Making The Promise

After completing The Damned, Alex and I decided to take a big jump and pitch to an anthology planned for publishing by an acquaintance, Russell Nohelty, through his label Wannabe Press. This was a massive undertaking that involved 30+ creatives teams, contracts, a big Kickstarter campaign and a printer in China. Looking back it was a real crash course in small press publishing. Russell is an amazing publisher and Alex and I really owe him so much for accepting our story and providing this development opportunity. We aren’t much closer to being at Russell’s level but we now have a decent appreciation for what it takes to get something like this done and can claim to be a bit more “professional” wrt making comics.

The approach for this collaboration was quite different than The Damned. For this story I wrote a rough, rambling synopsis, that Alex went and fully thumbnailed. Spoilers ahead !!!!

Night Life (working Title)

Pitch: Suffering from a bout of insomnia, Angelica Ruiz ventures out on a hot August night for a quick fix. But soon after leaving the comforts of home she gets the eerie feeling that someone or something is following her and she’s about to learn that you can’t escape your past!

Story: Angelica is in her mid forties and fit, but on edge (think Linda Hamilton Terminator 2). She is married to Tom, who she wakes up next to at the beginning of the story. They have a child, which we should see sleeping in a panel before she leaves to look for a quick fix for her insomnia. When she wakes she is quite on edge, but her husband is fast asleep and the house is completely silent, save the sounds of a felix the cat clock in the bathroom. We see her watching television, doing pushups and sorting the laundry. During this period the time changes from 10pm to 11pm to 12am. She is out of things to do and still not tired so she leaves a note “you’ll probably be asleep when I get back but in case you aren’t, just went out to get a pack of cigarettes”. She goes out side and gets into a beat up truck. This is the first time you see that they live on a farm. We see the remains of charred building, perhaps an old barn, in the moonlight as she makes her way towards the main road. By the time she reaches the main road, which is only a few hundred yards away, she is already starting to get sleepy… but she is clearly now committed to getting these cigarettes. She turns on the radio and floors it like a woman on a mission! A few minutes later she swerves off the road, into a corn field, to avoid a deer in the middle of the street. The car won’t start. “Shit, I left my phone at home. At least I’m only a half mile away from Earl’s, might as well head there and get a ride back. He better not be out of Marlboro’s.” Now the scary part begins! She hears rustling in the fields, is it the wind or something else? “Who’s there? Must be the wind. I swear if you’re playing a prank I will kill you! The sooner I get to Earl’s the better.” She heads back onto the street and sees what appears to be two headlights slowly approaching her. She begins waving, but the headlights stop about 50 feet from her. She yells out for help and the lights lurch forward and stop. She is seriously freaked out so she starts running. The lights continue to slowly pursue her so she darts into a cemetery. As she runs through the cemetery she begins hearing growls along with voices wailing “you promised” “you broke your promise”. When she reaches the other side of the cemetery the lights are again waiting for her. This ratchets her up even further and she makes a bee line to Earl’s gas station in the distance. By the time she reaches the edge of Earl’s she looks back and sees the light have disappeared. In an attempt to regain composure before entering Earl’s she talks to herself “Angelica, girl, you need to get your shit together, there’s no such thing as ghosts.”  She enters Earl’s, and the attendant clearly recognizes her. “The usual?,” he says. “No, pack of Marlboro’s,” Angelica responds. He pauses and says “Are you sure you don’t just want a cup of coffee?”. Angelica snaps back “do I look like I need a damn cup of coffee!?”. He shies away and she realizes that she’s snapped.” Sorry Earl, my car broke down on the way here. Could you give me a ride back home?” .  “Sure Angie, this time of night no one will notice if I’m shut down for 15 minutes.” “Thanks Earl, I’ll just have a quick puff while you’re closing up.” Angie steps outside, lighting up a cigarette with her eyes to the ground, mid step. The door swings closed as she puts the matches away and she looks up… to be greeted by a young girl with a dog on a leash.  “you promised,” the girl says. Pan back to Angie whose face is in terror. Back to girl, “you broke your promise,” she says.  Back to Angie who is in terror and can barely utter the words “it can’t be… we miss you so much…”. Back to girl but she now appears to have burn marks on her and the dog is missing patches of hair “you promised,” she said.  Back to Angie who is starting to cry “no honey, I’m sorry, I swear I put that cigarette out.” Back to girl and dog who are now fully charred… “You lied to daddy that day and smoked behind the barn when Lily and I were playing there. You broke your promise then and you’re breaking your promise now.” We see the cigarette fall from her hands to the ground as she is lit on fire. There are no screams. Earl pulls up his car from the back and is alarmed by the fire. He jumps out of his car and runs for fire extinguisher…. “Angie! Angie!”. FIN.

