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A Truly Mediocre Friendship

An interview with Toby Gibbs & Jerry Voigt creators of The Mediocres

By: Everard J. McBain Jr.TheMediocres1

I grew up on cartoons. Yes, those famous 80s and 90s Saturday morning cartoons that everyone talks about. Some of my favorite cartoons were created by creative duos whose names were immortalized, not only because of the awesome work that they did, but also because the company names were made up of the last names of the creative duo. Who hasn’t heard the name Hanna-Barbera? They created greats such as Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons. Hanna-Barbera was founded by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The other company was Rankin-Bass, which was founded by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. They were responsible for producing Thundercats, among many others. Their work was a big influence on me as a young creator. I recently had the pleasure of meeting another cartoon duo. The dynamic duo of Toby Gibbs and Jerry Voigt, who, in my opinion, are well underway to being a great influence in pop culture with their creation The Mediocres. The duo sat down with Indyfest Magazine to tell us about their project.

IM: Tell us a bit about the team, your backgrounds and how you started working together?

JV: Toby and I have been close friends for over 20 years. We first worked together in college, when I was assigned to create funny, accompanying illustrations for his humor articles for the university’s newspaper. After a few of these, I approached Toby about creating a comic strip, where he wrote and I did the artwork.

He came back to me with an idea called Sherman’s Alley. A comic strip that revolved around a couple of guys, Sherman and Brooks, living in a boarding house owned by Brooks’ Uncle Hugo, and the bizarre people in their immediate circle.

We produced Sherman’s Alley four days a week for almost four years, and it was very popular at the university. We had a book published, a compilation of our newspaper comic strips, called Lost on Sherman’s Alley. Though we made some attempts to sell the strip to the comic strip syndicates after college, we both had to get work.

TheMediocres2Toby went into broadcast journalism, first radio, and then television news, and I began doing graphic design and, eventually, computer animation, primarily for advertising agencies and video production companies. I now have a small, independent animation company called Cartoonery Studios, (www.cartoonerystudios.com).

Though we live in different cities, we never lost touch with each other and never gave up on the idea working together on other comedy projects. 

TG: As Jerry says, I’m a TV news producer. I work for the ABC affiliate in Lexington, Kentucky. 

I’ve been a professional journalist and broadcaster my entire adult life. But, since high school, I’ve dabbled in comedy writing. I’ve written different kinds of TV and movie scripts, a comic strip, a newspaper column, a Bob & Ray-type radio show, and other stuff. 

The newspaper column was in my college newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, at the University of Kentucky. Jerry was an editorial cartoonist there. That’s where we met and started Sherman’s Alley. We were both very proud of it. 

IM: What, or who, were the major influences for you as creators? 

TG: Keep in mind, I’m the writing half of this team, so my influences tend to be writers, rather than visual artists. I mentioned Bob & Ray earlier. Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were a radio comedy team, at their peak in the 1950s and ’60s. They had a dry, understated, very realistic approach to comedy. 

There was a wonderful, oddball radio sitcom in the l930s and ’40s called Vic and Sade, that’s had an enormous influence on me. I could talk for hours about that. Another radio comedian—Fred Allen— is a giant to me. 

And I was a reader of Mad Magazine as a child. I was a big SCTV fan, and the early David Letterman just left me stunned. 

JV: Though Toby is the writer, I’m actually the one who has an interest/love of superheroes, comic books, and science fiction. I actually grew up in the Silver Age, and was purchasing as many Marvel and DC titles as I could afford in the 1970 and 80s. And, though it’s a spectacularly unoriginal thing to say about comic book art, Jack Kirby always amazed me with his work. The strangest combination of simplicity, complexity of composition and details, and weirdly dynamic motion. Neal Adams, of course, was amazing at that time, too. Of course, The Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns made a huge impact when they came out, because they changed what comics were. 

TheMediocres3Like most American kids at that time, I watched syndicated reruns of the 1966 Batman series, which I still love, and it gave me a sense of humor about superheroes. And collecting comic books, I had the Marvel and DC universes branded on my brain at the height of the Silver Age. So the movies and shows being created now are all things I dreamed of as a kid. 

As with Toby, Mad Magazine had a lot of influence on me as a kid. Though, in retrospect, most of the comedy falls a bit flat, artists like Jack Rickard and Jack Davis, who worked in black and white, really amazed me. But more than anything, I learned that good satire tries to look exactly like what you are satirizing. I certainly think that’s something that I try to bring to The Mediocres. I want people to look at an old ad, or a Mediocres-endorsed product image, and have to take a second to figure out if it’s real or a parody. 

Comedy-wise I’m very much a lover of British comedy. Starting with Monty Python, then Fry & Laurie, Mitchell & Webb, and Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright. But certainly, early Simpsons had a huge comedy/cartoon impact. And Bob’s Burgers is one of the best-written things on TV. 

Definitely a fan of clever. And just to brag on Toby a bit, he writes some of the smartest, most literate comedy I’ve ever seen, yet still it is funny and accessible to anyone.

IM: How many projects have you worked on to date, and which is your favorite? 

JV: Though we’ve talked about and toyed with a number of project ideas over the years, the only ones that we have taken to the production stage are the Sherman’s Alley cartoon strip, where we first collaborated, and The Mediocres, which we have worked on for years in preparation. 

