It is often said, a rising tide lifts all boats, and in comics, especially independent comics, I believe that slogan is one creators should live by. Let’s face it, most people who read comics, read books from either Marvel or DC. A large portion of comic book readers never touches a so-called independent book. That includes books from Image, Dark Horse, IDW, ONI, or BOOM, which while independent comics, have the financial backing to draw in established talent from the Big Two. To ask someone to put down their Spider-Man book and give an independent comic a chance, is asking someone to step out of their comfort zone and to try something new. If you are going to ask that of someone, if you are going to ask for help establishing your creator owned comic and to spread the word about the series, then it is only fair that you in turn, help other creators do the same. Making comics is a lot harder to do than people think. Making good comics that people enjoy, even harder, but making comics that are financially profitable is truly a monumental task. No matter how good the art is, no matter how sound the writing, or crisp the colors, without that Marvel or DC label on the cover, you are going to need some help.
Enter COMIXTRIBE, a comic book publisher making huge waves in independent comics. Comixtribe has been consistently publishing A-Tier quality comics for five years now, showing fellow creators, retailers, and fans alike, that there are talented and determined people making comics outside the top five publishers that eat up the market share. That if you are brave enough to look past that latest Batman comic, you might just discover something truly special.
Take OXYMORON: THE LOVELIEST NIGHTMARE for example. A slick-looking title brought to life by the amazing art of Alex Cormack and colors of Jules Rivera and written by Comixtribe founder, Tyler James, and John Lees. My responsibilities for Comic Crusaders, often has me reading independent comics, and I can honestly say, that this book was the surprise book of 2015 for me. I went into the book expecting a sort of Deadpool/Joker analogue, and on a surface level, that is what Oxymoron is about, but the story that was told within this four-issue series took me for a wild ride on an emotional roller-coaster that I did not see coming, so much so that when I finished the book, I emailed my editor and thanked him for this assignment. This book… man, what can I say about this book without spoiling it. It is so much more than it appears, treads towards the darkest parts of humanity, and when it gets to that point where you think you saw it all, it rears back some more and just smashes your teeth in. It isn’t afraid to go there. To go to the places other books are scared to go. To show the villain not as some static trope that we have come to expect, rather explore his insanity and violence in such a real way that the story sends a chill down your spine and haunts you well past the last page. It is a great read, highly recommended!
Not only does Comixtribe has a treasure trove of such titles, bursting with talent and creativity, but their mission statement, “Creators helping creators make better comics,” shows that they appreciate their fan base and the comic community. More than appreciate, they genuinely care. Their website has one of the best resources, would be creators can find on making comics. The financials, the marketing, each step on this journey that Comixtribe has taken has been documented and commented, aired to the world so that we can learn from their mistakes and triumphs. It is extremely helpful and something that EVERY comic creator that dreams of self-publishing should read and absorb.
Comic Crusaders sat down with TYLER JAMES, co-founder of Comixtribe and writer of OXYMORON to talk comics, publishing, violence in pop culture, and how to score some FREE COMICS!
LETS START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
I started making my first comics when I was 12 years old. I sold my first comic out of my backpack in high school, sold nine copies for a dollar a piece. So, I guess that’s when you could say I first broke into the industry.
The term ‘break in’ is kind of a funny one, and one that you don’t hear in a lot of other industries. I’m very much a subscriber to the Yoda philosophy, ‘You do or do not, there is no try’ to break into comics. If you’re making comics, creating, putting them out in the world, trying to sell them — then hey, you’re in comics.
And it’s just a matter of how well you can scale that up. I first wanted to make comics when I realized, or had that ‘ah-ha’ moment, that comics weren’t something that just existed, they were actually created from people’s imaginations. When I first started reading comics, like Spider-Man, Superman and Batman, all these books that had been around well before I was born. I enjoyed the stories, but I also looked at them as things that just always were and always existed rather than something that was created.
It wasn’t until the Image Comics explosion of the early 90’s where I realized, “wait a minute these whole worlds can be created from absolutely nothing by the amount of talent and drive you have to bring these stories to life.” So that was the ‘ah-ha’ moment for me, where I decided, “Hey wait a minute” these guys actually aren’t much older than me are creating new books… why don’t I create my own?
