Independent comic creators’ biggest problem may be getting the word out about their work. If you aren’t attached to one of the larger companies, there is much more opportunity to have your comics slip through the cracks.
Having recently completed their latest Kickstarter, the team over at the Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam comic are clearly doing something with their Steampunk… Ghost Story… Victorian supernatural action-adventure… Love Story?
But don’t listen to me, check out the Book Trailer they did and then come back for the interview!
David Alton Hedges – Writer
Jefferson Costa – Art
Shane Amaya – Producer
How long have you been creating/working in comics?
David – This is my first comic!
Jefferson – I’ve been working with comics since I was about 21 years old.
At what point did you sit down to become an artist/writer? Do you remember the first thing you drew/wrote?
David – I was an artist first, but in college, I started to realize that the people around me were better artists. After I turned in one particularly creative art term-paper, my professor pulled me aside and said, “Why are you an art major? You’re a writer.” That’s when I realized my special purpose was to use words to paint pictures in people’s imaginations.
Jefferson – As far as I can recall, I started drawing around 4 or 5 years old, but I don’t remember what my first drawing was. Drawing was a hobby at first. In my country, for someone of my humble origins, I didn’t see any prospect or path toward a career in illustration, art, or entertainment. But nonetheless, I took a step when I was about 20.
Just before turning to comics, I was studying aircraft maintenance!
Who inspires you? Or do you have a favorite artist or creator?
David – I am in awe of Neal Stephenson, jealous of China Mieville, and still trying to figure out Gene Wolfe. Jeff VanderMeer is one of my heroes. But if I had to pick one writer whose career I wish was my own, it would be Dan Simmons. People scratched their heads over DROOD but I loved it. It’s one of maybe five books in my lifetime that I read twice.
It’s probably obvious that Alan Moore and Mike Mignola were strong influences for Arcane Sally.
Jefferson – Various artists and creators inspire me in different ways and different media. A few could be Flavio Colin (a famed Brazilian creator), Mignola, Tarkovsky.
How do you manage your daily/family life with your creative work? Is this your 9 to 5 or is this your 10 to 2?
David – I HAVE to get out of the house to get any real work done. I share an office with another writer – we interrupt each other sometimes but it’s good to have someone on hand to lob an idea at and get an immediate reaction. We have white boards with indecipherable cave paintings on them that mean something only to us.
Jefferson – I manage it very badly I think, hahaha. I always work more hours than recommended for health, around 15-16 hours a day, or more, and this is crazy. In the past six months, I’ve been trying to manage it better. Nowadays I work 10 hours a day and preserve the weekends for family.
It’s often difficult to get word out about independent comics. What do you do to market and promote your books? Anything work really well or really poorly?
Jefferson – I am personally very bad and selling and promoting myself. I really need help with this.
David – This one’s for Shane!
Shane – Not much! We have the requisite Facebook and Twitter accounts, but we found that neither moves the needle much in terms of getting eyeballs on the comic—or backers to our Kickstarter campaigns.
We have the comics at our local comics store (Avalon in Santa Barbara, CA!). And we post them online on Tapastic and LINE WebToon. Tapastic and Webtoon are great mobile platforms and we have some enthusiastic fans there. But the sites are geared for mostly teen anime type comics, so our readership is relatively low in comparison to the most popular comics (with millions of readers), but all the more appreciated for it!
Now that we have three issues and a collected TPB out, we’re very excited to start hitting the cons in CA (for now). We hope to be at WonderCon and SDCC next year.
We’re hoping these cons and others will make all the difference!
What’s your process look like when you’re writing? Do you go with the full outline? Or are you a fly by the seat of your pants type?
David – I’m a screenwriter so I outline. I don’t really know what would happen if I didn’t – probably a big mess of ideas and cool scenes that don’t really build up to anything until – suddenly – the end!
What’s your process look like? Digital or by hand? Do you have a preference?
David – I mix it up: breaking story by hand (with Blackwing pencils!) and then burning rubber on the keyboard.
Jefferson – Today I’m more adapted to digital, and I prefer it. But it depends on what each work requires.
I was able to get in on your last Kickstarter, so I’m looking forward to being able to read the story so far. What inspired you to create Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam?
David – I’ve always been obsessed with anything Victorian. I wrote a Jack the Ripper script years ago that I never sold, but I included supernatural overtones and a chase across the London rooftops that I loved. Arcane Sally was a way to take some of those ideas and just let them morph into something even crazier.
Was this a case of coming up with the story first and then the setting or vice versa?
David – Setting came first – Victorian London! Then the characters appeared and began to demand to be heard.
What’s been the reaction to the book?
David – The first reaction I got was from a friend who read an early draft and said, “Did you really just write a love story?”
I said, “No, it’s a Victorian supernatural action-adventure.”