I would have to say that The Mediocres is my favorite. It has developed into an amazingly rich concept. There is so much that we can do within this genre. And being able to satirize Marvel and DC comics through the years, as well as the off-and-on love that American history (and merchandising) has had with superheroes since the first ones appeared in the 1930s and 40s, this project is a conceptual dream. 

Also The Mediocres is a loving parody of the superhero genre. I like to think of it like the movie Galaxy Quest and its love of Star Trek, all the while, hilariously mocking it too. 

TG: Jerry and I have worked on some ideas that would then “morph” into something else. The two big things, as mentioned, are our Sherman’s Alley comic strip, during our time in college, and now, The Mediocres. 

I have a fake news service on Facebook, called News on the Cheap. Jerry and some other friends have helped out with that. 

A favorite? The Mediocres, though I’ll always love Sherman’s Alley too. 

IM: What can you tell us about The Mediocres, how it came to be and your experience working on it? 

JV: About eight years ago, I had been hired to do the animation for a series of two-to-five-minute animated segments for a show on Starz network. As the series run was coming to an end, I was asked if I had any animated show ideas that I might want to pitch to the producer. So, I immediately went to Toby and, within a week, he had come back to me with the basic concept and the four primary characters of The Mediocres. While Starz chose not to pursue it, we decided the idea was worth developing as a multimedia comedy project. And for the past seven or eight years, we’ve been slowly developing it. 

TG: We realize this general idea— superheroes with limited, underwhelming skills—has been done before. But our approach is different. We’re not just satirizing the clichés and stereotypes involving superheroes. We’ve stepped back and spoofed the business and media worlds surrounding superheroes, as well. 

For example, we claim there was a Mediocres radio show in the l940s, and an RKO movie serial about them. We claim there was a l960s TV show on NBC. We have fake sponsors, like Cold Wet Soda and Dust Bowl Farms Cereals. 

The Mediocres are part of a larger comic book company that publishes other comic books. It’s all owned by a fictitious publishing company. We even claim that The Mediocres was created by someone else, and he has his own back-story. There are multiple layers to this, and we think that’s unique among superhero parodies. Superhero stories are rich with detail and multi-layered. Shouldn’t a parody be that way too? 

As you can imagine, the experience has been an absolute joy, because of the limitless creative possibilities. This thing has gone in directions Jerry and I never imagined when we started. 

IM: What was the main inspiration behind The Mediocres, and what do you hope to accomplish with it? 

TG: Specifically, I have a memory of watching the 1970s version of the Superfriends on Saturday morning TV, and while I don’t mean to insult fans of it, I can remember, at the age of seven or eight, I was pointing out holes in the plot. It just seemed ripe for satire, even then. I watched the old Batman series of the 1960s, and even though it was a self-parody to begin with, it still opened my eyes to the satirical possibilities. 

Taking a broader view, superheroes are just such a big part of the culture—from movies to TV shows to comic books—that, if you love spoofing the culture, this subject matter is just rich with endless comic possibilities. We’re spoofing superheroes, sure— but it doesn’t stop there. As mentioned already, we’re spoofing the products in comic book ads, we’re spoofing breakfast cereals, World War II propaganda slogans, 1960s rock groups, Star Wars, sports, TV Guide— you name it. Although the superhero angle is the main one, it’s not the only one.

JV: From the art side of things, I was greatly influenced by Genndy Tartakovsky, specifically Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory, as well as John Kricfalusi, who created Ren & Stimpy.

Oddly, rather than getting a regularly-published comic, our goal is to get The Mediocres produced as a television or online animated series. Which we plan to support with the same kind of social media posts that we are currently doing and, given the elasticity of the concept, to just see what else can be done with it.

IM: What is your assessment of today’s independent comic industry, and what do you think the industry needs? 

TheMediocres4JV: Obviously, with independent comics, there is the double-edged sword of the decline of all print as a medium, and the opportunities that just never used to be available in a pre-digital age. We certainly wouldn’t be able to do anything with The Mediocres like we are doing, without being about to post it online without financial risk or professional backing. 

But I don’t really know what the economic model is to make indy comics work as an industry. So much content is available for free online, I don’t know how you make a living asking people for a couple of dollars for a digital download.

TG: I too am impressed by the online possibilities, and the new opportunities they create. But on the downside, it means you’re competing with more artists and writers than ever before. It’s harder to stand out. 

IM: In your opinion, how difficult is it for an independent creator to make a living today?

TG: I would imagine very hard, for the reasons already stated. It’s harder to break through than ever before, with so many people doing this.

JV: Very difficult. I don’t even understand the current economics of the big two, outside of movies and TV. Are DC and Marvel making money off of print comics right now? 

On the other hand, when you think back to the Golden Age or Silver Age creators, even people like Jack Kirby were paid remarkably little. And VERY few people could do the work. It was a very, very small pool of people creating. Right now has to be the most explosive time in history for individuals to create and to be able to show their work, literally, to a world-wide audience. 

But the question is how to make it economically viable enough to devote yourself completely to your work as a profession and not just a hobby, and that’s a question that, at least, we haven’t answered yet.

IM: Do you use social media? How has it helped in getting the word out about The Mediocres? 

JV: After years of development, we have only just put The Mediocres in the public eye, on Facebook, a few months ago. Soon, we’ll expand this to Twitter, Instagram, and others. It is the foundation of launching a project.

I come from a traditional advertising background, and the reach and opportunities of social media are the ONLY practical way to launch something or get it seen by the public.

