Every so often we either come across or are recommended an independent comic that we think deserves some attention. The world of independent creators, especially in webcomics, is becoming increasingly over saturated. This in many ways is both a blessing and a curse.
As writers and artists are realizing that their work is better suited online, webcomics have become a free, easy, and powerful way to gain some exposure and get your work out there. On the other hand, because of the ease that webcomics can be distributed, the market for digital comics is becoming more and more competitive. With major publishers dominating the landscape of comics, a form of independents distribution is necessary yet compacted.
In an effort to support our fellow independent creator, we here at Panel Bound like to highlight some small press, web, or self-published comics that we think are pretty great. This week we have Corey Reid and Dave Knox’s REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS. Following five “delinquent” ninja girls who have been sent away to a correctional island, REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS is a wonderfully illustrated and written tribute to the action adventure comics we grew up with. I caught up with Corey and Dave to talk about careers in comics and the their current indiegogo campaign.
For those who don’t know, tell us about REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS.
Corey: REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS is the story of five awesome ninja girls, sent by their clans to the Ninja Island Correctional Academy. Some of them are disobedient, some of them are misunderstood, and some of them are just bad girls. The newest girl, named Masayo, isn’t exactly sure why she’s been sent away from her clan for discipline and brutal training — she saw something she wasn’t supposed to see, maybe, and her clan leader has used this as a way to silence her. But Masayo won’t be silenced again, and when she discovers a sinister sorcerer out to destroy the ninja clans once and for all, she rallies her new friends to try and defeat him: Ritsuko, the pyromaniacal pyxie with an uncanny talent for things mechanical; Eri, the stern, hot-tempered one whose skill with her swords surpasses even the masters of Ninja Island; Yumi, the pretty girl who talks to dead people; and Millicent, the blonde ninja princess with a royal attitude.
Nobody is going to listen to a bunch of delinquent teenage girls, so Masayo and her friends find themselves all alone, suspected by school authorities and fighting for their lives against a determined foe, battling robots, corpses, homework assignments and substitute teachers — to say nothing of the class bullies who have it in for Masayo, and there’s a test on Friday, and…
Dave: So you’ve got these violent, excitable, angsty teenagers ready to slit each other’s throats, but they have to behave themselves, because they’ve got serious detention. That kind of thing. And of course, they get into all kinds of trouble involving sorcerers, dinosaurs, and freaky animals.
Why did you decide to release REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS as a webcomic instead of sending it to publishers?
Corey: It seems like nowadays it’s possible to build an audience and maybe even make a living at story-telling without handing all the rights to the material over to a third party. We’ve seen so many great comics start out independent and go on to become very successful without ever getting taken over by a mainstream publisher, that it seemed like the right place to start. Comics like The Order of the Stick, or Megatokyo, or Girl Genius all started out free, and when the time came to have them published, the artists either did it themselves or were able to work out very favourable deals with publishers.
If we can reach a good-sized audience, and give them a story they care about, we have more options when it comes to expanding the project. Just knocking on doors and asking publishers if they think this would be a good comic book seems less viable, without the proof that there’s an audience for the material.
Dave: For now, Ninja Girls is being released online so we can get maximum exposure, and introduce the concept to the widest possible audience.
How did you both get together to work on this project?
Dave: A friend of mine mentioned that there was a guy from his work (Corey) who had written a big graphic novel, and was looking for an artist to draw it all out. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve been pitched some really bogus scripts before, so I didn’t get my hopes up. Anyway, I met with Corey, and as he started explaining his idea, I started thinking, “that works…. OK that works too … now that is juicy… and THAT is damn good!” And we really hit it off as far as influences and tastes are concerned. Of course, I still had to audition for the part, and do some trial pages to prove that I could tell a story with my art. I knew I could do it, and I was really determined, but I had never done professional comic work before, so I had to figure out stuff like what kind of paper to use, what dimensions to work with, the right kind of ink, and all that stuff. And I was doing these trial pages on top of my day job, so literally from the minute I finished talking to Corey to the minute I met him again a month later to deliver the pages, I had been drawing and script studying non-stop. But I think it showed, and I got the gig!
