By Steven Pennella
Jason Mansfield is the creator and writer of Polar Bear Zombie and owner of Polar Bear Comics. Jason has written comic books and dabbled in comic book art for years and has now decided that it is time to get them out to the public.
IM: Can you tell about your love of Polar Bears and Zombies, which came first?
JM: First off, let me tell you that this is my first official interview with a comic book magazine. So, thank you for taking the time to interview me.
Now let’s start with my love of zombies. I grew up on horror movies from the 80s and zombies were always one of my favorite types of horror characters. I remember seeing Dawn of The Dead for the first time on VHS when I was six. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Now as far as polar bears go… you can thank my wife for that. That is her nickname for me. That is where the name Polar Bear Comics came from. Once I started watching documentaries about them, I realized what magnificent creatures they really are. I decided one day to combine a polar bear and a zombie and the rest is history.
IM: Tell us how your love of comic books got started. What titles did you follow? Who were/are some of your favorite characters, writers, and artists?
JM: I grew up on 80s Marvel comic books. I was really into Byrne’s X-Men stuff, as well as Amazing Spider-Man. I just gravitated toward Marvel at that time. I didn’t really follow writers and artists. I was more interested in the characters. Comics were an escape from some of the things going on in my life at the time.
It was a fun time in my life growing up. There were about six of us in my neighborhood who would always collect and trade comic books. Anytime I had a few dollars, I would go to the nearby 7-11 and buy a few comic books. I actually remember buying an Amazing Spider-Man #300 from a 7-11. I remember trading it for some Doctor Strange and Alpha Flight books. The other guy made out on that trade.
JM: I am self-taught in both areas and feel that I am still learning every time I put pen or pencil to a piece of paper.
When I was about 11, I started creating characters and writing background stories for each one. It was like an Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe-type layout. Of course, a lot of my characters seemed similar to already existing characters. I still have the binder with all of them in there. I can always reference them when I need a character to plug into a book.
I went through a period where I gave up drawing and am now just getting back into it. I have been writing off and on for years and just recently started putting full stories together. My wife finally talked me into really putting some more time into writing and that’s when the idea of Polar Bear Comics began to take shape. I have so many ideas floating around that it’s hard to get it all down on paper.
IM: You work with freelancers to complete your creator-owned characters. Are freelancers strictly work-for-hire or would they receive something on the back end if one of your books ended up being optioned for film, television, or other media outlets?
JM: When it comes to working with a freelance artist, myself and the artist come up with the terms of the book, such as pricing and time frame for the book. I usually type up a short contract that we both feel comfortable with. I don’t include back-end deals in the contract. But if a project were to blow up or get , I would definitely take care of them. Although the freelance artists I work with don’t own the rights to the characters I create, they are still a part of the project and have devoted their time to make my vision for a book take shape. It is a great bonding experience when you work with someone to create concepts and characters from scratch. I’ve been pretty lucky with the freelance artists I have worked with. I met Frank, of course, as well as Ken Leinaar, who is working on A Superhero’s Life; I choose to work with freelance artists because I feel that most of them are just your normal everyday people who have a love for creating comics. All of the freelance artists I have worked with have day jobs and do freelance work on the side. That is why I relate to them. I am writing during my free time, in between working a 9 to 5 and raising a family. Most of us do it for the love of comics. If it was for the money, most of us wouldn’t be doing it.
JM: I actually met Frank through freelanced.com about a year and a half ago. He responded to a posting I had for “The Dead Among Us,” in which I was looking for an artist. Unfortunately, he responded after I had already picked an artist to do the book. I really liked his work, and told him that I had some other ideas and projects I wanted to do in the future, and that I would let him know when I was ready to start those projects. After “The Dead Among Us” fell apart, I contacted him to do “Polar Bear Zombie.” Frank has been my go-to guy ever since. He is currently finishing The Dead Among Us #1. He just contacted me the other day and told me that after this issue, he would be giving up his freelance work for a while to pursue other career opportunities, so future issues are up in the air right now.
IM: What are the qualities you look for in a freelance artist or collaborator?
JM: It all depends what kind of book I am doing. I always have a picture in my head of what I want the feel of the book to be. Picking an artist is the hardest thing, because there are so many talented artists out there and I am trying to work with as many as possible. When I am looking for an artist even if I don’t think will work for the current project I am doing, I start looking ahead at some other projects and keep them in mind when I start. I also want to see how hungry they are. Everyone will tell you how interesting your story is and how they would love to work on it. I always like to see how fast they work as well. I don’t want to wait a year to get a book done. Communication is key. If we are communicating through email and it takes you more than two days to get back to me, it’s probably not going to work out.
