Tag Archives: Louise Cochran-Mason

98 Deadraiser

Deadraiser and Someday Productions

By Louise Cochran-Mason

keeley3Stephanie C. Lyons-Keeley and Wayne J. Keeley have recently published a co-written novel, Horror in Jordan’s Bank, which is part on of their Deadraiser series. Between them, they have written, produced and directed a wide array of projects for print, stage and screen.

Indyfest spoke to Stephanie and Wayne about their work.

IM: Can you tell us more about the Deadraiser series?

Keeleys: The Deadraiser series began with some old news stories about these cults who were practising Necromancy–the ancient art of attempting to raise the dead. For example, one cult was found with a cadaver that they were using in their rituals. What was odd–and also documented–was the fact that the cadaver did not show any signs of decay. So the books actually were inspired by true events. A draft was written in the early 80s and left on a shelf. The original title was The Necromancer. When we got together as a writing team, we decided to dust it off and update it. At that time, we saw the strong possibility of it becoming a series and/or franchise. We’ve been told that it conjures up the classic horror novels of the past, which may be because the original was written in the 80s. It also has an archetypical structure: good versus evil with innocence in between.

IM: When is next instalment of Deadraiser due out?

Keeleys: Our plan is to allow Part 1: Horror in Jordan’s Bank to gain a little traction. We hope to really get the hype up to a frenzy around Halloween. Once things settle down, we expect to release Part 2: Rise of the Necromancer before the holidays. We’ll likely do a similar release pattern with Parts 3 and 4, spacing them out about every three months.

IM: Is it your first book?

Keeleys: We have co-written another novel, which currently is under print contract with a publisher. Wayne also has another novel (Mahogany Row Murders Series) he published a number of years ago which was re-released with edits by Stephanie. Finally, we have two manuscripts that are works in progress: a self-help book and a celebrity memoir.

IM: Did you self-publish it?

keeley1Keeleys: Someday Productions LLC published it, a company which Stephanie owns. It is technically not a self-published book, although it certainly is an indy-published book. Someday is debuting its first offering with this novel, but Stephanie has plans to publish other books and produce films under the Someday imprint.

IM: Can you tell us about Someday Productions LLC?

Keeleys: Someday Productions LLC is a media entertainment company and all that it implies. Someday will be publishing books, producing films, TV shows, and other programming. It already has produced several Off-Off-Broadway plays. As a corollary, Pillow Talking, a highly successful media blog, was formed under Someday’s umbrella. The blog has an amazing reach and generates 400,000 to 500,000 documented hits/visits per month. The sites for Someday and Pillow Talking are: www.somedayprods.com and www.somedayprods.com/talking.

IM: What was the other novel you wrote together?

Keeleys: We wrote a novel titled Triptych: All In, which is based upon a screenplay of the same name. In all forms, this is a project which is near and dear to us. The second-ever joint endeavor of our many past, present, and future works. Wayne wrote an original draft of the screenplay, originally titled Triptych, a year or so before we met. I have since made several edits, changes, and additions, and we’ve been working hard, but being very selective with whom we share the script, which has won many awards. We decided that the common book-before-the-film scenario might work well for us, so we adapted the screenplay into a literary work.

IM: Can you tell us more about the self-help book and celebrity memoir?

Keeleys: The self-help book is titled Beyond the Bucket List: Your Life’s Peak Experiences, and it is about going for the gusto now, instead of the usual course whereby many people wait until they’ve had near-death experiences or even terminal diagnoses. Living a positive life and having “peak experiences” is based upon psychologist Abraham Maslow’s idea of self-actualization and fulfilling one’s individual potential through transcendent moments of pure joy and elation. Wayne’s oldest son Wyatt has muscular dystrophy; I’m a psychotherapist and professor of psychology—we have a lot of vested interest in the subject.

The celebrity memoir is about Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated actress/icon Sally Kirkland. About a year ago, we interviewed her for our blog Pillow Talking, and have since formed a relationship with her. She asked us to pen her memoirs and we’ve had multiple conversations with her; we also are utilizing her bounty of journals and diaries. She is a fascinating woman, who has lived through many challenges, and has worked with countless legends in the business.

IM: Do you have any films or plays in the pipeline?

keeley2Keeleys: As I mentioned, we are always hoping for lightning in a bottle—as for film scripts, we have Triptych, as well as a comedy-bromance script in the hands of a few people. In addition, we have no less than a half-dozen other scripts ready to go.

With regard to plays, we have a powerful work we wrote called Dark Rift, for which we’d hoped to have a staged reading in October, but the wonderful venue we’d chosen unexpectedly closed, so we’re back at square one. We have another play we’ve staged several times called Waiting for the Sun, but currently, it’s on the shelf alongside the multiple one-acts we’ve penned, produced, and directed (summer of 2015 was a big season for us in NYC, where we launched many of them Off-Off-Broadway and both placed and won in a few competitions). It is tough to be so diversified—we just cannot find the time to launch everything in all genres!

IM: Is it difficult to alternate between script and prose writing?

Keeleys: Not difficult, but there are differences. With scripts, it’s almost like you’re creating an outline—you know you’ve got to leave certain things out and allow a director to fill in the blanks. With prose, you have to give your reader more, since there will not eventually be that visual to go along with the words you’ve written.

Once we get ourselves in the mindset of each type of writing, we simply write. It’s like changing gears. We are creative people and we need to get in “the zone” as we like to call it—then we are full-speed ahead with anything which happens to be in our current focus. We tune out other projects in order to be most effective in whatever it is we’re doing.

IM: Is writing plays very different to writing for the screen?

Keeleys: Stage and screen are similar in that you’ll have a director’s input, but with plays, you have to consider that there won’t be camera angles and close ups and all the real-life sets and situations of film—therefore, you have to think about more “make believe” and creative ways to express what an actor is thinking or feeling. In some ways, you have to create more magic—but that’s incredibly fun and imaginative.

IM: Is your blog part of the company or more of a hobby?

Keeleys: The blog was intended to facilitate Someday Productions’ projects. To a certain extent, it was never intended to be a mass media content outlet. You never know in this business when lightning in a bottle strikes and, to our surprise, the blog took off and really has an independent life of its own—it keeps us VERY busy! We review theatre, film, television, books, music, etc. We write nearly everything in a “He Said/She Said” format. This really has caught on with our readers and the venues for whom we review. We also have reviewers who guest review for us, including video games, comic books, and occasionally, some other entertainment works. In addition, we have guest bloggers who share their professional expertise on a variety of subjects. We expect Pillow Talking to continue to increase in reach and exposure.

IM: What impact has new technology (i.e. the Internet) had on your business over the years?

Keeleys: The internet has made research easier in all ways, and that includes how we incorporate elements into our works. Everything is at the touch of a keyboard. The internet has allowed writers quicker and more efficient ways to reach out to others in the business, and given us more options for getting our work out there to more people, while relying less on the outmoded ways peddling your wares by making phone calls and snail-mailing manuscripts or scripts. But that’s good and bad; it’s also increased the competition, saturating the market. No matter what, cream rises to the top, and if you have a good product, the hope is that people will find it, read it, or see it—and love it.

As for our blog, the entire face of it is internet-based. We market like crazy and are fortunate that it has garnered us 400,000–500,000 hits/visits per month. We’ve also been extremely lucky to have had the pleasure of meeting countless incredible artists and talents as a result; we wouldn’t have had those opportunities come so easily if it weren’t for the web. We are so grateful that we have that many people coming to our site to read our words—and then coming back again and again.

IM: Do you produce films, as well as connecting film-makers with investors?

Keeleys: We are always searching for the next project and in these kinds of talks. (If you know anything about the film business, projects are always “hurry up and wait,” and many also fall by the wayside, even when they seem to be a sure thing.) But more to your question, when you produce any type of media that requires an investment on any level, it’s inevitable that relationships and/or connections with investors are formed.

IM: How does the process work for filmmakers? Do they approach you?

Keeleys: We sometimes reach out, and also are very open to hearing from other writers and film-makers. We always keep our eyes open for potential projects that we can either become involved with at a writing level, a producing level, or at some other level of creative involvement.

