I love ComiXology!
I love that every Wednesday I can get all the comics I want to read with a push of a button. I love that I can read comics anywhere. Long line at Starbucks, no problem, I’ll just catch up on Saga. I love that there is a near unlimited backlog catalogue allowing me to explore the classics of Stan and Jack. Most of all, I love independent comics.
ComiXology Submit allows comic creators to publish their projects digitally, bypassing the cost of print that has long barred independent comics and new creators, entry into the direct market. In many ways it evens the playing field and people all around the world can now enjoy a comic that used to be available almost solely at conventions. Each week a flood of new material is made available for download and, just like with mainstream comics, quality of product is going to vary.
So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? There are what seems like hundreds of website and podcasts that review Marvel and DC comics, but few that give independents past Image, much consideration. It is a sad state of affairs that we at comiccrusaders.com hope to rectify with a series of INDIE SPOTLIGHT articles showcasing some of the very best comics that are available on ComiXology Submit.
Over the course of the next few months I will introduce the books from ComiXology Submit that I am enjoying. Now granted taste in comics vary from person to person. Not everyone will like everything I like, but these books all share a common theme in that they are projects that feature writing and art quality that I feel is on par with the stuff being produced at the higher levels, and in many cases exceed those standards.
So get into it! Support independent comics and comic creators. Try new things and discover something unique and fresh that captures what we all love about comics!
Our first spotlight is on DAVE DELLECESE and ANDREW CIESLINSKI’S comic HOLIDAZE.
I have been reading comics for almost thirty years and during that time I have been inspired, heartbroken, happy, and sad, but the one thing that comics have rarely made me do is laugh out loud. HOLIDAZE is one of the few comics that have accomplished that feat. It is funny and I mean really FUNNY. Telling the tale of a local watering hole where mythical icons go to unwind. Santa Claus, Saint Patrick, Dracula, The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny, Abraham Lincoln, Uncle Sam, Cupid, all these characters that we think we know, hang at the Holidaze Bar during their downtime, and get in a series of misadventures.
But these aren’t the characters we would expect and it is the departure from the Holiday trope that sets this series apart. Santa is this clueless old man who unintentionally sexually harasses the female elves, Saint Patrick is a Leprechaun whose pot of gold curses him with bad luck, The Tooth Fairy a sexually promiscuous fairy, The Easter Bunny a barely functional alcoholic. Each character has deep personal flaws and in a series of solo stories we watch as they struggle to overcome these.
To me that is what makes this comic series special. The characters, while portrayed as damaged people, have unique undertones that make them very relatable. On some level we are these people, or at the very least we were these people at some point in our lives. There was a period in my early twenties where it was a known fact that I was going to be too drunk to come into work the day after Saint Patrick’s Day, so when Santa gets pass out drunk on Christmas Eve and can’t fly his sleigh, you feel for him, because you been there.
Issue 2 is a perfect example. Saint Patrick has his pot of gold stolen, thus lifting the curse of the Luck of the Irish. The thief has every conceivable misfortune befall him in a string of Looney Tune like tragedies, while Saint Patrick lives what could be the greatest day of his life. Who hasn’t had a day on both sides of that coin? Where nothing could go wrong or nothing could go right?
Andrew Cieslinski is a tremendous talent, able to draw both realistic people and cartoonish characters from panel to panel in a way that makes it seem fluid and crisp so the reader believes these characters all exist in the same world. In Issue 3 there is a panel where Dracula walks in on his father seducing his tutor in just an beautifully drawn scene that is perfectly rendered to capture the mood of seduction and horror, and followed up by one of the funniest panels of the book as teenage Dracula pops the head off his action figure (and perhaps pops something else). The skill needed to pull of the range of emotions is remarkable.
I reached out to DAVE DELLECESE who agreed to be interviewed for this article and asked him a series of questions not just on Holidaze but also about the experience of creating Independent Comics, his taste in comic fandom, and what inspires him as a writer and reader.
So without further ado …
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO MAKE YOUR OWN INDEPENDENT COMIC?
I had been a fan of comics since I was old enough to read. The genres and titles changed over the years, but I always loved reading them. I was working as a television journalist at the time and wanted to break out from the news-style of storytelling and give myself something more light-hearted to weave outside of work.
I had been sending out query letters to various companies, big and small, but hadn’t gotten anywhere. Then a friend asked me why I didn’t just make my own. It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but the timing was also just, sort of right. Digital comics were on the rise, and suddenly, here was this way to make your stories available to people all over the world without the budget of a giant corporation. Gone were the days of thousands of dollars of up front printing costs to get a minimum number of copies. This was a viable way to create.
