I have been at this for a long time, and the thing that keeps me going is that I have not actually accomplished what I originally set out to do. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of what I have accomplished, the things we’ve been able to do, over time, with the concept of a magazine covering the small press scene. But the big thing… the one that put stars in the eyes of my teenaged self, was to see a world where anyone who wanted to make their own comics would be able to win enough fans to make a living at it. And so, most of that really has come to pass.
Anyone can start making comics. There’re lots of different pathways “in” to it. Is there one GREAT way? Not really. If there were one, I’d be endorsing it/working with it. I’ve been trying to get a freely-available how-to system together online since, like, 2002. If there’s one out there now, no one has told me about it.
Anyone can become successful. Is there one great way to do that? Not really. I still see GREAT comics not become successful. And hear that the majority of creators are doing comics as a hobby, not really making any money at it, but keeping going while they work “real” jobs. And that’s fine… making comics as a hobby is a fine thing and there are some extremely great things out there done by plumbers, restaurant workers, etc, that are done when the creator can, and their fans know that about their work, and appreciate it, and get their stuff as it comes out.
And so, it’s that little niggling “enough fans” that is the unreached goal. We have focused the last few years on making a magazine that can be a launchpad for new titles from new creators, etc. To that end, I thank each and every one of you who has read this magazine, for doing your part, and being interested. If you would, in 2016, if you see anything posted about Indyfest, share it on social media. With a tad more effort on everyone’s part to spread the word, we can blow this thing up and help achieve that unreached goal. That is not something that I ask you to do for me. I am irrelevant. At some point, I won’t be here doing this anymore, I will pass it off to, hopefully, someone or some group, hand-chosen to keep it going into the future for us all. I, frankly, would have been better off working to win my own fans, rather than trying to create a place where everyone else can win fans. But instead of saying I’ve done enough, I am going to double down on the idea that we need this, as a community. For the 1,000-some regular fans we have, I am going to shoot to see us at ten times that number by this time next year. I think this Availability Guide idea I have—and the testing of the software to make it work so far shows it’s going to work—will be a game-changing thing for everyone.
We all need something to finally be GREAT. The motivation to get HERE has been YOU, so thank you. Enjoy your holiday season. I’ll be working on 2016…
IM: According to your Amazon.com bio, you attended The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Arts for two years and decided to concentrate on writing versus illustrating. What was that experience like? CW: It was very eye-opening. I always loved to draw, for as long as I can remember, and when it came time for me to pick colleges, I figured some kind of art school would be the way to go. My love of comics is almost as long-lived as my love of drawing, so when I saw an ad for the Kubert School, I thought, “Well, this is just the perfect school for me, and drawing comics is the perfect job! I’m such a good artist; this is going to be easy!” If I had a time machine, one of the things I would do with it would be to go back and laugh at my younger self in that moment. And by ‘laugh at’, I mean, ‘slap across the back of the head while laughing derisively’. Two things I learned almost immediately at the Kubert School were just how little I knew about art, being an artist, drawing comics, and how easy it all isn’t. That being said, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I responded to that initial realization with a strong desire to learn what I didn’t know, and I got quite an education. I also made great friends who I’m still close with to this day—one of whom I collaborated with on Ironstar. And, while I did not end up going into art as a career, there were a number of non-comics commercial art classes that focused on principles of design and layout that have benefited me significantly in my actual career as a web developer.
IM: Did you have any formal art training before you went to Kubert’s? CW: I didn’t. Aside from the usual art classes in school, and the odd kids’ workshop, I was entirely self-taught. I learned how a lot of people learned, I’m sure: by reading comics and copying what I saw there.
IM: Why the change of heart from illustrating to writing? CW: As I mentioned above, one of the first things I learned at Kubert was just how hard it is to be an artist, particularly a comic book artist. Drawing comic book pages is a laborious process that requires a great deal of patience and a strong attention to detail, and I realized very quickly that I HATED drawing comic book pages. I just didn’t have the patience required to sit at an art table for several hours, drawing the same motorcycle in the correct perspective from different angles, panel after panel across multiple pages. I know a lot of incredibly talented artists who love drawing comics, and it dawned on me that, not only was it possible to love this thing I hated, but that love was essential to ever doing it as a career.
During that same stretch of time, some classmates and I collaborated on a comic for a class project. Since I didn’t want to draw, I was one of the writers. I’d always enjoyed creating characters and concepts and making up stories, but that was my first real attempt at things like plotting, character development, and dialog. It turned out I loved writing comics as much as I’d come to hate drawing comics. I was able to take a lot of what I was learning in my narrative art classes and apply it to writing, so school wasn’t a complete loss. That said, I didn’t see the point in continuing at an art school when I didn’t want to be an artist, and decided not to waste any more of my parents’ money.
IM: Did you have any formal training in writing and editing? Are you self-taught? CW: Aside from what I was able to adapt from my narrative art classes at Kubert’s, I’m self-taught. I also worked for a few years with a fantastic editor named Lee Nordling, who taught me a great deal about the writing and editing process, but that’s the closest I ever got to formal training.
IM: What was your first self-published work? CW: A comic book called Mystic for Hire, which was drawn by a brilliant artist named Jeff Zugale. We published two issues in print in the late 90s, then did a third issue as a web comic in the early 00s, and made it halfway through a fourth online issue, before various bits of life (work, families, etc.) got in the way. We’re coming up on 20 years since that first print issue (jeez, I’m old), and we’ve talked about finishing issue 4 and putting the whole thing out in one big twentieth anniversary extravaganza. We probably won’t, but it’s fun to talk about.
IM: Give us an overview of your writing process? Do you keep a notebook or jot things down that happen in real life, similar to how some artists keep a sketchbook at their side? CW: I do carry a notebook with me, but I don’t really use it that often. On those occasions when I do make notes, I usually use Google Docs on my phone or laptop. I tend to jot down concepts and characters more than anything else, but I also do a fair bit of world-building at the note stage. I use a whiteboard quite a bit as well, which is great for brainstorming new projects.
IM: How do you approach writing a graphic novel or web comic versus a prose piece? CW: Generally speaking, both start the same way: concept, characters, basic plot, a bit of world-building. At some point in the initial process, I’ll figure out what kind of story it should be. It usually becomes a comic/graphic novel if I feel that the story has to have a visual narrative.
Initially, I approached everything from the comics’ perspective. About 12 years ago, I was submitting a lot of pitches to a publisher, only one or two of which were accepted (neither ended up being published, for reasons beyond my control). As I looked over the other pitches I’d submitted, it occurred to me that some of them wouldn’t necessarily support a comic series or other long-form narrative, and might actually work better as short stories. So, I started up the Spontaneous Fiction blog (spontaneousfiction.blogspot.com) as a place to put all these stories that really didn’t need to be much longer than a few pages. After writing short stories for a year or so, I started working on longer prose pieces, which led to me writing novels. These days, I like to switch back and forth between prose and comics, and have a much better instinct for what belongs in which medium. I have a few stories I’m dying to develop and get past the notes/pitch stage, but I know that not only do they have to be comics, they also need a specific style of art, so I have to sit on them until I find the right collaborator.
IM: Did attending Kubert’s art school make it easier to understand the artist’s challenges when working with a writer? CW: Most definitely. It’s one thing for me to describe a fight scene between the hero and a never-ending horde of undead monsters in front of a dilapidated gothic cathedral; it’s something else altogether for someone to draw it. I actually try not to get too descriptive with those kinds of scenes. I figure the artist has to do all the work of drawing it; they should get to do it how they want. In fact, unless I have a specific idea regarding how I want a scene laid out visually, I tend to be very sparse with my panel descriptions in general. If an artist wants more detail and specificity, then I’ll obviously give it to them, but I like to give the artists I collaborate with the freedom to tell the story the way they feel is best.
