. I will still probably be doing the convention circuit, drawing people into zombies or ponies or whatnot, but I hope to have a bunch of my children’s books in tow.
IM: And last, but certainly not least, where can people follow you and keep up with your work?
I don’t know of any writer who doesn’t want to be famous. All of them want to be a household name and a fixture on the New York Times Best Seller list. Come on, put your hand up if you agree with me. That’s right. Wait, you in the back! Come on, put your hand up. You know you want to.
But, believe it or not, that fame and fortune can be a liability for an author. Becoming a celebrity has nothing to do with great writing. It all starts with a great person.
And being a real person is the first step to becoming great.
Do you remember Princess Diana? Her fame led to tragedy. Everyone wanted a piece of her, because they thought her charisma would rub off on them.
Acquire mana and you could sell one million books. Your talents can only take you so far; the rest is up to that superstar mana which I will explain in my next column.
The first question we have to ask is, “What does being a successful author mean?” How do you measure success? Money? Sales? Likes? Reviews? Maybe writing every day and being able to pay the bills is enough to be successful.
Or is it just having really good books, regardless of whether they sell or not?
You need to be a real person to be a real writer
There are those people out there who use formulas to write. Yes, they search out what the newest genre rave is, find the biggest upcoming book, and do a spin. This is not real. Spinning someone else’s story to be your own is faking your writing.
Use your words as your diplomats
How you present yourself makes a big difference. The bulk of online communication is written, and we must be careful in our correspondence as we do our work.
What does that mean? Well, it means being diplomatic when communicating to people who only want to piss you off. We all know the type. The ones that write nothing but derogatory statements and open-ended arguments against you. Be pleasant, but don’t get dragged into their war of words. You will lose.
Likewise, make sure everything you write is well written. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because it shows that you care about your craft. You are a serious writer, so make sure your words always communicate such.
Genre and other handcuffs
Have you ever wondered if you would get pigeonholed into a genre? Are you writing only SF or fantasy, but truly love romance? This is what every author is worried about. Just like actors, a writer can become typecast in once genre or another.
Take a look at Spider Robinson. He started writing short stories for Analog, which took place in a bar called Callahan’s. But did he let that stop him from writing mysteries? No, he branched out. Then he wrote a number of essays that ran the gamut, from the space program to airport bans on smoking.
It just goes to show you that everyone needs to stretch their chops and gain notoriety in every genre that speaks to them.
Doing what you do matters more than what you do
Spider Robinson is good at what he does. He is known in the industry as a quality human being. He would be successful at anything he chose, because of the way he approaches his work.
He is a legend, because he writes with integrity.
First he wrote short stories, then novels. He branched out from SF to mystery. Recently Spider performed audio books.
Real people want to work with him, because he is real.
Don’t consume your words. Eat and enjoy them
There are millions of words put together by thousands of authors on how to create a great piece of work. Some authors were great in their time, while others only achieved greatness after their death.
Don’t judge a book’s quality by its Amazon rating or fashion—that would be as silly as judging a person by the colour of their skin. Yet, quality is something that everyone recognizes when they come face to face with it. There is a feel to quality, a richer taste, a clearer sound, an unbelievable look, a healthier scent. Very real.
Presence is all you need to do anything really well.
‘Present’ and ‘not present’ make the difference between devouring a roadside food truck meal and a high class restaurant’s blue-plate chef’s special. Is your manuscript a microwave dinner to be tossed out to the world, or a meal served up with care to your readers? Make the choice, because it will stick with you for as long as you write.
When reading, pay attention to the ingredients used to create the prose. The subtleties of language. Indulge in the way the author is present in their words. They are real.
Taking the time to rewrite your draft is like perfecting a recipe so your guests can sit down and read what they feel is the ambrosia of language.
Nothing beats experience—Get off your ass and do it!
Nothing beats a narrative that explains something the author has first-hand experience doing. It’s great to read about something and then write about it, but to actually have done it will add such flavor that the reader will be submerged in the experience. Never flown a plane? Don’t write about it. Readers like me have, and we know what a side slip is. If you don’t know what a spin check at 5,000 feet feels like, don’t try to explain it to me.
So go out and do it! Take an intro flight at a small airport. Go to a gliding club and ask for an introductory flight. Do what is needed in order to get the experience; your writing will come alive.
