Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was an American poet and educator who produced many literary works. He is also famous for originating the popular quote, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” The truth of this statement resonates with many, including my guest this issue, Ms. Cristie Hine. She is the owner of NightShine Productions, LLC; a music production and recording studio based in Perry, Ohio. We had the pleasure of interviewing Cristie to find out more about her and the great work she’s doing at the studio.
IM: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you got started in music.
CH: I am a lover of music and my family! Music is my passion and has served as a marker for wonderful memories, as an escape during rough times, and it’s given me strength when I needed it. I graduated from Full Sail University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in music production. I was the salutatorian, received the advanced achiever award, and also received three Course Director’s Awards. I’ve played a musical instrument since I was ten, and was always involved with musical productions during my younger years. Before I learned how to play an instrument, I was recording songs off the radio and listening to quite an eclectic collection of music.
IM: Who are the people that most influenced you, both in music and in your personal life?
CH: When I was little, I loved to rock out with my dad and his best friend. They always connected music to usually happy, memorable times. I was hooked after that. Through listening to music with family and friends, I created an opinion of artists that I liked, as well as of genres—which expanded throughout the years. Other influences would have to be music teachers and fellow musicians that I played with during the formative years. Trent Reznor was a pretty big influence also.
IM: What drives you to create music?
CH: What drives me to create music would have to be my thoughts and emotions, and a need to express a certain way of thinking in different situations in my life. It kind of feels like an overwhelming amount of energy that gets bottled up until you sit down and create a piece, then it all comes flowing out. Sometimes it’s hard for me to find a way verbally to express how I’m feeling or how I’m dealing with the situation, so I use music to speak for me and deliver the meaning.
IM: Tell us about how NightShine Productions got started?
CH: I created NightShine Productions after I graduated college in order to work with local talent and start to sell my own music, at my own pace. I understand what it’s like to start out in the music industry, so I felt that creating my own music production company/recording studio would be the best way to fulfill my dreams and also give artists a professional place to record at a reasonable rate, to help them fulfill their dreams, too.
IM: Have you written any songs? Tell us about your first song and what that experience was like?
CH: Yes, I have written multiple songs. The first song that I wrote was an EDM song and it was extremely long! I remember getting lost in writing it, and just focusing on the technicalities of it and how each line played with the other, and how they kind of danced along and tickled your ears and then remained in my brain long after. I fell in love with composition during that process.
IM: How many musical projects have you worked on to date, and which is your favorite?
CH: I don’t think I can count the number of musical projects that I have worked on to date, because there are so many different kinds of projects in my portfolio. I have worked on commercial pieces, video game pieces, independent pieces, classical, rock, blues, rap and techno pieces, jingles, Foley, and movie scores—to name a few. Picking out a favorite is definitely a hard task to do, since a certain part of me is in love with all of them.
IM: What is your assessment of today’s independent music industry, and what do you think the industry needs?
CH: I think the independent music market today has a lot more freedom for the artist to control which path they would like to go down and also get a little closer to their audience. It seems that musicians are able to really hone in on a certain genre that they love, rather than being pushed by large labels and companies to produce something that is expected of them. One thing I do think the industry needs is more of the good guys that are going to help the musician/artist achieve their goals in an honest manner, instead of trying to take advantage of them. I like to think of myself as a mentor to musicians that do not have the music business knowledge that I have. If I can help steer them in the right direction, and help them to not be taken advantage of, then I feel that one part of my job is done.
IM: In your opinion, how difficult is it for an independent musician to make a living today?
CH: It depends on the route you take. In the beginning, you have to have an alternate source of income in order to take care of basic needs. I would say that it’s a tough row to hoe. However, if you love what you do and keep pursuing your passion with professionalism, then I think achieving your monetary goals via music is feasible. It will take time, persistance, patience, dedication, and a lot of work.
IM: Do you use social media and, if so, how has it helped in getting the word out about your work?
CH: I have a Facebook account for my company in order to help people get an idea of what NightShine is about. I tend to be a little private about my work and what I actually put on social media. I think social media is a nice step to introduce people to me and my company. As far as getting the word out about my work, that is something that I have to do by myself, via my efforts and actual product. In my mind, my work should do the talking, which in turn, hopefully, gets the word out.
IM: What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish with your music?
CH: What I’d like to accomplish with my music is to get to a level of writing/producing/recording to where it’s a recognizable style in the industry.
IM: What are your future plans and where do you see your career in the next five years?
CH: That’s a hard question to answer. There are so many different avenues to take in this industry. One thing is for sure, though: in the next five years, I hope to have a thriving business that inspires and provides a place where artists can come in and record andwrite, because they know that they are in good hands at NightShine.
IM: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about having a go as an independent musician?
CH: Don’t give up—ever. Sometimes the road is long. Take care of your basic needs with a regular job, but don’t lose or give up your passion. It’s in you for a reason. Also, use a professional when recording an album. You and your music are worth it! A professional producer/engineer will give you the best advice and sound for your music and money. They are an invaluable friend and knowledge base in this crazy, wonderful industry! Lastly, enjoy the ride!
Anyone can tell that Cristie’s love and passion for music are the genuine articles. With talented individuals like her at work, the indy music industry is in safe hands. We need to support her and the work she’s doing at NightShine, and we look forward to working with her to bring our readers new indy music.
NightShine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/NightshineProductions
Follow Everard’s Indyfest work: mag.indyfestusa.com/staff/#Everard_McBain
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There are a few ingredients that are necessary to become an award-winning writer. One of them is skill. Good writers are skilled writers. Wordsmiths, if you will—with the knowledge of how to use words as tools to communicate ideas and tell stories. Another thing that is necessary is passion. One must possess an intense desire or enthusiasm for writing that will fuel your way forward. Kristin Charlotte Horn Talgø has both ingredients in abundance, so her success as a writer is guaranteed. I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview Kristin recently and learn a little bit about the Norwegian native and her new book, Escaping The Caves.
IM: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and when you realized you wanted to be a writer.
KT: I’m from Oslo, Norway, and am currently studying journalism. It took me less than a week into the first semester to realize that I’m not meant to be a hard-core news journalist, but I very much enjoy writing features and I’d like to give literary journalism a try.
I have a bachelor in Social Work. This was something I decided to do when I found myself at a point in my life where I realized that I’d taken a few wrong turns and suddenly had little or no idea who I was, where I was or where I was going. My mom is a social worker and following in her footsteps seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. Mom is one of the best people that I know, but we are very different in many ways. I finished my degree, mostly because I hate unfinished projects, and the reason why I’m telling you this is because that confirmed what I already knew: I want to write.
That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and all I’m ever going to want to do. So, the upside of spending three years doing something I didn’t want to is that it made me realize how incredibly important it is to stay true to yourself and listen to that little voice inside of you that says, this isn’t you. Look here, this is what you’re meant to do. Do that. Write.