We try to put out four or five new pieces of art/comedy per week. We’ve set ourselves an insane pace. But by repetition, perseverance, and, hopefully, good work, we hope our use of social media helps launch our project, while we also plan for social media to support it, should we get to launch our animated program. So, to The Mediocres, I think that social media is really the alpha and the omega. We will utilize it for every step of what we do with this project and other projects in the future. 

TG: Being on social media has really inspired both of us. Because we’re posting several items a week on Facebook, it has required us to work harder and simply do more. It’s made us more creative. We’ve had to brainstorm more and, in the process, we’ve developed new ideas and characters we might not have created otherwise. That’s paying dividends in other aspects of the project. I didn’t fully realize it would have that kind of impact on our work. 

IM: What are your future plans, and where do you see your career and The Mediocres on the next five years?

JV: As I keep mentioning, the real goal is an animated program, supported by comic books, merchandising, and our elaborate online fake history. 

I think that, due to the subject matter of The Mediocres (superheroes), and the amazing, ongoing, and growing influence of superhero movies and television shows worldwide, that our concept is the perfect parody at the perfect time. The palette for satire is huge, and the way we have structured The Mediocres gives us the ability to parody everything from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster creating Superman in the 1930s, to the newest Marvel or DC movie. As well as everything in between, from the anti-comic book hearings of the 1950s, to bad Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 1960s. From the rise of graphic novels in the 1980s to “gritty reboot” superhero movies today. 

And with The Mediocres themselves, there are literally no limitations. From nuclear explosions to time travel. The superhero genre and our being a parody makes “shark jumping” almost impossible. 

TG: I agree with Jerry. When you have a genre with other dimensions, with the possibility of visiting the past or the future, or other planets or galaxies, you can do anything. And we will.

And since this genre isn’t going anywhere, there’s no danger a parody of it will become stale or dated anytime soon. This works in 2015, but I’m confident it will work just as well in 2025. 

IM: What recommendations would you give to an up-and-coming independent creator? 

TG: Be distinctive. Be different. Something that’s the same as everything else isn’t likely to go anywhere. Why would it, when people can get the same thing a zillion other places? 

JV: Certainly, work on your craft. If you write, write. If you draw, draw. 

Reference EVERYTHING you can. Know what others have done and learn from what they have done that you love, like, and hate. Read a variety of comics. Watch all genres of movies. And all of it tells you details about what you want to emulate and what you want to avoid. 

Also, be brutal with yourself. Not self-critical to the point you think “What is the point of even trying?” but too many people like to talk themselves into believing what they want to believe. 

I used to have a friend, a guy with a unique outlook and a good amount of talent. But they were not self-critical and were simply hostile to outside critique. They would complain if I gave artistic critique saying, “Do you know how long this took?” And I said, “No one will either know or care how long it took. They will just care about the end product that they are looking at.” You simply don’t get ‘points for effort’.

If you are just creating for yourself, and don’t care about selling your product, do whatever makes you happy. But if you are trying to create work to appeal/sell to others, you have to figure out a unique angle for what you are creating. Not just create ‘another X, Y or Z’ that has been done a thousand times before. And that is no small feat. 

Keep an eye on The Mediocres and this creative duo; they are well on their way to greatness. You can follow and support this project at the links below.

ONLINE FOLLOW THROUGH:

The Mediocres website: themediocres.com

The Mediocres on Facebook: www.facebook.com/themediocres

Watch the Mediocres intro commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBbXfXoeT3c


 

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Learn more about our interviewer at: Everard J. McBain Jr.

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When Characters Come A’Knockin’… Are you at Home?

Characters1By Trisha Sugarek

I’m certain that there are writers out there that do a thorough story plot, get all their characters in a neat little row, and know how their story is going to end. And that’s all before they write a word of their tale.

I would probably frighten some. I just sit down and start typing. Yes, the story has been bubbling in my head for days. There comes a point where I have to empty it, before smoke seeps out of my ears. Many of my chapters are not numbered, because I don’t know yet exactly where they will fit. I write out of sequence.
And, much to my eternal delight (and gratitude), characters just keep showing up. Many of them, I never plan. When they make their appearance, I have to shape the story around them… because once they show up, they are NOT leaving! 

For instance, in Beneath the Bridge of Murder, which I am currently writing, murder cops O’Roarke and Garcia are down on the docks in Manhattan. A call has come in from the NYPD Marine Patrol, who pulled out another dead body from the river. As they walk toward the ME and cops gathered around the scene, a young, pretty, uniformed officer steps out of her patrol car. Molly wasn’t planned, and now she will be an intricate part of this mystery and will appear in future books. (I can’t tell you more, right now!)

In The Taste of Murder, Arnold Miller (Broadway star and key character in The Act of Murder) walks off the elevator that O’Roarke and Garcia, NYPD, are waiting for in the Food Network Building in Lower Manhattan. What’s he doing in this story? I wasn’t even thinking about this story; he simply walked off the elevator and into my story.

With The Angel of Murder, Vito Vandellino, PI appeared on the page and began tromping all over O’Roarke’s case. Where the heck did this guy come from? These are strictly cop/true crime stories. But Vito is hired to try to find an affluent couple’s missing daughter and I’d better go along with it. Now, he’s back with his nephew in Beneath the Bridge…

My aunt La Verne tapped me on the shoulder one night while writing something else and said, “Okay, you’ve written your mother’s story but why aren’t you writing mine? It’s far more interesting; full of adventure and danger and love.”  Well, it was a good question. I barely knew her as she lived most of her life in the wilds of Alaska in the 1920s. One of my projects is writing my ‘epic’ about her life. It’s still not finished… other stories keep getting in the way. I will finish it, just not yet. (And writers: that’s okay to let a story ‘rest’. It will still be there when you want it.)