Having a roadmap is the best thing you can do
Want money, sales, reviews, and everything that comes with them? You just need a PR person to show you what the social media gurus are doing. Get in shape, because once you’ve set your sites on the fads, on you’ll have to beat the competition, and there is plenty of it.
But if you want to be a real writer and focus on your writing, then you are the type of person I like being around. A real person. And if you are going to be a real person, let me remind you of Spider Robinson, once again: a real writer.
In closing, if you are going to take anything out of this at all, it is to strive for that which is good for writing. You can become famous either during your life or after, like so many other writers who have come before you.
Inspiration is a powerful force. It’s the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially something creative. The thing about inspiration is that it is not limited by location, circumstance, or resources. Anyone anywhere can be inspired and that inspiration can motivate that individual to achieve great things and attain great heights. One such individual is ground-breaking artist Guillermo A. Angel. He is the lead artist on the indy manga-styled Dog Eaters graphic novel. We had the opportunity to speak with Guillermo about his inspiration to become such a talented artist.
IM: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and when you first realized you wanted to be an artist.
GA: I must confess, I always think of this a lot, trying to remember “that exact moment”, so I can tell when asked: “here, this moment, I realized I wanted to be an artist forever,” but the more I think of that, I come to realize now I didn’t really know what being an artist really meant… or even the definition of ‘artist,’ or what was it I really wanted to do, as someone who wanted to draw nicely. As a kid, I just liked to draw and the truth is, I didn’t even know where to look at, or how to improve, art classes, or something as simple as a comic book collection. I just did stuff that came out from very random things, my own silly comic strips, characters, cheap copies of my favorite heroes (like Robocop or the Ninja turtles), funny classmate caricatures or video game drawings. I enjoyed my friends and family sharing that with me. I always felt it like a true passion, but I can’t say I considered myself an artist, or that I seriously planned doing it for the rest of my life. That was something out of my world boundaries, out of my knowledge!
For me, artists were far and away superhumans that created awesome things in secret places, with skills that were impossible for me to comprehend. I’m 35 now. I grew up and lived all my life in La Serena, a city to the north of Chile. As a kid, I didn’t have too much access to comic books or too much art-related stuff. Not because there weren’t any available, but just because it wasn’t common around me, and especially not in the city I was. Chile has a good history of awesome artists and great publications, but you need to have the exact influence from the right people to really get to know about it and still, back then, the general importance of art just wasn’t part of the main concerns of the average person. I think in the end, it was just as mysterious for many of them as it was for me as a small kid. It still is. In Chile, most people are still worried to death if a son or daughter wants to study art, or wants to become an Illustrator, or even a graphic designer. There’s a long list of “dreams versus reality” professions. It kinda happened to me, but I will be always be grateful I was raised by my grandparents, and was always supported in what I liked to do.
So the moment? Well, when I was young, I always got kinda said that I liked to do a lot of stuff, but never felt like I was really going to become GOOD at any of it. Then, for a birthday, I was finally going to get the guitar I always wanted!! That was when I realized I needed to focus on one only thing if I wanted to do it good. I passed on the guitar and, on my 15th birthday, I decided I was going to get really good at drawing comics for the rest of my life. I still didn’t have a clue of what an artist was.
IM: Who are the people that most influenced you as an artist?
GA: Well, the people around me as I grew weren’t really into art, mostly. It didn’t go beyond “Look how nice you draw, I wish I could draw anything”. With few choices for art training, while studying graphic design, I was lucky to meet some of my best friends up to this day, Patricio Salfate and Felipe Monardes Mena. We shared the same passion and eagerness for creating nice things and they were a key influence when I really didn’t know where to look. I realized I only needed to do one thing: keep drawing. After that, I kept having the same luck of finding the most awesome friends a kid like me could have. When I moved to Santiago to follow my illustration career, I did it under invitation from a group of talented mentors that included Mauricio Herrera, Genzoman, Carlos “Draco” Herrera, Sergio Quijada, and Sergio Lantadilla. Later, I even got to work together with the amazing Brolo (Eduardo Bromhbley) and other very talented artist guys. Most of us became great friends beyond art, and always get together for barbecuing and drinking whenever we can. They are the gang that helped me become a true professional. After that, like some of the luckiest people in the world, I got married to a wonderful person, my wife Pepi Gonzalez, who is also an artist, and who has completed the circle of the perfect people supporting me. They’re all the best influences I’ve got.
IM: What is your motivation to draw/create and keep on creating?
