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Hi-Fi Design is celebrating their 15th year in comic book in 2013. Right now, they are trying to raise funds on Kickstarter to create a very special collectible graphic novel celebrating the color artists who work at Hi-Fi Design and the company’s history. You may not know Brian and Kristy Miller, founders of Hi-Fi Design, but you have definitely seen their work. It’s a lot easier to tell you the books they haven’t worked on rather than the books they have. The same is true for creators they’ve worked with. Jesse James conducted a great interview with Brian, which covers some of Hi-Fi Design’s history and projects. I spoke with Brain Miller about his anniversary project Hi-Fi: Untold Tales.
Brian, I want to congratulate you on 15 years of success in the comic book industry. The traditional 15th year anniversary gift is Crystal. What made you think of doing a graphic novel?
Comic fans know Hi-Fi for our digital color but what they do not know is that we are also storytellers. I’ve been looking for a way to showcase the talented creators here at Hi-Fi and an anniversary graphic novel project seemed like a natural fit. As part of the creative team for some of the most popular comic books from DC, Marvel, and Image we have had the opportunity to be involved with some amazing stories over the years but rarely have the chance to write and draw our own stories. The storytellers at Hi-Fi have 15 years worth of untold tales to share with comic book fans.
The stories in the book are grouped into 6 genres, Animation & Manga, Alternative & Horror, Pulp & Pin-Up, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, and of course, Superhero. Within the pages of Untold Tales you will find 20 original stories written by Hi-Fi team members past and present. Like Melon Heads from Jon Alerink based on a local legend he heard growing up, and The Adventures of Spaceman Quantum from the creative mind of Justin Osterling, or the ultra spooky tale of a mother willing to do anything to get her son back in, The Splitfaced. You can see sample artwork and video describing many of the stories on the Kickstarter page for Untold Tales.
The origin story of Hi-Fi starts with pulling an all-nighter to finish coloring pages for Rob Liefield. I’m not sure you’ve slept since. What comic books is Hi-Fi currently the regular color artist team on?
Yes, it all started with an issue of Cable many years ago. Since then we have colored comics for every major publisher plus film, game, and toy companies. At the moment Hi-Fi is thrilled to be coloring comics such as Fury of Firestorm, Batman: The Dark Knight, and Sword of Sorcery and a handful of other comic books for DC Comics. We are also painting a series of origin storybooks for Marvel. These are fully painted books featuring the origins of popular marvel characters like Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, and others. We also color books for IDW, Image, Top Cow, and other publishers. It is a full time job, and one that we are passionate about.
There have been quite a few Hi-Fi alumni over the years. Untold Tales has current and former Hi-Fi color artists stepping out of the shadows to write and draw their own stories for Untold Tales. Who is contributing to the book?
We are really lucky that the majority of Hi-Fi color artist past and present have decided to contribute to Untold Tales. We have over 20 Hi-Fi team members who have written original stories for Untold Tales. Some of them are also creating all the artwork for their stories while others have assembled creative teams to handle the penciling and inking duties. Some members of team Hi-Fi have gone on to have their own careers in comic books, video games, toys, and film. Having all of these talented people contribute to Untold Tales is amazing.
From the original Hi-Fi studio in Kansas City we have David Bryant, Mike Worley, Scott Kester, and Elijah Whitley. You may not recognize all those names but you do know their work on The Simpsons, Wolverine, and Borderlands. From the Sun City studio comes Dustin Yee, Adam Straub, Steve Cobb, Kanila Tripp, Eisner nominated color artist Jason Keith, and Brian Buccellato who many fans will recognize as the co-writer and color artist of The Flash. The remaining Hi-Fi team members to join Untold Tales are Andrew Elder, Mindy Timpone, Jon Alderink, Dan Kemp, Sapphire Trickett, Rohvel Yumul, Matthew Swift, Ramon Bunge, Michael Birkhofer, Justin Osterling, and of course Kristy and myself are contributing a story as well.
When you came into the industry, people feared digital color art and looked down on it. The big fear for some people now is how digital distribution. You’ve embraced both. You currently have a digitally distributed tutorial on How to Paint Comics on an IPad and two children’s stories based upon your dogs, Wick and Kelty. How do you see new technology and distribution methods changing how comics are created and delivered?
