Friday, 23 September 2011

Why Is Stiffs On Indie-Go-Go?

Yes. That's right. Stiffs now has an Indie-Go-Go page. For those who don't know, Indie-Go-Go is a website where creators can post a project, and ask the general public to help fund it. People can donate any amount from (in this case) $1 up to $100 to help get the project off the ground, and get rewards in return. In the case of Stiffs, rewards range from a thanks in a future issue, up to a complete set of the five issues and being drawn into the comic. Not bad, eh?

But, you may cry, why do you need donations of money to get Stiffs out there? Don't you already have a publisher who is covering all the printing and distribution costs? Well, yes, we do. Dead Star Publishing have been brilliant, and are, indeed, covering the printing and distribution, as well as the promotion, of our li'l comic. But these are far from the only costs incurred when it comes to producing Stiffs.

However, before we go into that, I'm going to do something surprising. I'm going to admit that I'm not one-hundred percent comfortable with sites like Indie-Go-Go, Kickstarter, Crowdfunder, or any of these other sites which allow the public to fund people's projects. The problem is, any hack can get their project on these sites with relative ease and start demanding money off you to help get it made. There's almost no end to the projects on the internet which are crying out for your cash, but really don't deserve it. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of projects on them which are worth your time, and I myself have donated in the past to a couple of them, but thanks to the sheer number of shit ones, there seems to be a stigma which has very quickly arisen around these websites.

They're the last resting place of people's vanity projects, which amount to nothing more than bad writers, artists, directors or producers wanking over themselves and how wonderful they are. As soon as someone gets a project on one of these sites, they do nothing but spam you with the link to it, annoying you asking you to fund something you couldn't give two shits about, but which they believe is the greatest piece of work since Michaelangelo did his last ceiling job. And the problem is, this is true of many of them.

I'm actually vaguely uncomfortable with Stiffs being on one of these sites for both these reasons. I don't want us to be grouped in with these creators, and I don't want people to think we're using it to try and swindle you out of your money. When the topic of getting Stiffs on Indie-Go-Go was first raised, I was wary. I voiced my concerns to Drew and Joe, and in fairness, they listened. They then talked me around, and I am fully behind the decision. But there is still some unease, and before I start throwing the link out there asking you guys for money, I want to address this with you.

First of all, the costs. When it comes to making a comic, the printing is far from the only cost involved. You know who else needs paying? The artists. We have three very talented artists working on Stiffs. Gavin Mitchell's wonderful pencils and inks, ably coloured by Adam Cadwell on issue #1, with Kris Carter taking over for the remainder of the series, need some form of compensation, and much as we have tried to suggest it, the three of them just won't accept us paying them in hugs and high fives.

Artists in the world of comics don't come cheap. I'm not going to go into actual figures, but it's fair to say that, generally speaking, per page, artists get paid more than writers. And that's entirely right. Artists have to work harder than writers to get a single issue completed. Writing a few words on a page takes a lot less time than drawing however many pictures of various characters doing various things on the same page. You'll find that, within the industry, while there are writers putting out three or four comics a month, it's rare to find an artist with more than one. A few of them can do two a month, but I'd imagine they have very little in the way of social lives and haven't seen their families for a while. So, artists getting paid more than the writers is, when based on the workload, exactly right.

And we've had to pay our three wonderful artists all out of our own pocket. While, yes, Drew, Joe and I are contracted to Dead Star and will see a small pay cheque from Stiffs, Gav, Adam and Kris are not. Stiffs started with Drew. I then forced my way in, and the two of us later asked Joe to join us as well. We were just three friends writing a story together. But before Stiffs, we hadn't met any of the artists. We were put in contact with them, and we hired them to draw the book, long before we ever discussed publishers. As such, they required paying. While we have managed to cover these costs so far, none of us are by any means rich. We all work normal day jobs to provide us with the means to live, and the costs of paying the artists really add up over a month. So, if we can get funding through Indie-Go-Go, you would be not only buying yourself a copy of Stiffs (depending on how much you donate), you would be enabling us to pay our artists and create further comics.

There are other costs involved too. One way a creator needs to get his or her comic out there is to take it to a convention. Again, to attend one of these costs money. Plus, you need to have something there to sell. While Dead Star are printing and distributing Stiffs through their website and various comic shops, they're not just going to give us a load of free copies of the book to take to a con. They're a small publisher, they need to make a profit, and giving things away isn't really conducive to that. So, if we want to take a pile of comics to a con, we need to pay Dead Star to print them.