That got me going.
CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? DO YOU WRITE A FULL SCRIPT OR DO YOU WRITE MARVEL STYLE?
My writing process is ever evolving. But in general I try not to sit down in front of the computer and face a white screen without being armed to the teeth with everything I need to have a solid and productive writing session.
So, I’ll spend days, weeks or sometimes months, or in some story cases even years working on outlines, and brainstorming and writing bits of dialogue and doing very rough, disgusting-looking layouts on scratch paper and working on a legal pad. I’ll make a list of pages and try to block in scenes and just doing as much work as I can away from the computer so that when I sit down, I have all this material to work with.
As long as I’ve been working the story through in my head for a long time, once I can just start writing and typing then I can get into a flow-state. That doesn’t mean I don’t have breakthroughs and change things and toss things out and completely re-works sections once I’m in that flow of writing, but it means that once I sit down I know that I can have a productive session even if all I’m doing is converting outlines and ideas I’ve already had put into a Google doc and work from there.
In general I write full script, I like having that control. Also I’m scared of the prospect of writing a more rough script, sending it off to an artist, and then having him come back with awesome pages, and now I’m under pressure to not ruin those great pages with dialogue that I have to come up with on the fly.
I like to deliver a script that I’m comfortable with to the artist ready to roll, one that’s passed muster with my editor, and I’m reasonably confident with.
On my recent collaboration with JOE MULVEY, however, we have been working a little bit more in the Marvel style, and Joe’s a talented storyteller and writer, so that’s worked out fine.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC 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?
One of the reasons I started Comixtribe.com was to share the lessons I’ve learned along the way as I’ve tried to build a career in comics. I think a lot of creators, when they get into this, there is so much that they don’t know. It’s very important to educate yourself on all the various aspects of what it takes to create comics and build a career in comics.
I think we’re living in a fabulous time to be a creator. There’s never been more information out there on how the process works. Writers and artists have never been more connected. The fact that you can work with creators all over the world is amazing. There’s also a ton of great avenues for distribution including web comics, Comixology and Kickstarter. It’s a great time to be a creator.
That said, it’s also very easy to spend a lot of time spinning your wheels doing anything and everything other than what’s really going to move yourself forward, as a creator and that’s creating comics and making connections with your peers. So, the biggest mistake I think a lot of creators that want to build a great career in comics make, they spend 95 percent of their time worrying about breaking into comics or how they can make comics instead of just rolling up their sleeves, putting pencil to paper or writing their scripts and finding artists to collaborate with, and actually making a lot of comics.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
The piece of advice I would give to any creator looking to break into comics in today’s market is to understand that it’s never been easier to make comics and there has never been more competition in the comics’ space. So you need to choose yourself. Don’t wait for someone to pick you. Go out there and create your first book. Put it out there and start building your audience one reader at a time. No one is going to make it for you, that’s on you. There’s a ton of great resources out there to improve your craft. And it’s up to you to take advantage of them.
WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR THE CHARACTER OXYMORON COME FROM AND WHAT INFLUENCES MOLDED HIM TO THE CHARACTER HE IS TODAY?
The Oxymoron character came out of a challenge that I created for myself and then shared with others. It was called the 30 Characters Challenge, and it was a challenge to create 30 characters in 30 days, one character each day for every day in November. And that was something I started to get myself out of a creative rut about 6 years ago. I shared it on a blog and invited other creators to participate.
The first year we had about 26 people participating, the next year about 250 and by year 3 over 1,000. And during one of those challenges, I think it was day 28 or something, so it was near the end, I had been creating characters that were analogs to big archetypical Marvel and DC super team characters. I had created a bunch of Superman, Batman, Flash analogs, a bunch already, and now I needed a villain. And I wanted to come up with a villain that evoked a sense of Joker style villainy.
One of my favorite movies of all time is SEVEN, and I had the idea of a villain obsessed with contradiction. So, all his crimes were about going after hypocrites. This might have been during a heating election. Politically, there’s nothing worse than a politician that says one thing and does another. And so, that was sort of the idea of a character whose crimes were all based on contradiction. That was the rough idea and sketch we used that character in the Red Ten, a series I created with CESAR FELICIANO and he played the role of essentially a patsy in that series. The book’s been out for a while so it’s a bit of a spoiler, but he’s dead the first issue. But there was such a tremendous reaction to this character’s image and just interest in the character and the idea behind the character when we released the Red Ten #1 that it was clear to me that I made a horrible mistake killing him off, and that I should at least find a way to use the character.
