One man, years spent in the absurd search for love in a tragic-comic world, a 21-part semi-autobio webcomic, 22 artists, and one Kickstarter to print that starts today : Schmuck.
Award winning pop culture photographer Seth Kushner, the camera behind the world-famous portraits of comics creators in Leaping Tall Buildings (and of many comics pros photo portraits to be found on book covers), has followed a life steeped in comics fandom to write a comic of his own, plunging with self-immolating abandon into the long journey he took through the treacherous world of dating in search of true love. The results for Kushner's avatar Adam Kessler are stark, dark, humorous, resilient, and persistent, and make Schmuck a narrative with bite as its drama unfolds, speaking to readers on a very personal level of identification in the mad, mad world of looking for a soul-mate.
In the hands of some of the most luminary young talents in indie comics, the chapters of Schmuck grow and evolve into a wealth of visual styles to give a composite picture of the hapless hero learning his own worst qualities, as well as those of his generation, and choosing his own path to true romance.
Schmuck's 22 collaborating artists include:
Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge), Nick Bertozzi (The Salon), Dean Haspiel (The Fox), Kevin Colden (The Crow), Gregory Benton (B+F), Leland Purvis (Resistance), Sean Pryor (Pekar Project), Bobby Timony (Night Owls), Noah Van Sciver (The Hypo), Omar Angulo (Hurricane Wilma), Shamus Beyale (The Grimm Fairy Tales), Ryan Alexander-Tanner (To Teach), Nathan Schreiber (Power-Out), Stephan DeStefano (Lucky in Love), George Jurard (Beacon Lights), George Schall (Dark Horse Presents), Tony Salmons (Vigilante), James Smith (Gang of Fools), Derek Skuds McKinley Jones (Rumble Moon), Jonathan Allen (Vacationland), Pierce Hargan and Christa Cassano.
Seth Kushner sat down recently to draft the prologue for the Kickstarter volume, and shared a sneak-peek of the content, his reflections on the process of creating Schmuck, with Bleeding Cool. Here are some intriguing extracts:
On the origin of Schmuck in Kushner's life:
Growing up, my mother often called me a "Schmuck." It was part insult and part term of endearment. For the uninitiated, "Schmuck" is a Yiddish insult, an obscene term for penis, usually referring to someone who did a stupid thing. It was the first title that sprung to mind for the prose novel manuscript I started writing eleven years ago.
The idea to write a book came partly from inspiration and partly from need for self-analysis. Back in 2003 I was single and miserable. My post-high school to late 20s string of long-term relationships had come to an end when I was callously dumped by my dream girl and I was alone for the first time in my adult life. I found myself unprepared for meeting adult women and jumped between fix-ups, Internet dating and random hooks-ups, and I was mostly failing at them all. But, as depressed as I was, I found myself collecting stories. I was experiencing life outside of my comfort zone, and I was sharing these stories with my friends. A close female friend found my tales of woe particularly entertaining and encouraged me to write them down.
On Kushner's attempts to write comics for the first time:
Over a week's time, I eked out 17 pages of comics script from my prologue. It was challenging but a real learning experience. I felt pleased reading it over, but my lack of experience left me wondering if it was actually any good. I sent an email to my good friend, cartoonist extraordinaire Dean Haspiel and asked if he'd mind taking a look at what I had. Dean (God bless him) came back with great, constructive feedback. He instructed me to be careful about using too many words, a mistake many novice comics writers make. He told me not to be afraid to let the pictures tell the story; since there's no reason for the text to describe what's already seen. He also pointed out I was using too many panels per page.
I took another crack at it, eliminating as many words as I could. Dean was right (of course!) and I could see how there was no need for the caption: "He opened the door," if the panel shows the character opening a door. Duh. I also broke up some pages into two, allowing the whole thing to breath. Dean explained the need for finding the beats of the story and figuring out the best place to end each page on a cliffhanger of sorts.
On turning from traditional publishing to webcomics:
On thing I'd learned about the comics industry (or publishing in general) is how increasingly difficult it's become for an independent creator to find a publisher who will pay him for his "new" creation. They'd rather spend their dollars on the safe bets of long-running characters. So, many creators decide to self-publish or post online in order to get their signature work seen. That's what I decided to do.
I formulated a new plan: Schmuck would be an anthology series with different artists illustrating short "schmucky stories," which when collected would tell my complete narrative. I excitedly began writing scripts, 12 at first (eventually 21), eight to twelve pages each, mostly adaptations of my favorite stories from my manuscript. In most cases I used my prose as a guide for the comics, as retrospect and new skills allowed for me to rework, re-master and expand my stories.
On collaborating with a small army of artists:
Working with such an array of artistic talent, from super-talented newcomers like Shamus Beyale to acclaimed seasoned pros like Nick Bertozzi has been an amazing experience and I learned from every experience. Writing SCHMUCK has been comic book school for me, which has prepared me to graduate to other projects.
On going to Kickstarter:
Now, I'm turning to Kickstarter to help fund the printing of my dream project. My campaign is an ambitious one, because I'm asking potential backers to not just fund the book, but to help launch HANG DAI Editions into the book world. I plan to print the book for backers, of course, but I also plan to print a quantity to get into stores, Amazon, etc., through a distribution deal I've made with Marc Arsenault at Alternative Comics. Of course, the project has to get funded in order for that to happen! The reasoning behind this (and behind the imprint) is I believe in today's DIY world of technology and crowdfunding, we can all be our own publisher. I've now made a few books with traditional publishers and while those projects were creatively fulfilling, they weren't at all profitable monetarily.
Creators can get an advance (or not) and beyond that, there is a sharing of the royalties between the creator and the publisher that can vary from anywhere from 5% (if there was an advance) to 50% (with no advance), but either way, there is not a lot of opportunity for the creator of the work to make a living from their efforts. Sure, the publisher pays to print the book, and promote the book (ideally), but I feel strongly that if a hardworking and industrious creator can come up the money, he can be his own publisher. I'm not saying I won't ever publish the traditional way again, because I probably will, (unless publishers read this and decide to blacklist me!) but doing it all my self feels right for Schmuck – MY story.
Bleeding Cool also gets the jump on the the full wraparound cover for the anthology, with art by Joseph Remnant (Cleveland, with Harvey Pekar), design by Eric Skillman, and photo of Seth Kushner by Carlos Molina:
And here's our exclusive image gallery of panels from the Schmuck anthology, some of which have never appeared in public before:
Schmuck hits Kickstarter today, and some of the rewards include digital downloads, copies of the original script for the comic, other comics by Seth Kushner, and packages that include work by other members of Kushner's studio, Hang Dai Studios, which supports its own imprint in Hang Dai Editions. Some of the top tier rewards even include "comic book consultations" with Hang Dai studio mates Dean Haspiel (The Fox, The Quitter), and Gregory Benton (B+F).
You can also check out the trailer for this project:
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter