Elliott Serrano, host of Chicago’s “Geek To Me” show, welcomed some local creators for one of the last panels of C2E2 2012, a spirited discussion about deep dish pizza, and wind. Just kidding. The panelists included Jenny Frison (cover artist on Angel), Mike Norton (Battlepug), Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash), Rafael Nieves (The Apocalypse Plan), and a late arriving Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother).
Serrano kicked things off talking about what’s different about working in Chicago. “There isn’t a lot of challenges in Chicago, other than that in New York City there’s Marvel and DC,” said Seeley. “It used to be that was the only place you could do things, but now, with FTPs, and the Internet, you can be in Chicago. I think it’s really the third place to be after NYC and LA.”
“Other than time zones,” added Norton. “Sometimes they call me earlier than I’d rather. You can do face to face in New York, but I really don’t like being face to face with people. I like being farther away, where I can use distance as an excuse.”
The talk then turned to sharing studios - Seeley, Norton, and Frison all rent a space to work in together. “Being a comic creator is a lonely gig,” said Seeley. “You don’t have to leave the house for six days, so sometimes you don’t... It can be bad for you, as a person. The reason we do a studio is, there’s a lot of creators in Chicago. We share goals, team up, and have people to chat with besides your cats.”
Moving on to some plugs, Frison mentioned a new book called Revival from Image, which Seeley is writing, Norton is drawing, and Frison is doing covers. That title hits in July. Frison is also doing the covers for Dark Horse’s Spike mini-series.
Seeley, meanwhile, is working on Hack/Slash, Witchblade, and Ex Sanguine, a new vampire series.
Norton talked about Battlepug, as well as It Girl, a new series from Mike Allred spinning out of Madman. He also mentioned that he’ll be on the new Defenders arc from Marvel, starting with issue #8.
Nieves plugged a book he’s working on called “Bob Howard, Plumber of the Unknown,” as well as two self-published anthologies he’ll be releasing soon.
Then the floor opened up to questions, starting with how each broke into comics.
“Breaking in sort of implies you’re broken in forever... But you have to constantly break in,” said Seeley.
Frison then talked about how showing her portfolio off at cons eventually worked down the road, but it was really meeting Seeley at a drink and draw led to drawing a cover for Hack/Slash, and then she got another cover off of that, and things snowballed from there. Seeley chimed in that with Cons like C2E2 in the area, you need to be constantly putting yourself out there. Frison then added that you have to have your work freely available on the Internet, if you’re looking to show it off.
Nieves added a similar story, of heading to an early Chicago Comic Con, and pitching to every Editor he could find. After self-publishing for several issues, word got around in the comic community, until one day he got a call from his co-creator, who said, “I got a call from Neil Gaiman, and he loves our comic book,” and things snowballed from there, until he was pitching against writers like Kurt Busiek for books, and getting them.
Serrano then steered the discussion to talk about independent publishing. “Do not start your own publishing company, that’s a terrible idea,” said Seeley, before clarifying that he started a digital comics app - Double Feature - which publishes stories form artists and writers they like. “That is a good way to go, but starting a publishing company? No, no no.”
At that point, Thompson entered to applause, followed by her razzing the panel for not inviting them to be part of their studio. Then an audience member asked what tools they should use to create comics, and the panel entered into a relatively technical discussion about what kind of inks, paper, and pencils to use - including Copic Markers, and brush pens. Thompson added that the materials also affect how much the art will last, that using better materials means your art will be available later for archival purposes.
Asked if there was any particular difficulty in being a writer, Nieves said, “I need an artist. They don’t necessarily need writers.” Seeley added that it’s difficult to prove you’re a writer, versus being an artist, with Frison joking, “These are my words... Do they look different from other people’s words?”
Going back to the original discussion, Thompson said that there used to be comics companies in Chicago, but that now it is mostly based in New York. “The most challenging thing about doing comics in Chicago is Winter, and Summer,” said Thompson. “Either it’s too cold, and you’re stuck in your house, or it’s too warm, and you’re stuck in your house.”
The discussion then turned to social media, with Norton saying that he’s a totally different person writing or drawing what he says, rather than talking in person. “I can tell people what I’m doing this weekend - it’s not only useful, it’s probably necessary,” said Norton.
“There is a sort of weird cult of celebrity attached to comics,” chimed in Seeley. “People associate you with the characters, and the product... You have to take advantage of that. When you’re not doing Spider-Man, you hope they’ll follow you to the next project.” Quipped Frison, “...But really, they just liked Spider-Man.”
Thompson added that when she’s working on a page, it takes her about ten hours to finish painting it, and all she wants to do is show it off - but of course she can’t run out on the street and show it to someone, so social media comes into play.
Bouncing off of that, an audience member asked if the panelists had any experience with Kickstarter. Thompson chimed in saying that she will soon. When asked to clarify, she explained that the Scary Godmother rights got tied up for a while, particularly when it came to merchandise. She’s been looking into making super-articulated Scary Godmother fashion dolls, which, “When I looked into how much it cost, started to understand why no one made them before.” She’s waiting until she can finish a prototype doll to show off, and then will most likely put the project on Kickstarter, or a Kickstarter type site, like IndieGoGo.
“The downside is that it looks like you couldn’t sell it yourself, and had to beg for money,” said Seeley. Added Frison, “Taking money from someone else, to create your creator owned thing, it makes it... Something else. You have to make something they want.” They clarified that something like Scary Godmother dolls seems the way to go with crowd-funding, because it already exists - as opposed to an indie comic that could be potentially corrupted in some way.
On the other hand, Thompson added, “If you’re having someone fund you, they’re just pre-ordering your book. I think there’s going to be a shift in the way you get your comics.”
And that was it! We’ll see you at next year’s C2E2, and stay tuned for plenty more from the Con on MTV Geek.