After “What’s next,” the question I’m asked most often is, “What drives me, what keeps me going?”
One major source of inspiration is other writers carving out a way of their own. It doesn’t matter what genre they’re working in, I’m always inspired by and learn something from their story. What often gets lost in the indie publishing conversation is the thing I’ve found the most rewarding—the people I’ve met while putting my work out there, people willing to share their experience and knowledge. Two of those people are Enrica Jang and Erica Schultz.
In 2008, Enrica founded her own publishing company, Red Stylo Media. Since then Red Stylo Media has published several original graphic novels, comic series, and anthologies.
Erica is the creator, writer, and publisher of the award-winning, ongoing comic series, M3. She’s also involved in many projects for a variety of publishers, including the graphic novel, Revenge: The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne, based on the TV show, for Marvel.
Over these last few weeks, it’s been these two who have inspired me to keep going when I didn’t think I could send one more email or go to the post office one more time to mail out more copies of A Boy Like Me. It’s the stories they share that also inspire, like the one Erica shares in the interview below, including part of a note from her editor saying: “It is amazing to do difficult things.” Yes, it is.
In 2008, you founded Red Stylo Media. Being a writer, what made you want to pour time and energy into a publishing company?
My company happened by accident. Industry people like to say that if you want to break into comics you have to make comics, and that has basically become unofficial law. There are exceptions, but most of the time, unless you’re an established writer and/or get very lucky, you have to find a way to make your own comics before anyone will look at work or consider hiring you. And so I started with my own series, Azteca.
Where I’m a little different is I also had my eye on being an editor. At first, I was like a lot of creators with ambition who thought any job in comics was an avenue to getting work as a creator. But when I interned, my editor made it very clear that it would be a serious mistake to treat the editing profession as a stepping stone to something else. And it’s true. We’re all creatives in our way, but the role of an editor is a completely different set of skills. The closest I might describe it is the difference between what you see and do for your team as a coach versus what you do as a player.
So I tried to apply the comics law to being an editor. I figured if I wanted to be a comics editor, I should probably edit something to show I had interest and drive for more than my own writing. And I do. I love the medium, not just what I do. And that’s how I put together my first anthology. None of my own work—all stories and art from other people.
Four anthologies later… presto! Comic publisher. I didn’t imagine I would love doing this so much. Heartbreaking and frustrating as it can be, I still really love it.
How has having your own publishing company benefited you as a writer?
I have much more respect for artists than I would have as a writer alone. (It’s a little embarrassing to admit that, actually! I cringe to remember my early mistakes.) But after doing this going on five years now, I have a much more nuanced and realistic view of the collaborative process in comics and not just the writer/artist dynamic, but all of the production and finishing as well. When you write, there’s a wish list of visuals and flair you want for your stories. As a publisher, the practical considerations of storytelling dynamics and the all-mighty budget change everything. I think I’m much more grounded in my expectations than I would have been otherwise. And I think (I hope!) my scripting has improved as a result of knowing what will be needed by the artist and production team later.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers who are seeking alternative ways to publish? Would you recommend that they start their own small press?
Embrace small projects first. We all have the epic series and grand master plan, but I advise embracing short projects like one-shots, anthology stories or mini-series, and getting lots of them done and out (even posting them for free if you have to) as you continue to develop that master project in the background.
I don’t recommend starting your own press, though of course (since you have to make your own comics in order to break in) you’ll have to take on a little bit of self-publishing. But unless you WANT to be an editor and publisher too, it’s not something that’s necessary.
It’s not because I don’t love publishing—I really do. But if you just want to be a writer, be a writer. It takes a lot to make a business successful, which WILL distract from your writing. So be a writer first and only if that’s what you’re really trying to do.
In 2013, Red Stylo partnered with Odd Truth Inc., to establish WeWinCon.org which helped artists impacted by the cancellation of Boston Comic Con due to the Boston Marathon bombing. Through WeWinCon.org, you raised money so artists could come to Boston for the re-scheduled show. I remember how many artists from all over the country were impacted by that cancellation. The fact that you helped out in this way is so wonderful. What inspired you to establish WeWinCon.org?
I have a soft spot in my heart for Boston Comic Con because when I first started, it was the folks I met from the comics community in Boston that were the most generous and supportive. Just a great, strong, funny, helpful, talented community of people, and many of the folks I know are also BCC organizers. People across the country had their eyes on Boston—it’s a wonderful city and what happened was terrible. This was a tiny way we could try to help people we knew and cared about.
Nick (from Odd Truth) is a computer programmer, so he had the site going in less than a few hours. In the end, WeWinCon raised money for artists as well as for the charities that Boston Comic Con already supports. It’s still going—for a variety of charitable organizations now.
For up-and-coming writers and artists who are struggling to pay the rent, but also want to start or help organizations like WeWinCon.org, what advice would you give them?
Some of the best fundraisers I’ve seen ask artists to donate work—even writers can donate digital downloads and stories, etc. There are many opportunities to give, so give what you can. Doing your own, small fundraiser to raise money is also a good thing. There’s the jaded view that little bits here and there don’t matter, but I believe everything matters. Also: donate blood. Often.
