Charles Dowd is right. There aren’t enough comics for young girls on today’s comic book market. Chatting with him, I remembered my own experience taking my four-year-old daughter to the comic book store. It honestly never dawned on me before, how little clothing female superheroes wear. Look I get it, those covers sell, and I am sure there are more than a few examples of these types of covers in my own comic book collection, but that wasn’t how I wanted my daughter to be introduced to comics. I wanted her to read something cool, something that showed a female as strong and capable and fully dressed. Something she could inspire to, just like I inspired to be like Superman when I was a kid.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some great options out there for young female readers, if you are willing to search the new release wall. Jeremy Whitley’s PRINCELESS is fantastic. PLANET GIGANTIC by Eric Grissom and David Halvorson is another great book that my daughter loves and while the costume choices aren’t all that modest, Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES does a good job portraying the female characters in an empowering way in an action heavy story.
I’m sure there are more I am missing, and that is the fun of bringing my daughter to the comic book store with me. To see what catches her eye and the joy of discovering a new great book that we can read together.
LILITH DARK is one of those books. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the graphic novel and sat down with my daughter to check the book out, a rare chance to combine bedtime with my after hours, Comic Crusaders duties. I sat there and read to my daughter, page after page, noticing that she wasn’t any closer to falling asleep than when I started. One hundred and fifty-five pages later, we finished the book and my daughter looked up at me with a smile, and asked me to read it again.
It was a fund read, age appropriate to young readers, with action, humor, and heart. Reading it, I thought back to my own experiences as a child, when my father read to me Where the Wild Things Are, and Lilith Dark brought to mind that same sense of excitement and wonder. The characters all feel authentic; the action is non-stop and the tone a little bit spooky.
Comic Crusaders recently had the chance to sit down with Charles Dowd and talk comics, breaking into the world of Children’s Books, as well as the trials and tribulations of a Kickstarter.
LETS START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO BE A COMIC CREATOR?
I’ve actually been creating comics since elementary school. Sunday comics were something I always looked forward to, and I’d do my best to draw my own comics based on my favorites. They were terrible, but everybody has to start somewhere!
My first published comic strip was an observational humor comic starring a rabbit named Bunky and ran in my middle school paper. Bunky was well received but that was also my first experience with censorship, as some of Bunky’s observations were apparently too controversial for the editors.
When I got to high school a buddy introduced me to comic books, and I was all in. This was the early ’90s and I started collecting X-Force, Punisher Warzone, Sam Kieth’s Marvel Comics Presents featuring Wolverine and Ghost Rider, and then all those artists left Marvel and started Image. It was so exciting!
Me and my friends started creating new characters and passing our original comics back and forth in class. Most of them were really just, very bad X-book rip offs, but there are a few nuggets of creativity in there.
WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS. AS THE WRITER AND ARTIST HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT CRAFTING THE COMIC? DO YOU WORK FROM A SCRIPT OR THUMB NAILS?
For me, my script and thumbnails are often one in the same. I usually start with a loosely written plot, and then try to work out the beats in my sketchbook. Once I’m thumb nailing, I begin to try to nail down the dialogue. So there’s never really a proper script when I’m writing it myself. I figure that’s OK since I’m creating a visual story, and not a novel.
I also collaborate with my KIDTHULHU co-creator, MARTIN BRANDT. Martin is the main writer on that series, and we sort of use our version of the Marvel Method of storytelling. He writes the script, and I draw it the way I see it, then we make the dialogue fit. I think it kind of drives him crazy, but I warned him that I was difficult to work with before we ever got together! I think we make fun stories together though, so hopefully it’s worth the trouble of dealing with me.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC BOOK CREATOR? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
I’ve had a blast! Comics are such a close community of fans and creators, and most are amazingly supportive and encouraging of one another. I’ve made a lot of very good friends by attending conventions and participating in online discussions. Creating comics has given me purpose in life, and now I’m in too deep to ever get out!
One thing I’d maybe do differently is to be more prepared. I just jumped in with no idea of what to expect and I’ve definitely had to learn some things the hard way because of it, but at least I’ve learned! So to anyone looking to break in, talk to other creators on Twitter. Join a Facebook group and learn from some more experienced creators. Be open minded to new ideas and strategies. Go to cons and walk up and down Artist’s Alley and talk to some creators. Trust me, the folks in AA are always happy to discuss their work. That’s one of the reasons they’re there in the first place. And if an artist takes some time to chat with you, buy a damn book!
