Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Lure of Elizabeth Guizzetti's Faminelands of Cookies and Souls

Welcome back to Warrior’s Inn!

It’s been a crazy week here in the desert but I finally got time to deliver the next interview in our fall series to you our loyal readers.

Today we bring you a delightful back and forth with writer/artist Elizabeth Guizette. She is the creative force behind one of my faves, Out for Cookies and Souls as well as the fantasy comics Faminelands and her newest web comic, Lure.

WIC: Hello Beth, and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Warrior Inn's, the Inn in Independent comics! Okay, yeah, it's a lame tag line. ;)
So lets start with your origin story; what first attracted you to comic books?

GUIZZETTI: Prior to comics; I was a professional artist/muralist. My own work was not selling well, but I was making money doing baby rooms and churches. Work begot more work, but it was all the same kind of job. It paid well, but I was getting bored of it. I painted so many blue skies with little fluffy clouds... I realized that I was losing my technical skills and even my voice as an artist.
I have always loved horror and fantasy comics. Some of my favorites are the Walking Dead, Dracula vs. King Arthur, [and] The Forgotten Realms/Dritz books. I didn't know anything about how to make a comic and I wanted to stretch myself. So I told my husband that this elf story that I was writing for fun, might make a good graphic novel. It was the beginning of what would become Faminelands.
More than anything, it was a challenge. I had no clue what I was doing and made a ton of mistakes in my first book. Somewhere along the line of writing and illustrating The Carp's Eye, I realized that I didn't want to do murals anymore. This could be my full time job if I threw myself into the way I threw myself into being an artist ten years ago, but I needed help. I cannot self-edit.
I called Maria [Masterson]. She was pregnant with her first child and on maternity leave. I don't think, at that point, either of us knew that it would change our entire relationship. She agreed to proofread, and listen to me hash out my ideas, and a bunch of other stuff. Somehow, she understood that I was serious and became an integral part of the team.
I have written/illustrated two other graphic novels and then the comics. I find each book looks better and better and I am still learning, that more than anything keeps me interested.
PS I thought your tagline was funny.

WIC: Thanks.
Okay, now where we? Oh yes, you mentioned your graphic novels and other comics but before we dig into those I'd like ask about Z Bee. How did Z Bee Publications get its’ start and how did the name come about?

GUIZZETTI: OK, lets see where to start... I sort of did things backwards and I never really thought about my name or the company until I found out I needed to buy an ISBN for FAMINELANDS: THE CARP'S EYE since it was going to be a graphic novel. The only thing businessy I knew at all during that year was that FAMINELANDS: THE CARP'S EYE would be released at 1.ECCC '08 and I would have a good booth...and even a give away.
Yes, all that happened.
Since I had an art studio already the setting up of some of the business stuff was pretty easy, I didn't even need to get a new business license just filled out a DBA (doing business as) form for the state and city.
I wish I had a better story for this one - While I knew I was writing a fantasy adventure in Faminelands, I was also sure that my next book would be something else and I wanted a name that had longevity- so I figured making it as simple and all encompassing as possible. ZBee is a nickname my mom used to call me. I also like bees. They are useful and cute but not cutesy. It seemed appropriate.

WIC: Speaking of your next book (the one after Faminelands) could you tell us how you came up with OUT FOR COOKIES AND SOULS?

GUIZZETTI: After Faminelands #1, I wanted to create something much lighter, much more fun. I like to put things that are different together and I enjoy stories with moral ambiguity. Poodles dressed like demons; elfin mercenaries. Just like how I wrote Faminelands to be a story I would like to read - I write OUT FOR SOULS AND COOKIES primarily because I thought it was funny.
I was originally inspired by my husband. Together, we make up these epic adventures about our dogs as jokes - nearly as long as we’ve been married. (Before Rosie and Tycho - there was Ginger and her Golden Poodle Pelt) Anyway we were joking that once Tycho was the emperor of Rome.
(FYI: Dennis did not wish to be credited as a co-writer or concept editor or anything, because the comic was so removed from the original idea of the story we made up. When I asked him, he said I was being silly.)
The real Rosie and Tycho are litter mates. Rosie is definitely the brains of the pair. We are pretty sure she is going to take over the world. She trained Tycho to do things for her. She wants to eat, he goes into the kitchen, she wants outside, he rings the bell. All I can tell you is that she is hedonistic and too cute to be stopped, but she loves her twin.
Tycho has a kingly bearing and the poodle version of OCD. He takes these stuffed squirrels and lines them up in a row and chews off their ears. He only wants the ears. I would find lines of earless squirrels under my desk. It was like a zombie squirrel army or something. Tycho's obsession is how Lord Fluffcakes became part of the story.
Anyway we live in Seattle, my dogs love cookies and I am pretty sure demons love souls - so there you go.