Corey: Those personal connections are still important in this digital age of ours. When I first saw Dave’s work it was VERY different from what I’d had in my head, but a number of people told me “Oh Dave is great, you’ll love him,” so I met with him and we clicked right away. I could tell he got the characters, was excited about the story, and when he got home he turned out a little sketch of the girls that I just immediately fell in love with.
Do you both want careers in comics? Or is REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS a side project?
Dave: RSNG is not a side thing for me! Doing this much work on the side would be agonizingly slow. Like it would take months and months, maybe even a year to get a short story done. Drawing something like this is a very laborious endeavour. I can see how somebody could do a simple comic strip like Peanuts, or Mutts on the side, but anything involving full pages of panels with perspective changes, backgrounds, and complex figures, and you’re definitely talking full time.
Corey: I can remember reading Chris Claremont’s X-Men and New Mutants on the school bus when I was kid and just thinking this guy had the best job in the WHOLE WORLD.
You just started an indiegogo campaign, what are you hoping to get out of a successful campaign?
Dave: The whole purpose behind the campaign is to keep me alive long enough to get a 24 page issue out! I have to eat, and it’s going to take some time. Corey has written the story already, but we need money to pay for the time it’s going to take to create all the art. Once we get that first full issue done, we’ll give a copy (and many other perks) to our beautiful backers, and then try and see if we can get the issue distributed and sold. Ultimately what we ant to do is generate a fan base, generate some income, and make as many more issues as we possibly can. We have so many great ideas for stories that we’re itching to tell.
Do you believe that all up-and-coming comic creators should start with webcomics? Do you think there is any chance for new artists or writers to work for indie or mainstream publishers?
Corey: I’m a terrible person to ask this — I know scarcely anything about “the industry”. But I think any artists or writers nowadays owe it to themselves to investigate what opportunities exist with modern technology. You can reach so many people with so little expense. We created a website, a Facebook page and everything and it cost us peanuts. Hundreds of fans on Facebook already, for a comic book that doesn’t even exist yet! It’s sort of crazy when you think about it, but what these people are telling us is that they’re interested in this story, these characters, this art.
That gives us the confidence that we’re on to something here, that if we can put together a really top-notch book there will be an audience for it.
And anyone can do this; we’re not rocket scientists over here. I don’t know if there’s anything magic about webcomics, and I’m not even sure REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS counts as a webcomic, but if you’ve got a dream of telling a story, put it online and let people discover it. See how they react and take it where you want it to go.
Dave: Yeah, we’re about to find out the answer to that one… Webcomics certainly open up the doors and give everybody a chance to get their stuff out there, but in doing so, they saturate the market, and over-satisfy the demand for comics. There has never been a time when artwork has been so easily and readily available, and I think our generation is starting to forget the value and the amount of highly skilled work that goes into an original piece of art. The optimistic view is that better exposure should lead to greater success for better products.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and writers?
Corey: Stop aspiring and do it. Somehow our culture got trapped in the idea that “art” was a thing only done by professional artists, but that’s not how most of civilization has operated. My mom talks about how when she was a kid, everyone’s idea of a fun night out was getting together around a piano and singing together. You heard new songs because somebody you knew learned how to play one.
We’re all artists, and one of the opportunities modern technology gives us, I think, is the chance to do artistic work, without needing to have a big expensive professional setup supporting us.
Dave: Your abilities will never plateau. Your skill will improve every single time you use it, so be like Hendrix, and do it all the time! Also, use a quill, India ink, and the Windsor Newton Series 7 sable brushes when you do your inking. There are no substitutes. And this is nasty, but it’s the best trick: clean your quill with saliva!
What can we expect from REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS in the future?
Corey: Well, like I say, we have a four-issue arc already written, about this sorcerer and how the girls band together to fight him, but there are other, deeper stories at work here. The girls all have surprising connections between them, and there are deep mysteries at work, and of course the Ninja Island Correctional Academy is basically a high school like any other high school, so there’s all the drama of Student Council, grades, detention halls and all that.
Dave: Action, suspense, gore, and I’m looking forward to the jumping Chinese Vampires!
Corey: Don’t give it away!
To check out REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS visit the website here.