IM: What are your backgrounds?

Keeleys: Stephanie is an award-winning writer, director, and producer. She has a Master of Arts in counseling psychology, was formerly a practising psychotherapist, and director of a women’s work release facility. She currently is a professor of psychology at two Connecticut colleges. The field serves as a big part of her creative endeavours.

Stephanie also is a journalist, writer, editor and, together with her husband Wayne, has penned countless works for film, theatre, TV, and the literary world. Together they have created a production company, Someday Productions LLC and a highly successful “He Said/She Said” blog called Pillow Talking, which may be found at www.somedayprods.com/talking. Most importantly, they have seven beautiful children between them.

Wayne is an Emmy award-winning writer, director, and producer. He is an attorney with a LLM from NYU. He teaches film-making and communications at Western Connecticut State University, and has taught at Fordham University, Audrey Cohen College, Baruch College, and Bronx Community College. He has created many programs and documentaries that have appeared on television, and have been distributed to schools, libraries, and home video. He is a published author of the novel Mahogany Row. He is married to Stephanie C. Lyons-Keeley, his writing partner and muse. His full bio can be found on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_keeley.

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97 Order’s Last Play

E Ardell

By Louise Cochran-Mason

harris2California based writer E. Ardell has recently released her first novel The Fourth Piece. It is the first instalment of her Order’s Last Play series. She has been doing lots of promotion—including radio and TV appearances—as well as working on her next book.

She tells Indyfest more about it.

IM: What is The Fourth Piece about?

EA: I love this question, but I also hate answering it, because I’m prone to rambling! I usually tell people: hold on! Let me pull up the summary and then do a dramatic reading. Since I can’t do the dramatic reading…

Here it is:

Admitting what you are will end everything you know. Embracing who you are will start a war… Life is great when you’re good-looking and popular… so long as no one knows you’re a vulatto. Being half-alien gets you labeled “loser” quicker than being a full vader. So it’s a good thing Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence can easily pass for human—until the night of the party. Nothing kills a good time faster than three brothers sharing a psychic vision of a fourth brother who’s off-world and going to die unless they do something. But when your brother’s emergency happens off-planet, calling 9-1-1 really isn’t an option. 

In their attempt to save a brother they barely remember, Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence expose themselves to mortal danger and inherit a destiny that killed the last four guys cursed with it. In 2022, there are humans and aliens, heroes and monsters, choices and prophecies—and four brothers with the power to choose what’s left when the gods decide they’re through playing games.

IM: It’s part of a series (Order’s Last Play); when is the next instalment due out?

harris3EA: Hopefully, it will be out around the same time next year (July 2017). If it could be out sooner, that’d be great. However, I have been a naughty writer, so I’m not even done with Book II (The Third Gambit) yet. I hope to have a complete manuscript by the end of November. I’m a fast writer when I just sit down and do it, so I just need to do it, lol.

IM: Can you tell us more about the brothers?

EA: Sure! I love talking about characters, though I do worry about spoilers, lol. So I will try not to do too much of that.

The main characters in this book are three Earth-born brothers, who are also vulattos (half-alien) though they aren’t entirely sure of this fact until the events of the story happen. There’re Devon and Lyle, who are twins, 17 years old, high school seniors.

Devon is an athlete who comes off as headstrong and self-absorbed with this driving need to be as normal as possible. Being popular and well-liked is manna to him, because it distances him from rumors that he may be a passing vulatto (vulattos who look human, and so pretends to be to fit in). It also distances him from his twin brother Lyle, who couldn’t care less about fitting in. Devon’s hiding a power that scares him, and he thinks he controls it well, but every now and then he slips up, and something breaks.

Lyle is a telempath (a telepath and an empath) with telekinetic and some precognitive abilities as well. He hates people, family excluded, because he can’t help but hear their thoughts and feel their emotions and their duplicity makes him sick. He had a telepathic uncle who taught him a few tricks on how to make mental barriers, but the barriers are amateurish and not nearly to protect someone with Lyle’s strong abilities. He’s afraid he’s going to go as crazy as his uncle has and commit suicide one day. When he was 15, he discovered that kissing, hugging, and other things like these can create a temporary state of psychic bliss for him; the emotions he channels from the other person are like large bandages dripped in Novocain for his mind and so, he craves it. He dates a lot, but after a while, the significant others’ thoughts do get to him (as he only chooses what he considers easy marks, so shallow people), and he moves on. He feels alone with no one to talk to about his problems because Devon, his best friend, shunned him when they started high school, and Lyle’s been withdrawn ever since.

Lawrence, the youngest, is a 16-year- old adrenaline junkie. He loves doing stunts that could get him killed, maimed or grounded. If the MTV show Ridiculousness would still be on in 2022, Lawrie (Lawrence) would be on it. He’s a genius, always placed in gifted classes, yet his antics lead his mother to believe he cheated on the IQ tests. He loves taking electronics apart and computer programming. He can paraphrase just about everything he’s ever read and he remembers most details about things he’s seen. He’s the joker of the group, who makes up his own slang and doesn’t care if the world thinks he’s weird. He embraces it, and people seem to love him for it. Sometimes, Devon watches Lawrie and wishes he could be more like him when it comes to just not caring about other people’s opinions. Lawrie doesn’t like to see people hurt or discriminated against and he’s not the kind of person to just sit back and watch. Which is what gets him into the most trouble.

IM: Is the book told from multiple first person POVs (like Dracula)?

harris1EA: Yes, the book is told from the perspective of each brother. I do not POV-switch during a chapter. I hate when books do that, lol. Instead each brother gets a full chapter and the chapter titles are their names, so you’ll know who’s telling the story when.

IM: What are “The Order and the Chosen Four”?

EA: Now, this is a spoiler, lol. Order is a goddess. The world of The Fourth Piece is vast. The brothers know that there are multiple dimensions (different universes), and that they live in a universe full of many different populated planets and galaxies. A lot of the planets are much older than Earth, so the societies are older, and so on. Back in the Prophetic Cycles (a fancy term that can be likened to us saying BCE), many cultures worshipped what are now known as Old World gods (think Greece and Rome). Interplanetary holy wars broke out. Tentative planetary allegiances were formed and a group of exemplary leaders were drawn to a certain place by a power none of them questioned at the time. They met with the goddess Order (her true goddess name is unknown in this book) who had a mission for them. She offered them tokens of great power if they’d do her the favor of killing her son (known as Pandemic, true god name unknown in this book 😉 ). She claims that he’s the reason behind the wars, because his godly influence is tainting people and making them bloodthirsty. She predicts that the leaders she’s chosen, her Champions (Order’s Champions) will succeed in killing her son and will win the war. She gifts three warrior monarchs with weapons, she gives an all-female oligarchy (three women) presents to increase their magic, and lastly, she gives the Four of Rema (Rema is a younger planet but an up-and- coming political power in the recently-formed Silver Allegiance of Planets and the Four, the planet’s newly appointed young leaders, also brothers) stones that enhance their natural abilities. She also gives them the Burden. Their decisions, whether they be right or wrong, big or small, can turn the tide of the war. The Four fail at their task, the war is left unfinished, and so the prophecy came about, claiming that the Four would be reborn and when they returned, the second endgame to determine the outcome of Order and Pandemic would begin.

The Four have been reborn.

IM: Racism and racial discrimination seems to blight the characters’ lives on Earth. Do they face it on the other planets as well (being half human)?

EA: They haven’t actually been to any other planets at this point, but yes. When they do eventually travel, there are races that look down upon humans. But more so than that, there are races who simply resent the boys for who they are and what they represent: a return to holy wars (which were ancient history). People don’t even really believe in the gods anymore by this point, and now this?

One review (Amazon) mentioned an episode— told from the first person POV— where one of the brothers used their abilities to force a woman to touch them. It states that that character was not punished.

IM: Did the reviewer have it completely wrong?

EA: No, she was right. What he did was wrong and he knows it. He doesn’t seem to get punished in this book, because no one knows about it but him, Devon, and Nisse, none of whom are talking about it… yet.