He said, “Bullshit – this is a love story.”
Are there themes and/or subjects you find yourself drawn to again and again in your work?
David – Someone much smarter than me who has read a lot of my writing told me:“All of your scripts are formal complaints about Death.” She was right – everything always comes back to me shaking my fist at the inevitability of dying.
“All of your scripts are formal complaints about Death.”She was right – everything always comes back to me shaking my fist at the inevitability of dying.
She was right – everything always comes back to me shaking my fist at the inevitability of dying.
After running 3 successful Kickstarters for Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam, what have you learned about the process of Kickstarter? What do you think has contributed to hitting your goals on Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam?
David – This one’s for Shane!
Shane – Three successful campaigns–and two failed ones from which we learned plenty. Kickstarter has been the best platform so far in terms of finding our readership. There’s a lot of comics on Kickstarter. And comics readers go to Kickstarter to look for new comics to read. It’s win-win. We have terrifically loyal backers backing us for every issue and encouraging us to continue. And that you can’t put a price on.
Did you worry about “going to the well” too soon after each one?
Shane – We don’t worry about going to the well too often, because our fans are on board, as some have said, for the long haul. It’s a great relief to be able to count on getting enough to produce the rest of the books. But it’s also a challenge to keep producing new rewards and incentives to keep each campaign fresh—but that’s also the fun of it. We don’t take anything for granted, least of all our readership!
We initially attempted to raise money to complete the whole series. And we learned then that the best way to go about it was issue by issue. But we produced the first issue on our own. So we offered #1 as a reward for the campaign to raise money for #2. This way, backers know the book is finished at the get-go: they are guaranteed to get something. And that makes a big difference. Plus, since we only try to fund one book at a time, it’s much easier to meet and exceed the goal. And we always put our minimum at actually lower than we need, because we’ve seen that people are more willing to back a project that looks as if it will succeed.
Do you view the platform as a testing ground for the concepts?
Shane – Is Kickstarter a testing ground for concepts? Sure. But it’s hard to say what the standard is, if there is one at all, in terms of what people will back. There’s always that project you might think is dubious that racks up triple your pledges. It goes to show that Kickstarter is a place where any creator can go to find their audience/readership/consumer and succeed if they can meet their expectations and follow through on delivery.
You currently have 3 issues of Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam. What’s the overall plan with Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam?
Shane – It’s slated for 10 issues. We plan to collect 4-7 and 8-10 in separate TPBs, and then collect the whole run. Ideally, we’d then go to an established publisher who could print and distribute it to the direct comic book market and beyond.
Comics is an amazing collaborative medium. Tell me a little about working with each other (now’s a great time to spill any dirt you might have on them!).
David – Screenwriters must collaborate, so it hasn’t felt too weird to do it on this comic. Jeff is so cinematic in his layouts and where he positions the reader’s eye, so it’s always a pleasure to see his artwork. Shane and I have brief, heated arguments about details and then we resolve them and move on and we’re usually both happier with the results.
Jeff lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil so we’ve never had a disagreement! Pretty hard to argue with someone thousands of miles away – plus he is a super nice guy!
Jefferson – It’s great when everyone is heading for the same place in relation to the project, like this team is.
If you could go back in time ten years, what advice might you have for your younger self? Something you wish you knew?
David – The pursuit of money is a lie. Creativity is everything, but you must make your work professional. And all writing is bullshit if the writer doesn’t expose himself and risk being vulnerable.
Jefferson – I would tell myself to plan better, everything, my career choices, and my career path.
Do you have any upcoming projects? Anything you’d like to promote? Anything else that you’d like people to know about you (Hobbies? Passions? Favorite TV Show)?
David – I have a Netflix movie that I wrote that’s going to be shot in South Africa in November: Scorpion King 5! I loved the original with The Rock because it reminded me of 80’s sword-and-sorcery movies, so was thrilled when Universal told me to take this franchise and bring it back to Egypt. It’s a pretty low-budget movie by today’s standards so no one was very nervous about it, so they let me invent whatever I wanted.
Where’s the best place to find out more about Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam and the rest of your works?
We are on Tapastic (https://tapas.io/series/arcanesally)
www.facebook.com/jcostarm (for Jefferson Costa’s Facebook)
DAVID HEDGES is a screenwriter from Los Angeles and a recipient of the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. He has written scripts for several major studios. This is his first comic.
JEFFERSON COSTA is an artist and animator from Brazil, and the winner of three HQ Mix trophies, the “Oscar” of Brazilian comics, for Best Anthology and Best Graphic Novel in 2015, and for Best Graphic Adaptation in 2013.
I want to thank everyone over at Arcane Sally and Mr. Steam for being so gracious with their time!
John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.
He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!
And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!
He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.