And then we come to the Effervescent Elf, Cheets. He put his over-sized feet on my back one night around 3AM. Insisted that I write about him, pushed me out of bed. By the time I had made my cup of tea, Cheets had given me the other characters’ names and we were on our way. Now, keep in mind, I was NOT a children’s story writer. What was happening? Now, four plays and four storybooks later… well, I guess I am a fairytale storyteller. Lord knows, I love me some fairy tales.Characters2


 

Learn more about our interviewer at: Trisha Sugarek

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Writer At Play

A Talk with Trisha Sugarek

By Raphael Moran

Characters1Here at Indyfest, we try to put the spotlight on some of the most unique voices in the indy publishing universe. Trisha Sugarek is one of those voices. With four decades worth of writing credits to her name, she has a huge diverse line of works on her resume, ranging from plays to mysteries to children’s books. She’s done it all by herself and has been blazing through the publishing world. She also runs a successful website dedicated to the art of writing. Plus, she’s interviewed some of the biggest names in the publishing industry. I had a chance to pick her brain a little to find out about her success in self-publishing, and all matter of other things.

IM: What are some of your major hardships in self publishing?

TS: No major hardships. I have complete artistic control with content and the cover artwork. Exposure is difficult when my true crime mysteries (for example) are competing with a half-million other mysteries. Social media can be the best marketing tool in an author’s toolbox. Self-publishing used to be a dirty word. Now it’s a respectable way to publish; so much so that some traditional publishing houses are building divisions within their company to offer self-publishing.

IM: Do you have a literary agent, and if not, have you ever submitted to one?

Sugarek2TS: I got off that hamster wheel years ago. Everywhere a writer goes they hear: Agent: Got a publisher? Then we’re not interested but good luck.  Publisher: Got an agent, submit through them. No unsolicited manuscripts but good luck.

IM: How do you go about marketing your book? Do you go to book conventions to promote?

TS: In the past, I have held book signings and sold out. I have gone to book festivals too. I know many authors do attend many conventions, but it’s just not for me. I can accomplish the same thing on the internet and social media.

IM: You have interviewed many writers on your website. Who were some of your favorite writers to interview?

TS: It would have to be Dean Koontz and Sue Grafton. The most amusing is the recent interview with co-authors Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross (July’s authors). They are wonderfully strange and very funny.  

IM: What is your favorite type of genre to write, and what is your favorite to read?

TS: My favorite genre to write has been chick lit, and I have written three novels about women. And my second favorite to write is my true crime series The World of Murder. My favorite to read are real stories about real people and some fiction based on English history.

IM: Do you sometimes base your characters on people in your real life or are they totally made up?

Sugarek3TS:  I have written many stories about my mother and her six sisters as they were growing up and becoming young women. My mother, because she was a business owner and flapper during the roaring ’20s (Wild Violets), and my aunt, because she ran away to Alaska in the early 1900s and stayed for 30 years (Song of the Yukon). 

IM: Here’s the dreaded question. Out of all the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite and is there one you didn’t like? If so, did you ever go back to change it?

TS: If I can only choose one, it would have to be Women Outside the Walls. I created three women who are representational of all the women who wait while their husbands are incarcerated. I can’t say there is one I don’t like. I’m committed from day one to a story I want to write.

 

IM: How do you come up with a new story idea? What influences you? For some it’s a dream or just something they saw during the day. Others can get it with just a random thought.  What are yours? 

TS:  Ninety-five percent of my stories have come to me. I have not searched them out. The women (The Guyer Girls) in my family (see above) were so powerful for the time in which they lived, but also flawed, making them wonderful characters to develop. All my books are based on real family stories, passed down.

Women Outside the Walls came to me as I sat in a state prison, waiting to visit a convicted murderer. I was surrounded by wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters, visiting their men in prison. My true crime series started as a ten-minute play for the classroom. Five books later, after the urging of fans and friends, it blossomed into a series: The World of Murder.

Well, there was one dreamCheets the Elf came to me at three in the morning and, with his large feet on my back, insisted that I get up and write about him and his friends in the Fabled Forest. I objected, “I don’t write children’s books!” Four plays and four storybooks later, Cheets still isn’t satisfied.

IM: What are some of your upcoming titles?

TS: (Beneath) The Bridge of Murder, Book 6 in the World of Murder series. Someone is killing the homeless in NYC and detectives O’Roarke and Garcia have no suspects. Two murder cops, seek out killers in New York City. The first five books of the series involve the art world, backstage on Broadway, the seedy side of strip clubs, behind the scenes of the Catholic church, and the twists and turns of the Food Network and its stars.

Song of the Yukon is my saga novel. Half-written and marinating at the moment. A young female musician runs away to Alaska in the 1920s to write her music. She homesteads some land up the Yukon River and lives there for the next thirty years, building her cabin, hunting moose, falling in love, surviving a blizzard, and raising her children.

IM: Both of those books sound very intriguing. You can find all of Trisha’s books on Amazon. And be sure to visit her website, where she writes, twice weekly, about her craft and interviews some of the best writers on the planet every month. 