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR/ARTIST LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
I’d say number one is to be respectful to your fans and colleagues. We all know who the jerks are, and they often end up ostracized. If you’re gonna go on Twitter and rant about hating whatever the comic companies are doing, then you can be pretty sure that none of the editors at those companies will ever hire you. And if you’re only interested in self-publishing, you’ll want to have friends and allies who’ll help promote your work. Acting like a spoiled angry brat won’t get you very far.
Beyond that, write and draw every day! You might think you’re as good as you’ll ever be right now, but you’re not. Keep working and improving. If you’re going to try and make it in comics then you’re going to be competing with Jim Lee and Jim Lee is amazing. Until you can draw better than Jim Lee, you haven’t finished learning yet.
LILITH DARK IS A REAL FUN ALL AGES STORY THAT REMINDED ME ALOT OF WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, WHICH IS MY FAVORITE CHILDHOOD STORY. WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR THAT STORY AND WHERE DID THE CHARACTERS COME FROM?
As a fan of Maurice Sendak, I take that as a huge compliment! There are definitely more than a few nods to Where the Wild Things Are, as well as many references to some of the stuff I grew up with like The Never Ending Story, The Gate, Calvin & Hobbes and more.
Lilith Dark was born from an experience I had at my local comic shop. My daughter was seven at the time, and I took her out to get her some comics. When we got there though, the only thing really appropriate for her was a random Strawberry Shortcake book. All of the other books featuring women and girls were all hyper-sexualized. I never realized how bad the problem was until that day. So I decided to create my own book featuring a non-sexualized female hero that kids could relate to. I also wanted to avoid making the book “frilly” or “girly”. I wanted my hero to fight monsters and ride a dinosaur! So Lilith Dark was born.
Lilith aesthetically is sort of a caricature of my daughter, Allison. Lilith’s brother Dewey is based on my son, CJ, and a lot of Lilith and Dewey’s bickering is based on real life arguments between them.
THE EVIL CAT HAD A CREEPY VIBE TO IT IN EACH SCENE. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION TO HAVING AN ANTAGONIST THAT IS A CUTE KITTEN AND CAN TURN INTO AN EVIL CAT MONSTER?
Thank you! I’m a crazy cat person. I’ve always had cats, and right now we have three. I love cats, and in the book Lilith loves them too, but I also firmly believe that cats are inherently evil. “Lilith Dark” has a sort of horror tone to it, and what’s scarier than an adorable kitten that becomes a bloodthirsty beast? Not much!
YOUR PROJECTS FOCUS ON ALL AGES STORIES, SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUNG GIRLS. WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO CREATE THESE STORYS?
I do it all in the name of my daughter. When I started working on “Lilith Dark” there weren’t very many comics for kids, and the few that existed didn’t feature any female leads. I thought that stunk, so rather than complain about it on Twitter, I did something about it. I always have kids and parents come up to me at cons thanking me for writing stories with girls in them. I mean, women and girls read comic, too, and the fact that there weren’t any books catering to those readers seemed crazy to me. I guess someone at the Big Two realized how crazy it was too, and now we have Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Hellcat, Squirrel Girl and others. A lot of progress has been made, but I’m going to do my part to keep that trend going until it’s not seen as just a trend anymore.
YOU ENTERED THE REALM OF CHILDREN’S BOOKS WITH THE A TO Z GUIDE OF JOBS FOR GIRLS. HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE TRANSITIONING FROM COMICS TO CHILDREN’S BOOK CREATOR AND WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO WORLDS FOR CREATORS?
I love it! I didn’t have any trouble transitioning at all. Comics and Children’s Books are just words and pictures, right? To me, I’m just doing the same thing I have been, but for a slightly younger audience. I’ve always loved reading kid’s books and it’s always been a goal of mine to write my own, so the transition felt very natural. The theme of the book is also one of female empowerment, so it fits right into what my audience expects from me. I’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback on the A to Z Guide. I’m very proud of it.