IM: Was it difficult to write something like that from the point of view of the attacker?

EA: Not at all. Mainly because from his point-of- view, he was not attacking. This is another spoiler, but in this particular chapter, the character is at his breaking point and clearly losing it. The character assaulted did have romantic inclinations towards Lyle and did want intimacy but, moments later, was so disgusted by something else he’d done, she changed her mind and wanted to leave. Lyle changed her mind back, making her forget that he’d scared her. At that point, he believed that he was doing them both a favor. He needed the contact to soothe his mind and strained powers and hopefully stave off future insanity, and Nisse had wanted comfort and contact after a traumatic experience. The telempathic bliss Lyle gets from contact goes both ways, so the other party feels as good as he does. However, when it’s over and Lyle releases his hold on Nisse, he’s horrified over his actions, and Nisse remembers what he’d made her forget and knows what he’s done.

IM: Is Lyle’s behaviour here something that he will regret or does it allude to him being a villain?

EA: No. He’s not a villain. He will always carry the guilt, and he doesn’t know what to do to get rid of it. Nisse hates him. He does turn to more destructive means to cure himself and will travel down a dark road. There are also repercussions for what he’s done to Nisse and how he’s misused his powers.

IM: What is your background?

EA: Are you ready for my scroll? Actually, no, the more writers I meet, the more inferior I feel when it comes to qualifications and experience. I have a bachelor’s in psychology and creative writing, and then found out that I could not get a job with those things alone, but hey, I could teach at the college level with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. So, I applied and was accepted to a few MFA programs, but chose to attend the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast) because they had a program specifically for writers of popular fiction. The program is low residency, so I was only there for a few weeks in the summer and winter, and did the rest through correspondence with the mentors I was assigned to each semester. All mentors are successfully published authors. Upon graduation from Stonecoast, I realized, I STILL couldn’t get a job with my degrees. To teach at the college level, you have to have something called “experience,” along with an impressive publishing history. I had neither, so I enrolled in an alternative certification program and became a high school English teacher. I taught freshman English for a grand total of one year before I quit and went to library school. I’ve worked for two years in academic libraries and three years in public libraries. My current position is at Monterey Public Library. I am the Teen and Reference Services Librarian, and I love it.

This job allows me time to write, keeps me in touch with the YA audience, and gives me networking opportunities and access to multitudes of the newest YA fiction.

That’s my professional career in a nutshell. As a writer, I’ve always written. I wrote my first illustrated short story in first grade, attempted my first novel in second grade, and never quit. I’ve been a member of various writers critique groups and currently host a weekly group in Monterey, CA, an online group, as well as a Teen Writing Club for Monterey Public Library.

IM: Why did you choose to publish under a pen name?

EA: It’s not only a personal decision, but a business decision. It was a personal decision, because I’ve always dreamed of using E. Ardell as my pen name (ever since I was a kid). I love my middle name and used to put “Eboni Ardell” on everything, my letter jacket, my pens, anything that could be monogrammed. Kids at school actually thought Ardell WAS my last name. I’ve never liked the last name Harris. Kids used to tease me (of course :D) and call me Ebenezer Hair-ball among other things (and yes, it took me a long time to like the name Eboni, too). But ever since then, Harris has had a stigma for me, lol.

It was a business decision, because while I was getting my MFA in Creative Writing, one of my mentors, David Anthony Durham, who is also African American, informed me that ethnicity can hurt your sales if you are not writing to an African American niche market. A lot of authors use pseudonyms and initials so that readers will have a harder time determining their gender. I use my pseudonym because it is not only gender neutral, but ethnically neutral.

IM: What do you think the advantage of using a publisher rather than self-publishing your book?

EA: There are a LOT of things I didn’t have to figure out how to do on my own. Cover art, formatting, interior design, editorial services, promotional images, and PR consultation are handled by the publisher. All of these things can be extremely expensive if you’re doing it on your own. Publishers also handle pricing, posting editions on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, etc., the printing of books, discounts for library and bookseller purchases, and finally, peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about forgetting something small… or vital… because the publisher handled it. The publisher even does PR through social media.

I know people who are successfully self-published, but everything falls on them. They have to be so organized, and, if they want to go all out with production and promotions, well-funded. I’m just too lazy for all of that. :D.

IM: You are doing a lot of promotion for The Fourth Piece (readings, panels, signings, and TV and radio appearances). Do you arrange everything yourself or does the publisher (or anyone) assist you with promotion?

EA: The publisher handles some of the social media promotions, but I arranged for the other things myself. Promotion and marketing of a book is no joke. If the author doesn’t stay on it and help out, I don’t think the book will do well. Some of the best promotion I’ve discovered is through word of mouth, and to establish that, you have to get out there. I’m fortunate to have met many wonderful people through writers groups and networks (both online and physically), and at my workplace, who have reached out to help me make connections and book events.

I thought writing the book and getting it published would be the hardest part of the process. I’m finding PR to be the toughest beast instead. You can write a sensational book, but if no one knows about it, no one will buy it.

IM: Do you still write fan fiction?

EA: Haha, I really shouldn’t, because I should be working on Book II in the series, but yes, I still write fan fiction. I have way too much fun writing it. In fact, I had to put myself through fan-fic- writing detox, because I would work on it more than my book. A few years ago, it was a true problem. I was only writing fan fiction and ignoring my original ideas. I secretly think it’s because I was tired of getting rejected by agents and publishers, and being given negative feedback in critique groups. I’d lost confidence in my writing abilities. In the fan fiction world, I earned some validation. Feedback was immediate, and while not all of it was positive, a lot of it soothed my damaged ego. Since then, I’ve grown thicker skin, but still. I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing fan fiction.

IM: Have you written short fiction other than fan fiction?

EA: No, I sure haven’t. I respect anyone who can write short stories, because I can’t. Everything I write ends up being a novel or part of one. I mainly think this is because I just don’t want to write short stories. Why go through all the trouble of creating characters and a new world just to say goodbye in a few pages? It’s not for me. Heck, I have trouble saying goodbye after 400 pages, so I don’t. Everything of mine will always end with the possibility of continuation.

IM: You have a blog, too. Is it specifically about your writing process, or life in general?

EA: You know, the blog is random, because so am I. Sometimes, I talk about writing and editing and how my book’s doing. I talk about the trials and tribulations of book promotion and the kind of music I turn on when I write. Other times, I talk about movies, TV shows, books I’m reading, or random thoughts and actions. Sometimes, I might even talk about an event that happened that day that was just too weird to not say anything about.

WEBLINKS

www.EArdell.com

https://eardell.com/blog/

www.48fourteen.com

https://www.fanfiction.net/u/51892/Eboni

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95 Raising Dragons

By Louise Cochran-Mason

JamesArtVille-4James Art Ville is a graphic designer and digital illustrator from Oregon. He has worked both on his own projects (including some with his writer wife Shiloh Ville), and as an artist for hire on other people’s.

His has provided art for numerous companies including:

His YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/jamesartville) has several QuickDraw sequential art demonstrations, as well as a trailer for Raising Dragons.

James talked to Indyfest about his work and future plans.

IM: What is Raising Dragons about?

JAV: Raising Dragons is a story about dragon heritage and survival. Thousands of years ago, Merlin saved the dragon race from the bloodthirsty slayers, by turning them into humans. Now, in modern times, these long living “dragons” have married normal humans and produced offspring with dragon traits. A boy learns he has dragon breath and meets a girl who was born with dragon wings. They work together to escape the clutches of a modern-day slayer who wants nothing more than to rid the Earth of all dragons and their half-breed children.

IM: Was Raising Dragon a work-for-hire job, or are you a co-creator?

JamesArtVille-7JAV: It was definitely a work-for-hire. In 2013, I was commissioned by author Bryan Davis to adapt his first novel, Raising Dragons (published in 2004) as a graphic novel. My wife Shiloh Ville adapted the original novel to fit nicely into 150 pages in comic book format. I illustrated the book using her script adaptation.

