Comics Experience is an online learning institution where creators can take classes on a variety of comics-making topics. Now, books from creators who came through Comics Experience will have the opportunity to be published via IDW. This exciting new publishing venture will start with four miniseries, all coming in early 2015. The following descriptions are excerpted from the press release, which can be found in full at the bottom of this article.
“Drones” by Chris Lewis and Bruno Oliveira, the story of two Predator drone operators on a bizarre journey that will take them to a terrorism-themed hotel in Las Vegas, in a war where terror and entertainment have begun to blur.
“Creature Cops: Special Varmint Unit” by Rob Anderson and Fernando Melek, about animal control officers in a near-future city who must deal with patchwork, hybrid animals, from gator-snakes to panda dogs.
“Gutter Magic” by Rich Douek and Brett Barkley, set in a world where World War II was fought with magic, and the heir to a powerful magical dynasty can’t cast a spell to save his life.
“Tet” by Paul Allor and Paul Tucker, is a story of hard-boiled crime and star-crossed romance, set at the height of the Vietnam War and the decades that followed.
We sat down with Comics Experience founder, former Marvel editor, and comics lifer Andy Schmidt to talk about the new initiative, editing new talent, and Comics Experience as a whole. If you’d like to learn more about Comics Experience, check them out www.comicsexperience.com, or follow Andy on Twitter (@comicsexperience).
For our readers who may not be familiar with Comics Experience, can you fill them in? What exactly do you guys do?
Andy Schmidt: Of course! I founded Comics Experience back in 2007 when I left Marvel as an X-Men editor and had just wrapped up the original “Annihilation” series, which led to “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
I had one simple principle: To create the comics courses that I would have wanted to take when I was trying to break into the industry. I had been a teacher before I joined the Marvel editorial team and loved it, so this was a logical step. I partnered with working professionals to create rock solid nuts-and-bolts courses on writing, art, coloring, and lettering with awesome pros like Robert Atkins, Chris Sotomayor, and Dave Sharpe to start. Heck, Dan Slott even taught an Intro to Comics Writing course once. And we’ve just continued to grow from there.
In 2010, we launched the Creators Workshop, an online private forum community that’s separate from the courses. In addition to the forum and the peer and professional critiques, we hold live, online meetings on comics creation, but we also cover topics like how to put together a creator-owned deals with your collaborative partners; the types of things that every creator should know, but no one talks about.
What the Workshop has grown into is a kind of talent incubator. Folks come in at various levels, and we’ve got several working professionals who are members and names you’d definitely recognize. People learn at their own pace, and they get feedback from each other and learn and grow together. I’ve also brought in several professional comics creators to do critiques on both scripts and art–folks like writer Chuck Dixon, artist Reilly Brown, former Marvel editor and current Millarworld editor Nicole Boose, and many more. So folks can get substantive feedback from other creators and pros alike.
How did this partnership come about? Was part of the Comics Experience plan to always publish the work of its participants?
AS: My priority at first was to help people find their own path. That meant focusing on the courses and then the Creators Workshop. Now that we’ve grown and many of our alumni and Workshop members are actively working in the industry, publishing was the next logical step.
But it wasn’t always the next logical step. Something started to shift in the comics industry and I noticed it maybe two years back or so. The opportunities for new talent were becoming fewer and further between—and it wasn’t for lack of great talent. So I started rethinking my stance on publishing now that I saw a need for it. It seemed more important to our mission to give that extra push for creators, and frankly, to the industry.Continued below
Once I started looking for a partner for this, IDW made a lot of sense. Chris Ryall and Greg Goldstein were really supportive of the idea. There was an instant recognition of the need for something like this and so we were all working together to find the right deal that could work for everyone. And I think Ted Adams at IDW had already shown his support of creator-owned books. That’s what the company started with, and they still are working with folks like Ashley Wood and Steve Niles. It’s a good fit.
And, it’s really awesome to have creator-owned books by new talent that are in the front of the Previews catalog. Maximizing exposure is important to new creators–getting their names and their work out there and seen by as many people as possible.