WIC: I always look forward to your answers. They are never just answers but stories in of themselves. LOL.
Lets see now, that will bring us to LURE. Could you tell us a little about your new web comic?

GUIZZETTI: Lure is a horror story of two Stampeders, Jack and Tom, during the Klondike Gold Rush. They head north expecting to scoop gold from the rivers and instead come face to face with a family of sirens. It is to be released March 1st, 2011 and debut at ECCC '11.
What was fun about this book is I let the setting dictate the characters. Fortunately for me, the Goldrush Museum as well as the Museum of History and Industry are both close by. I asked my husband for a guy's perspective nearly a million times. I spent nearly 6 months researching and in the best possible sense I tried to make Jack and Tom men of their era. For example, when the book opens, Tom is 18. As a member of the working class, he has been a fisherman since he was 13. He is an adult and is treated as such.
I'm about two weeks away from Maria's final edit of the book, well what we think will be the final edit. I am sure she will find something that needs to be added or taken out. Last time, we did a mockup and realized we were missing a page due to a spread. Opps!
I really must learn to draw these things in order.

WIC: LOL. Yes, drawing things in order probably helps. You've been working with Maria for quite a while. Do you two always see eye-to-eye and how valuable to you find having an editor is to the whole creative process?

GUIZZETTI: We have always worked well together. I tend to be intense where she is laid back and vice versa. I don't have many artist friends close by and having someone to flesh out ideas with has been integral. She is a good listener; she knows how to ask questions to help me think of new ideas. I am able to take her criticism.
We have the same goal as a company, which is, to create books that interest us and stretch our skills. That being said, Maria and I do not always see eye-to-eye in every detail of the books.
If I love something and Maria has a negative reaction to the characters or the story lines, ultimately I make the final call. However often her concerns have made a story-line that much stronger, because it often just means I need to do more research or recheck a fact or explain something better.

WIC: Is there anything you'd like to share with our readers about entering the wide world of independent comics?

GUIZZETTI: If someone wants to enter the wide world of indy comics, I say go for it!
However, I will say the juggling of business and writing/drawing can be difficult, so be sure that you actually like to write stories, or draw, or ink etc. Be sure you are ready to pound the pavement for your books, because no one else will.
As an artist you need to grow a thick skin. Just remember, there are a lot of different genres, writing and art styles, not everyone is going to like yours and just because somebody hates it doesn't mean the next person isn't going to love it.
Get to know other artists and writers. We tend to be incredibly supportive; because we know how hard it is to do what we do. We cheer for each other and help each other find good sources for printing, getting bookmarks made, and whatever else...
Especially for independent comics - the profits are so low that more than one of us are on the razor's edge of folding any given year. Ask artists what mistakes they made in the beginning: I probably could list a handful of stupid moves that I made. Ask them why they choose the pencil they use or which paper or how to save money of poster pockets... or whatever you need.
It's great fun.

WIC: Okay Beth, what was the most educational blunder you've had since this adventure began?