IM: Who is the target audience for Raising Dragons?

JAV: The book is targeted for a general audience aged 12 or higher. Readers who love a good wholesome fantasy story, such as fans of the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, will appreciate this story the most.

IM: What is Beelzebed about?

JAV: Beelzebed is a children’s book that Bryan Davis commissioned me to illustrate in 2013. The story is a bedtime tale of a boy, who literally battles with his bed at night to try to sleep. His menacing bed keeps him up and gets him into trouble. Of course, as soon as mom and dad show up, the bed assumes its stationary position. The story was written to encourage children to confront their fears and laugh with the silliness of the events that the boy goes through.

IM: What is Hallow Statum about?

JamesArtVille-6JAV: Hallow Statum is Latin for “Holy Stance”. It’s a fantasy story series that my wife and I have written based on an old story that I wrote as a ten-year-old boy. It’s a religious story of good versus evil, where the heroes are able to fight against dark spirits, using a unique form of martial arts that uses faith as the source of power. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you could move mountains.” The story has a dear place in my heart, and I hope to publish it as a series of graphic novels in the future.

IM: What is GunSkins?

JAV: GunSkins is a company that produces vinyl camouflage wraps for firearms and gear. They’re a great alternative to painting or hydro-dipping, because GunSkins are non-permanent and cost a fraction of the price. This is great for hunters, airsoft players, and gun enthusiasts alike. I have been offering my graphic services for them since they started in 2013, and I am good friends with the owners.

IM: Where you involved in the Kickstarter for Raising Dragons?

JAV: It was Bryan Davis’ suggestion to seek crowd funding for this project, since we wanted to self-publish and cover the cost of printing and distribution. However, I was responsible for setting up the Kickstarter campaign, managing the rewards, and everything else involved.

IM: What upcoming projects do you have in the works?

JamesArtVille-3JAV: I’m currently working on the special edition version of Raising Dragons, which will contain bonus story content, concept artwork, sketches, and other extras. This will be an exclusive version with a limited print run. After this, I hope my next graphic novel will be a story that my wife and I make together. She is a writer, and together, we have so many good stories to tell.)

IM: Are you planning any appearances in the near future?

JAV: I plan to appear at local book signings and events in Southern Oregon. I hope to also speak to the local middle school and high school students—especially to the art classes—regarding digital illustration and comic book creation.

IM: How do you market your work?

JAV: The majority of my marketing consists of online interaction with fans and the community of like-minded artists. My website and blog will play a major role in bringing great content on a regular basis, in the form of new artwork, articles, tutorials, and web comics. As I gain momentum, I hope to make more appearances at events throughout the country and embark on a book tour.

IM: How do you distribute your work?

JamesArtVille-2JAV: Raising Dragons is available online from my website, Amazon, and other online marketplaces. However, the book is also available at local book stores, including Barnes & Noble. The book can be easily ordered using the following ISBN: 978-0989812290.

My artwork is distributed for viewing online only. Most of my illustrations comprise fan art; however, I do offer prints featuring original work for sale on my website. I can also be found on all major social media networks @jamesartville.

IM: How important do you think it is for creators to have their work in bricks-and-mortar shops as well as online?

JAV: I think there will always be a place for physical books and book stores. Just like there are online communities, there are also communities that gather at local bookstores, and it’s important for fans and book enthusiasts alike to have a safe place to go to read, buy, and hand out. It would be a missed opportunity not to have a presence in bookstores. As a consumer, if I had the ability to walk into a store and buy a book on the spot, I would prefer that to online shopping any day.

Indyfest: Do you think the internet has made it easier for people to self-publish, and distribute their work?

JAV: Yes, the internet has definitely made it easier for creators to self-publish. However, it’s a double edge sword. A flood of new content from authors with little reputation creates a flood of books that can easily overwhelm the market. For sure, there are great self-published works, but unfortunately, there are many other books that, in my opinion, were published too easily or too early, and therefore, don’t contain the quality content one would expect from a book published through a traditional publisher.

IM: What made you choose Kickstarter over the other crowdfunding sites?

JamesArtVille-1JAV: Kickstarter was the only crowdfunding site I was aware of at the time. When people think of crowdfunding, I’m sure Kickstarter is always mentioned, because it was the site that put crowdfunding on the public radar. However, looking back, I believe I would rather have used a different site, because of Kickstarter’s strict funding goal campaign policy.

IM: What advice would you give someone planning to crowdfund?

JAV: I would highlight that the work put into a crowdfunding project before launching the funding period is of the utmost importance. The campaign page has to be phenomenal and easy to understand. You simply can’t expect readers to scroll through and read a dozen paragraphs before deciding if the project is worth their time and money. Image-filled, concise and clear messages go a long way to attract and retain visitors, convincing them to believe in the project enough to pledge. There’s an emotional aspect that needs to be addressed. Without good incentive (aka: rewards), it’s going to be difficult to obtain enough donations to meet the funding goal.

IM: Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?

JAV: My experience breaking into illustration has been unique. If it weren’t for meeting Bryan Davis and initiating conversation regarding his story, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to publish Raising Dragons, my first graphic novel. Rarely do people find success by going it alone, not even self-publishers. It’s important to put yourself out there and make connections with people in the business. Conversing with fellow authors/artists is a great way to gain advice and constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid to show your work to anyone willing to look at it. It may be humbling at times, but it will strengthen your work for the better.

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93 Higher Universe Comics

By Louise Cochran-Mason

Higher Universe Comics was founded in 2011 by writer Brandon Rhiness and artist Adam Storoschuk. They have produced several comic book series (featuring a variety of artists) and have branched into film-making. Brandon directs and writes most of their short films and their web TV series Mental Case.93-Rhiness-4

Comics

Films and Web TV

Misfits

Mental Case (Upcoming web series)

Stargirl

I’m in Love with a Dead Girl (Upcoming)

Ghoul Squad

My New Wife is Defective (pre-production)

Skull

 

Brandon also has written feature-length screenplays in the very early stages of pre-production with two different producers.

The Boy with a Balloon for a Head

Alley Cats

Chainsaw Reindeer (Upcoming)

Elvis The Zombie (Upcoming Ghoul Squad Spin off)

Brandon Rhiness spoke to Indyfest about Higher Universes’ current and future projects.

IM: What is Mental Case about?
BR: Mental Case is about a young woman named Elya Virk. She’s strange, socially awkward and doesn’t hesitate to resort to violence when provoked. Elya has great difficulty dealing with daily life. Relationships, jobs and paying the rent are all foreign concepts to Elya. She’s more at home when she’s involved in some horrifically violent incident. Although it’s not clear if her constant over-the-top fights are real, or just part of her delusion.

IM: When is its release date?
BR: The first two episodes of Mental Case will premiere at an event we’re holding on April 28th at the Garneau Theatre, here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After that, it will be released on YouTube and other digital platforms.

IM: Is it an ongoing or finite series?
BR: It’s an ongoing series. It all depends on how much money we can keep raising to shoot more.

IM: How is it being funded?
BR: The first two episodes were done on a micro budget, paid for by my co-producer Afton Rentz and myself. For the next episode, we’ll be doing crowdfunding. Also, the ticket sales for our April event will be going towards funding it.

IM: There are a lot of fight choreography videos on your YouTube Channel. Do you have professional trainers for the cast?
BR: Yes. Afton Rentz, the star and co-producer of Mental Case is one of the founders. Afton, Morgan Yamada and Kristian Stec are all professional movie fighters and they all appear in the series, as well as do the fight choreography.

IM: What is I’m in Love with a Dead Girl about?
BR: I’m in Love with a Dead girl is about a strange, lonely man, who can’t find a girlfriend, so he digs up a dead woman and falls in love with her.

IM: Will I’m in Love with a Dead Girl be released on YouTube?
BR: “Dead Girl” will be premiered along with Mental Case on April 28th. Afterwards, it will be released on YouTube and submitted to film festivals.

IM: What is “My New Wife is Defective” about?
BR: My New Wife is Defective is about a man who orders a Russian mail-order-bride and she ruins his life. But the story is played like she’s a manufactured product. She comes in a crate with an instruction manual and there’s a Russian technical support department to call when she gives the “owner” trouble.