What is the format of these books? Will you be publishing miniseries exclusively? Or could, in theory, one of these properties “graduate” to an ongoing?
AS: For now, we’re starting with limited series. The potential for other formats is there, but I’ve always been the kind of guy to start small–get it right, do quality work. Then grow organically from there. That approach has served me very well from projects I worked on as an editor to creating and building Comics Experience. And I believe our publishing slate will grow, but I see no reason to rush a bunch of things out the door. Let’s all work together, get these books in great shape and put out quality series every single time.
When you were looking at the various characters/pitches from the Comics Experience community, what made these stand out? Was there a genre you were particularly looking to/looking to avoid?
AS: In the next few weeks, we plan to start accepting submissions from our workshop members. But for these initial projects, I was looking to folks who had been members for some time and looking at work I was largely already familiar with. Launching with these books was a no-brainers to me.
As for what makes them stand out, for me, it’s all about the quality of the work. These books have just really, really strong content. Some have great, simple concepts that hook immediately, and others are all about the execution—getting in and meeting the characters and getting wrapped up in them.
In terms of genre, no set genre. Again, I’m going back to that original mission for Comics Experience. The plan isn’t to make a bunch of clones of myself. The mission is to help people get to the best version of their creative selves. And the result of helping individuals find their voices is diversity amongst those voices. And that’s something to be celebrated.
What I’m looking for in terms of content is the story that THE CREATOR has to tell. I want to read something unlike what I might write. So, I’m open to all genres. I was recently floored by the start of something I saw from one of our members that’s a romance comic. Most publishers will tell you that romance comics don’t sell. You know what? I don’t care. If it’s good, we’ll try to find the audience for it. It only takes one book to break that belief and next thing you know we’re going to be complaining about all the romance comics the way folks have been complaining about zombie comics. It just takes one to open the door.
That’s a lesson we’ve learned in this industry many times. “Uncanny X-Men” taught us that soap opera works in comics. “The Walking Dead” re-proved that horror works in comics as did “30 Days of Night” before that. And I remember as an editor proposing “Annihilation” and a colleague saying that the cosmic characters don’t sell. Well, Marvel took a chance with me on those characters back in 2004, and later today I’m going to the world premiere of the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie in LA.Continued below
Once the property has been through the rock tumbler that is the Comics Experience process, and all the jagged edges are off of it, how involved is Comics Experience in the month-to-month production of the stories? Are the books, essentially, still community edited?
AS: They’re not really “community edited” in the sense that these books are the property of the creators. So, when I think of editing, I tend to think of the editor as having some authority (probably comes from my days at Marvel). So, a creator can put up, say, a script for critique, but the ultimate authority on a creator-owned book is the creator.
As for how involved we are, I’ve got a small team in place that interacts with IDW–specifically editor Bobby Curnow at IDW–who is himself a Creators Workshop member and an alum of the Introduction to Comics Writing course. So we’re involved insofar as we give creative feedback and may have suggestions for minor changes for clarity.
I’ve got a production person–E.T. Dollman, who’s also a talented letterer. We make sure that the books are to the proper specs for printing at IDW’s standards.
Along with IDW, we’re covering getting the book placed in Previews, helping with promotions and marketing, we’re covering publishing fees and print costs and distribution, we’re dealing with all that stuff that no one–and I mean NO ONE–actually likes doing, and the savings to a creator of not paying the print costs alone is HUGE.
I believe that members who really are passionate about growing creatively will grow. I’ve seen it for years. This is a great extension of the path that SHOULD have been in our industry for years–you come in, you learn, you grow, you make comics, you learn some more, you get published, you get noticed, and you grow your career. That’s a really cool and powerful path.
It’s also worth noting that there is no obligation for Creators Workshop members to publish with Comics Experience and IDW. I actively encourage our members to seek out all opportunities and make the best decisions for them. And whenever anyone in our community is having success–I’m the first one in line to show my support and talk it up.
Of the four initial books, three of them have some sort of connection to war. I know you aren’t going for one standard tone, but was the focus on war stories something that was discussed?
