An Ode to Comics, Part 3 of 3: Writing Comics
My first stab at writing comics was back in 1997. I scripted a short scene using established Marvel characters from a then-hot comic titled Generation X. I’ve since lost my script, and I don’t recall all the details, but I do recall it involved a glass elevator in the center of a mall being shattered by a diamond-quilled Penance cannonballing down its shaft while a small child was sheltered from the debris by a freshly stone-husked Husk. And if that doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s okay. All you need to know is this: It was badass, and I was in love.
I could see it all in my head. Every panel, every beat, every line of dialogue. I could even see how the sound effects were lettered—imagine the word SHRACK! in giant, blocky font, looking as cracked and shattered as the elevator glass, mixed in with the falling shards, the letters becoming part of the art itself. I loved everything about this scene. I loved playing in the Marvel sandbox. I loved determining which moments needed panels, and how those panels would be laid out, and what it would look like if Chris Bachalo drew it for me.
Alas, Chris Bachalo was quite busy—you know, working for Marvel. And DC. And Image. And I couldn’t (and still can’t) draw worth a hill of beans. So for the next twenty-five years, I gave up on the idea and wrote novels and short stories instead.
2020 comes along. Another November, another NaNoWriMo, another batch of prose. That month, I decided to write a series of short stories about seven vampire hunters who flew across the galaxy in their sentient spaceship, collecting fangs and cashing them in for space creds. But short stories? I realized halfway through that what I was really writing was a comic book series. Because, as it turns out, writing comics is undeniably who I am.
I took my short stories and made them into comic book scripts. I called the series Fang Hunters, and I scoured Deviant Art for an artist, messaging dozens of them with my enticing offer. I was sure to have dozens of them clamoring for my gig! Once the first issue was fully drawn, which I imagined should only take a month or two, I’d conduct a Kickstarter campaign which would garner tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, I’d conduct a Kickstarter every other month, outperforming the previous one! Eventually, Image would beg me to republish the series for mass distribution. And then Netflix would call, wanting to animate it. Or Disney. I’d have my hands full navigating contracts and negotiating percentages…
Yeah, none of that happened. It took me months to find an artist, it took us two years to finish the first issue, and my first foray into Kickstarter only hit the 58% mark. It’s no surprise that Image, Netflix, or Disney haven’t come calling.
Not only that but as the producer and marketer for Fang Hunters, I found myself thousands of dollars in the hole. I was so sure the first issue would be a raging success, I hired a second artist to begin drawing the second issue before the first one was finished. Each issue is 28 pages long. $150 per page of interior art, $200 for cover art, plus lettering, can add up to something fierce. The first issue alone, with three variant covers, amounted to $5080. The most expensive comic I’ve ever bought is my own.
Not to mention, I spent nearly $3000 on advertising. And if my Kickstarter had succeeded (I set its goal at $4000), I would have still needed to pay for printing. And shipping. So at least I didn’t need to worry about the latter two? Thank goodness for small favors.
My Kickstarter outcome proved the darkest of reality checks. It’s one thing to imagine success and another thing to invest in it and risk failure. My crowdfunding campaign was my first stab at seeing if the world actually wanted Fang Hunters. Apparently, the world did not. I was faced with a very difficult decision: To stay in the ring or to throw in the towel.
Throwing in the towel was straight up the more tempting option. I could cut my financial losses, leave Issue 1 as a stack of files in an abandoned Google Drive, leave Issue 2 dangling at half-life, and leave Issues 3 through 7 as unrealized scripts. Not to mention, I wouldn’t need to waste time converting issues 8 through 14 from short stories to scripts. Best of all, I wouldn’t need to convince, like, everyone that my book was worth reading only to be ignored by a population beyond friends and family. (One commiserating crowdfunder called this the “Kickstarter bar mitzvah effect”.) Trust me, there are few forms of rejection as depression-inducing as a failed Kickstarter campaign. At least self-publishing a novel doesn’t involve letting the world know you failed. Failing at Kickstarter is the equivalent of telling all of society that you are about to propose to your one true love only to be publicly rejected by your one true love. It’s a gut punch twice over.
My end goal suddenly seemed entirely hopeless and out of reach. There would be no publication. There would be no Issue 2. There would be no Netflix. I decided to give up entirely.
But faced with putting it all behind me, I realized the relief of letting it go paled in comparison to the satisfaction of writing the comics themselves. And seeing my artists bring my characters to life. And watching the Fang Hunters universe continue to build, one page, one panel, one word balloon at a time. I wouldn’t just be giving up on the Netflix dream. I’d be giving up on my artists, who believe in this project as much as I do. I’d be giving up on characters who exist in my mind and want their stories told. I’d be giving up on me. Because yeah, as it turns out, writing comics is undeniably who I am.
I have no idea if Fang Hunters will ever carve its way into the real world, let alone become mainstream, let alone become a franchise. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that would be great! But I no longer care if it doesn’t. Failing at Kickstarter was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to me, creatively. It made me realize why I’m writing this series in the first place. It’s not for the sake of outcome, but rather, for the sake of process. The process is thrilling! I’m having the time of my life! My artists, Terrence Burks and Ubachukwu Ibeh, are at the top of their game. At a mere $150 a page, they draw everything from androids to starships, ape marines to gargoyle warriors—far less than such things would cost to render in a movie, and equally as riveting. Whether or not anyone else ever reads these things, at least I get to. And if that’s not the point, I’m probably going about this all wrong.
Bringing the first issue of Fang Hunters to life was the best $5080 I ever spent. And I'm still plugging away. Thirteen issues to go.