I have been trying to come up with the biggest blunder, but I can't. So I'm giving you four.
First off, I have no real regrets; but I do wish I had spoken to more people prior to jumping in. I wish I hadn't been so shy in the beginning, because the following lists are all things others would have shared:
1) Total inventory. My first run was 250. I made bookmarks, stickers, etc thinking I would hand them out to everyone who passed me by when actually only about a quarter of people were interested at a convention and that includes the people who just wanted a freebee. So I had tons of excess inventory in my one bedroom apartment.
2) The amount of inventory to carry to a show. We used to take everything we had in stock to a convention, we lost a lot to damages that way and if we are flying - books are heavy.
3) How to approach stores:
In '08 I did six conventions, but no other type of appearances. I wasn't in any comic book stores. Why? I did not know how to approach them. I emailed and called and rarely got a response, until one day Adam Watson [Darkslinger Comics] said, "hey you guys should go here and see if they want your book."
The idea that I could just walk into the store never occurred to me. Maria and I sold three books that day.
4) Finally this one, I just had to learn on my own:
Not only are Maria and I a great creative team, but we are also a great sales team. Doing non-local events without her has been the cause of more hassles than any other mistake I have made. (Funny I am saying this when I am going to Jet City this Saturday without Maria, but that's a one-day show, two miles from my house.)
When we went to San Diego in '09, we traveled separately. I did the first day alone and the second half of the last day alone. That was a huge mistake. Maria's luggage ended up being over 50 lbs on one side. That was 50 bucks down the tube. I was exhausted and by the time I left on Sunday. I couldn't get everything in my luggage. I ended up giving a display to a local and dumping 20 books of OUT FOR COOKIES & SOULS #1. Just handing them to random people as I walked back to my hotel, because I knew I couldn't afford another $50 overweight luggage fee.
In '08, I did APE in San Francisco. (Originally we had planned that she would go, but Maria could not get a sitter for the whole weekend.) I did the convention with my brother. He was great, but he did not look at this like a business trip. He even wore a badge that said Maria Masterson on it. It felt like I was constantly nagging. I didn't know anyone so I didn't feel comfortable approaching people to ask for help. And once again, I exhausted myself; between a days’ drive each way, a ten hour day, and a seven hour day.
On the other side, Maria can't do a con without me. It's a booth fee wasted. There is no way to say this without coming off as stuck up. One of the reasons, people buy books at conventions is to meet the artist and author, Maria gets a lot of flack from people who don't consider the editor important enough to talk to or feel she doesn't understand the process. (I wish I was making that up.)

WIC: I can see that as being true, editors rarely get the attention they deserve. This has been fun and educational, something I never thought I’d say when I was just a teen in high school. And speaking of editors, Maria was unable to join us for this Q&A due to being a bit to prego right now. I’d like to thank Beth and wish Maria good health!

But it’s time to get this posted up on the net, already a week behind, yikes!

1.Emerald City Comicon hosted in Seattle, Washington every year since 200?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Soaring with Susan Soares into Comic Promotions

Welcome back to Warrior's Inn, a space on myspace and Blogger where creators and small press publishers can go to learn how others are breaking into the sequential art form known as comics!

Today begins this Fall's interview series with creators and indie comic folks like our first interviewee, Susan Soares of SJS Comic Promotions.

WIC: Hello Susan,

Lets get started, shall we?

You are different than others in this interview series, as in, you aren't a creator per say, rather you work for creators as a Promotions Consultant. Can you tell us exactly what that is?

SOARES: Sure. Basically I help creators get their properties noticed by the comic book reading public and beyond. Some of the services I provide include social networking management (ie Facebook), press release writing and distribution, book distribution for media coverage and reviews, as well as convention planning and advertising.

Depending on the needs of the client, I do pretty much anything that's necessary to increase their visibility and popularity.

WIC: It almost sounds like you're kinda like a comic creators agent. Would you consider that a fair assessment? What is the difference between say an agent and a promotions consultant like yourself?

SOARES: The movie industry is vastly different than the comic book industry, in my opinion. No I don't consider myself an agent. Agents represent people and their goal is to get their clients additional work. I am a publicist, to use a more mainstream title. My focus is to get the properties noticed, with the creators going along for the ride.

WIC: Do you consider your clients to be stars in their own right?

SOARES: And as far as my clients being stars, of course they are. My job is to make my clients appear and feel important, as they should be. A lot of sacrifice and hard work goes into the properties they create.

WIC: You are familiar with the sacrifice and hard work that goes into a comic. As the wife of a comic creator can you speak a little about the dedication that goes into creating a property and the sacrifices that come with entering the world of entertainment?

SOARES: My husband has been working on Sky Pirates of Valendor since 2006. He was first published in 2007 and began his miniseries in 2008. Since that time, we have put 1000's of miles on our car, spent 1000's of dollars in talent, printing, conventions and traveling costs. We work really hard because I'm a firm believer that if you do something where you invest money and time, you do it to all the way. We've had bumps in the road but we also just celebrated our debut appearance in Previews. While I know many creators have outside obligations that prevent them from spending the time and money we have, I firmly believe that Sky Pirates of Valendor is proof it can happen for any title. And that's why I created my company. Creators don't always have the time to properly promote their properties. That's what I'm here for.

WIC: It seems Diamond Comic Distributors have made it difficult for indie and small press publishers to keep their comics in Previews with their minimums and their piece of the cover price pie. Many indie creators ask how is it possible to profit, let alone get on the comic shop shelf with Diamond’s policies. What has your experience been with Diamond and when should a creator consider submitting to a distributor?

SOARES: For the indie creator, Diamond is for trade paperbacks. We did not solicit our single issues, nor will we. Under the advice and guidance of Sky Pirates' publishers,Free Lunch Comics, the story was structured in the format of a miniseries that was easily collected to a trade paperback. One continuous storyline that fits into one book is easier to market and the profit margin is greater. And the risk is less for the retailers than committing to a miniseries released in single issue that may not get completed or canceled due to low sales numbers.

WIC: Have you consider distributing with an indie friendly company like Haven Distributors in addition to Diamond?

SOARES: And no we are not considering any other distribution methods at this time. Haven, from what I see, is a very small operation that very few retailers know anything about. I think it's going to be a very slow process to incorporate new distributors into the industry. But for creators who can't afford a Diamond print run, I strongly recommend as it gets your graphic novel listed on a multitude of online bookstores, including Amazon. It's the best alternative for budget-restricted creators.

WIC: I want to get back to your website and what you do for your clients. On your Gallery page you share covers of your clients projects but you also have a couple video previews of those comics you promote. Similar to motion comics, the vids make use of voice acting and sound effects. Did your promotions company produce these?

SOARES: Despite the fact that I went to school for communications and that included video production, I can't do it professionally to save my life. The Sky Pirates trailer was created by the folks at The DarkBrain trailer was created by Andrew Zar, publisher of Two of my other clients have trailers in production that hopefully will be out soon.

WIC: How would one go about getting one of these made for their comic? And have you found them helpful in advertising a comic?

SOARES: If a creator wants a trailer made for their series, I would recommend reaching out to a videographer. There is software out there to do it yourself and I have created a couple ameteur videos for a friend but nothing at the quality you would want to promote a series. And yes I have found these to be very effective tools to promote comics. There are so many outlets to post these videos both on social networking sites and websites, the visibility is outrageous. One of's trailers has received almost 12,000 views on YouTube. Fans love to see the pages come to life with animation and sound, features you don't get from a printed comic book.

WIC: Can you tell us how DarkBrain's 12,000 views translates into sales?

SOARES: DarkBrain is a little bit different because it is a webcomic. All of their content is free to view at a PG-13 level. They offer a membership option for $4.99 a month or $24.95 for a six-month subscription that unlocks the option to choose whether content is viewed at a PG-13 or R-rated level, among other member-only benefits. Since we posted the various trailers and opened up all the content to be free, we've have had over 80,000 pageviews per day and we've sold more memberships than before we changed the model. My role with DarkBrain is slightly more intense than with my other clients. I am responsible for making marketing recommendations that influence and impact the overall success of the site. It has been very challenging as we are working with a model very different than any other webcomic out there, coupled with managing mature content.

WIC: As a web comic publisher I'm intrigued, I may have to talk to you more about this later but as an interviewer I'm going to choose to move on. Since we are talking about clients, you have a page where you post a list of your clients and contact info for them. Is this a list of past or present clients or a mixture of both?

SOARES: The list on my website is a current list. With the exception of Sky Pirates and some pro bono work I did previously, I only started taking on clients in April.

WIC: You also spoke about how busy DarkBrain keeps you, how do you manage all your clients and make room for more?

SOARES: As far as time is concerned, I currently do not have a day job so my clients are doing me a world of good right now. I'm one of those people who if I'm doing something I truly love, I breeze through the work. I'm still learning alot and have my busy days. But there are days where the pace is slower. All depends on what's going on. With New York Comic Con coming up, I expect to be busy in the next few weeks.