So the costs add up. There are other things your money would be going towards, small details which I won't bore you with here, but the crux of it is, when you're an indie creator, even if you have a publisher, there is still a lot of money to spend to get your book out there.

And finally, the bit where I try and convince you I'm not a pretentious wanker. Here's my honest opinion. Stiffs isn't the greatest comic the world has ever seen. Nowhere near. It's not going to change your life, it's not going to make you instantly more attractive to the opposite sex. But I do think it's good. It's a project I'm very proud to be involved in, and if you read it, I'm fairly confident that you'll find it an amusing diversion for a brief period. You'll enjoy the action, you'll laugh at the jokes and you'll like the characters. Especially Kenny. Did I mention we have a talking monkey?

I'm not going to constantly spam the link, and I'm not going to pretend Stiffs is something it isn't in order to get you to part with your hard earned cash. I'm simply going to tell you that it's a comic I genuinely believe has a place in the market. Is there hyperbole on the Indie-Go-Go page? Of course. That's how these things work. But at the end of the day, we love making this book, and I think that shows in the final product. The preview book had some good reviews, and we're confident we can keep the quality consistent. Maybe even get better, so that one day we do become a life changing best comic ever.

We'd like a chance to get there, and we'd like your help to do it. So please, if you like the idea of Stiffs, enjoyed the preview book, or just like any of the creators as people (ha!), then donate $1. Or more. Up to you. And if you don't like us or the book, that's fair enough. You don't have to donate a thing. I won't hold it against you.

That up there is the link. Use it, share it, ignore it. I'll leave it with you.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Worlds Apart

A friend of mine linked me to a writing competition recently. This happens on occasion, when you're a struggling writer. Someone sees a competition, thinks of you and hits you up with the link. It's a good thing. I've entered and, I suppose, lost my fair share of them. I mean, I don't have anything to confirm I lost, but I didn't win, so I must have, right? But I digress.

This particular writing competition though, something about it seemed a little off to me. Not in a dodgy way, by any means. It was linked through the BBC website for one thing, so I don't thing there'd be any shenanigans there (and my friends at the Beeb won't contradict me, 'cos no one enjoys the job center). More, it was what the competition was asking for that troubles me.

The competition was asking you to pitch a world. Not a story, not a script, not a TV series or a film, but a world where stories could take place. The competition lists some examples of worlds along the lines of what they're after. These included things like Star Wars, Doctor Who and the Marvel Universe. All very good examples of worlds where multiple stories take place, with hundreds of characters running around and amazing opportunities to entertain an audience. And they can all be pretty neatly summed up in a pitch type sentence, if the need should arise.

But, those universes weren't created as universes. They were universes which came into being as a result of a story. When it comes to the creative process, I don't necessarily agree that there are any hard and fast rules. As long as you're telling a good story, that's all that matters. But one thing I do think is a bad idea is attempting to create a world without having a story to tell in it. You can start with a character or an event, two key aspects of any story, but to jump straight into a whole world, head first? That's just asking for trouble, and in my opinion, could quite easily lead to some lazy story telling.

Don't get me wrong, a good story needs a world to be set in, but the world should form naturally around that story. And, chances are, once you've told one story in that world, you'll have an idea for another. The world you've created will grow and change naturally as the story evolves, sometimes to the point where the world changes the story you were originally looking to tell. But it's all in service to the story. Do Drew, Joe and I have a fully developed world built up for Stiffs? Yes, we do. We know all sorts of things about what has happened, what is happening and what will happen in that world. Will you ever see all of that? No. We hope you'll see a lot of it, but there's always things that just don't matter to the story. We know they happened, but they don't necessarily impact upon the events we're portraying in the comic. Did we create the world first? Of course not. All we started with was Drew's idea about a man and his monkey hunting zombies in the woods. Everything else grew naturally from there.

Likewise, when Doctor Who was first broadcast in nineteen sixty-three, no one had the first inkling that he was a Time Lord, that he could regenerate, that he would last on and off for fifty years, that there would be multiple spin-offs and storylines galore. It all came later as different writers told different stories using the characters, and it all came about naturally as a result of the storytelling process. Nobody pitched Doctor Who as a fully realised world. They pitched it as a TV series about an old man and his time machine. The world came later.

World building is a part of writing. It should happen, and it's a great feeling when it does. And yes, I have a number of worlds in my head to tell stories in, but it was always the story which came first. Asking people to pitch a world just doesn't work for me. I love some of the worlds I write in, but I wouldn't know where to start pitching them as worlds. Let me pitch a story to you first. The world will follow.