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Zudist Colony: Talking to this month’s Zuda competitors

Zuda

Zuda

Today we kick off a bit of an experiment that hopefully will end up becoming a regular monthly feature. It’s called Zudist Colony (thanks to Jeff Mccomsey for the name), and the idea is to interview all the contestants in Zuda’s monthly competition.

Zuda, of course, is DC’s webcomics site, where every month ten comic strips go head-to-head, and the one that gets the most votes goes on to be a regular strip on the site. The site started hosting these competitions in late 2007. Every so often we’ll receive a request from one of the competitors, asking us to interview them, run some artwork, etc. to help them promote their entry — which I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for doing, as getting the word out about your strip is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to the competition. And it may sound cheesy, but I’ve always felt that it wasn’t fair to showcase one strip over another, that if I interviewed one of the competitors, I really needed to interview all of them. So I turned down the requests.

But I started thinking about it — why can’t I interview all of them? So I dropped a couple of emails, and soon had the email addresses for all the competitors. I should note that I sent the same five questions to all the contestants, and told them that their entire team — writer, artist, etc. — could answer them.

Anyway, that might be a little too “insider baseball” for everyone, so if you’d like to get on with reading their responses, just click on the “Continue Reading” link and have at it …

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John Bivens, The Adventures of Mr. Simian

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

John: Okay, I graduated from Northern Illinois University about two years ago with a degree in illustration. Since graduating I’ve worked with Sam Costello for his Split Lip anthology, wrote and illustrated the story “Leather” in the Comic Book Tattoo anthology, competed at Zuda once before with writer and current competitor Justin Jordan. Currently, aside from the competition, I’m working on a graphic novel with writer Elizabeth Genco, and a couple of other comics with writers Josh Hechinger and Brandon Seifert. Then there’s personal projects… that I will get to eventually.

When not doing the comic work, full-time day job and trying to spend time with my girlfriend.

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JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

John: Wanted to make a sci-fi, humor, buddy comic. Also, I remember reading an interview (when I was little) with a cartoonist who said, “Everything is better with monkeys.” The idea gestated for a while, then I had to draw it.

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

John: Probably have enough rough stories in my head to last at least three years (if I rushed it). The first eight pages are a simple introduction; I didn’t want anything too convoluted.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

John: My marketing approach has been advertising on various forums, and using MySpace, Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. I’ve created a series of advertising illustrations that will pop up at these forums and sites as the month moves along.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

John: There’s enough stories that I’m hoping to. I have a few places in mind, and will approach if the Zuda thing doesn’t pan out.

*****

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Tyler James, Interrogation Control Element

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Tyler: The Interrogation Control Element (ICE) creative team is four strong. It was conceived and written by me, Tyler James, who Zudaheads may remember from April 2008′s competition, where my comic Super Seed finished 4th (behind two eventual Zuda contract winners.) I’ve been writing and drawing comics for most of the last fifteen years, and am currently the writer/artist of Over, a romantic comedy online graphic novel that debuted last month, and Tears of the Dragon, a fantasy epic, which began its weekly run the 14th of July. When not making funny books, I work as a video game designer and content produce for a small software company, and teach making comics to kids and adults.

I’ve been joined on ICE by the kick ass art team of penciller/ inker Damian Couceiro and colorist Paul Little. Damian is an award winning artist from Argentina, who is most known for his work on Joe Casey’s Full Moon Fever, for AIT Planet Lar. Paul is a workhorse colorist who has made pretty such titles as Bomb Queen (Shadowline/ Image Comics), Dynamo 5 (Image Comics) and The Matriarch (Arcana Studios). (I’ve also grabbed him for work on Tears of the Dragon. He’s too good!) And rounding out the team is editor Steven Forbes, who is copy-editor of Warmageddon Quarterly, co-writer of indy hit Fallen Justice, and writer of two must-read columns for any aspiring comics writers, Bolts & Nuts and The Proving Ground.

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Tyler: ICE is a story that was inspired by a New York Times article about Deuce Martinez, the CIA interrogator who broke Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Unlike his colleagues, who were using “enhanced interrogation techniques” to try to break prisoners, Deuce took a different, more cerebral approach. And he was incredibly effective and got the guy talking.

I thought such a character could make for a compelling protagonist. And as I started doing my research on interrogators in the war on terror, it was clear there was a very powerful story to be told here, and one that we haven’t seen much of in film or comics.

As for the story, ICE takes place in a post-Guantanamo Bay world and tells the story of Trip Higgins, a brilliant senior interrogator for the U.S. military. Trip was one of the most effective interrogators in Iraq and Afghanistan earlier in the decade, a by the book kind of guy who used his wits, psychological ruses, and other legal means to consistently break prisoners and provide valuable, accurate intel to his superiors. However, as other interrogators seemed to rely more on those so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and his superiors turned a blind eye, Trip became disillusioned with his work and left the military.

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Jump forward several years and a new administration, and Trip is chosen to become the senior echo (chief of interrogators) of a new Interrogation Control Element on American soil. Here, Trip will be training a young group of ‘gators how to break the nation’s most valuable (and in some cases deadliest) prisoners, within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions. Some of the young interrogators will be extremely wet behind the ears, while others have done this job in the past and may have a different view on the effectiveness and legality of enhanced interrogation, creating conflict with Trip.