My goal is to build a full time career doing this, which is why I am still seeking to take on more clients. A few months ago, this was a stretch goal. As time goes on, it is becoming more of a reality.

WIC: Isn't that everyone's dream? To do the work that makes us happy? I've actually been pondering the idea that this recession we are in is going to turn out to be a blessing in disguise. As more and more of us find ourselves unemployed Americans are having to become more and more creative. We have to ask ourselves, how am I going to pay rent this month? That question turns into what skills do I have, what services can I offer? What can I do to earn a living? And look at us? Look at what Americans are doing? We are pulling up our big boy/girl pants respectively and doing what American’s do best; we are creating, innovating! 100 years ago there was a decade called the Roaring 20's, I have a sneaky suspicion we are on the verge of our own Roar! Don't you?

SOARES: I would agree. I have several friends who lost their jobs right around the time I did and they are pursuing freelance careers. It is nerve wracking because clients do come and go and some contracts are shorter than others. The greatest news I get to hear nowadays is that a client is going to renew their contract with me. But I find myself spending as much time looking for new clients as I do working for my existing ones.

WIC: Well let’s see if we can generate a few more clients for you by telling them what you offer. On your website you have started a blog called Promotionally Speaking. What are the goals you hope to achieve with this blog?

SOARES: Let me clarify that Promotionally Speaking actually started in 2008 on a Canadian-based publisher's website, Septagon Studios. After I lost my job in April of 2009, I lost my focus somewhat and struggled to find a way to rebuild my life. Well, I fell off the wagon with my articles.

With the development of my website, I decided to re-launch the blog. I plan to accomplish a number of things with the blog. One is to offer advice to creators based on the lessons I've learned. I don't claim to know everything but since we have been so aggressive, we've made some good and some not-so-good moves that I want to share with fellow creators.

I also plan to share some of the major press releases that I distribute from SJS Comic Promotions. And, lastly I would love to run an advice column with questions from creators.

WIC: Sounds similar to my goals with this blog. I strongly believe in collaboration of the arts. I've always been part of art forms that share resources and creativity, from playacting to film making to sequential art story telling. It is by far the most enjoyable thing about this career path.

Speaking of sharing I took a gander at the posts you have on your new page thus far and you mention some of the mistakes you've made, could you tell us about your biggest blunder as well as you best success?

SOARES: One of the biggest blunders I made was a very personal one and cost me a great deal. Without going into too much detail, I basically thought I could build my professional reputation and my client base by representing some of my friends who were creators. Going back to how aggressive Everett and I are with Sky Pirates, I tried to impose that aggressiveness with them. It cost me the opportunity to work with them and the aftermath of the situation cost me some friendships. It taught me however that it's ok for me to set standards on who I want to work with and if I feel a client doesn't match my views on comic creation, then it's ok to not work with them. It also taught me I can't change my clients. I can recommend and suggest changes and some will stick, and some won't. And most importantly, for me particularly, I can't represent my friends. I care too much and while I care about all my clients, friends hold a different rank.

My greatest success will always be Sky Pirates. My husband never wrote a comic before and in an instant, he was a

finalist in a competition for comic book creators. Then in another instant, we were picked up by Free Lunch Comics, whom we love dearly. And then in another blink of an eye, we were in Previews. That success and the reputation I built from that success helped build my client base and the courage to keep building my freelance career, despite the huge mistakes I made when I first tried to launch it.

WIC: Going back to your blog you expressed a commitment to finding answers or providing resources to the answers. How many times have you been called upon to go above and beyond to find an answer to a client’s question?

SOARES: With the exception of my work with DarkBrain, so far most of my clients have been the standard formula I'm used to. I most recently had to come up with a solution to a problem that affected a number of my clients, which is New York Comic Con. We all applied for Artist Alley tables and we all were declined. So I proposed to 6 of my clients that we share a Small Press Booth, which they agreed. We split the cost, which alone is lofty. And I will be hosting them under the SJS Comic Promotions name.

WIC: That's great. Thank you. That's all we gots for now. It's been great chatting with you!

SOARES: Thanks Ben.

Thanks for reading everyone. Be sure to stop by next week when we pick the brain of Elizabeth Guizzette as she Lures you Out for Cookies and Souls in the Famine Lands of her dreams. Till we meet again.

Ben K.