Ultraist Studios Blog Journal thoughts, musings and other rambling…

April 5, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.14

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 6:00 am

Blair: First of all, I’m glad you liked the ‘pseudo Spanish’ in issues 2 – 4. Coming from the guy who pretty much mastered the art of written dialects, it means a lot. My first plan was to have a friend of mine from Paraguay translate all of the Seven Deadly Dwarfs’ dialogue into proper Spanish for me, but I don’t really write a proper script before I start drawing, and I’m usually doing dialogue changes right up until the final inks, so I never got around to actually getting her to translate anything for me. At the same time, my kids were into watching the old Looney Tunes cartoons and the way Pepe Le Pew talked always cracked me up. Another thing I thought of that was funny was the poorly translated bootleg DVD’s from Japan. If you’ve ever read some of the movie descriptions on the backs of the cases, it’s hilarious. They’re trying to come across as proper English, but some of them are almost illegible and are even more entertaining than the actual movies. I decided to use Google Translate, an online translation program, where you type in a sentence and it will automatically translate it into whatever language you select. With each sentence, I would type it into the program and convert it to Spanish, then I’d convert it back from Spanish to English to see if it was legible. Usually it wasn’t even close, so I’d reword the sentence to almost cave man English, until it made sense. For dialogue that didn’t really matter to the story, I’d keep it cave man English translated to Spanish, straight from Google Translate. When it was imperative that you knew what the Seven Deadly Dwarfs were saying to understand the plot, I would keep most of the nouns as English, and would make the pronouns and adjectives Spanish, or at least make it so that there were enough English words to make sense of the sentence. (I also used a traditional Spanish-English dictionary if the computer wasn’t giving me words that made sense) Sometimes there was funny dialogue that I knew that 95% of the people reading it wouldn’t get, but I hoped that for the 5% that knew Spanish it would at least make sense to them and it would be a nice bonus for them to get the jokes. I’ve actually gotten a lot of positive comments from people who know Spanish, and much to my relief, they said it all read well in a funny way, which is what I was going for. I purposely tried to use English phrases that wouldn’t technically work in Spanish, like in issue #2 when the midgets are blowing up the safe while they’re robbing the bank, Glotonaria (the fat one) yells out “Fire in the hole!”, which translated to Spanish makes absolutely no sense unless you know both Spanish and English. There’s been a few occasions that I’ve met people from Mexico who have been attending conventions and they’ve absolutely loved the bad Spanish, so I guess I was successful in what I was trying to accomplish. The accents that you managed to portray in Cerebus was a big inspiration for trying something different like what I did, and I actually thought at one point that I’d try to write out the Spanish accent in English like you did, but I ended up chickening out.

I’ve got a couple of other ideas for different ways to write dialogue that I’m not sure if it’s been done before, but one of them will be in issue #6 which I’m plotting out right now.

Mike: Well, since I chose to become an animator, a father of five, and a comic-book artist in my “free-time”, it’s safe to say I err on the side towards making masochist “time-consuming choices”… or let’s go with calling it “good ol’ Judeo-Christian work ethic”, which sounds a lot better.

The reason I was using Toronto as Spy Guy’s city (going all the way back to the high-school gag comics), is because I had always heard it be said that you should “write what you know”. I decided to make SPY GUY into a black and white indie comic when my friend and collaborator told me he had decided not to do his Cyber-Punk black and white indie comic, and since my ULTRAIST black and white indie comic was closely intertwined in his comic-book universe, I abandoned my comic as well and decided to resurrect SPY GUY. At that time I was living in down-town Toronto. For my 1996-1998 day-job, I was being flown around North America to attend CGI tradeshows and I was seeing lots of different cities, and decided to use the opportunity to take reference photos for my new SPY GUY comic-book. Only when I started doing so, I realized how different other cities really are; “THAT’s not what a Toronto dumpster looks like!” “THAT’s not how the Toronto curb and sidewalk looks like” “A Toronto manhole cover doesn’t look like THAT!” and it hit me how different every city is from one another.

When I moved to Hawaii (which is where the bulk of SPY GUY: Bootleg was created) I was hyper aware of Toronto as a unique city with it’s own unique details. I had also read interviews and articles with great storytellers and directors who said that the location is also a character in the story. So I’ve always been hyper aware of that aspect as well. All of this became very important.

The Spy Guy look was always based around classical animation with the cell painted characters, and intricately detailed painted backgrounds. It didn’t help that I was being heavily influenced in comics by Gerhard’s backgrounds on Cerebus and Katsuhiro Otomo’s backgrounds on Akira. So that was always a specific look I was going for. If nobody else even noticed those backgrounds, I’d still probably keep drawing that way just for myself. But the thing is those backgrounds have received a very good reaction. Charlito from Indie Spinner Rack pointed to the last panel on page 12 saying that could look like it was from any realistic comic. Even you yourself said “the cityscape behind the cop car is as detailed as anything George Perez ever did.” which I took as a huge compliment. Erik Larsen told me when flipping through SPY GUY #1 “SOMEbody has been influenced by Dave Sim…” which I obviously took as a huge compliment.

One of my favourite reactions to get are from people who know the city of Toronto, but have been away from it and yet when they see the backgrounds they can immediate place it. They know where that street corner is. They recognize that landmark. They have been there. When I keep getting reactions like that, I certainly don’t regret drawing them… if anything, the one thing I regret is that I can’t draw those backgrounds faster… but I’m working on it!

