By Michele Brittany, West Coast Correspondent
Recognizable by their straightforward clean logo and an eagerness to help others, the Los Angeles based independent publisher Fanboy Comics (FBC) is celebrating their fifth year anniversary this summer with their first small press area booth at the San Diego International Comic Con.
Three college friends – Bryant Dillon, Barbra Dillon and Sam Rhodes – attended school together in Pennsylvania during the mid 2000s before moving out west to Southern California, each seeking to find a career in Hollywood. As creative friends are wont to do, the chums wanted to do a project together. They started out by making a short film based on a short story by Sam's brother Ben, titled Something Animal. The film was a catalyst for the friends who first decided to write a standalone story script of the film into a graphic novel, and they wanted to publish it. All three were co-founders and then each assumed the position that worked towards their strengths: Bryant Dillon the President, Barbra Dillon the Managing Editor and Rhodes the Creative Director.
The friends came to a consensus on the name: Fanboy Comics. Pointing out that was a woman on the team, Barbra Dillon responded that back in 2010, they were considering "fanboy" in the general, all inclusive sense. The name was easy to say, it was identifiable and it was meant to welcome everyone. And, it was a memorable name.
Barbra Dillon said that at the time they were forming FBC, a friend had advised the trio build a web presence by writing a weekly blog. Barbra Dillon reflected at how much work they all thought that would be since they each held full-time positions, which they still do today. In comparison to today where they on average post 6 to 10 stories and/or reviews Monday through Friday, in hindsight, three blogs a week was not much as all.
With a name selected, the FBC crew faced their first real challenge: the busines model they were pattern their business after. They wanted to blend publishing with building community, but they could not find a practical model to emulate. As Barbra Dillon explained, "In addition to being a comic book publisher, Fanboy Comics cultivates an online community that supports other creators and fans through reviews, interviews, and podcasts that span the pop culture spectrum. As fans ourselves, we know that everyone holds various fandoms in their heart, and we cherish the opportunity to both celebrate that excitement and promote the creators who made it possible, no matter the size or scope of the project."
Robert Burrows, an artist FBC found on Craigslist, was creating the hand painted panels for Something Animal, which left FBC the first year-and-a-half to focus and mold the non-publishing side of their busiess. They got a break when the opportunity arose to interview Jon Bernthal (Shane Walsh) from the television series The Walking Dead. It was a moment that helped solidify FBC within the industry for reporting popular culture news on their website and podcasts.
Meanwhile, as Burrows' artwork for Something Animal was coming to completion, it had provided the time for the co-founders to reflect on what kind of publishers they wanted to be: "We wanted to be present and be helpful," said Barbra Dillon. It was a mission and value statement that also led their non-publishing pursuits.
A Virginia-based James River Press was selected to print Something Animal, which happened to be the printing company's very first foray into printing a graphic novel. FBC decided to go with black and white with a third color – red which complimented the hand painted panels by Burrows while the limited color palette lent to the fear inducing horror of the story. With the release of Somethng Animal in 2010, FBC co-founders made the goal that they would publish at least one book per year – a goal they can list among their many accomplishments.
FBC led off with a second horror book, Identity Thief (2011), written by Bryant Dillon and art by Meaghan O'Keefe, who had been recommended by Burrows. O'Keefe's minimalist approach and Bryant Dillon's sparse use of dialogue provided tension and an endge of the seat story experience.
Writer/creator Michael Poisson had heard of FBC through mutual friends and met with FBC to discuss his epic story of God's angels as they become divisive as they wage war over the fate of humanity in the graphic novel The Arcs (2012). "We were excited by Michael's script," said Barbra Dillon. The genre was action/fantasy, which was a departure for FBC, who had worked in the horror genre for their first two books.
FBC was there every step of the way, providing editorial support, printing expertise and promotion. Poisson explained his working relationship with FBC. "Working with the Fanboy Comics crew on my graphic novel was one of the most satisfying collaborations I have experienced Fanboy is not only hpyer-dedicated and supportive of creator-owned projects, they are also highly creative individuals in their own right. The notes and ideas they offered throughout the development process were always smart and insightful. Even after publication, the team stayed invested in the project, always taking time to advertise the graphic novel, and inquiring about my progress on the next book. I'm very lucky that my first experience with a comic publisher was Fanboy. It's obvious that they're in it for the sheer love of comics, and to the creatives that they work with, that's worth a lot!"