IM: How is it being funded?
BR: We’re in the very early stages of pre-production at the moment. It was only about a week before I did this interview that my script caught the attention of producer Janie Fontaine in Calgary, Alberta. So, we’re still working on how we’ll fund it. It will most likely involve crowdfunding.

IM: Who is directing it?
BR: Janie had a director in mind, but now it’s looking like she may not be available. So, it’s likely I’ll direct it myself.

IM: Plem Plem Productions recently picked up Ghoul Squad as its German publisher. How did this come about?
BR: Christopher Kloiber, the editor-in-chief at Plem Plem read the first two issues of Ghoul Squad and loved them. So, he emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in having in published in German and released in Germany. My answer, of course, was “yes!”

93-Rhiness-2IM: Are you seeking publishers in other countries?
BR: Yes, I’ve been contacting publishers all over the world. It’s very difficult, though, because of the fierce competition and huge volume of content out there.

IM: Do you find working with a publisher very different to self-publishing?
BR: It’s difficult to say, because at this moment, Plem Plem is the only publisher I’ve worked with and they’ve been great. They haven’t demanded any changes or anything, so I’m happy.

IM: How do you find directing, as opposed to writing?
BR: It’s a completely different experience. Directing can be fun, but it’s also quite difficult. A lot of people think, “I can direct a movie,” but when it comes down to it, you realize how hard it is. Writing a script is challenging, but it’s really just you sitting at a laptop. When you’re directing, you’re out dealing with people and locations and technical problems and weather, and you have to think on your feet.

Directing your own scripts really helps you learn about your writing, too. You can learn what does or does not work in a script. I really think it has improved my writing.

I want to direct more, but I still consider myself a writer and producer first, and a director second.

IM: Would you like to direct other people’s scripts?
BR: I’m not interested in directing other people’s scripts. My primary motivation for directing is to bring my stories to life. I just wouldn’t be as passionate about directing someone else’s story.

IM: Do you use the comic book artists for storyboarding?
BR: I haven’t done storyboarding for anything I’ve directed. I just do a shot list and work from that. Hiring an artist to do a storyboard would be an added expense, and I’d rather just put that money into the production.

However, I do use our comic artists to do the movie posters and other promotional material.

IM: You ran a successfully (102%) funded Indiegogo campaign for I’m in Love with a Dead Girl. What made you decide to try crowdfunding?
BR: With the comics, my Higher Universe partner Adam Storoschuk and I began by paying for everything out of our own pockets and with money made from comic sales. But with movies, it’s much more expensive, so self-funding wasn’t an option.

And with short films, I don’t think there’s much hope of making a lot of money on them, so traditional investors would not be interested.

We heard about a lot of people doing crowdfunding, but I was a little skeptical, because a lot of people I know who tried it, failed. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I knew anyone personally who did a successful campaign.

But we decided to go for it, worked really hard at it, and it worked!

IM: Do you have any tips running a Kickstarter: perks, promotion, etc…?
BR: I did learn a lot. And I found a lot of what I learned was the opposite of the advice I’d read from other sources. So, what works for one person may not work for another.

I found that people didn’t care so much about the perks. More than half of the people that donated chose not to receive the perk that their donation level would have gotten them. And we had good perks, too, like printed copies of our comics.

I found that most people just wanted to help out and be involved.

That being said, the most popular perks were the ones where people received physical goods, like printed comics.

Also, social media doesn’t help as much as you’d think. It’s okay for getting the word out there, but just posting your campaign on Facebook doesn’t do much. Most of our donations came from contacting people directly and asking them if they could donate.

I had old friends from my school days—who I hadn’t spoken to in years—donate. So you never know who will be generous.

I also contacted every magazine, newspaper and news station in my city. I got a little press coverage, but it didn’t lead to as many donations as I wanted. Although, it led to one person donating a thousand dollars, which was great! But the press coverage drew a lot of attention to the project. We had more people wanting to volunteer their services on set. And people took us way more seriously after that.

What got us the most donations was sending a private message to everyone on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and asking them to donate, or asking if they could share the post, if not.

IM: Tell us more about Higher Universe’s upcoming comics, Chainsaw Reindeer and Elvis the Zombie?
BR: Chainsaw Reindeer is really fun. It started out because I wanted to write a comic that, basically, had no story. It’s just a reindeer traveling the world, killing people with a chainsaw. After an “incident” with Santa Claus, a reindeer snaps and basically kills the entire population of earth with a chainsaw. It’s completely ridiculous, but completely awesome.

The artwork is by Carlos Trigo, who does the art on Ghoul Squad. Chainsaw Reindeer will be out later this year.

Elvis the Zombie is a character from our comic book series, Misfits. Elvis is Demonman’s annoying neighbour. He was funny enough that Adam and I felt he should get his own series. The comic is called “Elvis the Zombie goes to prison.”

In a nutshell, Elvis goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and wreaks his unique brand of havoc.

When people first hear the title, they think it’s about Elvis Presley, but it’s not. He’s just a zombie named Elvis. He’s not really a zombie either. He’s just a living corpse.

93-Rhiness-3IM: Higher Universe features bands in their comics, so are you planning similar crossovers with your films (i.e. sound track or product placement)?
BR: Yeah, we’re considering that, for sure. I’m still new to the “film score” thing, so I haven’t decided what I’m doing yet. I’m almost finished the edit on Dead Girl, so I’ll be dealing with the music soon.

Afton was in charge of the music for Mental Case. She hired a local composer to do it.

IM: Who is Higher Universe’s target audience?
BR: I don’t really spend too much time thinking about who our audience is. I know I’m supposed to, lol, but it takes time away from the fun of actually making comics and movies. I guess, basically, I just write stuff for people like me, who are tired of the same old Hollywood movies and Marvel and DC comics and who want something different. We’ve noticed those people come from all walks of life, so I guess that’s who our audience is.

IM: What is your background?
BR: I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. In high school I tried, making some (really bad) films with friends. I went to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and took Radio & Television production. I worked for some community TV stations around Alberta, and I’d use their equipment on my days off to shoot short films.

After a while, I put the movie thing on the backburner and started making comics. But last year, I decided I wanted to make movies again. Now I’m taking it way more seriously and investing much more time (and money) in it. And I’m definitely starting to see the great results that come from doing that!

IM: When you first started Higher Universe, you and co-founder Adam Storoschuk were paying the artists out of your own pockets. Have the comics (and films) started to support themselves to some extent now?
BR: No, we’re not at that point, yet. Lol. But we’re getting closer to it every day!

IM: Are there many resources for ultra-low budget film-makers?
BR: There are. I find that just googling any question or problem you have will lead to a huge number of resources and people willing to help. You can also turn to Facebook groups for help.

In Edmonton, there’s an organization called FAVA (Film and Video Arts) that rents equipment to indy filmmakers at a very reasonable price. There are likely places like that in every city.

IM: Is it challenging to retain the cast and crew on an ultra-low budget series?
BR: I haven’t had that problem. If you’re smart about it and pick the right people, you can get a very solid team. It helps if you pay people, too. A lot of indy producers cheap out and don’t want to pay their cast and crew. What kind of success do you think you’ll have doing that?

People deserve to be paid for their work, including actors. We raised the money necessary to pay everyone and it was well worth it.

IM: How do you market your work?
BR: Social media, email campaigns, advertising in our comics, cross-promoting with other filmmakers, bands, and creative people. Holding events like the big Garneau event happening April.

IM: How do you distribute your work?
BR: We haven’t gotten to that point yet with the films, so it will be a whole new process for me to learn.

93-Rhiness-1IM: Will you be going to any shows/conventions?
BR: It’s a little harder up here in Canada, because the travel distances between cities is so great. We’re planning on setting up a booth at the Edmonton Comic Book Expo this year, though.

IM: Are you planning to make (book or comic) tie-ins? And merchandise?
BR: We’re making a Mental Case comic book that will be finished in time for the premiere. We’ll be selling a limited edition version there. We sell posters and fridge magnets and stuff like that, but they’re not as popular as the comics themselves.