Visit:  www.writeratplay.com

‘The Taste of Murder’, Book 5: The World of Murder 

NOW AVAILABLE!!  The Creative Writer’s Journal


 

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Learn more about our interviewer at: Raphael Moran

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The Reply From Carly Ottaway

By Jeff Nelson

Ottaway1The Internet has provided a wealth of career opportunities for those willing work hard. Carly Ottaway is one such person. Leaving a full time job in pursuit of internet self-employment, her experiences are an example of what to expect when journeying away from traditional employment. It had been her dream to pursue a writing-based career. Since acting upon her goals in 2010, she co-founded The Reply, a site dedicated to giving a voice to the often-criticized “millennial” generation.

She started her career at Zoomer, but her biggest lesson there was more existential than professional. It was due to this lesson that Ottaway eventually partnered with the other founder of The Reply, Christopher Rogers, and they launched their site—one which was clearly influenced by Zoomer. On it, you can see articles reassuring millennials that their personal and financial struggles are temporary.

I got the chance to ask Ottaway some questions. She spoke of her journey to self-employment, along with some of the struggles that she had to go through to get there.

 IM: When did you first get the idea for your business?

Ottaway2CO: For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I had other career aspirations along the way—I did some job shadowing at a vet clinic and with a human resources department. For a while, I was set on growing up to be the CEO of a company (I’m not sure where that stemmed from, to be honest). But one of my biggest dreams was to be an editor-in-chief of a magazine, one day. The funny thing is I’ve actually kind of achieved both of those last two goals. I’m the owner of Web of Words, where I help small business owners and solopreneurs build meaningful connections online through blogging and social media. And then, I’m also co-founder of The Reply, a magazine for millennials. In hindsight, the reality of these roles looks nothing like what I had imagined as a young girl. It’s every bit as exciting though.

I first started freelancing for some online sites when I graduated from the periodical writing program at York University in 2010. Eventually, I landed upon an opportunity to write for Zoomer, which was a pretty incredible way to launch my writing career. I was a 20-something recent graduate, writing for an audience of baby boomers on everything from planning your retirement to boosting your sex life. It was fascinating, and it showed me I could write for any audience, as long as I put in the legwork. I also had the chance to interview Jann Arden for the magazine when she was filming Canada Sings—that’s been a career highlight of mine, for sure. (Although it will be hard to beat the interview I had with Margaret Atwood when working as staff writer for an IT magazine).

But the biggest learning I took from writing for Zoomer was actually more of a lifestyle lesson. The magazine is built upon a mantra that it’s “never too late.” It’s never too late to try a new hobby, to change career paths, to transform old habits… This really influenced me early on in my career. I realized that not only is it never too late, but in a way, it’s never too early. I think I felt like I had to be a certain age—to have acquired the necessary wisdom—before I could write my first book or, say, launch my own magazine. But I realized there truly was nothing stopping me from reaching these goals.

I haven’t written the book yet (there have been a few drafts in the works). But a little over a year ago, I started thinking seriously about ideas for a magazine. I knew I wanted to reach out to the millennial demographic. There had been so much negativity about millennials in the media, and I wanted to give my generation a chance to share their voices and speak to the stereotypes, show the world that we’re far more than a group of spoiled, basement-dwelling hipsters.

I partnered up with a colleague of mine, whom I had worked with at an IT-business magazine, Christopher Rogers. He’s a great writer and also very well-versed in web design. We put our heads together and started visualizing what our magazine would look like. Deciding on the name was the hardest part. As soon as we came up with The Reply, everything just flowed from there.

IM: The grind of being a freelance writer is well-known. How did you approach pitching articles when you were unknown? Did you do free work to get your name out there?

Ottaway3CO: It’s kind of cliché to say, but I made sure I was writing every single day. I launched my own blog back in 2010, writing about “life as an aspiring writer”. Eventually, I started contributing to some online sites, where I got paid $25 per article. But I did a lot of writing for free. I think it’s almost a necessity in order to build a portfolio and make a bit of a name for yourself. People want to see what you’ve written before they hire you to write for their publication.

Once I had built up a bit of a portfolio, I started sending pitches everywhere I could think of. At first, I heard nothing back. But eventually, I started getting some bites. This was before I really understood the importance of building a personal brand online. I knew I needed a portfolio, but I had no idea what kind of value social media could bring in helping me build meaningful relationships with editors and publications. My approach to pitching is completely different now.

That said, I still do a lot of writing for free. I contribute to The Huffington Post Canada—which is unpaid, but provides great exposure. I blog for my own site and contribute guest posts for other bloggers. And technically, all of the writing I do for The Reply is unpaid, as our main focus in the initial stages has been on building up our audience. We’re currently working on launching our plan for monetizing the site.

Of course, there’s a controversial side to the writer pay debate. Yes, I do some free writing, but I put this in a completely separate category from writing for pennies. I cringe when I hear about writers who undervalue themselves enough to take $25 for a 500–700-word blog post. (Unless they are just starting out and trying to build a portfolio). But writers with years of experience need to charge what they’re worth. When you’re a self-employed creative, getting underpaid is worse than not getting paid at all. Free writing is like volunteering. You can prioritize it accordingly. But underpaid writing means you’re doing all the work for a lot fewer zeros. You’re also sucking time away from really wonderful, profitable gigs. Not to mention, you’re making it even harder for the rest of us writers to get by, because suddenly we get these new clients who expect to underpay.

