Alex De Campi To Sell Rights To Ashes Through Kickstarter

I’ve never hidden my appreciation of comic book writer and video director, Alex De Campi. I met her first in one of a variety of London pub meet ups things, and found her most entertaining, but it was her work for IDW on Smoke with Igor Kordey that really impressed me. Well, now she’s working on the sequel, Ashes with artist Jimmy Broxton. Yes that Jimmy Broxton. And she has a fantastic new take on using Kickstarter to do so.

@richjohnston: Comics writer does Kickstarter. How is this news?

Because as well as self-publishing, we’ve decided to make the rest of the process completely transparent too. You can buy the trade rights and the film rights, right there on Kickstarter. Why not? The few book-to-film agents for comics that I’ve come across really have not added any value to the process. I’ve had agents at two of the major agencies as well as having worked with independents and nobody really did anything. Publishing and filmmaking will only continue to decentralise from their legacy past as groups of elite insiders based in NY and LA who required an agent to gain you access.

On the print side, we’ve specifically structured our print run as a limited edition, numbered, deluxe hardback run of 1,000 to leave room, as it were, for a later trade printing. We’ll also rack great in bookstores because of the length – probably nigh on 275 pages when all is said and done, and we’ll be great on ePub as our format is slightly smaller than average.

We are taking a risk asking for an advance… it’s frequent these days for no advance and for film rights to have shopping agreements first but frankly we’d rather just charge money and hopefully thus getting a more committed partner as well as, crucially, getting closer to our goal of funding the book.

You don’t value stuff you get for free. Seriously, if I hand you a book for free, or I charge you $5 for it, you are more likely to read the one I charge a fiver for because you’ve had to convince yourself you want it in order to spend even a token amount on it. There’s too much content in the world and folks don’t value free. The original Smoke was wrapped up in a shopping agreement for six months and that was not a good experience. So, never again. You want my work? Great! Please invest in it.

@richjohnston: It’s been six years since Smoke. Why now?

Right after Smoke, I had about four big series running concurrently – the two for Humanoides, and the two for Tokyopop. Then I became very busy directing music videos (I still am, and I’m starting to get offered commercials too). But I always wanted to finish the book. It was meant to be a longer series but IDW ended it abruptly after the third issue (hence some confusion about the weird ending. It wasn’t meant to be an ending.) So for years I tussled with carrying on the book from exactly where it ended, but I had grown and changed as a writer and it just felt too much like revisiting a past that my heart was no longer in.

I also figured nobody would really care but people kept hassling me about it…. enough people that it seemed it wasn’t just my friends trying to pull me out of my occasional bouts of melancholia. No, perfect strangers were involved too. Smoke really struck a chord with a lot of people. Now here’s hoping we can convince about 800 of those people to buy the sequel… if we can, the sequel can happen.

Anyway, two years ago I had that moment that you have when you benignly ignore a story for long enough, despite its clamouring in your head to be told. The whole situation, all of Ashes, unfolded in my mind like a fan. It wasn’t to continue from Smoke. It would pick up five years after Smoke finished, and be essentially stand-alone. Though you can get Smoke for 99 cents an issue from Comixology, I didn’t want people to feel they had to go and buy another book in order to enjoy this one.

And so, evenings and weekends, around working various day jobs and having a baby, I wrote the book. It was not an easy book to write; the good ones never are. It took off in a few unexpected directions in between the first 80 pages (which I had mapped out in my head) and the final page (which I always knew). I asked around a British comics forum for artists, and Jimmy volunteered. For the past six months we’ve basically been prepping the story to go to print. But it’s a long and diffcult book to draw, has a significant painted section and some other non-standard sections, and we can’t get it done without Jimmy getting some help in expenses during the 300-odd days it will take to make the book. And he is drawing, inking, colouring, lettering, painting… doing it all.

@richjohnston: Pretend I’ve never read Smoke. Why should I buy Ashes?

Are you smart? Do you like thrilling action and unexpected twists? Do you like pretty art? What about some black comedy? Did you enjoy books like Transmet, Preacher, or V for Vendetta? Do you wish that there were better female main characters in action books? Then you’ll probably like Ashes.

Ashes is about a soldier and a journalist who toppled a corrupt government (is there any other kind?) five years ago. They haven’t spoken since. She can’t get a job; her bank account keeps disappearing… and Lord only knows where he is. Until a very disturbed 15-year-old boy tracks them down via the internet.

He doesn’t want their help, though. He wants them dead. And he is willing to take down the infrastrutcture of the Western world until the US Military, or anyone else, delivers them to him.

