Sorry for the wait dear reader. With our small staff suddenly bombarded with minor, life changing events like new jobs and graduating from college, we have had a bit of a lull in content. But fear not, we are back with some really great interviews and features that I am very proud to be posting. Keep an eye on the horizon for some upcoming changes to the site and some new content beyond interviews. Until then, thanks for sticking around. Now, onto the interview.
This week’s interview comes with a small preface. As you may or may not know, I contribute weekly to GeeksofDoom.com as a comic reviewer. As a reviewer, I try my hardest to spotlight independent comics that receive very little attention from the mainstream press. The sad truth of the matter is this. If a comic isn’t published by The Big Two or have a veteran’s name attached to it, chances are major comic sites, magazines and podcasts will not be featuring it. Indie creators are pouring their heart and soul into these projects, and at the end of the day if they don’t have Spider Man or a movie tie-in, they will quietly drift into obscurity.
A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to review three issues of the self published indie comic, Winter City. My review of Winter City is up at GeeksofDoom.com right now, so you can check it out here. In the review I point out that Winter City shares many similarities with the gritty, violence crazed comics of the 90′s. Looking at the hooded figure of death that stalks the pages of Winter City, I was instantly reminded of books like Spawn and all of its many spin-offs. Luckily, in conjunction with the review, I got a chance to speak with the comic’s lead scribe, Patrick Purcell in an effort to promote the indie title.
Patrick and I thought it would be great to give readers a look into creating an indie comic as both a writer and creator. This is the first time I was able to directly speak with the creator of a book in which I reviewed, and I feel lucky to be able to do so. In our interview, Patrick and I talk about the future of digital publishing, being an indie creator and why Winter City is far from a Spawn clone.
Winter City and its lead character, the Winter Reaper, have been concepts in my mind for nearly a decade. I’ve always had a fascination with the Grim Reaper, Death, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Originally I thought that the Slasher movie genre was lacking a series with the physical embodiment of the Grim Reaper as the primary antagonist. Remove Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and insert Death. That was where the idea began.
As time passed, and I guess my interests changed, slowly my vision for the character became more aligned to Hannibal Lecter, John Doe from Se7en or Jigsaw from Saw. A psychopath/sociopath who believes himself to be possessed by the Grim Reaper. I began a lot of drawing and short pieces of writing related to the character. I was trying to shape a life of tragedy and violence that would believably formulate a Grim Reaper inspired serial killer. It wasn’t too long before the character started to morph into something even more exciting.
The foundation for my character became: What if Bruce Wayne aka Batman was financially destitute, mentally deranged, and had no moral issue with killing criminals? You wouldn’t have Batman, you would have a terrifying creature of the night, with sharp, dirty, home-made weapons, and a god given/biblical purpose for killing criminals.
At that point I knew I had a story, a very exciting/interesting central character and a world that could be expanded upon enormously over time. Perfect set-up for a comic book series.
How did you first get started working on Winter City (i.e get your team together, pitch the script, etc)?
Once I felt that my character and story had the right balance and epic factor, (Ha ha!) I got straight to work writing the script and drawing pages. It was such hard work and my progress was slow – or barely moving. I decided to approach my younger brother Carl, who is an aspiring writer. He seemed to really like the idea and within a few short weeks he had written up 80% of the script. Between the two of us we managed to work out a really great story. Unfortunately, the project got stuck on another substantial problem… My art sucked!!! I’m not a professional artist and I was only fooling myself by thinking I was up-to the task.
The challenges seemed insurmountable and I pretty much gave up on Winter City. It just wasn’t happening the way I dreamed it would. I wanted to create high-quality entertainment, something that could compete with all the best on the market and provide readers/viewers with something of great value.
Probably a year or two passed before I re-visited Winter City. Over that period of hiatus I’d given the project a huge amount of thought and had come to a very significant conclusion. All the BEST comic books have a team of at least five people – and for good reason! It was clear that I needed to form a team.
I began searching the web looking for a “professional” comic book artist. While I was sifting through articles and forums, I realised a very interesting and important fact. Kirby, Ditko, McFarlane, Capullo, Madureira, etc were all unknown once. If I were to look hard enough, maybe I’d be able to find someone destined to be great, but still undiscovered.
As a mater of almost blind chance, or perhaps fate, I read a “Comic book artist open for commissions” post made on a Deviant Art forum. The post was from a gentleman by the name of Pablo Verdugo Munoz. I flipped through his on-line portfolio and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. An Artist, who was available and could draw comics in a style exactly how I had envisioned Winter City to be. I immediately commissioned Pablo to draw me a Page. The rest is history.
The final piece of the puzzle was color. I didn’t want Winter City to be black and white, I wanted blood to be red, eyes green, and skin to be pale. Again I turned to Deviant Art and happened across another artist looking for commissioned work. David Aravena Riquelme was the young mans name and in his portfolio he had some fantastic, dark and gritty Batman test pages which included snow (very important)! Even more perfect was the fact that David lived in the same city as Pablo. I quickly locked David into the project.
By late 2010, I finally had a writer, an artist, and a colourist. That left me with the remaining tasks, that are very hard to juggle otherwise; editing, lettering, layout, print-setting, print sourcing, building the web-site, marketing and paying the bills.
Why did you chose to release Winter City as an indie publication instead of pitching it to major publishers?
Originally, I had planned to submit Winter City to the big North American publishers. I was following contemporary thinking which obviously lead down the path of “working for the big guys”. As with most aspects of my Winter City journey, the more research I did and the more experience I gained, the more I realised that there are many pros and cons involved with publishers. And a measure of success is very subjective because it depends on what you want to get out of a project.