GA: The same motivation that made me decide on becoming a professional: knowing that no matter how difficult a task seems, you can always learn more. The idea of wonderful art I had as a kid, of it being almost a superhuman skill turned into my biggest motivation: I can learn how to do it, and I must never stop learning. I can always do it better.
IM: Tell us about Dog Eaters: The Saga of the Black Dog Clan. What was the experience like working on it?
GA: So, there I was, in the middle of my freelancer jobs and some other “art gigs,” when I was contacted to be the pencil artist in a manga-style new project for a publisher. I did test pages for it, but in the end, it didn’t happen. They were still very happy with the results, so the next thing was, I got the offering to do the pencils for a completely different project, Dog Eaters. From the first brief description and visual reference, I realized it was a huge challenge. And the challenge was so awesome that I took it without hesitation.
The only main concern was, my style was very manga-oriented at the time and they were not looking for a manga-style novel. So, as part of the challenge, I had to define a style that fit for it. It still has a lot of manga touches, because that’s how I like to do comics, but it allowed me to create visuals with some level of freedom for the character and world designs. I also like to put a lot of video game-like ideas on my stuff, so I tried to go with that concept in mind all the way down. At some moment at the very beginning, my relation with the publisher changed and I got to be directly working for Malcolm for the rest of the project. And by working for him, I really mean with him. That’s the best thing that could have happened to Dog Eaters. From that moment on, I was more involved in the developing of the visuals of the book, and I’m very thankful for the experience.
IM: What was the inspiration, from your artist’s perspective, behind Dog Eaters: The Saga of the Black Dog Clan?
GA: Inspiration, I had a lot, but I think, if you say “post Die Off themed” stories, most of the existing good ideas point to one big reference: Mad Max. For me, the main idea in mind at the beginning was different, but also derived from it. Since I was looking to create something in the manga style, I immediately started researching and looking to some of the greatest Japanese mangas, specifically The Fist of the North star. In the end, there is a visual combination of several inspirations from awesome things Malcolm and I liked, to create this very personal result. Dog Eaters can be dynamic, cruel, funny, violent, romantic, cute, sexy, mystical, and magical, all in the same story, thanks to the versatility of the style we defined. I was very comfortable with that, and it worked perfectly.
IM: How many books have you worked on to date and which is your favorite?
GA: Dog Eaters is my favorite, and I’m not saying this to flatter. The truth is, before, I was a lot more involved in fantasy illustration: TCG, book covers, etc. Whenever I could, I did commissions and jobs for different projects with a varied range of styles and themes, but comic books and graphic novel weren’t my main work. I got to participate in different small projects and ministories here and there, always putting the main focus on storytelling, so when Dog Eaters knocked at my door, it was the biggest book project I ever did. I had the chance to help giving shape to an amazing world, side by side with the creator himself, and that’s an experience to be treasured anytime it happens.
IM: What is your assessment of today’s art industry and what do you think the industry needs?
GA: I’m amazed. Completely amazed. I really enjoy how it has developed in different areas, and all the possibilities available for new artists. It was something I didn’t even dream of as a kid, and It’s awesome to see that people get interested day by day. Self-teaching is now a strong option. You can have access to the most awesome courses, groups, communities, etc., and get in touch with publishers, writers, and artists from all disciplines. It needs to just grow more. There are so many talents everywhere, waiting for a chance. And there are so many chances for anyone who looks for them.
IM: In your opinion, how difficult is it for an artist to make a living today?
GA: It will never be difficult if you get yourself into doing it better every time. You don’t need a local industry to be able to work; you can be literally anywhere and be part of a project on the other side of the planet. It all depends on you. The better you do it, the better your reward.
IM: Do you use social media and if so, how has it helped in getting the word out about your work?
GA: I’ve never been really fond of the social media phenomenon… Not because I’m antisocial or anything, but because I just use the media in the way I need it. Still, there is one social community that has been key for me from the very beginning: Deviant Art. That has been my one platform to share my work and the most important to find them also. I’m very happy with how it has developed over the years.
IM: What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish as an artist?
GA: As an artist, I’d really like to have my own publishing company someday, but I’ve always wanted to link it to teaching. I hope I can create something where I can help others accomplish their goals, including any of the people I love.
IM: What are your future plans and where do you see your career as an artist in the next five years?
