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Wednesday
Nov072012

"DRINK DEEP! OR TASTE NOT THE PLASMA POOL!" OR- HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE GAMERCAMP

 

Toronto's Indie game scene is more than just a few isolated pockets of developers cranking out a tiny title every few years-- it's a bonafide sub-a-culture-- and to say it's hot right now is a considerable understatement. For many years there was no major studios in town who were drawn to more tax-incentive friendly cities like Montreal and Vancouver. Instead the scene grew organically from the artistically rich and diverse inhabitants, who come to games from a variety of disciplines from programming to illustration, from composers to novelists.
This relative isolation produces great creativity--people who are in games in Toronto are there because they want to be-- there's a scene here because they made it. It's like a tropical island, with a wildly diverse ecosystem because it's been allowed to flourish. And Gamercamp seems to be where the birds come out to play, in a dazzling rainbow of colourful plumage. Besides talks and workshops from game creators, the real highlight was a showcase of dozens of new games from indie and small-scale studios.  
This is a hot scene with many exciting developers and studios coming out of it. The difference now, is that the talent has been able to grow, the majors are coming calling. Ubisoft has set up shop in the Junction, with 200 people hired at a studio, that they expect to staff up to 4 times that, and after cranking out a new Splinter Cell, create brand new 'IPs' and properties. Our goverment, through agencies like the OMDC, are also now starting to fund gaming ventures. The possiblities of true innovative content, exciting new narratives, and games that push the envelope for what the form can truly accomplish could be right around the corner. If there not here already. 
Every scene needs 'hubs', physical places and events around which it can congregrate, grow, coalesce. Like the way sea creatures thrive around coral reefs-- becoming one of the life-rich, colourful, and diverse spots in the ocean.  Toronto has these places too--places like Bento Miso, a collaborative workspace and inspirational meetup for up-and-coming developers; and events like TO JAM, a weekend-long game creation jam. And that's what Gamercamp was too. 
So what's that mean for a comic-book writer? Well-- the crossover is closer than you think. Cartoonists like Ben Rivers, whose book Snow won a prestigious Xeric grant a few years back, is pushing the ideas of the 'first-person' or unreliable narrator with his survival horror Home.  Jim Munroe, sci-fi comic writer and multimedia impressario is one of the architects behind the Toronto, and continues to explore the limits of narrative in gaming with projects like  Unmanned. And writer Christine Love is bringing the epistolary novel into the 21st century with stories like Analogue:A Hate Story, interactive, manga-influenced 'visual novels', a form that is already huge in Japan. 
I've been exploring games for the past year to look into their potential for narrative. But the more I do-- the more I see there is not one answer to be found. It's the wild west. Narrative in games is really what you make of it. And the through interactivity and the power of immersion, it has the capablity to reach, to grab hold of a viewer and make them feel something like nothing else can. And this is something that I will continue to explore. It's an interesting time... 

 

Tuesday
Jul032012

The Amazing Homem Aranha! 

Some things you just do for yourself. 

Like this-- a series of Vblogs, or "Vee-ba-logs" as they're known, about the adventures of a Brazilian Spider-Man hand puppet. 

Homem Aranha is Portuguese for Spider-Man, as he was discovered in a street market stall in Sao Paolo, Brazil while I was on my honeymoon. The stall was run by a tiny old lady, with a deep froggy voice who croaked "Cinqo! Cinqo!" to indicate price.

But it wasn't until we got home, and Rich Platel tried on the puppet that we discovered his true voice (And it was not that unlike the lady's who sold it). 

Now Homem Aranha spends his time discussing his changing fortune, his recent divorce, his rivalry with other super-heroes, and how Sony handles the latest reboot of his story.  Best five reals I've ever spent. 

 

Thursday
May032012

How to Succeed in Self-Publishing Pt. II 

About a month ago I went to the Kazoo Zine fair in Guelph. Following the fair, the showrunners, owners of The Dragon comic shop hosted an after-party at a nearby bar. There they asked me and a long-time local zinester to give a talk about our experiences in self-publishing. While we were coming at from different perspectives, what we had in common was the desire to share what we were making-- and connect with people through our writing.

The last post I wrote about why I self-publish, the motivation. All of which was cool-- but what I didn't get to, and what I wanted to share in the talk are the actual nuts and bolts-- all the practical things you learn by hitting the small-press, indie-comics circuit. So grab your extra long-stapler, cause here goes:

1. MAKE STUFF FOR CHEAP

This one seems like a given, right? But it's not easy. Cause you have a stack of pages, or a pdf, and kinkos are there, and it's the last minute, and the show's in less than 12 hours! But whoa there. It really is worth taking the time. Ask around with other cartoonists you know whose books you admire, find out where they get their stuff done, get as many different quotes as you can. We ended up going to a printer north of Toronto up in Vaughn-- far enough to get a great price-- close enough that we can still pick up copies and proofs in a hurry if necessary. Or course, cheap in printing is a relative thing as the price tends to go down when you start looking at volume. Which brings us to the next thing. 

