As far as being an independent comic creator goes, getting your work seen and appreciated by fans can be a grind. There is either the painful and arduous process of getting rejection letter after rejection letter from mainstream publishers, or the slow process of selling and promoting your own books as an independent creator. Even though both steps are a must for aspiring creators, it still doesn’t make the process any easier to swallow. For writers and artists looking to break into comics, we must have a certain level of self denial to keep writing and illustrating. The odds are stacked against us, but not impossible. Many comic creators, in the face of failure, go on to create something innovative and compelling that show what it really takes to be an independent artist or writer.
Jason Lenox and David Paul are exactly those types of creators. Meeting each other through their mutual love of Heavy Metal Magazine, the two decided to star their own comic studio, Ugli Studios. With David writing and Jason illustrating the two have recently released their first anthology project, Ugli Studio Presents Vol. 1. I caught up with Jason and David to discuss what starting their own studio was like and what is next for the ambitious duo.
Tell us about Ugli Studios Presents Vol 1
Jason: It’s a really fun anthology that David and I made as we started working together over the last year- we are both big fans of Heavy Metal, so it’s that sort of thing- cool stories. I’m also an OUTER LIMITS superfan, so I like to keep things dark, and a bit surprising, like the classic tv show.
David: The feature story (Through the Eyes of Grizelda) is from the perspective of a necromancer’s cat. All around her is this mass chaos going on while her “consort’s” castle is being razed. All she wants is to take a nap in his lap and this nuisance going on all around her is something she simply cannot tolerate. So it seems pretty straight forward. Yet what we’ve managed to do is create a huge world as the story’s setting, which will be expanded in future volumes. Our second story (The Great Vermin) is very “Outer Limits”. A really cool sci-fi piece.
Why start an independent comic studio in place of just pitching to major publishers?
Jason: We decided to make a launch point once we started collaborating last summer so we can always come back to as a home base of sorts- our first foray was when we pitched “Vermin” to Heavy Metal back in November, and even though I love the Magazine, I’m underwhelmed with alot of the content these days (in HM), and the editors never even sent a rejection letter on that five pager to this day, so we were already working on “Grizelda” and decided just to make it an anthology book under our own “UGLI” Banner. It’s our own internal production studio to promote things as a group and have a banner to rally under regardless if that banner is under a bigger banner, or just us doing our own thing. Would we love to work for big publishers? Certainly, but you never know what will appeal to them, so instead of just waiting around doing nothing hoping someone would take our work on, with our own studio, we can make our own comics and market and sell on our own. Some people will tell you is the best way to get into the industry anyway, and it’s been fun learning the ropes. Personally, I think our book, UGLI STUDIOS PRESENTS, looks as good as any book that I see on the shelves, if not better. We used a commercial printer in my hometown, JARU PRINTING, www.jaruinc.com and they did an incredible job.
David: We’re still pitching our work to bigger publishers but we’re not waiting for anything. Nothing’s ever going to happen if you just sit on it. So we’re moving forward and taking it directly to the people. As an independent studio we get to do whatever we want.
How did you both meet up and decide to work on this project?
Jason: We met up in the aftermath of the Heavy Metal Magazine website being shut down by the publisher to go on Facebook exclusively- there were alot of hard core collectors and fans there- and we all liked to chat. I was itching to do a comic, and needed a writer, and when the admins shut the site down, some of the smarter folks made a list serve of emails, and we all just started chatting, David and I never stopped chatting, and now we have some nice work we have done together.
David: It was announced that Robert Rodriguez had taken over as the project head for the new Heavy Metal movie. As an HM contributor I had often visited their forums and met numerous fans of HM and artists. A few of us heard Rodriguez was open to receiving submissions from fans so Jason and I teamed up with another fan who said he had an idea that could be adapted. This person was not stable so Jason and I decided we should just do our own thing. There are a lot more details, some of them rather boring, but the end result is that Jason and I enjoyed working together and I pitched him the idea of starting our own studio.
The themes in Ugli Vol 1 tend to vary from space to medieval to high fantasy, was the story planned that way or did evolve to encompass these themes?
Jason: It was just our random thoughts, our next plan is a western set in California in the 1800′s. We’re random that way.
David: Well the first story we did was “The Great Vermin”, which was our submission to HM and Rodriguez. Then we started doing other things and the idea of putting together our own comic book anthology just seemed like a great idea.
How do you feel the independent comic industry will evolve with digital comics closing in on traditional print comics, in terms of sales?
David: Jason’s working on a number of projects on his own and I’m working on a graphic novel with the artist Gary T. Becks. But we’re both already making plans for Ugli Studios Presents Vol 2. I’m really hard at work on a script right now (to be included in vol 2) that’s been massively challenging for me, but the end result is going to kick reader’s in the face when they see it so I’m very excited about it.
Any last minute advice for aspiring writers and artists?
Jason: Work work work, practice practice practice and take criticism in a positive way!
David: Jason’s the best to answer this for the artists so I’ll answer it on the writers’ end. Learn your craft. Seriously. Learn everything you can about writing everything. Yes. Write everything! I don’t mean various genres in comics. I mean everything. Can you write from the perspective of a journalist? No. Then learn, goddammit. Do not be lazy. Do the work. There is no shortcut. If you cannot flesh out a script then learn learn learn. The first rule of writing is write what you know. If you don’t know it you better learn it. And if you don’t have the will to put down the fuckin’ game controller and learn how to write then stay the fuck out of the way.