I’ve never been one to fight the future. Many people now carry all their music, movies, books, magazines, and comics on their devices. Kids, families, and people who frequently travel want to take their content with them. The cloud even offers storage solutions allowing you to access your collection anywhere. This growing audience loves Wick is a Good boy and Wick Goes to School. Most children have a better grasp of how to use an IPad, Kindle, or Nook than how to hold a book and turn the pages. Plus the parents can keep books and video loaded at all times to ensure their children are entertained (and one less screaming kid on an airplane is a good thing). In the case of, How to Paint Comic Books with the IPad, I saw the device evolving into one that creative people like me could use. At the same time I noticed people were not sure HOW to create with the IPad. Creating an art-instruction book specifically for the IPad gives users one device where hey can read their comic book collection, learn about making comics, and create their own comics. Artist really can transform their IPads into mobile art studios with How to Paint Comic Books with the IPad.
Digital allows Hi-Fi to offer books in over 50 countries worldwide for a fraction of the cost of print. How to Paint Comic Books with the IPad is available for $4.99 via iTunes and includes image galleries, video content, and access to all the artwork needed to complete the tutorials. If this were a print book with a disc included the list price would be $29.99. Removing the cost of printing, shipping, and warehousing all those books allowed us to offer our readers amazing multimedia content at a much lower price.
None of this means that there is not a market for print books and comics, what it shows us is a NEW market for digital content. One in which publishers and creators must coexist with their print offerings if they are to thrive and survive. We’ve already seen some publishers offering new stories in a “digital first” format then combining the successful digital stories into a larger print edition. Experimentation like this shows the industry is evolving and discovering ways to combine the digital and print experience to offer the best of both worlds to readers.
In addition to the digital books, you’ve also written two tutorial books that came out a few years ago in print, Hi-Fi Color for Comics and Master Digital Color. In addition, you taught classes at community colleges based on the books and have given tutorials at comic book conventions. Comics are a fiercely competitive business and yet you are training the next generation of color artists. How has this unique attitude of knowledge sharing benefited Hi-Fi over the years?
I know many creative people in and out of comics and the one trait many of these people share is fear. They worked hard to get where they are and they refuse to share their knowledge and experience for fear of losing their freelance jobs to someone younger, faster, and cheaper. These artists will take their creative secrets to the grave. Digital color for comics is a VERY specialized field. Wildstorm FX, Hi-Fi, Liquid, Avalon, Digital Chameleon and a handful of other studios each developed their own unique approach to coloring comics during the early 1990’s. Each studio closely guarded their secrets to maintain a competitive advantage. Eventually most of the studios were bought out, broke-up, or were absorbed by one of the large publishers. What happened after that was a sort of dark-ages of digital color. There was plenty of work but very few knowledgeable and talented color artist trained to color comics. Much work started going to fly-by-night “color artist”. I use quotations because these people had little to no art skills and training but they did have a copy of Photoshop (legitimate or not) and were able to land gigs simply because no one else was there to do it. I think we’ve all seen a comic book where the cover art and color look fantastic and when you open the book the coloring is terrible and lets down the entire book. This sort of thing was happening all over the place for a while.
At some point Kristy and I decided that protecting Hi-Fi’s creative secrets was less important than educating people about the creative process of comic book coloring. What we were facing was an entire generation of up and coming talent who had been exposed to drawing with pencil and ink in high school art class or as a hobby but the concepts of color and painting digitally were foreign to them. Most of the aspiring creators we met had no idea how comic books were colored. When Impact books approached us the time was right to create a set of definitive books on coloring comic books. Hi-Fi Color for Comics and Master Digital Color were born.
Hi-Fi’s attitude of sharing has benefitted comics in many ways. The market for digital color is much more competitive now and the people vying for those color gigs are more often than not talented and well trained so the colors you see in the printed comics tend to look much better than during that “dark-ages” we went through. As an added benefit to Hi-Fi when an aspiring color artist send us their portfolio for review more often than not they are coloring using the tools and techniques we use in-house. If we do choose to bring them on board as part of team Hi-Fi we rarely need to do any training because they already know how to work within our system. It makes it easier for them to get hired and easier for Hi-Fi to hire them. A win-win situation.