Trip’s counterpoint is Fazul Shallah, a brutal extremist who, after an eight month stint in an Afghan prison, decides to eliminate the leadership of his multi-national terrorist organization and assume control himself. Once he’s solidified his control, Shallah coordinates a series of terrible terrorist attacks and soon becomes Trip’s team’s number one priority. When faced with such a ruthless enemy, Trip’s by-the-book tactics and respect for the rule of law will be tested, and the two men with diametrically opposed views are set on a collision course.

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Tyler: Well, there are another couple of pages already drawn by Damian and ready to go, but that was more because I decided I wanted to swap in a different short scene within my crucial eight submission pages. The story is mapped out. I’ve written it as if it were a limited graphic novel series or a feature film. So, all of the major beats, highs and lows, beginning middle and end, etc. are mapped out and a few choice sequences are detailed. Damian’s also been working on some character designs for the rest of our cast who didn’t make the initial 8 pages. But, should we win, I’ll definitely have some full-scripting to do. (But hey, that’s what they’re paying us for, right?)

As for what to include, I think I was able to squeeze as much story into the initial eight pages as I could without going overboard. I felt I needed to set up the world, firmly establish the protagonist, introduce the main antagonist, and set the table for what’s to come. It was important I also gave Damian the chance to show off his chops artwise, and I think he delivered.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

Tyler: What aren’t I doing to market this thing? I pretty much feel that’s all I’ve been doing for the past week. There’s Twitter posts and updates (you’re following me at @tylerjamescomic, right?) I’ve been doing some on the fly contests through Twitter and hooking people up with some gorgeous ICE prints. I’ve been running some Project Wonderful ads, but I’m determined not to blow my whole DC Comics check on marketing this time around. (That’s the sneakiest thing about the Zuda business plan. Their outlays paying contestants for their work double as advertising. Pretty brilliant.)

Additionally, I whipped up a super cool trailer that has gotten a ton of hits over on YouTube. Watch it. It’ll tingle those patriotic goosebumps Americans get when we here The Star Spangled Banner. I’ve banner ads on all my comic sites, and I’m currently running new content on FOUR different comic sites concurrently with the Zuda contest. So, check out Over, Super Seed, Tears of the Dragon, and CounterTerror if you need more comic goodness from me.

You know, despite the international nature of Zuda competitions, this is not American Idol. It doesn’t take a million votes to win. In fact, it’s more like a high school student body election. But you gotta work for those votes. The “best” comic has no guarantee to win. In fact, you can guarantee the “best” comic won’t win if they don’t match the intensity and hard work they put into the submission with beating the bushes to get the word out.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Tyler: That’s a great question. You know, the sad part of Zuda, is that there are a whole host of comics that were well-regarded, found an audience, clearly of quality, and yet came up short. The graveyard of Zuda runner-ups is full of a lot of good comics.

From a creator’s standpoint, something bugs me about creators putting a ton of work into their comic, promoting the holy hell out of it, getting positive, constructive feedback on it, and then abandoning it completely because they aren’t going to get the Zuda contract. As if Zuda is the be all and end all of webcomics.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Zuda and I think it would be a tremendous opportunity. But there are SO many other things you can do with your comic properties! For example, I launched Over, a webcomic I’m self-publishing on its own site, overcomic.com, last month and it ended up getting about three times as many page views in a month as Super Seed did when it competed on Zuda. And that’s without heavy advertising, the draw of the competition and the marketing might of DC/Warner Bros. Yes, Zuda is good exposure, but it’s still just a small portion of the vast ocean that is webcomics.

All that being said, we may not choose to go full steam ahead with ICE should we not win the Zuda contract. This is for two reasons. First, ICE is a hard book to write. Writing realistic fiction, dealing with highly controversial, straight from the headlines topics, without any supernatural, suspension of disbelief stuff, is very very difficult. Because, the more realistic the world setting you’re writing, the quicker people are to call bullshit on something that seems far fetched or inaccurate. With a jovial ribbing, this isn’t a problem with entries where you have a talking lab rat and a car-driving monkey. Pretty much anything goes at that point. (I am a fan, though, Mr. Bivens.) Second, ICE is an expensive story to produce. Regardless of whether or not ICE is your favorite submission, from the comments thread on Zuda, there is pretty much universal agreement that this is a professional, quality submission. Professional work costs money. Damian and Paul both cut me a deal on page rates for the Zuda submission and were awesome to do so. Guys, Damian is a star in the making and the sky is the limit for this guy. And Paul is coloring God knows how many books every month. These guys more than earn their paychecks. Unfortunately, at the moment it would be awful tough for me to pay them what they’re worth and foot the bill for a run of the full mini-series/graphic novel, without a publishing deal lined up. (Hint, hint, publishers.)

Regardless though, the story will get told. This will probably be the next feature length screenplay I write. (Everyone says you need at least two spec scripts…I only have one at present.) But I would absolutely LOVE to continue it on Zuda, and for the rest of the month, I’ll be doing everything in my power to make that happen.

*****

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Jeff Mccomsey and Jorge Vega, Bloody Pulp

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Jeff: My name is Jeff McComsey. I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with my girlfriend Samantha. I‘ve got an ongoing, creator-owned series called American Terror: Confession of a Human Smart Bomb published by the fine folks at Alterna Comics, as well as a series I’m working on with Jorge called 9 Months. I also try and do as many short stories as my schedules allow, recently I’ve done a few for fellow Alterna creator and all around swell guy, Stephen Lindsay’s Jesus Hates Zombies. When I’m not working on projects, I try an make up for the time I’ve spent neglecting friends and family because of being glued to the drawing board.