IM: Currently you work as a web developer and a freelance writer. How do you balance real life, a day job, and your writing? Do you set a certain amount of time to write each week? CW: It’s a bit of an ongoing process, which varies depending on how busy I am at work, what my current writing project is, and what the rest of my life is doing. I’m married with two teenaged kids (which can overwhelm your life at a moment’s notice), and I’m also a musician playing in two different bands. My novels have all started out as blog serials (I usually post a chapter a week), and that gives me a steady deadline to write to. I try to keep a buffer of chapters going, so if the rest of my life eats my week, I can still get the latest chapter up on time. When I’m working on comics, I’m making sure my collaborator has everything they need and isn’t waiting on me to finish things. As for finding time, I try to write one to two pages a day (at least) of whatever my current project is, and I can usually find time throughout the day to make that happen. I do a lot of my writing in Google Docs, which lets me access what I’m working on from any computer at hand, so that opens up lunchtime and downtime at work for writing. When I finish a project, I usually take a little time off to recharge my writing batteries, and focus on other things for a while.
IM: Do you think juggling real life and your writing life makes you a better writer, if so how? CW: I don’t think it makes me a better writer. I hope it doesn’t make me a worse one, but I don’t think it makes me better. Sometimes I think all the juggling makes me rush things, so that maybe I don’t take as much time to polish something, or to really immerse myself in the process, as I could if writing were my main gig.
Every now and then, I try to give myself a “writing weekend,” where I shut myself off from everyone and everything and just focus on writing. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I notice that my work definitely benefits from that level of focus.
IM: How do you find your artists and collaborators? What qualities help you decide which artist to work with? CW: Jeff Zugale from Mystic for Hire and Sean Tiffany from Ironstar were already friends of mine. Ozzie Rodriguez, who collaborated on two of my completed web comics (and one we didn’t get to finish) was a customer at my local comic shop. I met Kim Scoulios (who illustrated Doris Daring) and Ariel Iacci (the artist on Among the Silver Stars) online. I’ve never even spoken to either of them on the phone, let alone in real life and all our collaboration was done through email. I found Kim via her online gallery. Ariel actually reached out to me.
I tend to choose artists based on whether or not I think they’ll be good fits for the project, though sometimes it’s as simple as an artist and I wanting to work together and then building a project around that.
IM: You self-publish through your own website http://www.hemispherestudios.com, and you have material available through Amazon and LuLu.com. Are there any significant differences between the two outlets? CW: Both Lulu and CreateSpace (Amazon’s self-publishing division for print) distribute my books through Amazon. However, I use KDP (which stands for Kindle Direct Publishing) exclusively for e-books, since they’re so closely tied to the Kindle format. Since CreateSpace (www.createspace.com) and KDP (kdp.amazon.com) are both part of Amazon, they can overlap in certain ways. I signed all of my e-books up for the Matchbook program, which offers the Kindle editions of my book for free to people who have bought the paperback edition.
At this point, I think the only book I’m using Lulu for is Ironstar, and that’s because I like Lulu’s comic book format better than the one offered through CreateSpace. I also have a short story collection via Lulu, but that’s only available directly through their site. I’m planning a new edition of that one which will be done through CreateSpace.
IM: You set up http://www.hemispherestudios.com as a publishing and fiction portal. How do you promote the site? Do you use any of Google’s services? Would you recommend using a paid service such as Facebook ads? CW: I’m terrible at marketing and promoting myself, though I’m trying to get better at it. I haven’t used any of Google’s services yet, but I have used Project Wonderful to serve ads and I’ve used Facebook ads once or twice. I do see a significant click-through rate from both, especially to my web comic pages, but that doesn’t translate into book sales very often. However, I’ve used Facebook ads when I’ve done free e-book promotions and have seen decent results from that.
IM: A lot of your books are available on Audible.com. Can you tell us how you find voice actors and actresses to use for audible books? CW: I use Audible’s ACX website (www.acx.com), which is a creative marketplace focused on self-published and indy-published audiobooks.
I should also mention that I work for Audible as a web developer, and my main project is the ACX website. That’s actually how I ended up with my first audio production. I was one of our early beta users.
IM: What would you like to see from Amazon or other online outlets, as far as helping creative people get noticed? CW: This is a bit of a tough question. The problem independent and self-published creators have these days is that, since web-based technologies have made it possible for anyone to publish a book, everyone is now publishing books. Amazon is glutted with self-published books, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. It would be very difficult for Amazon or some other online store to offer any kind of built-in promotion for every single book on their site, so they tend to spotlight books that sell well and/or are very popular. It’s one of those Catch-22 situations where you have to be somewhat successful before the online stores will actively help you succeed. And that means doing your own marketing and promotion.
As I said before, I’m not very good at marketing and promoting myself. Most online outlets are great at sharing information on what you should do to promote yourself, but I’m sure there are others out there who, like me, for whatever reason, are just absolutely terrible at all those things. I would love some kind of service where, similar to an artistic collaborator, you could pay for marketing services from someone who actually knows what they’re doing and is good at what they do. I’m not saying Amazon et al should be the ones supplying these services, but they could point creators toward any legitimate ones that exist.
IM: Tell us where we can find your work. CW: You can read and/or buy just about everything I’ve done online. The Hemisphere Studios website (www.hemispherestudios.com) either hosts the content itself (in the case of my web comics) or links to it (in the case of my books and web stories). I would recommend liking the Hemisphere Studios Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/Hemisphere-Studios/64546852504) to stay up to date on new projects and events, as well as the various sales and free book giveaways that I offer. You can follow me on Twitter (@cmwich), not so much for any promotional reasons, but because my tweets are both delightful and hilarious. Well, not really, but I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers and I’m feeling kind of left out.
If you have any kind of track record for submitting short stories to journals, small presses, anthologies, or literary blogs, then you’ve probably received the impersonal “Thank you, but…” response—if you’ve received anything at all. Like me, when I started out, I’m sure you’ll want to know why.
Why wasn’t it selected?
Why didn’t I receive any feedback?
Why haven’t I heard back yet?
There are several myths and negative jujus floating around about the submission process. Regardless of how heavily your heart is sitting on your sleeve or how much you’ve bared your soul to the cold corporate world of publishing, we in the industry have our very own ‘What Not To—’ line up to help you navigate your way through the forest of whys:
Don’t Take it Personally
If you haven’t heard back from a given submission agent, don’t automatically rattle off an email asking about the status of your entry. First, double check to see how long their standard response time is; if it’s just past that date, give it another week. If it’s long past, then check to see if the company contacts non-winners/writers of rejected manuscripts. A lot of publishing companies who are running contests or providing open submissions deal with hundreds of stories and only have 65,000–95,000 words they can accept (on the high end). This means that sending a personal rejection, or none at all, is not a door slam—it’s like your mom trying to do the laundry, cook dinner, help your sister with homework, and make lunch for everyone in the family all at the same time. If she doesn’t tell you she loves you, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true—she’s just a little distracted right now.