I knew I wanted to be a writer since I could write. I wrote my first story when I was seven and kept writing through my childhood and teens, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was nineteen. That’s when I wrote my first book, though not a very good one! Since then I’ve kept writing. I attended a Creative Writing course at the University of Edinburgh in the summer of 2010, and that really made the difference. To meet other writers who took writing seriously, teachers who took me as a writer seriously, that was a real eye-opener. That was the first time I realized that there were plenty of other people out there who had the same passion and ambitions as me, and who didn’t think I was odd or unrealistic for wanting to write. To them, wanting to write was a natural as wanting to eat. It was amazing to finally meet others, to know I wasn’t the only one. It meant everything to me to meet people who encouraged me and believed in me as a writer. I felt like I’d come home. That was the summer I came out of the closet as a writer and I haven’t looked back since.
IM: Who or what most influenced you as a writer?
KT: All the books I read growing up. They ranged from obscure, unknown novels to acclaimed classics, but the ones I enjoyed the most usually had an element of the supernatural about them. The books that grabbed me the most and have had the strongest influence on me as a writer are the ones where there are no limits to the imagination. Where there isn’t a set of rules that you have to follow, but where you can make up your own world, entirely as you see fit. I like that feeling of endless possibilities.
That being said, Stephen King is probably the writer who has influenced me as a writer the most. I started reading his books when I was about thirteen, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I greatly admire him as an author, and his ability to describe events and emotions using the exact right words and the exact right amount of them. Not to mention his ability to create characters, not based on descriptions, but on how they act and how they speak. I love the way a lot of his books are all connected somehow, a whole universe filled with different stories, worlds within worlds. There are times when I’ve skipped pages in his books, when the story has become too gory and gruesome for my taste, but I think he’s at his best when he writes about the simple things in his stories. The human condition and the way people connect and communicate with each other, or fail to. Despite writing horror, Stephen King has written some of the best love stories, in my opinion!
IM: What is your motivation to write and keep on writing?
KT: I love to write. To me, it’s not a question of if I should write, but how and when I will fit into my day. I read a book once, where the protagonist says that writing is something she has to do in order to feel like herself, like showering or brushing her teeth. That’s what writing is to me. I don’t feel like myself when I don’t write. I get grumpy and uncomfortable in my own skin. When I write, that itch—that sense of irritation—disappears. When I write, I feel completely at ease and at peace with myself. It’s one of those rare moments when I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, or do anything else, than exactly what I’m doing right then and there.
I’d like for people to get as much joy out reading my books as I do from writing them. But writing is probably also a way for me to deal with and process emotions and experiences. One of the advantages of being a writer is that no experience, no matter how painful or awkward, is a waste, because, if nothing else, it’ll make a good story one day, in one form or another.
Not to mention, good stories can have a great impact on people. At the very least, they can offer people a breathing space, a time-out from reality. I think writing can be way of escaping reality, but also, a way of interpreting it.
IM: Tell us about your book and what the experience was like working on it.
KT: Escaping the Caves is a futuristic novel set in a post-apocalyptic word. The world was overrun by monsters that nearly wiped out humanity. After a devastating war, it was left to a chosen few to keep the monsters confined to a set of caves. The task of keeping the monsters from once again roaming the earth has been passed down through the generations. It’s a small community governed by strict rules. There is no room for the people living there to show their pain and fear. If one person starts to crack up, it’s only a reminder that they’re all cracking up a little every day. Whoever decides to leave the community becomes an ‘outcast’. They’ve betrayed humanity and so are shunned in the outside world, as well.
Jess, a trained monster hunter turns her back on the family tradition. No longer wanting to live with the possibility of being killed by those monsters, or living with the ghosts of those who have, Jess leaves the only life she knows and travels across country to find herself. As she attempts to escape the death of her sister, and the ghosts that dwell inside her mind, Jess finds more than what she bargained for. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, even human ones…
I very much enjoyed writing this book. Once the idea for the book had been formed in my mind, the people, scenes, and dialog were quite clear to me. That being said, the story develops as I write it. I usually have a sense of where the story is headed, but I never really know what’s going to happen until I get there. That’s part of the fun. Discovering a story as I go along, discovering the twists and turns as I write them… It’s an exciting process, as I can sort of ‘feel’ the whole story at the back of my mind, but I have to dig it out, one word, one sentence, at the time. I like not knowing entirely where it’s headed; that way, anything is possible.
IM: How did the idea for your book emerge?
KT: It sounds corny, but the idea came from a dream I had. In the dream, I was having an argument with someone. I was desperate for that person to listen to me, to understand me, but when the person turned around, there was nothing but disdain and contempt on his face. We were standing on a street, people gathering to see what the commotion was about, and when I tried to seek their understanding and acceptance for my pain, I was met with the same distaste. In their eyes I was weak for crying, for revealing my hurt. In the distance, there was a huge, dark mountain range, stretching for as long as I could see. When I woke up, my mind automatically started building on it. The scene from the dream blended together with my imagination.
IM: How many books have you worked on to date and which is your favorite?
KT: I’ve written six books so far, and have just started the seventh. Escaping the Caves is the first one to be published and the first one I’ve attempted to publish. This one is probably my favorite as, by the time I wrote it, I’d already written four books. Writing those taught me a lot, so I had a better grasp of what I was doing when I wrote Escaping the Caves, than when I wrote the first one (when I was nineteen).
The first one I wrote will never be published as I consider it a trial run. The three after that are a trilogy that I’d like to continue working on, as I enjoy the world within them. I think it could really work once I’ve gotten it into shape. But after the editing process with Escaping the Caves, I didn’t feel like starting a new editing process right away, so instead, I’ve started a new book, to allow my imagination to run free for a while.
IM: What is your assessment of today’s independent writer industry and what do you think the industry needs?
KT: I think it’s great that there exists an independent writer industry filled with people who are genuinely passionate about genres that fall a little bit outside the mainstream industry. It seems to me they’re more willing to take on new, unknown writers and give them a chance, which are what people who are starting out as writers need. In my opinion, their main concern is to publish good books within their chosen genre, and not books that fit the current publishing ‘climate’. The book industry needs diversity and I think the independent writer industry provides that. The industry creates a writing environment for writers who might not otherwise have had a publication platform.
What the industry needs? Hmmm, I’m not sure how qualified I am to answer that, truth be told, but I definitely thinks it needs to keep doing what it is doing, to keep providing readers with alternative writers and different writing voices, new stories that might not otherwise see the light of day.
IM: In your opinion, how difficult is it for an independent writer to make a living today?
KT: F***ing difficult! Sorry, but yes, quite difficult, I think. Apart from the bestselling authors, I think it’s difficult for a lot of writers to make a living based only on writing books. As far as I can tell, you need to be able to sell quite a number of copies before actually making a decent profit from it. There are a lot of books being published and I think it’s probably difficult to make your own work stand out from the crowd; to make people choose your book over another. That doesn’t mean being an independent writer is a bad choice or that you can’t make a living as such, but I think it’s also important to be realistic about the industry and how it works. That being said, I think it’s important to take yourself, as a writer, and your work seriously. I’m a firm believer in hard work and that it’ll pay off if you stick to it and aren’t discouraged when things get difficult. Just because something’s hard at times doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time and effort.