Jorge: I’m the writer/creator/co-creator of several titles. I published an original graphic novel, Gunplay, last year with artist Dominic Vivona and Platinum Studios. Shortly after that, I started two indie press labels, Kidkong Entertainment and Two Fisted Press. Kidkong is a family friendly label. I publish a book call Kaeru-Boy there with artist/co-founder, Darrin Stephens. Two Fisted Press is a place for grittier, more mature stories. I publish another title called 9 Months there with Jeff McComsey. 2FP is also the birthplace of our Zuda entry, Bloody Pulp. Outside of comics, I’m a full time educator at a K-9 school in Massachusetts. I’m also a geeky family man, with three kids and a wife who is supportive enough to let me sink a good bit of our money into self-publishing.

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JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Jorge: Bloody Pulp is the story of John “Pulp” Polpowski, the kind of guy you only see if you owe the wrong people a lot of money. He’s a 1930′s leg breaker who carries a dangerous secret; he’s been quietly relocating some of the people he’s been paid to kill. He’s been moving them to an undisclosed farm house in the middle of nowhere. A place where they can get a fresh start. A place where the sins of the past dissolve in the present. This is the house that Pulp built and the rules are simple: No one leaves… EVER. But there’s nothing simple about the arrival of Eustace Parks, a Negro band leader who has drawn the attention of the Kansas City syndicate– the wrong kind of attention. When Eustace arrives, his presence causes lines to be drawn, passions to ignite and horrible acts to be carried out, leading to an epic standoff that will measure just how far Pulp is willing to go to bring order to his house.

Jeff and I had our first discussion about Bloody Pulp on the last day of NYCC 2008, over a sandwich. We were both interested in what Zuda had to offer and Jeff already had the beginnings of the Pulp character in his head– “a guy who’s supposed to be a killer but isn’t… except for when he is”. Jeff also had the title picked out. For the record, I actually tried to get him to change it. Terribleterribleterrible idea, I know. My bad. Fortunately, Jeff is a lot smarter than I am and we kept it. A week later, I sent Jeff an 8 page script which would eventually become the submission now being showcased at Zuda.

Jeff: I’ve always been fascinated by the character that we see in films, novels and comics whose sole purpose is to make the main bad guys look badder. The guy next to the guy, if you will. Pulp is that guy who makes a good antagonist even nastier. I’ve always felt those guys and girls had great stories in them, Bloody Pulp has allowed me to finally tell the story of one of these characters. The other thing is I love a good period piece story.

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Jorge: We have all the story revolving Pulp and Eustace completely mapped and plotted out, as well as several of the subplots involving the other “guests” at Pulp’s house. When it came time to actually decide on what we’d submit to Zuda, Jeff gave me a fair bit of elbow room.

Jeff: I’ve worked with Jorge before and know what he’s capable of as a writer and this Bloody Pulp script just far exceeded what I expected. He had taken my vague concept and given it depth, character and most importantly made it work in eight pages. He had come up with this band leader character named Eustace Parks as Pulp’s first “job” we see. The introduction of Eustace in my opinion insured that the story wouldn’t just become a bad re hash of other more successful gangster stories.

Jorge: I’ve put together quite a few pitches in the last three years and it’s my opinion that, if you only have a few pages to grab someone’s attention, you should ALWAYS START IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR STORY or, in the case of BLOODY PULP, the middle of the beginning. If you’ve crafted your plot correctly, the MIDDLE should be an intense and exciting part to drop readers blindly into. Furthermore, if you tweak it for pitch purposes, you can very easily introduce all of your pivotal players, infuse some key character development and get to the heart of your story without all the boring exposition. That’s exactly what we’ve tried to do in our Bloody Pulp pitch.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

Jeff: We’ve came up with a whole campaign from original promotional art, down to a weekly contests to win a “pulped up” avatar. The promotional art ranges from a poster for Eustace Parks and the Kansas City High Hats performance at the Half Moon Lounge, to a riff on the old Uncle Sam “I want you” poster with Pulp in the Uncle Sam role asking viewers to register and vote at Zudacomics.com. The plan is to release a piece of promotional art a week, so far so good! The Pulped up Avatar contest sprang from the matching Pulped up portraits I did for myself and Jorge to promote the submission. Basically I just drew portraits of the two of us after an ass whooping from Pulp. The contest goes like this: you get as many folks to sign up, vote and favorite Bloody Pulp as you can, you ask those you referred to leave your name in a comment in the talk back section on Bloody Pulp’s Zuda page. At the end of the week whoever has the most mentions gets an original piece of art featuring their mug all busted up.

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Then there’s the Facebook group for fans, our regularly updating Twitter feeds and TwoFistedFress.com– the de-facto Bloody Pulp blog.

Jorge: In addition to all that, we’ve reached out to our network of family, friends, fans and fellow creators and asked them to help us. More specifically, we sent an email out to all of them. The email relayed the good news about our being accepted into July’s Zuda competition and then said “we’re contacting you because we’d like your support. We have a PLAN for each one of you. Please reply to this email if you’re interested in hearing how you can help us.” And then we waited to hear back. There was no follow up email, no SPAM, and within 24 hours we heard back from every person we contacted and more than 97 percent of them replied with “What do you need me to do?” Your biggest supporters are the people right around you (relatively speaking for the web). START WITH THE PEOPLE YOU KNOW. Invite them to be a part of what you’re doing. Don’t waste their time. Don’t expect THEM to figure out a way to help you. HELP THEM HELP YOU and TELL them exactly what you need from them. Delegate jobs based on their skills and/or spheres influence. And when they’ve completed that first set of tasks, thank them for it and then give them two or three new things to do. People WANT to help you. But they want direction too.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Jeff: Yeah, the story Jorge and I have cooked up has got into my guts. If we don’t get the much coveted #1 spot this story will continue. Stay tuned!

