Everything I’ve Learned About Producing an Independent Comic (and what I still have to learn)

Two years ago, I had a dream to produce a comic called Edgewater. The story centered around a a society… ugh… beginning a synopsis with the word “society” is the most pretentious sci-fi cliche. I can already hear you snoring.

Edgewater is a small town. Robotic companions are not only the norm, but have infiltrated the sex market (because: of course they would). Sexbots, they are.

The conflict of Edgewater arises when somebody begins “killing” off the sexbots. At the time of writing, I was really interested in how technology affects intimacy and the age-old “body-as-commodity” theme.

It’s touchy subject matter for sure, and really not for everyone’s taste. Combine that with my non-existent experience in comics, the only way to get it produced was for us to put up the money myself. Luckily, I had an artist: Zandria Sturgill. We had worked together on a grotesque children’s book Christmas Follies of the Half Jewish Lobster, so I knew that she had the skills to produce something great, something that didn’t turn away from the subject matter. She agreed to illustrate Edgewater with the proper funding.

Back then, there was a new, invite-only site called Kickstarter, and I decided to give it a try. I made a video, wrote some goofy text and put it up. I hadn’t even written a script yet.

Through some very strange, very serendipitous events, we received all the funding and then some. I can only describe the feeling as “magical”. It was the first time I’ve ever been funded to create anything.

But a lot can change in two years.

(The part where I offer a lot of scatter-brained, sometimes contradictory statements and pass it off as advice)

Beware the Kickstarter

On the whole, I think Kickstarter is a really fantastic site. Incentive-based crowd funding is genius (no matter what the haters say).

But Kickstarter projects require no due dates. This is good for artists, bad for pledgers. Over two years, your priorities shift: you find a real job, you take-on projects with due dates. You lose family members, you gain some. You get married. You change careers. All of these have happened during the course of Edgewater.

The whole idea of strangers funding your work is also a bit daunting and I would probably not do it again. Family and friends are privy to your struggles/victories in life, which only sound like excuses to strangers. It’s an uncomfortable position that creates a lot of anxiety.

It seems really irresponsible to blame kickstarter for not setting stricter boundaries for due dates and artists. I really just want present the mindset/parameters that allow a project to drag on.

Obvious Advice: Don’t take 2 years to complete a project

I love Zandria. She is one of the most talented, outgoing, thoughtful and thoughtful people I’ve met. But we’re different people than we were two years ago. Even if her art says otherwise, Edgewater does not interest her anymore. She’s tired of monochrome. Sexy robots were my thing, not hers…

Were. Even my writing has changed/improved immensely. I’m afraid to look at the original script, fearing that it will be too schlocky, angsty or overtly genre. Robots just don’t hold the appeal that they did for me two years ago.

It’s easy to go back and trace the project’s erosion. Our emails when the project was funded are long, full of numerous links, clips, inspirations and excited language. Now, we communicate through clipped text messages.

Treat your artistic collaborations as professionally as possible.

It’s sad that our friendship has suffered during this whole process, which I know could be alleviated if I was a bigger asshole through the beginning stages of this project, if I took charge as more of a “boss”. People are paying us, after all.

In my opinion, the let’s have a good time attitude rarely produces good art. Negative reinforcement is not productive, but I think conflict can produce some truly impressive stuff.

The part where I mention the comic is nearly done.
After all that: Yes, Edgewater is close to being done. I’m not going to say when, because making promises is another lesson I’ve learned not to do. Despite the bitching, the pressure, the passive-aggressive, bickering emails, I couldn’t be happier to tell you that Zandria is sending me ready-to-print pages. It’s the kind of stuff that makes your hair stand on end. In every panel, I can see her conflict with the art, which (to me at least) holds a very abrasive, kinetic energy which is very fun to look at. We’ve been wallowing in the dark for so long, these images feel like rockets that shoot us into the sun.

I’m excited about Edgewater again.

What you can do to help.

– Write a comment. We’re always fishing for compliments–they make our engine work faster.

– I’m still unsure of how this will get printed. I’ve looked at Ka-Blam and have read pretty mixed reviews. Anyone know of a better printer that will cater to comics?

– In the same vein, what platform do people use now to put comics on tablets? I’ve been impressed with how comics look on tablets and really want to push that. Any info about that would be awesome.

– If you’re a comic publisher, you could buy Edgewater, pay us lots of money for it, and print it on golden plates. I’m not really asking for too much here.


Small Victories

– First off, SD CityBeat (San Diego’s best paper) is running a reader poll for their upcoming photo issue and one of mine (pictured above) made the cut! If you could tell your all your friends, family, dogs, and Nigerian email scammers to go vote for Photo 10, that would mean the world to me!

– Me and Jay have been sending copies of our Clydestown project – an experiment in real-time story telling – over to the good folks at McSweeneys. The other day, we got a response from their managing editor, Jordan Bass:

Subject: Clydestown

Hey Ryan, and Jay, thanks for sending your calendar, and everything else–it looks like an epic undertaking, which is always fun to see. Hope it’s going great on your end, thus far–here’s wishing you great luck for the rest of the year. Many thanks for letting us see this one–

Jordan Bass, McSweeneys

It seems pretty astonishing that it got that far up the ladder considering how much mail they probably get. Anyway, it was certainly reinvigorating and motivation to step up our game during the second half of the project.

– Edgewater, my dark and sexy comic, is slowly becoming real. We just posted an update where you can see the transition from script to image. So fascinating!

Now if I could only find a way to get paid for doing this…