We can switch genders, have it a monster or demonic instead of a ghost. The idea is that this firs draft should gives you a  lot of classic imagery from scary movies to tell this story.

We took the thumbnails to Russell who provided editorial feedback. I can’t stress enough how good it is to have an experienced editor provide feedback about pacing, character motivations, reveals, etc. I don’t know how much time Russell spent thinking about the feedback but it read very stream of conscious but on point. Alex and I incorporated all his comments and the final story is much better as a result. For this story Alex wanted to go with a quicker, looser art style as opposed to the more photorealistic approach in the Damned. This allowed him to complete the artwork faster and give it a more lively feeling.

In the first week of the Kickstarter campaign we raised over $10k! We ended the campaign just over $27k with 624 backers. Our target was $16k. I’m not that familiar with Kickstarter campaigns but I started to take note and saw several comic book related campaigns exceed $100k. Those campaigns seemed to be supported by a lot more backers. Looking into it a bit more, these seemed to be books that had built a following on-line as a web-comic. For those interested in getting your work funded via Kickstarter, take note!

Here are two banners for my Facebook profile page that I had to update after the 1st week of the campaign! I also had fun and changed my profile pic to a match the theme.

The artwork is a snippet of the cover by Aaron Alexovich.

Mockup of the book. The eyes glow in the dark!

The finished books sitting on pallets at the printer.

Alex and I sitting at a Starbucks pre-signing copies of the book. The signature collection page is a nice idea… but getting them all is going to be an amazing achievement as the creative teams are spread out across the US. If you pick up a book, Wondercon or San Diego Comic Con 2018 may be your best bet to secure a lot of the signatures.

Almost ready for the signing party at the Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, CA. The printer missed San Diego Comic Con 2017 so Russell will have the book there this year (2018).

The great thing about the contract is that the creators retained further publishing rights to their work. The anthology comes in at more than 200 pages and costs $40. That’s a lot of value but some folks don’t have or don’t want to spend that much. We decided that we wanted to provide the story at a different price point for those that wanted just our story. However, we didn’t want to undercut the sales of the anthology by selling a $5 version of our story. We decided that we’d sell a more premium version of the story for $15 that included additional content AND original art on each cover.

Our quick plan to add more content exclusive to the standalone version.

The pristine blank sketch covers ready for numbering and art work!

Last page of Alex’s “famous artists” tutorial as well as the full color ad for the the anthology. I painted the eyes in the ad in one copy so they glow in the dark. I’m not sure which one this was, so check your copy!

I didn’t want to put all the burden on Alex for the new original content since he might end up sketching a lot of covers so I assigned myself duties creating the ads as well as a letters column. We still need to make the FOMM club pins to hand out at conventions. Note that Madame Mystica doesn’t appear at the beginning of the Promise, but we used her here for the letters page. She will be making appearances in our future collaborations.

Sketch cover 6 of 75 in red pencil and beautiful ink brush. Original art by Alex Bodnar for only $15. A steal!