The advantages of signing with an established publisher are significant. They have money, network and suppliers. These are essential ingredients, you can’t skip over them, they are required for the success of any business, comic or otherwise. Self publishers are at an immediate disadvantage because the big publishers have oodles of money. The media loves the big publishers and take their products over independents nine out of ten times. And finally, big publishers have the power of volume. All their shipping, printing, distributing costs are a fraction when compared to the small print runs of independents. It’s a tough competition.
As I see it, the most significant problem with a publisher, no-matter who I might sign with, is that I would have to relinquish a large amount of control over Winter City. That could make or break the longevity of the story and characters. Success is not guaranteed even if you are picked up by Image, Darkhorse, IDW, or even Marvel and DC. Failure is not guaranteed if you go it alone.
I’d be willing to work with a big publisher, but I want to do it when Winter City is ready to take that step. For now, building a fan base and establishing the characters is the most important thing for the brand.
As a writer, how do you approach artists to work on your scripts? What is the best advice you can give for writers looking for an artist?
It’s not hard to find an artist. There are many good artists advertising on the web. Especially on Deviant Art. I think the part that many destined comic book creators don’t fathom is, and I’m going to put this very bluntly, in almost everything in life, you get what you pay for. If you want professional art, by the very nature of the term ‘professional’, you need to hire a professional artist.
From a purely technical and commercial point-of-view, engaging an artist goes as follows. First you find an artist that you like, review their portfolio, then ask them for a quote on a very specific piece of art. Make sure you already have an “Art” challenge ready to go so that you can properly assess their pricing, speed and ability. Take it from there. Also, always set dead-lines. I don’t believe anyone ever needs to be a schedule Nazi, legitimate things happen that screw with time-lines, but schedule is important.
In my review at Geeks of Doom, I mentioned some similarities between Winter City and Spawn both stylistically and in terms of tone, was this your intention or a coincidence? Can you explain that style and tone choice?
This is a tricky issue for Pablo, David, Carl and I. The Grim Reaper, and I don’t think anyone can argue with this, is a very dark character. Always depicted with ragged robes, a scythe or sword, bones and pieces of armor. Death, aka Grim Reaper, also has strong biblical connotations. The concept of Death is very similar to Spawn, and you really can’t avoid those similarities. The team and I are well aware of these facts.
In the case of Winter City, the similarities to Spawn are only superficial, we are not telling the story of a mythical creature, a battle between heaven and hell, or the presence of super-natural forces on earth. Winter City is a psychological thriller with a schizophrenic psychopath as the central character. He believes himself to be possessed by the Grim Reaper, therefore creates an alternate persona and acts out his twisted interpretation of the Book of Revelations.
In regards to the art direction and color palette, really, I think there is absolutely no better way of depicting our dark story, then to use a visual style with similarities to The darkness, Haunt, Spawn or even a lot of the modern Batman. Winter City is dark, moody, gritty and engrossing. It’s hard to see the story working in more than a couple of distinct visual styles and of the choices available, this is my personal preference.
Slow and steady. We have no-idea what kind of demand there will be in the US, South America, Europe and Asia. We are currently translating Issue One into Spanish and Chinese, then we’ll begin testing those markets. Ultimately, we are going to work on building a fan base first, then target comic book retailers for their support. Once we have negotiated some shelf space with a sustainable number of stores, we’ll move the distribution towards a third party model.
In the short term, paper-backs and digital copies are available from www.winter-city.com. Hopefully over the next twelve months we’ll be moving them into stores.
The most important thing is demand. If fans want Winter City at their local store, we’ll be working hard to get it there.
What can we expect from Winter City in the future?
Big plans! We have a continuous story arc for 36 issues. Three block’s of twelve, each with there own plot-line, but also part of a much larger story, heading towards an ultimate finale. But this is a long way away and it really depends on the fan base created through the first twelve issues.
Currently, all focus is on finishing series one and getting the books into the market.
Personally, I think Winter City would make an Epic feature film… Ha ha ha! But don’t we all imagine our stories would look awesome on the big screen?!
Do you believe that with digital publishing on the rise, the independent creator has a better chance at financial success by distributing his or her own work?
Honestly, yes, but not yet. Every single person I know, that buys comics as a habit, love their paper copies. It’s a collector thing. Can you imagine digital baseball cards? No one would bother buying them. It’s about having, holding, smelling, treasuring. Serious comic fans, the ones that are willingly to spend the most money, buy comics to collect comics. Having PDFs and eBooks don’t provide even half the experience that fans want from their books.
Digital will soon have it’s day in the sun and paper comics will be a thing of he past. First, everyone needs to have tablets. Second, comics need to become mainstream cool. For comics to become cool, the nerd/geek stigma needs to be dissolved, like what has happened with computer games. I think the mega blockbuster films like Avengers and The Dark Knight are making huge inroads for the comic book industry. Slowly, comics are becoming cool.
Any last minute advice for aspiring comic creators?
Geez. I think I’ve probably given all that I have at this point. I guess the most important lesson I’ve learnt to-date, is that everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses. Very few individuals are simultaneously writers, artists, marketers, lawyers and entrepreneurs. We often wear different hats for short periods, but really you have to be honest with yourself. What is it that you are trying to achieve? Are you an artist, a writer, a letterer or a producer. Ask yourself some very serious questions:
Is your writing really that good? Maybe you should get an experienced writer.
Are your drawings professional enough? Maybe find a freelance comic book artist.
Do you have even the slightest clue about Comic book syntax and grammatical conventions? Read a book or consult a letterer.
Do you know about marketing? Do you understand your brand? Have a short meeting with a marketing agency.
These are the questions that took me ten years to answer, but once I finally got a grip on reality, I started making some incredible progress and I’m really exited by what the future holds.
To check out more Winter City you can visit the comic’s site here.