Thought Bubbles: Comics Creators Talk ‘09, Look to ‘10–Part 4

Continuing our conversations with comics creators on general experiences in 2009 and what’s to come in 2010, we talked to Carrie Smith of Conjoined Comics and Von Allan, an writer/artist based in Ottowa, Ontario, Canada.

(For part I, an intro and conversation with Brazilian illustrator Kako [Comic Book Tattoo, Greek Street], click here; for part II, interviews with Alex Robinson [Box Office Poison] and Mike Dawson [Freddie & Me], click here; for part III, in which we talk to Miriam Libicki [‘jobnik!’] and Dan Cooney [‘Valentine’], click here).

Carrie Smith

Carrie Smith is the writing half of the comics-creating team known as Conjoined Comics (http://conjoinedcomics.com). Together with artist Stephanie Lantry, she produces “To The Power Against,” a series centered on a lady scientist and the “phenomenally improbable things” that follow in her wake. The series is up to its fourth issue, any of which can be purchased at IndyPlanet.

Carrie shared that in 2009, the Conjoined Comics team basically kept plugging away.

“We just keep learning and improving our work as time goes on–sounds obvious, but it’s true,” she said. “I mean, we always put out the best work we can do at the time, but I have to say that looking at issue four of ‘To The Power Against,’ I can see how much we’ve grown since issue one. Made me happy. ”

One interesting development is that the team acquired the services of a manager this year, a “really nice, sharp guy,” from a group called Circle of Confusion, “who chased us down and put us on his company’s roster this year”

“So I guess they see something potentially lucrative in what we are doing,” Carrie shared, “and they’ve been very encouraging and cool. I think [‘To the Power Against’ protagonist] Catalina is an appealing female hero, and lots of people want to see more of those, which is good for us. And Emogician is probably the most profitable thing we’ve ever come up with. Schadenfreude sells really well, as it happens.”

But marketability isn’t what drives the team’s efforts, says Carrie.

“Stephanie and I just try and tell the best story we can, try and please ourselves, make ourselves laugh or say ‘Yes! Exactly that!,’ and hope that other people agree with us enough to pay for it.”

In 2010, the first arc of ‘To the Power Against’ is set to finish (at issue six), after which plans are for a trade paperback of the series thus far. Then it’s on to the next arc later in the year, in which, Carrie says, “things are going to get very serious for Catalina.”

As for other projects: “We also completed an illustrated one-off book this fall called ‘The Yeti,’ which we sold in a short run at the Alternative Press Expo, but it’ll make its grand debut at WonderCon,” Carrie reveals. “Stephanie did a bunch of wonderful full-color illustrations for it, and the story’s not too shabby either. It’s kind of a tragi-goofy fairy tale about consumer gadget culture and, um, a giant hairy mountain monster; those two things usually go hand-in-hand, as you know.”

Conjoined Comics is also joining the ever-growing move of creators taking their content online, with new weekly content.

“That’ll happen early in the New Year,” she says. “So expect to see new Emogician strips moping across our site on a weekly basis, like a little emo storm cloud. He’s become this unexpected favorite with our readers, poor guy, so we have no choice but to capitalize on his personal misery. Bwahahaha. We’ve got some new strips to alternate with Emogician, too, but we’re keeping those a surprise until we put them out.”

Carrie admits that her reading of recent comic works “has dipped down to zero,” for which she primarily blames her efforts to write her “first honest-to-God, grown-up novel.”

“I’m totally out of the loop, output only. I’m just hunched over my laptop 24/7 now, obsessing over how to develop some character properly or replace adverbs with more forceful constructions and nerdy crap like that. Seriously. (See what I did there? Heheh, ok.) No, for real, now I understand why “real” writers keep lots of scotch and firearms handy.”

She still made some time to return to the books she already knows and loves, “just to keep the concept of comics syntax fresh in my mind,” she reveals. Books included “‘Y: The Last Man,’ ‘Jimmy Corrigan,’ ‘Nextwave,’ ‘Bone,’ some old ‘Power Man & Iron Fist,’ even ‘Calvin & Hobbes.’

She’s set this year’s WonderCon as her target for getting back in the loop and seeing what her peers and creators she admires have been doing.

“I’m just excited in general to catch up with the world,” she said.

Von Allan

Von Allan is the writer/creator of “the road to god knows…,” an original graphic novel that’s had several iterations, but the final version of which recently come out (and available at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers, ISBN: 978-0-9781237-0-3). It’s a coming-of-age tale featuring a young lady dealing with her schizophrenic mother and, as you may surmise, it’s pretty heavy and emotionally affecting.