GA: Well, currently I get to be involved into my other big passion of life: video games. Right now, I’m working as art director for Behaviour Interactive in Santiago. I’ve been here for more than three years now, and have had the best experience I could have found in Chile in the video game industry. I started here as a concept artist and I’m completely happy to see that my main effort has always been rewarded. It’s a constant challenge in every way, where I’ve had to start learning again and again, while working next to a great team. The cherry on top of the cake that any artist always needs.
As for future plans, anything can happen, but as of now, I really want to grow into my career in the video game industry. The next five years? I only hope I’m doing it way better. I just want to be next to the same awesome people, whatever happens.
Guillermo’s story is an inspiration to anyone who’s ever wanted to be a creator and looked at the goal as unreachable. His story tells us it is not. You can reach that goal. Even though you look at a great artist and see them as superhuman, inspiration tells you that with hard work you can become that superhuman. Feel free to follow and support this great artist.
The industry is chock full of talent bursting with original ideas and strange new worlds, but it is a true joy when fans come across creators with a knack for capturing the fun and magic of the medium. Creator Roger Keel is such a creator. With an imagination that enables him to traverse genres, he is writing stories that engage fans of all ages. Taking time out of his busy schedule, Roger Keel talks about influences, Golden Age overtures, discipline when writing, and the challenges of the industry.
IM: Roger, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
RK: I was born in 1959 in Bonavista, Newfoundland, Canada, and still live there. I have lived here for the majority of my life. I am currently employed as a Heritage Interpreter at two joint Provincial Historic Sites—Cape Bonavista Lighthouse, which houses one of the few remaining Stevenson catoptric light systems in the world. The building dates back to 1843, the light to 1816. At the other site in the town, The Mockbeggar Plantation, we have a building that dates back to the early 1700s. As a fan of history, this is a dream job.
I have been a comic fan and reader since I learned how to read. Growing up in the 60s and 70s my tastes in comics ranged from Archie to Warren and all points in-between. A fan of SF and fantasy, I still enjoy a good murder mystery or action novel from time to time.
A fan and collector of old time radio, 30s and 40s b-movies and serials, silent films and classic TV and, as a writer, I’m not ashamed of “borrowing” a plot idea from all the aforementioned.
Happily married to a great woman who puts up with all my little eccentricities, we share the home with a dog and cat.
I follow hockey (hey, I’m Canadian!!), like the occasional beer, try to keep active, and hope that my fondness for Earl Grey tea affects me like it has Patrick Stewart (the man seems not to age).
IM: Much of your work has a decidedly Golden Age tone. What would you say is key to writing and crafting stories in this style versus, say, a more contemporary style?
RK: I’m not sure about the Golden Age tone. I would label most of my stories as having more of an early Silver Age tone, but thanks. I’m trying to write my stories in the same tone, and with the same feel as the stories I grew up reading. Most comics back in the early 60s had more than one story per issue and all the stories in the issue (in most cases) were complete in that issue. The main key to doing stories in this tone would be keeping the stories complete in 8 to 14 pages. I find a lot of contemporary stories to be just one chapter in a longer story. Not that that is a bad thing, at times, but in the small press/self-publishing world this can be a problem.
IM: What about this era of storytelling do you find so compelling? Who are some of your influences?
RK: Just the sense of fun that was prevalent in the Golden Age/Silver Age of comics. There was very little of the dark and sometimes overtly dreary feel that a lot of modern comic stories seem to have. I want to try to keep that sense of fun, even in my horror stories. I don’t often succeed, but I try. Now, when I say “sense of fun,” I don’t mean campy humor or silly jokes. I mean the sense that these stories are for enjoyment, not to pass along some grand idea, or some political or social point of view.
My influences? I could take the easy way out and say “everyone,” but some are Gaylord Dubois, Richard Hughes, Robert Kanigher, Carl Barks, Stan Lee, John Broome, Archie Goodwin, and Joe Gill, among many others.
IM: You’ve managed to write stories that span a number of different genres: westerns, superheroes, and tales like those of O.T. Ferret. Would you say you have a favorite? Could you share a bit about the differences between the various genres and what is involved in writing in a tone that is true to the various elements that each are known for? Which would you say is the most challenging to write?
RK: That is one of the great advantages of working in the small press: you can get the chance to work in so many different genres. I really can’t say I have a true favourite; I do tend to lean more toward the action/adventure genre, western, and my serial-style hero Jack Banyon, but O. T. Ferret (my attempt at a Carl Barks style story) was so much fun.
