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.
How long have you been creating/working in comics?
Only about 2 years, ‘properly’. I used to make comic strips for my design blog, but I didn’t really commit to making comics until after my daughter was born… Suddenly I had limited time for my freelance work, and I figured I better use it to make stuff I genuinely enjoyed rather than trying to just make some extra money on stuff that I found frustrating or unfulfilling.
I started out as a letterer for Dave Hailwood on the sci-fi anthology, 100% Biodegradable… 2 years later I’ve written 3 single issues, editing an experimental anthology that is about to release its 7th issue, and I’m about to complete a book I’ve drawn.
Things, kind of, snowballed!
Who inspires you? Or do you have a favorite artist or creator?
The whole small press comic scene inspires me. Everyone is making stuff they are truly passionate about, and they are genuinely interested and supportive of anyone making comics. And everyone SHOULD make comics if you love the form. Go to a con, chat to creators… Everyone will be really keen to give you advice and help you get started. It’s amazing.
As for more mainstream creators… I’ll read anything Jason Aaron writes, and look at anything Dave McKean draws.
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?
I have a VERY understanding and supportive wife.
I work full time… We have a busy family life… But when my daughter goes to bed, I get to work on the comic stuff. It’s all time management stuff. Early mornings, late nights, working through lunch hours, squeezing in creativity as and when you can.
Everything is a balancing act… I’m sure I ignore a few things I shouldn’t in order to make it happen… Like exercise or leisure (I barely watch TV anymore and I wish I picked up computer games more) but there will be time down the road for that stuff.
Family first, then work… Comic stuff next, everything else for what’s left.
So, it’s difficult… But I can’t do it any other way. I’ve conditioned myself to make stuff, and to break that now would be a silly thing to do.
It’s often difficult to get the word out about independent comics. What do you do to market and promote your books? Anything work really well or really poorly?
I wish I had that golden bullet of an answer, but I don’t.It’s a slog. It’s a constant cycle of shouting into the void of social media and general marketing in the hope someone will take a look.
It’s a slog. It’s a constant cycle of shouting into the void of social media and general marketing in the hope someone will take a look.
Most of my readership found me through Kickstarter, and the rest stems from being an active member of the small press community. Taking an interest in what everyone else is up to, so they might take an interest in you. But it’s got to be a genuine interest… Everyone sniffs out a phony. No way to fake it.
I found it a tough balance. I dislike the hard sell and often worry about ‘bothering’ people. SO I may well be missing out on my full marketing potential.
The easiest way to market a product is to make a really good product. People talk about exceptional things. You can’t buy word of mouth marketing, you have to inspire it with something that’s worth talking about… I strive to make something exceptional.
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?
My process is messy. I start with a notebook full of scribbles. I distil that down onscreen and break it up into chunks before writing a script.
Within that, though, there is a lot of outlining and planning. By the time I get to scripting, I know everything that is going to happen, and all of the beats and pacing.
The joy in writing for me is surprising myself with dialogue within that framework. Sometimes an unexpected idea will crop up… But that’s what editing is for!
I’m a big believer in completing things, even if they are terrible. At least you have something to work with, to improve.You
You can’t make ‘nothing’ any better.
I love the idea of Cognition! What inspired you to write Cognition?
Cognition went through a lot of stages before it got to where it is now…I guess the initial idea came from a ‘Steampunk Pinocchio’ concept. Originally it was a much smaller, slower and quieter story about a robot that came to life in a basement and explored that small place believing it to be the full extent of the universe.
Things grow and develop. Ideas come along and fall by the wayside. I still plan on reusing that initial idea within the current series. But all in all the messages and ideas behind the book have totally changed. Big concepts for me are the duality on our personalities and how wrapped up in our sense of self is, in our physicality.
You currently have 3 issues of Cognition (issue 0 through issue 2). What’s the overall plan with Cognition?
There are 2 more issues to complete the first arc… I’m writing them at the moment, and I might try complete and print them together… We’ll see.
Sam is taking a break for a while as he works on other exciting projects, but we’re looking to wrap up the first story as soon as we can.