So I ended up reaching out to a half-dozen of some of my favorite writers and artists in the comic book industry, and said “Hey, DC isn’t hiring you to write an awesome Joker story, but Comixtribe would love to have a short story where you just go to town on a serial killer obsessed with contradiction and do your best, worst, on this kind of story.” And so they did. We put together an anthology of ten Oxymoron stories and put that on Kickstarter and raised $26,000 for it. So clearly there was acute interest in the character. I worked with John Lees on a story that he wrote and I drew for that anthology. There was another story that was great; ALEX CORMACK had drawn an outstanding Oxymoron story. So that collaborative experience laid the foundation for The Loveliest Nightmare mini-series.
WHICH OF THE CHARACTERS IN THE OXYMORON SERIES IS YOUR FAVORITE TO WRITE?
No question Oxymoron is an awesome character to write for. It’s just fun writing a villain. And a villain with an ethos but who’s very unpredictable…that’s fun to scribe. However, one of the things I like the most about the new Oxymoron miniseries is that for the first issue he’s very much off-scene. Sort of like the shark in Jaws, you know he’s out there, the question was when he’s going to show up, and when he shows up he does so in spectacular fashion.
Writing Oxymoron’s dialogue, writing and orchestrating the set pieces of carnage and mayhem he puts together is pretty awesome. But the real star of Oxymoron is Mary Clark, to a slightly lesser extent Debra Deanie, who really shines in the final issue. And a lot of that is a testament to the heart that John Lees added to the character. He worked hard to make her a well-rounded, strong, vulnerable, flawed human being. And so there’s no question we’re excited to tell more of the Swanstown Saga in future Oxymoron mini-series.
ALEX CORMACK WAS AMAZING ON ART DUTIES FOR THE SERIES. HOW DID YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH ALEX BEGIN AND DO YOU HAVE ANY PROJECTS SCHEDULED TOGETHER FOR THE FUTURE?
Alex is awesome. He is a creator who is actually semi-local to me. We met for the first time at a drink-and-draw meet up at Larry’s Wonderful World of Comics in Massachusetts, a comics shop not too far from where I live. And it’s been an amazing five or so years since I’ve known Alex and to see how he’s grown as an artist, and man, does he have a spectacular future ahead of him. He’s a tremendous artist, and nobody draws a scarier, more wicked or insane Oxymoron more than Alex. He just shines on that character. He’s said that Oxymoron, in all of comics, is his favorite character. So, he was definitely the right person to bring in. He did an eight page short in the Oxymoron anthology that is just devilishly disgusting and an outstanding piece of visual art. And we don’t have anything to announce yet for future stuff with Alex but he is incredibly prolific and always has a home with Comixtribe.
YOU CO-WROTE THE LOVELIEST NIGHTMARE WITH JOHN LEES, THE WRITER ON “AND THEN EMILY IS GONE.” CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE EXPERIENCE OF CO-WRITING A SCRIPT? HOW DO YOU AND JOHN SPLIT WRITING DUTIES, WHILE MANAGING TO CAPTURE A SINGULAR VOICE. ARE THERE ANY TIPS YOU CAN SHARE WITH OUR READERSHIP THAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL TO CREATORS LOOKING TO FORM WRITING PARTNERSHIPS?
This was my first experience co-writing with another writer and it was a tremendous one. JOHN LEES and I spent a month to six weeks basically just going back and forth in a Google doc tossing out ideas, tossing out the themes we wanted to explore, ideas for character story arcs, set pieces, scenes we knew we wanted to have in series. Just talked and discussed in an asynchronous conversation about what it is we were trying to achieve with this series.
Some of the things that were important to both John and myself was that we wanted to strip away the super hero theatrics of this book and ground it into more grim and gritty real world cop vs. serial killer cerebral thriller similar to a Hannibal or Seven. And John was absolutely the perfect person to help me deliver on this vision.
