“Doc Unknown” is one of those gems of self-published comics. It’s consistently good, it’s professional quality, it does exactly what it wants to do, and, ultimately, it’s actually worth your money. Creators Fabian Rangel, Jr. and Ryan Cody have been making “Doc Unknown” since 2013, pitting the titular Doc Unknown against forces both supernatural and bit more human as he seeks to save his home of Gate City.
With the last volume of “Doc Unknown” written and ready to be made, Rangel returns to Kickstarter to secure funding for the finale. “Doc Unknown: The War For Gate City” pits Doc against both the police and every rogue in his gallery as he fights for the fate of his city.
Read on as we chat with writer Fabian Rangel, Jr. about the beginnings of “Doc Unknown”, its end, how Comixology Submit and Kickstarter have changed self-publishing, upcoming projects, and whole lot more. The Kickstarter is live now.
You’re heading back to Kickstarter again to fund the third and final volume of “Doc Unknown”. What’s the story about in this final volume?
Fabian Rangel, Jr.:What it basically boils down to is Doc Unknown is surrounded on all sides by enemies. Since the end of Doc Unknown #4 when Shen-Ru broke Boss Snake out of jail, and in Doc #8 when Shen-Ru and Boss Snake recruited the Gray Gremlin, we’ve been showing that the members of Doc’s rogue’s gallery are banding together. So in this volume, we see the payoff of that. Without giving too much away I can also say that people Doc trusted will turn against him and even the Gate City Police Department are given orders to take him out. There’s also a very unusual supernatural threat looming on top of all that. It’s pretty much just Doc versus everyone haha
“Doc Unknown” has been something that you’ve been working on with artist Ryan Cody for a couple years. You’ve gone from completely financing the first volume on your own to a few different Kickstarters. How has Kickstarter changed the way you’ve been able to publish comics?
FRJ: Kickstarter has made it possible for me to continue “Doc Unknown”. Plain and simple. If it wasn’t for Kickstarter, “Doc Unknown” would have ended with that first volume. As you mentioned, I funded those first four issues out of pocket. It was intense. I got a second job, I maxed out two credit cards, I got a loan from my bank, a loan from my retirement plan from my day job, and I was selling off chunks of my comic collection all just to make sure that first mini was completed. I knew I couldn’t repeat that course of action again and stay sane, so I decided to give Kickstarter a try with the “Boss Snake” one-shot. Once I realized the audience was there to keep “Doc” going, I outlined issues 5-12. Kickstarter is not only a great way for the fans you already know to support your work, but it’s also awesome for reaching new readers. I’m very glad Kickstarter exists.
I know you’ve talked about before how “Doc Unknown” was essentially your last ditch attempt at making comics. How does it feel to not only see people enjoy it, but also be able to make a dozen issues of it, seeing the story all the way through to the end?
FRJ: Yeah, right before I thought of the basic ideas that would lead to “Doc Unknown”, I was getting burned out on self-financing and self publishing. I really did think I was going to call it quits in 2013. I asked myself what kind of book I would have regretted not making if I decided to quit, and the answer was a supernatural pulp series, with everything I love about comics thrown in. I really am blown away by the support we’ve received, and continue to receive. I think people recognize that Ryan and I are having a blast making this book, so it’s very exciting to know so many readers “get it”. Being able to do three volumes is unbelievably awesome. This is the longest comic I’ve ever written. I’ve written more pages of “Doc Unknown” than anything else. Being able to end it exactly where I want, being able to put all the crazy ideas in, it results in this being the most gratifying thing I’ve done creatively.Continued below
As a self-publisher, you’ve utilized Comixology Submit, actually being one of the first big successes on the platform. What has Submit helped to do that you couldn’t have done on your own?
FRJ: As soon as I downloaded the ComiXology app, I knew I wanted to get my books on there. Being able to have readers from all over the world check out my comics without me having to spend a ton on printing and shipping was something I REALLY wanted. When the Submit program started I was overjoyed. Through Submit, “Doc Unknown” has reached more readers than I could have on my own. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my readership expanded after “Doc” became available through ComiXology. Submit is aother reason I’ve been able to keep “Doc” going, so if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think my Kickstarter campaigns would have been as successful.