IM: Do you use social media and how has it helped in getting the word out about your work?
KT: Once I got the publishing contract, I started a Facebook author page. Honestly, I’m not entirely comfortable using social media yet as a writer, probably because I feel exposed in some way, but I definitely see the value of it. There’s no point in publishing a book if no one knows you’re getting published! You need to get the word out there and I think social media is a great way to do that and connect with people. I’ve also started a website where I have a blog. That’s also a way of not just getting the word out about my work, but also a way for me to potentially reach out to people. I write about writing, books, and the publication, but in that mix, I also write a bit about myself and those small, nervous thoughts that are part of the writing process, and also simply part of being human.
Everything is still a bit new, but I think using social media is really the way of getting the word out about my work. We live in a digital age, people are online, so if you want to tell them ‘here’s my book!’, you need to be online. And while I’m new at this, I think it’s great. I’m from Norway, a small country a lot people outside of Scandinavia usually just confuse with Sweden, but even so, my book is getting published in Canada and people all over the world could read it. Social media and the internet open up possibilities for me as a writer that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
IM: What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish as a writer?
Kristin: The short version? For people to enjoy my books. It really is that simple and that difficult. If someone just reads my book on a plane and that gives them joy, then I truly feel I’ve done my job as a writer. Books mean the world to me and they can open up worlds I didn’t know existed. They can give a new perspective on things and they can make you feel like you’re not alone. I can read a book and, sometimes, just a sentence hits me. I’ll think, ‘I know exactly what that’s like!’ Books can be a way for people to connect with each other without ever meeting. Also, books are great, simply because of the simple pleasure they can bring. That feeling of getting lost in another world, getting sucked in and wanting to stay there, the way it opens up your own imagination… if I can give that to others, even for just a short time, than I will have accomplished everything I want as a writer.
IM: What are your future plans and where do you see your career in the next five years?
KT: To keep writing! Even if being a writer is difficult at times, at least when it comes to making a living of it, I can’t imagine not doing it and I don’t want to either. I have whole worlds swirling around my head and I want to put them all down on paper and share them with as many people as possible. To write is what I want to do in life, always has been, always will be. And life’s too short not to do what makes you truly, genuinely happy. Where my career will be in five years is hard to say, but I’ll find out when I get there. What I’m hoping for is, of course, for people to read my books and to enjoy them.
IM: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming an independent writer?
KT: Do it. There’s no reason why anyone who wants to be an independent writer shouldn’t do just that, as long as they’re prepared for a bumpy road. People always tell you that you need to work hard for the things you want in life, but that can never prepare you for just how hard you’ll need to work. If you want to be an independent writer, you’ll probably have to work twice as hard as you thought—and at least twice as hard as you’d like. But if that’s really what you want to do, then that’s just the price you’ll have to pay. You’re going to have to work hard in life no matter what you do, so you might as well work hard for the things you really want. If being a writer is what you really want, then all that hard work is worth it. At the end of the day, if that hard work means you get to do what you feel you’re meant to do in life… What’s there to think about?
I think it’s safe to say that we will always need good writers. There is always room for another good writer. Kristin Charlotte Horn Talgø is well on her way to carving out her space to be established as one of those good writers. Please support this creator.
Online Follow Up:
Learn more about our interviewer at: Everard J. McBain Jr.
I love music. I really do. I get it from my mother. There’s this thing she and I can do and it sometimes drives my wife crazy. We have the ability to hear every instrument individually in a song. That is, we can separate it with our hearing, and hear what each instrument is doing. My wife chides me, because she can only hear the song as a whole. Hearing each instrument separately really increases the enjoyment of listening to music as a whole. I also love comics. I love seeing the artwork and following the stories and the journeys of the characters. Hence the reason I was really intrigued to interview Phil Buck, a musical protégé who has found a fantastic way of merging his two loves: music and comics. He was born and raised in Memphis, TN, where the musical culture is prominent, and he fell in love with music and comics at an early age. We recently had a conversation with him about his work and his latest projects.
IM: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what it is you do that relates to comics and music.
PB: I was first into comics when I was very young. I believe I was between the ages of nine and twelve when I was a rabid fan of Marvel. I used to collect the Topps trading cards for all the Marvel heroes and villains with my brother. I had binders full of these cards. But as I grew from a pre-teen to a teenager, I lost my comics obsession and music took the main focus in my life. I grew up in Memphis, TN, where music is a part of the cultural DNA. I first learned to play piano at a very young age, but I really cut my teeth as a musician in my early teen years, playing bass in numerous bands ranging in genre from blues, funk, and rock ‘n’ roll to jazz and later “jam bands”. Music was my main creative outlet for many years. I focused on playing bass, but I also became proficient on guitar, keys/piano, beat production and electronic music programming and arranging. From the age of 15 until the present day (I’m nearly 31 at the time of writing), I worked very hard at learning music. While I learned music theory, I also began to focus on learning how to promote and market music. I also spent some short time in college in a music industry program. Throughout numerous different musical projects, it proved to be a very difficult task to get my music heard and recognized, as the market is very, very saturated, these days. Long story short, as a result of my exercises in trying to promote and market music products, I came upon the idea of combining music with a comic book.
It seemed like music got lost in the mix of all the activity on the internet and social media, but any visual art could connect with audiences online far more directly than music. When you share your music on the Internet, you have to compel the viewer to push ‘play’. And many times, they simply don’t hit ‘play’ and just keep scrolling. But with any imagery, when they see it, the job has been done. You can connect with your audience immediately. This was a profound idea to me.
This all seemed like a simple idea at first, but I learned very quickly that creating comic books and doing it well is no easy task. I began to delve deeply into the discipline of creating comics. It was roughly about five years ago that I began my journey to create comics, and it has all been solely focused on the comic book series Those Shadow People. Much of my practicing has led me to find opportunities with other comic book creators, who have allowed me to expand my writing and lettering portfolio, as well. Now in 2015, I am not sure if I am more compelled to create comics or music, but both of these creative outlets have a deep passion within my heart.
IM: Who are the people that most influenced you as an artist?
PB: As this question relates to Those Shadow People, I was highly influenced by the Gorillaz. I can clearly remember the first time I saw the music video for “Clint Eastwood” late at night on MTV. It was a profound moment, because I was immediately drawn in by the animation. At first, I’m not even sure I really paid attention to the music, but I was hooked by the ideas and the character renderings and how it all came together as one cohesive idea on the screen. This is clearly, for me, a huge turning point in my life, where I began to focus on making visual elements to be combined with my music. In time, I came to discover more of the musical side of the Gorillaz and I was immensely inspired by Damon Albern as well as the way he used the Gorillaz as a project for world-wide collaboration over many genres. This idea also affected me deeply and that is much of the reason that the musical element of Those Shadow People consists of a very large group of people spread out all over the world. While Gorillaz is clearly the catalyst for my current endeavors with Those Shadow People, my musical influences are much more diverse.