Now I’ll ask YOU one that I’ve been curious about for a while…

My research for SPY GUY has lead me down various rabbit-holes where I’ve found information about conspiracy theories, secret societies, shadow governments and various mystery schools. And what has amazed me is how much of the esoteric information and symbolism I’ve retroactively found that seemed to echo in Cerebus. Here are a couple of them:

Adam Weishaupt was the founder of the Bavaria Order of Illuminati.
Obvious connection to President Adam Weisshaupt all the way back in issue #21.

Nasa (Project Paperclip) lunar missions allegedly as Masonic cabalistic rituals.
Made me think of the Cerebus ascension, and especially tied together with the footprint on the moon in #111

Hermaphrodite and androgynous occult symbolism.
Cerebus as a hermaphrodite.

The bronze sculpture called Sphere Within Sphere (Sfera Con Sfera) for the Vatican Museums.
Reminded me of Church & State and Mothers & Daughters gold spheres.

Plutonic age – Chemycal Wedding / Chemycal Divorce – attaining truth by confronting and removing all that is false with the self.
Similar to the astrological elements in Minds with Cerebus ending up on Pluto talking with Dave.

Cult of Aton – Origin of mystery schools – Egyptian sun worship cult.
The Last Day in Cerebus – Sheshep and the Harmaclus in the mind blowing issue #299.

I don’t know how much of this stuff in Cerebus was actually pulled from esoteric sources, but regardless, to me it seemed to have parallels to it. I know that while writing Cerebus you were on the lookout for the capital “T” TRUTH. And it was Rick’s Story where you seemed to have found it in God. But the inclusion of these other things interests me because I keep coming across it in researching secret societies.

So, long question short – I’ve been curious: Where did you get the ideas for some of these esoteric elements and how did you decide to put them into the Cerebus comic?

April 4, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.13

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 9:01 am

April 3, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.12

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 6:15 am

Mike: That last answer was great!

It really got me thinking…

Answering YOUR question: There are a couple things in there:

A child, once they realize they are capable of being mobile (6-10 months old) is nearly impossible to keep still for an extended period of time. At this age reasoning to stay still and stay quiet is out of the question. There are diversionary tactics that work – sippy cups, baby cookies, books, toys – but that only buys you a certain number of minutes. This lasts until the child develops certain cognitive abilities where they can understand what “stay still and stay quiet” means and they can understand that there are certain consequences for not staying still and not staying quiet when they are in a place where they should be still and quiet (2½ -3 years old).

Attending a church service with a child at this young age requires one parent to be acting as a diversionary tactician for the better part of the full church service. A third of that is usually taking the child out into the lobby and walking around with them so they’re not disturbing everyone else when they begin to go bonkers from sitting cramped in the little bench for an extended period of time.

Once the child is over three years old (if you’ve done your job right as a parent) it is smooth sailing.

If a child is old enough to be running up and down the isle with toy race-cars, then that child should be old enough to understand “stay still and stay quiet”. In that case, it seems to me it’s the result of laxed parenting. Here’s a bit of advice to new parents: If you do your job right at the early stages of your child’s development (which is hard) your child will learn proper ethics and judgement and act on them as they get older (which is easy). Proverbs 13:24 is scripture for a reason. But this is the thing; with proper discipline, you’ll find you rarely need to discipline. I can’t think of the last time I had to actual spank any of my children… last year maybe? Children are smart, and they do what works. If misbehaving doesn’t work, they don’t do it. It’s really that simple.

In the case of Erikson, he’s very well behaved and disciplined. All the kids are actually. The fact Erika was able to walk around downtown New York City last year like a mother hen with all four children in tow and behaving perfectly while I was at MoCCA all weekend is a testament to that. I asked Erika about your specific discussion with her and it confirmed my hunch that in this case, what she was talking about with things being crazy, is that Erikson has had hockey Sunday mornings all winter, so the running around she’s talking about is actually us driving him to the arena to play his hockey game, and then driving back. Anika also has had soccer practices Sunday mornings all year, so we’re also driving her around. After all morning doing that, we have to decide if we want to get dressed up to chase our baby/toddler Markus around a church or just take a timeout in the morning to catch our breath.

And this gets into some other things:

The primary thing I enjoy about a church service is the sermon. However that normally lasts for only a few minutes (5-15minutes?) The rest is standing up, sitting down, singing songs, etc. And that portion of the service I have never really connected with. Adding to that an already exhaustive schedule and a small baby/toddler that can’t stay still, for Erika and myself that adds up to the tipping point. Personally I don’t necessarily feel the need to sit in a church every week to exercise my religious beliefs. I think the internal aspect is far greater. As for our children, they attend a Catholic School, so attending a mass during school hours is already part of their curriculum. And the people we interact with in our daily lives are part of the school and church community, so that aspect in our lives isn’t lacking either.

But the BIG one for me is this:

It’s that society has drifted completely off the mark with observance of the sabbath. I remember being a child and every store was closed on Sunday. Now a Sunday is treated like any other day by the majority of the community. So it becomes yet another juggling act trying to fit everything into the schedule. If God is in our lives, is it absolutely necessary to go to a church to stand up and sit down and sing songs? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I really don’t know the answer. In the end we just do the best we can do with where we are at any given moment. One thing I do know is that getting back to a proper observance of the sabbath would do wonders for everyone.

Blair and I have slightly different views in regards to some of the things I’ve typed here, so I’m very curious to see what his answer is going to look like. Over to you Blair.