As far as the splitting of the duties, once we had spent the six weeks getting a feel for where this story was going and breaking down on a high level what the narrative arcs for both Mary and the Oxymoron were going to be. Then John went and scripted a first draft, and when that came back I slipped into an editorial position where I reviewed what he had, gave him feedback, in some cases suggested certain scene restructuring. I did some dialogue tweaking edits. It was a process of going back and forth and really trying to get this thing to be as lean as we possibly can. I think that early exploratory discussion phase and extending that for a long time before a single page or paragraph or line of dialogue was written was extremely important because it made sure we were both on the same page and I would definitely suggest anyone looking to do a co-writing scenario do something similar. Or at least have a series of conversations prior to writing anything. It’s important to know you’re on the same page about where you’re going before starting on writing.
THE LOVELIEST NIGHTMARE IS A VERY DARK STORY AND STRIKES A HAUNTING CHORD WHEN REFLECTED AGAINST THE REAL WORLD VIOLENCE THAT HAS BECOME COMMONPLACE IN AMERICAN SOCIETY. WHAT WAS THE THOUGHT PROCESS ON SOME OF THE DARKER CHOICES YOU MADE IN THE STORY AND HOW MUCH OF REAL LIFE VIOLENCE INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION MAKING?
Yes. We definitely go to some dark places in this book. And there’s a lot there. It’s a dense read. It can be read completely on an escapism/dark horror yarn. And the readers that are looking for a break from the monotony of their daily struggles I think this book offers that. I think we did ‘go there’ in terms of hitting on some hot-button political issues, including the weigh in on the gun control debate and the sort of lunacy of that, and the fact that more guns are supposed to make us safer when statistically and rationally that has never been the case. We dive into police corruption issues, media culpability, and we really do try to make this a book about something. And at the same time, there’s a flip that happens halfway through the book. Prior to issue three, a lot of the reviews and reader reaction painted Oxymoron almost as an anti-hero, and someone you might be rooting for. By the end of issue three we wanted to turn that on its head and force the reader to make a decision and say, “this guy is not a nice guy.” He’s a killer, and that is nasty and brutish and not something that deserves fawning and admiration. And so you see, we wanted to go to the places where DC editorial would never have the balls to go, because they need to sell a lot of Joker shirts and make him palatable as a cartoon as well. So, that, for us was important for us to at least stake a claim on. This was always going to be a book that tried to zig where you thought would zag. And part of that was just being real, tackling violence head on. Not in a glorification sort of way, but showing the ugliness that violence and that chaos trying to show how adversely that affects real people.
YOU ARE THE CO-FOUNDER AND PUBLISHER OF COMIXTRIBE. WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO START YOUR OWN PUBLISHING COMPANY AND HOW DID COMIX TRIBE GET UP AND RUNNING?
Yes. I co-founded Comixtribe in 2011 STEVE FORBES, who’s the editor in chief, the author of one several of our most consistent columns for creators. And the main reason I started Comixtribe was because I was no longer creating comics alone. I was working with other awesome collaborators. I mentioned making my first comics when I was twelve years old but the fact is I stayed and continued to make comics entirely by myself until 25 or 26 and it wasn’t until then that I actually started working with other creators on collaborations, which led to the work being stronger. I came to the point where for me to be putting these books out in the world they needed to be under an imprint that was about something more than just me. So Comixtribe was sort of born out of that and one of our key differentiators was that we were going to be sharing everything we learned on our publishing journey along the way, and offer creators behind us on their own personal creative journeys, the opportunity to learn from us. So that’s something we’ve done since 2011, and something we continue to do today.
THE MISSION STATEMENT OF COMIX TRIBE IS “CREATORS HELPING CREATORS MAKE BETTER COMICS.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU AS A PUBLISHER AND HOW DO YOU ENVISION COMIX TRIBE BEING ABLE TO ACCOMPLISHING THIS GOAL?
Yes, “creators helping other creators make better comics,” really drives so much of the content put out on Comixtribe.com. There’s Steve Forbes’ Bolts and Nuts column, which is like a comic book writing 101 classes all the way to a master class. And his “The Proving Grounds” series is the only comic book editing column that’s been weekly and lasted five years. It’s a tremendous body of work and a tremendous service to so many writers. And I am an educator by both training and by heart, so it’s always been important to me to share what I’ve learned along the way. It’s also how I learn best, by doing something, trying something and sharing what I’ve learned with others so I can get feedback on that and fully remember it better myself as I move on and learn new lessons.