Each genre has their own set of differences and some similarities, though I find the pacing of each story to be the biggest difference. When doing an action story, like a superhero one, you try to pace the story faster than if you were doing a horror or romance story. The difference in pacing helps you set the tone. I like to try to have the events in a story unfold as slowly as possible with in the page limit constraints. This gives me the chance to add tension and conflict and build to a climax. With horror stories, I have found that the slower you pace the story, the better you can build tension. With action-filled stories, you can pace faster and let the action build the tension and move the plot.
As to what genre I find the more challenging to write, strangely it has been superheroes. I haven’t done many, but trying to get the feel of the characters in terms of how they work in their world has been hard, and working out plots that can work within those worlds has been a bit troublesome. But these two things, especially plots, are troublesome for every genre. It is hard not to be a bit repetitive in plot ideas in any type of story, but with so many superhero stories/plots having been done over the years, it is harder to find something different each time. Horror or SF stories, you can always put a slight spin to an old plot and get a fresh (or at least a not to moldy) story. With superhero stories, a lot of the plots have been spun and spun again.
IM: To successfully create stories like you do, it takes discipline. In terms of your craft, do you write every day? What are some of the challenges that you find you face and how do you overcome many of the creative obstacles faced by writers? Typically, how long does it take you to complete a script?
RK: I try to write at least one hour a day minimum. Not always successful, but I try. Now I don’t mean just writing on whatever my current script or story is, but I’ll just develop plots, try out lines of dialogue, and create characters. Some of these may never see the light of day; others may find their way into different stories.
The major challenge I face, and I’m sure others do too, is time. Getting time to write. I work, have a family and a home to take care of, and all the things that go along with that. Luckily, I have managed to work around these problems as best as I can. Due to my work, I tend to write less in the summer months than in the winter, but I do get some done in the warmer months. Writer’s block, that bane of writers everywhere, hits me from time to time. Sometimes I’ll have to walk away from a story and either work on something else, or take a walk around town (muttering to myself like a madman) and work the story out in my head far from a keyboard or pen. Dialogue is one of my constant obstacles, trying to get my characters to sound natural. This is hard to do when the character and the story is set in some past century. I find saying the lines out loud to myself helps, but getting feedback from another person is great.
Perhaps, one of the advantages I may have when it comes to getting time and space to write is that I write all my plots, ideas, and first drafts of all scripts in longhand, using pen and paper. I have quite a few notebooks filled with notes, plots, and scripts, stacked in a corner of my room. This method lets me write on lunch breaks at work, during intermissions as I watch hockey, or just lounging on the patio in the sun enjoying a beer. I then take my first draft, type it up and make any corrections or changes needed.
It may not be the “proper” or “correct” method to write, but it works for me.
Depending on the type of story and how excited I am about it, I have written a six-page story in as short a time as eight hours—from idea to first draft to final draft. Others have taken days, weeks, or even months to do. It all depends on the story, how many changes I need to make, and of course, the free time to write.
IM: Currently, what are you working on? Where can fans find you and your work?
RK: Currently I am working on the next issue of my comic: The Adventures of Jack Banyon. Also in the works is a new title from my comic imprint Stone Island Comics: Princess of the Trees!
I’m associate editor on a project that has been in the works for a while, a comic featuring the ACE Publication heroes of the 40s (Magno, Vulcan, Black Spider, and Lash Lightening). This will be a full color comic featuring art by Rock Baker, Scott Shriver (of AC Comics fame), Tony Lorenz, and John Lambert.
And of course, there is always a script or story in some level of completeness around.
I can be found on Facebook as can my comic imprint, Stone Island Comics
IM: Growing up, were you a fan of comics? What were/are some of your favorite titles? When did you know that you wanted to write comic books?
RK: I was always, and still am, a fan of comics. I learned how to read, thanks to Bugs Bunny and Uncle Scrooge, moving quickly to Tarzan, Superman, and Sgt. Rock.
Some of my favourite titles over the years and even now: Uncle Scrooge, Walt Disney Comics and Stories, Tarzan, Magnus, Robot Fighter, Turok, (Dell/Gold Key), Superman, G. I. Combat, Sgt. Rock, JLA, Batman, Legion of Super-Heroes, House of Secrets/Mystery, Ghostly Tales, Fighting Five, Blackhawk, Fantastic Four, Strange Tales (Shield!!), Master of Kung Fu, Jon Sable, Warlord, Conan, Nexus, Bone ,Crossfire, Ms. Tree, DNAgents, Airboy, Jonah Hex, and more.
I first got the idea that maybe I could write comics back in the late 1970s. I wrote all the comic companies at the time: DC, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, and Warren, asking for information on being a comic book writer. I got sample scripts, submission info and nice letters from all. Armed with this, I started. Then, fear took over. I forgot my idea for many years. Figured I wasn’t good enough. A few years later, I discovered fandom and fanzines, yet never worked up the nerve to try scripts for any of the ‘zines. Around the mid-80s, I started writing a column for It’s A Fanzine and made the acquaintance of Jim Burke (aka T.M. Maple). From this, I got letters printed in some comics, more sent and not printed, got more articles in other fanzines, and so on. A few years ago, via some mutual acquaintances, I met (via Facebook) Jim Main. Jim is a long-time small press publisher. After sending him an article for one of his magazines, I inquired about trying my hand at a comic story. With Jim’s help, *PFFZST! #32 featured my first story, Ghost Dance, with fantastic art by Kevin Dale Duncan.
IM: Any advice for aspiring writers/creators?
RK: For writers: WRITE!!!! Sounds like a cliché, but it is true. Write something every day. Also, read. Read everything: comics, newspapers, novels (fiction and non-fiction), magazines, etc. Not only will this help you in story construction, dialogue, pacing, and the like, you may get plot ideas as well, and who knows? You could even “borrow” a line of dialogue or two.
For creators: When you create a character or series, work out a background, a timeline of the characters and the series. With some of my characters, I have a timeline stretching back to the character’s birth. As ideas come to me related to the character, I add them to the timeline where I think they should fit in the character’s history. Now, not every idea will be added to any story, but they help me in forming an idea of what would motivate the character in any particular story, and sometimes, they help build the depth of the character and future plots.
For Artists: Draw! Every day. Not just heroes in action poses, but cars, houses, furniture, ordinary people in ordinary clothes, people sitting and talking, animals, boats, trees, everything!! You never know when one of us crazy writers may ask for two people in evening clothes, sitting in a boat in a tree, being served by a dog in a tux!!
IM: If you had to choose, would you rather be a golden age superhero or an animated pulp action hero?
RK: Tough one!! I think I would lean toward being an animated pulp action hero, something on the lines of The Shadow or The Spider.
After stopping the presses in the mid-80s and going out of business, Charlton Comics is back! It’s the comic company that will not die. Many of its characters have lived on, some through DC Comics, and others, solely within the hearts of the fans—at least, until recent events brought them back to life. Both fans and professionals joined in to revive the Charlton line with original concepts, as well as new takes on public domain characters that weren’t acquired by DC in the 1980s. It’s a labor of love with a truly independent vibe.
Paul Kupperberg was kind enough to take some time and answers some questions about the All New, All Different Charlton line of comics. Roger McKenzie and Mort Todd also helped set this up and provided artwork for our readers to enjoy.
IM: T. C. Ford attempted to reboot Charlton Comics with the Charlton Bullseye Special, which was to feature art by Amanda Connor. Unfortunately, it never happened and eventually, Charlton Comics went out of business. Did you reach out to Mr. Ford or any of the people involved with it? Did they offer any advice or want to join in? PK: We didn’t set out to revive or reboot the old Charlton Comics. We’re all fans of the old comics, but I think we were attracted more to what the name represented to us as fans than for the actual material we wanted to publish. True, the very first story we published in The Charlton Arrow #1 was my script, which was a pastiche of the old Charlton Action Heroes, but we knew these characters, the strongest the company had had, weren’t available to us, so why not use the opportunity to create new material in the spirit of the original company? T.C. is, of course, a member of the Facebook fan page where the Charlton rebirth was born, and has been very supportive of our efforts.
IM: Now let’s talk about your efforts and publications. How did this come about in the first place? Is it true it all started with a Facebook fan page? PK: Yep, a Charlton fan and blogger named Fester Faceplant started the Charlton Arrow Facebook page, which I and some other old-time Charltonites eventually joined—I made my first half dozen or so professional sales to Charlton in 1975, which makes me a vet. Anyway, somebody suggested that, with all the talent on the page, we should do a Charlton fanzine. I volunteered to write a story (the aforementioned pastiche) and then, others started jumping in with stories and ideas, and the next thing we knew, we had this little comic book publishing company.