Jorge: Absolutely. Even if we don’t win, Zuda has already proven to be invaluable as its given us the opportunity to see how this story would/will resonate with readers. The response has been overwhelmingly positive with folks like blogger Rob Berry praising Bloody Pulp as “something rare in handling, a pitch that presents readers with a quick overview of when and where to establish context, but pulls off a flip on the preconceptions we might hold that limit period to genre. In television that was Deadwood. This month at Zuda it’s the eight clean and straight-forward pages of Bloody Pulp.” If this story can trigger THAT kind of response, well, yeah… we plan on continuing this comic win, lose or draw.

*****

Alberto Lanzillotti and Manuel Bracchi, 9th Year

cover-9thyearJK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Alberto: We have an online-comics website called Abelard Studio since 2001. 9th Year is one of several projects we set up in those years.

Manuel: I’m a professional comic artist here in Italy, and I’m a member of the Abelard Studio too. I’m also the co-writer of 9th Year.

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Alberto: We like sci-fi and fantasy, so we tried to imagine what could happen after a classic fantasy war in our world. All the incipit part of “9th year” may sounds like a déjà-vu: the battle between good and evil, the chosen one’s sacrifice…and so on, but what will happen next? In “9th Year”, governments and military forces have forgotten the people living in isolated places who have now to fight the monsters hiding in the woods.

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Alberto: The story mapped out at this point…is just the beginning! We decided to show all the main characters and some typical scenes, but it’s nothing but a small part of the project.

Manuel: Yes, we tried to show just the atmosphere of the whole story by now.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

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Alberto: All our friends are mobilized by social networks, forums and blogs … manual printed flyers, too!

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Alberto: We’d like to continue 9th Year. We have the whole story, it’s a very big deal… and a big effort too!

Manuel: I think that 9th Year is a great story, and it would be a real pity if people wouldn’t know it. If we don’t win it’s going to be hard to go on with it…but who know what the future holds.

*****

Assignment

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Justin Jordan and Anthony Peruzzo, Assignment

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Justin: Anthony and I are both repeat offenders when it comes to Zuda. This my third go around, after Junk and Rumors of War, and this is Anthony’s second, after Unconscious Life. This is actually the second project Anthony and I have worked on together.

Er, I think. He’s given me a much appreciated hand on a few other comic things.

As for other comic, stuff, I’ve been a bunch of anthologies and self published a bit, and I’ve got a couple of projects floating around in the pitch stage. In the real world, I’m a freelance writer and I run a library program.

Anthony: I’ll just add, we’ve both been making comics for a while. I started seriously about five years ago with a couple of self-published OGN’s. I’ll have work in a few anthologies from Image within the next year or so. Outside of comics, I really don’t do much besides my day job at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and hanging out with my wife and dog.

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Justin: Assignment is about a surprisingly cheerful assassin who becomes stuck in the middle of a supernatural conflict that could end the world. Which he’s generally against, on account of being in the world.

I’m not a hundred percent sure where the idea came from, to be honest. I know the genesis was Hatch, the hitman. I wanted to do something with a killer who wasn’t, aside from the fact that he was a killer, too bad of a dude. And dude is probably the right word, because Hatch is not too far removed, personality wise, from the Dude from The Big Lebowski.

After that, there were some interesting stuff from mythology that I thought might be cool in a modern day setting, and so it all kind of grew up from there, Kudzu like.

Anthony: A lot of people have mentioned the influence of the movie ‘The Thing’ directed by John Carpenter. While it’s really only on the first page, this will be brought up much more later on. I believe there is a whole chapter in Antarctica. There’s a bunch of cool stuff that happens.

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JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Justin: The whole thing. I have around a hundred pages of 120 or so already written, and the story is fully plotted to the end. I actually have three four concrete plots of other Assignments, should we make it that far.

Choosing what eight pages to submit to Zuda is always the trickiest part for me. I’ve written a lot of less than eight page stories, but the trick is writing something that is satisfying, intriguing and does justice to the story beyond the eight pages.

The eight pages for my first Zuda entry, Junk, were a mostly self contained prologue. They gave a feel for the story and the mood, but wasn’t part of the larger plot. With Rumors of War, I started right at the beginning of the story and ended on what was hopefully a pretty big ‘Holy Crap!’ moment.

For Assignment, I could think of a better entry point than the first eight pages. There’s a lot of stuff that has gone on before, but if we started there, it wouldn’t reflect the kind of comic you were going to get. If we picked up later, then it wouldn’t make any sense. As it was, we started at the earliest point that would make sense in the larger story and give people an idea of what the comic is like.

Anthony: I think it’s really important to give a taste of the story and characters/personalities, while making sure you show there is a larger story behind it all. Hopefully you’ll have people interested enough to come back. For Zuda, I like the cliffhanger ending. I used it in Unconscious Life, and we used it to a degree here in Assignment.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

Justin: Let’s see: Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, email, selling my body in exchange for votes, a production blog, you know, the usual. We are lucky enough to have some kind of recognition from our previous Zuda stuff, so that helps. Of course, so do half the other competitors. Heck, John Bivens, who has The Adventures of Mr. Simian in this month, did Rumors of War together.

