Artist's Elite Comics – A Publishing Plan Designed To Be Chaotic
Recently I spoke to Tyler Kirkham, Alé Garza, and Shawn Hudachko of Artist's Elite Comics, a new comic book publisher formed by a number of prominent comic book artists. They announced their first book, the AEC Primer published in two issues, one Red and one Blue. Each contains a series of short stories from the upcoming series. But this is not just a promotional way of showing off the comic books that AEC will publish, it is the way of things going forward.
Because Artist's Elite Comics is going to publish an anthology comic book, which will contain comics created by the group of artists, and will contain as much of each story as is available at any given time, and will be published at a frequency to match the amount of content they have available. Which, if the current state is anything to go by, you could get a weekly Brett Booth comic book (he has built up enough work ready to be published already). But in all likelihood, you will get a serialised anthology across the group of artists – we just don't know what will be in each issue, how many pages of each issue will be by who, or how frequent the anthology comic will be. Hence the chaotic publishing plan in the title of this article.
Ale Garza talked about the artists originally named, but not in the first publishing plans, are people who may be joining the company in the year. Shawn talked about the demands on a comic creator, especially on creator-owned work without a page rate. Tyler also talked about not wanting to take creators away from their mainstream gigs that generate publicity for the artists.
Shawn told me "A lot of these things formed from just friends kind of shooting the sh*t and talking like, hey, we should do this Ali and Tyler reached out to me, thinking of doing this thing, I was flattered to be considered, to be a part of it and next thing you know, names are flying around. And we're talking about this, who wants to do that, you know these things go everything's all exciting at first and a lot of talk, and then when the smoke starts to clear and the dust settles and you see who's really gonna be there. who can actually produce the work you know and actually commit because everyone's so busy. Every other week I see Tyler has an exclusive being launched by somebody…" "You mean five exclusives" Tyler interjected. "Yeah sorry, every other day he has an exclusive out by somebody. Ali's got a kid on the way, his personal life popping and cracking, he's doing covers for me all the time. Everyone's so busy taking the time to ask an artist to say, look, you're gonna have to draw pages, create a character, come up with a logo, have it pencilled, coloured, inked, the whole nine yards, and by the way, you're doing this for free."
I asked about the names of creators as initially announced, but were then dropped. Ale Garza told me "I think a lot of like what Shawn was just saying played into that, those guys aren't completely out of the picture, but probably more like a year or two picture."
This week is the 30th anniversary of Image Comics, and the launch of Artists Elite seems most comparable to that. I asked how they related to that launch thirty years ago, and how they see themselves in relation to Image? Ale said "Obviously I'm not Jim Lee and Tyler's not Mark Silvestri, but we did come up around those guys, so we did see what it meant to the kind of success that they have, and the amount of work that you have to put into doing something and creating a brand that can sustain 30 years. I don't think we're planning on 30 years, right now we'd be happy to probably have three but it's exciting not only to see the stuff that like what we're coming up with, but to see what the other artists are coming up with."
I asked what it was that was actually binding them together as a whole, rather than going through Image, Boom, IDW, Dark Horse, Substack, ComiXology Originals, Webtoon or the many other creator-owned opportunities to reaching a mass market.
Tyler Kirkham states "We're artists, most of us are artists first, so that's kind of the whole theme, let's reach out to some of our artist friends who we know want to tell their own stories. They might not have a writer they're working with, but they have a really cool and fun idea that they want to explore. All of us are artists first, and then we've dabbled in some writing."
Ale added "Going back to Image, it was the artist first and then you had guys like Brandon Choi and Eric Stephenson, guys that weren't at the time big-name writers and they were helping launch these really iconic characters back then… In Wave 2 we probably already have talked to some writers … like Tyler said we have our crazy ideas, we're very visually driven, I want to create the kind of opportunities that I probably wasn't going to get from any major publishers right now and I think that probably rings true with a lot of the other artists that are on board." Tyler Kirkham added "even if we just brought in some writers that can kind of work with us in a way and almost mentor us in our writing skills, that's definitely something that we've considered"
Shawn talked about how people can get their books. "We kicked around doing it on just doing it on our own, through a website. Then we kind of decided we should we should try to get a distributor to give us a broad reach for the fans. We decided to go with Lunar distribution, they've done a great job being new to the distributor space. We do understand they don't distribute overseas so we are offering every comic shop the opportunity to sign up for a retailer account and order directly through us, through our website, including retailer exclusives, convention exclusives, whatever they want to do."