Don’t Ignore the Rules
Every publication has its own set of rules or guidelines to follow. Just because you have a template set up for PUBLISHER ‘A’ doesn’t mean that PUBLISHER ‘B’ feels the same way. If you forget to add something to your query letter or package, or if you send along your bio even though it hasn’t been asked for, don’t be surprised if you get an immediate rejection. This will often happen when using an automated submission system, but it tends to happen via email, too. Your story might be the best we’ve ever read, but if we have to slog through a bunch of stuff we haven’t asked for, we’ll move on to the next story. Think about it: if you asked for a non-fat mocha latte, half-decaf with caramel drizzle, and your barista handed you a full-caf—you’d either demand another one or you’d leave and go somewhere else. Ditto with submitting stories.
Don’t Be Vague
If a publisher is looking for a specific word count, and would like an exact word count in your query letter, in the top left corner of your page with your contact info, and in the header on the right side of every page… then do it. And don’t send a manuscript that’s 3,050 words long when they’ve asked for max. 3,000 words. To you, those extra 50 words are no big deal. To a publisher, that means three things: 1) A book that’s supposed to be 65,000 words, holding eight different stories either expands exponentially in the word count or lessens the number (and thus the variety) of stories being offered; 2) Extra editing will need to go into fine-tuning the piece to meet requirements, equalling more time and effort spent on non-money-making organizational aspects; 3) It shows that you’re either absentminded or don’t care (and either personality trait is a potential red-flag in a business where time is money).
If you happen to get one of those automated rejection notices, or even a semi-personal one—where your name and story title is in the message, but everything else reeks of recycled bio-waste—take the above advice and “don’t take it personal.” You may feel jilted, or even angry, for any number of reasons (including finding out that someone with a similar story was chosen, or believing yours to be better than others picked), but don’t put those words in an email and send it to the publisher—don’t burn that bridge. There are always extenuating circumstances that you won’t be privy to, and two seconds of justification are not worth losing a potential future connection or resource.
Don’t Give Up
This goes hand-in-hand with Don’t Retaliate. Even if ‘no one’ is taking that one short story you keep submitting, don’t stop trying—with a new story, that is. If you absolutely love the one that isn’t getting traction, then hire a professional editor who specializes in short story writing and get their honest opinion. While that’s happening though, start writing another one (and another one). Whether you’re aiming to become an Olympic figure skater, a NASCAR driver, or a revered author, the same things hold true: don’t give up; keep practicing.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that publishers are not trying to make your life miserable; they’re actually trying to keep their lives from getting that way. They got into the business because of a love of words, stories, writing… the same reasons you did. They are giving writers like you this opportunity because they want to help—and like you, they want to be able to buy food from the grocery store and pay their bills, and that means sacrifice. Regardless of how many rejection slips you get, hold on to your dream and keep trying, keep learning your craft; you will get published.
Jericho Projects was founded in 2001 by Adrian “Asia” Petty. Their first publication was Teshuvah, Prophets of Jah. After a break from publishing, they returned in 2008 with their flagship title Ms. Johnni. Ms. Johnni gained positive reviews and was hailed as “a fresh take on the genre”.
Adrian “Asia” Petty tells Indyfest more.
IM: What’s your background?
AP: I majored in graphic design and minored in English in college, after illustrating and writing stories since I was a kid. Drawing and relaying allegories always had an allure for me.
IM: How did you get started in comics?
AP: My interest in comics began when I was nine and never ended. While I enjoyed reading them, my preference was to work on my own, even as a child. So, once I had enough cash, I launched my company and published my first book in 2001, entitled Teshuvah #0.
IM: Do you think the “self-imposed hiatus” mentioned on your website was helpful to you?
AP: That hiatus was one of the smartest things that I’ve ever done. Rethinking and retooling my approach was something that I really needed. What I was doing up to that point wasn’t working. Stepping back and taking a fresh look at everything was invaluable.
IM: What are the art teams’ backgrounds?
AP: Rebecca Fedun is a graduate of SCAD. Geoffrey Gwin has worked on a major Subway commercial. Sherrie Hunt has worked with me for years—as well as on several graphic arts projects in Australia. Donté K. Hayes is a well-established fine artist with a national following. Javier Lugo (who penciled the cover of Ms. Johnni #1) is an artist that has worked on the popular Indyplanet book, Frank Ng Hired Gun. Joe Rubinstein (who inked the cover of Ms. Johnni #1) is a well-known inker who has worked on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the 1982 Wolverine miniseries. Buddy Prince has work featured on Marvel Comics trading cards. Marcel Zero and Florencio Duyar III are incredibly talented freelance artists from Brazil and the Philippines. I have been honored to work with them all.
IM: What is Ms. Johnni about?
AP: Ms. Johnni deals with a housewife who goes on a quest to find her child, who is kidnapped one day.
IM: The lead character is not the norm for a superhero comic (an “unhappy, frustrated housewife with self-esteem trouble, not to mention weight and eating issues”). Did that make it harder to sell?
AP: The good thing about Ms. Johnni is that it filled a niche that wasn’t being filled. While not necessarily appealing to traditional superhero fans, the story struck a chord with others who were looking for something different.
IM: Why self-publish?
AP: I never wanted to write Batman or the X-Men. I have way too many of my own tales to tell. Nor did I want to have to answer to any higher powers regarding how to tell stories that I wanted to tell. I certainly had no desire to prove that my ideas were marketable or give up my rights. So self-publishing was my only option.
IM: Who is the target audience?
AP: I’ve had my sights set on more-seasoned comic book readers, who are looking for something unlike what is already being offered.
IM: You did a crossover with Baker Comics, where Ms. Johnni made a cameo in “Enter the Wolf”. Do you have any other crossovers planned?
AP: Ms. Johnni has appeared in a Red Giant Entertainment compilation released this year called Japan Needs Heroes. The proceeds for this publication benefit the victims of the Japanese tsunami of 2011.
IM: You’re part of the Independent Creators Connection. Can you tell us more about it?
AP: I LOVE the ICC! It’s a Facebook group comprised of creatives from various artistic genres, who share and talk about their endeavors. It stays positive and focused on networking between artists. There are so many talented folks there that help to keep me inspired.
IM: What effect has advancing technology had on the comic book industry?
AP: In some ways, it’s hurt the industry, as print sales have suffered. In other ways, with the advent of more affordable digital printing for publishers and web comics, it’s given exposure to creatives that otherwise may not have gotten it.
AP: Yes, I have marketed via advertisements, word of mouth, and even went old school and sold my books out of my vehicle.
IM: I see that you attend various conventions. How important do you think they are for independent creators?
AP: Conventions are very important, as that’s the most effective way for many creatives to get their work seen and purchased, and to build a rapport with fans.
IM: Do you think the smaller or larger events are better for small press publishers?
AP: It depends as I’ve done well at both and done not so well at both. I think it’s more important to make sure that the convention itself is tailored toward your target audience.
IM: Have they changed a lot over the years you have been exhibiting at them?
AP: The heart of conventions has remained the same with comics, yet there seems to be a stronger emphasis on cosplay as of late. And that’s fine, as everyone should have a way to express themselves in an artistic manner.
IM: What advice would you give to someone exhibiting at a convention?
AP: Have realistic expectations. Do this for the love of the genre, not the love of the money. Make sure that you’re doing something on your books and at your table that will make you stand out from everyone else. It’s VERY important to have your sales skills sharp. You’re selling yourself just as much as you are selling your product.
IM: How important do you think it is for creators to have their work in bricks-and-mortar comic book shops, as well as online?
