I had the pleasure of being on the Final Issue Podcast. It’s one of my favorite comics podcasts, and we had a blast. Give it a listen!
Action Lab marketing/promotions guru Jamal Igle asked me to write a few words about how Ghoul Scouts happened. The fine folks at SpartanTown, First Comics News, and An Englishman in San Diego have been kind enough to run an excerpt of the essay I sent Jamal.
Here’s the essay in its entirety:
Ghoul Scouts development began back in 2007, in an email exchange with a friend discussing our weekends. She did normal things like spending time with friends and playing video games. For me, any time that wasn’t devoted to having fun with my son, Chance, was focused solely on making comics. As many comics folk will tell you, making comics can be an all-consuming pastime that leaves little room for other interests.
Her: I LOVE that you related being able to play “Dead Rising” to being more “well-rounded.”
Me: Zombie killing is a skill that creates well-rounded people. Everyone knows that. It’s in Chance’s Cub Scout manual, page 147. He can earn a zombie-killing badge and everything.
And it snowballed from there.
I was most excited about having a comic I made that I could share with my son. He was 7 years old when the above discussion took place. This would be the perfect book to read with him!
The original title of the series was Zomboy Scouts, and it featured a group of boys trying to get home from a scouting campout during a zombie outbreak. At the conclusion of the adventure, the boys would realize that there was something strange about their town and that they were the only line of defense against the weirdness. The second volume would introduce an all-girls rival group called the Ghoul Scouts, and we’d have two companion series: one starring four boys and one starring four girls.
I had so much worked out in my head: a series, a spin-off, a couple of cool titles and a number of plots, but I didn’t have an artist. I write and draw comics, but, as an artist, it’s important to understand when your style is appropriate, and when it is not. I can occasionally work in a cartoony style, but there’s a lot of struggle to get the artwork looking consistent and polished. I needed to find someone who could breathe life into these characters. Finding the right artist for a project can be a time-consuming process. Believe me, I know.
Enter Mark Stegbauer. Mark has spent years inking superhero and adventure comics, and he does it well. However, Mark is a crazy-talented cartoonist, as well. After seeing his creator-owned title Doctor Goyle, which he writes and draws, I knew his style was perfect for Ghoul Scouts.
In 2014—seven years after starting to play with the idea of scouts versus zombies—Mark and I started work together on the Zomboy Scouts pitch. Early in the process, I started sharing pitch text and story beats with Chris Murrin, whose editorial insights have been invaluable to my Athena Voltaire work. Chris loved the premise and characters, but wasn’t crazy about the title.
After living with it for years, I wasn’t about to change the title, just because Chris couldn’t see the brilliance of it. Nope. I was digging my heels in on this one.
The next morning, though, I realized that Chris was right. The title Zomboy Scouts made it seem like our heroes would only be fighting zombies, but our plans for upcoming stories have them encountering all sorts of monsters! Ghoul Scouts worked better, and combining the boys and girls into one group from the outset made for a much stronger story and cast.
Ding ding ding! Both Chris and Mark loved this change, and we were off and running. All we needed now was someone to color the book.
Choosing a color artist for a comic sounds easy, but is an incredibly difficult proposition. Comic book coloring, in effect, marries the sensibilities of two separate artists into a single visual style. We were fortunate that my old friend and collaborator Jason Millet was available and enthusiastic about the project. Better still, the entire team was delighted with how Mark’s and Jason’s approaches meshed. We also lucked out when the indefatigable Drew Browne came aboard as a color assistant/flatter.
Eight-and-a-half years have passed since that initial email. My son is no longer in Cub Scouts—he’s 15! I never got to read Zomboy Scouts to him, but he’s excited to read Ghoul Scouts himself. He knows which elements of the kids are based on him, and he can spot the inside jokes I’ve peppered throughout the series just for him.
I’m even more excited now—excited that kids everywhere will soon be able to meet this team of intrepid scouts and join them on their journey. I’m eager to share all the wonders of the series and its environs with them: from the town of Full Moon Hollow, to the woods outside town throughout Hemlock County, to the mysteries surrounding Wolfsbane Cemetery.
Grab your sleeping bag and come join us, won’t you?
June 8, 2016! Ghoul Scouts comes to great comic shops everywhere! In addition to Mark Stegbauer’s beautiful cover, we have some amazing variant covers by Mike Norton and Sean Izaakse!
To help you in your buying choices, here’s a preview of the issue.
PITTSBURGH, PA- Globetrotting aviatrix Athena Voltaire takes on Nazis, occult science, and mythical creatures against the backdrop of the 1930s. Now she’s bringing her knuckle-dusting style of pulp adventure to Action Lab Entertainment.