IM: What’s the deal with Roger Broughton? He purchased the rights to publish Charlton Comics and published some reprints but not much else. PK: You know as much about that as I do. We haven’t heard jack squat from Roger Broughton… nor has anyone else for many years, from what I understand. We’re doing either original material or new stories using old and largely obscure public domain characters.
IM: You’ve got a plethora of material from Charlton that ended up in the public domain. Charlton was famous for producing romance, humor, mystery, horror, and westerns. What’s coming in the future? The Westerns are getting their own title so how about “Easterns” or Crime, Detective, or Noir stuff? PK: Noir, Action, Humor/funny animal, Horror, all in the works. IM: Charlton Arrow is available as a POD and digital publication. Where do you see this going? Is national distribution feasible via Diamond? Are there plans to make the titles available in comic shops and other brick and mortar retailers as well? PK: Right now, we’re playing it by ear, with word of mouth and social media as our best friends. Thanks to digital publishing and POD technology, we can actually create comic books to sell and not have to sink a fortune into printing, storing, and in fulfilling orders ourselves. Diamond takes too big a bite out of the profits, so that’s not a direction we can afford to go in. Again, we’re winging it right now, trying to get the word out and keep this show going.
IM: Charlton was famous for adapting television shows in the 70s, like Emergency, Six Million Dollar Man, and Space: 1999. Would you like to see that happen again? What shows, past or current would you like to publish? PK: No interest at all. TV and movie licenses cost big bucks and there’s no way to recoup those costs under our business model. Besides, why hassle with licenses and approvals and revisions and all the attendant headaches when you can create your own stuff and do what you want?
IM: Obviously you cannot do stories about the Action Heroes purchased by DC back in ’83, but have you considered using public domain superheroes from other publishers under the Neo banner? PK: If someone comes up with a good revamp or re-imagining of an existing P.D. character from any company, we’ll be happy to take a look. But if you check what characters ARE in the P.D., you’ll see that they’re there because they’re largely lame and deservedly obscure. Again, we’d rather publish a completely new character than recycle someone else’s leftovers.
IM: This revival is attracting many big-name artists and writers that have worked for, or currently work for, Marvel, DC, and even Charlton in the past. What is it about Charlton that makes these artists want to work for fun versus a paycheck? PK: Total freedom and creator ownership. You create it, we publish it—but YOU own it, lock, stock, and barrel, and no one at Charlton Neo is going to tell you what you can and can’t do with your creation.
IM: Do any of the contributing artists and writers see this as a way to get back into working for Marvel, DC, Image, or other larger publishers? PK: Maybe, you’ll have to ask them that. But I think most of us are realistic enough to realize that the mainstream publishers are pretty much done with us and have moved on to other ways to make a living. If we like what you’ve come up with, what Neo offers is, again, the opportunity to do the comic books you want to do the way you want to do them. IM: What does it say about the state of the industry when so many established pros cannot get the work from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, etc? PK: It says that time moves on and older creators get pushed out by younger creators. It happened at DC in the mid-70s, when me and my peers entered the business and displaced guys like Bob Kanigher, Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, David Reed, et al. It says comics has taken on the ageist, “youth is good” mindset of its Hollywood corporate overlords and we either get on with our lives or become the bitter old farts yelling at those damned kids to get off their lawn. And the results of these policies are reflected in sales and other factors. I spoke at a friend’s comics writing class for seniors (as in freshman, sophomore, senior—not old people) at NY’s School of Visual Arts recently and, of the 15 or so students there, exactly NONE of them raised their hands when I asked who wanted to do comics for DC or Marvel. They all want to tell their own stories and create their own comics, outside of the corporate structure.