AP: As that’s the original method of selling your books, it’s still the best way to get your books out there on a large scale. But it’s not always the easiest for the little guy. However, with the internet age upon us, it’s not the only way. One person that comes to mind is Everette Hartsoe, who has had a well-balanced attack of marketing his books without the help of Diamond distribution. I know of others that make their primary revenues from their own web storefronts, patreon.com, and online campaign fundraising.
IM: Do you think the number of self-published comics, print-on-demand comics, digital comics and web comics makes it more difficult for individual creators to promote and market their work?
AP: I think that the truly high-quality material marketed in a proper fashion will succeed, regardless of how much product is out there. The stuff that isn’t worth much will eventually fall by the wayside.
IM: What future plans do you have for Jericho Projects?
AP: I want to expand the universe that Ms. Johnni is in and introduce a whole new set of characters involved in other adventures. I’d also love to do a children’s book.
IM: Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own comic?
AP: First off, have something of value to say. Truly believe in it. Then, balance yourself with excelling in both the creative side and the business side of comics, because they are both equally important. And if you think that you will need $2000 to start, save up $4000.
IM: Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?
The picture that I sent of me standing by the graffiti picture of the confederate flag represents something that I like to do in my comics, which is to tell stories through images. That one tells the story that a symbol only has the power that you choose to give it.
You spent days building a character profile. Drew pictures and even tried to speak the way they would. Even fell in love with them. But now, you need to kill them.
It is something that we all face at one point, regardless of whether you are a writer or illustrator. How do you kill the character that you fell in love with? And how do you do it and make your audience not want to kill you? Will it be as random as a bolt of lightning or just a toss of the dice when crossing the street? Will the reader understand that it had to happen or will they just hate you from that point on? Maybe the character developed a habit and can no longer live? Perhaps they are just a bad person and you no longer want them in your story.
Could it be that you’ve just grown tired of trying to explain that they look like a Napoleon Mastiff or that the chiselled chin needs to go? Either way, you need them dead.
What are the real reasons to cut a character out of a story? Did they do a Joey on you and say they write their own lines? Probably not; that only happens in sit-coms. No, the reason to kill them is to push your plot forward, clear the air, and/or give a reason for another character to move forward. With the possible exception of the game of roulette, which could be a useful metaphor to explain the randomness of life, why, and more importantly how, do you actually get away with it?
A Little Secret George RR Martin has about 100 named characters in his fantasy series, Game of Thrones. Some of them were dead before he started writing the series; others, he killed along the way. Heck, almost all of the House of Stark are dead, and others are still falling. He has a plan, but something tells me he is really a pantser (a person who writes a novel without the aid of an outline). His stories are largely driven by the characters, and it means some characters decide when others need to leave the page.
I don’t always agree with his method, but sometimes it does add an extra dimension—especially when Joffrey is murdered with poison.
Most of the time, a character of his will die in order to give a dramatic effect. Maybe it is easy for him to hang a character until they are dead, or have others stick knives into them, but that is just not my personal style. It’s hard to say goodbye to a well-developed character, but sometimes it must happen. And, as authors, we have the privilege to perform vicarious murders, even if we want to keep a character. So don’t be afraid to slay by the masses, and here is how to do it with impunity.
Murdering Your Darlings Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch coined the phrase, “Kill your darlings” in On the Art of Writing , originally given as a lecture delivered at the University of Cambridge from 1913–1914, and widely reprinted since. His instructions have been cited by other many other authors, from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King. When something is touted so highly, it must be right. Basically, he is just telling you that characters die. They could be your favorites or they could be the villains, but sooner or later, they will end up finished, one way or another.
It does mean you will take the life of someone who you created. And yes, literally created. Be sure of your intentions. Don’t just murder them without any forethought. You need to be an empathetic writer, suffer that hunger or drowning, or plummet to that death from the mountainside. Feel the pain, and thus, make your writing come alive.
Take the downs with the ups, because you did grow with them when they found the treasure, rescued the girl, saved the world, and so on. They did the heroic deeds, and then travelled to an exotic world, only to be done in by a lonely little tsetse fly. So suffer with them.
And don’t just have a death happen because it’s expedient to the plot. Plan it out and make sure the reader knows what happened, for the story’s sake. Never kill someone for a lesser reason.
How to Kill Them • Fully rounded characters gain empathy from the reader. Their death needs to be required by the story. Some pantsers may kill off less-developed characters than the planner, but I’ve seen it both ways. Don’t just kill off less-developed players because it is easy.
• If you don’t rely on shock, then don’t randomly kill characters. It usually turns readers off of your work unless, that is, the character is getting under everyone’s skin.
• Illness is a good way to kill off a character. If they are sick and struggling to push forward, it will not be such a shock to the reader when they pass away.
• Kill a character who everyone believes needs to die. That way the reader nods and says, “You got your just deserts,” instead of putting the book down in disbelief.
• One method that is favored by a number of writers is the homicidal act. Have an antagonist actually get one last shot in. Think of all the novels you’ve read that had a main character killed. Did you really enjoy it? How did you feel about finishing the story or picking up the next book in the series? The only way to get away with that is to have more than one main character. Take the books of George RR Martin. We call him the hero-killer. If it wasn’t for the love we have for most of the characters, a majority of readers would not read the books. Heck, he had seven main characters introduced in the first book and killed several of them. He then introduced more to keep the number high. That is his trick, and you never know who will be next to face the axe.
In closing, be mindful of your reader’s reaction to the killing of a character, and make it real if not for a good reason.
Greg Wronchak has been drawing since childhood. He still has the New Teen Titans comic he drew with pencil crayons on looseleaf paper and stapled together. After spending several years at such tasks as design cleanup, layouts, animation corrections, prop design, and storyboards, Greg decided to focus on comics. He’s worked on a number of small press books and, these days, he’s bringing his own characters and concepts to fruition. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming comic, Jo Nemo, Greg took the time to sit down and talk with us about his work and the things he’s learned along the way.
IM: Let’s start by talking about your background. Tell us a bit about your experiences growing up. GW: I grew up in Montreal, Canada, forty-something years ago. I was always studious, with my nose buried in some book; I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and would create complicated scenarios when playing. Growing up in the 70s and 80s was a pretty fun and exciting time.
IM: How did you get into art? GW: For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed doodling. Grade school teachers noticed that I had an affinity for art and encouraged my efforts. I always felt happy with pencil (or crayon) in hand, another outlet for my creative streak. After high school, I focused on other things; it was only later in life (in my 20s) that I recalled how much I enjoyed drawing, and took art classes to set myself on the path of a possible career in arts.
IM: What was your experience in traditional animation? What kinds of projects did you do, what was your involvement, and how much would you say it helped you to develop your craft? GW: After a few years of illustration and design courses, I took an intensive, year-long, traditional animation program at VanArts in British Columbia. I realized that animation was a viable field to pursue if one wanted to make a living drawing, and that experience helped me put together a portfolio that eventually led to my being hired at a Montreal Studio called CineGroupe. I did design clean-up on a few shows (Bad Dog) and, after paying my dues on several productions (doing different, more challenging tasks such as layouts, animation corrections, and prop design), I ultimately pursued storyboards on Sagwa the Chinese Siamese Cat.
IM: What made you decide to go freelance? GW: Doing storyboards opened my eyes to the world of freelance. Eventually, I made the leap away from the 9 to 5 life and sought work doing boards for studios in town. The pay was decent, but the work was sporadic, and the deadlines were extremely intense. Eventually, assignments dried up and I had to consider other options to pay the bills. To that end, I decided to focus on comics (my first love, ever since discovering the medium as a teen) and freelance art commissions.