IM: I noticed there were lots of women’s body building and veterinary videos on your YouTube. Do you also make corporate videos/promo videos?
BR: The veterinary videos were unused video I shot when I worked at a small town TV station. The bodybuilding videos are of a friend of mine, Carmen Tocheniuk. She’s a championship-winning bodybuilder from Edmonton. We made a whole bunch of videos for use on her website and I posted some of them on YouTube.

I used to do wedding and corporate videos as a side gig, but I don’t anymore. But the odd time, I’ll just post something of interest on there. I find bringing in any kind of viewers is likely to get more eyeballs on my comics and films.

IM: Does Higher Universe accept unsolicited manuscripts?
BR: No we don’t. At this time everything we do is created in-house.

IM: What are your hobbies?
BR: Movies, music and playing bass!

Weblinks:

Higher Universe Comics was previously interviewed for Indyfest Magazine’s March 2015 issue (#82). That interview can be viewed here: https://mag.indyfestusa.com/universal-appeal/.

 

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93 Table of Contents

ALSO IN THE ISSUE: 3 great Sneak Peek features you can only see in the actual PDF, Sepulchre #1, Bang Bang Lucita #1, and Shaman’s Destiny #1…ALSO – a listing of most recent additions to our Marketplace.

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92 Dead Man’s Party

92deadman1Jeff Marsick’s Dead Man’s Party

By Louise Cochran-Mason

Jeff Marsick is a Connecticut-based comic book writer. Together with artist Scott Barnett (http://ww.ScottBarnettGraphics.com/), he created the noir thriller Dead Man’s Party. It was initially self-published before being picked up by Darby Pop. Darby Pop (and IDW) also hired him as a writer on Indestructible: Stingray #1. He has various other projects, which include writing and co-creating with artist Kirk Manley (http://www.studiokm.com/) of the self-published Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers.

Jeff spoke to Indyfest about his work and future plans.

IM: What is Dead Man’s Party about?

JM: Dead Man’s Party is a noir thriller about an enigmatic hitman, known only as Ghost, who finds himself in a situation where he has no other option than to put a contract on his own head by arranging a Dead Man’s Party. In the assassin trade, it’s part Viking funeral and part Irish wake, a way for your peers to either honor your memory or get even. Five assassins have thirty days to come find you and put you down, and the contract is irrevocable. After everything is set and the clock starts running, however, is when Ghost discovers he’s made a terrible mistake.

IM: Did you invent the term “Dead Man’s Party” (in the context in which it’s used here)?

I share credit for the term with co-creator and series artist Scott Barnett, as it relates to this comic book, but the inspiration is wholly from Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo’s song of the same name. Ever since I first heard that song, this concept is the movie that has always run in my mind’s eye.

IM: Dead Man’s Party was self-published before being picked up by Darby Pop. How did that come about?

JM: In 2014, Darby Pop had a contest for writers using a character from their Indestructible comic series. I won the contest and my script was produced as a comic book, Indestructible: Stingray, which came out in June of 2015. I pitched Dead Man’s Party to them as a possible series for them to publish, and they loved it. At the time, Scott and I only had three issues completed, the fourth was at the printer, and the script was written for number five. Darby Pop asked us to finish the series in “floppy” form and then they would publish the series in its entirety as a trade paperback.

IM: Do you find working with a publisher very different to self-publishing?

JM: It’s actually been pretty flawless and smooth working with a publisher. Jeff Kline and Renae Geerlings at Darby Pop essentially said that they loved what we had done and, aside from some minor tweaks, they weren’t going to make radical changes to the story. So, in that sense, the experience hasn’t been significantly dissimilar.

Scott and I consider ourselves pretty strict when it comes to creating, editing, and putting out a product that is as good as we can make it. From outlining the story, to writing the script, to rough pencils, to finished art and lettering, we pore over every panel of art and each word of dialogue to make sure that our comic looks as professional as possible for a self-publisher. Jeff and Renae run a similarly tight ship, but since they’re not at the creator level for this project, they have a high-altitude view of the overall story, and they’ve been able to see where something doesn’t work or where Scott and I may have been too narrow in our focus. Jeff and Renae have years of comic publishing experience between them, so we hold their opinion and input in high regard.

Where working with a publisher is very different, however, is in the marketing and promotion of the book. Scott and I were selling primarily at conventions and through a handful of stores that we developed relationships with. Under Darby Pop’s banner, though, we are able to take advantage of their distribution reach and get into more stores. We also published the series as individual issues, and in black and white. Darby is producing the entire series as a trade paperback collection—in color—which means that Dead Man’s Party has a future in the graphic novel section of bookstores and on Amazon. Pulling that off as self-publishers would be cost-prohibitive for us, unless we ran a Kickstarter campaign.

IM: Who is the target audience?

JM: Our target audience is primarily older teens and adults. Because of language and violence, Dead Man’s Party is certainly not a kid’s book. I’ll put it this way: if Dead Man’s Party were a movie, it would be rated R. Anyone who is a fan of the Bourne movies, or the Taken series should really enjoy Dead Man’s Party.

IM: Are you planning other stories set in the Dead Man’s Party universe?

92deadman4JM: While crafting this story, Scott and I have discussed a myriad of characters, scenarios, plots, and conflicts, and a bunch of material had to be left on the cutting room floor. All of it, however, has the potential to be fleshed out into more stories set in this universe of ours. I know Scott is itching to use a character I used in a short fiction piece for Out of the Gutter Online (http://www.outofthegutteronline.com/2013/12/smoke.html), which could be fun. So yes, if this does well, we’ll certainly go back to doing more.

IM: What’s your background?

JM: I’ve been around the block a couple times. I’m a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy and I was a Coast Guard officer for six years. When I left the service, I went to chiropractic college and became a chiropractor and a nutritionist, but after a few years of fighting with insurance companies, I changed careers and became a financial analyst. I am currently working toward reinventing myself—again—only this time as a high school math teacher. Through it all, however, I have always been writing, as much as the margins of my professional and personal lives have allowed me.

IM: How did you get started in comics?

JM: I was working in Manhattan as a financial analyst when I learned of Comics Experience, a company run by a former Marvel editor Andy Schmidt that offered a course called Introduction to Writing Comics. Ever since I was a young lad reading issues of The Flash and Daredevil, I had been interested in writing comic books, so I figured this was a great way to figure out not only how to do it, but also, how to get a foot in the industry.

The course was terrific, and I cannot recommend Comics Experience enough to anyone who wants to get into writing, drawing, lettering, or even editing comic books. The primary takeaway, however, was that a creator doesn’t need DC or Marvel or Image in order to turn a dream into reality. As a result of the course, I got turned on to self-publishing, contacted two artist friends of mine, Kirk Manley and Scott Barnett, and started discussing how we could go about creating comics. Six years later, I have two series, Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers, and Dead Man’s Party.

IM: I saw in another interview that you had written a novel, short stories, and a screenplay. Did you publish (or option/sell) any of them?

JM: I wrote a fantasy novel, Sula Ruin, that I shopped around to several publishers and agents and, while they were complimentary, everyone declined. This was before self-publishing through Kindle was a thing, though, so the manuscript will not be staying much longer lost in my desk drawer. I have done a couple of short stories for Out of the Gutter Online, and I wrote a pair of television pilots with my buddy, Scott Malchus, that have semifinaled in screenplay contests and are currently up for consideration with Amazon Studios. One of these days, something’s going to hit, I know it. Until that something does, though, I have to keep on creating and publishing.

IM: You were the winner of Darby Pop’s “Breaking into Comics” contest. Can you tell us more about it?

92deadman3JM: That contest was fantastic, not only because it led to the publishing of my first mainstream comic book work between Darby Pop and IDW, but also for the subsequent door it has opened for Dead Man’s Party. In a nutshell, Darby Pop’s contest was to write a script in 30 days, using a character, Stingray, from their Indestructible comic book universe. One script would be chosen, the story would be published, and the writer would get $500.