2. PRINT IN QUANTITIES YOU CAN MOVE

Again this is relative, but what are we talking here? 10? 20? 1000? Well you have to test the waters. You're going to sell a certain amount of books to people you know. You can then sell a certain amount in the number of shows you get out to in a year-- with any luck. Once you've done a show you'll have an idea of what that number is.

While it's hard to make this guess-- it makes much more sense on the small press scene to try and underestimate what you can move rather than opt for that big print discount (as anyone with umpteen many cardboard boxes of books around their house / garage/ parent's house even can tell you.) Be realistic. It's much more satisfying to sell-out of a print run-- the worst thing is you have to print it again (as we did with Freelance Blues #1 opting this time for a smashing colour cover.) Because then you've got a reason to celebrate! Unless you're looking for another way to prop up your bed than a box-spring, in which case I say volume discounts all the way. 

3. MAKE FRIENDS

Now this should be simple. But honestly, it's one of the biggest ones there is. Because when you're making your own books at the level where you're representing yourself at comic and zine -fairs, you're gonna need help. When Freelance Blues was first launching we teeamed up with the up-and-coming Canadian Fiction publishers The Workhorsery to share a booth at Word on the Street. Partly cause, well, we missed the deadline, partly because it made it more affordable for all of us.

This leads to all sorts of amazing effects. Carpooling to shows in different cities? Bam. Twitter shout-outs to your newest projects? Pow. And just sharing knowledge about stuff like shows you haven't heard of-- like did you know there's a fan convention in Burlington!?! Thanks to Chris Howard of Dressed for Success, I do.

But one of the best things, is having people around you to give you that boost you need when you're out pushing your books. Because you'll need it with the amount of rejection you'll face when pitching your masterpiece on total strangers. Which brings us too:

 

4. HAVE A PITCH

This I believe-- and it's something I've noticed at shows. It's very easy for an artist to just sit behind a table, maybe sketching, maybe chatting to friends. And I get it. There's lot of reasons for this: they could not be used to standing up for their work, they're shy, introverted, or just feel the art can best speak for itself.

But you know what? From my side of the table, when you're there-- it's not your job to be an artist or writer. You're there to promote your work. You love it -- you've already poured your heart and soul into making the thing. But none of that matters. Unless you're coming in with a massive internet following-- most people will be coming to your stuff cold. So you've got to make a pitch.

Now anyone who has sat beside Mike Leone or I at a show know what I'm talking about. They can practically repeat our sell verbatim by the end of a weekend. Because when we start telling someone who comes by about Freelance Blues-- we tell them the story. We tell them what it's about in a way that gets to the essence of what our book is. That hooks their attention, gives them something they can grab on to. And that's enough for them to dive into it themselves, flip through a few pages and make up their own minds.. So find a way to tell someone about what your book is-- why they would like it-- what makes it good.

It's not about a hard sell-- it's literally about giving them the 30 second version of what the thing is that has maybe already caught their eye. And that just might be the difference between your book sitting on the table or going home to be enjoyed by someone else. 

THAT'S THE SHORT SHORT VERSION. 

I'm by no means an expert on any on this-- the DIY route is one that has been well travelled, particularly well chronicled on sites like those of sci-fi novelist, filmmaker and multimedia impressario Jim Munroe, whose http://nomediakings.org/ is a wealth of articles with all sorts of how-to advice on getting your stuff in motion, printing, selling, distributing, programming, you name it. 

But everything I've learned and that has kept me doing this has come from those practical guideposts. You can't keep making comics if you're broke. And you can't reach out to readers with your work if you don't know how to talk to them. So get out there to some shows already! And speaking of...

AND FINALLY-- TCAF!

This weekend I am very fortunate to be making my first appearance at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, aka TCAF. I'll be there Sunday May 6th, at the Toronto Reference Library. I'm one of the folks booked for Sunday after Kid Koala ships out his massive installation on the first floor so look for me there. It's way in the back! But I promise goodness.  Like this: 

Hope to see you at the show! 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
Apr232012

How to Succeed in Self Publishing Pt 1

I didn't set out to self-publish. My first ambition was simply to be a writer. I would write stories and then send them to publishers, I would be rich and famous, drink champagne at the top of Park Hyatt, then retire to a country cottage house and continue to pen bestselling works. A pursuit perhaps punctuated by many naps.  