Blair: The “self serving” view of church is a hollow view as far as I’m concerned. Really, it’s nothing more than a form of consumerism. I think we have to start with what church is supposed to be and what purpose it is supposed to serve. As human’s we’re wired for being part of a community, and when we attend church it should be as a selfless act of worship, where each member of the church family has a role to prop up other members of the church. It’s not enough to show up to church, listen to a good sermon and go home. We’re to be servants, just as Jesus was a servant and without the church body, we’re missing out on so much that the Holy Spirit has to offer. I can only say that I for one love seeing kids in a church, and I commend parents who faithfully bring their children to church on a Sunday morning, as it’s not an easy thing to do. Mark 10:13-14 automatically comes to mind when thinking about children getting in the way of worshipping: “13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” I think children reflect such a pure form of worship that I can only be humbled by them. I totally agree with both you and Mike that parents have a huge responsibility in disciplining their children and teaching them how to behave and if the parents neglect their role, things fall apart quickly, but I don’t think that segregating yourself or the children from the church community is a healthy solution. By doing that, everyone loses. I think that if children are getting in the way of us worshipping God, then the problem is not the children, but rather, I believe, the problem is us. Sure we have friends that we socialize with, but in our day to day lives we gravitate to like minded people, or people similar to us in age and in stage of life. What about the elderly lady who has so much to teach us and in turn, needs young hands to help her? A church community is such a vibrant mix of people, all held together by the Holy Spirit, and it’s such a beautiful thing when it’s allowed to thrive in the context it was created for.

I also think that our relationship with God has to be looked at. I’m coming at this from a Christian perspective, because that’s what I am, and to me it is the most healthy perspective. I find it fascinating that we are taught by Jesus to approach the throne of God boldly and also that we are taught to regard God as “Abba” or Father. We’re called to have an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe, not just approaching the throne on our knees, but we have permission to crawl up on the king’s lap and find comfort in his arms, and ask Him for the most trivial of things like a warm glass of milk as well as the largest of things like the stars and the moon. If we dilute our relationship down to only religion like the Pharisees did, then we’re missing out on so, so much of God’s love, and in some cases we’re missing the mark entirely.

As my pastor says, before praying for the children and sending them off to Sunday school, “Now is not the time that we send the noisy children off to Sunday school so we can get down to real church business” and Sunday school should never be just a babysitting program, but rather a place where the children can have age appropriate learning about God. The children are a vital part of the church and should be treated with the utmost care. The “Born this way” argument is scary, because anyone who has children HAS to admit that we’re born sinners and we need to learn how to behave. Just like all of Christianity (and this is what I find so fascinating about Christianity) is the polar opposites that exist within it. Children possess such a pureness and innocence, but at the same time they’re selfish little people that need proper guidance and discipline. If you love your children, you discipline your children, just as the Lord disciplines us because he loves us.

OK, now we’ll ask you one……
I’m curious as to how your religious views affect your recent comic work. Is it something that you feel obliged to work into it, or is it just something that naturally works it’s way into your art because it’s ingrained in you? (or on the flip side, do you ever feel the need to hold certain views back and just play it safe?)

April 2, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.11

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 8:56 am

April 1, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.10

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 11:45 pm

Mike: Addendum to yesterday’s answer: When Blair read my response, he informed me that he thought you were probably asking about the response to Cerebus Readers In Crisis #2 in general (as opposed to the response from the specific comic strip)… which is a very different answer.

At conventions when people walk by, they’ll see the word “Cerebus” on my table and THAT is where I’ve received some VERY different reaction based on geographic areas.

The negative response being “Cerebus?! … Yeah, I used to read it … before he went CRAZY at the end … heheh <mockingly nervous laugh>.”

And the positive response being “Cerebus!?! NO WAY!!!! Yeah, that comic is amazing. I LOVE Cerebus!”

In my circles, people admire Cerebus, so I could never understand what you were always talking about being the “Evil Misogynist & The Pariah King of Comics!” Aside from glimpses of some skewed comic articles, in my daily life I wasn’t seeing it.

Now APE in San Francisco was the first time I had copies of CRIC #2 for sale and suddenly I began to witness the backlash. The reactions blew me away! It was easily a 90% negative vs. 10% positive. You could feel the judgemental negative ooze just dripping over the table. It made me think “Ohhhh…. THIS is what Dave has been always talking about… I get it now.” It comes off as a meme that has been injected into the collective consciousness. The repeaters are repeating.

Though coming home to Toronto, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, for Fan Expo and Word on the Street and Paradise Con. Complete opposite ratio of being 90% positive vs. 10% negative. (I forget the response from TCAF, but I think it was positive). Now that was very interesting to me. It was like there are two different camps in the two different geographic regions.

Then when we went to SPX in Bethesda, MD there was an even 50 / 50 split. Both reactions extreme and polarized.

Word on the Street: Halifax was overwhelmingly positive as well. Nearly 100% positive.

I can’t remember the response ratio for MoCCA in New York City and San Diego Comic Con…

SPACE had to have been 100% positive as well.

Then in all the above scenarios there was also a very tiny fraction of people who saw the cover, picked it up, said they had heard of Cerebus, vaguely knew of any controversy either way, but were very curious about both Cerebus and CRIC. At every comic convention there were a couple of those people (especially in Toronto).

All that said – them flipping CRIC open to the Self-Publishing Marathon strip didn’t result in any negative reaction directed towards it in particular… or at the very least, not that I know of.