At the earliest point of my musical journey, I was mostly influenced by the alternative rock bands that were so popular during my formative years. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sound Garden, Rage Against the Machine, and plenty more were the types of bands I grew up listening to and who compelled me to want to be in a band. My friend Michael Johnson, who lived in my neighborhood, just a few blocks away, was the first person I knew who was in a band. I used to go over every night that I could watch the guys and gals practicing. I was so inspired and I knew just watching them that I had to be in a band. Jeremy Sykes, the bass player in the band (12 Walruses) was kind enough to gift me a bass guitar. From the day I received that bass, I would spent countless hours in my bedroom, learning scales and just trying to get up to a point I could join a band.
My good friend Chris Nicotera was an accomplished guitar player and he took me under his wing and began teaching me about “good” music. Looking back, I laugh at little bit at this idea—because nowadays, I love almost all music—but at that point, I took the opinion of my new band-mate very seriously and thus, began a long period of musical snobbery. That being said, I was turned on to lots of really great musical influences. Thanks to Chris, I began to listen to older rock ‘n’ roll artists, like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, CREAM, and Frank Zappa. The influence of this bluesy and funky music began to dominate my style and taste. Funk and soul music also became a central influence on me at that time, as I learned about music from The Meters, Parliament/Funkadelic, Tower of Power, The Neville Brothers, and more. That funky type of music led to me discover fusion and, more importantly, the wide range of sounds that Herbie Hancock has produced throughout his long and prolific career. From his days with Miles Davis to the fusion sounds of the Headhunters, I have always found Herbie Hancock to be one the artists I am constantly inspired by and drawn back to. Growing older and continuing to develop my musical taste and, thanks to my band-mates John Daniel and Dave Benedict, I began to learn about the sounds of jazz, and artists like Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Freddy Hubbard, John Coltrane, and so, so many more. I also fell in love with the bass player Jaco Pastorius, and his sound and style of playing bass changed the way I approached playing bass myself. After my time at college, my musical style began to change and my time in bands came to a short hiatus. I became highly focused on the newer styles: hip hop and, subsequently, electronic and beat music from artists like RJD2, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and Pretty Lights. This type of music really helped me shift my musical focus from performance and “working on my chops” to composition and vision. I spent much more time on my computer, creating beats and recording numerous takes on each different instrument by myself. My goals shifted toward creating an entire musical experience on my own and trying to take the pure idea in my mind and lay it out as perfectly as possible for the listener. This is still a big part of my creative process, but luckily, the pendulum has swung back toward more collaborative efforts, as well.
While I have talked very much about my musical influences, many readers of Indyfest might have more interest or find more insight in my writing background. I must first say that I also spent a good portion of my education in high school and college in a theater and film/video curriculum. Most of my influence toward storytelling and writing is based off my experience with film and TV shows. Some of the biggest influences on my writing are not primarily comic books, but movies and, more recently, TV shows. I love David Lynch, and especially, what he did with Twin Peaks. I feel that show had a great influence on Lost and thus, I found much inspiration in that show and from Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff. The dramatic writing of Vince Gilligan and crew on Breaking Bad, and now Better Call Saul, are huge to me. I have always been wildly inspired by sci-fi movies and TV shows. I am a big fan of Star Wars, and more so Star Trek. I also LOVE fantasy books, like The Lord of the Rings, the Wheel of Time, and yes, even Harry Potter.
It’s very difficult to choose any one among these influences as the chief source of inspiration, but it’s quite clear that all these influences have come together in the creation of Those Shadow People. Ideas from sci-fi, fantasy, drama and superhero comics are all at the forefront of the creative ideas that drive me to keep writing and developing the characters and the world of Those Shadow People.
As for comic book influences specifically, I’d have to speak of that in two phases. In my earliest years, I really didn’t even know whose writing I was reading or whose art I was looking at, but I loved the superhero comics of Marvel and DC. Those superhero stories definitely left an impression on me from an early age and compelled me back toward that type of work later in life. When I decided to try to make a comic book myself, the first thing I did was go to a comic book store and just buy up a bunch of random books. I was totally out of touch with what was happening in the industry, so I just took a shotgun scatter approach and grabbed whatever looked good when I flipped through the pages. Initially, I was buying comic books as reference material. I felt the need to read and absorb if I was going to create this type of art. Over time, I became hooked on many of the stories and my comic book obsession was renewed. Shortly after simply reading for inspiration, I found myself purchasing five to ten books weekly, to keep up with the characters I had missed so much. My strongest comic book influences are probably the folks who have made a name working at the Big Two, but also, with their own books. I love the work of Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, and Rick Remender. Fear Agents and Black Science are both books that inspired me toward world building and epic, mindf*ck types of stories. Jonathan Hickman and his latest run on Avengers and, more so, New Avengers is a really fun and inspiring read. I also love what Fraction has done with Hawkeye and his own series, Sex Criminals. More recently, I have been turned on to The Dying and the Dead and I really enjoy the epic nature of the storytelling that’s grounded in this kind of more gritty and grounded “American hero” type of narrative.
IM: What is your motivation to create and keep on creating?
PB: That is such a deep question, but I will do my best to answer it. I do feel that my creative motivations are the things that I get up for in the morning. I work a job as an optician and I have done this type of work for nearly ten years. I’d like to think I’m very good at it, but I don’t jump out of bed in the morning pining to make and sell glasses. Every night, when I go to sleep, I am pondering new and different ideas for music and storytelling and every morning, when I wake up, I look forward to the next moment I can put these ideas into practice. I think, more than anything, creative endeavors are like my connection to God, or whatever you believe that to be. I find that I am compelled to take on creative work without any real reason why. It’s more about the how, the process, for me. The act of creating simply puts my mind at peace and I feel most whole when I work toward a creative goal. I know that might sound cheesy to some, or just plain crazy to others, but I really feel like I have an underlying purpose on this planet to create something. I think I am still searching for that one thing that is my real contribution to life, but I don’t know that I would ever know it if I found it, or if I would stop working if I did.
To speak to a more practical angle, I think that art, in its many forms, is sometimes the only thing that keeps a person going in the worst of times. I would like to believe that just one of my creations was profound enough that someone in their darkest hour found inspiration to keep going. I hope that just one piece of my art was enough for someone to shake off their funk, jump up, and get back into life. And then, hopefully, they in turn do the same for someone else. In the end, I think that’s all we can really hope for, in our art and in life in general.
IM: Tell us about your first project. What was the experience like?
PB: My first project as related to indy comics was Those Shadow People. That was quite a learning experience. Originally, when I thought to combine music and visuals as one, I imagined doing animation. But animation felt like too lofty a goal and, for some reason, in my ignorance, I thought comic books would be ‘easier’. LOL. Boy, was I wrong. I learned very quickly that making comics is a giant process and, if you have a serious goal of doing it well, it’s even harder. Luckily, my first book, Those Shadow People #1, was executed by just myself as the writer and one artist, Erik Turner. While the size of the team helped to keep the logistics more manageable than, say, having a larger team with a writer, a penciler, an inker, a colorist, a letterer, and an editor, it didn’t necessarily help us have perspective on how to make the project the best it could be. In the end, I think the project turned out to be a bit more work than I could truly handle and my relationship with the artist, who was also a friend, suffered at times, due to the stress that the project created. The upside of the first issue was that I really began to learn how much time and work it should take to create a comic book. And those lessons have carried through to the next issues. Issue #0 still suffered from some of the same logistics problems, but I think that I’ve finally gotten a handle on the process with Issue #2.
