With two successful Kickstarters under his belt, one currently in campaign mode, teaching comics to future generations, and numerous books behind him, Stan is a busy, busy man. But through the powers of modern technology, we were able to catch this Denver native just long enough to ask him a few questions about his craft and get some helpful insight on the crowdfunding craze that is sweeping the comic world.
IM: You are not only an illustrator, but you’re also an instructor. When did you realize that illustrating AND teaching were both your callings, and where do you find the time?
SY: When I first started doing conventions, I routinely offered instructional panels about writing and marketing self-published comics, so that’s probably where the teaching started. At that point, I hadn’t really had the confidence to teach much in the way of illustration, since my educational background was in accounting, not art.
In 2007, after I had been freelancing fulltime for a couple of years, my long-time mentor Tom Motley decided he and his family were going to move to Brooklyn, but he didn’t want to leave all of the summer camps he had been teaching comics at in a lurch, so he trained me as his replacement. Shortly after I began to teach, the Community College of Aurora and the Denver Entertainment Art and Design Academy (Dead Academy) also came calling.
Around 2011 or so, I began to realize that I was spinning my wheels financially and professionally, so I decided to take a sabbatical from teaching for a year, which turned into two years (2012–2014), which actually was the best thing I could do, as it allowed me to travel to conventions in the summer that I hadn’t been able to go to, and to work on personal projects that I had tabled for five years, and explore new avenues for my creative outlet, like children’s picture books.
This summer will be the first year that I’ve taught summer camps in two years, but not a full load. While I have continued to do two-hour workshops at schools and libraries from time to time and do private tutoring, long story short, I guess I have determined there isn’t time. Between the syllabus preparation, the grading, and the out-of-class student contact, it’s really not something that’s easy to balance with creating proprietary work, gigs, conventions, and freelance.
IM: You have been through a couple different Kickstarter campaigns as an artist. Any advice you can give to readers about to embark on their own crowdfunding venture? What would you have done differently if you’d been given the chance?
SY: My advice would be to contribute to other compelling campaigns and see how they structure their campaigns and ask yourself, “What got me to contribute to this?” Make sure to do this within the product genre that you’re pursuing, to give you a closer baseline comparison. You’ll probably contribute to some campaigns that succeed and some that don’t. Do a post-mortem on them and try to figure out what worked and what didn’t. There are a lot of case studies that you can look at out there and right on Kickstarter’s site, but there’s nothing like actually participating in one to give you some real-time data. You might even reach out to the folks running the campaigns to get it straight from the horse’s mouths what they thought they could’ve done better and what worked.
The most important thing to ask yourself, which is something someone asked me on Facebook (someone who didn’t contribute to my campaign incidentally), “Why would I want to contribute to something you’re going to be selling to the public later on anyway?” That really is the trick. If all you are going to offer is your comic book, then who cares? You need to give project backers levels of contribution that allow them to feel like they’re getting something now that they can’t get later.
My project was my Vincent Price comic and my incentive levels ranged anywhere from a $1 show of support to $1000 to get drawn into the comic as the villain of my story. You can see the whole range of incentives on my Kickstarter page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stanyan/vincent-price-comic-book-caricature-project/description
Also, set your goal low. Don’t go pie-in-the-sky. If you raised $2000, and your goal was $15,000, and your campaign ends and isn’t funded, and you find yourself saying, “Aww, I would’ve still done it for $2,000”, then you were too greedy and set your goal too high. Find a level that would not leave you financially struggling and make that your goal. Make sure to include costs of postage, stretch goal incentives, and anything else you can imagine needing to pay for. For me, my goal was to pay for no less than the printing of 500 copies of the comic and postage.
Stretch goals incentives are important as a way to give current backers a reason to spread the word or up their contributions. My stretch goal incentives were easy to fulfill, as all but one of them were PDFs of other comic books I had created AND which were mentioned in the Vincent Price comic (the story is a story about me doing zombie caricatures at a comic book convention), and original art from the creation of the book (I had a bunch of inked characters that were going into the panels that I had drawn separately that I would simply cut apart, sign and enclose with the comic books I would be mailing out).
In the end, I want my backers to feel like they got more than they paid for, so the next time I run a campaign, they’ll consider contributing. My backers at the $5 level got, as stretch goal rewards, 250 pages of my digital work and a printed thank you in the book. My backers at the $10 got all of that, the printed book and signed, original art. Even folks who backed me at $1 get all of my updates, which include video tutorials of my process.