Anthony: Ditto

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Justin: Absolutely. Like I said earlier, I have a hundred pages written, and we got pencils done up through page sixteen or so. We’d love to win, we WANT to win, but if we don’t, we have plans in place to continue elsewhere. Anthony and I are both committed to Assignment. It’s one of my favorite things to write, and Anthony seems to like drawing the horrible, horrible things I put in it.

Anthony: Like exploding heads, walking decapitations, and exploding guitars. It’s all fun.

*****

Metropolitan Siege

Metropolitan Siege

Eric Z, Metropolitan Siege

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Eric: This was my first experience coloring my own work. I learned quite a bit throughout the project and I think the development shows a little from beginning to end. Other then this, though, I have various projects at different stages of development. I’m collaborating with Tim Simmons on a couple of projects at the moment (there should be an announcement pretty soon on one of them) and I did a WW2 project called “The Killers: Wars End” several years ago with Frank Tra that may be getting published early next year. There are preview samples of sequentials for a couple of these projects at my website.

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Eric: The pretentious answer is that the comic is about the breakdown of a city. The genesis of the idea stems from the images I saw of city riots, but more specifically the LA riots in the early 90′s. There’s also a lot I took from the current police tazer debate going on. The lead character, Nikki, is a cop behind a scandal that started a lot of unrest in the city. The idea I’m working with here is that this demonic force feeds off of the unrest of a city (they were there during Sodom and Gomorrah and the LA riots). I like the idea that, in essence, they didn’t cause the conflict, but they’re stoking the fire and getting stronger for it. Their ultimate goal is the complete destruction of the city. And while an opposing higher power grants Nikki the ability to stop this force, the fact that her life and relationships are in a state of chaos means that these enemies are all the more powerful around her. This naturally leads to a lot of character development. And explosions. Lots of explosions.

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Eric: I have the middle and the ending all planned out. I introduced a ticking clock in the eight pages, which means that the whole story takes place over three days. All I wanted in the first eight pages was a decent introduction to Nikki’s chaotic life, a setup for the mystery of what she did to get put under investigation, a scene where she’s given a mission and an explosive climax.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

Eric: Honestly, I’m terrible at this marketing game and this isn’t the most convenient month for me. Right now I’ve barely got anything to share, but I’m hoping to get some things set up in the next couple of weeks. There are a couple of images at my website.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Eric: Most definitely. I’m very happy with the idea behind this comic, and I feel that I have something unique to say with it.

*****

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Aluísio Cervelle Santos, RockStar

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Aluísio: First off, I’d like to thank you for making this interview, and a second thanks for letting me have the opportunity to be in it!

I have been a comic lover since very early in life.. .probably just like everyone else in the interview, but until a few years ago, let’s say … three years, I never had the opportunity to make a comic that could be shown to anyone, primarily because most of Brazilian comics being sold are DC or Marvel stuff, so pretty much barely anything is made here! Besides I used to live in a very small town, so there wasn’t any art or comic teachers that I could rely or ask opinions on.

Then, when I was about the second year in the university, I found entervoid.com, which is a really, really cool comic community, which gave me that possibility to make comics that people could see and give feedback!

So, yeah, properly answering your first question, I have been creating comics not for long, around three years or so, in a webcomic format!

When I’m not creating comics, I’m either drawing – I do several freelance illustration jobs for a Brazilian magazine Mundo Estranho, published by Editora Abril – or then I might be playing video games. Of course, in case you didn’t notice by the tone of my comic, I LOVE to play the guitar.. though drawing recently has taken a lot more space than the music love :(.

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Aluísio: My comic, named RockStar, is about a rich boy, born for some reason with six fingers, that loves to play guitar. In the Zuda comic, it shows some kind of alien force trying to force his alliance, which he doesn’t accept. It doesn’t explain why in the comic, because I didn’t want to damage the reading experience cramming a lot of story AND action – which is a must in a super hero type of story – into eight pages, but the boy and the dragon dude are supposed to be allies! You can kind of tell by their dialogues, but yeah, I’ve been told that part of my comic is terrible haha.

The basic idea for the comic is based on my very cultural foundations that contributed to the path I’ve been taking with art – Tokusatsu shows (you know, those Kamen Rider, Power Rangers, etc., that were incredible successive in Brazil when I was a child), video games (as someone mentioned in the Zuda comments, ¨Megaman with a guitar!¨), mangas and my own guitar playing — I love rock and blues from the 70s especially, and ¨soft metal,¨ like I prefer referring to blues based metal such as Black Sabbath.

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JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Aluísio: I have not properly written a script, but I have tons of ideas as to where to go to next, and I’ve gotten a notebook just to take notes whenever I have an idea, so that I don’t forget it and what not.

Besides, since my entry is pretty much action focused, there’s a LOT of room to work in the background. We all know the rich boy is a super hero.. but does he want to be a super hero? Does he like it? How is his ¨normal life¨? Does his parents approve of his rock passion (they clearly have no clue he’s the superhero who saved them!)? What if he secretly plays music with his school pals and at home he tells his parents he wants to be an engineer?

What’s the origin of RockChild’s powers? And more importantly, why would aliens want him for ally?