IM: Writing is a tough area to make it in. Perseverance is needed. What’s kept you going in a field where so many people seem to give up?

Ottaway4CO: I’ve discovered some really valuable connections through local networking groups. I’m a member of The Writers’ Community of York Region, and I also meet regularly with other small business owners. Writing tends to be a very isolated endeavor, so it’s incredibly important to take the time to connect with other people—and not just online. I live online, since I manage social media accounts for small business clients, and I know firsthand that there is huge value in online networking. But it doesn’t ever replace in-person connections.

I also have an incredibly supportive husband. During those times when I really start to feel down on myself, he’s there to remind me what I’ve accomplished so far and how much more is possible. He always jokes to our family and friends that I’m going to write a bestseller one day and he’ll be able to retire early. The bestseller still feels like a bit of a stretch, but I know a number of freelance writers who have been able to retire their spouses, because of the businesses they have built. That seems like an achievable goal to me. So when I start to doubt myself, I also head on over to read some of their latest blog posts for a motivational boost.

IM: Was there a time when you were building your business that money was scarce?

Ottaway5CO: When making the leap to self-employment, I was leaving a well-paid job with benefits, so there was certainly a level of risk involved. My husband and I had worked hard to build up a solid financial cushion to lean on. It was important for us to hit that $10,000 number in our emergency savings account before I made any big moves. We definitely dipped into it in the early months, but Web of Words took off a lot quicker than I had actually anticipated. And I’ve had my husband’s regular paycheck to rely on as well, which has definitely been a huge relief. After six months of being self-employed, we were hitting our monthly savings goals again. And I’m on target to hit my financial goals for the end of the year. That said, when you’re working for yourself, anything can happen. So we still keep that cushion right where we need it.

IM: Was there a point where you wished you’d gone back into the steady world of 9–5 employment?

CO: When making the transition to self-employment, I fully expected to have regrets. I knew I was in for a roller-coaster of a ride. Maybe it’s because I set these expectations from the start, but I haven’t once wished I stayed in the 9–5 environment. There have certainly been scary moments, when I feared failing and having to start the job search all over again. But even in those early months when money was tight, I reminded myself to appreciate the newfound freedom I had acquired. After all, you don’t just launch your own business for the money. There are so many perks to being your own boss. And you really have to establish your own definition of success to make it work for you. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others. We all have our own set of priorities. And for me, the freedom alone has made it all worthwhile. I’m not just talking about being able to go for long walks with the dog or pick up groceries in the middle of the afternoon. But I’m also referring to the creative freedom to write what I want, work with people I respect and admire, and produce work I am proud of. This has made it a lot easier to welcome failure, instead of fearing it. Because I know failure is a necessary steppingstone to growth, and as long as I am growing, then I am doing something right.

IM: How big were social media and SEO when you were first getting started?

CO: I definitely had the advantage of building my career at a time when there was a lot of change happening. I guess some people might actually see that as a disadvantage, but to me, social media has produced a world of infinite possibility. It’s really incredible to think of how you can build a relationship with someone halfway across the world with just the click of a button.

Social media and SEO were still early concepts when I first launched my freelance career after graduating, but I was in the space right from the start. And I was excited about it and keen to learn more. I kind of fell into social media—my full-time job before I went out on my own was working for a social media startup in Toronto. And now, I’ve built my own business around it. The space is always changing and it certainly keeps you on your toes. That said, we’ve also come a long way from keyword-jammed blog posts that sound like they were written by robots. Google has worked hard to prioritize quality over quantity in the online world, and this has always been a key focus in my work. I think, as long as you write with your audience in mind, put the time and effort into engaging and building relationships with your readers, and make sure you’re being a little strategic about it all, you’ll see results.

 Keep up with Carly and The Reply at http://the-reply.com/!


 

 

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Learn more about our interviewer at: Jeff Nelson

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The Little People in Your Story

By Douglas Owen

DougHeader-webHey, lean close. Yes, I have a secret for you. No, don’t think it’s something you can do without. This secret will help you pop your story into a full 3D cinematic blockbuster with surround sound and special effects. And it is something really easy to do. It’s called making the little people memorable.

In the past, I’ve talked about making the main character believable. They cannot be perfect, rich, a God when it comes to attracting the opposite sex, and the person everyone they meet wants to sleep with. No, they have to have flaws. This makes them human, so the reader can relate to them.

But what about those other characters in your writing? Are they just paper cut-outs to fill a few words and forget? Hell no, they need to pop! Something should be there about them. Why? Because the world is full of strange people, and they are the ones that make it go around.

Here are a few things that can make your secondary characters a little more memorable, and thus make the work livelier:

Facial Quirk: The face is the part of the person we look at most. Put something there to draw your main character’s eye. Just like in Uncle Buck, when John Candy sat with the Vice Principle and stared at the mole. Something that makes the character different than the rest will stick out, especially in comedy. Think of it as a focal point. Candy mixed words to point out the tumor and put a whole generation on the floor laughing.

Unfortunately, another actor tried to copy Candy’s humor, to a less-successful degree. So, if you think the fellow Canadian Mike Myers invented such a gag, you really are missing out. Rent Uncle Buck and watch a master at work. The quirk is very entertaining.

Speech: Everyone has a certain way of speaking. It could be the inflection used, a monotone, or the use of a special word. When used, such a little thing can make a minor character special enough to stick in someone’s mind. Imagine what a reader thinks when they remember even the minor characters. But that is not the best part. What will their friends think when such little things are talked about? They will say the work is great and even name the minor characters, for they were real to them. That is a stroke of genius.

