“We’ve been in this hustle called comics for a long long time.”- Ed Piskor, upon being being introduced to Ally at Pittsburgh Comicon.
It’s been a busy summer and early fall. We’re pretty much done with comic conventions for the year (maybe December show) – Response to the God Child project has been really great and now it’s time for us to hunker down and get back to work on finishing the first big book to deliver to our publisher, which we are really excited about. (more on that at a later date.)
Getting back to shows and meeting fans old and new was really great. There was one fella who said he’s been looking for me for years to get me to sign some Hero By Night books and his FCBD edition. Over and over again I was asked for more Hero By Night and praised for those stories. I always see the collectors coming and stopping with their big carts when they see me and start paging through to find what they need signed. I can’t explain it, but it’s a really cool feeling to know that something I did has been cherished or put away. It really makes me think about my work and the craft differently. I’m of course asked for more, and there are more stories to tell. I may be up for it soon. Lots of things have changed, one important one being that certain entities don’t exist anymore and contracts have expired. I do believe ALL of the rights have reverted back to me. I’ll decide what i’m doing pretty soon, but it most likely will not involve another publisher of any kind. Just me.
Even though we went to the biggest convention in the world, and maybe the smallest, Pittsburgh Comicon really was Ally and I’s first “real” comicon working together. I was asked to host a panel on Saturday for digital comics and creative partnerships and I started off by telling my path to where I was now…. and essentially my “career” began at Pittsburgh Comicon in 1995. I never really thought about it in depth before. It’s been 19 years since I took this stuff as serious as I could. 13 of which were full time freelancing years. Some good, some bad, but I just kept trucking along as I matured. I went from hand stapled minicomics, self published comics, being solicited by indy publishers, freelancing for great indy writers, then crossing over into webcomics land (one of the first young punks to put their comics online when people said it was dumb and crazy) then finally “selling out” and then back to indy comics again.
I took a small detour for a couple years away from “the hustle”, as Ed Piskor calls it, but it feels really great to be back and actually feel like I’m back 100%. All of the good and bad experiences I’ve had over the last decade in comics and my personal life have ultimately made me a better storyteller.
It’s also been great to know my work or past articles are still inspiring and helping others coming up in the hustle. I would really like to start blogging some articles like that again. If you have any suggestions for topics in and around self publishing, comics, drawing or marketing and the business side, drop me a line or comment here.
Our new story is trucking along… you can read and follow along weekly for free at http://godchild.keenspot.com – Thank you!!!
This past Saturday I had the pleasure of driving to New York City to see the “KING KIRBY” play at “The Brick” theater in Brooklyn. A few weeks ago my pal Lucky the Painproof Man shared the kickstarter link with me and I told my girlfriend “wow, there’s going to be a play about Jack! I wish I could make it to NYC to see that”– and on Father’s Day she surprised me with the tickets on behalf of my boys. It’s the most thoughtful gift I can ever remember receiving.
The play itself opened while people were being seated and you’re to Jack’s back as he’s drawing away at the drawing board. It gave me chills as I imagined being a fly on the wall watching him work. And then the auctioneer walks in to start auctioning off his work at Sotheby’s as he stands there listening in semi-disgust…. he stops the auctioneer before she can get to saying the price his original art has sold for. The playbill is a mock cover of the Sotheby’s auction that was held in June of 1994, only months after Kirby’s death.
Anyone who knows me or has been around my office knows that Jack is a big inspiration to me. Not really because of his art, but because of his true character and his amazing work ethic. He knew that the magic was in the work. In the “craft” as Will Eisner called it. I relate to that “spark” that comes. The spark that has molded my life and, like Jack, pulled me out of a rough childhood and the feeling of being able to entertain and help others through with stories told in sequential art.
The play bills itself as “The hysterical and heartbreaking true story of artist Jack Kirby, “the King of the Comics.” And it truly was heartbreaking in the most amazing of ways. After the play we were invited out by the co-playwriter, Crystal Skillman and she asked me as kind of a Kirby expert what parts surprised me or was there anything that I had learned. Well, I was familiar with every story told throughout the play, but that didn’t matter. What did impress the hell of of me was how well this play was put together and how much history they packed into 75 minutes.