WHERE DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR HOLIDAZE?
It was originally an idea for a short film when I was in college studying filmmaking and screenwriting. It unfortunately never came to fruition, but the idea for the short film ended up the initial story in the first issue about Santa passing out drunk and the other mythical icons having to save (and screw up) Christmas.
HOW DID YOU MEET ANDREW CIESLINSKI AND HOW DID HE COME TO BE THE ARTIST ON THE PROJECT?
Andrew had worked at my local comic shop and we shared quite a few mutual friends. One of those friends said to me one day that I should really have coffee with Andrew and try to work on a comic project together. So we did. It was a rainy afternoon and we were sitting under a canopy outside a coffee shop just pitching ideas for comics around. A lot of the ideas just didn’t spark, and then, for whatever reason, I reached in the back of my mind and pulled out that idea for the short film that never came to be. A few weeks later, Andrew had character designs and rough layouts already underway.
CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? IS IT MARVEL STYLE OR FULL SCRIPT?
It’s been a little of both. The first three issues we did the Marvel way. I wrote out long outlines, with bits of dialogue sprinkled through here and there and then Andrew would take them and layout the book. Then, when he’d finish, I’d go back and write a full dialogue script off of his art.
By the time we hit Issue #4 (“The Walking Drunk”), though, we’ve been doing full-on scripts, as Andrew says he much prefers to work from those after having done both.
As for the stories themselves, they start from really anywhere. “The Walking Drunk” came about because Andrew texted it to me from the gym parking lot. So, I had a title and knew Andrew wanted to draw zombies. So, the story took shape out of that. It was a complete Julius Schwartz-scenario. (For non-Silver Age comics fans out there, Julius Schwartz was a longtime editor for DC Comics during the Silver Age and a lot of the crazy covers from that era came about with Schwartz having a cover drawn and then having the creative team come up with a story based on that cover idea. Wild stuff!)
“Luck of the Irish” in issue two actually started out as a story about Paddy getting a new pair of shoes, but took off into its own, completely different scenario.
As much as you try to map out everything, sometimes the characters and the stories just guide themselves. And when that happens, it’s even better.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS AN INDEPENDENT COMIC BOOK CREATOR? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST SOMEONE READING THIS DO DIFFERENTLY?
It’s had its ups and downs, but I think that’s part of how you learn. But you have to be open to learning. We’re all learning, all of us – in every aspect of life.
I’ve learned that, as the saying goes, you can not please everybody, and you shouldn’t try. Create things that are fun for you, that you’re enjoying. There will be others who enjoy it too.
There will always be people who don’t care for what you do. And that’s okay. I think I come at it with a slightly different perspective than just comics, though. When I was news, especially during the years in television news, you were faced with the critics every day, especially once social media kicked into high gear. There were stories that some people loved and you’d get the kindest words for and that very same story could garner the harshest messages from others. I think the same goes for anything you create – be it news, art, a book, a film, a song, or a comic.
You just tell the best darn story you can and when you find things that don’t work, you just take it and learn from it and try to do better the next time around. You can always look back and say “I should’ve done this…” but it doesn’t mean you failed. It means you’re learning.
From a writer’s standpoint, I also would tell people to work WITH the artist drawing your book. They’re storytellers too, and even though you may have something scripted one way, you don’t always have to adhere to that. Be open to new things, new approaches. Work together and see what they have to bring to the table. I’ve had things in a script that were okay, passable. Then Andrew will say ‘hey, I was thinking of this…’ and have a fantastic idea to add that made the story ten times better.
The best stuff, in my humble opinion, comes when you find that true collaboration.
One of the most challenging things, I think, is that the book is primarily digital. I mean, we do print editions of the issues to bring with us to conventions, but for the most part, it’s been primarily a digital comic book. By two people you’ve never heard of. So, you’re trying to get people to read a comic book. On top of that, you’re trying to get them to read a comic book that’s not about superheroes, and it’s only available on a computer or digital device. So it’s like a niche industry within a niche industry. So that can be a challenge. It’s certainly not impossible, but it does add a layer of challenge to things.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER?
That’s a really tough one. Too many to count! I honestly don’t know if I could pick just one, because so many resonate with me for different reasons.
I have a series of old Jimmy Olsen comic covers from the 50s and 60s framed around my office because I just love how colorful and absurd they are. They really are works of art. Jimmy’s a great character (especially silver age Jimmy) because, much like Robin, it was a great fantasy-gateway. I think there was a lot of relatability to Jimmy, even though he was turning into genies and imps and secret agents every other issue.
A Jimmy Olsen anecdote. Before I was in television news, I had been a newspaper reporter. I was very, very wide-eyed at the time and at one of the earliest stories I was covering, I was talking to a firefighter at a scene and he started to chuckling. He said, “I’m sorry. You just. You remind me of Jimmy Olsen.” And I laughed too. Because here I was, wearing khakis, a dress shirt and a sweater vest, scribbling away at my notepad with all the enthusiasm of a cub reporter. I WAS Jimmy Olsen! He was right! It was a great compliment.
And I always say that whether I’m 8, 28, 58, or 88, I’ll always enjoy a good Scrooge McDuck story. Uncle Scrooge was the first comic book I read. An old issue from the 70s that my grandmother had lying around in a pile of comics for ‘sick days.’ Whereas my love of the old Jimmy Olsen books mentioned above is out of a sort of kitschy look at another era, those Uncle Scrooge stories seem to stand the test of time, in my opinion. It’s just solid storytelling. Pure adventure and fun, in the same vein as Indiana Jones.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS IN COMICS?
For short-term goals…
With the first five issues of Holidaze done, we’re now going to look at doing a print trade collection. As of this writing, we don’t have all the details worked out, but I know that’s what we’d like to do. Collect all five into a collected trade. We’ve talked about maybe crowdfunding it on Kickstarter as a possibility. I think that’s a discussion we’re going to be delving into with more detail in the weeks and months ahead, but I’d say next stop is a trade collection, somehow.
Then come two short stories – one that we hope to put out online for free in honor of Free Comic Book Day, and another that’s a crossover with another indie book, “The Devil and Mr. Gandhi” by Patrick McCuen. It’s about the Devil and Gandhi being roommates. It’s very funny. The crossover is actually going to be two separate stories – one on Patrick’s end and then a follow-up that Andrew and I do on our end involving all our characters. We’re really excited about it. It’s a lot of fun.
Then we get back to another round of full-length issues of Holidaze with Issue #6. We actually have the first ten or eleven issues already fully scripted. So there are plans. A little slower than we’d like at times, as both Andrew and I have the ‘pay the bill’ jobs during the day. We jokingly refer to it as our Sherlock syndrome at times. It takes a while in between installments, but you know blood, sweat, tears and a lot of fun goes into each one.
As for long-term goals…
Does getting Andrew’s talent discovered so he can make a living off of drawing comic’s count?
I say that only half-joking because the guy is so damn talented and one of the nicest guys you could ever work with. I count my blessings every day that I get the opportunity to work on this book with him. And if that somehow gets his work seen by someone who can bring him onto a bigger project and maybe start being a sole profession, I’d be through the moon. Because he deserves it.
Would I love someone to love Holidaze so much they want to pick it up and publish it on a regular basis? Absolutely. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I want to continue on telling stories of these guys for as long as possible.
But I also would love to write for other people and their characters as well. There is an absolute freedom in writing your own series and characters, but I also think that some amazing creativity comes out when people have limits or parameters put on them. By parameters, in this case I mean already established characters, personalities, etc.
There’s a lot of characters out there I’ve got stories for that I would absolutely LOVE to write – Jay Garrick, Darkwing Duck, Inspector Gadget, even Casper the Friendly Ghost. Quite the diverse crew, I know.
Yes, though. I would certainly welcome the opportunity to write some other characters.
Of course, if Seth McFarlane or Seth Green happen upon this and want to talk about what a great Adult Swim-type of cartoon series Holidaze would make, let’s chat!
WHO ARE SOME OF THE CREATORS THAT INSPIRE YOU?
I’m a huge fan of the Golden and Silver Age of Comics. I know some people look down upon those days, or look at them as ‘silly’ but I look at what folks like Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, etc. were doing and find it insanely awesome how they just let their imaginations run wild. It didn’t have to make sense; it didn’t need a logical explanation. It could just ‘be.’ Those folks were founding fathers of this entire medium, and I think their creativity and genius for coming up with things from whole cloth doesn’t get nearly the amount of respect it deserves. Today, there are comic creators that are looked at like rock stars, but the industry owes so much respect to the folks who paved the way and were often looked down upon for the field they worked in. There’s a brilliant biography on Bill Finger called “Bill the Boy Wonder” by Marc Tyler Nobleman that really works to set the record straight on Finger’s hand in creating Batman. If you’ve ever been a fan of Batman, or of comics, you should read this book. And it’s beautifully illustrated by Ty Templeton, so double the talent, double the fun.