As for what goes in the eight pager, in my opinion, aside from the tremendous online competition, the biggest challenge is to fit eight pages and make the readers curious to what comes next. So if this is a super hero story, I can’t go throwing storylines into them if they haven’t even seen if they like the hero, or what he does.. so for that reason I started off with an action scene, with a few hints of story, and then hope it’s a good way to hook readers up! I’ll let you decide, haha.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

Aluísio: Most of what I’ve been doing is online stuff really, I’ve been promoting it mostly over deviantart, and other sites I go too, such as Entervoid.com, gingerbox, and satellite soda, but also going to a few Mugen communities, which I used to participate strongly with games before I turned into making comics.

You can follow me on Facebook (name’s Aluísio Cervelle Santos)!

You can also check any of those sites and take part in the contest I’ve started yesterday, already with a few entrants! (a pic of the promo poster for the contest).

And lastly, this is the piece I’ve made to promote the first week of competition.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Aluísio: I don’t know about that. I might, but I have no plans for RockStar if he doesn’t make it in. I have a few book projects with entirely different focuses and themes, for example, I also LOVE drawing horror comics, though I suck at it, but I’m writing a script for a comic book anthology on that theme, and also an adventure story for another anthology with the EnterVoid.com folks! So while I can share time to work in Zuda comics while I make them, if I don’t win this month’s competition I have no previews for a RockStar comic so far.. unless a proposition happens, you never know haha.

To close this, I’d like to thank you again for the interview, and thanks everyone for reading it!

I know this month’s competition is really tough, but I hope readers opt to stay with RockStar in the end! I won’t disappoint you!

*****

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Erik Valdez, Children’s Games

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Erik: I was born and have lived all my life in Mexico City. I began drawing at the age of two (according to official family lore) and it has been my passion ever since. A little bit later I started reading and therein was planted the seed for joining images and words. I have several published comics – as an artist only so far. The Sleepy Truth Vol. 1 and 2 for Viper comics and two books for Stone Arch Books fairy tale line: Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin. I am currently working on a graphic novel project with Outlaw Entertainment, which I am both writing and drawing. It is called Freak School, and I’m very excited about it.

When I’m not creating comics I enjoy painting (it’s very different from drawing or writing, engages a totally different sensation) reading, hanging out with friends, checking out a movie and especially traveling to places I’ve never been to.

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

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Erik: My comic is called Children’s Games, it’s about a six year old girl named Paola and her cat Machiavello who find a piece of God that had been forgotten in an old tin box a long time ago. They take this piece of God into themselves, each in their own way, and thereby achieve the powers of God. So they begin to play around with their new abilities, which are literally endless. They create entire worlds and play around with the rules of reality. And then things get serious, because a piece of God is a powerful commodity, and it is something that draws interest. The first to make an attempt is the Devil, and from there on Paola and Machiavello will play increasingly more complex and serious games with beings of enormous determination and guile with only their childlike imagination, skill and friendship to rely on in order to survive.

On a broader scale, it’s about the value and power of innocence clashing against the malicious world of adults. How things are not what they might seem to be at first, and how even the most powerful and terrible beings have this soft, human childlike part, even if they don’t accept or show it.

The idea came from the text on the first panel of the second page:” One day, while in the spare room, Paola opened an old tin can and found a piece of God that had been forgotten there a long time ago” And I found the idea so compelling and so full of possibility that I had to go ahead and see where it would lead. That led to a short, 8 page story in 2006 which was very much liked – but as pleased as I was with that, I felt there was much more to explore, and so decided to rework the story for Zuda, and hopefully just take it as far as imagination will go. Beyond that inspiration comes from all places, Paola is based on my sister, I had a cat named Machiavello, and there are ideas all over the place that contribute to make this an interesting read. Ideas on religion and the nature of God, on creation and the responsibility it entails, on what comics can do – and one of the things I love about this idea is that literally, it can go anywhere, and I can do anything. There is humor and there is darkness, there are huge action scenes and lovely quiet scenes. There are jumps in style and genre and it all works together.

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Erik: In a broad sense, I have major plot points mapped out. I know where I start, the reasons behind the beginning, the road that the characters are going to travel, and where they end up. However, I leave space for new ideas, for meandering down side paths before rejoining the main road. Especially since the competition has started, I’ve been having many new ideas of what can be done with this story. Since the idea is that the characters have the power of God; anything is possible. I can change tone and style and genres as much as I want (As long as it serves the story, of course, nothing is gratuitous – even the Devil with her Bad Girl look has a reason) I’m looking forward to a big, Anime style action sequence, and some pretty horrific parts later on.

The selection of the eight pages was complex. It is mostly based on my first 2006 play on this story. I knew I had to introduce the characters and give them heart, give readers a taste of what could be done (and mostly they have said that they want more of that) However it was a challenge to say enough without cramming the pages full of information or having the sequences suffer because of it. The point is to create a good story that flows well and in which the pages work with each other. And once again, everything has a point; nothing is there just because I thought it would be cool at the moment. Saying that, having a cliffhanger at the end, given the character of the competition, seemed like a good idea.

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JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

Erik: Obviously there is e-mail to every single person I have ever known, as well as Twitter and Facebook. I have an interview in The Villains Corner as well as my webpage, which contains samples of all of my work. And then there’s getting the information out on blogs and forums, both here in Mexico and on a more international scale. Obviously I believe the comic is good enough to win on it’s own merits, but it has become increasingly clear how much marketing counts.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Erik: Definitely, even if Children’s Games does not win, this month has shown it to a wide variety of people, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. So beyond the fact that this is a story that I would love to continue telling, I now know beyond a doubt that there is an audience for it out there. It’s been interesting to see the preconceptions people have of this story based just on the eight pages on display right now, and it would be so much fun to just blow those ideas out of the water with everything I have planned. It’s going to be an awesome ride. Trust me.