Now, this was a challenge, because Stingray only appears in a total of about six pages throughout the first five issues. In that arc, all we know is she is a former member of the League of Defenders group of heroes, someone who has fallen from grace and, when we first meet her, she’s being released from a stint in prison. The next few times we see her, her actions intimate that incarceration has not quite cured her of a questionable moral character.

That was all we had to go with. The contest stipulated that we could do anything we wanted with her: create an origin, envision her in the future, or continue the storyline as established in the comic. I wrote an origin of sorts for her, basically her introduction to the League of Defenders, all wide-eyed and naïve. Except, not everything was what it seemed.

And out of a few hundred submissions, I won.

We’re discussing possibly doing more with Stingray with a limited series, which would be fantastic.

IM: What is Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers about?

JM: Considerably different from Invincible: Stingray and Dead Man’s Party, Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers is another self-published comic book that I write and co-created with my friend and artist, Kirk Manley.

Z-Girl is a centuries-old, heroic, female zombie. When’s the last time you ever heard of that, huh? She leads a unique special operations team composed of the Tigers, who are human hosts of ancient Chinese warrior spirits. So, what that means is, while a host can perish, the spirit is eternal, and it will seek out another worthy host to inhabit and then bring the team back together. In this way, they have been together, in one incarnation or another, since about 300 BC. As a team, they are at the forefront of protecting humanity against the monsters and demons that try to wipe us out.

It’s a science fiction and adventure comic with elements of horror and mythology thrown in. Kirk and I have finished the first five-issue story arc (available as print on-demand that can be ordered from our website, www.ZGirl.org), we did a standalone issue for last year’s New York Comic Con, and we are at work on the next arc. We even have a gorgeous action figure, too!

IM: How do you distribute your work?

JM: Before the publishing deal with Darby Pop, Dead Man’s Party was distributed the same as with Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers: through conventions, our websites, and grass roots campaigning at the local comic shop level. We have made friends with a handful of comic shop owners, which is great and we are extremely grateful for them carrying us on their shelves, but we’re not in enough shops—especially outside of New England—to be a known commodity in the ranks of the independent publishers. Both books are also in digital format for download on Comixology, Drive-Thru Comics, and Indyplanet.

We do all of our own marketing and distribution, which can be difficult, since we all have day jobs and family obligations, too. But word of mouth and a presence in social media has helped our sales.

IM: What effect has advancing technology had on the comic book industry?

92deadman5JM: I think it has certainly made creating comics even easier to do. Writer, artist, and editor don’t need to be in the same zip code in order to collaborate. For instance, on Invincible: Stingray, I wrote the script in Connecticut, the artist drew the book in Italy, and the editor massaged it all together in California. I know that for Scott and Kirk, technology has certainly made drawing comics an easier endeavor. Also with printing, since we send digital files to the printer, any mistakes, additions, or deletions are easy to make happen.

IM: How important to do think it is for creators to have their work in bricks-and-mortar comic book shops as well as online?

JM: I think it is imperative for a creator to have a physical presence on a store’s shelves. First of all, I think seeing it in stores lends a legitimacy to an independent publisher’s work. Sure, conventions are great fun, and you get to interact with writers and artists, but that’s something of a vacuum. If someone meets me at a convention or comes across my website where they can print on demand, maybe they balk, simply because I’m an independent. But maybe the week after they meet me, they see my book at their local comic shop., I think it registers that, “Oh, hey. That guy’s got a legit comic book, he’s not just selling copies out of a UPS box. NOW I’ll give it a shot.”

For the record, though, it’s a milk crate I sell from.

Secondly, for as much as people are online, I’m not convinced that they’re buying much beyond the big publishers for digital downloads, and there are far too many websites to stroll through in order to find great comic books. I think comics, even more so than books, are best enjoyed physically over digitally. And personally, I know that I’ve been disappointed by buying a comic solely based on the cover and the description. Even with mainstream books, I want to be able to flip through them and get some sense of the writing and the art, which is something you can only do at a shop. Being only online—which can be a sound business strategy from a financial standpoint—I think it makes a creator miss out on a huge opportunity by not being in stores.

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?

JM: This is a great question, and I’m going to talk out of both sides of my mouth when I answer with both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Yes, all of those avenues for delivering comics do create a four-lane superhighway of marketing congestion. Everyone’s inbox is already saturated with noise that they take three seconds to evaluate as either ‘read’ or ‘trash,’ and our inbox filters need filters. So, getting noticed these days, I think, is harder than it has ever been.

But, a difficult environment forces creators to foster some ingenuity and creativity, not to mention really puts the onus on them to develop a book that is unique and really stands out. Podcasts, social media campaigns, personally meeting with shop owners, basically anything where a creator can put more of a personal touch on their marketing, I think, goes much farther than simply MailChimping out a press release.

Oh, and blind stinking luck is an amazing asset, too.

IM: What future plans do you have?

JM: Hopefully my future involves writing the screenplay for the Dead Man’s Party movie! I have two sci-fi comic book concepts to pitch to publishers, I’m writing a thriller novel, and I’m working on another movie screenplay. Then there’s the next two issues of Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers to write and maybe get a Stingray limited series off the ground. I’ve got lots of plans for 2016!

IM: Will you be attending any upcoming conventions or other events?

92deadman4JM: I know for certain that both Dead Man’s Party and Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers will be at Terrificon at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut on August 19–21, and we’ll be in our usual spot next to the Marvel booth at the New York Comic Con from October 6–9. I will also be with Darby Pop for the Free Comic Book Day event at Jetpack Comics in Rochester, New Hampshire, on May 7. I hope to be at other conventions and venues, but we’ll see what I can commit to as the year goes on.

IM: Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own comic?

JM: I could probably write a book on the topic given all the lessons I’ve learned (the hard way). First and foremost, if anyone reading this really absolutely, positively, don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-do-it wants to start their own comic—and I’m talking primarily about a series, or a limited series, not so much a one-off—then they have to approach it with a business mind-set. Even if it’s meant to be nothing more than a hobby, a creator needs to think of it as a business venture. Why? Because it costs money. Even if the creator is writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and editor all in one body, printing and marketing and distribution and conventions all cost money, and those costs can quickly spiral out of control. I’m not necessarily saying there needs to be a formal business plan in place, but if a creator wants to be serious about their product getting noticed, it has to be treated like a small business operation. And having a professional look or appearance will go a long way toward helping someone and their creation get noticed.

Secondly—and this is the subject of an article I wrote for this very magazine—let’s say you’ve written and drawn the first issue of a series. You’ve printed it, you’re looking at it in your hands, and it’s gorgeous. Bravo and congratulations. Now, put it away and get the next two issues complete and printed before you start marketing, or even thinking about selling, the first issue. This is so very hard to do, because you’ve metaphorically just given birth, but you have to do it. Why? Because self-publishers are notorious for being late, delayed, or even murderers of a series before it even gets legs. Marvel and DC put out—for the most part—a new issue for each title every month. Every month, you know you’re coming back for Batman or Superman or Wolverine. Readers know and respect that self-publishers don’t create comics as a day job, so if Dead Man’s Party comes out every other month, or once a quarter, well, that’s something of a regular schedule, so we’ll get the benefit of the doubt and a reader will take a chance on us.

But a book that comes out this year, then the second issue a year from now, a third two years later, it’s likely to be pretty much dead in the water. That first issue could be amazing, or the series could really be getting on its feet, but without regularity of release, it’s going to be forgotten, if not abandoned outright. What I have found is that people typically shun an independent book until an entire arc is complete, so that they can be sure of getting the whole story. As a creator, you want to develop buzz for your product and capitalize on momentum, so the best way to do that is to have several issues already ‘in the can’ before you start releasing them. This harkens back to the brick-and-mortar question, too, because a store won’t want to carry your book if they can’t be assured that subsequent issues will be timely in arriving.