“I’m proud to add Athena Voltaire to such a diverse line of quality books,” said writer/artist Steve Bryant, whose all-ages series Ghoul Scouts debuts at Action Lab in June. “I’ve known the Action Lab folks for years, and after working with them on Ghoul Scouts, I knew they were the perfect publisher for Athena Voltaire.”
“I’m ecstatic for Steve to join the Action Lab family, and I can’t think of a better home for Athena than Action Lab. We have a proud history of publishing strong female characters, and Athena Voltaire is sure to stand shoulder to shoulder with Princeless, Aero-Girl, Nutmeg and Fight Like a Girl.” said ALE President Dave Dwonch.
Athena Voltaire launched as part of the Modern Tales family of webcomics in 2002 and was nominated for a Best Digital Comic Eisner Award in 2005. The feature was included in St. Martin’s The Year’s Best Graphic Novels, Comics and Manga (2004 edition), and has subsequently garnered Manning and Harvey Award nominations, as well.
A re-release of the hardcover Athena Voltaire Compendium will mark the heroine’s Action Lab debut, followed by Athena Voltaire and the Volcano Goddess, an all-new 3-issue mini-series. Additional planned releases include a one-shot special and a prose collection.
The creative teams are available for interviews and promotional opportunities. For more information retailers can reach Vito Delsante at email@example.com.
Press and conventions you can reach Jamal Igle at jigle@actionlabcomics.
Ghoul Scouts, an all-ages coming of age series in the vein of Monster Squad and Goonies, is coming to Action Lab Entertainment!
A coming of age series? Yeah, it’s like Stand by Me or the Sandlot—but with monsters!
Here’s the promo text:
Something stranger than usual haunts Full Moon Hollow, Paranormal Capital of the World. Adults either can’t see it, can’t remember it, or go crazy from it. So when zombies attack during the Hemlock County Jamboree, only a group of misfit scouts can save the Hollow. Be prepared. Be very prepared.
This is a series I’ve wanted to do for years—ever since my son was in Cub Scouts—he’s 15 now!
Ghoul Scouts is written by me, drawn by Mark Stegbauer, and colored by Jason Millet, with Chris Murrin on the edits, and Drew Browne on color assist.
Yesterday, I told readers how important it is that they preorder their favorite comics—particularly the titles not published by the Big Two, where every single order truly makes a difference.
But it’s just as important to make preordering as easy as possible.
After your book is completed and solicited in Previews, you’re not done. In fact, you haven’t really started. None of us have any reasonable expectation that anyone outside our immediate family should buy our books. The rest of the world needs two things: 1) Your readership needs to see just how cool your book is, and 2) You need to make preordering the book as easy as possible.
1) You can say your book will die if readers don’t preorder it, but guilt is a crummy way to motivate someone. Instead, SHOW them what’s cool about your book, by providing a preview of every issue. Share it on your website, on your Facebook page, on your Twitter feed, and on any forums you frequent. Don’t be a pest, and don’t be obnoxious about it. But you can’t expect readers to preorder it sight unseen. Show them.
I know some creators say it’s the publisher’s responsibility to provide previews. If your publisher does, that’s great. But the reality is, no matter how awesome your publisher is, NO ONE has a greater interest in your success than you do. Own it.
2) Make it easy for a new reader to preorder the book. When you’re posting those online previews, include a downloadable preorder form with your book’s title, the Diamond preorder code, the publisher’s name, and the Previews page where your book can be found. Space for the reader’s contact info, quantity of the issue, and the option to add it to a pull list are necessary. Top it off with a logo and the cover and you’re good to go.
I’ve included a couple preorder forms as examples. One is for Dave Wachter’s Guns of Shadow Valley collection and the other is a form I designed for Ray-Anthony Height’s Midnight Tiger. I also have a blank Adobe Illustrator template that I can’t get to upload to Weebly, but will be glad to email you. If you’d like the blank template, or if you’re not proficient in Illustrator and would like me to design a preorder form for you (free!), drop me a line at SteveBryantArt at gmail dot com and I’ll whip one up for you.
In my last post, I suggested an experiment. If you plan on preordering independent comics, share what you’re ordering via social media and use the hashtag #PreorderIndie. This isn’t limited to fans and readers. As creators who want people to preorder your book, you should be at the forefront of this. Tell everyone what you’re preordering.
We’re living in an amazing time for comics. Readers can get their favorite titles in a variety of formats, from the traditional single issue to trade paperbacks, and a variety of digital formats. Comics are being adapted into other mediums and embraced by the general public. The creator/reader relationship has never been closer, thanks to the growth in conventions and the accessibility that social media brings.
The possibilities feel endless.
But comics, particularly those published outside of the Big Two, largely still live and die by their print preorders.
The days of being able to browse every new book on the stands are over. Retailer margins are thin and they need to carefully consider what to order for their store. Simply put, if a title doesn’t get decent preorder numbers, the publisher may not be able to justify printing the book at a loss. And it may be cancelled before it reaches the “New This Week” rack.