I do think there’s more that we can do and I’m busy as we come upon our fifth year anniversary, plotting out what the next five years of Comixtribe is going to look like. I want to go deeper and I want to help creators in more tangible way.
One of the ways I’ve been doing that is the Comixlaunch podcast, which is a super focused podcast on the subject I get asked the most about: crowdfunding comics and graphic novels. I’ve been able to run and manage seven projects now that have raised over $160,000 on the Kickstarter platform. I really do see that platform as a game changer for creators. So I made the effort this year to hone in on that one area and go super deep on providing the absolute best resources for creators interested in crowdfunding. I will continue that in 2016. We are starting The Comixlaunch Course and will be taking a handful of creators step by step through the process of planning, building, and launching their first, or next, Kickstarter projects. So, I’m excited about that. And we’re also working on other things that will help creators launch.
THE WORLD OF COMICS HAS CHANGED DRASTICALLY IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, FROM THE EMERGENCE OF DIGITAL COMICS ON PLATFORMS SUCH AS COMIXOLOGY, THE INFLUX OF INDEPENDENT COMICS CIRCULATING TODAY’S MARKET, AND EVEN THE INCREASE IN CONVENTIONS BEING HELD ACROSS THE GLOBE. HOW HAS THE RISE OF THE WORLD OF COMICSAFFECTED YOU AS A PUBLISHER AND CREATOR AND HOW DO YOU SEE IT AFFECTING THE INDUSTRY IN THE FUTURE?
Yeah that’s a big, big, question, and the landscape is definitely always in flux. That’s the one constant you can depend on. It is as tough as ever to get books ordered in comic book shops. The competition is extremely fierce and with the big two, double shipping and releasing tons of variants, it’s very hard for small press publishers like Comixtribe to make an impact in the direct market. That said, there have never been more other channels available to creators. Comixology Submit is open to everyone. The Internet is open to everyone. And again, platforms like Kickstarter allow first time creators and established creators alike to flip the distribution model and become the first people to get paid for work instead of the last people to get paid in a lot of ways. So, it’s an exciting time. I think the important thing for creators to recognize is, it’s incumbent upon you to build your own audience; do that by putting out marketable work and letting everyone know about it, and then doing that on a consistent basis, week by week. So I don’t think that’s going to change at all. We’re always looking at ways to expand our reach into comic book retail. But, we’re also looking at other channels like direct-to-consumer, Amazon and all the various digital channels. So we’re trying to be flexible and take things as they come but not get so caught up in the channels that we lose sight of what’s important, and that’s making extraordinary, quality independent comics.
YOU ARE STRANDED ON A DESERTED ISLAND. YOU CAN HAVE ONE MUSIC ALBUM, ONE MOVIE/TV SHOW/ AND ONE BOOK TO READ. WHAT WILL IT BE?
Ok. I’m stranded on that desert island: I will be listening to A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, I’ll be watching Braveheart, I’ll grab Game of Thrones for my TV show and I’ll take A Tale of Two Cities for my one book.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
I’m way behind on comic book reading, I’m sad to say, but I did just get all caught up on AMERICAN VAMPIRE, it was great. I think SECRET WARS is awesome, I hope it finishes up strong. I’m really enjoying NAILBITER by Josh Williamson from Image Comics.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
I’m still just trying to finish up 2015 strong. I haven’t even looked ahead to the comic convention schedule for 2016, though I probably should because it’s right around the corner. Our tent pole shows are usually Boston Comic Con and New York Comic Con. That’s for Comixtribe. I spend Free Comic book day usually up at Jetpack Comics in Rochester, New Hampshire. And we’re going to try to pepper in a few more shows throughout the year. So those are the ones where I know you’ll be able to find me. Otherwise stay tuned to comixtribe.com for that. I’d also like to let your readers know if they go to comixtribe.com/subscribe they can get five free comics on us. If this is the first time you’re hearing of us or have been curious about us and what we do go to comixtribe.com/subscribe and snag yourself a sample.