Answering today’s question:

SPY GUY does enter my thinking on a daily, even hourly basis… Unfortunately it’s usually thoughts like “where can I squeeze in an hour to actually work on this” or “how the heck am I going to eventually make money from these comics” or “when am I finally going to master that darn inking?” or “man, I can’t wait to get to THAT issue… but at my current pace, that’s going to be in ten years… D’OH!”

The thing with animating, is it gives me plenty of time to think, but it’s always fragmented thoughts, and there is little time to DO!

With the day job it inevitably comes down to Parkinson’s Law, where the work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion. So no matter how fast I try to get the work done, it always comes down to a last minute deadline crunch. The work gets done early? Well, then there’s another round of retake notes. *sigh*

Is it the default setting? Hmm… yes, but it really ends up being this weird trinity of Family, Comic and Debt. The “Clark Kent Day Job” of course is required to pay the debts of daily living expenses, mortgage, printing bills, etc. In a sense it’s like juggling chainsaws; if you get the throw and the timing right you might be able to go for quite a while, but get it wrong and someone gets hurt. It doesn’t help that all three things are “Great White Sharks of Devouring Time”. It’s pretty much go-go-go from 7:00 in the morning until 11:30 at night (I’m typing this at 12:16am). Free time? HA! If I’m not working the “Clark Kent Day Job” then I’m working at being a good husband and father, and in between all that I’m trying to find a couple uninterrupted hours where I’m not completely brain-fried so I can get in the zone and get some comic momentum. I am blessed to have an amazing supportive wife, and an awesome family who can survive while I’m isolated in the Ultraist Studios Art Bunker. And luckily I do have a way to pay the bills. But it sure would be nice if these comics would start paying some of them. As of now, the energy in just doesn’t equal the energy out. But it’s what I enjoy doing, and that counts for a lot and that’s why I keep going.

It seems to me it’s a lot like being Spider-Man, juggling the superheroing, and the day job, and the relationship… I feel for that Peter Parker guy.

Blair: I think about The Possum everyday. I’m not sure if it’s always productive thinking, because usually there’s always something else that requires my attention at any given time. The goal is to squeeze in time to think and plan whenever the guilty thoughts of “I should really be spending time with the kids or I should be focusing on my animation work right now” can’t come into my head. Time by myself to just think is so rare that I’ve resorted to thinking in the car (which means shutting off the radio), in the shower or just before I lay down to go to sleep. Unfortunately, those are usually the times that I can’t write things down in my sketchbook, so my mind keeps thinking of the same things over and over again in a loop and never really comes to a conclusion about a certain issue I’m thinking about. I always thought of myself as a very relaxed guy, but recently I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m always a little anxious because there’s never enough time in the day to do everything that I should be doing. Sometimes I get envious of my single friends who have very low living expenses and no obligations to other people (much how you were describing your own situation during your last fax). Just think of how many comics I could draw if that was me! But it’s a pointless thought because truth is, I would give up comics in a heartbeat for my kids if I had to…. Heck I’d die for my kids! (Fortunately at the moment, I’m not forced to do either of those things). There’s a flip side to having kids too, because part of my motivation for making comics and creating artwork that I own is that I want to be able to leave something for my kids when I die. Sure, drawing comics is something that I love doing, but with work for hire animation, I have nothing to show for it after 12 years, other than my name in some credits, a decent reputation and a good demo reel that will get me more work for hire. But maybe with The Possum or something else that I draw down the road, I can leave my kids something with some value. Heck, my kids are the first people I think about when I’m making comics, because essentially I want to make something that they would enjoy reading (now or when they’re older) and something that they can learn things about me from. If I have nothing more than some fun stories that show my kids aspects of me that they may not otherwise have seen when all is said and done, then I think it was worth it, even though the goal is still to make a living doing what I love while at the same time making something that people enjoy. The tricky part is to be productive, but not let my constant thinking get in the way of quality time with my family, and not let comics creep it’s way up the ladder of my priorities over my family (all while maintaining that good ol’ Judeo-Christian work ethic that you attributed to Gerhard earlier). The hierarchy has to be God, family, then work in that order, and it’s something that has to be kept in check. The work serves God and the family, and the family serves God, and not the other way around.

And don’t get me wrong. There are many times that I get lost in what I’m doing with the kids and the thought of comics don’t even enter my mind, but as soon as we’re done and the dust settles, The Possum enters my mind again, the wheels start spinning, and I’m trying to solve a problem with a plot, plan a marketing strategy or think of a cover design. One thing that you touched on that is so hard for me is when I’m working away and I hear little feet coming down the stairs to visit me. I love those visits and I wish I could have a little drawing desk next to mine that the kids can sit in and draw next to me all day. Sometimes we do that, but for the most part, it’s a lost cause to try to work while the kids are with me. I want them to see me work and I want to answer all of their thousands of questions, but at the same time I have to be strict about the rules of disturbing “Dad” when he’s downstairs working or else every 10 minutes I’d get another visitor and nothing would get done. My kids are 2, 5 and 7 years old and I’m well aware that the window of them wanting to hang out with their dad doesn’t last too long, so every now and then I have to step back and let them break the rules.

As far as Alphabuddies, I’ll let Rochelle answer that one, while I go swimming with the kids!

Rochelle: Hi Dave. It was nice meeting you at “The other Kitchen’s” as we say, not too long ago. I had heard much about you from Blair over the years, and have obviously seen your work, so it was good to put a face to the person that has had much influence on Blair.

