For this Sunday edition of Panel Bound interviews we decided to speak with web comic creator Michael May. Michael is the writer of web comic Kill All Monsters as well as a writer for the blog Robot 6. Michael is a phenomenal writer who seems to like old style sock em comics more than myself (which is an incredible achievement in my humble opinion). Kill All Monsters at face value is a comic about giant robots fighting giant monsters, of course there is much more to it than that Michael’s writing has made sure of that. I won’t go to into how awesome this comic is right now since it is a free web comic that you should just check out for yourself. I asked Michael about how he got involved with KAM and Robot 6 as well as his creative influences and aspirations. Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to speak with me. Enjoy…..
How did you begin writing for Kill All Monsters?
Jason Copland, my partner on KAM came up with the idea. He wanted to draw a comic about giant monsters fighting giant robots, but I wasn’t actually the first writer to work on it with him. Jason and I were online pals and had a mutual interest in working together on something, but Kill All Monsters was something he was initially going to do with a friend of ours, Alex Ness. Alex came up with a short description of the world the story would be set in and envisioned a one-shot, stand-alone, anthology issue that set up this world by telling three stories in it. Alex asked me and another friend of ours if we’d be interested and since Jason was drawing it, I jumped at the chance.
Eventually Alex and the other writer dropped out. I don’t remember exactly why, but it wasn’t “creative differences” or anything like that. We’re all still friends. But when it became just Jason and I, we decided to turn it into a longer story. I came up with the specific story we’re telling and the rest is history.
Is Kill All Monsters your first published web series?
Yep. I think it’s an extremely cool format though. I’d totally do it again.
What interested you about the web comic medium as opposed to actual print comics?
Once we realized we could make it a longer story, our first thought was to do a mini-series or a graphic novel. We’ve been working on this for a while and when we started people were still figuring out how to do webcomics right and make money at it. Our initial goal – because we didn’t know better at the time – was old-fashioned. We figured we’d just create a cool comic and pitch it to publishers, but we didn’t realize until later that publishers are also struggling with the changing industry.
They’re starting to figure things out now, but at the time we were pitching, it was tumultuous. The mini-series to collection format wasn’t doing well for independent comics, but there also weren’t a lot of publishers willing to take on a whole graphic novel from a couple of unknown storytellers. We were kind of stuck. And then we started thinking about webcomics again. People had finally figured out how to make it work, so we decided to format Kill All Monsters for the web, build an audience that way, and then submit it to publishers.
As a writer how much creative freedom do you give artists when writing scripts?
I used to say, “As much as they want,” but I’m learning to put limits on that. My initial impulse though is always to create a relationship where there’s a lot of freedom. That’s hard sometimes because I think very visually and I always imagine panels in my head as I write. But as cool as those images are to me, I remind myself constantly that artists aren’t machines whose only purpose is to bring my vision to life.
I sometimes hear new writers refer to the artists on their books as “my artist.” I cringe when I hear that, because it’s insulting. Jason – or any other artist I’m fortunate enough to work with – is my partner on that story. Even when I’ve come up with the idea all by myself, if I’m not making a comic out of it by myself, I don’t get to think of it as “my comic.” It’s “our comic.” So I make sure there’s a lot of creative leeway for the people I’m working with.
Some artists need more freedom than others though. Some don’t actually want much freedom at all; they’d rather you tell them exactly what you’re thinking. I sometimes think that’s because they want you to be pleased with their work, but I imagine that for some artists it simply makes their jobs easier to have a lot of direction. It varies from person to person though, so I try to remember to just ask the question when I’m working with someone for the first time. “How much freedom do you want?” And even then I may not get it right immediately, so I do my best to watch the relationship and make sure my partner’s having a good time and feeling creatively fulfilled. If not, something needs to change.
Having said all that though, if there’s something that absolutely needs to change in the art for the story to make sense, I’m not afraid to ask for that. I used to be, but being part of a professional team means learning to put the story first.
In my scripts I try to include only details that absolutely need to be there for the story to make sense. Beyond that, Jason (or whoever I’m working with) is in charge of layouts and designs and all that. If Jason’s not clear about how something should look, he’s comfortable asking for more information. Like in any relationship, it’s all about respect and communication.