Making The Damned

The Damned was my first collaboration with creator Alex Bodnar.  Alex was my fiance’s former co-worker and we were friends on Facebook. I had picked up some freebies at San Diego Comic-Con and met up with him at a Starbucks inside a Target to deliver the goods. We ended up talking for over an hour and in that discussion he revealed that he wanted to draw comics but didn’t have any stories to illustrate.  At this point I had already completed and was preparing to self publish the first issue of Seamurai and I was confident that I could help him write a simple short story to get him going. I didn’t have any existing stories in my head but I do recall asking him about themes or subjects he wanted to draw. We settled on doing a story in the style of Tales from the Crypt, Eerie and Creepy magazines. That night I wrote two short stories that included notes and page breakdowns. You can see the synposis below:

“First Appearance” – Suspense/Murder

Synopsis: A couple driving down to attend their first San Diego Comic-Con befriends a fellow fan hitchhiking to the show. In return for their kind gesture he offers to be their personal guide during the show, and goes as far as promising to help them experience everything on their “must do” list. But with each passing day he grows increasingly obsessed with, and unconventional in, fulfilling his promise, leaving the couple to wonder…. How far will he go to make good on his promise? And what price will they ultimately pay?

“Survivor” – Horror

Synopsis: A shipwrecked man wanders an island in search of food to survive. After several days without success he awakens to find fruit and berries by his side. He immediately jumps to the conclusion that there are others humans on the island but eventually discovers his companion is a monkey, which he quickly befriends. Unfortunately, after an unusually stormy night wipes out the vegetation on the island, he doesn’t see the Monkey for days. Then one morning, he awakens to find fruit and berries by his side again, but quickly notices the body of his companion lying in the sand. When he goes to retrieve his friend he is ambushed by other monkeys who capture him with clear intent to use him as food.

After agreeing on the “Survivor” story I worked to flesh it out further. I wanted to add detail that could provide Alex a fuller story but that might not be represented directly in the illustrations.  Over the course of the next month I would revisit the story for a few hours at a time, resulting in the fourth and final revision below.

Synopsis: A shipwrecked survivor of mankind’s self-inflicted Nuclear Apocalypse desperately searches for food in an unknown land. He quickly stumbles upon wild berries, but errs on the side of caution, ultimately turning in for the night on an empty stomach. The next morning he awakens to find an assortment of fruits and nuts by his side. As his body selfishly devours the surprise meal, his mind begins to wonder who is watching out for him. He quickly discovers his savior and soon to be companion is an inquisitive little monkey.  In exchange for its kindness, the  man gifts the monkey his watch, which he has held onto as a reminder of his humanity, despite it having stopped functioning weeks prior. Full of joy, the monkey leads him into the jungle for what seems like a full days journey across exotic lands. By the early light of the moon, the two arrive at what appears to be the monkey’s home. Once again, the monkey feeds him well and the man has his first good night of rest since becoming shipwrecked. In the morning the man awakens to find the monkey gone. He waits all day for the monkey to return, growing ever more hungry with each passing minute. At dusk the monkey re-emerges from the dense forest carrying something, which the man is eager to sink his teeth into! But he is shocked to be presented with bones wearing his watch! When he realizes his companion has been killed and eaten it’s too late! Descending from above are carnivorous apes intent on following up their appetizer with him as the main course!

Though much more descriptive, I wasn’t sure how well Alex could translate this into pages and panels with proper placing of reveals and pacing of the story. To help him along I provided page breakdowns which he in turn generated thumbnails from. I then turned around and incorporated his comments and thoughts into the next revisions. You can see I struggled with the narrator’s introduction. I wanted it succint with a cliffhanger pun. Ultimately the final version differs from these but they are provided to show how many iterations are made. The point is, don’t spend too much time holding onto ideas and sentences as they will surely be refined through collaboration and an editor.

Page Breakdown (updated based on Alex’s first thumbnails)

1 right page title) Top of page with Gypsy introducing story.

Version 1: Since the dawn of humanity, man’s path to the top of the food chain has been littered with Mother Nature’s children.  But after civilization’s self inflicted nuclear apocalypse, the remaining few souls struggle to survive against Mother Nature’s vengeance. One of these unfortunate souls is Frank Corben who now finds himself shipwrecked, alone and hungry. Will his instincts be enough to save him or will he be the next to join… the Damned!

