Jumping Mediums or Too Broke To Make Comics

If you’re fan of my work, chances are you have only read my comics. There’s a good reason for that. Aside from a short story I posted on MySpace back in the ancient days of social media, none of my prose has seen the light of day.

That same story which I posted on MySpace, Culture Revolution in Wheaton Illinois, was the first piece of writing I completed when I decided to quit music and become a writer. It was a poorly crafted non- story, with a charismatic MC and a solid voice.

I received the first and most in depth rejection letter of my career from that story. The editor pointed out that I had a gift for narrative and atmosphere, but that the manuscript was essentially a slice of life soapbox for my perceptions of modern society.

To put it plainly, Culture Revolution wasn’t a story. There was a beginning, but no middle or end. A struggle is set up but never resolved. It was socio-political rant spoken through a proxy of how I wanted to be seen at the time.

I wrote two more short stories right after Culture Revolution. One was an undercooked horror yarn with some interesting imagery. Once again, I was more concerned with presenting a message (in this case the liberating nature of the Satanic archetype) than I was in telling a good story.

The other was a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic tale about a neo-nazi and an average Joe who are the sole survivors of an alien invasion. With this piece, I finally told an actual story. It wasn’t great. Probably not even good.  It was important though, for two reasons. It proved to me that I could craft a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. Conflict was established and conflict was resolved.

The second reason that story was important was that it demonstrated that I could create flawed characters, characters imbued with extreme cultural taboos, and make them sympathetic.

None of those stories found publication, and rightfully so. They weren’t good enough. They lacked real passion. Also, prose wasn’t my primary interest. Short stories were something I did while I studied and navigated the world of my true passion, comic writing.

With no fan base or experience I wrote and self-published my first work, Kincaid#1. It sold well on commission at comic shops and at local conventions.  Like my early prose work, it wasn’t great, but it was real! I could hold it in my hands! People bought and enjoyed it!

Shortly after Kincaid #1, I started writing comics for anthologies and other publishers. I wasn’t putting out tons of material. I wasn’t getting paid. But damn it, I was making comics!

And comics were good to me, emotionally and mentally, if not financially. My comic, The Wrong house met with great reviews and was optioned for film. I’ve done work for hire with small publishers. Opportunities have come allowing me to expand my horizons and do non-fiction comics.  I won an award for Curse of The Black Terror. A project I dreamed up forever ago, Mastema, has come to life. It’s been a good eight years.

There’s a tough side to comics too though. The economics of the industry aren’t great, to put it lightly. The writer almost always funds the project. Sometimes that isn’t so. There are several artists I have collaborated with as co-creators and we roll the dice as partners. Most of the time though, the artist wants a guarantee of payment, and I can’t blame them.

“Hey, draw what I tell you and make my dream a reality. If it get’s picked up you can have some money.”  Kind of a shitty deal, right? That’s why the writer generally foots the bill. This is tough though, as most projects don’t get picked up. So if you, as the writer, can only bankroll five pages for a pitch, you’re out a several hundred if no one wants it. This is how writers end up with hard drives filled with thousands of dollars in artwork that the world will never see. For real, you should see all the failed pitch packages on my computer.

If it does get picked up, you might end up in a worse situation. Some publishers only pay backend, or after completion of the project. That means someone has to pay the artist up front still, unless he can afford to work on a deferred payment schedule (most can’t).

As a point of reference, without going into contractually protected numbers, the payment from Mastema only covers about a quarter of the costs I had to pay to create it. Add in to that the time and energy  investment of writing and overseeing the project.

That brings up my next point. There is pretty much no such thing as a “comic writer” unless you are slinging scripts for the big time. As a writer of anything indie, you wear many hats. On many projects I’ve had to do lettering, flatting, rendered colors, pre-press, marketing, etc… There is nothing wrong with learning these skills and applying them from time to time, but there is one major drawback of all this. It takes away from writing time. When I was doing Curse Of The Black Terror, I was spending more time each week coloring than I was writing. Eventually, I decided that I was spreading myself too thin. It was time to get back to focusing on story.

Not wanting to take away time from my writing, nor wanting to compromise another project with my inadequate coloring skills, I found myself facing a very expensive next project.

I was trying to buy a home at that time, and couldn’t keep taking money away from my family to add to my hard drive gallery. I decided to stay strong and just be a writer though, which meant changing the way I did things. I sought out work scripting comics for others, and took two jobs writing biography comics. I developed a few properties with artist friends, based on things we mutually wanted to do. But the biggest change I made, was to revisit prose for the first time in years.

In the interest of honesty, I can’t say that my return to prose was motivated purely out of love for the medium. Not at first anyway. Initially, it was a matter of practicality and curiosity.

