Brian Clevinger is one of the comic industry’s best-kept secrets. Since 2007, Brian’s original series Atomic Robo has been one of the best ongoing independent comics on shelves week after week.
Brian began his career in comics with the Final Fantasy I-inspired webcomic, 8-Bit Theater. As an independent creator, Brian has worked in almost every comic publishing medium.
I caught up with Brian to talk about being an independent creator, published author, and self-aware super heroes.
One of the first comics you put out was 8-Bit Theater. Why did you decide to start the pixel-based web comic?
Brian Clevinger: I’d just finished the first draft of my semi-terrible novel, Nuklear Age and needed something new to occupy my time. It was the start of the first semester of 2001, so I killed a few birds with one stone and figured I could take an independent study course, get college credit, and have an excuse to tinker around with Photoshop.
I used old video game images because I CANNOT DRAW AT ALL and, really, just needed simple figures in the comic so the reader could tell the difference between any two characters.
I put them online because my professor was terrible about keeping track of his email. And then the internet found them!
You’ve self published, been picked up by a publisher, and uploaded digitally. Is there a publishing method you think is most beneficial to unproven comic creators?
The internet is the king of that. It’s the cheapest investment up front with the widest possible potential audience. From there, you can more easily move into physical publishing.
Much of your work involves characters that are not typically self-aware acknowledging the absurdity of their existence. What about this subject fascinates you, especially in the realm of video games and super heroes?
I’ll be honest, it’s a trick.
We’ve all seen a movie or read a story that asked us to take a very absurd notion very seriously. It knocks you right out of the story and kills the whole thing for you. BUT if you, as an author, can admit to your audience that something is absurd, and you know it is, and it’s okay to think it is, you can get them on your side. You can even have them completely engaged and concerned about the very things they’d have ridiculed if you’d asked them to take it dead serious all along.
It’s easy to take the technique too far and just look like every other insufferably post-ironic shitbag. So, it’s not entirely a free pass. But used in moderation it can let you pull off some crazy stuff.
As a writer working with an artist on Atomic Robo, how did you pitch the comic to Scott Wegener?
I pitched it to him the same way I pitch it to everyone who walks up to the table at a convention. I rattle off the names of the things it’s suppose to evoke: The Ghostbusters, The Rocketeer, Buckaroo Banzai, and Indiana Jones. But with a robot.
How do you think aspiring comic writers should pitch their stories to potential artists?
Do the same thing, just with different movies than I did. I’ve got those four locked down.
Hit them with what it’s like to get them interested. Then bring in some details about what is specifically going on in your story.
And be as upfront as possible about ownership and page rates.
Your first print comic was nominated for an Eisner in 2008; did you expect such critical acclaim with your first print comic?
No! We’d actually finished writing and drawing all six issues before the first one was ever published. So, there were a few months there in mid-2007 where Scott and I knew we loved working on the book, and we had Big Plans for doing more, but we had NO IDEA if anyone else would be on board.
Luckily, we seem to have struck a nerve. But, hey, robots are cool, so that helped.
You’ve also written a novel. How do you manage to find time to write print and webcomics on top of a book?
By finishing the novel before I started a webcomic. For a while I was writing three webcomics and Atomic Robo scripts. That was a crazy time.
These days I just limit myself to a handful of Robo projects and one or two freelance gigs at any one time. With Robo, the writing is as much work as it is therapy. I’m thinking about all kinds of alternative history sci-fi conspiracy contortions all the time anyway. The only way to keep sane is to get them out of my head one at a time by writing stories about them.
Do you have any last minute advice for aspiring comic creators?
Just keep at it. Meet deadlines. Be pleasant to work with. Read stuff that isn’t comics. Don’t watch so much TV. Video games are fun, but they don’t finish pages. Get your stuff online and have a site that looks clean and is easy to navigate. It’s the best portfolio you can have.