I did want to talk to Ale Garza over allegations over missed commissions and an unfulfilled Kickstarter for his Ninja Boy comic book that have plagued him. "For every person out there that I've glazed over and have missed on a commission, and I feel terrible about it, I'm almost always there for emails and for contact but for every person that I missed there's 20 people that I got. Obviously, I'm not a perfect human being, I make mistakes you know. As far as the Kickstarter goes, that's a work in progress, and that's something I've actually been working with Shaun, we're going to get that out there. We're going to get that done, the whole problem with that whole thing, I think it's already been about five years ago, and I just kind of like stumbled into it. Luckily it wasn't a huge Kickstarter because I think I only made like $12,000, whereas nowadays guys are making like 50 or 60 thousand dollars, it's something that I'm very cognisant of, something that keeps me up at night like, every Wednesday and Saturday, I wake up in cold sweats. I messed up but I can't let those things prevent me from keeping on keeping on. My plan has always been for Year Two after Sandwenches, if I get Ninja Boy cleared up, I would like to continue Ninja Boy. Because that is a character that is very close to m,e that's very well known to my fans and also has six issues written out that need to be drawn so you know, and alan warner the writer and co-creator, he's just over there waiting for it…. I'm not gonna do another Kickstarter till I get my other Kickstarter taken care of. A week becomes a month and a month becomes a year and then years become multiple years,"
Shaun added "I can put on my other hat, also as co-owner of Merc Publishing, we're also just getting started with Lunar, and our eighth successful kickstarter has ended. We've had plenty of challenges along the way with printing. One of our Kickstarters came in, half the books are damaged. We're working on getting those fixed, it's just the paper shortage is a real thing and fulfilling these Kickstarters, it's an enormous challenge. The paper shortage is a real thing, I had no idea how far and wide-reaching it is. Just finding a printer for Artists Elite and Merc Publishing at the same time, it's like we're ordering real volume of books here, come on guys, and they're like 'we don't have enough paper'. Most of these companies, the major printers in the world, they barely have enough paper to cover their existing clients. We are in talks with Ali to assist him on fulfilling Ninja Boy, we are trying to coordinate um how we can assist him in getting that done."
"I'm sure there's probably someone out there holding a grudge for something that I maybe did," said Tyler. "Tyler stole some gum from like the gas station back when he was twelve" Ali alleged. Tyler played along, "That's why I wake up in cold sweats but I totally understand how um crowdfunding thing. Right now, I'm currently fulfilling my Final Boss campaign for which the printer was months late because of paper supply and they simply couldn't get any paper to print the book, so it looks bad on me. But I finally got the books out."
So, June sees the launch of Artist's Elite Red Primer and Blue Primer, with July seeing the anthology series Artist's Elite #1 begin, with new work from Tyler Kirkham, Ale Garza and Brett Booth. But what kind of anthology will it be going forward? Shaun laid it out. "It's difficult to put together an entire 24 or 28-page comic, write it, pencil it out, colours, letters, it's very expensive. What we're offering here, what we plan on doing, is just publishing six to eight-page stories." And the first issue of the anthology in the July 2022 solicitations has just that. But then what? "Let's say Tyler's already got his part two done, and then maybe two other artists will be featured in part two. Part three may have, three different artists in there, it's chaotic publishing. Let's say Tyler gets his part one done and he doesn't get his part two done for eight months you may not see Tyler's part two for a long time."
Ali said that "The goal is at the end of year one to collect those and sell those as like a whole issue." Which of course is how most comics publishers around the world do this. Tyler observed "we'll publish the issues as fast as the creators can get it done. If they're cranking out content, we could publish four, six or eight issues a month, or it could go the opposite way and we could have one issue a month, it's entirely up to the creators, it's driven by their ability to produce their work. We're all trying to keep up with Brett Booth So, they could have four issues of solid Brett Booth because that could be no yeah that's what we have a lot that's why we needed a good roster of people um brett could be in every single book honestly because he's got so much material already."
Ale Garza explained his own perspective. "I've done comic books in the past but I've always worked with a writer and mainly that was my um writing partner and creative partner alan warner like obviously, we did Ninja Boy and Sky Runner, but with Sandwenches, it's the first book that I'll be scripting myself, I'm very excited to hear my voice in a comic because if you know me, I'm kind of a wise-ass and I love puns, so it's really fun to play off of all those things. I did bring in a new writer, his name is Howard Cadmus just to kind of help me with the plot details, just to keep me from going too far off base, but it's really exciting to me to have something for the first time with my actual voice on the page."
Tyler talked about his own book, Final Boss. "I think that's going to be a first for most of us, because I've you know I've written um I wrote or created a series um called Screwed: Project Frankenstein years ago published through Zenoscope, and it was my story, I plotted the whole thing out, but I co-wrote it with another guy, Keith Thomas who's actually passed away. So Final Boss is my first real work actually writing script, volume one is already done that's being shipped through the Indiegogo campaign. We're continuing that story through Artists Elite but eventually, I want to re-release volume one through Artists Elite for people that didn't get a chance to order it. It's all inspired by stuff from my life, whether it's video games or stuff that I loved growing up, so I'm just doing what I want, hopefully, people like it, and if they don't then it's a bummer."
While Shaun signed off saying NFTs were coming. Of course, they are… Primer Red and Blue are in Artist Elite's June 2022 solicits and Artist's Elite #1 is in July.
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