As far as I can tell, and I can only really speak from my own personal experience, the main difference between kid’s books and comics is the audience. I’m finding that the folks who are interested in my comics are also interested in my kid’s books, but that doesn’t necessarily go the other way. For whatever reason, kid’s books appeal more to the mainstream, while comics are more niche market. Why that is, I don’t know, but I don’t find it all that surprising. So for me as a creator, I think it’s smart to try to get some crossover.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR NEW KICKSTARTER THAT YOU ARE LAUNCHING FOR PENNY POWERS VS THE MANIACAL MEATLOAF MONSTER.
I’m so excited about Penny Powers! In the Charlieverse™, Lilith Dark is sort of my Batman, and Penny Powers is kind of my Superman. While Lilith’s tone is darker, Penny is the antithesis of that. Penny Powers is the beloved super powered defender of Plainsburg, a town that sort of has a “Cloverfield” problem, and Penny’s the one who takes care of the monsters that try to destroy the town. In this book, one of Penny’s classmates eats a radioactive slice of meatloaf and of course turns into the Maniacal Meatloaf Monster. MMM is immune to Penny’s super strength, so she has to figure out a way to defeat the monster with her brains instead of her brawn.
The book is for kids and has all the things my readers love… monsters, cats, heroics, and meatloaf jokes! It’s designed to be a comic and kid’s book hybrid of sorts. I’m hoping to get kid’s book and comic fans on the same page with this one.
HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE PREPARING FOR A KICKSTARTER BEEN SO FAR? IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER CREATORS LOOKING TO LAUNCH A KICKSTARTER THEMSELVES IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
I’m becoming a Kickstarter veteran at this point, I think! Kickstarter has been very good to me so far. Thankfully my readers, who are some of the most supportive folks in the world, like the platform. Without their support Kickstarter would work about as well as me just screaming out my bedroom window. I think for most creators like myself, successfully funding a project on Kickstarter is very humbling. It’s really an exercise in humility equivalent to standing in the middle of a cold dark room asking strangers to tell you that you’re pretty.
If I had to give someone a piece of advice before launching a Kickstarter, I’d say to be sure to have a pre-existing audience, even if it’s just a small one. Ask you’re audience if they’d even bother supporting you, and don’t hit that Launch button without having at least 25 people committed to pledging. If you can get 25 people to pledge $20 each, you just made $500, and that’s a good starting point for anyone trying to print their first book.
WHAT COMICS AND CREATORS INSPIRED YOU GROWING UP AS A CHILD?
I cut my teeth on the Sunday funnies, so guys like Jim Davis, Charles Schultz and Bill Watterson are some of my earliest influences. Back in the 80’s there were a ton of just crazy, nonsensical, fantasy and horror films always on TV like Critters, Legend, Texas Chainsaw, The Dark Crystal, etc. Those films grabbed me in a way that very little has since.
I also read a lot of children’s books, even as a teen. I was an art kid, and I liked to study the art in those books. Sendak was always a favorite, so was Beatrix Potter. I tried to convey sort of watercolor, coloring style for Lilith Dark, based on a lot of the art from those books.
As far as comic books, I started reading in the ’90s so I was a huge fan of anything Image. Those guys were like punk rock rebels sticking it to the man, and I loved it! In hindsight, not all of those early image titles were as good as I remember, but for better or worse those are the books that got me hooked on the medium!
YOU ARE ON A DESERT ISLAND AND CAN HAVE ONE MUSIC ALBUM, ONE MOVIE/TV SHOW, AND ONE NOVEL. WHA WOULD THEY BE?
Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Evil Dead 2, and Lord of the Flies.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
Saga and The Walking Dead never disappoint and I always catch those in trade. I’m not reading any other monthly titles right now, but I do like to grab graphic novels like Mike Maihack’s CLEOPATRA IN SPACE and the BIG NATE COMICS. Oh and my favorite web comic is definitely John MacLeod’s SPACE KID, which is just great.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
My only confirmed date this year is for the Baltimore Comic-Con in September. I’ll be a part of the Kids Love Comics pavilion once again. Last year was a blast and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in store this year. Other than that, I’m online everyday and always available to discuss comics or whatever else.