This can all be obtained by using speech. The lady could say the word ‘yes’ after every section of dialogue, or even after every sentence (but only if they are not fully returning characters). Remember, that ‘less is more’ always works for writing.

Try it out. Find a work where the writer uses a certain word for a character and see if it sticks in your mind.

Shape: One thing that helps someone stick out is their shape. Skinny, tall, squat, fat, bulky, trim. They all describe how a person looks and drive a person to remember them. How many people do you remember just talking to on the phone? And if there is a picture of them as well? That character will stick in your mind forever.

Dress: The Austin Powers’ movies show a swinging 60s spy transplanted into the world of 2005. The character has a way of dressing that sticks out. Then the minor characters also have a way of dressing that sticks out. The character Fat Bastard wore a kilt and full Scottish regalia. This made the minor character more (I want to say ‘believable,’ but I just can’t make myself say it) outstanding. The same goes for other characters in the movie(s) and, if you take this good advice, your next bestseller.

Behaviour: How many of you watched Sons of Anarchy? There was a character called Chucky Marstein, who constantly grabbed himself. So much so, that a rival gang cut off half his fingers. How many of you who watched the show remember that? Behavior issues make a character more memorable, more believable, and more human.

Everyone has a bad habit that they would like to alleviate. They are ashamed of, or totally oblivious to it. Either way, exploit it in your writing and the once one-dimensional characters will pop off the page.

Accents and Such: Some minor characters can have slurred speech, or the inability to pronounce the letter “T”. Don’t actually write it, but put such information in the narrative. Let the reader come across it and hear the voice in their head. You’ll have to make sure the dialogue is tagged properly or it could interrupt the reader’s rhythm, but the effect is spectacular.

Soon the reader will find something about that character that is endearing and unforgettable. This pulls the reader into the work.

Physical Oddity: On vacation one year, I was stuck in an elevator with a person who suffered from restless leg syndrome. Don’t think that’s not going to be used in one novel.

Yes, we can get all sorts of ideas from people around us. Everyday life is your buffet, and it is up to you to fill your plate. Take the time to note things. Do you carry a cell phone? Most have a record function. Use it when you see something that could make a great character flaw.

Years ago I went to school with a person suffering from cerebral palsy. It is not an easy thing for someone to live with, but just imagine one of your minor characters dealing with it. The impact it would have on your main character. The way they treat that person would unlock so much about them. Do they help or laugh? What are their feelings about that person? Then think of what your antagonist would be like.

To sum up, look at real life in order to build minor characters. Every character that leaves a mark on your reader is another tick toward the bestseller. When you look at it, every character in a bestseller has something about them that makes them unforgettable. Use that knowledge to write the next masterpiece.


 

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Learn more about our writer at: Douglas Owen

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Getting it from the Source Point

By Dominichi Hawkins

Comic cons are a great place to gauge the playing field for independent publishers such as myself. Whenever I get a chance to attend one, it’s at the artist alley that I will spend most of my browsing, my mingling, and my money. The way I see it, I can buy a big label comic at any comic book store, but this is my only chance to see other independent publishers in action. It is here that you can stumble across a wellspring of talent or a gutter of mediocracy. If I pass by a booth and it gives me that glassy-eyed, 1000 yard stare, accented by the small puddle of drool that has formed on my shirt collar, then you have made a fan for life. It was at the Cherry Capital Comic Con (C4) in Traverse City, Michigan, that Source Point Press did just that. That three-day comic con is where I met the extremely talented creators of Source Point Press, Trico Lutkins and Josh Werner. This was their home state, and let me just say that the Michigan creator collective is quite impressive. There are not many places in the Midwest with the growing independent comic scene that Michigan has right now. So, we asked Trico if he would be interested in answering a few questions about the work they are putting out, and being the generous creator that he is, he obliged.Sourcepoint1

IM:  It seems you have your sleeves rolled up and you’re really putting out some great stuff. How did you get into writing and producing comics, as well as other books?

TL: I started reading comics as soon as I could read and began to create my own characters at around ten years old. After I hit thirty, I found myself happily married with a wonderful daughter, but there was still so much more my twenty-something-year-old self, thought that I would have accomplished by then. First on that list was making my own comic. I started going to every con I could, talking to all the creators there, and networking with artists. I’ve always written short stories, plays, screenplays, novels, and poetry, but writing comics is completely different. It’s all collaboration. The writer and the artist both bring ideas and visions to the project. Writing is a very solitary hobby, so having to work with someone throughout the process took some getting used to. Luckily, my first comic was with Josh Werner. He’s 110 percent pro in everything he does, so it helped me to learn fast and made me step my game up.

IM: Let’s talk about one of the comic labels you are working with: Source Point Press. How did Source Point get its origins?

Sourcepoint2TL: I was at a horror con when I met the cofounder of Source Point Press, Joshua Werner. We hit it off right away. He liked all the obscure stuff I was into and he is an amazing artist. I commissioned him to work on Jack of Spades #0. At the time, I just wanted to make that comic, and maybe a couple of poetry chapbooks (I had made some really amateur chapbooks when I was an undergrad). One thing led to another, and next thing I knew, we had published a dozen titles our first year.

IM: Which stories are Source Point Press producing currently?

