Alasdair Stuart writes;
One of the last panels at Thought Bubble saw Jon Lock and Nich Angell take the stage. Jon is the creator of Afterlife Inc, currently on volume three, that follows the industrialization of the afterlife by a charming grifter with a prehensile tie. Nich is the creator, writer and artist of 7 String, a fantasy series, about to launch it’s second volume. 7 String is Final Fantasy meets Saturday morning cartoons, the story of a boy with a guitar sword in a world ruled by the Gods of Music.
Both books have a unique look, remarkable, precise world building and real passion behind them. Despite this, being indie creators, Lock and Angell aren’t especially well known. That’s about to change and at Thought Bubble, they explained why.
-They talked about how indie creators can struggle to get noticed, even after producing and successfully promoting their work. The solution that they put forward to this is simple; stop thinking about money, and start thinking ambitiously.
–Jon cited his own experience as an example. Unable to draw (He’s actually being modest by the way, his design work is really good), he decided to pay an artist. However, he couldn’t afford to pay much, so found himself writing short, complete scripts. This episodic format informed Afterlife Inc’s structure, allowing him to explore the colossal world from various angles.
-This led into a typically British discussion about their limitations as artists, with both men talking about the faceless characters in their books. One of Nich’s music gods has a tuning fork for a head, for example. Jon also pointed out that Nich was underselling himself and 7 String featured a keytar sword as well as a guitar sword. That got a smattering of extremely deserved applause. Jon also expressed huge relief that Nich could draw, meaning he could legitimately write ‘This page features a seething mass of violin robots’ and know he didn’t have to draw them.
Nich asked how many people had seen Iron Man 2. They then asked how many people had seen the after credit sequence with the hammer. Another show of hands. They responded with ‘Great, because we’ve totally ripped it off!’ and showed us this.
-The 7 String guitar sword, on the outskirts of the Empyrean from Afterlife Inc. But how? Why? Say hello to The Heavenly Chord, a crossover between the two titles. They talked at length about how this is one of the first times two indie creators have done something like this. They also tied it back to their earlier point about thinking ambitiously and the fact that just because they’re indie creators doesn’t mean they can’t use the same storytelling techniques as the big companies.
-They showed us art of the villain, a demented supernatural conductor named for music for the dead.
-And speaking of music, they explained that the book has a soundtrack. The playlist is accessible via a QR code in the book. There’s some great choices on there too, especially the MC Frontalot track.
–Jon and Nich also announced the formation of Big Punch Studios, their new imprint, named for Jon’s first comic. Again, this was tied back into the idea that being indie doesn’t have to mean thinking small. Heavenly Chord is just the first collaboration and the next one, an entirely new story, should be out next year.
-They closed by talking about some of the obstacles they’d faced. The conflict between cash and time is always a concern but adversity, they’ve found, can actually stimulate creativity. Nich pointed out how much he’d learned from his first, failed kickstarter whilst Jon talked again about how the short episodes that he’d had to write ended up helping the book. He also made an interesting point about Big Punch. If Jon and Nich were just working together, Jon would have to pay Nich a page rate. As co-owners of the imprint, they share all profits, eliminating the need for a page rate and putting them both on equal footing. If this works, and it shows every indication it will, this may well be a model a lot of indie publishers will follow.
Shot through with humor and enthusiasm, this was a really inspiring hour, and the love they have for their work is clear in every word Jon and Nich say. They’re concerned with two things; getting the work done and having fun doing it. Based on what I saw this weekend, the fun is only just beginning.