The best way that you can be assured of getting your favorite books is to let your local comic shop know what you want them to order for you. You can do this by starting a pull list at your shop or just asking your retailer to order it for you. And many creators provide order forms for you to print and take to your LCS.
(This isn’t entirely on readers. My next post will talk about what creators can do to justify your preorders.)
In the meantime, I’d like to try an experiment. If you plan on preordering independent comics, share what you’re ordering via social media and use the hashtag #PreorderIndie
I must have been nine or ten when I first encountered a comic featuring a Joe Kubert cover. Truth be told, I thought it was some of the worst comic art I’d seen—and at that time, I considered myself an expert in the artform.
I’d been raised on a steady diet of Jack Kirby’s statuesque demi-gods and John Buscema’s powerful matinee idols. And most of my favorite work had been embellished with the slick brush lines of Joe Sinnot or Mike Royer, or occasionally inked with the lush rendering of Tom Palmer.
To my eye, Joe Kubert’s work looked rough, sketchy and unfinished.
Flash forward eight to ten years: I found myself in my first life drawing class and experienced gesture drawing for the first time. Everything was about capturing a movement (hence the name, gesture drawing) and recording it. Motion, vitality and spontaneity were king.
It was around this time that the lightbulb went off.
What my untrained 10 year-old eye saw as “rough,” was actually boldness. What I thought was “sketchy” was actually immediacy. Where I had previously seen the work as “unfinished,” I now saw it as fluid and dynamic.
From that point on, I checked out all the Kubert work I could find. I learned that he was more than just an expert at creating movement. Joe’s compositions and storytelling were downright amazing.
I never met the man, but he was my guide on adventures on WWII battlefields, and through primeval jungles. Our expeditions took us from prehistoric earth to unknown galaxies in the far-future. And at every stop along the way, I learned something about art.
My hero has died.
My artwork at the time was bad—truly awful—yet he took the time to go over it with me, spending far more time than was justified by the level of craft in the work.
I was introduced to Al’s art by way of his work, with Archie Goodwin, on the Star Wars daily strip. Lush settings with dynamic figure work—and those layouts! Look at the way the man composed a Sunday page…stunning, elegant storytelling at it’s best. His sense of action wasn’t Kirby dynamics; it felt more like a glorious action-movie punch. When an Al Williamson hero threw a punch, you FELT it.
I later gravitated to his E.C. work, particularly his collaborations with Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta.
However, it’s his work on Secret Agent Corrigan (again with Archie Goodwin) that became my eventual all-time favorite of his work. Al’s using more photo reference on this stuff, and it boasts a slicker line (you can really see the influence of John Prentice, who Al assisted on Rip Kirby, especially in the first few years of the strip), but it’s just so damn perfect. I’m eagerly awaiting IDW’s release of these books.
If you’re curious about Al’s work—possibly, you’re only familiar with his latter day inking for Marvel Comics, check out the following books:
Creepy Archives, volume 1. Dark Horse. The first issue of Creepycontained one of my favorite Williamson/Goodwin collaborations, The Success Story. Based on an actual guy…but you can judge for yourself which parts are fiction.
Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Vision of the Heroic by Mark Schultz. Flesh Publishing knocked it out of the park with this collection. Buy this. Buy it now. Perfection.
X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan. IDW Publishing is adding Al and Archie’s seminal work to their Library of American Comics. The first volume releases in July.
Al Williamson Archives volume 1. Flesk Publications, the people who brought us the awesome Flash Gordon volume will be releasing the first of a series of Williamson sketchbooks in July. Buy this.
Star Wars deluxe hardcover slipcase edition, published by Russ Cochran. Beautiful b/w reproduction of Al and Archie’s strip work in gorgeous oversized volumes. (sadly, out-of-print)
The Art of Al Williamson by James van Hise. Some great stories about Al and the rest of the Fleagle Gang (the nickname of Al and his E.C. artist pals) and wonderful art and reference photos of Al and company. (also out-of-print)
Al Williamson Adventures. Published by Insight Studios, this features a bunch of Al’s Warren work, and some other lost gems. The frontispiece, a Star Wars illustration, is actually from the Game Designers’ Workshop RPG magazine Challenge—I commissioned it from Al in my days as an art director. (possibly out-of-print)
Volumes to be avoided: Anything by Pure Imagination (the had a few Al Williamson Reader volumes with AWFUL reproduction). Ditto for the Al Williamson Sketchbook from Vanguard from 10 years ago—weak reproduction and awful graphic design. Save your money for the good stuff from Flesk and IDW—and the Russ Cochran books, or the Van Hise book.
So long, Al. I hope you and the other Fleagle Gang members that preceded you (Roy, Wally and Frank) are banging out a story with lizards, swashbucklers, and forgotten cities as I type this.