As far as your question regarding the story behind Alphabuddies, I have been writing different children’s book idea’s for awhile now, and in 2006 I came up with the idea of having alphabet letter character’s interacting while forming simple words together: A book that would target a preschool age for letter recognition and early reading skills. Most of the stories I had read to my own children didn’t have a fun way of keeping a child’s interest and enthusiasm for early reading. My theory is learning before the age of five should be play based, so I began writing and I was enjoying the way it was going until I got stuck. I was having trouble with a particular part in the story and I simply procrastinated. I would go back to it here and there when I had time, but could not get past my writers block. Christmas was fast approaching and I was looking for creative ways to make my nieces and nephews gifts, when I had the idea which was influenced Dr. Seuss (strangely enough) to frame the letters of the alphabet in the design of these characters.

Blair then began to brainstorm all the possibilities I could do with it. Thus my small business of Alphabuddies was formed. So I began creating several different letters, representing different objects or ideas for each letter, ex. E is for egg.

I designed as many E’s (and the rest of the letters of the alphabet) as I could illustrate an idea for. Some were more male oriented and some more female oriented leaving a few to work either way.

When I finished my library of letters, all I would have to do to create a child’s name is format them together, possibly change the colours and I had a custom name ready to be printed. I also made T-shirts.

I began to participate in several different craft shows over the years, and have had a good time seeing people take an interest and delight in my work. Especially the kids.

I was also offered the opportunity to create an animated interstitial based on my characters, which I would love to do some day, but I would like to be able to be involved with that opportunity, and at this season in my life that isn’t something that is possible.

I still make orders for some loyal customers of mine, and the idea of an interstitial would be awesome, but in all honesty, I would really like to get back to finishing the book and illustrating the other stories I have created when my youngest starts school.

I have enjoyed seeing the changes that have evolved with this idea over the years, and I’m eager to finishing the very thing I started. Until then, I’ll keep being influenced by my wonderful kids and scratching out new ideas and drawings.

Alphabuddies pitch – leica reel from Possum Press on Vimeo.
Alphabuddies are created and designed by Rochelle Kitchen.  Leica by Blair Kitchen.

Mike: Now I’ll ask YOU one…

I’ve found it interesting that after your 6000 page epic story, that both Judenhaus and glamourpuss are closer to commentary than they are to traditional story. And the parts that are telling a story, it’s much closer to a documentary than it is to a narrative fiction. It surprised me picking up those new issues for the first time because I had just come out of reading The Blog And Mail (which was also commentary) and found them to be similar in tone – that is to say; commentary, and in the case of glamourpuss parody, but with amazing pictures. You got into this a little bit with your conversation last week with Jimmy Gownley (by saying it’s the exact opposite to being enticed by writing more fiction), but I was hoping to get some more details…

What is you think, that is directing your interest towards the historical and commentary aspects with your current work, and away from the narrative fiction – Is it that you already told the BIG story you wanted to tell – Or is it something else entirely?

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.9

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 8:41 am

March 31, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.8

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 10:41 pm

Blair: I didn’t have a chance to cut in on Mike’s last email, but I just wanted to add my opinion on the topic of you still enjoying comics after making them for all these years and Mike saying he has very little interest in movies and animation these days after working in animation for 14 plus years. I must say that I still have a real soft spot for animating and it’s probably one of my favourite things to do, art wise, even though I’d be a very happy man if I never had to animate for someone else again (just for myself). I’d love the chance to turn The Possum into an animated movie, (I picture it something in the vein of a Roger Rabbit, minus the live action… man that would look cool), but it would have to be done that way, and like Mike says, it would most likely require starting up a studio and getting private investors, because the chances of a big studio giving me anything close to the deal I’d want with the quality control I’d want is almost impossible. I actually have mostly storyboarded out a 2 minute short which one of these days I’ll get around to animating. I love the Dick Williams model of film making; working with a small crew over a longer period of time. I realize that’s not how most movies are made these days, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

You, Dave, were the first one to mention self contained stories to me back when I was working on The Possum #3, I think, but I was half way through a 3 part story spanning from issues 2 to 4 (I did feel very strongly to make issue #1 self contained, which I did, even if I had to make it 72 pages). When I met Sergio Aragones at the 2010 Wondercon in San Francisco, I gave him issues 1 to 4, and he read them that night. When I spoke to him the next day, the first thing he mentioned was that he loved the expressions in my drawings, but he said “how often are you putting these comics out? Once a year?” to which I replied, “pretty much”. He said “You’ve got to make them self contained stories”. I was already planning on switching to the self contained, stand alone story per issue format, but I figured if Dave Sim AND Sergio Aragones are both telling me this, I have no choice but to quit planning and start doing it right away, hence the next 3 Possum comics which I have loosely written are all stand alone stories (although, there is a greater story arc that weaves it’s way through all the issues much like Stan Lee did so well with Spider-man). Sergio went on to give me a half hour critique of my pacing, (telling me panels I could take out to condense the stories) and showing me examples of his own work where he’s done just that. It was a real eye opener for me, and hopefully I can implement his advice in all my future issues of The Possum, starting with issue #5. Mike told me how he asked you when all the inking techniques that you were showing him “clicked” for you, and you said, not until you were working on Glamourpuss. Mike here with an insert comment – Yeah, that blew my mind. I was expecting you to say Cerebus 38 or 86 but the fact it was so recent for you… wow. I was speechless. Back to you Blair. That was both reassuring to hear and disheartening at the same time. If after 300 issues of Cerebus, you still had things to learn, I’ve got a looooooong way to go, but at the same time, I can’t beat myself up too much if I haven’t learned everything after 5 issues. I know with animation, many things I’ve been told by very talented animators never sunk in until 5 years later, when I’d be animating a scene and then all of a sudden a lightbulb would go off in my head and I’d go “That’s what he was talking about!!” I’d go from understanding the theory of the idea, to actually understanding how to apply it properly and understanding why it was so important.