The surprise from all of this is how many colleges and schools have adopted Hi-Fi Color for Comics and Master Digital Color into their art programs. Before these books were published, many schools taught people how to USE software like Photoshop, with Hi-Fi’s books they teach students how to CREATE using the software. This makes all the difference. When a student can create something and show it to others it becomes real, tangible, and more often than not serves as a cornerstone for them to build a life around creating artwork. Sometimes these students build that life in comics, other times it is in other creative fields but it all started by creating. The software won’t do it for you; it’s what you do with the software that counts.
One the upper end rewards allows independent comic creators to have their comic book cover professionally colored by Hi-Fi Design. What other great rewards can people expect from your Kickstarter project?
We launched the project with rewards focused on the graphic novel itself. There are 10 main rewards packages all named after fictional comic book cities. You can pledge as little as $25 for the Zenith package and receive a copy of Untold Tales the most popular reward has been the $45 Gotham package which includes a signed copy of Untold Tales + digital copy, a limited edition Planet of Sound litho, and one mystery comic from Hi-Fi’s archives! Other packages include really cool rewards like sketch cards, limited edition lithos, original sketches, original artwork, and yes we even offer to color YOUR comic book cover if you get in on the Keystone package. There are two ultimate fan packages too.
Of course the point of the rewards is to excite you about the stories and I’m really proud of the original tales each of our Hi-Fi storytellers have come up with. Sapphire Trickett thrills you with a Vertigo-esque story of The Mermaid Tank, where the daughter of circus performers discovers a horrible secret. Dan and Dave Kemp share with you their tale of monsters lurking in the shadows with Nocturnal. While Elijah Whitley challenges you to think with his tale of a Christ who is resurrected, not by a miracle, but by science and what that means for the faith of a planet. Meanwhile Kristy Miller takes you on an adventure to see the pyramids, sphinx, and pharaoh’s tomb in Wick and Kelty go to Egypt. This represents a handful of the 20 stories you will find in the pages of Untold Tales.
150 pages of FULL COLOR illustrated stories from some of the best color artists in the industry with a timeline of the company’s greatest accomplishments seems like an easy sell. You are currently sitting at $2421 on a goal of $59,000 with 5 days left. It’s a steep goal, but not impossible as other projects have made that much in a day. If everyone who bought a book this week colored by Hi-Fi Design or Brian Miller chipped in $3 for your Kickstarter campaign, you would be funded by the end of the day. But for those sitting on the fence, what could you say to them that would to click on the Kickstarter link and donate today.
I think the biggest challenge Untold Tales faces is one of discoverability. At Hi-Fi, we are part of the creative team for some of the top selling comic books in the world yet most fans don’t know we are storytellers too. Some of Hi-Fi’s storytellers have written comics for DC, other have developed video games, and others still have worked on animated television and film projects. They’ve told you stories of characters you are familiar with, now they are ready to share with you their own creations. We have 20 stories to share with you, all in beautiful Hi-Fi color. In addition, there is a Hi-Fi timeline in the book that covers the major milestones of the past 15 years from that insane all-nighter for Liefeld’s run on Cable to the latest issue of Batman: The Dark Knight and everything in between. The book is being printed in the US & Canada by the same printers who print Marvel and DC comics. This adds substantially to the cost of this project yet we thought it was important to offer fans the highest quality rather than go with cheap printing in Asia.
As you mention, it is still possible to meet the funding goal for Untold Tales if we get the word out and people discover the project on Kickstarter. I do find a lot of people do not understand how Kickstarter works. You can pledge today and ONLY when the minimum funding goal is reached are you charged. If that goal is not reached you are charged nothing. There is zero risk in pledging Untold Tales. You have nothing to lose. Do we have a lot of money to rise? Yes. As an example though, Gail Simone raised nearly $120,000 for her graphic novel on Kickstarter. We are looking to raise less than half that amount and once we do we have other surprises and rewards to offer people including some of Hi-Fi’s friends in the comic book industry who are waiting in the wings to come on board with original art, pin-ups, and sketches but we can’t bring them into the mix until we reach our minimum funding goal to get the book printed. I challenge every person reading this to back Untold Tales. When the project is funded you will receive the book and rewards and will have given the storytellers at Hi-Fi a chance to share with you their Untold Tales.