I had this story I wanted to tell about a former Confederate soldier who was trying to save his son from a malevolent entity. Originally, I thought of it for a comic. The story demanded a long form though, and to bring on board the kind of artist I wanted, for the size of story I wanted to tell, it would have cost a small fortune. Of course, I could have done a pitch package with a half dozen finished pages, but I figured that even if a publisher wanted it, I would still have to pay up front costs.

So what to do if I wanted my western, cosmic horror story to become reality? Why not give it a shot as a novel? This thought was appealing to me for a number of reasons.

First off, with prose, you know where you stand. If a rejection letter landed in my inbox, it was because of my writing. No possibility of it being the artist’s fault. If I succeeded or failed, it would be completely on me.

Secondly, if I did meet with failure, at least I wasn’t out any money. I can deal with investing time in writing, even if it turns out bad. Worst case scenario, I got some practice and learned what doesn’t work.

I wrote a few practice stories, just to flex those old muscles. Visual storytelling is really more about direction than language. Scripts are blueprints for an art team. Prose requires a different skill set. While crafting a story is similar, you need to be able to convey that story clearly, in a manner that is enjoyable to read. You need to worry about meter, rhythm, and redundancy. When trying to “show, not tell”, you have to show your audience with words, where in comics you can tell a whole story with only pictures (my King and Cub comic, for example).

My first new short story was a re-write of a comic script I had never done anything with it. The prose version came out weak without the visual storytelling techniques that the story had been built around. The second was a horror retelling of Pinocchio, which could have just as effectively been told in a comic format. It works well as prose, but did not demand it (Pinocchio & The Black Pantheon will soon be free to my email subscribers…hint, hint).

My third attempt was The Book Of Echo. This story relied on a long winded narrative from a self-absorbed narrator. It was the kind of introspective story that wouldn’t have room to breathe on a comic page. The freedom of movement offered by this short story was incredibly enjoyable for me, and I had found a rekindled love for telling stories in this medium. The Book of Echo got picked up by Beware The Dark magazine, and I suddenly became a multi-medium author.

Still wrapping up loose ends on Mastema, I got asked to co-write a project with another writer for an artist friend of mine. I jumped at the chance and re-focused on comics. A few months of writing and flatting (I got roped into being apprentice colorist) went by, and we got an offer on the book. It was great! I hadn’t spent a dime, and here we had a publishing deal in front of us. But it was backend pay (kiss of death). The artist who had initiated the project couldn’t afford to spend the next month or two on work that meant only speculation of pay. I was asked to bankroll it, but I just couldn’t afford it. The project died then and there.

After that, I moped for several days and considered quitting writing altogether. I threw a temper tantrum and told my fiancé that I was going to find a more productive way to spend my time. Perhaps binge drinking would produce better results.

Instead, I got my mind together and focused my attention on a novel I had been toying with. I threw myself into it completely. It was mine, and mine alone. No partner’s interests to consider. No creative differences. No god damn flatting or lettering or pre-press.

A few months went by and I had a complete manuscript, entitled The Devoured. And it was good! I did a re-write, and edited, and polished. I had beta readers give me input, and I re-wrote again, making it shine. The ability to polish something up until it’s gold is unique to prose. You can work a comic script over and over, but once the art goes down, it’s out of your hands. You, as writer, don’t have total control over the finished product. The same goes for film, or any visual medium. But in the microcosm of the written word, you have the ability to buff that shit up until you can see your reflection, and then deliver it to the reader just as you intend.

Within months of finishing my first draft, The Devoured was picked up by Winlock Press. It is, in my opinion, my finest work to date. And while I will always make comics, and the medium remains dear to me, nothing in my near-decade of comic creation compares to what I have accomplished with my first novel.

Mind you, I’m in no way saying that sequential art is inferior to prose. What I’m saying is that there is something uniquely special about crafting a story on your own, without the bonds of budget or creative conflicts.

So an experiment born from financial necessity has evolved into a whole new aspect of my career. I’m telling stories in new ways and to a new audience. I’m meeting wonderful new people and expanding my network. I’m experiencing things I never have and I’m gaining a broader view of the publishing landscape.

As I said, I’ll always make comics. They are my first love and were my first great obsession. As things are going though, I would not be surprised if my work as a novelist outpaces my work in comics. I’m already drafting my second novel, and I’ve chatted with Winlock Press about the possibility of a sequel to The Devoured.

Of course I’m always open to opportunities in any medium. My phone’s always on. For now though, I have a book to write.

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The Devoured to be published by Winlock Press

winlock_elements_03I have just received the signed contracts, making the publication deal for my debut novel official. Winlock Press, a new imprint of the celebrated horror publisher Permuted Press, will be putting out an e-book this summer, with a paperback to follow.
My novel, The Devoured, is a western/urban fantasy/cosmic horror yarn set in post Civil War America. I’ll reveal more details as things move closer to publication.
In the meantime, thanks to my fiancé, my beta readers, and to Monique Happy at Winlock for believing in the book!