Actually, my initial goals were much more modest: I just wanted to finish the stories I started. When I began writing and drawing my own comics--I did it so I could share them with my friends. But there's a level at which just photocopying comics and giving them away doesn't cut it. You want to know if you can make it. You want to know if you're any good. And the only way to know that is to get out there in the arena, and see if people who don't know you will be interested in what you've done.

So somewhere in-between those two ambitions, after rounds of rejection letters on stories, pitches, and novellas, came the first mini comic of Freelance Blues, co-created and written by the prodigiously enthusiastic Mike Leone. We had an idea for a series, an everyman sort of guy, who whenever he starts up at a new job discovers that his employer is bent on supernatural evil. We met an artist online, got some pages drawn, and then BLAOW. We had it. An 8 page first hit, the FLB mini. So, it was time to take it out and see if it would sell.

After a trip to Kinkos, with a hastily assembled pdf, we had a stack of folded 8 1/2 by 11s, which I took down to the Toronto Comic-com. I showed it to everyone I could. I showed it to Dave Sim, who was like, oh—uh-- that's great! But he took one, and reminded me “Hey, you have to sign it.” I showed it to Chris Butcher, who was selling books at the Beguiling table, who was like “Well the page turns don't hold together all the way, that jump doesn't make sense, but that's great man! Get out there and sell it.” So with that encouragement, I walked over to the artist alley, which luckily was sparsely populated. And very self-consciously, I sat down on the other side of the tables.

Digital painting guru Bobby Chiu, who I met while doing a profile of his Subway sketching, came over after noticing me. “Oh, you do your own comic? Here, you have to show people.” Freelance Blues #0 didn't even have a real cover image, just a very large version of the logo. Bobby cracked the book open to the centre spread, showing the art, and pulled all the books to the front of the table. “See, you got to let people see it. Don't be shy about it. Okay, good luck!” 

And that was pretty much all the initiation I got into the selling of comics. I sold them for 2 bucks an issue, and I think they cost us $1 buck to print each for 8 pages plus a stiff glossy cover sheet. But over the day I started to make my money back. I sold a few. And I thought, hey, I can do this. This was something we worked on, spent weeks writing, coming up with the concepts, finessing jokes, reviewing character designs, thumbnails, layouts, pencilled and inked pages. It was something we'd really poured our hearts into. Why wouldn't we want to get it out there to people? That's why we'd put the effort in. More than that-- we'd paid, yeah, we paid for an artist to draw our vision for this thing. Why wouldn't we want to see that money back? Aren't our ideas worth that much?

Cut to five years later. And we're still doing it. I was in Guelph, for the 2nd day of a 3 day selling tour. Yesterday we set up at the Ad Astra science fiction convention, today was the Kazoo Zine fair, tomorrow I'd be heading down to Toronto's Wizard World. We had just printed ISSUE 5 of a 6 part Freelance Blues mini series which we had funded, self-published and marketed ourselves. We're on our way to completing the series on our own. And in Guelph, Rob Haines, one of the managers of the Dragon comic store and organizer of the zine fair asked if I could participate in a talk on self-publishing. So of course I said yes. Because after doing this for five years I think I have something to say. I've learned a few things. And it involved surprisingly less champagne than you would think. 

Sunday
Feb262012

Coming Soon: Charcoal 

It's been a long time coming. A few years ago I started writing the good people at Tor.com  to pitch them on new comics. Tor is one of the classic science fiction publishers, and one of the few that are publishing original short fantasy, sci-fi and horror comics. (some of their more intriguing, The Last Mortician by Tim Hall and Dean Haspiel, King of An Endless Sky by Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon, and Red Light Properties by Dan Goldman.) 

The story that I submitted is called Charcoal, and it's a story about Stella, a girl in high school who taps into supernatural powers to seek revenge against a pair of bullies (and naturally, things are not all what they seem). I had the good fortune to be collaborating with my friend Kalman Andrasofszky  on this project. I first worked with Kalman when I commissioned him to create a comic about his favourite book (The Neverending Story) while curating Whazamo: Ontario Graphic Novel Month.  For this project Kalman brought not just an insightful grasp of style and tone; but also pushed to bring out the themes and imagery that is key to the story. Really a true collaboration, and I couldn't be happier with it so far. 

So here are some of Kalman's original concept sketches for characters that you'll in the story, coming later this year on Tor.com. I hope you're hype-- I sure as Hell am.