IM: You’ve released submission guidelines for artists and writers. Can you tell us about some of the new talent you’ve found? PK: We’ve got a few new guys we’re working with, largely through assistant editor Dan Johnson, who screens the submissions and is in touch with the writers and artists and can probably talk more on what’s in the pipeline than I can. What really gets me is some of the guys getting back into comics because of us. Our own Roger McKenzie got involved after 20 or years away from the field after seeing that I was part of the fun… and artist Angel P.D. Gabriele is doing his first new storytelling art in I don’t know how many years, both on some short stories for the anthology titles and on the Pix-C Weekly Web Comics site strip I write, N.E.O.—and he is kicking ass all the way. IM: What would you like to see done differently in the mainstream comics industry and can you give an example of how you would like to accomplish this with Charlton? PK: There’s lots I’d like to see done differently in mainstream comics, but I’m not the audience they’re shooting for anyway, so I don’t really dwell on it. I can only control my own little corner of comics, and I’m not out to reform the industry, even if it could or should be reformed. There’s too much money at stake these days for the mainstream publishers to change in any way other than further in favor of profits. Just like it’s up to creators to watch out for their own asses. No mainstream company can even afford to really express gratitude to the creators anymore, out of worry that we’ll come back and want some part of their media and licensing money, except in the broadest, most general terms—and even then, usually only when bad publicity shines a light on the subject. All we’re trying to do at Charlton is make comic books we want to make, have some fun doing it, and give creators a place to showcase their work. If something we publish hits the big time, that would be great, but all the benefits of it being a hit belong to the creator, not Charlton.
IM: Social media is vital to Charlton’s continued success and you’ve started a Patreon.com campaign. Can you tell the readers how that works and how it’s working out? PK: Supporting Charlton Neo, Pix-C, and ComicFix through Patreon is kind of like becoming a sustaining member of PBS. You pledge whatever monthly amount you’re comfortable with to support our creative efforts. For as little as a buck a month, you’ll have unlimited access to the Pix-C Webcomics site, which features a variety of (mostly) all-new color comic strips, updated every Sunday, by me, Angel P.D. Gabriele, Roger McKenzie, Sandy Carruthers, Mort Todd, Javier Hernandez, and others. For larger contributions, we offer discounts on our print books, posters and prints, and free stuff. They can check out a free preview and learn how to join by going to the website: http://morttodd.com/Pix-C.html.
IM: Can you tell our readers what to expect from the Pix-C Weekly Web Comics site the vs. the POD books? PK: Hopefully we’re giving them good comics on the web and in print. The difference is the format: weekly installments versus complete stories done in one or, at least, in larger chunks. And we’ll be collecting the webcomics as print comics, once we have enough material gathered.
IM: Considering the costs of a single comic book do you think it makes sense to eventually go all digital and set up an online subscription service for your titles? PK: You’d think, but comics is all about the collectables, the thing that can be sealed in Mylar or slabbed and displayed on the shelf. Can’t do that with digital comics, so I think there will continue to be a print component to comics for a long time to come.
IM: As a parent I find it hard to justify spending $4.00 or more on a single comic that seems to be serialized when I can purchase a learning app, a game, or even get a children’s book on sale for about the same money. How would you convince me to get my kids (all under 10 years old) into comics? PK: I don’t know what to tell you. Comics don’t give the bang for the buck that they used to, especially in view of all the competition out there for that entertainment buck. And it’s going to take more than me to convince you to get your kids into comics. It’s going to take mainstream comics doing more than paying lip service to wanting to draw in young readers and actually publishing age-appropriate books that will be available, not just in comic book shops, but in retail outlets where parents who aren’t comic book fans might see them and be inspired to pick them up.
IM: What demographic is Charlton going after? Older fans, youngsters, or another target? PK: Charlton doesn’t have a demographic in mind, but by the nature of our material, creators, and reach through social media, the majority of our readers are going to be older. We’re planning on material for younger readers, but one of the problems with that market, as I learned through a prose publishing endeavor aimed at the YA market, is that kids don’t have credit cards to order our books online for themselves. But these are the kinds of issues we face when you’re trying to publish good comic books on a shoestring. A really short shoestring, at that.
IM: A fan walks into a comic convention and asks you how to get into comics in any capacity. What would you tell them? I tell them to plan on a day job. Breaking into any creative business isn’t easy and these days, I don’t really know what it takes. Yes, it requires talent—and none of us are ever really as talented as we, or our mothers, think we are. It requires persistence. It requires connections. Mostly, it requires luck. And if and when you do get lucky, it requires follow-through: the ability to do the job as promised, when promised. How do you get lucky? Practice, practice, practice. Most publishers don’t look at unsolicited submissions anymore (although Charlton Neo does), so if you want to get noticed, you need to get your work out there, publish your own webcomics, go to conventions, and make connections. And, yeah, plan for that day job as a back-up plan. These days, for every comic book story I write, I’m also writing half a dozen other things you never hear about or that don’t have my name on them, from coloring books, to kid books or Mad Libs, to commercial writing jobs.