*****

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Don Kunkel, Charles P. Wilson III and Rian Miller II,Vigilante Granny

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Don Kunkel: My first art job was drawing caricatures at Six Flags. My dream however was to work in comics. I ventured on to attend the Joe Kubert School in New Jersey where I met my comic book dream team: Rian (co-creator and writer), Charles (inks, letters, and covers), and Jhanie (colors). I have books published with all of them and they’re not limited to the talents mentioned above. Some of my other creations that have gone to press include Zombie of the Month and Swimming with Razors. I have also found myself doing small pieces for movies such as Zombie Prom and Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated. You can check out more of my stuff on: www.Zombieofthemonth.wordpress.com and www.don-kunkel.deviantart.com

Charles P. Wilson III: Don, Ryan and myself attended The Joe Kubert School of Art around the same time a few years ago, where I think he and Ryan cooked up the idea behind Vigilante Granny. I think I remember seeing Vigilante Granny school assignments of theirs up in display cases at the time. Since graduation I’ve kept in contact with Don and contributed artwork to his Zombie of the Month project. I’m currently working on a book called The Stuff of Legend for Th3rd World Studios, due out sometime this month. That project is rendered entirely in tonal pencils, and when Don contacted a little while back regarding inking his project I remember thinking I was pretty hungry to work in a different medium for a little bit, and the subject matter seemed like it would be fun to work with.

Rian Miller II: My name is Rian Miller, and I graduated from the Joe Kubert School alongside Don in 2006. I’ve been reading comics since I was about 12 (my first comic was Aliens: Berserk #1 from Dark Horse) and have wanted to work in the the field ever since. As far as work I’ve had published, there isn’t much, but if you own a copy of Invincible #30 from Image Comics, flip to the back and you’ll find a pin-up I painted while I was still attending the Kubert school. I’ve got a lot more art on my deviantArt page, which you can find via my website: www.rianmiller.com

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Rian Miller II: Vigilante Granny began as a funny title that Don came up with sometime around 2003 or 2004 if I’m not mistaken. He had this idea for an old woman who could kick your ass and asked me to help him flesh out the idea. Basically what it has transformed into over time is a story about a former super hero who got too old to wear spandex and decided to give up the life of a masked vigilante. Unfortunately for her (and fortunately for the reader) no younger heroes have shown up to take her place, so somewhat begrudgingly, Faye Justis still finds herself with the job of protecting the city where she and her family reside from all manner of wacky enemies. The only difference now is that she can’t be bothered to don a costume anymore.

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Rian Miller II: The way we’ve worked out the story is similar to a lot of books these days like Hellboy or Atomic Robo, which have clearly defined arcs usually told in a mini-series format. Right now I’ve got a rough outline for the first “arc” and detailed outlines for the first ten or so eight page chunks of the story. Finding ways to work in a cliffhanger every eight pages has been tough, but fun. As far as the first installment of the story is concerned, an bombastic action scene seemed to be the best way to introduce Granny to the reader. The events of those eight pages (specifically Faye’s apartment being destroyed) leads directly into chapter two, which begins with her temporarily moving into her son’s house in the suburbs. From there things only get more awkward and exciting for our elderly hero.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

Rian Miller II: Basically we’re just getting the word out via Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, deviantArt, and any other sites we’re currently signed up for. There are a few art-related forums out there like Penciljack that I’m pushing Vigilante Granny on as well.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Rian Miller II: It seems that Vigilante Granny has been around in some form or another at all times over the past few years through the web, anthology books, and mini-comics. So even if we don’t make the cut on Zuda she’ll still be around. Don and I are happy with the story we’ve crafted for Faye and co. and plan to continue work on the book past the competition whether we win or lose. If nothing else, the great support and reactions we’ve been getting in the comments section of our Zuda page has strengthened our resolve and proven to us that there is indeed an audience out there for a comic book about a septuagenarian superhero.

*****

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Steve Ekstrom, Mikael Bergkvist and Jesse Turnbull, The Ares Imperative

JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself — is this your first comic-creating experience, or have you done other work in the field? What do you do when you aren’t creating comics?

Steve Ekstrom: I write for Newsarama.com as a journalist and I’ve had a couple of stories published in smaller anthologies like 803 Studios and Tin Star Studios—and I’ve also been published in Negative Burn. Currently, I’ve got projects slated for Popgun 4 and a few other large anthologies—and I’m working on a creator-owned project with Mikael Bergkvist and Jesse Turnbull alongside our work on The Ares Imperative.

When I’m not creating comics? I’m trying to find a way to create more comics. (laugh)

Seriously, I have a day job—waiting tables; it’s not the most fun work but it’s a decent living in my neck of the woods and the schedule is very flexible so I can work on my projects.

Mikael Bergkvist: I work in web development—which is boring, so comics are a lot more fun!

Jesse Turnbull: I live in Philadelphia with my wife. I went to art school in Baltimore at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. I’ve worked on a couple comics in the past, but nothing too major yet. I work at the University of Pennsylvania doing design work and helping students with most of my time.

