SC: Comics are an inherently collaborative medium. On The Angry Geeks panel you mentioned how giving your collaborators a stake gives you a different quality of work in the end. Can you both talk a bit about how your collaborations came together for your most recent projects?
JD: The biggest thing is getting them on board. People who have heard me before are going to be bored with this metaphor but collaborating to make comics is exactly like dating. If you have a solid project on your own and you bring someone in who is also interested in what you’re doing that person is going to be willing to go to where you are. Contribute their own ideas, their own prospect, their own value. They’re willing to work with you if they are like “I’m not going to be able to pay for this page until next week”, that person is invested in the project and wants to be with you. On the other hand you can save up and get a bunch of money and pay someone. You’ll get the project at the end of the day but if a page needs correction that person will go “pay me for the correction.” So if I’m like “this panel doesn’t show enough anguish” the artist will be like “oh ya you’re right it does need more anguish.” It’s a relationship.
JC: So I try not to do the page rate thing. I like to make my collaboration 100 percent. Like I said at the panel, once you pay an artist for their work they are done. They’ve been paid and are on to the next thing. No big deal for them. If you get them on board and give them something that entices them but split it 50/50. So whenever you go to a show or they go to a show that this book sells. That’s not to say you can hand over a manuscript and tell them “you have to do this as I say”. So you do have to relinquish enough creative license over to your artist to allow them to put their input on it so it doesn’t become a chore. Not only do you have to be a good writer in terms of story, you have to be a good writer so that they have enough leeway and creative license to be able to do what makes them so special as an artist. So now you both become two loud beacons in a sea of many beacons.
SC: Speaking of your earlier work, do you guys have any lessons you’ve learned that you are bringing into your new work?
JD: I’ve just gotten better and more confident. Being able to say “no this works” or “no this doesn’t work” being able to move the book. Being able to confidently pitch the book. When an artist gets in bed with me, he or she knows, this is going to happen. This isn’t going away.
SC: Like “this isn’t a pipe dream.”
JD: Yes, to some degree. As much as you can promise anything in the comics industry. Tone wise, my book Rapid City: Below Zero was so dark that it kinda leaves a pleasingly bitter taste in the mouth. The stuff I’ve been working on since then has been intentionally lighter. It’s been difficult because I so easily fall into that grim and bleak mode. Like no, I’m going to have some characters smile!
JC: Oddly enough that’s easy to write, the bleak and the dark stuff. It’s so easy to write that it’s almost bland now. You know what I mean?
SC: Ya that makes sense, so it’s harder write happy. What about you Johnny, any lessons you’ve learned?
JC: Absolutely, one of the things is marketability. So you know I made Sartana which is a typical spaghetti western. It’s not supposed to feel good. Most spaghetti westerns, people are stabbing each other in the back and you don’t really know who the protagonist is sometimes. It was a mature audience kinda book. As I’ve been selling the book and marketing Surrounded by Death I’ve found that there are certain audiences that are attracted to certain things. Where a younger individual at NYCC with their parent is not going to pick up Sartana because there is nudity in it. So in the process of making my third book Clark & 5, which is not out yet, I purposefully restructured the story to appeal to a wider audience. So for the people I couldn’t market to at the table, this is very much a “YA” book. So I have one more chance that someone is leaving my table with my book in their hand.
SC: Awesome, this one is a little more specific to Surrounded by Death. I read the first book and I loved it. One of the things I like about it is how it side-steps a lot of zombie storytelling tropes. Your characters talk like how people really talk. For example I loved the conversations about how annoying “Todd” is. That’s something that would have festered in the back of stories until something boiled over.
JC: So full disclosure, Surrounded by Death was created by Mark Elliot out of San Diego. When I read his transcript, the script screamed “I am a comic book”. I was like “don’t make this into a novel, I know you have aspirations of bringing this to TV but a comic book would be a great first step for this.” Part of the voice of the book was individualizing the characters so that there aren’t dire stakes in the premise. Obviously dire stakes are outside of the mall, but inside the mall their living like its 1999. That’s why they are liberal enough to speak like everything is ok because they are pretending like the zombie apocalypse hasn’t happened. So in issue two you’ll find a counter balance of that.
SC: Well that’s all the questions I have but please plug anything you are working on. What is coming from you guys in the future?
JD: At NECC we started kicking around some ideas about how to get us out to the people. I was talking to Bob Salley and some other people and came up with this idea of doing barn-storming trips around the country. Someone told me that’s how Aerosmith got big. They would pick a map and would draw a 30 mile radius and fill up that radius with shows. That’s the plan.
SC: Wow! Great idea.
JD: The thing that makes it barn-storming is, we are going to do as many signings at local shops as we can in a day. Just to have the kinetic excitement of moving forward and presenting it as a package. Not just “comic creator Johnny C signing here on Saturday” but “you will be part of the barn-storming tour from Boston to Maine.” We’re hoping to do one up at White Mountain Comics in New Hampshire sometime within the next 40 days but it’s still in the works.
SC: If you’re in New Hampshire I’ll be there. How about you, Johnny?
JC: So I’m always looking for opportunity. This year I’m hoping to be a little bit more aggressive with doing shows and touring. I’ve centered my schedule around exhibiting in San Diego this year so I’ve got a table with Pat Loca. He makes his own books as well, he does amazing stuff. In between I’m going to try and do events like the barn-storming with Josh and I’ve got shows I’m affiliated with like NECC. I’m going to hopefully have my third book out Clark & 5 in early 2017. Just looking for opportunities. Bob Salley, the missing third in the creative trio here was kind enough to let me cross over with his comic strip Jasper’s Starlight Tavern. If you read the back of Surrounded by Death you saw that. Having cross-over like that creates a whole comic community.
SC: Well that was great. Thank you for allowing me to stumble through my questions!
Thanks again to Josh Dahl and Johnny C. Be sure to check out Josh Dahl’s Rapid City: Below Zero at www.belowzerocomic.com/free and check out Johnny C on twitter @JohnnyC138 and at www.facebook.com/YourJohnnyC ! Pick up the first issue of Surrounded by Death, I highly recommend it! I can’t wait for the next project from both of these guys.