The actors were outstanding. Steven Rattazzi who plays Kirby really made you feel it. The spark. Or when he would stop to address the audience about what was really important or how the character really felt. Especially Kirby’s thoughts on World War II and the violence he had witnessed and how it changed him as a man but made him understand being human a lot more. Joe Mathers who portrays Joe Simon really did a great job of playing the friend that Kirby had in Joe. I love how this play really captured the friendship and amazing team of “Simon and Kirby” that was the spark that created modern comic book culture all around us.
And then there is the timeless huckster, Stan Lee. Nat Cassidy did a great job in portraying the funky flashman, double talking charlatan. He nailed Stan Lee’s voice. And the over the top dialogue that Stan was known for ranting in normal conversations. I got a great laugh when they introduced his character by having him playing the flute (poorly) in the Timely offices and annoying the fuck out of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. They did a great job of showing the weird nepotism that went on at Timely/Marvel.
Lastly, King Kirby also has elements of a being a love story. They maybe didn’t focus on this part enough, but with the limited time they had to scrunch down into 75 minutes it’s understandable. The story of Jack and Roz is very endearing. Roz, played by Amy Lee Pearsall, took care of Jack and became his armor over the years. I couldn’t help but get choked up a few times in those scenes. When they met and Jack asked her up to see his “etchings” – and the scene where Jack was going off to war and pulled out a ring and she freaked out, but he was humble and said “Well, don’t be too excited, I’m going to war” – And Roz had him promise to draw and send back all he saw. You see over time Jack was becoming a jaded Yankee and thought he was devolving into an apathetic nazi killing machine, and then a letter from Roz would come and it kept him human. Reminded him of what was important.
I really want this play to be a movie. It sheds a light on something the public doesn’t know. In the play Stan Lee’s character says in a dream sequence that the public doesn’t really care about the real story. That sometimes you just have to “make stuff up”. With the success of all the Marvel movies based on characters that Jack created and Stan took credit for, I really think that story in an of itself deserves to be told and could be even, dare I say it, Oscar worthy. I mean… the story about the guy who really made all the things that blew Hollywood up, but he never got credit for.
The other thing that kept making me tear up was the the thought of Kirby’s family coming to see this play. And what an honor it is to their father and grandfather. I wasn’t the only one in the audience moved to tears. I really hope they get a chance to see this. And if they don’t get to see the play, I hope they get to see a version of this on the big screen one day soon. Bravo to husband and wife team Crystal Skillman and Fred Van Lente for making this happen.
(All photos except the first one by Hunter Canning, thank you!)
Ally and I are are super stoked to be officially attending San Diego Comicon and will be signing our new book, The God Child #1. Look for us Friday-Sunday at the Keenspot booth. (It’s between Marvel and Image) We also have a few other announcements to make closer to the show, very awesome things.
If you haven’t been reading The God Child, now is as good a time as any! We update every Monday at http://godchild.keenspot.com We’re 17 pages in with tons more to come. I’m still not a fan of weekly updating but we have really busy lives these days with day jobs, kids, etc. I am grateful for the slow growth. It seems the numbers have been rising slowly but surely. I’ve never done a weekly updating comic before, I appreciate the patience from the fans. It makes me think, maybe I could bring back something else that’s been gone for too long. We’ll see.
What else is new? Flammable Solid has produced the “I AM COMICS” line of t-shirts which are for folks who read, make and generally love comics. Snag one or two today here.
Over the weekend writer Ally Monroe found the We Are Comics campaign and we were wondering what it was about and stumbled into the controversy surrounding the comic reviewer (Janelle Asselin) who posted a well deserved scathing critique over on CBR of the new Teen Titans #1 cover from DC Comics. (Seriously, what is up with that tiny door under Red Robin??) The idea that ridiculously sexists comic covers like this exist is not news to anyone, but what is terrible is that Janelle ended up receiving rape threats and people trashing her for her critique. She has the full story over in her XOJANE article.
The over sexualization of women in comics has bothered me ever since I was teenager. You would think a teenage boy would have LOVED going to look at boobs and scantily clad ladies, but the thought of someone getting a boner to a comic drawing was really gross to me. And I knew those types of boys and I always thought they were sad. Who knew they may have grown up to possibly rant rape threats to anyone who dared take their brokeback lady poses away.
The solution? We need a time machine to travel back to the early 90s. Terminator style.
In all seriousness though, while overly sexualized women have been in comics a long time, it was in the early 90s when things got REALLY out of hand. (Lady Death anyone??) What’s worse? It’s how young artists were taught that their women needed to be drawn. By editors. At portfolio reviews. Now that I think about it, I recall several “portfolio reviews” when I was 16 or 17 where whatever douche was behind the table would say “draw sexier women” because that’s what sells. It always creeped me out. Probably because my Dad raised me to respect women. I’m sure I’ve drawn some pinup material. But I’ve always resisted drawing cheesecake or brokeback junk.