JM: I promote a lot through social media, as does everyone else. I have been trying to make my convention debut and have had to cancel two shows in last six months due to my non-comic book career and not having the time to get done what I needed to. I think conventions are a great way to promote and get to talk with the comic book reading public. Hopefully, I will be making my convention debut shortly. For now, I am relying on social media, as well as independent magazines like Indyfest Magazine to do interviews or book reviews. Promoting a comic book and trying to get it into comic book shops without a proven track record is very hard work.
IM: Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have opened a lot of doors for the independent comic book creator. Polar Bear Zombie was financed by Kickstarter. You’ve run other campaigns that fell short of the funding goal. Can you tell us a little about those projects?
JM: These days, the cost to self-publish books is pretty huge. You either try and save and pay out-of-pocket, or crowdfund your project. Polar Bear Zombie would not have happened so quickly if it wasn’t for our Kickstarter campaign. I paid a lot of money up front to get promo work done for the campaign. I would have eventually finished the project, but it would have taken twice as long. Of course, when you run a campaign, your friends and family usually kick in a majority of the pledges—or at least, that was the case with Polar Bear Zombie. Now for the two other projects that failed… the first project was The Dead Among Us. I think the campaign failed because I went too big with the book and ideas. I was doing variants and original artwork and the amount I needed was pretty huge. I reached a little over half the amount I needed. I am self-funding these two books now. A Superhero’s Life, I am a little more stumped on. I think that maybe people just saw another superhero book without really looking more into it. Also, the amount of people running campaigns has grown as well. Sites like Kickstarter are great for independent creators who wouldn’t be able to make comic books otherwise. As someone that supports crowdfunding campaigns, it can be hard to decide what book you want to back. I am now self-funding my next two projects, thanks to 401 k from my previous employer. I will be self-funding all future projects on my own, as long as I am able to sustain enough money to continue.
IM: Was it the fans’ lack of awareness of the campaigns, getting lost in the crowd?
JM: Both. Some of it was my lack of time to really promote the campaigns the way I should have. Running a crowdfunding campaign is tougher than most people think. It is almost a full time job on its own. The only advice I would give to someone getting ready to start a campaign is to know what you are getting into and make sure you have the time to put into promoting the campaign.
IM: If you could redo one of the unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns, what would you do differently?
JM: I would try to put more time into it and possibly explain the plot of the comic book project in a little more detail and try to provide more artwork to showcase the project. I would also wait a few months in-between campaigns. I got a little too confident with Polar Bear Zombie reaching its goal and I jumped right into my next campaign. That might have turned some people off. They were probably thinking, “This guy again? We just gave him money.”
IM: On a more positive note, Polar Bear Zombie was a success. Can you tell us about the campaign and what that was involved?
JM: A lot of work went into that one. I can’t really say exactly why this campaign was successful while the other two weren’t. My family and friends were a big part at helping it reach its goal. I think people just wanted to see what a polar bear zombie was all about. I had Frank do some promo pieces, along with a few kick-ass prints that he did. I think people just gravitated toward the whole concept. It was a great experience, especially once the goal was met. And then, the real work began.
IM: What about after the campaign? Were there any issues with delivering the product to your backers?
JM: We were actually able to get everything out a few weeks before our original shipping schedule. Thanks to Frank working so fast to get the book done and the printers getting everything done in a timely matter. It was a lot of work, but we were able to do it. In the end I was pleased with the results and I’m sure the backers were.
IM: What are your future plans for Polar Bear zombie? Is there a sequel in the works? Will this be a continuing series?
JM: Originally, Polar Bear Zombie was just going to be a one-shot. I wanted to do something fun for my first book and not really do something on a larger scale, like a miniseries or ongoing. Once the first issue was done, I started brainstorming ideas and have decided to do a few more issues and see where it goes from there. I have the script for issue #2 done. Which, once my next two projects are done, I will start looking for a new artist to replace Frank with.
IM: Tell our readers where they can find you online and where they can purchase a copy of Polar Bear Zombie.
JM: I have the website www.pbcomics.com, as well as a Facebook page under my name. If anyone would like to purchase a digital copy of the book, you can purchase it for 99 cents at www.drivethrucomics.com. For a printed copy, you can purchase it at www.comicfleamarket.com. Or you can order directly from me. Just send $4 through Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a signed copy, shipping included. If you really want to help me out, tell your local comic book shop to take a chance on the book.
More info on our interviewer: Steve Pennella