While the publishing portion of FBC was taking off, so was their non-publishing efforts to support and promote popular culture and creative endeavors. FBC grew their website presence into the 6 to 10 posts of news and review each weekday from the three blogs a week. They expanded into the arena of podcasts and currently have five programs. Their Fanboy Scoop: Week in Review is close to reaching their 200th episode; The PREVIEWS Party is a monthly podcast hosted by Jason Enright, Editor-in-Chief of WE Comics and a FBC Senior Contributor, Scott Rubin a Figures.com Collectibles Review, and Kristine Chester, FBC Senior Contributor and host of The Worlds That Never Were; as well as the recently added The Arkham Sessions, weekly syndicated podcast in which Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward critically analyze Batman: The Animated Series. Barbra Dillon related she met Dr. Letamendi and Ward and has respected and been a fan of their work. She stated, "The Arkham Sessions looked at the thematic complexity and took the issues very serious" as reasons for why the series is so important.
What more can FBC take on? Well, they have been very participatory in the con community. They typically have a booth in the small press section and regularly host panels that include topics that instruct how to become an independent publishers and dissecting PREVIEWS as an extension of their monthly podcast program. FBC's co-founders have also worked together on a side project near and dear to their hearts. The Katniss Chronicles is an unofficial audio drama adaptation of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy. Through that experience, FBC is now working on a new audio drama based on Robert J. Peterson's novel The Odds, a post-apocalyptic science fiction fantasy from publisher California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. The drama will be featured in about 15 episodes and will be available at iTunes, Audible as well as at cons as a physical point of sale purchase.
FBC is also plugged into their local community, whether on the red carpet at the Saturn Awards in Los Angeles or at one of the many local comic book stores. In fact Barbra Dillon related that it was at an event in one of the local stores that FBC met Sebastian Kadlecik, John Bring and Lindsay Calhoon Bring, the creative force behind the comedic action adventure story, Penguins vs Possums: Volume One (2014), a trade paperback collecting issues one through four, with more issues and a second trade paperback planned.
"It has been an absolute pleasure to get to know the folks at FBC. I got to know them little by little as we frequented the same conventions and was so thrilled as our conversations turned to teaming up," recalled Kadlecik. "They are incredible professionals and have a true passion for all they do. They're also some of the nicest folks you'll ever spend a con day with. I'm incredibly excited for the future of FBC and can't wait to see what is in store."
And, last December, FBC released a fifth book, Fearworms: Selected Poems by writer/poet/artist Robert Payne Cabeen. The colleciton is a return to the horror genre for FBC and features a cover by comic book artist Bill Sienkiewicz. while horror wasn't a new genre for FBC, poetry was; it was a move that resulted in a couple of prestigious accolades. The book was nominated for the Horror Writer's Association Bram Stoker Award for poetry and has been nominated for two Science Fiction Petry Association Awards: the Rhysling Award for the poem "Rule 44" and the Elgin Award for the entire book. According to Cabeen, "Fanboy Comics' enthusiasm and uncompromising dedication to quality has made my Bram Stoker Award nominated 'Fearworms' the creative adventure of a lifetime."
It's an exciting week for FBC, who will have a booth in the Small Press Area (Booth O-04) for the first time at the San Diego International Comic Con this weekend. To celebrate, they have a number of exclusives on tap at the con. An early draft of the Fearworms: Selected Poems cover will be available in a limited run of 100 prints, signed and numbered by Cabeen and Sienkiewicz. A second exclusive is the variant SDCC sketch cover of Penguins vs Possums, issue 6. And if you cannot get enough of PvP, then fans will be excited by the new PvP mini statue of Meilai, the female warrior from the comic book series. In addition, creators form the FBC books will be on hand throughout the weekend at the FBC booth, so stop by and have a look.
When asked what she has learned in the first five years, instantly Barbra Dillon quoted Fred Rogers saying "the three ways to ultimate success is be kind, be kind, be kind." It's not about grabbing headlines by criticizing and trashing creators. Instead it is about being constructive with critiques that are supportive and promotes the creative process. "I am in awe of how far we have come and the amazing people we have worked with," Barbra Dillon reflected. "It's exciting to think of where we can go from here."
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (2014, McFarland & Company) as well as the forthcoming book Essays on Space Horror in Films, 1950s – 2000s. Read her reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage and space horror genres via her blogs at Spyfi & Superspies and Space Horror Films. Follow Michele on Twitter; @mcbrittany2014.