Even when I was making a name for myself with Hero By Night, I drew the first 4 issues without any scantily clad women, and boy did I hear about it. From fans. From editors. From colleagues. It was always “when are you going to have a sexy chick character” and I’d groan. Who knows, maybe it would have sold better. But I never caved.
I always felt it helped alienate female readership for comics. I imagined a teenage girl walking into a comic shop and feeling out of place and that always bugged me.
But then again, today’s GOD CHILD page has two women embraced in a kiss on it. It could be said that I’m aiming to the lowest common denominator that I’m writing against… but in Maggie and Grace’s case, they are lovers. And the idea is that God has such a sense of humor that he puts the second coming inside of a Lesbian just to make some points of his (or her) own. They are normal girls, as best as I can draw them. And I’ve been proud to make a book with strong female lead characters. I hate male fantasies. I brought on writer Ally Monroe help make sure these female characters are believable. I can’t pretend to think like a woman or what they go through. Just as I can’t pretend to be a minority.
None of these issues are NEW in the comics industry. They’ve just been swept under the rug for a very long time. The internet has a great way of bringing these things to light, warts and all. Here’s hoping we see some positive change. Remember, bad things keep happening only because good people don’t stand up to them.
Hey, let’s blog about some stuff! Thought it might be cool to share some new things I’ve discovered that are making life more awesome.
White Rabbit and The Hive
On a Saturday afternoon a couple weeks ago Ally and I took a walk up to the White Rabbit Cafe in Greensburg. Not only do they offer probably the finest tea and coffees in the area, (homeboy makes a mean mocha) but they also have some neat loner books & games on the shelves. Ally happened across a little game called “Hive” which is kind of a cross between dominoes and chess. She busted out the rules and promptly kicked my ass at it several times. The object of the game is to surround the opponents bee tile, and all the bugs have different movement (like chess) and some have special abilities. If you like thinking games, it gets addictive pretty fast. I ended up ordering our own set for the apartment and travel. It’s a fun time killer.
Music: The Orwells
These days I usually discover music either on Alt Nation on Sirius Satellite radio or on Spotify. I caught a bit of this song “Who needs you” and immediately copied it to my spotify to check out the rest of the bands stuff. Also on Spotify you can see band bios pretty easily. Turns out these guys just graduated high school in 2013, but they have good taste in music. It’s not often you find a new young band covering The Stooges or even knowing who they are. Check out the fun version of “I wanna be your dog”
That’s it for now. As always you can check out and bookmark our latest comics over at http://godchild.keenspot.com (updates on Mondays)
Monday, April 7th we launch our new comic, THE GOD CHILD over at Keenspot.com. Head over there if you’d like to know a little more about it. Behind the scenes I’ve been creating this series with writer Ally Monroe since January under our newly formed banner, FLAMMABLE SOLID STUDIO. There’s also a site for that endeavor, but pretty much all roads lead to God Child.
We had shown the pitch packet around to a few publishers and all showed interest. But in the end, after weeks of deliberation, we decided to go it alone for now. We may seek an interested publisher to print the bigger tradepaperback collections. Really a lot of the sticking points for us were the “small print” in many contracts that could get us stuck somewhere or have a creation locked up. Even a “creator owned” one could be technically locked in with many pubishers “in perpetuity”. I’ll never sign another contract with that in it. Been there. Got the t-shirt. (No, seriously, we all did get t-shirts)
So how will we raise money if we’re giving away the comics for free??? Well this time around we are going to use a great service called PATREON, which is crowdfunding site for artists and creators. Sort of like an ongoing Kickstarter. It allows fans of our work to become “patrons” where you can give $1 a month, or more. In return we offer some cool rewards and bring you behind the scenes at Flammable Solid. We even came up with a fun “Mystery merch club” where you get a new piece of Flammable Solid merch every month, t-shirts etc. We really want to get as transparent as we can in showing the fans how we make comics and the fun we have behind the scenes. The more fans who get behind us, the more things we can do like going to conventions, printing books and possibly even launch more titles with new creative teams where they would be paid for their work and retain ownership or a nice royalty on things they work on that they didn’t create. (yeah that’s far off but the big picture in my mind) It’s possible though if readers get behind us and like what we are putting out. We even got in so early I was able secure the personal user name “comics” so our link is http://patreon.com/comics – Go check out the rewards and intro video
Speaking of which…. I can’t say enough how proud I am of what we’ve done so far. Not that it’s the best story or art ever created (far from it) but I’m just having so much fun fleshing out this new world of characters AND being able to do it with somebody I love makes it even more special to me. I can’t wait for the world to see it. That said…. it’s a big departure from my previous works. It’s not all-ages. It’s dark. It has some humor thrown in, but deals with touchy subjects. We didn’t hold back. I’m proud of some moments where the art and expressions really tell the story so well. While I’m not the best artist out there, and I’m shaking off some rust, it just feels really good to NAIL a page or two and think…. did I draw that?
