Interview with Comic Writer Rachel Deering

I’m a superhero comic kinda gal, but this is my second interview with a horror writer this month, and I’ve gotta say, this is stuff is great. Rachel Deering‘s writing is top notch, and the art that accompanies it is totally strong (perhaps even as strong as the  female protagonist of Anathema, which, by the way,–and I just figured this one out– isn’t simply a cool, creepy sounding name, but actually means something relevant. Look it up). Quite frankly, I’m honored to have had the opportunity to interview such a successful female comic writer:

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

Following the age old advice of “write what you know”, I make comics about lesbians, werewolves, tortured souls, and fucked up dreams.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?
The Warren Publishing books are my favorites. Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, etc.
What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?
I started making my own comics after repeatedly reading and re-reading the small stack of horror books given to me by my uncle. When I could recite those stories from front to back, I knew it was time for some new terror tales, and the only way I would get those is by creating them myself. There were definite drawbacks to living, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere.
If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?
Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows, Devil Doll, Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses, and Hammer horror movie soundtracks.
You did some editing for the Womantholgy book. How does wearing the editor’s hat influence your writing?
Having an editorial background, I tend to consider all aspects of creation when I’m scripting. I can see the panels in my mind, how they should be laid out, where the lettering will go, how the words and images will flow together and lead the eye down the page. I’m extremely mindful of each element and how it will work within the overall composition.
We don’t often see strong female leads in comics, especially not lesbians, like the main character in your horror comic, Anathema. When you decided to write a comic with a lesbian lead, did you have any concerns about how it might be perceived or pegged by readers, reviewers, etc?
Not any more than I’m concerned about how people will perceive me. I’m a lesbian, myself, so I was just writing what I know. I don’t tend to think about my sexuality much. I’m sure other people do, and some of them may even work themselves up into a frenzy about it, but I couldn’t care less. If you let yourself get upset over something so simple and irrelevant to your every day life, you should probably just stop reading comics altogether.
What path led you to becoming a professional comic writer?
The intense and undying need to tell stories. I honestly have so many ideas rattling around in my brain at any given moment, I can’t think about much else. Day jobs were terrible because of how much I would daydream about these fantastic characters and settings in my mind. Eventually, I had to give up the steady paychecks and chase my dreams. Luckily, my wife has a really good job, so we have enough money to pay the bills and keep health insurance.
What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?
For me, it was that nagging uncertainty that comes with most creative brains. Constantly doubting myself and my abilities. Worrying about whether or not my stories were good enough for other people to read. I was constantly telling myself to give up the charade and go running back to the day jobs. That whole thing has subsided a bit, but not completely. For others who might be in that particular mindspace, I’d say just keep working and turning out stories. Not every story is going to be a hit, and maybe the majority of them will be crap, but you’ll eventually turn out that one idea that really works for you.
Like many comic creators today, you used Kickstarter to fund Anathema. Can you take us through the process—from idea to publication—for making Anathema a reality?
It’s a dreadfully long story, but here are the basics: I was taking a shower and the idea came to me. I told some artist friends of mine, and they all said it would be an impossible sell. I didn’t listen to them. I self financed three pages of art and took those to kickstarter. I raised enough money for issue 1 and released that to the world. The story was well received, so I went back to kickstarter to finance the remaining issues in the series. Now, here I am, waiting (im)patiently for issue 2 to be finished.
How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?
I’ve never tried publishing as a man, so I don’t think I could provide any sort of clear comparison. I would HOPE that the experience is not at all dissimilar from one gender to the next. I know I don’t think about what’s between my legs or under my shirt when I’m writing. I’m just telling the stories that need to be told.
What is your next project?
I currently have seven projects in various stages of production. There will, of course, be further issues of Anathema. I’m also working on my all ages book The Other Side, a whole host of anthology stories, a capes and tights one-shot, and a dark fantasy/adventure/humor series. Like I said before, lots and lots of ideas rattling around between my ears.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t listen to the hype. Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. Every single person makes their own way in life and uses experiences and lessons in a different way. If you’re trying to live your life by the mistakes and successes of another person, you’re almost certain to fail. Or come out the other side a copy-cat, which is probably worse than failure. Be yourself and tell the stories only you can tell.
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Interview with Comic Writer Kara Barrett