IM: What it was like to work on the SubCulture Omnibus and Show Devils?
SY: The SubCulture Omnibus was a collection of the work that Kevin Freeman and I created as a part of the SubCulture miniseries published with Ape Entertainment, and the six-year run of the subsequent webcomic featuring the life stories of characters who hung around a Kingdom Comix. When Kevin and I decided to do an omnibus TPB, it was the first Kickstarter project I ever was involved with. He launched it, recorded the video, and did the marketing, but he collaborated with me on the reward levels and stretch goal incentives. Before that, I had no idea what a stretch goal incentive was, and how important it was to getting people off the fence. The main thing we learned was how quickly the stretch goal incentive costs would add up. We ended up doing a pack of gag trading cards featuring our characters, button packs, drink coasters, dice packs… in the end, even though we almost tripled our goal, there were no “profits” to speak of.
Show Devils #2 was a comic book of short stories featuring The Enigma and Serana Rose and written by Daniel Crosier that, among others, featured my art and some digital coloring. This project didn’t really involve me quite as much, and it ended up being barely funded, but I think there weren’t enough low-level incentives and the critical question of “What am I getting that I couldn’t get at the store?” probably wasn’t answered as quickly and easily. Plus, the goal was relatively higher. SubCulture was a monster book—344 pages—where the Show Devils book was a 32-page comic. Despite that, the goal for Show Devils was double that of SubCulture.
IM: Your resume is as impressive as it is lengthy. Can you tell us about some of the other projects you are involved in?
SY: Currently, most of my projects are personal. I’m working on several children’s books, the most finished one being There’s a Zombie in the Basement, a rhyming picture book inspired by my son’s fear of my zombie caricature artwork. I’m also trying to get my next graphic novel project off of the ground, Regret: A Cancer Survivor’s Story, about my best friend’s battle with cancer. I’ve also been working with my son on creating his books, which we are doing exclusive print runs for him to sell and sign at local conventions. He sold out of Pony & Zombie and the Runaway Dog at the Denver Comic Con.
IM: Your style differs greatly in each of these series. Can you talk about the importance of being able to stay open to different styles as an artist working on various projects?
Well, that’s probably the most important thing to learn about freelancing. No matter what you show folks in your online portfolio, inevitably, someone is going to ask you to draw in a style they don’t see, and you have to ask yourself, “Can I pull it off?” That’s kind of what happened with SubCulture. Before that, my comic style for The Wang (http://stanyan.me/books/the-wang/) was described as “What the Simpsons would look like if Frank Miller drew it.”). Kevin asked me to draw the three main character designs in various different ways, and he’d let me know which he liked best. Of course, he liked a style I’d never tried before that, and that’s how my style developed.
Fortunately, I have a learning personality, and I LOVE stretching my artistic abilities and trying new things. Doesn’t make for a cohesive portfolio, but it allows me the confidence to tackle projects that may be beyond my previous abilities.
Who would you say your inspirations as an artist were?
My oldest influences were from the funny pages: Jim Davis, Bill Watterson, and Gary Larson. I really wasn’t much of a comic book reader growing up. But, when I became a teenager and started creating comic book stories, my influences started with R. Crumb, Bob Fingerman, and Alex Robinson. Then in 1998, I went out to the San Diego Comic Con with a backpack full of self-published comic books to trade with anyone who would trade with me, and I met a whole new crew of folks who became influences, including Jim Mahfood, Andy Ristaino, Scott Morse, Robert Kirkman, and Tony Moore.
IM: Any dream series or title you would work on and why?
SY: Believe it or not, I consider myself more of a writer than an illustrator. As an illustrator, of course, I’d love to illustrate for the Walking Dead, but I don’t know that I could hack the deadline schedule. I actually reached out to David Wellington about the possibility of turning his Monster Island book (or trilogy) into a graphic novel series, but he said it was out of his hands and up to the publisher what they wanted to do with it.
As a writer, my dream jobs would be to write for any of the following: South Park, Phineas and Ferb, or Martha Speaks.
Of course, my real dream is to have one of my projects hit it big and be one of these things other people dream of writing or illustrating for.
IM: What does the future hold?
SY: I think I’m going to slowly transition my career to the children’s book industry after I finish with Regret. I will still probably be doing the convention circuit, drawing people into zombies or ponies or whatnot, but I hope to have a bunch of my children’s books in tow.
IM: And last, but certainly not least, where can people follow you and keep up with your work?
Learn more about our interviewer at: Nichi Scribbles
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