Turning to Kickstarter to launch your comics work is becoming an ever-increasingly more popular way for independent and self-published creators to reach an audience. With that popularity, however, comes the burden of making your work stand out from the crowd. Enter “Mossy” #1, the new campaign from Kieran Shiach and Traci Shepard, an all ages horror/adventure starring a young female protagonist and a host of wild and wonderful creatures. “We wanted to make something that didn’t exist when we were kids” states Shiach “and I wanted to make something that doesn’t necessarily exist now either.”
Shiach may be better known as an editor and writer for Comics Alliance (R.I.P) and contributor to Polygon and CBR, as well as the prolific podcast host of Journey Into Misery, Zero Hour and The Monster Society of Comics. Shepard is the illustrator and cartoonist behind the daily art blog The Critter Compendium, which catalogues the many mythical creatures from folklore. We were able to catch up with them both about their collaboration, their Kickstarter experience and their future plans.
What can you tell us about Mossy #1, and where did the inspiration for creating the series come from?
Kieran Shiach: The inspiration really came from two places. The first was wanting to work with Traci on a comic and finding the right project; something we could build together from the ground up. The other was wanting to make my first comic I could just as easily hand to my cousin as I could to my nan. So knowing Traci as well as I did then (which isn’t anywhere near as well as I do now,) I knew that she liked drawing monsters and cryptids, and I knew that she liked Man-Thing. So I came up with the idea for something that mashed up an all-ages story with cryptids and swamp monsters and the end result was Mossy.
Traci Shepard: From early on, there was definitely some Man-Thing DNA in this book. I’m the weirdo whose favorite comics character is Man-Thing, I’ve had a pitch for an all-ages story in my back pocket for years should I ever corner some poor Marvel editor. Mossy isn’t that, we didn’t do a direct palette swap but there’s obviously the superficial level of a swamp monster in a magic swamp, and we’re aiming to take the series to places that share some of his darker themes like isolation and loss of agency. But it was very important to both of us to keep it all-ages, something a kid or an adult can pick up and hopefully enjoy. I’ve always loved taking the monstrous things and making them cute, I really wanted to hone in on creating a book that’s fundamentally a horror story but isn’t necessarily scary.
How have you found the Kickstarter experience so far? Have there been any unexpected challenges?
KS: It’s been great so far, I think. It doesn’t always seem like that on the micro day-to-day scale when you go hours without any new pledges, but it’s important to take a step back and acknowledge that we raised 75% of our goal in the first week of the campaign. That’s huge, especially for what is our first comic, not just as a team, but individually.
In terms of challenges, while I don’t regret it for a second, our most popular tier is the £2 which is for the digital copy of Mossy #1. I’m so happy that people have gone for that tier, but if it was the only one then we’d need one thousand backers to reach our goal. I totally get that people don’t always want the clutter of physical media, or maybe they don’t want to pay postage or whatever, so I’ve been trying to push the £15 tier a little bit harder, because that gets backers a digital copy of Mossy #1 and an original digital portrait by Traci. I think it’s amazing value, and it’ll get us to the finish line so much quicker.
TS: I’ve been incredibly moved by the response so far. This is my first go at crowdfunding, I was prepared for the worst and when I saw us nearly hit halfway on the first day I was ecstatic. I think we’ve had the benefit of knowing other creators who have already gone through the process, and the problems they’ve run into, and aside from finishing the issue itself we spent the better part of the month leading up to launch trying to nail down every eventuality we might face so aside from nerves it’s been pretty smooth so far.Continued below
I’m a little less worried about the tiers than Kieran is. I think the merch is pretty cool, and definitely want to encourage anyone interested in the commission levels to go for it, but I’d rather see the book in as many hands as possible, if the accessibility of the £2 level is what gets us there I’m just as happy to see the numbers build up that way.
KS: Yeah, I should stress that I’m a natural worrier and that I’m so thrilled so many people have backed us already. I’m incredibly grateful for everyone that’s took the time to even look at or share the Kickstarter page, let alone supported us by backing it at any level.