How do you feel is the best way as a writer to approach an artist who you would like to work with on a comic?
The only way I’ve ever had any success is by working with friends. On a handful of occasions I’ve been part of projects where I didn’t know the artist and it’s never worked out. Either the project was never completed or I wasn’t happy with it when it finally was. It goes back to the idea of relationships and forming a partnership. If that’s created artificially – especially when creators are first starting out and haven’t really learned to be professional yet – it’s difficult to keep going when someone screws up. And people will screw up.
So my advice is to join communities where artists hang out and just start making friends. That’s not a quick way of doing it, but over the long run I absolutely believe it’s the best way. You’ll get to not only work with people whose work you love, but with people you just love, period. That’s a really cool thing.
What would be the best way for an artist to approach you as a writer to collaborate on a project?
In spite of everything I just said about being friends first, I’d never turn down the opportunity to work with someone just because I didn’t already know her. Especially without seeing some art samples first.
I try to make myself really accessible. I have a blog [http://michaelmay.blogspot.com/] with an easy-to-find Contact section that lists my email address, social network pages, and Post Office Box. It’s important for a lot of reasons that people are able to find you, and one of them certainly is to pitch projects. All someone has to do is contact me in any of those ways to start the conversation.
Do you have any interest in working outside of web comics?
Absolutely. Webcomics are the only way I want to start up new, creator-owned comics right now, but I also love standard prose stories and am working on a couple of projects in that medium at the moment. I love the collaboration of comics, but every once in a while I need to be able to write something that’s completely mine.
And of course, I want to continue writing about comics and other media on my blog and group blogs like Flick Attack [http://www.flickattack.com/], New Pulp [http://www.newpulpfiction.com/], and Robot 6 [http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/].
How did you get set up writing for Robot 6?
Robot 6 has been around a long time under a couple of different names. It was originally called The Great Curve and was the brainchild of Alex Segura, who went on to work as Publicity Manager for DC and now does a similar job for Archie Comics. I just remembered that Alex Ness got me that gig too. He was contributing to the Great Curve and thought I’d be a good fit for it based on some work I was doing for a now-defunct site called Comic World News.
I started doing reviews for CWN after answering an open call for writers and stuck around long enough to end up Editor in Chief before that got to be more than I wanted to handle. But CWN led to a lot of contacts and friendships, including Jason Copland and Alex Ness.
About the time Alex Segura left the Great Curve for DC, Newsarama asked us to come on board as their official blog, Blog@Newsarama. We did that for a year or two until Comic Book Resources invited us to write for them. For various reasons, that was an awesome opportunity, so we jumped at it. I think it was Kevin Melrose who suggested the name Robot 6 because it’s nonsensical and doesn’t really have any other symbolism attached to it other than the group of us who write there.
Have you gained any good insights into comic creation through your time with Robot 6?
That’s a great question. I’m sure that I have. I’m naturally curious about other creators’ processes, so I’d read up on that stuff anyway even if I didn’t have to write articles about comics. But being with Robot 6 has certainly given me opportunities to meet and talk to creators in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. It’s such a cool opportunity to sit down at a convention with another writer, for instance, and talk about the business.
The business side of creating comics is probably the biggest insight I’ve gained. A lot of creators are willing to share ideas about publishing and marketing on their blogs, but those are pretty general by necessity. Nothing beats sharing a drink or a meal with a creator and swapping stories about what’s worked in self-publishing and which publishers are the best to work with. You get some great, honest answers in person that you’d never read on a public platform.
Any last advice for aspiring writers?
Nothing unique, I’m sure. Just the old advice to write, write, write. It’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn, but no amount of reading about writing (and I’ve done a lot of that) will ever teach you as much as simply sitting down and trying it yourself. By all means, read the articles and buy the writing books. I’ve learned a ton from them that I’d never have discovered on my own. But at some point you’ve got to put them aside and start practicing.
And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make crap in your initial draft. That’s how you learn. You can fix it all in edits and re-writes before anyone sees it, but one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is trying to make my first draft perfect. That keeps you from moving forward and getting it done. And the most important thing in writing is getting it done.
Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to speak with me for the site. You can check out links to his personal blog as well as links to Kill All Monsters below.