“It felt really good to put ‘road’ to bed and move on to something different,” he shared. “Artistically, I think I’ve grown. But I hope to say that every year of my entire life.”

He points out that 2009 was when ‘road’ became available in bookstores.

“It has been truly awesome to finally get ‘the road to god knows…’ out in book form” Von shared. “And I’m a bit stunned with how many stores it’s gotten into so early in the process.”

Now he’s onto the next project.

“‘Stargazer’ is the big thing I’m wrestling with now,” he said.
He describes ‘Stargazer’ as a fantasy story about three young girls who find themselves ‘somewhere else.’ Despite it’s fantastic nature, he actually views it as a thematic follow-up to “road.”

“The big question is how to launch it. I was initially planning on serializing it as a full color Web comic . . . but I’m actually starting to chew over that idea quite a bit. The main reason is that “road” did so poorly as a Web comic, I’m not sure if doing a second one is a good idea.”

“If I’ve learned anything about Web comics,” Von surmised, “is that I think long-form comics need to be in color. Titles like ‘Girl Genius’ certainly are, and I think that helps them quite a bit.”

He continued: “The other problem is that I was doing the math on printing a full-color book and it’s prohibitively expensive right now. ‘Stargazer’ would work well as a color book, but printing it is a problem I don’t think I can solve. A black and white book, on the other hand, would be far more cost effective. But a black and white long-form Web comic? … Not sure about that one. And as a 32-page periodical? Not sure about that one, either.”
But the choices in terms of format just keep expanding, and that’s something he’s excited about.

“The development of digital platforms like the iPhone and Kindle. — that’s the biggie,” Von said. “Who was really talking about this two years ago? Now . . . apps everywhere! While I love holding comics in my hand, I’m no Luddite and I’m a big believer that comics are a remarkable versatile format. While I don’t think the screen resolution is quite where it needs to be and the lack of color, at least for eBook devices like the Kindle is problematic, things are developing far faster than I thought they would a year ago. I’ll be fascinated to watch how this develops over the next year. And I’d like to be more actively participating in it, too.”

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that most of his comics reading discoveries have taken him back in time.

“I’ve discovered artists like Mac Raboy (“Captain Marvel Jr.”) and he’s been a revelation. Same goes for Alex Raymond (“Flash Gordon” and “Rip Kirby”). The only contemporary book I really enjoyed was Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “All-Star Superman” run. I don’t think I’ve read enough of contemporary work, though, to really be able to rank anyone. Besides, I’m not a big believer in doing that. If someone likes a book, that’s good enough for me.”

Very likely in vain, Von (along with legions of fans) dreams “that Matt Wagner will finish the third and final volume in his ‘Mage’ series,” in 2010.

“Every year I hope and every year, at least since ’98, I’ve been disappointed. Damn you, Wagner! I want to read ‘Mage: The Hero Denied.'”

Von’s also not alone in his worries about comics distribution in the months to come.

“I think the shakeout of Diamond’s newish Purchase Order Benchmarks will continue to be felt,” he shared. “I worry a bit about this; the Direct Market has historically been a great way for new writers and artists to develop their voices, but if poor selling but still commercial projects are cut off at the knees, then I think the industry could be in trouble. New talent needs a chance to grow and develop before they become commercial forces (either independently or at the larger publishers). My understanding is that Jeff Smith came perilously close to canceling “Bone” in the early days of the series as a result of poor sales. With the new benchmarks, the odds are that “Bone” would have been canceled. That ain’t good for anyone.”

He’s understanding of the distribution giant, though, saying “I don’t envy Diamond’s job shepherding creators and publishers through the entire sales cycle.” However, Von is concerned “that they’ve abrogated that responsibility a little too much. And yes, having a defacto monopoly does mean that they do have responsibility for developing the industry. ”

In closing, Von’s love for the medium shines through: “Comics are amazing. How I work is, with some tweaks, how other comic book artists have pretty much worked over the past 70 or 80 years. The medium is still growing and developing all the time. It’s fun. Scary sometimes, sure, but fun. Damn I love ’em.”

As is true for so many of us. I’d like to thank the creators who took the time to speak with us in wrapping up 2009 — Kako, Alex Robinson, Mike Dawson, Dan Cooney, Miriam Libicki, Carrie Smith, and Von Allan — and wish them a fantastically successful 2010.

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