As for my process, the drawings don’t come to me nearly as effortlessly as Sergio Aragones makes it look, but I do keep my rough pencils very loose. I usually do sketches of 2 or 3 of the panels I’d like, in my sketchbook and then thumbnail out a very quick page layout so I know I can fit in all that I want to show on the page. From there I pencil straight onto my illustration board that I’m going to do the final inks on. As I’m inking, I’ll have a pencil close by so that I can fill in any details that I’m not sure about, or go over any poses that are a little tricky (pretty much anything that I can’t see clearly in my head what it’s supposed to look like). I tend to use a bit more perspective in my panel designs during action sequences than Sergio might use, so I’ve found it wise to figure the perspective out clearly before I go to ink as well. Usually in a 24 page comic, there’s 6 or 7 poses that I need to figure out on another sheet of paper and then transfer it to the illustration board. I think if I used the tracing paper like you and Mike do, I’d loose a lot of the life out of my drawings, so I don’t do it too often. Sometimes I feel guilty though, as if I’m being a hack and not spending the proper amount of time on figuring out my poses, so I’ll start pencilling a bit tighter, but I find it doesn’t make the drawings look any better. I’m getting to learn what parts I can pretty much go from stick figure pencils, straight to ink, and which parts I need to slow down and work the drawing out properly before I apply the final ink line. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have white out though. When I first designed The Possum, I consciously chose to work in a style that came naturally to me because I knew that I wouldn’t be making comics full time at first, so I’d have to be able to work quickly when I could work, and also, coming from animation, I was always drawing characters that other people designed, so I was always working in other people’s styles. I didn’t even know what my style was at the time, and most of the drawings I did was trying to mimic other animation styles. I was always a big fan of Groo the Wanderer, but I hadn’t read the comics in years and it was kind of a shock to me that what came out of me was in that style. Since I started drawing The Possum, it’s been really freeing for me artistically. I would never caricature people at work or doodle, nearly as much as I do now, because I was always trying to make my caricatures and doodles look like other people’s work. Once I just let loose and stopped thinking how my drawings should look and just started making them look how I thought was funny, drawing became fun again.

And as per your request, I’ll post a bit of Rochelle’s artwork here:

MIKE: Blair’s e-mail didn’t have any pictures attached so I grabbed some of Rochelle’s Alphabuddies drawings since I knew where to find some… maybe Blair will send some other stuff later!

Okay, my turn. In SPY GUY’s defense; SPY GUY: Bootleg was self-contained, SPY GUY : Minis was self-contained and SPUD & HARRY was self-contained, but at this point I decided to just dive in and finally do the three part story I had been itching to do with The Unlimited Series. I had been sitting on “First Strike” for a decade and I wasn’t getting any younger… my solution was always to try and bring each issue to it’s own mini-climax. The ending to SPY GUY #1 is; the bad guy gets away. There is some closure there, or at the very least, that was my intent. Of course if I’m being successful at it or not is a different question entirely. The ending to SPY GUY #2 is a little more open ended. So I am hearing what you’re saying. All of this IS at the forefront of my mind. Lots to think about. Okay, enough of me playing “Spy-Guy’s-Advocate”…

Sparked by yesterday’s discussion, here are two other thoughts I had about getting comics into reader’s hands: Creating micro-distributors through readers by selling five packs of comics at say a fifty percent discount and allowing those readers to sell comics to their friends. Then they get a comic they like and can make some money doing it. Would it work? I don’t know. Or maybe comic swaps with other self-publishers – Trade a box of SPY GUY for a box of THE POSSUM and then I can sell Possum comics for a profit and Blair can sell Spy Guy comics for a profit. Expand that to other self-publishers and you’ve effectively expanded your reach to different geographic areas and can infiltrate conventions that you personally aren’t attending.

I was also thinking that participating in an “indie-brain-trust” would be a great thing to do in order to spark new ideas. Taking part in discussions like this is a good step in the right direction. Great to get ideas flowing. With so many indie guys out there, you’d think we could come up with something.

Okay, answering today’s question!

Self Publishing Marathon

The response to this comic strip was one hundred percent positive. At conventions I point it out to people who are flipping through Cerebus Readers In Crisis and it is always met with a good natured laugh. Of course I’ve also been told at conventions that I look like the mixed martial artist former UFC Champion Randy Couture, so maybe detractors are intimidated and simply bite their tongue. But then again, I’ve posted the comic online where all the internet trolls could have had a go at it, and even there it hasn’t received a negative response. Animation colleagues have told me that this was one of their favourite drawings I’ve done. Others have told me if I put it on a t-shirt they would buy it and wear it. Others have asked for it as a poster. Makes for a dull answer, I know. Would have been a lot more interesting if someone threw a hissyfit over it. Oh well.

Now I’ll ask YOU one…

So we talked a bit about distribution through Diamond, but now I’m wondering about self-publishing from a more macro view in 2011. I got thinking more about “making a living” self-publishing during your conversation with Steve Bissette over at MYRANT. As the discussion progressed I started looking for examples of guys who successfully self-published in 2010 and I was stumped.

Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon: As an Image Founder, would you consider this self-publishing?

I thought there were webcomic creators successfully self-publishing their own work, though it turns out many of them are being published through Image or Dark Horse or Del Rey etc.

David Petersen with Mouse Guard: That’s published by Archaia Studios Press.

Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl: That’s published by Olympian Publishing.

Andy Runton’s Owly: That’s published by Top Shelf Productions.

Mark Millar seems to have the greatest success in comics these days, but his Millar World projects aren’t self-published and he seems to be going after the Hollywood cash infusions.

Mark Oakley is still self-publishing, but is he earning enough to support a family?

It sounded as though Jimmy Gownley was struggling with Amelia Rules! before Simon & Schuster acquired the publishing rights. Comparing Bone direct market sales to the 4.5 million BONE books in print from Scholastic is astounding. I found it interesting even that Cerebus: High Society was getting Spanish, French and Italian translations through various publishers! Which is great because all of these comics are getting into the hands of new readers, and the creators who own the work are able to make a decent living off their creator owned works. On one hand it tells me that people still want to read comics. On the other hand, it has me wondering “what’s a self-publisher to do?”

Are there any 2010 self-publishing success stories?

The most interesting 2011 example I can think of (for prose books) is the author Seth Godin who has started self-publishing his own work as “The Domino Project” in association with Amazon.com (I’m not sure exactly what “powered by Amazon” means, but when I asked, Seth told me he owns “The Domino Project”). I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

What about self-publisher with families?

Can you think of any successful self-publishers (earning enough to support a family above the poverty line) today in 2011?

Heh – I guess counting the question marks, there’s more than one question up there… but despite being somewhat of a scattershot question, it is one train of thought…

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.7

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 9:05 am

Hey everyone. Mike here. If you’re enjoying this conversation, and know of anyone else that might enjoy it, please share it with them! Facebook it! Retweet it! E-mail a url! (you can even use the share button at the bottom of this post). It would be great to drum up some added buzz.  Thanks!  Okay, now on to Dave Sim’s latest fax:

March 30, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.6

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 9:35 pm

Mike: Regarding movies and movie reviews; very interesting. It made me think of Jimmy Gownley’s question to you about enjoying comics after making them for all these years, and your short answer was “yes” you still enjoy comics. For movies and animation, I’m the opposite; I have very little interest in movies and animation these days (unless they’re truly exceptional). I think movies ruined me for a lot of the reasons you wrote. That and production shell-shock… and working on stories that aren’t my own. But I’m still as obsessed with the comic medium as I was when I picked up that first Andy Capp collection printed by Fawcett Publications off the shelf at my grandparents cottage.

And I know your aversion to thinking in the superhero vein. But I don’t see why you couldn’t do a short Rip Kirby, X-9, Heart of Juliette Jones, James Bond, Charlies Angels photo-real style short. My experience at Comic Con tells me they’re looking for that stuff. Actually that could even work in glamourpuss… anyway – just random ideas. Being of the Dave Sim School of comics myself, I totally understand NOT wanting to bother with that at all.

Regarding Diamond, I don’t mind discussing it at all. These were the boxes that were checked off on the form letter I received from them:

  • The writing is not up to the comic industry standards. The following aspect(s) of your writing could use improvement.
    • Story Concept (our market is slow for this type of product at this time)
  • The publication specs you have chosen for your title have proven difficult sales-wise for out consumers and retailers. Please reconsider the print size and/or production quality of your publication.

The story concept comment, is strange to me because there ARE crime-drama stories (Criminal), and there ARE comics with cartoony characters (Bone, etc.) so I’m not sure what they’re getting at here. It sounds to me like they’re asking for superhero comics, which I’m not interested in doing.

For publication specs, I get the sense that what they’re really looking for is a graphic novel trade paperback OR a colour comic. I have no interest in making SPY GUY a colour comic (well, that’s not entirely accurate; I have TWO ideas for one-shot SPY GUY colour comics, but that’s it – absolutely no interest in a colour unlimited series.), so my thoughts for this suggestion were to collect the First Strike story into a collection. I even wondered if it would be worth while to see if another publisher would want to reprint it as it seems any comic with an Image “i” or an IDW or an SLG etc. on the cover gets more respect (insert Rodney Dangerfield routine here). Maybe that would help break through the direct market blockade…

Recently I’ve been thinking that my best course of action would be to post images of pages as they are completed online as a webcomic. I had been resisting this because I like the idea of a story coming out all at once on paper, but doing so would kill a few birds with one stone; it would help with exposure to expand the fan-base, it would force a certain amount of momentum with frequent updates, it would force me to complete a page before moving on to the next one and it would ease the gap in between getting the next comic done, since it does take a while making these comics during moonlighting hours. The BEST solution of course would be to get a comic done every month, or every two months, but when it doesn’t provide living expenses, it’s kind of like keeping your head underwater… you can only do it for so long.

Of course meanwhile over at HAVEN DISTRIBUTORS (where stores everywhere can order ALL of the SPY GUY issues to date) they gave a glowing review of SPY GUY #1 and made it the STAFF PICK! So when it comes to building bridges half-way, I’m thankful they reached out to me, and right now I’d like to do whatever I can to help build up their distribution. I think that would be healthy for comics as a whole.