AS: No, it wasn’t. And ultimately, those three books have connections to war but only one of them is set during an actual armed conflict. War is part of the “Gutter Magic” backstory, primarily, and “Tet” is hard-boiled crime investigation set during the Vietnam War while “Drones” deals with Drones aircraft operators but isn’t about a drone mission per se. So, they’re connected to war, but in very different ways. It’s something I noticed though and there was a moment where I thought we should go with different books, but that seemed silly given how different they are and how good they are.
Let’s talk a little bit about each book in particular: of all of the titles, “Creature Cops: Special Varmint Unit” was the one that instantly jumped out at me, simply for the fun potential. Tell me a little about what Rob and Fernando have in store for this book?
AS: “Creature Cops” is set in a world where gene-splicing and “animal gengineering” has become commonplace, and isn’t a great idea. There are legal hybrids in this world, like panda dogs, and illegal ones, that maybe look like mythological creatures. But then there’s also situations like what we’ve seen in the real world down in the Everglades, it turns out people don’t really want anacondas as a pet and so they’ve let them loose and it’s up to the police to deal with them. This is the same idea—it turns out that a gator-snake hybrid may not be the pet you’d want. And so we have these unwanted, and strange and cool new animals that are running around and these “creature cops” are the people who have to figure out how to deal with them.
Set against that backdrop, “Creature Cops” definitely has its humor, but it’s very much a police procedural. We meet several of the cops and follow their investigations into the weird, the horrific, and the funny. This is one where the concept alone hooked me, but when I read the book, I understood there was much more to it than just a fun concept. There’s a real story here with real characters that I want to read more about after every issue.
Add on top of that how much of an animal advocate Rob is, and it’s so clearly written from a place of passion, it’s just the kind of project a publisher can’t pass up.
“Gutter Magic” seems like a title that could unleash an entire shared universe, with seventy years of magic history to get through. How much of the story is set in the current time, and how much focuses on the events in the past?
AS:The bulk of the story is set present day, but that story is framed by events in the past—both on the world stage and on a personal stage having to do with Cinder’s family history. Cinder is the main character and he’s not a high-ranking wizard like his ancestors. That birthright has been robbed from him.
Because of that, he’s dealing in the lower magics like slight-of-hand, not the real powerful stuff. The wizards look down on that kind of thing, calling it “Gutter Magic.”
What works about this story for me, and a big part of why I wanted to publish it is that it’s a concept that’s so perfect for comics. What Rich and Brett have built uses the medium of comics in unique ways. But it’s also keyed into some things going on in American society that are explored in an interesting way. If you think of these high wizards as the 1% and of Cinder as representing the 99%, you can get a whole other read out of the book. And I always like books that I can read on multiple levels and peel back multiple layers.
It does have this rich history and intricate world, but what makes it work is the strong characters and their story within that world. This isn’t like reading the Simarillion. The world is explored effortlessly. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into further if you want, but at its core, it’s about Cinder’s journey.
Paul Allor is probably the most well known name of the 8 creators, and I know he has an active role in the Comics Experience family. What is it about working with Paul that clicks for you so much, and what can we expect from “Tet?”
AS: There are two things about Paul that really impress me. The first is that he’s a thinker. He thinks things through on multiple levels as a storyteller, and he knows his characters and his world and his story inside and out. The other thing that impresses me about him is his constant battle to always be improving. I don’t think he can even look at the work he produced a year ago, because it feels amateurish to him, despite the fact that his work is usually very well received. So he’s got this incredible work ethic and an innate talent and drive. That’s a combination that doesn’t come along all that often.
Now, with Paul Allor PSA out of the way, “Tet” is, to me, a great example of what Comics Experience is all about. It’s a war story, a romance, and a hard-boiled criminal investigation all rolled into one. That’s not something you get taught in a class. I don’t have a “Crime/Romance/War” course. So for me, and all of these are examples of this to different degrees, it’s really easy to point to this and illustrate that Comics Experience is dedicated to helping its members tell their stories, not conform to some “paint by numbers” approach.