IM: Could you describe some of your early experiences in the comics industry? What books did you work on? GW: I haven’t had the good fortune to work for any major comic book publishers; I’ve been blessed to have done pencils and inks for a variety of small press books and publishers (Reverend Moore for Main Enterprises, Maggie Culpepper for New Pioneer Comics, and many others I can’t recall). I’ve always enjoyed small press; there’s a vitality and wild creativity that can be lacking from the Big Two publishers. At the same time, I’ve spent the last decade or so developing my own concepts, with the aim of having them self-published eventually.
IM: Any advice or life lessons you’re glad you got or wish you’d had that you’d like to pass on? GW: My main advice is for folk to actively pursue what they enjoy doing; one can’t go wrong following one’s passion. I lost years after high school away from arts, because I didn’t think it could be a solid career. I wish I’d used that time to hone my skills and build confidence, so that I could’ve been an even better artist.
IM: You’ve run several Kickstarter campaigns for your own comics recently. What’s the experience been like? GW: I enjoy Kickstarter, because it’s a nice way to expose potential readers to my concepts. Promoting a project is a lot of effort (pledges don’t really happen magically), but the feeling of success and being able to print copies of my labors of love is incredibly rewarding.
IM: For the unsuccessful campaigns, has there been anything that you’ve done differently the second time around? GW: With unsuccessful campaigns, I’ve had to readjust the funds target and tweak my project videos and description. It’s essential to be clear and introduce the comic in a dynamic and interesting fashion in order to generate interest.
IM: Let’s talk a bit about those properties. What can you tell us about your hard-boiled detective, Slam McCracken? GW: Slam McCracken started as a doodle, an egg in trench coat standing over a melted popsicle. I’ve always enjoyed Film Noir and the idea of a literal hard-boiled egg appealed to me immensely. I developed the character and his grimy city, and am in the process of crafting webcomic strips that I mean to eventually combine into a graphic novel.
IM: Could you share some of his adventures? GW: Slam’s first adventure involves a client’s missing husband (she’s a toothbrush); the investigation leads to a dingy apartment, a corpse, and the police closing in, with Slam as their framed target! Ultimately, Slam clears his name and exposes the culprit behind the crime of passion. As you can see, pulpy goodness with a quirky edge!
IM: And Lil’ Ninja? GW: Lil’ Ninja is based on the antics of my daughter as a toddler. The concept was easy to develop (a toddler secretly defends her crib from harm with the help of a talking plushie), and is incredible fun to plot and draw.
IM: You recently ran a successful Kickstarter to fund Jo Nemo. Could you give us the elevator pitch on that one? GW: Jo Nemo is my oldest concept, begun during downtime at CineGroupe. He began as a sidekick, but I figured a fish wearing a super-suit (this was many years before Megamind) was a fun, original idea. Jo is basically my love letter to the comics I read as a kid: bombastic and fun, with an unabashedly square hero always saving the day from outlandish villains.
IM: Lil’ Ninja and Jo Nemo are marketed as ‘all-ages’ comics. What does that designation signify for you? GW: For me, ‘all ages’ titles should appeal to any reader, regardless of whether they’re young or old. Publishers tend to produce goofy, simple material under this umbrella, which is unfortunate.
IM: What are the challenges in writing something that connects with such a broad audience? GW: The trick with successful all-ages material is having subtle layers that more sophisticated readers can appreciate, while younger ones can focus on the colorful antics. It’s very challenging, since reader tastes can vary significantly.
IM: How are you currently marketing and promoting your work? GW: My main promotional tools have been Facebook and Twitter; as a relative novice with Kickstarter, my goal is to discover better promotional tools to land many more eyes on my future projects.
IM: What’s on your horizon for 2016? GW: 2016 should feature two new concepts to debut on Kickstarter. One has a Grandma drive her granddaughter through a post-apocalyptic neighborhood, kicking zombie behind (lol). The other has super-powered teens working at a fast food restaurant. Both need more promotional artwork before I can launch them.
IM: Finally, how can our readers keep up with you and your work? GW: There are plenty of places to keep informed of what I’m up to:
I was sitting in my car recently, on a freeway, (or should I say a parking lot?), stuck in traffic, not moving. To while away the time, I was reading the bumper stickers and signs in the back windows of other automobiles around me. While wondering if I’d ever get home, it suddenly struck me; the parallels between totems and talismans, and these stickers, magnets, and pasted-on emblems that modern man posts on his steel steed to declare his beliefs.
Why, as a species, do we need to declare our stand on issues? You don’t see dogs waving signs reading ‘Down with Cats’ or ‘I Love Treats’. You don’t see gorillas posting signs saying ‘I Love Bananas’ or ‘Stop Killing our Mothers!’. Or a dolphin bearing a sign on his tail: ‘Stop Tuna Fishing.’
But, back to my inspiration. Grabbing scraps of paper from the floorboards—lest I forget my words—I scribbled frantically on a restaurant napkin, an old receipt, the back of a discarded grocery list. All the while, watching the cars in front of me creep down the road.
Here is the poetry that was born while trapped in my car, impatiently sitting in traffic.
Totem. Storyteller of the tribe’s history and lore, felled and carved in reverence, from the tree centuries old sculpted in living wood; a face, a fish, a spirit, a bear, the sun, the moon
Totems live on as statuary in today’s garden; a wooden rooster tops the mail box. A mural brushed upon a barn wall; the flag of a beloved country, the star of a lone state.
The Native People painted their sturdy, brave little horses before battle… a circle of paint about the eye for truer vision, hand prints on shoulder and flank to ward off the spear
Today’s tribes paint their vehicles with bumper stickers, magnetic ribbons, and window decals. All proclaiming some truth, totems to tell other tribes what they believe.
Support this, hate that, down with this, up with that. Proud to be a redneck, a woman, a boater, a Christian, a Viet Nam vet, proud to be a farmer, a republican, a parent, a fisherman. Prouder still to be a soldier, a grandpa, a boy scout, a sailor, a golfer, an Irishman, a lover of guns.
Keep yourself open to inspiration… eyes, ears, brain and heart. You will be inspired by strange and wonderful things and you will write strange and wonderful things. You will leave totems for following generations to read.
Charlton Comics: “You know their names. You know their work. What you don’t know is how they got their start…” Keith Larsen and Jackie Zbuska are set to change that. These two filmmakers are currently working on a documentary film that will explore the history and legacy of Charlton Comics. Recently, they sat down with Indyfest to discuss the project, how it’s grabbed them, and where it’s going.
IM: Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourselves? What are your general backgrounds?
JZ: I am awful at talking about myself! I’m a makeup artist and special effects artist for film. I’ve been doing that for over ten years, and what a crazy ride it’s been! You might have seen some of my movies at festivals, or on TV. I’m a huge fan of the horror genre, and other than that, I’m a lifelong geek. How much of a geek? I hitchhiked to meet Stan Lee at a public appearance, so I think that sums it up.
KL: Oh man. I’ll keep it as brief and semi-interesting as I can. I guess that the quickest answer is that I have been working as a producer/editor professionally since 1993 or so. I got to work on professional projects while still in college, and that led to my first job in 1995 as the staff technician, and also teaching production as an adjunct at Quinnipiac University (then College). From there, it was working in the same capacity at Middlesex Community College while freelancing, and then went into business for myself full-time in 2003. I now work at AJA Video Systems as the Senior Field Systems Engineer for the East Coast and I’m putting this movie together when I’m not at the day job. It’s been a journey. The irony of the Charlton Movie is that when I was a kid, and all through high school, all I wanted to do was draw comics. That’s all I did. But being young and impressionable, and having a rather conservative upbringing in a state like Connecticut in the 1980s (dating myself), combined with negative advice from a guidance counsellor, derailed that dream. Now, 30 years later or so, I am working with the guys I dreamed of working with back then, but they are working with me in MY medium, which is really kinda cool to think about.