It’s not every day that I stumble upon a comic that 1. has a strong female lead 2. has awesome art 3. involves fighting, superpowers, and other such kick-ass elements. Kara Barrett’s The End Is Totally Nigh gets a little checkmark for each of my qualifications for a throughly enjoyable comic book read. And there’s a lot to learn from Ms. Barrett, who made her dream comic happen through the help of Kickstarter, hired artists, and a ton of hard work. In this interview, she shares her experiences and advice for those looking to get their comics out into the world. (Oh, and check out a preview of the comic here.)

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

The End Is Totally Nigh is one BIG burrito-wrapped apocalypse of awesome filled with hellfire, horseheads, heroes and demons! How’s that?

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

My favorite comics right now are Rachel Rising and Saga. But I’m always looking for new titles. You have any recommendations for me? I’ve also backed a few on Kickstarter that I can’t wait to read.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?

I read comics when I was a kid and then stopped. When Buffy went to comics, I picked up a few copies and fell back in love with them. A few years ago I started writing this story in a loose format. I looked at different mediums for my story, and ultimately decided that comics were the way to go. I think they are a great way to put your story into people’s hands.

Tell me about  The End Is Totally Nigh.

The End Is Totally Nigh is a story about a girl with mysterious abilities who is trying to stop the impending apocalypse. She suddenly has the ability to exorcise demons, but it isn’t sure how or why she is able to do this. All she does know is that the demon army is about to rise and Lucifer is going to walk the Earth. It’s up to her and a group of ragtag demon hunters to try make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a supernatural story filled demon bad guys and plenty of apocalyptic drama. I think readers will really enjoy it.

If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?

The End Is Totally Nigh playlist? Yes, I’ve got to create that!  I think there’s some country music on that playlist. T-R-O-U-B-L-E and Amarillo by Morning for the main character Jane. And Thunderstruck. That’s a must. I’ll have to ponder on the rest.

Why did you decide to write a comic with a strong female lead? When I began work on my own graphic novel, Fusion, I purposely wanted to break gender stereotypes so prevalent in superhero comics. Were you motivated at all by a similar “feminist” objective?

I definitely wanted strong women in this comic. The End Is Totally Nigh is filled with great female characters who take charge. They are also drawn in a more realistic manner than a lot of what you see in today’s comics. I hope that is a refreshing change for some readers.

You used Kickstarter to fund The End Is Totally Nigh. Would you use Kickstarter again to fund another project? Why did you choose to use Kickstarter in the first place?

I heard about Kickstarter and decided to try it as a last attempt to make this series happen. It was a lot of work but totally worth the effort. I think crowdsourced funding is helping a lot of indie writers get their stories to public. I think that means we can expect a lot more variety in comics and graphic novels. I would definitely try it again and may do so very soon. The End Is Totally Nigh is funded from my own pocket, so I will be in need of an influx of cash soon to keep the series going. 

What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?

I think I read something recently where someone said, there is no such thing as ‘breaking’ into comics anymore because of sites like Kickstarter. If you have the gumption, you can just go out there and MAKE a comic. I think that’s true. Write a story you believe in, find an artist and get your funding. Anything is possible!

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?

Self publishing is a lot of work, especially if you are new to the business and no one has ever heard of you. But the upside is that if you self-publish you can keep all of the profit. If you have the time and money to devote to self-publishing, then go for it. Personally, I am juggling full time work, freelance work and writing and promoting this series. My plate is pretty full. I have recently found a small indie publisher willing to help distribute the title. I hope to be able to announce who that is very soon. Once I have more experience I may pitch a new book to a big publisher and see if gets picked up. Ultimately, I think it’s really just a matter of what you have the time and money to accomplish.