Mark your calendars, The God Child starts on Monday, April 7th 2014 at http://godchild.keenspot.com
Pardon my dust while I mess around with a new website design. I plan on blogging a lot more again and showing off some of what we’ve been up to behind the scenes.
I’ve been working non-stop on not only our new comic project, but also building out multiple websites and social media setups for our big push. My day job over the past 1+ year has really allowed me to exercise my graphic design and marketing muscles, and it’s exciting to throw all I know and some new things I have learned while working with major brands into something that belongs to me.
My current schedule is kinda crazy. I work the 8 hour work day kicking butt for our partners and then I come home, make food, maybe catch an episode of House of Cards as my little escape, and then I go to work in the studio until 2am sometimes 3am.
We’ve signed our first contract with a company I trust (announce soon) which will allow us to control our IP and not have it locked up in perpetual limbo. Been there, done that. Without going too much into detail yet, basically you will be able to read the comic online for free but we have some really interesting ways to help support the creative team and effort. We’ll be spilling some beans very soon.
In the meantime, hold fast while the website dust settles. And thanks to all of my friends for the well wishes and encouragement. It’s good to be back doing what I was supposed to do and I can’t wait to share what we’ve been up to.
One of my greatest weaknesses is probably seeing the best in people, when when they’ve let me down. It’s probably the main reason I had made poor choices in the past with business deals I made, or failures in friendships or my marriage. Surely this nice man who tells me how great I am and how much he loves my work and how he’s glad to find a friend like me wouldn’t stab me in the back or send me down the river? Surely when someone says they are sorry and won’t do that thing they did to you again, you should trust them right? But then they do it again. Sometimes like clockwork.
And even when colleagues warn you not to trust so-n-so, don’t sign a bad deals, you end up doing it because you trusted someone. These are probably lessons you have to learn through experience and not word or mouth. It’ll either break you, or make you stronger.
“Insanity; Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
That doesn’t mean we should give up. On your dreams or your family or friends. It means if you want a different result you need to change your actions first. I’m doing that now in my career and my personal life, and I’m already yielding great results. Thanks to the mistakes and stumbles I have made, I won’t make those bad choices again.
“Don’t do comics. Comics will break your heart.” – Jack Kirby
But when you are heartbroken, if you love comics, comics won’t let you down. Looking way back I think I turned to comics and cartoons as a form of escapism from a dysfunctional family and not the greatest childhood.
When I didn’t have comics and sequential art in my life, I self medicated with alcohol when things were bad. It seemed a drink or two were enough to calm me down and “take the edge off” There was also something sickly romantic about the idea that, hey! I can become a hard drinking comic book artist like some of my heroes from the old days on comics. I could never smoke cigars or cigarettes though, so I was only half way there. What I know now is that the act of creation is them best self medication ever.
I think if you’re an artist/writer and you’re not actively creating your own ideas, you’re slowly killing yourself. You will end up seeking some sort of escape from the madness in your mind. They ideas that won’t stop. The characters and dialogue that has nowhere to go.
“We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better…stronger…faster.” – Oscar Goldman
And here I am again. With a head full of big ideas. Plans. Hope. I am not the same man I was a year ago, two years ago, six years ago. I let go of ego and the “angry young man” syndrome. I have been humbled by all the old friends and colleagues, some I had even fought with before, who have reached out with encouraging messages or who are interested in what I have cooking and can’t wait to see it. It feels so relieving to know that old hatchets are buried along with the bad feelings. And it’s wonderful to discover that… Not only will comics not let you down, but neither will this community. It’s a small world, and we take care of our own.