Sound good? The only place to get the book is via the Kickstarter. Assuming we get the book funded, we won’t be letting new people in to the serialisation until it’s all over and the hardbacks have shipped. But the Kickstarter is also pretty cheap. $15 gets you the electronic version, serialised as we finish it (via Comixology), and $30 gets you both the electronic version and a deluxe, numbered, limited-edition hardback.

@richjohnston: I want Spoilers.

Okay!

  • My favourite line is “Thanks for the pie”. It’s by a new character, Stinky Flynn… an old school friend of Rupert’s.
  • Stinky is the somewhat inadequate son of a character who is an homage to the old British comics character, Warlord (nb: not the Mike Grell dude in the chrome banana hammock.)
  • There is a Soylent Green reference. There is also a joke I stole from Edward Albee about the Eumenides.
  • A significant influence on the book is a Russian film called Chetyre (4).
  • There is a Western bit… a large part of Ashes takes place in America. I think a lot of people will like the Western bit. It’s quite original and has two fairly spectacular and surprising action moments one doesn’t normally associate with Westerns.
  • Writing modern Western bits is really, really fun.
  • Chapter names include: a Kinks demo, a Specials song, a line from a Cocteau film, and an EM Forster short story title.
  • There is a pregnant female vigilante on a bicycle who shows up at an unexpected moment (but not during the Western). She is entirely a result of my watching too many Korean revenge noirs.
  • You will never look at paper cocktail umbrellas quite the same way again.

@housetoastonish: What’s been the most difficult change you’ve had to make to a creative work in order to ensure it sees the light of day?

I’ve been pretty spoilt, really, and never had to make difficult changes. Of course when I am lucky enough to have hands-on editors (a rarity), stories have been adjusted based on their input to be stronger/better, but I don’t see those as difficult changes. I don’t get pissy about good ideas from other people. When everything’s finished, it’s my name on the story (or film) so everyone will think they are my ideas anyway.

I’m working on a project for a major Hollywood action director at the moment, where at first the production execs and I weren’t quite on the same level in terms of what they wanted and what I thought they wanted… so I had to completely scrap one idea and start over from scratch. It was my own darn fault, as I know this director’s style really well and in my first idea, I wasn’t writing for that style. But we got there in the end. They’re really happy now and I’m having a blast writing mainstream action.

I have another, creator-owned project with an interested publisher and a great editor who rightly called me on burying the more personal, emotional parts of a story in absurdism… that was tough to hear because it was a difficult story to write and I was so happy to finish it. But she is correct, and I need to go back and get elbows-deep in a major rewrite as soon as I’m finished with Margaret the Damned.

In filmmaking, one has the client sign off on a treatment and/or storyboards beforehand, so the plan is pretty locked before the shoot. The real difficulty – what endangers the entire shoot, especially on the very low budgets I deal with — is when a crew member turns out to be unreliable. My first major-indie-label video, I had an art director who was basically incompetent and I had to personally spend $500 to rent the studio for overtime so we could get the video in despite all her mistakes. Thanks to her, that label’s commissioner didn’t give me more work. And a recent video, the drama-queen editor (who had on previous projects never made a single deadline) failed utterly and I had to pull the project back from him, giving me four days to edit a beauty/VFX shoot that I should have had 2 weeks on, and forcing me to turn down another scheduled video. You don’t forget that kind of thing.

@bighatdino: Are you going to be again working with Smoke artist Igor Kordey?

Sadly not. I would love to, but Igor has a big family to support, and is also a French art star (just coming off the 20+ volumes of a bestseller in France) who can command many hundreds of euros per page of art. He has read the script to the sequel and loves it, but nobody in America can afford him! We’re also not publishing through IDW again – Ashes will be self-published in numbered, hardback edition of 1,000. We have all the publication rights to Smoke, too, and perhaps a publisher will pick up the trade rights for one or both.

Jimmy, who is taking over with the art, is going to be a lot of people’s new favourite artist, I think. He’s already drawn or inked on a lot of major titles: Batman, Detective Comics, Lucifer, JSA, Spider-man, Captain America… but I think this is the book where his star will rise. I would love for him to end up in the same position Igor has – where over the process of our book he gets so many great-paying offers that my first chance to work with him is also my last.

@onibas: Does editing (shortening) your videos makes you feel like Isaac asked to kill your creature?

No. I love editing. The process is more taking a formless, tangled mass of footage and sculpting it down to a small, precise, perfect gem… Admittedly, there is always one really nice bit left over that just doesn’t fit. I am very organised (a relic of painfully low budgets) so the entire edit is in my head before I start shooting. The actual shoot days are just a process of taking the pictures in my head and getting them into the camera with as few compromises as possible.