PB: I’ve spoken a little bit about this in some of the earlier questions, but I’ll rehash just a bit here. The idea for Those Shadow People emerged from two different catalysts. One, the first time I saw the Gorillaz music video on TV, and Two, when I realized that, in order to break through all the noise on the internet with your music, bands could really benefit from a strong visual element. To explain a rough timeline, I was in a band called The Biz for a few years and our music was very upbeat, electronic dance music, for the most part. But in our downtime, my band mate Tim Santos and I would write and record music that didn’t quite fit with the sound of The Biz. It was more chill and emotional and we found that we couldn’t quite work it into the sets we played with The Biz. Over time, we built up a large stockpile of music on our hard drives that we just didn’t know what to do with. One of the songs, which later became “Open Your Eyes” on our first vinyl for Those Shadow People, used a lot of imagery in the lyrics that really inspired me to write. I felt like the lyrics were like these little Easter eggs into a bigger story. And so, we started talking about what would later become Those Shadow People. I think I probably spent two years just creating outlines for the story while we kept recording more music and, finally, it was time to make a comic book. It took a few months before I could find an artist interested in taking on the project. I happened to have lots of friends who were illustrators and/or graphic designers, so I started reaching out to them, but no one took an interest in the project. Finally, it dawned on me that I had met an artist at one of The Biz’s local shows. It was Erik Turner. He basically makes his money as an artist by creating art and then setting up shop at local shows selling his work. At the end of our show, he brought me a small art card with his info on the back and I held on to it. Then one day, I remembered the card and I found his info on the back and we began meeting regularly at a local bar to drink and talk about character ideas. After many more months, we had created some great character renderings based on my rough sketches and the ideas we hashed out together. Finally, it was time to make a comic book. The rest is, well, history.
IM: How many books have you worked on to date and which is your favorite?
PB: This count will be somewhat unofficial, but I have worked on a total of seventeen books as a writer and five books as a letterer. (I say ‘unofficial’ because, so far, many of the scripts I have written for creators have yet to see the light of day). I must say, I have had the most fun working on books as a writer. This may seem like a cop-out, but my favorite is easily my own book, Those Shadow People. I have worked on some other great projects with other creators and my next favorite would be the webcomic The Not So Golden Age, created by Joseph Freistuhler. I was lucky enough to be brought on to this project to write the first issue, and it’s just a joy to write comedically for Joseph’s project. As for Those Shadow People, this project is my baby. The characters are, for the most part, based on myself and my friends. The story is a massive epic in my mind, and the time spent bringing it to life is unmatched, so far, by my work on any other project. To be more specific, I think that Those Shadow People Issue #2 is my most favorite book to work on in my career. Issue Two is the first issue where the pacing of the story is just right, the art team is a finely-oiled machine, and the timeline has been much more viable in supporting an ongoing comic series. It will probably be many more months before it is released, but I feel that this is the best showing in the series so far, and it will come out far sooner than the gap we had between Issues #1 and #0.
IM: What is your assessment of today’s independent creator industry, and what do you think the industry needs?
PB: I am so glad that you asked this question. I am excited about answering, because much of my learning curve in creating Those Shadow People has been in getting to know the ins and outs of the indy comic industry, and in meeting and getting to know so many of my fellow creators. I think the biggest detriment to the independent creator industry is simply the blanket term that gets applied to so many creators of all calibers. There are some really amazing creators out there, who have a tireless work ethic and a commitment to quality that rivals Marvel, DC, Image, Valiant, etc. But there are also some really terrible creators who have spent little to zero time learning their craft or the ins and outs of the industry. I think the fact that so many of these inexperienced creators try way too soon to get their voice heard reflects poorly on the state of the indy comic industry. This type of behavior is a major detriment to the people who are working so hard to learn and to do it right. I’ve seen this same scenario in the indy music scene. People feel like they learn to play a guitar or make a beat and they should suddenly be a rock star. Ego takes over and commitment to the craft is not even a concern to the artist. With all that being said, I don’t want to discourage newcomers from trying to learn and get into the industry. I just want to advise and caution these newcomers to take the time to learn, listen to criticism with an open mind, take it to heart, but then don’t stop working and trying to learn. Being a humble artist goes a long way, and I think that if more new creators would try to remain humble and spend more time with their heads down working, the whole indy comics industry would benefit to a great degree.
IM: In your opinion, how difficult is it for an independent creator to make a living today?
PB: Well, this may be one that I am not truly qualified to speak on, as I have yet to make a profit off of selling my own comics. On the flip side, I have had some great success marketing my writing and lettering skills to other folks for a fair wage. All that being said, as is similar with any creative vocation, it’s going to be pretty difficult for a while. I think that if any independent creators plan to make a living off selling their own original book, they may find this to be a very long uphill battle. Comic book fans don’t like new things. It’s just a fact, and if you plan to try to make it big off your own original idea, then I would tell you to expect to spend YEARS sinking your own money into paying printing costs, professionals, convention fees, shipping, etc., etc. If you have the gumption to complete a book, or even a few books in a series, then you might find some success in pitching your project to some of the smaller publishers, but this will still not be enough to make a living. More than anything, if you want to make it as a comic book creator, you have to diversify your portfolio and take every opportunity you can get. Build your portfolio, get out on the scene, go to cons, join every social media group, and then, after all that, expect to spend many years keeping up these activities before you make any good money. If the creator is willing to learn their craft and then offer that as a service to other creators, they may find that making a living off comics will be more viable. For instance, most of the funding for Those Shadow People has come from doing graphic design, writing, and lettering for other people, not always comic-related. Also, keep in mind that as an indy creator, you are basically a freelance worker and that has many of its own hurdles to deal with outside of comic-related obstacles. Taxes, health insurance, advertising, etc. are all concerns of a freelancer in any industry and you will need to prepare to deal with those, as well. I think that, for anyone trying to make it as an indy creator, you would be very wise to have a full-time job that can pay your rent and then plan on getting very little sleep, as you spend your early mornings and/or late nights and weekends to fulfill your comic book-related goals.
IM: Do you use social media? And if so, how has it helped in getting the word out about your work?
PB: Yes, I use social media religiously. And I have found it to be a major help in, not just getting the word out, but also helping me to develop my career in the comic book industry as a whole. If you come to social media with the goal of advertising your creation, you may not get much traction. Shameless self-promotion is so prevalent online that you’re going to have a really hard time getting anyone to really care about your project by just spamming the masses. In my experience, the best thing you can get out of social media is networking. I have met all of the artists I work with for Those Shadow People through Facebook and the comic book industry groups on Facebook. Also, I have met so many fellow creators who are doing fantastic work. These people inspire me to work harder and learn more every day. When I see what they are doing, I learn. And, in turn, I try very hard to spread the word about other creators’ projects. And, trust me, that goodwill comes back to you. I think that, if you approach social media the same way you approach most things in life, (and by that, I mean be polite, be humble, treat others the way you want to be treated), you will find success. But if you go on Facebook simply to spam your Kickstarter, well, then you may be disappointed by the results.