M3 is a gorgeously written, drawn, and produced comic / graphic novel. When you began writing M3, did you always plan to self-publish it through Vices Press?
Thank you very much for saying so. Vicente (Vicente Alcazar) and I have worked so hard on M3. Truth be told, we did NOT want to go the self-publishing route. In August of 2010, when the first issue of M3 was completed (art and all), we pitched it out to several publishers. That autumn, we took the first issue and copies of the scripts for 2-4 over to publishers at New York Comic Con. All that effort netted us 4 rejection emails, 2 more in person, and 10 publishers that didn’t even give us a response via email or phone call.
We weren’t discouraged, though, because we thought this was a story that should be told, so we powered through and published it digitally on Amusedom.com and in print through Vices Press. The following New York Comic Con (2011), Vicente and I had a table, selling issues 1-3. Strangely enough, 2 of the publishers that never got back to us have approached me at conventions and asked why I never submitted it to them. When I told them I had, they looked embarrassed…especially after seeing the tome that is volume 1.
Being the writer, creator, and publisher of M3, how do you approach marketing it?
Honestly, marketing isn’t really my strong suit. I naively and idealistically thought, “It’s good, therefore people will want to buy it.” I never had a marketing plan, and don’t really have one now. I go to cons and interact with people on social media, hoping to get the buzz out. Several pros like Gail Simone, Bill Sienkiewicz (the cover artist for M3 #2), and Ryan Stegman have tweeted and posted about it, which helps. We’re also digitally on Comixology, so it’s only $1.99 to try the first issue, as opposed to $5 in print. We were also very lucky to be included in the SPX bundle on Comixology in September, which I know got a lot of buzz.
How did publishing your own book lead to your job at Marvel, one of the biggest comic publishers in the world?
I had spoken on a “Women in Comics” panel at Toronto Fan Expo in 2013 with Ellie Pyle, an editor at Marvel. She and I got along, and I had given her a copy of the M3 trade paperback. She shopped it around Marvel and, in January 2014, I got a call from Emily Shaw to write the Revenge graphic novel for Marvel, based on the TV show. When people come up to me at conventions, I tell them that M3 was what got me the Marvel job, and it’s true.
You’ve also worked on projects for DC Comics and Dark Horse, two other major publishers. What are the major differences for you as far working for major publishers vs. going indie?
My work with Dark Horse and DC Comics are through my “day job” at a studio in New York City. My boss is a comic book illustrator and creator, and he does work with DC, Dark Horse, Marvel, and other publishers. For Dark Horse, my credits are digital artist, ink and color assists, and letterer for Blood, published by Dark Horse Presents. My work with DC Comics is doing digital art, ink and color assists on Batman Odyssey, digital art and ink assists on Batman Old School (for Detective Comics #27), and lettering on Batman Zombie (for Batman Black and White).
As far as the difference between working with the majors vs. indies, the pros and cons are a seesaw. For major publishers, you have to answer to an editor, and you have certain continuity to maintain with licensed characters. For indies, you can do what you want and no one is really going to tell you it’s wrong because you’re the one telling the story in your own universe. Major publishers pay better (obviously), but they’re not always as creatively satisfying. On the other hand… everyone’s gotta eat, right?
One of the things I love most about you is that you are a writer who marches to your own beat. You do things differently. You also have several different projects going on while navigating through the fickle publishing world. What advice would you give to up-and-coming writers who want to work with major publishers, but still stay true to who they are?
I’d say if you want to work for a major publisher, do your own work first. Show a publisher that you can tell a coherent story and you can figure out (or at least find others to help) the other aspects of publishing and production. I thought I could go to Marvel and/or DC with scripts. Nope. They want to see finished comics from writers. So do it. Even if it’s an 8 paged story, get it drawn (you can talk to people on Deviant Art looking for things for their portfolio and other message boards for an artist) and put it together. That’s your portfolio for publishers.
It’s tough, but don’t be afraid to talk to editors at conventions. There’s a very delicate line to walk, but you’ll feel it out. I always say that after every email or interaction with an editor, I’m sure I’ll never work in the industry again.
As far as keeping true to yourself, therein lies the rub. If you want to work for a major publisher, you’re likely working on licensed work, i.e. characters that the publisher owns. You can do the stories you want to do, but they still have the authority and legal right to say, “No.” You work for a major publisher to pay your bills, and then you put out your own work, either on your own or through a creator owned company like Oni Press or Image Comics. This way you stay true to your vision of your story. You pay your bills, and get to adjust that black beret and call yourself a true artiste! Win win!
At the end of the interview with Erica, she shared this story, including part of a note from her editor. It’s a reminder, words of encouragement that all of us writers need.
When I got the Marvel gig, I was so excited and so terrified. I was so afraid that people would see that I was a fraud, or that I really wasn’t as talented as I thought I was, or any manner of negative things. I got up in the middle of the night and I wrote an email to Kelly Sue DeConnick. I told her that this was the toughest thing I’ve ever done (writing for Marvel) and that I don’t know if I can do it. She wrote me back a few things, but this was the best part of the note:
You can, in fact, do this. You are doing it, even. It is hard, yes, but that’s the joy of it. It is amazing to do difficult things.