IM: Jackie, how did you break into make-up design?
JZ: I would say that my “break” came in when I found that doing makeup, in particular, special effects makeup, came with an immediate response.
In junior high, my Dad was my art teacher and I’d have to wait after school for a ride home. While I waited, I would work on art projects. I found a box of watercolors, and one of the reds looked exactly like blood, so I started experimenting with simple cuts and scrapes. The next day I borrowed that red watercolor paint with the plan to fake a bloody nose to get out of a French class that I hated.
I went to class, put a tiny dot of red under my nose and two drops on a tissue, raised my hand and waited. The teacher turned from the blackboard lesson plan, and instead of excusing me from class, she started screaming… like horror movie style… then ran from the room to my Father’s classroom, while screaming in broken English “Monsieur! Monsieur! Your daughter is bleeeeding!!!”
Well! The halls quickly filled with teachers and students to see the spectacle, while I quietly escaped to the bathroom to give myself a real bloody nose, in whatever manner I could, because I knew I was in serious trouble.
Long story short, I couldn’t make my nose bleed for real, and my Dad fetched me from the bathroom and knew (without asking) what I was up to (because I am my Father’s daughter). I had to make a public apology to the school, but since that day, I knew I wanted a career in special effects makeup.
My Dad and I still laugh about this.
IM: Your products are all cruelty-free; it’s even noted in the name of your business. What steps do you take to ensure that your products are not tested on animals? What challenges have you encountered in maintaining this standard?
JZ: I do a lot of research on products that I use on myself and at work. I chose to become cruelty-free for ethical reasons, but find that a lot of the products that maintain the cruelty-free status are tried and true with wonderful reputations. There are a lot of great websites that offer guides to buying cruelty-free, but most beauty products that are CF like to advertise the fact by labeling their packages with the Leaping Bunny logo. This bunny emblem certifies that the products and its ingredients have never been tested on animals. What comes as a challenge is when a CF company decides to sell their products in countries that still test on animals, or a smaller company is bought out by a larger one that tests. I don’t believe in waste, so while I do remove these products from my kit, I’ll donate them out to someone who could use them.
IM: How are you handling making the leap from cosmetics to film production? JZ: Having been in the film industry for over a decade, I’ve spent a lot of time with producers, and have seen and heard what goes into making a film from start to finish. That said, actually doing it myself is COMPLETELY different.
It’s hard; I won’t lie, but extremely rewarding. A great friend told me, “No one will care as much about your project as you.” The project becomes your baby, and no matter the circumstances, you want, and will see it through until it’s ready to be released into the world.
It gives you a whole new sense of pride. It feels amazing!
IM: Keith, you got into film production while you were still in college. How did that happen? KL: Well, after my high school guidance counsellor destroyed my dreams of working in comics, I was lost. I ended up working in a factory, wiring these giant test consoles for clients like NASA and Lockheed Martin. Many of the people there saw that I was a creative person toiling the line for a pay check and really encouraged me to get out before I became a “lifer” and wasted an opportunity to do something better. I heard a lot of ads on the radio for the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and thought that radio might be fun. Maybe be a sports talk show host or something, since I love sports as much as comics and movies. Then a friend intervened and told me to go to Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut. They had a renowned communications program and I could dabble in TV as well as radio, while getting an associate degree in the process. When I went to check it out, then-coordinator John Shafer told me that on first impression, he saw me more as a “behind the scenes” TV guy than a radio host. I bristled at the observation, but boy, he couldn’t have been more spot-on! I loved shooting and REALLY loved to edit video. I spent all of my waking time up there in that department over the next few years and John—and his successor, Rich Lenoce—really encouraged and bred a hands-on, “use it until it breaks” environment at that school. I also had a group of peers that were so talented and creative at the time. It was a perfect storm. With the creative freedom we were given, all kinds of disposable time, and the pool of energetic and talented students, we began to create some really good stuff.
As an added bonus, the poorly-funded state school needed to raise more money to purchase or repair all of this TV technology, so John developed a corporate video program, in which students would be hired by other state agencies or non-profit agencies to produce professional videos for money. We’d get paid a little something for our efforts like a part-time job, and the rest of the money went back into the department to keep it running. It was a win-win! I was also on the student work study program, so I would spend all kinds of time working with Dan Nocera, the tech guy there, re-wiring edit suites and learning all about the technical side of the industry. The experience I had wiring those test consoles for NASA and Lockheed came in handy as well. So, by the time I hit the street with my feeble associate degree, I had a complete understanding of how to put together a broadcast facility, as well as a pile of professional production work to use as a resume reel. Sure enough, Quinnipiac College thought enough of that to hire me over 90-plus other applicants with big, fancy degrees. Crazy story, but a testament to my classmates and Middlesex Community College for the absolutely amazing two-plus years of career change learning anybody could receive.
IM: How would you compare your experiences in creating corporate videos to that of making documentaries to working on original comedy?
KL: Well, let me kick this answer off by stating that I am a student of comedy. I think comedy is the absolute toughest thing to do and do well. It’s all rhythm and timing. A bad delivery of an absolutely hilarious line of dialog can destroy the impact, and it’s honing that craft that I really enjoy working at all the time. I went to school with some of the funniest dudes on the planet, and it’s a real shame that the interwebs and all these distribution outlets weren’t around when we had all kinds of disposable time and funny ideas enough to fill a warehouse (dating myself again). I think the basic muscle action of smiling is the greatest of feelings in the world, and this guy here likes to laugh. Why not? Life is a great comedy. As far as corporate videos and such, I’d like to take this opportunity to say this much: I’ve cut just about anything out there. Features, documentaries, ad spots, music video montages… the list goes on and on. The idea that corporate videos aren’t ‘real’ stories or somehow aren’t the same as broadcast pieces is ludicrous, in my opinion. For starters, I’ve personally never approached a corporate video on the basis that it has to be ‘moving PowerPoint’ and thrown my hands up and put together boring talking heads and b-roll. I always approach them with a TV sensibility. I look at stuff on TruTV or Discovery, and then take ideas to jobs or clients and make their videos look like something on those networks. They tend to love it and it inspires them to want to be creative with some rather bland subject matter. Citing one example that comes to mind immediately, I once did a video for a client that was documenting moving a giant piece of technology across the state overnight. I mean, this thing was bigger than a house and it was on this truck with over 100 wheels that rolled at five miles an hour. People would line the streets to watch it go by. Well, we could’ve gotten a smarmy narrator to tell the story over b-roll shots of this thing, but why do that when we could make a knockoff ‘episode’ of Modern Marvels? I used all kinds of editing techniques and tricks to spice it up and they loved it. It was interesting and told a compelling story. I think the point I’m trying to make via rambling is that storytelling is storytelling, whether it’s a three-minute direct to client/audience video, or a 30-minute episodic on television, or three-hour documentary/motion picture. If you can’t tell a compelling story with visuals and audio, you don’t belong working in this business in any form. That’s my opinion and many might disagree, but the idea that cutting something that isn’t broadcast or distributed theatrically somehow lessens your ability to tell a story is bunk and length is just that: storytelling for a longer duration.