I know where I’m leaving things at the end of the arc… It’s a good stopping point, with plenty of potential to carry on. I have stories for years in my head, but it comes down to a lot of outside factors to keep it going. I’ll attempt to pitch the first arc to wider distribution and see if we can figure out a way to make production a bit ‘easier’… We’ll see.
Basically, as long as Sam wants to draw it, I’ve got stories for us to tell.
Comics is an amazing collaborative medium. Tell me a little about working with Sam Bentley, the artist on Cognition.
Sam is a dream!
Seriously, he has so much to do with how this book as connected with the audience. His art tells so much of the story without me having to overwrite or fill in any blanks.
Getting pages to my inbox is a real treat as he makes my script come alive in ways that are always different… And better than I had in my head when I was writing.
This is the joy of collaboration… People taking your idea and executing it better than you originally imagined.
The more we’ve worked together the better our collaboration has become. There are some sections in the scripts now that I don’t have to fully script. I give Sam the narrative beats and let him have the creative freedom to figure out the best way to join the dots artistically. I have a huge respect and trust in him as an artist and I want to keep the project as fulfilling and interesting as I can for him.
He does sketches, we discuss things, he re-draws and suddenly these miraculous pages appear and I get to add letters and feel bad about covering bits!
After running 3 successful Kickstarters for Cognition (and 4 overall), what have you learned about the process of Kickstarter? What do you think has contributed to hitting your goals on Cognition each time?
Kickstarter is a wonderful platform for self-publishing. I use it in a very particular way though. I only go to KS once I’ve got a complete book. I only use it for printing costs and getting it over the line… This has a few drawbacks and benefits… It means I have to self-fund most of the book, but it means I can fulfill the campaign very quickly after funding. This has resulted in having quite a decent reputation on the KS platform. I dislike the horror stories of people waiting years for what they’ve paid for etc… Plus I’m very conscientious and would dislike an unfulfilled campaign hanging over me!
The wonderful thing about KS is that there is no single way of utilizing it. I run things in a way that they are in my comfort zone, and that zone is defined by my own personal circumstances and set of ethics.
Everyone will be different, but there are a set of rules I set myself and play by… It’s worked thus far.
Did you worry about “going to the well” too soon after each one?
I don’t worry about going back too much, because I know I’m offering a product that has proven sustained interest at the level I need for it to succeed. As long as there is enough support I’ll keep seeing it as a viable avenue to create the books I want to make.
Do you view the platform as a testing ground for the concepts?
As for a testing ground…. I’m not sure. I see it as a place to take a complete project and make it a reality. I’m uncomfortable with ‘speculative’ campaigns… There is a lot of trust needed, and I, personally, don’t feel comfortable asking that much of people willing to support me.
If you could go back in time ten years, what advice might you have for your younger self? Something you wish you knew?
Just make stuff!
Why did I wait until I was in my thirties to commit to making comics? Because I didn’t think I could pull it off, because I doubted myself…
Seriously, just make stuff… Find other people that like making the same sort of stuff, talk to them, share your work… Do more work, get better. Fail…. Fail HUGE! But don’t stop. Just use whatever you learn to make the next thing better.
I’m learning with each page, each book each project… The last thing I made is the best thing I ever made. If I don’t feel that way about it, nobody else should.
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)?
I’m very close to finishing my first solo book. I’ve done everything on the page. Writing, art, lettering… The whole lot. It’s quite a personal story about pregnancy and the end of the world! But I haven’t quite figured out what I’m doing with it yet… So if that sounds interesting follow me on twitter as I’ll be going on and on about it once I decide. (@kenreynoldsdesign)
Ken has lettered for many independent publishers and creators, including Alterna, Markosia, Grayhaven Comics, & Insane Comics. He was proud to be part of the lettering team that completed the 750+ page epic that is ‘The Explorers’ Guild’ by Jon Baird, Kevin Costner and Rick Ross published by Simon & Schuster.
He also writes the supernatural adventure series ‘Cognition’, edits the experimental comic anthology ‘Sliced Quarterly’ and is an assistant editor of the sci-fi anthology 100% biodegradable.
I want to thank Ken for taking the time to answer all my questions. If there ever was a doubt to trying to create your art, just fall back on Ken’s own words: “Just make stuff!”.
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.