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Ten Years to Mastema

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Some projects come to life easily. Others drag their nails into the vaginal walls of creation, screaming to stay in the mental womb forever. In the case of my most recent publication, Mastema, the latter was true. Luckily, I had had some minor successes before creating this book, and had managed to put out some material while it was being forced into the world. If Mastema had been my only focus during its long journey to fruition, I might have just quit along the way.

For those of you who are frustrated or depressed about a project that is stuck in some sort of pre-publication purgatory, I offer this timeline of my own nightmare project. It took ten years to get from concept to publication (during which I have produced everything else in my body of work). It cost thousands of dollars to create which I have yet to recoup.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely!

Timeline of Mastema

2005: My friends and I play a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that lasts several months. The most standout character is a demonic warrior named Mastema. In this original incarnation the character was an analogue for the anime character, Inyuasha.

2006- Wishing to make my own comics, I gather up ideas for an ongoing book.  My top three concepts are Mastema (based very largely upon the character from the aforementioned D&D game), Kincaid (a conspiracy driven super-power book, sans spandex), and Faceless (a crime story that would later morph into Curse of the Black Terror). Though I ultimately chose to go with Kincaid for my first comic, I had a concept sketch of Mastema created.

mastema-original

2008- After self-publishing several comics, and writing several shorts for anthologies, I went back to the Mastema idea. I re-worked the character, moving him into a unique fantasy setting. I also gave him a more roguish personality, motivated by money, but wanting to help those in need when he could. I wrote the script around this new version of the character and called it A Devil’s Mercy.  I submitted it to Polymancer Studios and received a polite rejection letter.
Later that year, I competed In the Platinum Studios Comic Book Challenge. During that competition I started talking with Alex Chong who was also doing a book for the contest. After the competition was over, we decided to do a short comic together. I sent him the script for A Devil’s Mercy, he re-worked the character design, and we made the comic.

Mastema

Alex’s concept sketch for Mastema.

2009 – Alex and I submitted A Devil’s Mercy to Arcana studios, hoping to find a home for it an anthology. Instead, Arcana offered us a deal for a full length graphic novel. Alex and I signed the contract and I began work on the script for the much longer story, Sins of The Mother.

2010- Due to numerous financial and personal obligations, Alex was only able to produce six pages over the course of a year. Arcana kindly agreed to publish the book with a new artist.  Alex stepped aside and Nico Leon stepped in as the line artist. Nico would also re-design all of the characters, save for Mastema himself.

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Nico’s concept sketch for Luedke

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Nico’s concept sketch for Darius.

2011- Nico, in a little less than a year, designed numerous characters, shaped the visual flavor of the world, and drew the complete story, Sins of The Mother.
Next we needed a colorist. At NYCC that year, I met Angel Aviles. We began talking at Buddy Scalera’s Creator Connection panel. Soon after the convention Angel signed on as the colorist.

CCMastema 632012-2013- Angel worked on coloring the book, trying to match Alex’s style as closely as possible. The rendering of the colors somehow came out too dark for print, and we didn’t realize it until Angel was about half way through the book. He had to go back to the beginning and adjust the colors for all the pages he had finished before moving on to the remaining pages. This whole process took the better part of two years, since Angel was only working on this during his free time. Arcana stayed patiently supportive.

2014- All of the colored artwork for the Mastema graphic novel was finally finished. I had been lettering it along the way and most of it was complete.  I put the words down on the final pages, created title pages and a back cover. Now all wrapped up, I delivered the book to Arcana.

2015- Arcana releases Mastema through Comixology. As of now, I’m not sure when it will be available in print, but expect it to be soon.

You can purchase Mastema for just 5.99 at Comixology!

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Mastema is on Comixology!

It’s been a long time coming, but Mastema is finally avialable. You can purchase my eighty-one page dark fantasy graphic novel in a digital format through Comixology (complete with guided view technology). The best part, it’s only $5.99. Mastema can be purchased here.

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MASTEMA-
Sins Of The Mother:
Mastema was once a holy knight before his soul was tainted by the essence of the demon Fenris. Mastema’s painful origin resurfaces to haunt both him and the witch who destroyed his life. As the demon Fenris hunts him down, Mastema is forced to align himself with his most hated enemy, Luedke, in order to survive. Meanwhile, a mysterious holy assassin is taking the offensive against Fenris. Will his faith pit him against Mastema and Luedke as well?
A Devil’s Mercy: Something unspeakable has happened at the temple to the God of Mercy. Unable to fix the situation from within, the clergy call upon the services of the infernal mercenary, Mastema. What terrible circumstances would force the hands of the holy to employ a half-demon warrior? The horrible truth of what happened is enough to turn even Mastema’s stomach.