IM: How did the two of you connect?
KL: A mutual friend invited me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant the next town over and when I got there, Jackie was sitting there with her.
JZ: Yeah, our friend knew that Keith and I would definitely appreciate each other’s humor! The three of us ended up outside talking until well after the restaurant closed. Then, all of a sudden, this car comes screeching into the parking lot, heading right for the building, then pulls a sharp turn, hops the curb, and stalls out in a drainage ditch.
KL: It was a drunk woman who embedded her car in the side of a hillside and hilarity ensued. Jackie and I were friends immediately, when we both realized that we were on the same unspoken page when it came to dealing with that lady. Jack, what WAS that thing in the back seat? HAHA
JZ: It was some bottle stopper for her Wild Turkey, but it was definitely sketchy looking. We called the cops and it turns out this woman was a regular. They pulled up and were like, “Oh Sarah… not again… this is the third time this week!” Keith and I looked at each other and said, “Third time in a week???… but it’s only Tuesday!” Hahaha
IM: Tell us a bit about Charlton Comics. Who were/are they?
JZ: A simple Wikipedia search will tell you that Charlton was a company founded by two men who met in prison, and they printed comic books and music magazines. This is a very bland and hollow story of what Charlton was.
The real story to me is that this company, without knowing it, launched an incredible legacy. The legacy of comic book creators that went on to big careers, but also one of the few companies that survived the Comics Code Authority.
KL: As Bob Layton points out in our trailer, “They were the three-legged dog of comics.” Charlton is like an onion that you keep peeling away layers of, and when you get to the core, you realize that the overarching notion is that this is a company that basically had it all and didn’t know it. They had amazing talents in the comics division doing ground-breaking stuff, and didn’t seem to notice or care. They had a soup-to-nuts facility that was one-of-a-kind, and let it slip away. They were seemingly unable to change with the times or re-invent themselves, and it ultimately became their undoing. That’s across the board from their magazine lines to their comics. I personally find it all rather sad. Derby… Connecticut… The entire country… all lost out on a really special resource. It’s too bad.
IM: What can you tell us about the scope of their appeal and influence?
JZ: Charlton has a grassroots appeal to those who used to read their comics. It’s nostalgic for them, and great to see the name live on. On the flip side, Charlton is also a hidden gem in the pop culture sphere. Everyone has heard of Marvel and DC, but younger generations may have never heard of Charlton, and for that reason, we know that they’re hungry for the next big thing, even if it’s an underdog—or maybe especially because it’s an underdog!
KL: I’d tend to think that their scope was rather limited. They never got the widespread distribution that Marvel or DC got, but they did survive the 1950s near collapse of the comics industry, unlike most of the other ‘B-level’ comic book publishers. So with that in mind, their appeal was equally as stunted, but they provided readers with titles unlike just about anything in the industry. They embraced romance, westerns, horror, sci-fi, and even TV and movie properties, with more titles in those genres than anyone else, which gave readers looking for something other than superheroes somewhere to go. Marvel and DC did some of those kinds of titles too, but not to the level of Charlton. Their influence can be seen in the line of action heroes that were purchased by DC Comics in the 1980s. DC still uses characters such as The Question, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and others to this day. They are also the line of heroes that were altered to form The Watchmen which, to many comic book fans, is one of the definitive works of the last half-century.
IM: What is it about the Charlton story that you think audiences will relate to?
JZ: Charlton is a story of success, but not in the traditional sense. It comes with the mantra that good things come to those who wait. Except this time, it took over 30 years!
KL: There are so many threads to pull on with the Charlton story. One thread takes you down a rather unfavorable path involving potential unsavory people connected to underworld crime. I mean, look: the company was founded by two guys in prison! Aaaaaand cue intro titles… Another thread takes you on a journey of creative freedom and wonder. Another exposes the silly story behind why Charlton even bothered to print comics in the first place. There are more and more threads to pull or onion layers to peel. Either way, the story is incredibly enthralling and downright funny, while at the same time tragic. We were given a taste of it in a one-hour panel at a comic-con and thought it was enough to craft a movie around. Jackie has found some crazy, crazy material in her research at this point, and we’re starting to wonder how the heck to fit into 90–120 minutes of screen time! We may need to make two movies pretty soon. There’s already that much and it’s all compelling. We’re just getting started.
IM: Could you give us a bit of an elevator pitch on the documentary?What is the story that you’re hoping to convey through your film? KL: Well, until we have all of the players interviewed on camera, we won’t have a complete idea of the final story that we want to tell. I have always thought that the crux of the piece is the notion that all of these “Mount Rushmore of comics” guys worked there and went on to great things, but there is so much more to it than that and more to be revealed to us, I’m sure. Whatever story or stories we decide to incorporate into the final show will dovetail into making sure that the audience realizes what an important footnote Charlton Comics is in comics history and that, though it’s been gone for three decades, we are all enjoying their properties to this day in other forms, and that’s pretty darn cool.
JZ: Charlton is a story of success, but not in the traditional sense. It comes with the mantra that good things come to those who wait. It’s been called the three-legged dog of comics, and the scrappy, street-fighting cousin of Marvel and DC, and even hailed as the comic book equivalent of Roger Corman and American International Pictures. Maybe you’ve heard of it? …Probably not. But, you do know the industry legends that called it home. This is Charlton Comics.
IM: Can you outline your process/plan to achieve this?
KL: The first step, and most difficult, is traversing the US and abroad, hunting down and interviewing surviving former Charlton artists and writers. We are also looking for former employees and management to interview. Once we collect all of those, we start picking through it all and craft the narrative from that. We’ll fill in holes with a narration and then build the visual fabric from there. Lots of work, but tons of fun. We’ve been excited about undertaking this ‘mission’ from the get-go, and the only thing slowing us down is funding.
IM: Tell us about some of the challenges that you’re encountering thus far.
JZ: Challenges… how about our day jobs! I love my job, and now I love Charlton, so it’s a fine balancing act to make sure both are nurtured to grow. When it comes to this documentary and doing the research, I’m finding that most of the facts you’ll dig up are either outright wrong… ooooor a bit skewed, or really skewed. We’re going to give the world the real story, the fact-checked story, by the eyes and ears that were there.
Our biggest challenge for me is getting the word out to the public. Our documentary is orbiting just outside the pop culture sphere, and with a little work, we’ll tap in, but how we’ll get in? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens… but we’ve got ideas. Oh wait, I think I want to change my mind on the biggest challenge. WOMEN! Yes, women are my biggest challenge! To quote my friend, “there were a LOT of old dudes in that trailer.” Charlton employed women, and we are (desperately) seeking them out!
KL: Besides trying to locate all of our potential interview candidates? It’s financing this sucker. We honestly drew this up to be a lot smaller in scope a year ago. We figured that we could talk to a handful of folks in the northeast and put something together, peddle it to CPTV (our local PBS affiliate in Connecticut), donate to the Hero Initiative charity, and call it a win. Then our producer friend in LA, Dennis Peters, looked at our pitch deck and rousingly informed us that we were thinking too small and that this was a national-level project. Once we spoke with Den and he put us on a different course, the whole scope of the project exploded. To do this right, and to tell the story as completely and accurately as possible, we will need some funding. We’re trying Indiegogo for now, but landing an investor or another source of revenue is essential for us to continue along in a timely fashion. We’ll finish the movie somehow, but self-financing it could take years, and nobody wants that.
IM: How about lucky breaks, encouragement, or other positive feedback?