As far as what I’m working on, Wish I could spill all the beans right now…. But very soon. Have to wait until some ducks are in a row. I can say that we have decided to launch the comic online first (webcomic) and there will be cool ways to support us and be a part of what we are doing.
These are the days of high adventure.
I just completed pencils & inks on my first 22 page issue in a very long time. Six years? I know this might not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but it was a big milestone and hurdle for me to break through and out of some sort of creative depression I was in. And returning to the craft of comics has helped me get through a very tough time in my life.
While I’ve drawn other things the past few years and some comic work here and there, for the most part I’ve tried to avoid standard comic series and getting too attached to a project. Old friend and former publisher of Arrow Comics once told me when I was pretty young and naive, “Comics is a harsh mistress.” I didn’t really understand him then, but I sure do now.
2013 was my year of pain. I struggled all year against the currents to keep my personal life together. While my work life was great with a full time job, benefits and working for a really awesome company, my marriage was collapsing. I won’t get too far into that mess, only to say that the year ended with my wife of 16 years confessing to a year long affair with a sociopath that I loathed and feel is a completely disgusting buffoon. There’s a lot more to that story, but it’s only worth mentioning because that affair and the weight of the truth crushed me emotionally and sent into some really dark places.
One of the dark places I went to was the Knights Inn, (room 314), after I made the firm decision to leave that situation. I had a bag packed with some clothes. A ukulele and notebook for songwriting. A copy of The Alchemist (which changed my life) and Fight Club. Oh, and a giant bottle of honey whiskey. I had been isolated from all of my friends. People I trusted had been pushed out of my life (because that’s how sociopaths play their game). And I was scared. How would I start again on my own? And how was it that I’m the guy who wrote the book on being positive was now drowning in a pool of negativity? I realize now that there is a dark side to the law of attraction that they warn you about. The “be careful what you wish for” type of scenario. And that I had to go through all of these dark things in order to get to what I had internally been wishing for. To find some peace of mind and be loved and respected.
I ended up reaching out to a few friends who had been pushed away over the year. And one friend came to my rescue and pulled me up and out of the hole I was in. I dusted myself off and figured out a new life plan. It was scary to embark on this journey, but I couldn’t go back to the lies and betrayal over and over again like a scratched, skipping record.
At some point my friend told me I needed to draw again. For me. “Why aren’t you drawing?” she’d say. I would reply with some excuse about not feeling it, or being creatively blocked. She wasn’t buying it. Almost every time we spoke, she would ask “Did you draw this week?” I’d say, oh yes, I drew at work…… “no, comics. Why aren’t you drawing comics? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be doing?” So finally after some coaxing I told her the idea I had had for a graphic novel or series that I felt was one of the greatest ideas I had ever come up with. And she was floored. “Why aren’t you doing this, that sounds awesome!”
The reason I couldn’t commit to doing a big comics project is…. well, COMICS IS A HARSH MISTRESS. I had a lot of good years drawing comics and making good money. But when my full time series was cancelled midstream in 2008, we had to scramble to save our finances. My wife had gone back to work and I was back to freelancing which was pretty stressful. I felt a deep creative depression with what I perceived as a giant failure of the biggest project I had ever done to that date. And I dodged big mainstream comics type work. My wife was also afraid the rug would be pulled out from under us again. While I kept doing some smaller strips and odd jobs in comics, I put the big series and graphic novel creation down for her. I helped her build her dreams (a local roller derby league) and I got a full time job for security and benefits, but none of that stopped the bad stuff from creeping in.
So now that I was on my own again…. “Why aren’t you drawing comics?” I didn’t have a good answer except for… I was afraid to be hurt again by the harsh mistress. Comics, THE CRAFT of comics and sequential storytelling has been my first love since I was in high school. My heroes are guys like Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and Wally Wood. Hell, I even have a whole arm tattooed. And here I was…. afraid to continue again. Afraid of being hurt. And then, one morning I said…. fuck it. I’m drawing comics again.
I doubted my abilities for the first few weeks, doing character sketches, fumbling around with layouts. But the craft kept my mind off some really hard feelings and rough nights. My friend had reminded me who I was, and what I was capable of doing. That I had taken these skills for granted. I told her that anyone could draw if they practiced. She disagreed and we debated. “How many people do you think would give their left hand to be able to march in your office and draw anything and tell their stories like you do?” I didn’t have answer. She was right. While my work might not be perfect in my critical eye, it was plenty good enough to be published and have companies asking me to do work for them. It was all in my head. I forced myself out of the creative depression.