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NYCC 2014

As many of you probably know, NYCC  just wrapped up this past Sunday. It’s one of the few pilgrimages which I make each year and always well worth the time, money, and travel. I network, attend panels, and buy stuff I can’t afford. My girlfriend accompanies me and mainly does her own thing, fangirling at TV and book panels, and at night we enjoy the peace of a hotel or wander around one of the greatest cities on earth.
I’m sure there are plenty of podcasts and news sites that will give you the rundown of all the big news, post all the best cosplay pics, and discuss the most important panels, but  I thought I would share my top show highlights nonetheless.

5) Eye candy.
assassin_blokAnd no, I don’t mean the scantily clad Harley Quinns and busty Jessica Rabbits (though that is all pretty nice as well). I mean the super nerdy shit. Lego sculptures, movie props, tricked out cars, Bat suits- that is the kind of eye candy I’m talking about. It’s not too often that you get to nerd out over an Assassins Creed Mega Bloks sculpture, or see a dragon head blinking at you.

 

 

 

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4)Not standing in this line.
nycc_lineI may not make the majority of my income from writing comics, but I do get paid. That makes me a pro and entitles me to a fancy pants professional badge. One of the great perks of that, aside from editors being a bit less likely to blow you off, is avoiding the ocean of people clamoring to get in.

 

 

 

 

3)New comics!
bible 2Cons,souther_dog especially cons of this magnitude, are a treasure trove of comics you’ve never heard of just waiting to be discovered. There are indie books which you’ll never see in previews, small press titles which have gone unnoticed, and future block busters which have yet to find a publisher. Ryan Browne was selling God Hates Astronauts at cons for years before he kickstarted it or Image ever picked it up. How cool would it be to have found it first?

 

 

 

2) The Tick Tock Diner
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My girlfriend and I stayed at the New Yorker for three nights. Two of those nights we ate at the Tick Tock Diner, a great restaurant connected to the hotel. My favorite meal is chicken parmesan, and the Tick Tock’s chicken parm is amongst the best I’ve ever tasted. The chicken was of high quality with a breading that was tasty and not overly crisp. The sauce had a slightly buttery taste which deliciously complimented the marinara. In addition, the penne was cooked to perfection and held a slightly cheesy flavor. If this wasn’t enough, the portions were enormous. I was able to make two meals of this entree. The best part? Dinner for two at the Tick Tock diner only cost us about ten dollars more (including tip) than our meal at Five Guys!

 

 

 

1) Friends and colleagues.
IMG_0083Between writing, pre-press, being a dad, and working fifty plus hours a week at my day job, I don’t find much opportunity to socialize with like minded folk. Getting some face time with collaborators, contemporaries, editors, and other nerds who live all across the country, and even the world, is extremely beneficial to my mental well being. Of course, there is a business element to it. We all want to drum up work and make connections. The fun you have though, the friendships you make, and the shared human experience are invaluable. Plus, who is more likely to get a gig from an editor, the dude he was talking philosophy and micro-brews with at NYCC or the nameless guy from the internet who sends him samples once a year? This year I had the opportunity to thank Buddy Sclarera for his Creator Connect panels where I met Mastema colorist, Angel Aviles. I also got to meet a former co-writer from the UK in person, share a long train ride with Lego artist, Jason May, shake hands with horror comic rock star, Dirk Manning, and discuss the history of Salem and the Boston Harbor islands with Andy Schmidt. A pretty excellent time all around.

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Mastema is at the printer!

My graphic novel, Mastema, has been a long time coming, first going through production hell, then serving a small stint in pre-press purgatory. I spoke with Arcana Studios earlier this week though, and they informed  me that it goes to the printer this week! Within a few weeks it should be available on Amazon and the Arcana Studios website. Once I get a more solid release, date I will post it here.
In an attempt to break into that Amazon best seller list I’ll be announcing a special offer to people who purchase the book on a specific date. I haven’t ironed out the details yet, but it will include digital copies of my self published comics, and perhaps a few other perks. More info to come on both of those fronts!
If you want to keep up to date on all things Mastema, check out the facebook fan page here.

Mastema

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Druids Of Winter Hill

Here’s a sneak peak of my new project, Druids of Winter Hill. On the left you can see the work of Current artist, Matt Lao. Matt tackles everything but the lettering on this. On the right you can see an earlier version of the same page with line art by Kundo Krunch and colors by Jim Vargas. The older version is from roughly four years ago. Since then the script has been completely re-written, save for this first scene. During a Comics Experience mentorship program I went through, Mike Siglain helped me edit out a lot of the character and story issues and come up with a much better script.
I thought it might be cool to show the comparison of the two pages. Matt did not see any of Kundo’s work ahead of time, as I didn’t want it to color his own vision of things.
Hopefully the next couple of months will bring about more news concerning this project.

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