KL: The feedback we’ve gotten is 99.99% positive. A few haters online are challenging our ability to tell a story as film makers, because we readily admit that we knew just about nothing about Charlton when we set out to make this movie. I kind of think that works in our favor, because we will research like crazy and work harder to find all of the facts that we can, rather than impose our comic nerd knowledge of Charlton on the project. But aside from a few posts, everyone is excited and seems to love our trailer. As for lucky breaks? I can think of but one: walking into a panel at CT ComiCONN 2014 because we had tired feet, and ending up with a cool movie project and new friends like Paul Kupperberg, Bob Layton, Denny O’Neil, Frank McLaughlin, Joe Staton, Joe Sinnott, Jose Garcia Lopez, and more, because of it. That is what you call serendipitous timing. THAT is one lucky-ass break.
JZ: Keith and I have been beyond fortunate that every interview leads to a new break, a new connection, and new friends. One newspaper story started a connection with factory workers who used to work at Charlton. Our social media pages have connected us to like-minded people who want to see this project succeed, or who want to help in whatever way they can. The interviews have created a bond with some of the greats in the comic book world that we grew up reading. I can’t even explain how wonderful it feels to have a small army building up behind you to push this project forward. Keith mentioned that we have a few haters, and I think that’s great! Having haters just means that this project matters enough for someone to notice… so take THAT, evil doers!!! Hahaha
I will say that I have received a tremendous amount of support from my brothers and sisters in the film community. They’re happy to see me switching gears and taking on broader (and niftier) aspects.
IM: As I write this, you’re in the middle of an Indiegogo fundraising campaign (which wrapped up before we went to press). How else are you getting the word out?
KL: Jackie and I are leaving no stone unturned. We’ve pillaged the social media outlets on the interwebs, for starters. We’ve been blowing up Facebook and Twitter in particular. We have a subscription newsletter feed on our site. We’re doing as many podcasts, radio spots, and print and online interviews as we can (thank you for this!). We’ve put postcards in every comic book store in Connecticut. We’re setting up at comic book shows both small and large starting this month, and applying for panels at as many of the cons that’ll have us. We even wear Charlton t-shirts when we visit a con or do panels. Whatever we can do to push the movie, we’re trying it.
JZ: Every day we’re working on getting in touch with the local press and TV networks, then branching out from there to anyone who wants to help us promote. This movie is a team movement. Charlton started with two founders and grew from there. This documentary is the same way, with Keith and me at the core, and then spreading out to anyone who lends a hand along the way, essentially joining our team as honorary members.
IM: Once the film is made, how are you planning to get it out to the fans?
JZ: Well I think that since we found the story at a comic-con, why not finish it the same way? I feel that after an initial screening at a con, we’ll explore what other markets might be interested.
KL: We’re not decided completely since it’s quite a bit away, but we are in total agreement on a few things. We’ll be hosting a screening with all of the comic book legends we can pull into the premiere, along with a cocktail party/meet-and-greet for fans. We’re also thinking a one-time screening at either San Diego Comic Con or NY Comic Con. Then take it on tour or something to raise money for the Hero Initiative. Whatever we decide to do as a distribution outlet, will be done with Hero Initiative at the core of the decision. From the very beginning, it was our wanting to make a substantial donation to that charity that sparked the idea to produce the show in the first place. It’s been very important to Jackie and me to make sure that we give back and help out the guys and gals who entertained and thrilled us over the years.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about the film?
KL: Just that we are trying to reach a broader audience with this movie and crack into the pop culture sphere. Comics are hotter than they’ve ever been and retro stuff is even cooler. Don’t the young people out there want to be the first to say that they knew about Charlton Comics when…?
JZ: Yes! This pertains to our contributors and followers on social media. You’re family now. What that means is that, until Charlton has its world premiere, we will be in touch. We want your opinions! We want feedback… good or bad. This may be a comic book documentary, but we want to grab the attention of those who are too chic to geek, and maybe convert a few to the nerd herd! We can’t do that without YOU!
IM: Are there any other projects on your horizon?
KL: I’ve always got my brain in forward motion. I’d like to revisit a comedy series I was developing for NBC again, maybe. I’ve got a friend who’s written three or four amazing movie scripts. Maybe another documentary… either way, I’ve my feet firmly rooted in Charlton Comics: The Movie, and until we are all watching it in a darkened theater, my focus and energy is all on that.
JZ: For me, no. Working on film sets gives me the opportunity to explore my creativity on a daily basis. But don’t count me out! If another great story comes around, I’ll pounce. Until then, it’s nothing but makeup, monsters, and Charlton!
IM: Finally, how can our readers keep up with you and your projects?
KL: www.CharltonMovie.com, and from there, you can find us all over the information superhighway. Do they still call it that? God, I’m old… Up and Atom! Captain Atom that is…
JZ: This is the age of social media! Since everyone has their preferred platform we wanted to offer a number of ways to connect. As Keith said, the first stop would be our website: www.CharltonMovie.com
On the site, we have behind-the-scenes photos, our mini blog, news, and you can sign up for our newsletter.
So how did December creep up so fast? I’ve really got to figure out a way to get time to pass a bit more slowly. For the last three months, I’ve barely had time to talk with people about the developments we want to make before it’s been time to get the next issue going. And while there have been some interesting starts and ideas, nothing has actually been implemented. Then it seems like I’ll bring up a practical or what- if scenario, and a conversation will end as if my saying “What about…?” is saying “no”. Which it isn’t, and shouldn’t ever be.
Here’s what’s in my ability to do: Keep this magazine going as-is. Any development of the magazine into one that can pay its staff and writers relies on the funding project Doug is developing, and on publishers starting to support the magazine with ads.
I have the ability to start up the Availability Guide idea in 2016. I took some time, and I looked at the software I have, and found a way to produce a catalog that will show what is available from who, and how to order it, from a manageable standpoint of being able to add new entries and have them automatically integrate to the right spots of the catalog. I am pretty darn sure ‘Im going to be able to pull that off. I’ll be adding a way for publishers to submit publications online in the down-time between this issue and the next; as is normall, we’re giving everyone the majority of November/December off, and next issue will come out in February. I won’t be taking any time off myself; I’ll be working harder to get this done. But I don’t have a problem with that. I really, really want 2016 to be the year we make the big breakthroughs that we’ve been building towards for so long.
Also for next issue, I am hoping to begin presenting publication reviews in the magazine again. At this point, I have two individuals interested in actually writing reviews. We’ll have to see how that pans out after the holidays and if anyone else can be talked into it, or whatever it takes to make that happen. I feel that reviews are an important part of bringing back an atmosphere of belonging and “home” for creators. We have to be able to bridge the gap between “Is this something you should buy?” and “This is what you need to work on…” in positive ways. Perhaps I’ll be able to mesh part of it with the new Availability Guide setup, as part of the problem was always the time it took to type up the entries when I ran reviews myself in the past. I don’t think it will be too hard to set up so that books we review can pull from the data listings. I would love to be able to do some reviews myself, we’ll see if I ever have time to do so.
A few months back, I declared that the Indyfest Network was ready to be called “beta” stage, but I then ran into a number of software updates—some really good advances, some that I wasn’t as happy about, and overall enough that I think I have to retract calling things “beta” and re-enter some “alpha” level re-build and strategy shifts. Like, instead of the stores/sites system having a % that we’d place on sales of other people’s stuff, I think it will be easier to just have a membership system. A flat yearly thing. Anyway, I’ll look at it all before next issue, and please, if you have an opinion on how you would like to see things go, tell me!