Third, and most important: stick to it. Whether you are a writer or an artist, I know what it’s like to have that creative itch that only getting something onto paper can scratch. So do it. And do it often. I obviously speak from a writer’s perspective, but being an artist or a letterer or an editor is not all that different: it’s creative exercise. And the only way you get better at your craft is by working out every day. I look back on some of my first scripts, the ones I thought were pretty damn good, and they’re positively groan-inducing. My writing has gotten much better, because I practice often.

Now, the first comic you create may be hailed as the most amazing thing that’s ever been produced since Peter Parker crawled up his first wall, but the odds are that, nope, it won’t be. It may not ever be noticed and maybe only family and friends buy a copy. But if that inner muse in you still believes you have a story to tell, then don’t give up, and go back and do it again.

The comic industry for self-publishers reminds me of gym culture back in my powerlifting days. You show up and sling some weights around, the veterans who have been there every day for years are unimpressed. But after showing up for months on end and pushing yourself each time, the old guard sees that you’re “worthy” and starts coming around, and they slowly accept you as one of their own. If you create a comic book, become a fixture at conventions, be friendly and conversational with fans and shop owners and critics, and—as Joe Dirt would say—“keep on keepin’ on,” you’ll slowly become recognized and accepted by those who have done exactly the same thing. It’s an industry that rewards and respects tenacity, so don’t give up.

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92 Table of Contents

IM90-Acontents

The Driving Force – Editorial – by Ian Shires

 Dead Man’s Party – Jeff Marsick – by Louise Cochran-Mason

Aces and Eights – Frank Mula & Sal Brucculeri – by Steven Pennella

A Mystery Writer’s Mind – Nanci M. Pattenden – by M.J. Moores

A Written View – by Douglas Owen

Odds and Ends – Bob Moyer – by Ellen Fleischer

Walking the Path – Mark Koning – by Trisha Sugarek
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91 The Jericho Projects

Jericho1Adrian “Asia” Petty

By Louise Cochran-Mason

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?

Jericho2AP: 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?

Jericho4AP: 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?

Jericho5AP: 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?

Jericho6AP: 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.

IM: How are you distributing Ms. Johnni?

Jericho7AP: Right now, distribution is via conventions and www.indyplanet.com.

IM: Have you marketed your work?

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?

Jericho8AP: 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?

Jericho9AP: 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?

IM90-Zad5The 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.

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The World of Rick Phillips

By Louise Cochran-Mason

Rick L. Phillips is the author of several books and short stories, including: War Between Two Worlds, Dinky the Elf, the Project Hero series and Last Train to Murder. He contributed to and edited the With Great Power anthology. He was born in Covington, Kentucky. He studied Radio, TV, and Film at Northern Kentucky University, and is a voice actor as well. Indyfest asked Ricky about his career and future plans.Phillips86-1


 

IM: What is the Project: Hero Series about?

Phillips86-4RLP: Project: Hero is a science fiction superhero series. A semi-retired but wealthy superhero hires younger heroes to work for him in menial jobs. He overpays them so they have enough money to live off of and gives them time off to fight crime. He does this because his old friend and mentor Flag-Waver, a World War II superhero, was found homeless and dead in the streets. He didn’t want that to happen to any of the new heroes since they would risk losing their jobs if they kept leaving work to stop crooks. Since their jobs in their private lives aren’t high-profile there are very few people who would miss them. I plan to use Project: Hero as an umbrella title. It may deal with the heroes as a group, or just one or two of them on an adventure. The latest is Project: Hero Atlantis Under Attack, and has the whole group fighting to save the under the sea city of Atlantis and, eventually, the whole world.

IM: Can you tell us more about the “With Great Power” project (and the charity the profits are going to)?

Phillips86-5RLP: The book is a series of short stories that follows a comic book from one person to another. The comic book is Amazing Fantasy #15, which had the first Spider-Man story. It was also the first book to immortalize the phrase “With great power, there must also come, great responsibility.” A story might end with a person losing, selling, or giving away the book to someone. The story by the next author would have to pick up where the previous one had left off. It goes from 1962 to the present. So far, the book has raised money for Campus Crusade for Christ and Jews for Jesus.

IM: Can you tell us more about the “Last Train to Murder” project (and the charity the profits are going to)?

RLP: This book is no longer sold online but may be sold when I make personal appearances. It was to raise money for the Davy Jones Equine Memorial Fund and I was given the OK to do so by the family of Davy Jones.

IM: Did you set up Dinky Publishing for self-publishing Dinky the Elf?

Phillips86-3RLP: Originally, I was selling all of my books through companies like Createspace and Lulu.com, who publish books for authors. I set up Dinky Publishing so I would have the freedom to write what I wanted to, and so, if anything like movies or TV shows were made from my books, they would only have to talk to me, and not the publishing companies. My first book was my children’s story Dinky the Elf and I named it in honor of my first book.

IM: If so why did you decide to self publish?

RLP: I tried the traditional route with Dinky the Elf and only got one company that was interested. However, I was the last one they signed to a contract before they went out of business. I asked for the publishing rights back. They kindly gave them back to me. After being disappointed with the traditional route I decided to self-publish. That’s not to say I won’t try the traditional route again one day, because I might, but I am enjoying the freedom that comes with self-publishing.

IM: You do voice acting and announcing. Do you, or are you planning to make audio versions of your stories?

RLP: I do have an agent for my voice acting and announcing. I do hope to make audio versions of my books in the future.

IM: You’ve done some editing. Did you enjoy it and will you do more in the future?

RLP: I really don’t care for editing. I don’t plan to do much of that except on my books.

IM: Do you still work on any film projects?

RLP: I’ve only worked on one film and that was as a production assistant on “The Spider’s Web.” That was years ago and not related to the book With Great Power, or Spider-Man. I am open to working on film projects in the future and, hopefully, about Project: Hero or Dinky the Elf.

IM: You’ve done children’s and adult books. Is it difficult to adjust for those different audiences?

RLP: Not for me.

IM: Is writing short stories very different to writing novels?

RLP: It depends on the story. I prefer short stories, since they get right to the point, but novels are fun, too. I think my latest book, Project: Hero Atlantis Under Attack, is the best book I’ve done so far and my best short stories are Peanuts Big Adventure and Altered Circuits.

IM: You’ve been published and self-published. Do you have a preference?

RLP: I prefer self-published.

IM: How do you distribute your work?

RLP: Right now, only on the internet through Amazon, Createspace, Lulu, Barnes and Noble, etc., or through personal appearances. I am trying to get them in brick and mortar stores in the future.

IM: How do you market your books?

RLP: Interviews like this, personal appearances, and social media.

IM: What appearances do you have lined up?

RLP: I will be at the Burlington, Kentucky library on June 27th. I’m trying to get something at the Independence, Kentucky library, and I’m waiting to hear about one in Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall at Books by the Banks.

IM: Do you think the Internet has made it easier for people to self publish, and distribute their self published work?

Phillips86-2RLP: Yes! Self-publishing use to be looked down upon and could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now it’s been elevated to a more distinguished position and doesn’t cost as much. Just because a big-name publisher isn’t interested in a story doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story or well-written.

IM: How important to do think it is for creators to have their work in bricks-and-mortar shops as well as online?

RLP: Very important. A lot of books, people buy on impulse. Some of my favorite books, I bought just because I saw them on the shelves at my local store. Maybe I was a fan of the author and didn’t know it was for sale, or maybe I just thought it looked like an interesting story.

IM: You have a blog on BlogSpot. How do you rate this platform?

RLP: BlogSpot is very easy to use.

IM: What future projects have you got in the works?

RLP: I have a lot of stories planned, but right now, I am working on a murder mystery set in 1976 on the 4th of July. As I’m sure you know, that date was the bicentennial celebration of the United States of America. I’m helping someone with a romance story and I plan to work on the next book in the Project: Hero series and other stories.

IM: Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?

RLP: I hate to be pushing Christmas, but I’d like to tell you about Dinky the Elf. It is a Christmas story, but children can enjoy it any time of the year. Dinky is the smallest elf at Santa’s workshop. He is too small to do anything. He wants to help, but can’t. Instead of giving in, he finds a way to make things work for him, Santa, and all the children of the world. It really sends a positive message to children.

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