JK: What’s your comic about, and where did the idea for it come from?

Steve Ekstrom: The Ares Imperative is a 21st Century take on the pulp action-adventure and science fiction comics from the mid-20th Century; you know—old school EC stuff. It’s a cross between Johnny Quest, 24, the Bourne novels/ films, and The Manchurian Candidate from outer space.

Our lead, Adam Geist, is the first Human Weapon of Mass Destruction–and he has to keep it a secret. Our submission to Zuda is a dense prologue that sets up a widescreen, fast-paced action-adventure story that has a little something for everyone–from rogue spies to Crocodiles in the jungles of Colombia to strange meteors from outer space to quasi-religious science cults from the past. We’re trying to create something that’s multi-tiered–we want to inundate the reader with as much information as possible on every page.

Mikael Bergkvist: With great power comes great responsibility, right? But how do you execute that in the real world, with real political issues, when you think you know better than everybody else?

We’ve seen that and it wasn’t pretty.

Our hero is one powerful dude with a 4 digit IQ that’s like Braniac 5 in a lot of ways and even though he’s really trying to be a good guy, whether or not he’s successful is another question; the other problem resides in his methods—which a lot of people aren’t going to like.

There’s this pesky thing called “free will” that’s going to be turning up; humans have this capability to do stupid or bad things but that’s an alien concept for someone as intelligent as Agent Geist, who never does anything stupid and who can’t see the point of it. Or so he thinks…

JK: How much of your story do you have mapped out at this point, beyond the eight pages that you submitted to Zuda? And how did you decide what to put into those eight pages?

Mikael Bergkvist: We have a complete story already—and we’re ready to tell it.

Steve Ekstrom: Let me expand on that—we have approximately 180 slides ready to be lettered and colored. The project was originally destined for print—but Mikael (the creator of the concept) changed gears when he brought Jesse and I on board. I script and letter the project—and Jesse is the colorist. So we have the entire first 3 seasons/ chapters of our story completed.

Choosing “what” to put in–wasn’t very challenging–because we’re just moving in a straight line. Some of the more vocal readers at Zuda have expressed some dismay at the fact that our story doesn’t jump straight to light speed with explosions and stuff. We selected a dialog heavy prologue–because once the story starts THEN you get non-stop action and a really cinematic approach to an action adventure serial. I just think that people need to trust us and give us a shot–we’re not going to disappoint.

JK: What are you doing to market your comic this month?

First off, we sent out a press release with some quotes from guys like Liam Sharp and Mike Carey supporting the project. I did an interview on the project and my involvement with a newspaper local to my area. I’ve also done three radio spots including a lengthy interview on a talk radio show. I’ve also coordinated my efforts with two local retailers in the area—they’ll be passing out flyers and offering incentives to customers who take the time to vote. We’ll also be showing up on a couple of blogs like Forces of Geek and we’ve recently done an interview with Newsarama.

Mikael Bergkvist: I’ve also said that I’ll do a commission, black and white, no backgrounds, single character, for anyone who can show they gotten two others to vote for us.

Steve Ekstrom: And he’s not kidding, folks! We also have a Facebook Fan group and we’re on Twitter!

Currently, I’m in San Diego—getting ready for Comic-Con; I’ll be making an effort to talk to local retailers in the area here as well. I’ll also be passing out flyers and talking to folks at Comic-Con. Also, keep an eye out for ads for the comic on the internet in places that comic fans frequent.

JK: So no matter how great all the submissions are in a given month, there can be only one. Even if you don’t win, do you plan to continue with your strip in another venue?

Mikael Bergkvist: It’s not decided at this point in time—in the end, we’re going to win on some level whether it’s the actual Zuda contest or by preparing a comic that a publisher is going to really get into somewhere else.

Steve Ekstrom: Well, I don’t want to jinx it—but we’ve already had offers to run it elsewhere. I’m also going to be showing it off to publishers at Comic-Con with the hopes that maybe we’ll get it printed instead. Working in the comic book industry is our ultimate goal—so getting out there and being exposed via Zuda is great. We’re in a solid third place with the competitors and it’s still anyone’s game!

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Comments

9 Comments

great read!
hope this is an ongoing column.

Pretty good interviews, I was quite curious on what would be those answers from other guys, not only from my current rival, haha, but also from other comics that I really adored this time around, such as Mr. Simian and Granny!

As McComsey said, I hope this one stays for each month!

I third that motion. This Zuda coverage should continue on. Zuda is an excellent site that gives creators a chance to showcase their talent to comic fans. Great article!

Philip A Moore

July 19, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I like zuda except that with all the contests they have had it can be hard to navigate there sight . I think zuda should take down some there losers and give the readers easier access to the winning ongoing titles the reguler ongoings with the exception of byou can be hard to figure out which is long lasting and which is an new contest or which is didn’t win.

Great idea to interview all the contestants in now shot.

Fantastic interviews! I sincerely hope this becomes a monthly series. It would be a positive sign to see the comic news sites (and the comics community as a whole) embrace and support this innovative competition.

This column is a winner! I really like the questions that were asked and to see a small preview of the art and know a bit about the story, it reminded me to check out Zuda. If not for seeing it here, it might be months before I visited and would have missed out on some of this stuff. ICE is very professional looking, but I think Children’s Games sounds most interesting.

Love the column – it’s great to learn about and discover new creators!

great column- i hope to be reading it every month!

check out Children’s Games this month on Zuda. it’s amazing!!!

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