Monty Nero writes for Bleeding Cool,
In the old days in the UK, there was a rigid hierarchy to any career in comics. Working for any title was cool, but working for 2000ad was cooler. Once there, creators aspired to American titles because it paid better and seemed more colourful and glamorous.
This is the old world, a sepia-tinged photo of your Nan by a loom. Today, in comics, you can make money and gain kudos in all kinds of ways that don’t involve working your way up through some kind of structured hierarchy like a civil servant. And everyone quietly envies each other. By which I mean, the top DC writer envies the freedom of the independent graphic novelist, who wishes he was the obscure guy who just made $100,000 from his Kickstarter, who aches to be Spiderman’s top artist, who in turn wishes she could find time to get her creator-owned dream project off the ground but lacks the fervent fanbase of the feminist web diarist. It’s not a hierarchy, it’s a cyclone. Anything’s possible, everything’s changing. There is no set structure, just an increasingly fractured world of creators serving their own bubble of readers.
Into this maelstrom steps Hollow Monsters, a spooky and very personal comic set in the 80s, written, drawn and lettered by me. I just reached a point where I thought f-ck it, the type of comic I want to do is smart, uncompromising, personal, profound, groundbreaking, and unlike anything I’ve read before. No-one is ever going to ‘let’ me make that comic, so I’m going to have to make it myself.
I’ve always believed that if you don’t believe in a creative idea with every fibre of your soul, enough to back it yourself, to put everything on the line, then it’s the wrong idea. That’s how I felt about Hollow Monsters. Like all the best comics how the story is told is much more important than the nostalgic mystery at its heart, and I just passionately wanted to make it. So I didn’t ask for much, and was surprised to find that after a week we were 380% above fully funded. If backers reacted to anything, it was the purity of a comic that someone obviously adored trying to do something different. Niche is the new black.
I’m not famous or anything. True, I’d had a hit with Death Sentence. I’d been invited to write for the Hulk, and the Amazing X-men, and pitch some other stuff. I sold a series to another publisher. And every time I had dealings with these guys it was fun, but like stepping into the sepia photograph. Everything looked backwards, every bold new idea was eventually reduced to a mixture of three things that were already hits, and you got the impression the brilliant editors you were talking to were as demotivated by what was happening as you were.
That’s the thing about big companies, in my experience. No single person is ever fully in charge, they just rumble on in ways even their employees find mystifying.
It doesn’t need to be that way. The industry is changing so fast it’s giving publishers palpitations. And Kickstarter is the engine of liberation, or destruction, depending on where you’re standing. If you’re not happy with the comics you’re reading, why don’t you make or back your own? If there’s some type of character or viewpoint you long to see in print, do it. There are no longer any excuses. Rally like-minded people on social media, find a creative team, offer it to the public at a reasonable price point and print run and you’re away. A blank canvas is liberating & naivety is a powerful weapon. If it all seems daunting, welcome to the world of publishing.
You will not become rich overnight, or at all, and you will need to start small, but you will have the kind of comics you want to see in your hand. And if you passionately want to see them, chances are other people will too. Empires have grown from less. That’s the future of comics.
Happily, you won’t have to sell your rights to do this. That simple statement changes everything. Do you have any idea how long we’ve waited to say it? YOU DON’T NEED TO SELL YOUR RIGHTS!! You can reach an audience, make money, be a mover and shaker, all from the comfort of your home. ‘Oh’, you might think, apathetically, ‘that’s neat’. At which point Jack Kirby steps through a door, incandescent with rage, and slaps you through the plasterboard. ‘Do you have any idea what I went through?!’ screams Jack. ‘Do you have any idea what I gave up, just to get on, just to pay rent?!! And you sit here, with your IPad and your infinite world of possibility, doing nothing about it?!”
Jack Kirby designed about half the key characters in the Marvel universe, and a nice slice of DC’s. But he was a freelancer, and the only way he got paid was if he gave up all his rights. It was the only way to make coin, the only way to access an audience. Shamefully, his original artwork wasn’t even returned for decades. It’s a matter of public record. No single person will ever take responsibility for what happened, which was symptomatic of the entire industry. The company just rumbled on around them.
Can you imagine how mind-blowingly rich Jack Kirby would be if he and Stan had made all their comics on Kickstarter in the 60’s?! Daddy Warbucks rich! But better than rich, he’d be happy, he’d be fulfilled, he’d retire early and play with his grandkids while the profits to his creator-owned books piled up. That is a just world, where whoever created the cool stuff reaps the rewards for the cool stuff, and that is the world we are shaping now.
When we look back on this period in thirty years, Marvel and DC will still be popular. But all the hot new characters will be creator-owned, initially made and sold through crowdfunding. There will be no single creative colossus or company at the apex of creativity, like Kirby, but creator-owned Kickstarter comics will bestride the industry like Jack did. And all these characters, these universes, will be owned or tailored for us, in a chaotic maelstrom of terrifying opportunity.
So what the f-ck are you doing?! Get off your arse, get on Kickstarter, and build the future.
Hollow Monsters is offering a three month subscription to the Comichaus comics app, a free 80s inspired print, a gift edition of the comic with a handwritten dedication or doodle, and a digital PDF, to anyone who backs £10 or more via this the link on the Bleeding Cool page.
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