TL: To tell the truth, I can barely keep up with it all (laughs). We are going through major expansion this year. We have a new president, Travis McIntire, who runs the company and manages new projects and titles (which works out awesome for me, because I can focus on writing and talking with fans at cons). We have a new ongoing series, Up the River, that is doing amazing! I handle a lot of the outside sales for the company and comic shop owners order copies as soon as they see it. We are reformatting Source Point Presents to be more of a magazine. It will still feature an original comic short story, but also interviews and tons of other cool content. We are expanding our graphic novel line with the titles Rottentail and Scorn. We are in negotiations with a very popular punk/rockabilly band to publish their first graphic novel. Also, Gary Reed (Caliber Comics, Dead World) is interested in doing a miniseries with Source Point.

IM: How did Dust Bunnies Comics come about and what is your role in it?

Sourcepoint3TL: I met Mike Eshelman at the I.C.E. (Indie Comic Expo) convention in Dayton, Ohio. He had this amazing comic inspired from poetry, titled (Non) Collaboration. A comic created from poetry! I had to be a part of that! (Laughs) I submitted a few of my poems for some upcoming issues. Mike is a really cool guy and a great writer. I’m hoping to work more with the Dust Bunnies crew in the future.

IM: What are some past and current projects that we can find your name on?

TL: I have a miniseries coming out in the spring of 2016, titled Magma-man. A short screenplay I wrote as an undergrad titled Scavengers was adapted into a comic and will appear in the horror anthology, Thirteen Little Hells, edited by one of my favorite authors, David C. Hayes. Josh and I have a Jack of Spades prequel story in the Michigan Comic Collective Anthology, Volume II. If you’re a comic writer, letterer, illustrator, editor, or colorist, and you live in the state of Michigan, then you have got to join that group. They are an amazing network of comic creators, and they do a lot of events to bring comics to local communities. I’m working on a few projects with Headshrinkers Press. Also, I have a short story in the magazine, Ghostlight, put out by GLAHW (Great Lakes Association of Horror writers). They’re a great non-profit group and some of the funniest people you’ll ever meet, so it’s an honor to be accepted into their magazine and to see my name in print with some outstanding horror writers.

IM: What’s in the future for Source Point Press, as well as for yourself as a writer?

Sourcepoint4TL: Lot of comics! (Laughs) Source Point Press is going to become a major publisher of comics, graphic novels, and books. SPP is expanding exponentially and will continue to make amazing horror, noir, and pulp-inspired books and comics. I’m working on a one-shot comic based on a sci-fi poem I wrote, called “Vostokapolis.” It’s being illustrated by the incredible Emily Zelasko. I’m scripting Jack of Spades #2 (actually the third story in the series) and writing the rest of the Magma-man miniseries. I’ve written a graphic novel based on my all-time favorite band, and I can’t wait to see it published. I have a project in the works with BJ Duvall. His imagination is amazing and I’m really looking forward to working with him.

IM: Can you tell the readers about one of your newest projects: Magma man?

TL: He’s one of the characters I created when I was growing up, so I’m really excited that he’s finally getting a comic. I feel like I’m introducing everyone to one of my childhood friends. (Laughs) It’s penciled by Rich Perrotta, who has worked for Marvel and DC. His artwork will blow you away. I still can’t believe I got a veteran of the Big Two comic companies to work on a project with me.

IM: Who are the characters that you will be introducing in this story?

Sourcepoint5TL: The title character is from another world, so we will not only meet him, but also get introduced to his homeworld. He befriends a couple of teens, Skunk and Christie, which brings a kid’s point of view to the book without becoming condescending to young people. Also, what would a comic be without a villain? Magma-man comes to Earth and becomes a light for humanity, but someone else from his world follows him here and gives humanity a reason to fear the dark.

IM: Is this going to be published through Source Point Press as well?

TL: Yes! I’m really excited because Magma-man and Jack of Spades are in the same comic universe, so there’re some cameos from Jack of Spades and other characters I’ve written for Source Point Press.

IM: At Indyfest, we like to try and give other indy creators, new and old, tools that may help them succeed at their craft. I have found some of the best advice is the experience from others who have traveled this road. Can you share some of your hurdles in self-publishing?

TL: Writing can be a juggling act. You want to give the artist enough direction, but still leave the script open enough for them to experiment with panels, angles, etc. Also, give yourself due dates for everything (mine is usually a week or two before a comic con). I tend to be patient to a fault, because I love the process of making comics, so I’m never in a rush to see the finished project.  If it wasn’t for trying to get new content out in time for cons, and Josh putting a fire under my butt, I’d probably still be on our second book. (Laughs)

IM: And where can our readers follow you and find the comics and books you have produced?

Sourcepoint6TL: Pretty much any comic shop in Michigan has Source Point Press comics in it (and the ones that don’t will have them by the end of next year). Practically any comic con or book festival in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, or Michigan will have a Source Point Press booth, where you can not only pick up SPP merchandise, but also get it signed by the artists and writers. All of our novels are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and basically anywhere you can buy books online. And, of course, there’s our website:

www.sourcepointpress.com

To see what’s going on with me, I’ve started my own blog:

http://balancingthepanels.blogspot.com/

I’ll be posting about being an indy comic writer, editor, and publisher, as well as reviewing other indy comics. I’m a huge history nerd, so you’ll probably come across some history stuff on there, too.


 

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Learn more about our interviewer at: Dominichi Hawkins

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