How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?

I really don’t know. This does seem to be a male dominated industry, but that is changing. Kickstarter and sites like that are giving a lot of female writers a chance to create and publish their own projects. That is really exciting. I’m glad to be a part of that.

What is your next project?

I have two in the pipeline. One is a mini series and the other is a one issue horror story. I hope to get the funds to do one or both of them later this year. Right now I’m devoting my energy to getting my series off of the ground and hopefully hitting some cons this year.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

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Interview with Comic Artist Bill Blankenship

I was perusing samples of Bill Blankenship’s work, and I literally said aloud, “Wow! Awesome art!” Really, I seriously did. Bill’s work is technically awesome while maintaining a strong sense of personal style. So, it is my honor to introduce Bill Blankenship, comic book artist.

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

My comics are made by someone who loves comics and is devoted to the craft, and he is chained to a desk in my basement.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

Nextwave. That book is a combination of everything I like.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?

Greg Capullo was a huge influence on me as a kid. I was reading Spawn probably way younger than I should have. I think 11. That and The Maxx around the same time. I think this is around the same time I was a Power Rangers fan so it’s mixed. Ghostbusters was a really early influence and one that I think stuck.

If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?

The Black Keys, Dr. Steel, Gogol Bordello Ronald Jenkees, Die Antwoord, Fugazi, B-52’s, The Like, DJ Shadow, Hockey, Muse, Radiohead, Puscifer. That’s some of stuff on my go-to work playlist.

Tell me more about “Abigail and Rox.” I saw the sample pages online and found the comic’s tone/themes familiar—with clear Alice and Wonderland inspiration—yet somewhat haunting.

That was a collaboration that helped me work out my environments. It had a lot of amazing and creative settings that you could elaborate in order to show what kind of world you were dealing with. The story had this feeling of the loss of childhood and I wanted to portray that as best as I could.

How have you developed your personal style, both as a writer and artist?

A lot of work and study of the techniques of artists I like for starters. I mean years of work. Study of the craft of cartooning, the science of it, to get that base to work from. For a while I really didn’t allow myself to really play with style because I knew the foundation wasn’t there. I’d also see a lot of young artists use it as a crutch and as appealing as that can be it’s not serving the story and I knew that. My simple page layouts are probably a symptom of that.

What was most challenging about self-publishing your novel, Special Edition?

Promoting it and scheduling. I really didn’t plan ahead as well as I should.

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published?

I’m probably the last person you want to ask for advice but I think it’s pretty evident that doing it yourself is the smart thing. I’d recommend learning all the parts of the trade. Don’t just be a penciler. The next generation of creators to succeed are those who control their works and go directly to the audience. Make comics. Put them out there. Promote them. Listen to feedback. Strive to improve. Expect to work for 5 years before anyone cares about you. You have to be devoted to the craft.

How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?

I think it’s pretty obvious that mainstream comics lacks a woman’s voice, but the reaction to that has been a swarm of amazing women creators in the indie world. That indie world is going to be a lot more important to comics as a craft and business in the next few years in my opinion.

What is your next project?

Without saying too much it’s going to be done with Action Lab, as with every other project for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to put some things I’ve learned and things I suspect to the test. It’s something I’ve had in planning for a long time and something I think a lot of people will be excited to see.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I do hope anyone still reading this continues to support Action Lab and our projects in any way possible as we strive to make comics that people want to read, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported us so far in his endeavor. It’s been amazing so far.

And mostly I’d like to thank my wife Darcy, without whom none of this would be happening.

Comic Books 101–Part Six

Selling Your Comic

Instead of a typical class, this Friday we got to listen to five comic creators talk comics, self-publishing, dealing with feedback, and collaboration among a whole slew of other topics. Honestly, I can’t recall the names of all the creators present, but notably among them was Garrett Anderson of Newton’s Law, Dan Dougherty of Beardo, and Onrie Kompan of Yi Soon Shin. Two main topics discussed during this panel I found most significant: how to sell you comic and how to effectively collaborate with an artist. I’ve broken up these two topics into two Comic Books 101 posts. This post, Part Six, will discus selling your comic. Look out for Part Seven for tips on collaboration.