Kieran, how long have you been wanting to get into comics writing for? Is it daunting or exciting now that you’re close to getting your first issue out there?
KS: I’ve always written fiction since I was in my early teens, but it was mostly short stories back then. I’ve been writing comics or attempting to write comics for about three – five years now, but it hasn’t always panned out like I’d like. Projects fall through and no-one’s to blame, but making comics is hard and making your first comic is even harder.
I’m really excited for people to see it, it is a bit daunting but thankfully everyone that’s seen it has really liked it. I don’t want to namedrop too heavily but I sent it off to a bunch of friends who write for major publishers like Steve Orlando, Jeremy Whitely and Sarah Graley and they all really liked it, which was a big confidence boost for sure.
Traci, your awesome work on The Critter Compendium obviously lends itself to Mossy, how has it been working on a comic series like this?
TS: Critter Compendium started initially as something to get me drawing again after about a year of my life had kept me occupied elsewhere, and it stoked a lot of creative fires for me. Beyond even just the exercise of sitting down and forcing myself to do creature design and draw every day, for about fifteen months I spent at least a few hours a day researching obscure folklore or cryptids or esoteric little one-off alien encounters, even as someone who was already interested in the subjects going in I learned so much in that period.
Early on when we were developing Mossy, Kieran made the mistake of asking which monsters I would like to see in the book and I got back to him a few hours later with a long email detailing about 20-30 creatures I thought would fit in with what we had so far, a couple of which made it into the first issue but we have so many more fun places we can take it and characters to introduce beyond just our two leads.
It had been a few years since I had done any sequential work, so even with all the illustration or fanart I regularly do I found myself stretching some proverbial muscles I hadn’t used in a while. I worry the rust shows a bit early on, especially with the weird slow production schedule this issue took on as we worked on it in the background of other projects, but I definitely think I’ve gotten back in my groove thanks to this.
What does the future hold for Mossy, do you both have big plans for the character/series?
KS: We have plans for a full story, which will be six issues in length. We’re not sure, depending on the success of this Kickstarter, how those six issues will manifest, but we’re definitely going to tell this full story. However, each issue is designed to be read on its own as well, as a complete done-in-one adventure. There’s hints at the larger story in the first issue for sure, some are obvious and some you won’t notice until much later, but there’s a bigger plan. While it’s a kids story, my biggest influences are writers who plan stuff way in advance and seed it as early as they can, writers like Grant Morrison, Jonathan Hickman and James Roberts, so I like to play around with that a little bit.Continued below
TS: For Mossy we’ve created a fun little world we could definitely delve into deeper and play around with further, but the story we’re telling right now has a definite ending we’re working towards. Issue one is more an introduction to Sam and Mossy and their dynamic, but Mossy’s existence and her intentions are going to raise questions that make up the core of the book, and we want that to reach a satisfying conclusion.
Finally, how would you both sell Mossy for those still undecided?
KS: I think one of our biggest selling points is that we’re an all-ages horror/adventure book starring a little girl, there’s not many of them about. I know Traci has mentioned it and I’m sure she can add to it in a minute, but we wanted to make something that didn’t exist when we were kids and I wanted to make something that doesn’t necessarily exist now either. It’s a really fun story and I hope people will check it out and give us a chance.
TS: This book is existing in a lot of liminal spaces; again we wanted to do something that’s a horror, thematically, but not scary, a story about monsters but they’re kind of cute as much as they’re threatening and maybe they’re the good guys. As Kieran just said, I wanted to make something I would have wanted when I was a kid as much as something I’d enjoy picking up today. Mossy is our title character but Sam’s the star, she’s goofy and light even while facing down bared fangs and claws and hulking swamp monsters. We want to capture those moments of childhood where your world is expanding before you in ways you can’t comprehend, but you’re still too young and dumb to even think to be afraid of it. It’s an esoteric look at what I hope are pretty universal concepts.
The Kickstarter campaign for “Mossy” #1 is ongoing until June 29th, and is currently fully funded as of this writing