When I talked to the folks at Midtown Comics at MoCCA Festival last year, they told me that the SPY GUY comics they picked up directly from me for Indy Comics Week sold REALLY well. And I should mention that it was Gahl Buslov at Midtown Comics who made the single largest purchase of SPY GUY and THE POSSUM to date. I’m eternally grateful that they took a chance on our books, and I’m thankful that it worked out well for them.

And this just came in via wireless internet from Blair somewhere between here and Texas…

Blair: The “Dave Sim the pariah” thing has always amazed me. It seems the people who claim to be the most “liberal” are the first people to get violently offended when someone does not agree with their liberal views. I guess I’m just not liberal enough to expect everyone else to think like me.

Seeing as though I’m somewhere between Cincinnati, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky as I’m typing this (on my way to Texas with the family), I don’t have access to my “Diamond rejection slip”, so I can’t quote it word for word, but essentially what they said was:

  • They didn’t like my paper quality
  • They didn’t like the cover to issue #1, and
  • They said they’d like to see it as a trade paperback

To be honest, I didn’t send them issue #4 when I completed that one, but I’m planning to contact them after issue #5 is completed early this summer. You’d think that my solutions would be quite simple if I changed the paper quality, redid the cover to issue #1 and combined the first 5 comics with a square binding, wouldn’t you? I’m not entirely sure what they’re looking for though, as far as paper quality goes, because their critique is kind of vague. Are they looking for glossy white paper, or just a thicker newsprint? Can Jeff Smith get away with using newsprint on Rasl, because he’s Jeff Smith, or is he using the specific type of newsprint that Diamond likes? As for the cover to issue #1 I do see their point and I would have no problems redoing it and making it a little more dynamic. I like the current cover to issue #1 personally, but next to all the flashy covers in the Previews, I can see how it might get overlooked. As a collector’s standpoint, I don’t like the idea of having multiple issue #1’s out there, but maybe if I do get into Diamond one day the first printings or “non Diamond” versions can be the collector’s items (And I’ll be rich because I’ve got boxes of them in my basement!). On a side note, I bought Usagi Yojimbo #1 (first printing) off of Stan Sakai at last year’s San Diego Comicon for $5.00, and he must have had them since 1986, so I don’t feel too bad having a basement full of comics, as it’ll give me something to sell at conventions for years to come, at least! – Mike: Cutting in with an insert comment here; I remember us discussing this on the drive back to Kitchener, and the idea of creating scarcity in a collectors market with an issue number one. I knowingly printed an excess number of SPY GUY #1 with the intent of getting it into as many hands of new readers as possible, though my solution for creating a collectors item was to create the limited foil-stamped platinum edition à la glamourpuss #1. Okay, back to you Blair… I’m also not a fan of trade paperbacks that only collect 3 or 4 comics at a time and I’ve always pictured the first Possum trade as 10 or 15 comics at least, so the dilemma is finding a way to keep your artistic vision and make Diamond happy at the same time.

My plan as of now is to print issue #5 on my own using a similar format as the first 4 Possum comics (with a slight change of paper), and then figure out a format that Diamond likes. Your baseball analogy works really well. There’s a part of me that is waiting for the timing to be right, because if I ever DID get The Possum into Diamond, I’d have to be ready to go out all guns a’blazing and put everything I have into marketing and sticking to a bi monthly schedule at least. I think it’s a matter of being scared that I would only have one shot at making it work once it makes it into Diamond, and if I don’t have my sh*t together when that happens, I could miss the boat completely. Mike: Cutting in with another insert comment – I can’t say there is any fear for me. It’s strictly a tactical analysis. This is where my military analogies kick in. If I’m going to take a shot, I know I’d better make it a kill shot. If circumstances are not providing the shot I need, then I’d better reposition myself and keep my finger on the trigger. Until then I’ll just keep going ahead with the carpet bombs. Once the defences are weakened, then it’s time to send in the ground troops. Back to you Blair… Plus, there’s the matter of 3 little Kitchen’s and a missus to feed, and I haven’t wrapped my head around how I would do that if I was to start making comics full time, starting tomorrow. With all that said, I’m feeling that with 5 comics under my belt, the time is coming where if I’m going to do anything, it has to be soon, and I’m realizing that there’s a big difference between being someone who makes comics, and being a pro. It’s always a battle, deciding if the 3 or 4 hours a week I have to dedicate towards comics is going to be researching who to contact at Diamond and how to organize those damn barcodes, or if those 3 or 4 hours are going to be dedicated to inking page 8, but sooner or later the answer has to be “both”.

With all that said, I realize that there is no guarantees that if I make the changes I’ll even get into Diamond, and even if I do get into Diamond that my orders would meet the minimums, and even if they did meet the minimums, there’s no guarantee those orders would pay even a fraction of my bills. But as Mark Twain said (I think it was Mark Twain anyways) “Looking back, you’ll be more disappointed at the things you didn’t do than with the things you did do”…… and then there was something about sailing in there after that. If I wasn’t typing this from a car on Highway 71 (don’t worry, Rochelle took over driving duties while I type this), I’d look the quote up on the internet and quote it exactly so I sounded smarter than I am.

Now, after watching the last two episodes of Cerebus TV, I really would like to know where you learned to dance the twist!!, but keeping with a similar theme, I’ll ask you this one: What were your first impressions when you saw our books, and after hearing what Diamond thought and our reactions to it, I’d really like to hear any further thoughts or suggestions that you may have.

Mike: “Brace for impact!”

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.5

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 8:22 am

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