So, it's happened to me again and is beginning to feel like de ja vu. I hear from comics writer and imprint Believe in Comics founder Fabian Rangel Jr. that there's another Doc Unknown comic coming to Kickstarter, and before I can send him my interview questions, the project has already funded, almost overnight. This time it's a full graphic novel collection of Doc Unknown stories, a comic that rose to fan attention through ComiXology in digital formats, but Rangel Jr. and artist Ryan Cody have been working their alchemical formula for Kickstarter success in a triple play: Kickstarter and issue, get the rewards out on time, put it up on ComiXology through the Submit platform, thereby gaining even more readers, rinse, and repeat. Only each time they have engaged a larger and larger fanbase, and a 12 page Doc Unknown story is even currently appearing in Image Comics' Five Ghosts.
There's a definite sense of increased momentum for this World War II set occult action adventure steeped in noir. It's engaging, pulpy, visually enticing, and in short, has a strong sense of its own internal world and where it's heading. The new 104 page collection, "Winter of the Damned" will contain multiple strange adventures in Gate City, and span Doc's history between the first volume and an upcoming, larger arc. Unsurprisingly, Rangel Jr. has it all planned out well ahead and readers just get to sit tight for an eventful ride.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Doc Unknown has been a committed project of yours for a while, already appearing in a first collection, but I'm going to rewind and ask about the design work: What inspired you to go with the red glasses as a key feature? How do you think that influences the reader's perception of the hero?
Fabian Rangel, Jr.: Hahah- I'm actually surprised no one has asked that before. In the original character design description I asked Ryan Cody to draw him wearing goggles with a red or green tint. Whatever color he ended up picking I was going to work into a future story. If you read #1 you'll see that the statue was made from red stone, that's going to come into play in Volume 3. As far as them looking more like glasses instead of traditional goggles, that was all Ryan. I had asked that they look somewhat like a domino mask, but since then they have morphed even from that first character design he turned in.
I hope the reader's perception of Doc from looking at those red glasses is that this dude is unusual.
HMS: Hopefully this isn't an offensive question, because although I am aware of the historical WWII context of the comic and its pulp roots, I am wondering: why did you go with a blond white guy as the lead character design? I suppose he is a little bit like a svelter Doc Savage and plenty of those pulp heroes originally fit that type buy I'm wondering about that choice and how you feel it fits the comic.
FR: HOW DARE YOU OFFEND ME! Just kidding. In the original character description I said "either black or blonde hair". So the blonde part is Ryan. As far as him being white, I kind of imagined Doc as being like Steve Rogers or Bruce Wayne, so I wrote him looking those dudes in my head.
HMS: Are there deeper themes in Doc Unknown that you want to put forward for the reader's considerations—particular concerns or messages you want to convey—or it is more about action, adventure, and mystery as an experience?
FR: When I first came up with the concept, (which is very much just everything I love about comics rolled into one comic) it was about mystery, action and adventure. But as I've written more, and as I've already outlined Volume 3, I hope to convey some messages about fate and trying to live life to the fullest by not giving in to fear. About finding out what you're supposed to do, and doing that. Finding the right path.
HMS: Do the stories in Doc Unknown Volume 2 fit together in a particularly interlocking way or is it more an anthology of episodic adventures? If the latter, how did you decide what adventures you wanted to include alongside each other?
FR: It's more of a collection of several adventures. The ones I picked kind of show this world a little better, and also introduce key characters that will come into play in Volume 3. Even though they are four complete stories, they serve as a kind of bridge between Volume 1 and Volume 3. They kind of fill in some gaps. Volume 1 was pretty much introducing Doc, Volume 2 is him in action, and Volume 3 will be the end of his story.
HMS: Why the hell are you and Ryan Cody so successful on Kickstarter? I must ask. Your track record is becoming astonishing and your fan base seems to be growing very quickly. Funding in three days? Outrageous. Though I recall you have moved quickly in the past.
FR: Hah! Well, first of all, we're not THAT successful. Our first one was 300% funded but we didn't break 10K or anything. If we break 10K on this one I'll agree with you! Here's what I think:
1. I had been self-publishing or getting titles published for 3 years before I even attempted a Kickstarter.
2. We had self-published 4 issues of Doc Unknown (on a steady schedule) and released them on ComiXology before attempting a Kickstarter. I think both of those facts showed people that we not only knew what we were doing, but that we could deliver on time.
I also knew if we did a good job on the 1st Kickstarter, we would then earn people's trust even further, and be able to pull off a second one, and ask for more money (since this book is longer). So far, I was right. Also, thanks to Ryan, the book looks as professional as something you'd see on the shelf at your LCS (and in my opinion, better than some stuff you see on the shelves). Plus, I think people can tell that we love making this comic when they read it!
HMS: Tell me about teaming up with ComiXology for digital rewards on the project. What do you think that brings to a Kickstarter campaign and would you recommend it to others?
FR: They actually approached me about it. I'm totally flattered and excited about it. I think it shows a level of professionalism, and maybe makes people feel more at ease, knowing that this awesome company trusts us enough to team up with us on this. For me, it's less work on the fulfillment side, for them, its customer acquisition, and for the backers, its convenience. Everyone wins! So yes, I'd definitely recommend it. Also, I can honestly say a large portion of Doc Unknown's fan base discovered us through Submit.
FR: I grew up reading comics in print, so of course there's that sense of nostalgia, and of accomplishment holding something tangible in your hands, the weight of it, the smell of the ink and paper. But I also recognize that digital allows people from all over the world to read Doc with a lot more convenience. I don't see it as an either/or type situation. I love both. The Guided View on ComiXology is rad, and I love seeing my comics in that format. Whether it's in print or digital, I'm just glad people are giving Doc Unknown a chance. I'm totally blown away and humbled that readers check it out, enjoy it and support us.
Check out "Winter of the Damned" on Kickstarter to explore the various rewards, including digital editions of Doc Unknown: Volume One, through ComiXology. You can contact Fabian Rangel, Jr. @FabianRangelJr on Twitter.