IM: What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish as a creator?
PB: At this point, the most important thing I hope to accomplish is that I get to tell my story, the whole story. Those Shadow People has a sprawling narrative that will take at least 12 issues to really unfold, and my big goal is to keep grinding until the “meat and potatoes” of that story has come to light. There are many tangents to be explored and next episodes that could take the helm after the main story, so I hope to take it even further, but more than anything, I just want to get the ideas out of my brain and on to the page. I have a few more ethereal goals, which are mainly to keep meeting and supporting the comic book creators and musicians out there. I think every day that I learn and grow, I have accomplished a major goal in my life. So more than anything, I just want to keep that going until the day I die.
IM: What are your future plans and where do you see your career in the next five years?
PB: In the future, I would like to work on another comic book project of my own creation that is not attached to a musical project. I never would have expected this when I first set out to make comics, but I really love the work. Adding the musical element to the equation makes the production exponentially more work and more expensive. It can be very tasking to complete just one release of this nature. So I think, for me, working on a comic alone would be liberating. In the next five years, I hope that I am doing much of the same activities, but just doing them better with more people and, ideally, spending a little less time at a day job and more time working on creative projects that truly inspire me to wake up in the morning. Also, I hope that within the next five years I could achieve a great dream of mine, which is to combine the music of Those Shadow People with animation based on the comics. This would bring my journey full circle back to the original inspiration I gleaned from Gorillaz, and I think that this execution of the project would really resonate with people and help to take the project to another level.
IM: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming an independent creator?
PB: I covered much of my opinion about this in a couple of the earlier questions, but hopefully, I can sum up that advice more succinctly here. My advice is this: Spend as much time consuming art as you spend creating it. If you want to make comics, read lots and lots of comics. Work harder than anyone you know to learn and practice your craft. If you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to be an illustrator, then draw. And do this as much as possible. I mean, every day. Don’t stop. Never take a break. If you can’t draw anymore, go to a museum, read a comic, watch a YouTube video that teaches you a new technique. More than anything else, stay humble. No matter how good you get, you can always get better. Your relationships are the key to your success, so never, ever treat someone in a way that your mother wouldn’t be proud of. Be kind, be honest, be true and just treat others like you would want to be treated. Being a decent person goes a long, long way in this industry (and all walks of life, for that matter). And remember, at the end of the day, no matter how bad someone treats you, take the higher road. Don’t take a bad experience as an excuse to become an asshole. If you get some harsh criticism about your work, just remember there is no such thing as bad publicity. At least someone took the time to look at your work, and that’s saying a lot these days. Also, one other thing: be prepared to spend some money. If you really want to make it, you can’t expect to get everything for free. Spend money on advertising and you build a relationship with that press outlet. Spend money on an inker who is better than you and your project will look better, but also, you have another person spreading the word about your work. I think the Beatles put it best when they sing in “The End,” the last song of their career together on Abbey Road, “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”
There are some comic book coffee houses popping up across America, where folks can relax to some music and read their favorite comic book. I think Those Shadow People would fit nicely into such a setting. I see only big things in the future for what I think is a great idea and a unique approach to merging two creative forms. I urge you to support this great creator.
More about the Interviewer: Everard J. McBain Jr.
Some say that civilization as we know it was constructed upon the foundation of storytelling. In ancient times, many different people groups communicated their culture and history down through each generation by telling stories. Steve Masseroni believes in the power of storytelling and hopes that he will be able to move people by telling his stories.
If there was such a thing as a resume-measuring contest, and the thought ever entered your mind to take part in such a contest, the last person you would want to go up against would be Steve Masseroni. The gentleman’s resume reads like a copy of Wired Magazine or The Wall Street Journal. He’s worked for some of the biggest names in the entertainment and technology industries. Some of his employers have included EA, Lucasfilm, and Disney. He is currently the creative executive producer for social media over at NVIDIA, a company that is the largest maker of graphic cards for high-end computers and film. Most of the Oscar-nominated movies you have seen were developed using the technology produced by NVIDIA. He hails from Silicon Valley, a place he affectionately refers to as the Center of The World, and has Google, Facebook, and Apple as his neighbors. Despite all of this, Steve still finds the time to pursue one of his major passions, graphic novels. I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve about his life, his current graphic novel project called The Silver Cord, and the independent comic book industry as a whole.
IM: Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and when you first realized you wanted to create comics?
SM: When I was six or seven years old, I used to go up to Sierra Nevada in a little town called Strawberry to visit my older cousin Dave for summer vacation. Dave had a cardboard box filled with Marvel and DC comics. Looking through those on summer days got me hooked. I started collecting my own comics pretty early. Being a child of the sixties, I saw a lot of the end of the comics that came out of the end of the silver age. My collection grew into just about 4000 comics, which I still own up to this day. Many unbroken series, including Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. They’re all plastic-bagged and everything. Initially, I was into superheroes, but then, in the early seventies I came across Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing and that blew my mind. I started getting into darker themes as I got older, like the Warren Magazine’s Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. So I got really enthused about comics.
Then I realized that I had artistic capabilities and I realized I wanted to become a comic book artist. So, at a very early age, I started visiting comic book conventions. At fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, I would set up my table in the artist section with all my crude drawings and whatnot. I started making friends with a few people who went on to become some of the biggest names in the business. Some of those were Arthur Adams, Mike Mignola, and Sam Keith. We all used to hang out. Sam Keith and I used to carpool to get to San Diego Comic-Con in the early days. I had a close encounter with Marvel at one of those conventions. I was only about sixteen years old when Al Milgrom, who was one of the editors of Marvel along with Jim Shooter, came to my table and was just gazing at my art. He liked what he saw and wanted to hire me. So we get to talking and he asked me “How old are you?” I say, “I’m sixteen”. He says, “Well, as a general policy, we don’t hire till you’re out of high school. So come back to us in a couple years.” So, at the time, it was flattering that I got noticed.
So what happened was, as I was still hanging around with these artists, I decided I was going to publish my own fanzine. So we got together and published our own fanzine called High Energy. It had a full-color cover and was about one hundred pages. We printed about two thousand copies. We billed it as some of fandom’s best young talent. Arthur Adams contributed a ten-page story. So my claim to fame there, if anyone wants to know who published some of Arthur Adams’ earliest work, it would be me. Every time I talk to him about that, we have a good laugh. Eventually, that fanzine got noticed by the Comic Book Journal and got a write-up in issue 77. We eventually got into some comic book stores. In those days, we didn’t have internet, so we used to snail mail the fanzine in manila envelopes to comic book shops and ask if they wanted to order. A lot of them ordered boxes. We even got a write-up in a comic book journal in Finland.