Version 2: Since the dawn of humanity, man has littered its path up the food chain with Mother Nature’s children.  But it is this wanton disregard for others in its quest for dominance that has ironically led civilization to a nuclear apocalypse. Now, the remaining few souls on Earth struggle to survive against Mother Nature’s vengeance. One of these unfortunate souls is Franics Corben who finds himself shipwrecked, alone and hungry. Will his

 Version 3: Since the dawn of humanity, man had needlessly laid waste to Mother Nature’s children on its journey to the top of the food chain. But civilization’s hunger for power was not satisfied  led it to a self-inflicted nuclear apocalypse with the remaining few souls struggling to survive against Mother Nature’s vengeance.

 Nuclear apocalypse that brought man to near extinction!

1 right page) A shipwrecked man on beach wakes up, sits on beach, decides to get up and wander

2 left page) The next morning he wakes up on the beach thirsty & hungry. He goes looking for food/water and finds berries. But he isn’t sure if they are poisonous so doesn’t eat them and goes hungry the rest of the day.

3 right page) The next morning he wakes up and finds fruit/berries by his side. He is so hungry he devours the food and doesn’t stop to think  about who left it until he’s completely stuffed.

4 left page) The next morning he is awoken by noises and catches a glimpse of a monkey playing with the fancy wrist watch that he’s left by his camp area. He yells in excitement but the monkey is startled, drops the watch, and runs back into the forest

5 right page) The next morning the monkey returns with food only to find a small gift waiting for him wrapped in leaves as the man seemingly is sleeping.  He unwraps it to find the man’s watch. The monkey realizes that the man is watching him. They eat together (and you see the monkey wearing the watch). After eating, the monkey is eager to show the man something in the jungle.

6 left page) They travel all day on an amazing route (swinging on vines and crossing rivers) and by night reach what seems like the monkey’s make shift home where they eat by the light of the moon and the two fall asleep on one another.

7 right page) The next morning the man wakes up after a good nights rest but the monkey is gone. He looks around and he’s in a densely forested area with very high trees and thick brush. He wonders where the monkey is and waits until dusk when it re-emerges from a bush holding something. The monkey hands the man what looks like a bone (but you can’t see the details because the shot is from the man’s back and you just see the monkey and part of the bone over the man’s shoulder).

8 left page) Large splash image, worms eye view looking up into the tree canopies from the ground. The man is at the bottom (corner?) of the page facing the reader in awe at what he is holding… we see him holding a small skeleton arm and hand with a wristwatch on it… he is unaware of what is descending/leaping out of the trees behind him… a gang of cannibal apes ready for their next meal!

Alex’s initial digital thumb nails and my suggestions in color markings. You can see where I planned to place our Gypsy and as well as providing guidance in green as to which pages would be visible together when pages are turned. You can see my notes for the final page include the subject looking towards the reader with a bubble of puzzlement and the indiginous species jumping down from behind. In the final comic book we chose to have the characters facing towards the monkey to provide some immerssiveness from the reader.

As the artwork progressed we planned out the location of word balloons. In hindsight we probably could have planned this out a bit better, but were pretty lucky that Alex left space in his artwork to accomodate the words.

Below you can see the final page. Notice how we continued to make adjustments as we refined the lettering. On this story I also added the borders between the frames. Did you notice that I chose to flip the lower left panel?

With the story done it was time to work on the cover. Alex is a tremendous watercolor artist. Before putting brush to paper (or in this case I believe Vellum), Alex whipped up a bunch of compositions at thumbnail size. You can see the influence he’s had from movie posters.  I particularly like the playfulness he employs working the skull into the composition as a shadow or in the wake left by the boat.

The final cover was done in marker and guache on marker paper, then scanned and digitally modified for contrast. The original art is just under two times as large as the printed comic book.

The Damned was self-published as a stand alone comic book in 2016.