Paul and Paul Tucker are doing the research to make their real-world backdrop look and feel accurate. The authenticity both of the setting and background as well as the story’s emotional core is what makes Tet a really impressive book and one I’m proud to help get into people’s hands.Continued below
“Drones” seems to be the most tuned into current events – while some of the greatest comics of all time have had a finger on the pulse of the modern world, it can also date a book in unfortunate ways. Was there any concern about working within such a serious theme?
AS:“Drones” have certainly been in the news quite a bit. I live in San Diego and have many military friends who I talk with regularly and it’s been fascinating to hear what they have to say about drones and drone operators. These are guys that live this stuff. If they like what Chris and Bruno are doing, then I’m happy.
But the real topical part of this book is the satire it makes of the connection between something as horrific as war and terrorism with entertainment. That is topical, and it’s something I see a lot of in my neck of the woods. What we see even on the news when it comes to war—where it’s supposed to be represented as fact—is far from it. And I’m not talking about political bents like conservative versus liberal. I’m talking about how war itself is portrayed. It’s played to interest a viewer more times than not, to entertain us or to pull our heartstrings. It’s presented the same way we present fiction and it’s presented to get ratings up.
I’m painting with a pretty broad brush and I’m not saying that it’s only presented this way, and it’s to different degrees, but war is presented as entertainment far more often than I am comfortable with as a parent.
To address the other two points in your question, I’m not worried about the book being dated. I think it’s current and I’m focused on putting out books that are effective today and mean something to people now. If that’s still the case 20 years from now, that’s awesome, but not every book can or should be built to be a lasting franchise like Star Wars or what have you.
As for concern about the serious theme, I do think that “Drones” is the most complicated in its execution. Satire is often misunderstood as a genre. Many people just don’t get the subversive nature of the genre itself and often think that a project that maybe anti-something is actually pro-that-thing because they don’t “get it.” I know a lot of comics readers, and most of them are savvy and intelligent and thoughtful. There are plenty of comics (and any medium would fit there, not just comics) that appeal to base brain functions, and this is a book that takes a bit of maturity and thoughtfulness to read.
All four covers reveal truly unique and different styles. What can you tell us about the visuals behind these books?
AS: The visuals were a part in the selection process. On the one end of the spectrum, “Creature Cops” has the most representational art, and that really works for a book where you want the reader to see an animal and be able to figure out what the cross-breeds are in it. That’s part of the fun of the book, so representational art is perfect for it.
On the other side of the spectrum, something like “Tet” by Paul Tucker is more graphic design oriented for its cover. I love that cover that you’ve got up here—LOVE IT! And his art is more surreal and scratchy on the interiors—it’s got that grit that a crime book set during the Tet Offensive should likely have.
The same holds true for Bruno’s work on “Drones.” It’s clear in the storytelling, but has a really nice stylized feel to it—which works well for satire.
Somewhere in the middle is Brett’s work on “Gutter Magic.” It needed to be representational insofar as it grounds the story and the world. It’s important that the reader believe that a world that’s similar to our own but dominated by magic instead of science is possible—is real. But, given that you’re dealing with magic, Rich and Brett wanted the more unrealistic events and abilities to also feel real—and that requires a very delicate balance that I think Brett has hit perfectly.Continued below
If our readers are just now hearing about Comics Experience, and it sounds like something they would be interested in, what would you tell them to expect from the courses?
AS: Our courses are taught by working professionals with years of experience and they’ve all been hand-picked by me to ensure that they’re great instructors as well. We are focused on you, the student. To that end, we maintain a welcoming and honest environment.
It’s a place for constructive behavior and for students to ask the questions that need asking—and that includes things like how to work a convention, how to talk with editors and all kinds of real-world skills. You can expect the very best we have to offer and instructors and classmates that genuinely want to see you achieve great success.
And if someone doesn’t feel quite ready for the courses, we have our Creators Workshop community as an alternative. Some people start out with the workshop, others with the courses; some dive into both immediately. It’s really whatever works for you.
You’ve worked as an editor for many years, and have had your hands in some truly incredible projects – how does shepherding these books, from new creators as part of a new venture, differ from, say, working with an established property?