@housetoastonish: Also, where do you get your ideas from? ;)

Daydreaming. Random thoughts I have while walking the dogs. Snippets of things I see online that get my mind working. Also, I’m terrible. I used to outline my work oh-so-carefully, everything paced out and planned. I still outline for work for hire, obviously (due to editorial approval processes). But my own stuff I just high-wire it now. I always knew what the last page of Ashes would be, and just recently I figured out what the last page of Margaret the Damned will be. And I knew the climactic sequence of After the Wrecking Ball would reference Achibald MacLeish’s poem “You, Andrew Marvell” as well as a Little Nemo sequence. The stuff in the middle? It comes as a surprise. I didn’t know when I started out that Ashes would have a distinctly Western-influenced chapter; it just happened. I find this a thrilling (sometimes terrifying) way to work. NB: not a good idea to try unless you have a really good, innate grasp of story structure.

@bighatdino: And a follow up: how does it feel to be working with an artist who has been vilified in general US comics fandom? :)

I find when the blind, seething mass of a crowd turns on something with harmful intent, that something is almost always worthy of investigation. I offer you two examples of this – the first is the one you brought up, Igor. His art is great! He didn’t flourish in a particular environment at Marvel, but he is an amazing designer and artist who made Smoke a stunningly gorgeous book.

The other example is Scott Lobdell, who was getting some really awful fan comments for his reboot of the DC character Starfire. Scott sincerely believes there should be more women writers and artists at DC and has, behind the scenes, quietly been reaching out to women creators to introduce them to senior DC staff. So this guy you’re all pasting? He is actually doing more than anyone else at this moment to increase the number of women making mainstream comics.

What to take away from this: the reality of a situation is often far more complex than you might want it to be. Respect that by refraining from online insult; if something isn’t to your taste, it’s far better to remark simply “so-and-so’s story isn’t my cup of tea” rather than appearing to be frothing at the mouth with hatred.

@onibas: Do you ever get jealous when you see (and like) the the work of another director ? Do you ever say “I wish I thought of that” ?

All the time. And I steal shots all the time, too. A particular way of camera movement or framing… I take the idea of it and adapt it to something I am doing. In the process it always changes to the point where it does not look like outright theft of, say, that 360-degree shot from 8 ½, but it starts out as theft.

@itsthatlady: What should lady superheroes wear?

Things that don’t make me laugh, preferably. If a female superhero’s costume is so wrapped up in male fantasy that she would need a secondary superpower just to keep those two tiny squares of fabric stuck to her boobs, no woman is going to buy that comic. Really, it’s embarrassing as a woman to read a comic in public where the female characters are costumed in tiny bits of lycra, strategically placed and it stops us from buying or reading those comics.

We’re never going to be able to stop meathead male artists from drawing superheroines like porn stars, but they can at least be wearing more attractive outfits. Male comic creators and clothing is always dodgy territory, though. I have an old 1980s Nick Fury trade where in one scene he is crucified on a giant mirrored cross while wearing what is basically Borat’s budgie-smuggler. It’s… not one of comics’ finer moments. In fact, any time a character is in a swimsuit, it’s generally a cringe-making moment. Artists! We know when you’re drawing one for the wank bank, and it’s skeevy.

It kinda shows how monocultural comics writing and drawing is that nobody’s ever considered what happens when one of these mostly-undressed superheroines goes and tries to stop crime in a Hasidic or Muslim neighbourhood, where they would be politely but firmly asked to leave and never come back by neighbourhood elders.

On a positive note, I think the current Birds of Prey run is doing a really good job of this… the costumes look great and the girls look attractive/sexy, but you can imagine them walking down the street and people not bursting out in spontaneous laughter or turning away/blushing in embarrassment. I really liked the Catwoman design from when Brubaker was writing it… X-men designs can be quite good.

@itsthatlady: Also what is your favourite Japanese film?

Ah, I am so out of date on Japanese film, I’m afraid my answer will be oh so 5 years ago (eg the last time I was living commuting distance from London’s wonderful NFT and ICA theatres). I love the work of Sabu (Monday, Postman Blues) and I always try to make people watch Sekiguchi Gen’s Survive Style 5+ because it is so bonkers. Among older works, I have a soft spot for the early Kurosawa/Mifune collaboration, The Bad Sleep Well.

@arthurwyatt: What’s your take on the DC/Amazon/B&N kerfuffle?

Amazon’s a thug and B&N’s a brat. Nobody is coming out of this looking good, except possibly small, local comic book shops who – let’s not forget – don’t have the option of sale or return that B&N is currently leveraging to send back the DC books they stock. Honestly, if you’re giving your money to Amazon or B&N you are just aiding and abetting corporate titans. By all means check out the reviews and recommendations on their sites, then go order your comic from someone who gives a damn. Or, indeed, if like me you are too broke to afford lots of comic purchases, head on down to your local library.

Smoke is available on ComiXology now. Her music videos can be seen here. Ashes will be available… well that’s up to you.