Even with “Doc Unknown” coming to a close in the coming months, you’re definitely still going to be busy. You’ll have “Space Riders” coming from Black Mask, another set of backups running in “Five Ghosts”, and an upcoming “Dark Horse Presents” story. is it safe to say “Doc Unknown” helped open up all these opportunities?
FRJ: Definitely. I think seeing my hustle and enthusiasm on “Doc” got Alexis’ (co-creator/artist of “Space Riders”) attention, leading him to ask me to write “Riders”, and come up with the story. When I met Frank Barbiere (“Five Ghosts” writer), he was like,”Oh, I know you. You do “Doc Unknown”.” Our mutual admiration for each other’s books led to me doing the back ups in “Five Ghosts”. And when I reached out to my editor at Dark Horse, I sent him “Doc Unknown” and “Boss Snake” as examples of my work, and he enjoyed them enough to consider hearing pitches from me, one of which was “Black Past” (starting in “Dark Horse Presents” in June). Making “Doc Unknown” has shown people I’m serious about comics, that I can get stuff done, and (hopefully) that I write fun, imaginative stories.
I know you’re going to have a pinup by Mike Mignola in this volume. Anyone who’s talked at length with you about comics knows that “Hellboy” and Mike Mignola are some of your favorite things, so how does it feel to be able to have a Mignola pinup in your own creator-owned book?
FRJ: Yeah, Mike Mignola is my favorite artist. “Hellboy” and the rest of the “Mignolaverse” are my favorite comics. I’ve been in love with his art for over 10 years, so it’s insane that he will be doing a pin-up for us. Like, I don’t have the ability to properly convey how honored/excited/happy I am about it. It will be the highlight of my making comics career for sure. Without “Hellboy” (and Batman: The Animated Series and “Planetary”) there wouldn’t be a “Doc Unknown”. I’ll probably just retire from comics as soon as I see he’s emailed me the piece. It’s all downhill after that, hahaha.
Not to knock some self-published comics, but “Doc Unknown” stands out from many of them because it doesn’t look self-published, if that makes sense. It could sit on the shelf next to most anything from the major publishers and the only noticeable difference would be the logos. How do you think that perceived quality has translated to the relative success of “Doc Unknown”?
FRJ: Well, that’s something I’ve been aiming for since day one. I never wanted my self-published stuff to look like it wasn’t pro level. Ryan Cody is a pro level artist, and I knew if he was doing this book with me, it would look legit, despite being published from my office. I’ve always made sure that whatever artists I tap to work with are just as good as the people drawing the books that you see on the shelves at your local shop. And unfortunately, you’re right. A lot of self-published stuff does look amateur, so when people see “Doc” next to those books, I think that it does help “Doc”’s chances of getting purchased, as bad as it sounds.
After this Kickstarter wraps and the final volume is underway and “Doc Unknown” is finished, what comes next for you and your comics?Continued below
FRJ: Right now I’ve got “Sleepwalking” in the back of “Five Ghosts”. “Sleepwalking” is a 12 page supernatural noir story I wrote with art by Huseyin Ozkan, colors by Mike Spicer, and letters from my wife, Evelyn. At the end of the month “Space Riders” makes its mind-shattering debut from Black Mask Studios, with face melting art from Alexis Ziritt. That’s going to run for 4 issues, and depending on how well it does, we might be able to do at least another mini. In June I have a three part story starting in “Dark Horse Presents”. The story is called “Black Past”, it’s a supernatural crime/mob story with art from Pablo Clarke. Really hoping Dark Horse will let us go to series with it, or agree to do collect it on a graphic novel. I have a 5 pager I can’t talk about yet with a different publisher in a creator owned book that I’m super excited about because I love the series, and I love the artist I’m collaborating with. Other than that, I’m just pitching, pitching, pitching. I have two pitches from last year I’m still trying to find a home for, and I’m doing at least three more pitches by the end of the year. If one of them gets picked up I’ll be happy. I don’t see myself doing another Kickstarter after “Doc” Volume 3, but you never know.