Fabian Rangel Jr. is a busy man. He's a comics writer who jumped feet-first into self-publishing in 2010, was picked up by two different publishers in 2011, and is contributing heavily to anthologies in 2013. Meanwhile, he continues to maintain his own self-publishing imprint, BELIEVE IN COMICS, featuring his series with Ryan Cody, Doc Unknown. Doc Unknown went into its fourth issue recently, and between the time I spoke to Rangel Jr. about its release, and the end of the same week, the print run was already sold out as it continued to secure plenty of interest digitally on ComiXology. Based on this pattern of publication, Rangel Jr. represents a new generation of comics creators who are pursuing multiple options, learning from those experiences, and deciding to keep quite a few doors open for themselves, particularly the self-publishing route.
It's one that allows for a great deal of creative control and can develop a fan community around certain characters and titles. But these creators still want to mingle on the playground of creator-driven comics for mid-level presses, particularly via anthologies and may well end up with a kind of dual career, with books out from their own imprint alongside demand in the rapidly expanding domain of genre comics from publishers like Dark Horse, Image, and IDW. It's a heavy workload for those who pursue this two-pronged approach, but it's creatively rewarding and can reach multiple fan-bases.
Rangel Jr. and Cody moved over to Kickstarter this month as of September 23rd for the 40 page one-shot comic Boss Snake: Cold Blood, Cold Streets, and within 14 hours their 2,500 dollar goal was met. Now, with 25 days still to go on the Kickstarter, they've raised over 4,600 dollars. If the duo reaches his stretch goal of 5,500 dollars, which is looking likely, they are going to produce a Doc Unknown one-shot as well, making this essentially a bonus Kickstarter for yet another book. For those who struggle to eke out funding on Kickstarter, and there are many very worthy projects that end up down to the wire, this is enough to bewilder.
What's Rangel Jr.'s secret? Firstly, he has published several projects with small presses, has made himself a presence on ComiXology, which he approached through the Submit program, and also established a Kickstarter goal that was fairly modest. This shows an awareness of budgeting that is almost enviable. The Boss Snake one-shot, for instance, is a spin-off from his series Doc Unknown, and though it may eventually move to a site like ComiXology, to get it set up, he's turned to crowd funding. More comics projects on Kickstarter feature whole graphic novels with bigger necessary budgets than one-shots, but maybe this is something that creators should take under advisement. Why not produce "chapters" as single issues, Kickstart them, and then sell them digitally and in print, and as they gain readership, the momentum will carry forward future Kickstarters? It may not work for everyone, particularly those who don't want to break down a graphic novel concept into chapters, but judging from Rangel's example, it takes some of the anxiety out of crowdfunding and providing a finished product for future monetization.
But let's be realistic and note that you need to build toward a strong property to achieve what Rangel Jr. and Cody have achieved here. They've generated buzz around Doc Unknown through producing a high-quality, appealing noir comic that fans can return to and keep an eye on. Rather than launching several properties on ComiXology at once, they've pursued a major project with dedication. The property itself is going to interest genre comic readers, not only due to the lively pulp writing Rangel Jr. provides but because Cody's highly polished art style displays a lot of confidence in his own vision of what "noir" means. He also puts his own accent on noir style, with more fluid lines than you often see in noir adventure stories, and a strong balance between the shadowy color schemes you might expect and more vivid panels. Doc Unknown's panels are uncrowded and art deferential in a way that unashamedly does homage to the film origin of noir iconography. Rangel Jr.'s writing also focused on the balance between necessary action and key dialogue between characters. He chooses not to pursue the elaborate, heavy monologues and dialogues typical of noir detective fiction, for instance, opting for a more pulp approach. The choice is suited to Cody's style, and together the Doc Unknown comics have a certain elegance in their reading flow.
The total product simply feels highly professional, proving once again that creative teams can often work to a great degree of excellence under their own authority, perhaps even more than than they might under strict editorial influence. Doc Unknown, and the universe Rangel Jr. and Cody are developing now through spin-offs, is a property that is likely to generate interest from creator-owned focused imprints, and it'll be their call whether they want to pursue this route or stick to the success they've had with self-publishing. But giving Rangel Jr.'s track record, it's unlikely that he'll close any of the doors currently open to publish on multiple platforms, and that's a decision that's proving popular for creators like Becky Cloonan, Brian Wood, and Robbi Rodriguez, to name only a few. Even if we come to see Rangel Jr.'s name, or Cody's, on major books from mid-sized publishers or the Big Two in the future, we can hope to see them continuing to confidently employ the lessons they've learned through establishing their own imprints and getting the max out of the potential they've found on Kickstarter.
Fabian Rangel Jr. began writing comics in 2010, self publishing the first two issues of his werewolves versus teens comic "Extinct" before signing on with Philadelphia based publisher 215 Ink in 2011. 2012 saw the release of Extinct, Fall and Engines of Doom (215 Ink). Through Challenger Comics he has released "When The Evil Came/Stinky" as well as "Los Muertos": an original graphic novel. In 2013 his stories will be appearing in the following anthologies: FUBAR:American History Z , Indie Comics Horror #2, FUBAR: By The Sword #2, as well as Monstrosity. His latest series is DOC UNKNOWN, and can be found on ComiXology under his self publishing imprint, BELIEVE IN COMICS. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.
Hannah Means-Shannon is senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.