When I was about seventeen and eighteen, my fascination with superheroes started to wane and I started getting into more mature themes and independent comics. That was around the time when Pacific Comics and Image came out. Some of the independent comics houses who were trying to challenge the big boys. They were attracting professional artists. I wanted to work for Pacific Comics (aka PC). I had an interview with PC down at San Diego Comic-Con and they loved my work, but still passed on it. I then decided to retreat within my art studio and take a year to perfect my skill, so at the next Comic-Con, I would blow them away and they would have to hire me. What happened though, along the way, was I got into Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim. They were really hot, and they were publishing fan submissions in the back of their issues. So I and a few other writers decided to submit to that. While working on that submission, I attended a comic con at Berkeley and showed some of that work to Dean Mullaney and Catherine Yronwode, who at the time were the chief editors of Eclipse Comics. They said they wanted to hire me. Everything happened really fast. We met with them and it turned out they wanted me to do the cover of their premier magazine, Eclipse Monthly. I also did a ten-page story called Steel, Stealth, and Magic. It was a really big deal. By the time the 1984 Comic-Con came around, the issue had come out with my story. Arthur Adams got picked up by Marvel. Sam Keith got picked up by Image. We all broke in at the same time. It was a great summer.
After all of that, after everything I had finally worked for had happened, I walked away from it all. The walk-away came because, at that time, you know that big question about the meaning of life, came upon me really strong. I went through some serious soul-searching. I had to know, what was the meaning of life? So I walked away from it all. I had just broken in, I had great promise, but I walked away. So for the next 20 years, I just did various odd jobs. I was a construction worker, I worked at a restaurant. I even became a home nurse. It was all part of a spiritual journey of soul-searching. I had no desire for comic books or art. For 20 years, there was nothing. Except for one thing. Every three or four years, I would stop into a comic book shop to trace the careers of my contemporaries, Arthur Adams, Sam Keith and Mike Mignola. Those guys have become huge over the years. The only one I was able to get in touch with was Arthur Adams.
IM: Ok, so how did you get back into comics after all that time?
SM: Fast forward to 2003. I got introduced to Kevin Kelly, who is the co-founder of Wired Magazine, among other things. He found out that I had a history in comics. So one day while having lunch, he asked me if I had ever thought about doing graphic novels. He’s a futurist and he said that all his data suggested that the genre would really explode in popular culture. My short answer was, “No. I’m done with comic books, let’s move on.” So, I went to the graphic novel section of a bookstore with my three-year old son and I saw Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. I thought to myself, “I can do this again.” It wasn’t a comparison of me and Mike, but me thinking that I could, once again, get into comics. So, I went home that day and I said to my wife, “I can’t say to my son with full confidence to live out your dreams, if I haven’t really lived out mine”. I told her I wanted to go back and give it a try one more time. Another thing that happened was I got a letter from a fan who came across my High Energy fanzine that I published twenty years ago, and who followed my brief career with the work I did at Eclipse. They wanted to know what happened to me. I read that, I looked at my son’s eyes, and thought about Kevin Kelly saying his research pointed to a graphic novel explosion.” So I went back to Kevin Kelly, and I said, “I want to do a graphic novel.” He said, “Ok. Let’s do it.”
We started doing our research. We looked at the big guys, Marvel and DC. We even looked at Image and a few others. We always got hooked up on the creative rights. We wanted to control our own intellectual property. So Kevin said, “Let’s skip the conventional means and go straight to the New York publishers and sell it to them.” Kevin’s literary agent is John Brockman. He had a great deal of connections. He’s the literary agent for Richard Dawkins. At the time, their particular clientele had everything to do with science. They had nothing to do with fiction or graphic novels. He was fascinated by the idea of trying it. The short story is that he got us a huge deal with Simon & Schuster for a multi-graphic novel series. It was called The Silver Cord. John is also a futurist. At the time, e-books were only just beginning to emerge. He negotiated with the publishers for us to own all the digital rights. They had no problem with that, because at the time, digital was nothing. So that was a wise move. The other benefit of going the New York route was we would get their distribution muscle and we would also be in the mainstream. At the time, you could only get comics in comic book stores. At the time, Diamond controlled all of that. They still do. We wanted to go around that, and we did with the New York deal.
I got together a team of concept artists and writers from Pixar and Industrial Light and Magic who were friends of mine, and we spent an entire year working on concepts. We had everything when we presented the concept of The Silver Cord to Simon & Shuster. They bought it. So, once we had the deal, and they gave us a huge advance, I quit my job and, for the next couple years, we worked on getting this 200-page book finished. At the same time, my friends from Pixar were just finishing up their work on The Incredibles and writing the first Cars movie. They were a husband-and-wife couple and they were also having their first baby. So, the project was delayed for two years. Within those two years, the editors who bought our project at Simon & Shuster moved on to another company. So we lost our in-house champion. No one told us. Our project was passed on to another editor who did not know or care about it. Also at that time, Oprah’s book of the month club was pretty popular, and all the publishing houses were jonesing to get their authors on Oprah’s show. All the publishers were re-organizing their inventory to suit Oprah’s taste. So the next time I checked in with them, I found out that they had no more graphic novels, and they had dropped us. Not only that, they wanted their advance back.
SM: Yeah! We were like, “Are you insane? It’s two years into it.” So, to make a long story short, we settled. They basically said, if we sold it to another publisher, that publisher would have to pay back the advance. Remember, though, when the contract was negotiated, we got the rights to our intellectual property for all digital. That meant we could self-publish. What also happened is that, over the years, the entire industry got turned on its head and in favor of independents. Publishers were now approaching independents and asking them, “Can we publish you?”
So, with them dropping us, I had to go back to work and put the book on hold, so I could stabilize my financial situation. That was a blessing in disguise. I got into the entertainment industry and I got to work at EA, Lucasfilm, and Disney. So, my art career was fast-tracked. Not in comics, but in other areas. So in 2010, Kevin Kelly says we should try to finish the first book. So we did it different this time. We went to DeviantArt, and solicited an artist. So we finished Book One. So it’s finished, now what do we do with it? We passed it around to a few publishers, but remember, we still had the old contract hanging over our heads. So, we decided to bypass the publisher and go straight to the fans. We started a Kickstarter campaign in June of 2012. We did something different than what others were doing at the time. We actually did not ask for money. We said, we are going to give you something we’ve already made, which was Book One as a downloadable PDF. If you like what you’ve read and you want to help us finish the story, fund us. We did it and we got a great result. We got forty-five thousand dollars to finish the second book. We got another writer from Hollywood and expanded our art team. So, along the way, you know how we talked about publishers now going to success stories? Well, PGW book distributors, one of the largest independent book distributors in the world, got wind of Silver Cord and they decided to pick us up. Their sales agents were able to get us advance sales of 2500 copies. For an independent publisher with someone unknown, that was a risk. But bookstores bought it. The advance sales helped us scale up our product. We got world-class printing and a major distribution, all because of that Kickstarter. The best thing is, we still own everything top to bottom. So that’s the story of how it all got started.
IM: That’s a fascinating and inspirational story. So, who are the people that most influenced you as an artist?