Okay, you’ve written a comic. You found an artist (or several), spent hours getting the thing formatted and printed, and got yourself a booth at a comic convention. If you think all the hard work is behind you, think again. As a self-published comic writer, you gotta learn how to sell.  Self-publishing comes with an often-times hefty price tag, which you’re hoping to pay off through sales of your comic. Not to mention, you’d like people to actually read the thing you’ve slaved over for the past couple of years.

The comics panel had some valuable insight into the process of selling one’s comic. Kompan suggested finding yourself a gimmick, something you can do that nobody else can. Search for alternative revenue streams (consider advertising on your website, striking a deal with an airline to put complementary copies of your comic in the back seat pockets, write articles based off your research and submit to magazines and newspapers). Don’t just rely on comic conventions to make your sales.

Consider skipping the middleman and sell directly to retailers. Always carry a copy of your comic with you. Pass out bookmarks or postcards wherever you go. Most people don’t turn down free stuff. Dress professionally because it’ll give your comic greater credibility.

The thought of selling freaks many people out. They think they’re going to have to push hard for sales or, like a sleazy car salesmen, cheat customers. If you think of selling in this negative light, you’ll make few sales. Rather, think of selling as sharing an opportunity. You like your comic, right? In fact, you love it and ought to want to share it with the world. With this mindset, as Kompan said, selling something you like, isn’t selling. If you’ve got enthusiasm for your comic, it’ll almost sell itself.

Got any selling tips you’d like to share? Post them as a comment and share the wealth!

Comic Books 101—Part Five

How Will You Break into the Comic Industry?

“How will you break into comics?” my professor asked the class. He chose three students to convene in the hall and discuss their determined path to becoming comic book writers. The rest of us, he told us, were to play devil’s advocate.

The three students came up with three very different plans for how they were going to break into comics. After the remainder of the class picked apart their ideas until things got a little feisty, we had developed three unique—and possibly doable—ways to break into this turbulent, unpredictable industry.

  1. Attend comic conventions and network like a crazy person. Or, as one student put it, become a comic book whore. Give your comic to anyone who walks within a three-foot radius. Stalk editors and pitch them your arsenal of story ideas. Grab a beer with some fellow comic con attendees after the day is over and continue your networking endeavors well into the night. Basically, make full use of the opportunities a comic convention has the offer. What could be more beneficial to an inspiring comic writer than a large group of comic professionals crammed into a convention space for the sole purpose of talking comics?
  2. Pursue the indie rout. Utilize your current contacts within the industry and just BE NICE (because you never know who can help you later on). Sell your work on consignment in willing comic shops. Set up shop on Etsy.com. Self-publish until a publisher with more funds and expertise is willing to pick up your work. Basically, prove your worth as a writer by creating your own stuff NOW, nurture and grow you contacts, and just get yourself out there.
  3. Brand the hell out of yourself. Start a blog. Don’t create a new you, but do hyperbolize the real you. Social media is your best friend, so utilize it. Write for other blogs or web sites, even if they don’t initially seem to be relevant to your career path. Basically, build your digital platform and launch off it as much as possible. Hell, go viral!

My personal plan for success consists of branding (hello, Ms.Comix!), networking (did you know that comic book publishers/editors/writers/artists actually really like to chat with newbies?), and writing, writing, writing.

Which path will you take?

And, by the way, some other quick tips I learned in class today:

  • Standards are tough right now, so hold yourself to them.
  • Take advantage of what might seem like a disadvantage (e.g. being a woman in a formerly all “boys’ club”).
  • The self you are selling is yourself…only more so.

See you next week for another Comic Books 101!