AS: Oh, wow. That’s such a great question. There’s no question that I learned a ton about comics, how to make them, market them, and all that from the many projects I’ve been involved in. The lessons learned from “Civil War” or “New Avengers” or re-launching “G.I. Joe” from scratch are simply too many to count. And I’ve had great mentors along the way, too. And so much of that applies and is the same with working on creator-owned books, but so much is also different.
I think for me, the simple fact that these projects are owned by actual, flesh and blood people and not by corporations is really something that energizes me. And that I’m working with the creators of these properties, not just today’s steward of them. And there’s nothing wrong with being a steward of a property. I’m still working on large franchises myself and I enjoy it, but it is different.
At the end of the day, what’s most different about this versus the giant event type stuff I’ve worked on, is that this feels better. And again, I greatly enjoyed my time working on those big projects and with my colleagues at companies like Marvel, IDW, and Hasbro, and I mean no disrespect, but this feels somehow more real.
I’ve been so lucky in my career, and I hope that in some way, doing what we do at Comics Experience is helping to open similar doors for others to the ones that were open for me. I’ve stood on the shoulders of many great creators and characters and enjoyed a really awesome career. I’m lucky and I know it. So, it feels great to be able to help others achieve their dreams, as I’ve been able to achieve mine.
Of all the things in comics I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in, Comics Experience is the thing I’m most proud of.
If someone is at their local shop next year, and they see the Comics Experience banner on a book, what should they expect from the product?
AS: Quality. Passion. And a damn fine reading experience.
For the full press elease from IDW and Comics Experience, please see below.
IDW Press Release
IDW and Comics Experience Announce Publishing Alliance featuring Creator-Owned Books from New Talent
San Diego, CA (July 21, 2014) — IDW Publishing announced today a new publishing alliance with Comics Experience, LLC—an online comics education resource and creative community. Under the alliance IDW and Comics Experience will focus on publishing creator-owned titles from new comics talent.
The mini-series announced today, the first of which launches in January 2015, include:
• Drones by Chris Lewis and Bruno Oliveira, the story of two Predator drone operators on a bizarre journey that will take them to a terrorism-themed hotel in Las Vegas, in a war where terror and entertainment have begun to blur.Continued below
• Creature Cops: Special Varmint Unit by Rob Anderson and Fernando Melek, about animal control officers in a near-future city who must deal with patchwork, hybrid animals, from gator-snakes to panda dogs.
• Gutter Magic by Rich Douek and Brett Barkley, set in a world where World War II was fought with magic, and the heir to a powerful magical dynasty can’t cast a spell to save his life.
• Tet by Paul Allor and Paul Tucker, is a story of hard-boiled crime and star-crossed romance, set at the height of the Vietnam War and the decades that followed.
IDW Editor-In-Chief and CCO Chris Ryall said, “IDW has been a strong supporter of creator-owned comics, from our very first title, 30 Days of Night, through to Locke & Key and beyond. We’re now excited to be partnering with Comics Experience to introduce the next wave of new talent to fans and the industry.”
Comics Experience President and CEO Andy Schmidt explained, “These are up-and-coming creators with properties developed in the ‘talent incubator’ of our online community. With this deal, we’re offering an opportunity for these creators and others like them to reach a broader audience with their diverse books.”
Bobby Curnow, a Comics Experience alum and current Editor on IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Godzilla, and My Little Pony is overseeing the new partnership.
Comics Experience is an educational company dedicated to teaching the craft of comics creation in all disciplines, and helps develop new talent through its online community — the Creators Workshop. Follow Comics Experience on Twitter @ComicExperience. For more information on Comics Experience and the new publishing alliance, visit: www.ComicsExperience.com
IDW Publishing is an award-winning publisher of comic books, graphic novels and trade paperbacks, based in San Diego, California. IDW Publishing titles are available from Diamond Comic Distributors and Diamond Book Distributors. Follow IDW on Facebook at facebook.com/idwpublishing and on Twitter @IDWPublishing.