But there’s certainly a lot of modern day writers whose work I find incredibly influential. J.M. DeMatteis, who not only has one of the best ears for dialogue, but a fantastic way of balancing fantastic adventure with the situations and emotions of real people. The Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League run has never been topped, in my opinion. It had everything. Superheroics, worlds in jeopardy, but yet never once seemed like a cliché superhero story. Superheroing was their job, but it wasn’t always who they were. They had real emotion and real problems, just like the reader. When I’m struggling with dialogue and need to step back, I pull out that JL run, relax, and remind myself what good dialogue is.
James Robinson’s “Starman” sits atop my bookshelf in a place of reverence. It’s an amazingly heartfelt story of fathers and sons and the way he weaves various legacies and characters from DC’s past is astounding.
J. Torres and Tim Levins were the creative team that brought me back to comics in college when I came across a trade paperback of “The Copybook Tales” about guys who grew up in the 80s, wanted to make comics in their adult lives, but were working jobs and just finding their way through life. It’s incredible. I probably pull that out once a year to re-read. It’s just as phenomenal now as it was the first time around.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
Batman ’66 is a must for me every month. That show, as in reruns in the 80s, was my foray into Batman as a kid. And it was great. The colors, the villains, it was like it jumped right off the comic page. My younger brother and I used to run around our backyard with a cardboard Bat-Shield and Batarangs my uncle cut out for us from a cardboard box. I still love that show to this day and I’ve wanted a book like this, a throwback to the Silver Age and the TV show, forever. A lot of great artists and writers work on it, and I’ve enjoyed every issue. But man, when it’s a month they have Tom Peyer in the writer’s chair, it is like reading a legitimate lost episode of the Adam West TV series. The voices of each character are so distinct, so perfect, that you can’t read it without hearing West or Ward or Romero, etc. I really want to see a Batman ’66 Chief O’Hara one-shot special.
And I think DC is hitting home runs with their ‘out of continuity’ titles. Sensation Comics with Wonder Woman (and Adventures of Superman before it…a title whose existence I still miss each month) distills those characters down to their purest essence. It’s fantastic. It’s like what the Batman and Superman Animated Series in the 90s did for those characters. It took years of stories, picked the best elements and just told good, solid, (for the most part) one and done adventures. Anyone can pick up any issue and enjoy a good, solid story with those characters.
I also can’t get enough of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil. There is such a history to that character and they play with all of it! And I couldn’t have told you thing one about Silver Surfer a year ago, but I’ve been enjoying every moment of the new series by Dan Slott and Mike and Laura Allred.
I’m really holding out hope that the original Justice Society, the ones with ties to World War II find their way back to DC Comics Publishing line. There is something about the idea of legacies in comics that intrigues me. That there were super heroes around for WWII. That those heroes then retired, but their adventures inspired a new generation of heroes later, who then in turn inspired another. It’s truly fascinating to me. I think that’s why I loved Starman so much.
DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR OTHER CREATORS OR PEOPLE LOOKING TO BECOME CREATORS?
The biggest thing I can say, and it might sound cliché is, don’t ever give up. If you are a storyteller. If you have something inside of you that can’t rest, that is clawing inside your mind to be made into reality, constantly creating worlds, characters and stories that have to be told, do it.
And create for yourself. Create something you want to read and enjoy, because, as the saying goes, you will not always please everyone. Some people will dig what you do, others won’t. And that is absolutely okay. It’s like loving a TV show that your friend could care less about. It doesn’t make the show any less enjoyable for you. You have to stick with it, because you’re constantly learning as you go, and the more you do, the better you will get. Andrew and I both feel like the latest issue, #5 (The Odd Couple) is the one where we finally found our footing. Issue Five!
We had people asking us why we were making an Issue Two when we didn’t ‘make a ton of money’ on the first issue. You can’t let that kind of thinking deter you from doing what you enjoy. Why does someone play guitar in that band even if they’re not a rock star? Why does that person paint if they’re not hanging in the Louvre? Because they have a passion and a soul to create. And I don’t care what medium it is – be it painting, music, books, or even comics – there is something inside of people, an intangible need to make art, to create. For some, it becomes a way to make a living. But just because it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t live for it. Live for your art. It makes the world a helluva better place for all of us.