SM: Bernie Wrightson of Swamp Thing. Barry Windsor-Smith from Marvel’s Conan. Michael Kaluta from the Shadow, and Jeffrey Jones, who was a great artist. All four of these guys, for one brief moment in history, all worked together in a studio in New York called The Studio. Frank Frazetta was another one. Also Neil Adams and Al Williamson.
IM: What is your motivation to draw/create and keep on creating?
SM: Storytelling. There are stories in me that I need to express. There is so much in me that I want to unfold and unpack before I die. I also want to move people through stories. I think that’s a noble expression: to move people emotionally. If you have the power to do that with a story, I think that’s a special interaction between the storyteller and the audience. Our whole civilization, I believe, is based on storytelling and fantastic storytellers. It goes all the way back to the story weavers of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
IM: Tell us about your first book. What was the experience like?
SM: Well there were two. My fanzine High Energy was great, because I was in high school and had no responsibilities. So I was free to work on that and it was great. Working for Eclipse was special in the sense that it was my first professional debut and all that’s attached to that. That was a magical time. Then working on Silver Cord. It’s worked out fine, but initially, it was a very agonizing experience. I tell people that it wasn’t the hardest thing to do, but it was the hardest thing to get to do. There were so many obstacles. The financial strain, the things that we went through as a young family was not nice. But it worked out.
SM: Very simply it was this. Going back to Kevin Kelly, he once showed me some bonus features of the first Matrix movie. They were doing an interview with Keanu Reeves. Keanu was talking about some things Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and he had to do to prepare for the movie. He said, even before they could read the script, there were some books they had to read. One of those books was called Out of Control by Kevin Kelly. I saw the movie and read his book. Whole chapters on concepts were used by the Wachowski brothers. He also conceptualized some of the stuff from Minority Report. So, I thought, if we’re going to do a graphic novel, we have to use it as a vehicle to get some of Kevin’s ideas into popular culture. So, at the time he was fascinated with this whole concept of parallel universes. Quantum physics. Particles and how they interact with each other. So his idea was a mashup of parallel universes, quantum physics, robotics, human consciousness and artificial intelligence. It hovered around fact/fiction. There’s a rule we all follow when it comes to high concepts of science fiction. That is the willing suspension of disbelief. We all do it. If we didn’t, we would immediately dismiss this as impossible. So, what we wanted to do was add a second rule. A post-experience rule. That is after they finish reading the book, they walk away going, “Could this be true?”
So our story elements all create entry points for certain people. If you’re a new-ager, or religious, or a quantum physicist, or a futurist, or into robotics, or a teen who feels no one understands them, or a mystic, there’s a point of entry for you in The Silver Cord. Peter Schwartz is a well-known futurist and atheist. He read the book, loved it, gave us a great write-up. He said the book had him thinking.
IM: What is your assessment of today’s independent comic book industry, and what do you think the industry needs?
SM: I think it’s very healthy. There is so much inventory. Comixology is helping a lot with independents. Crowdfunding is also helping. The industry needs more, attention I think. Social media can play a big role in that. That type of viral awareness that’s possible with Social Media.
IM: Let me get your perspective on this. Some have suggested the independent comic book industry has gone beyond the independents. Take Image, for example. With huge titles such as The Walking Dead and Spawn, Image is so big, they’ve become out of reach for the common independent man who has a book he wants to pitch to them. How do you feel about that?
SM: Yes, I would agree with that. I think what’s happening is a redefinition of what an independent is. It’s almost as though once an independent gets big enough, it almost becomes mainstream and ceases to be independent. The industry is so fluid and dynamic, and it is still being defined. There’s a lot of room for new methods and processes. So you have a lot of Kickstarter millionaires. Not the ones who are already famous and come to Kickstarter, but the ones who were relatively unknown before they came to Kickstarter. The middlemen are being stripped out of the equation. So, there is room for new models of distribution and new ideas. Now you can go directly to your fans. Now creators can own their own properties like never before.
SM: That’s a quick answer. It’s way easier. There are far more options available now for independent comic book artists than there were before. It’s a lot easier now. If you’re still trying to get hired by the big guys, well that’s a different story. But I believe if you’re talented, people will find their way to you. Talent makes a way for itself. Kevin Kelly came up with a concept a few years ago, even before crowd sourcing came about, called One Thousand True Fans. The basic idea is, “What is a true fan?” A true fan is someone who will follow your career, drive a hundred miles to your small concert venue, and buy all your CDs. Let’s put a number on it. Let’s say a true fan is someone who will spend one hundred dollars a year on you. Let’s say you have one thousand of them. Ok, you now have one hundred thousand dollars a year. You are self-sufficient. You don’t need anyone in the middle. So what I’m saying is. If you can find a thousand true fans, you can make a living. The task is finding those true fans. Awareness through avenues like Indyfest is part of that.
Look at Silver Cord, for example. For our second book we took it to DeviantArt to build our team. We recruited people from all over the world. Our colorist is in Argentina. We have another artist from France. We had another from New Jersey. Their work is world-class. It would have been very difficult for them to have been discovered by conventional means. Technology is so much better than it was up to five years ago. I worked on Silver Cord on my laptop for the last two years while traveling for my real job all over the world.
IM: Do you use social media, and how has it helped in getting the word out about your work?
SM: Yes, yes and yes. Social media is the driving force behind building awareness. We’re having this conversation right now because of social media. In fact in recent months I’ve shifted my career. I was a video producer and now I’m an executive producer for social media at a tech company in Silicon Valley. Social media is going to be the big thing for the next five to ten years. There are going to be things that emerge that we can’t even imagine. It’s all about reaching your fans in media channels.
SM: Again, it’s moving people with stories. The story is the most important. The art is secondary. You can move people with stick figure art if your story is powerful. The real art is the art of the story. The most important thing I can do as a creator is tell a damn good story. If I fail there, it doesn’t matter how great the art is, how great the special effects are, it has to have a soul. If it has no soul, it’s dead. It’s hollow.
IM: What are your future plans and where do you see your career as a comic book creator in the next five years?
SM: Well, I don’t have a career plan, but I do have a wish. We have something in social media circles called “User Generated Content” or UGC. Others call it fan-fiction. I would love for fans to take Silver Cord and create their own stories. That will happen if Silver Cord becomes part of the lexicon of popular culture. Once it does, the next step will be fan-created content. That’s our ultimate goal. No controlling art team, but fans. I would love fans to take and re-invent the story. Take these characters and create your own worlds. We want to hatch this universe, let it become recognized by a core fan base and, once that happens, critical mass will occur on its own. Some might call that a plan, but it’s not really a plan; it’s more like a wish.
SM: One thing I tell my kids is it’s never too late. I’m in my fifties. It’s never too late to have success with your dreams. It’s only been in the last seven years that I’ve emerged as a mark in the entertainment industry as a comic book creator. So it’s never too late to have success late in life.
Speaking with Steve was a very inspirational experience. To see someone who was so passionate about comics walk away from that and then, twenty years later, return to it and regain the success he once sought is indeed a great motivation to me personally, and I’m sure to everyone who would read his story. Check out Silver Cord and support this independent project.
You can connect with Steve at the following links.
More from our Interviewer, Everard J. McBain Jr.