The Crossing of Black Indie Books with Publisher Jason Reeves
The award winning studio 133art is a Los Angeles based comic book imprint founded by illustrator Jason Reeves. The studio is comprised of a small group of freelance professionals; including Reeves, writer Alverne Ball, and colorist Luis Guerrero. The three are collaborators on several of 133art's comics and properties: the Glyph Award winning OneNation, F-00 Fighters, and all-ages comic Kid Carvers. Although primarily a comic book production studio, 133art offers services in comic book printing as well through the other wing of the company: 133art Printing.
Today I interview Jason Reeves on running his publishing and printing company, work processes, as well as his current books from Changa and the Jade Obelisk, a collaboration with novelist Milton Davis, to the current series the Crossing by Robert Jeffrey, John Robert McGuire, and Sean Hill, now campaigning on Kickstarter (ending Tue, March 24 2020 3:00 PM EDT).
GREG ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Given that you're one of my rivals and haters, I suppose I can start off by being the bigger person and congratulating you on another successful Kickstarter, Changa and the Jade Obelisk…
JASON REEVES: I appreciate that. It's probably the least problematic thing you've said to me in a while. Feels nice. Uncharacteristic, but nice.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Yeah, whatever. Now you hooked up with Miton Davis on Changa. For those who don't know him and his place in self publishing, can you tell us about him and how this relationship between you two started?
REEVES: Milton is a writer and publisher. He owns a publishing imprint called MV Media and we've been Facebook bros for a few years now. We went from respecting each other's hustle to meeting up last year while I was in ATL on Christmas vacation [laughs]. We broke bread and discussed the industry, chopped it up about our business and artistic goals, and we found that a few of them intersect. I wanted to leverage 133art's skill at putting together great projects with amazing creators into more varied content. Milton wanted to move into graphic novels/comics to expand his catalogue. It was a no-brainer to link up. Plus, our wives met and sat in on our conversation, so we got permission to move forward early.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Are projects like this something you've been wanting to do with 133art Publishing or has it been something that came out of nowhere and thought would be cool to create?
REEVES: I love to collaborate. It's in my nature and especially when I find like-minded folks with similar hustle. So yeah, this is something I've been wanting to try. And because of how successful it was, I'd love to collaborate with other publishers and creators. Look, when you see movies, the credits often have several production companies and studios involved in the one project. I always wondered why we couldn't create comics in a similar fashion from time to time. As long as every party can gain something, can be compensated in some way, why not? One of my mantras is: More hands make light work.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: How would you describe the work process, from working with a novelist to adapt his work into a comic, to working on the script, art approval, etc?
REEVES: At 133art I try to keep everything as simple as I can. I called myself "Art Director" on the Changa project but I do a lot of the editorial as well. I read the source material first, obviously, then come up with an idea of how we'd like to present it tonally and visually. For Changa, I had a team in mind. I frequently work with the writer Robert Jeffrey II, whose writing and organizational skill is unmatched. I knew of illustrator Matteo Illuminati and colorist Loris Ravina from another of Robert's comics called Mine to Avenge. I fell in love with their way of storytelling. I'd put those two together up against any art team in the industry. Once all that's sorted, I communicated that to Milton, we discussed our budget and we were off.
How the creative team likes to work dictates a lot of how our process shakes down.
Robert sends over a draft, I read, send back notes and we do that until we have a script we're both satisfied with.
Then it's off to Matteo, who likes to work in batches. He digs in, finishes 5 pages, and then sends them over to me for approval. I go over them with the script and send over revisions if necessary (with Matteo it's usually never necessary).
Once the batch is done it's off to Loris for color and lettering. Changa is one of the rare times I haven't handled the letters or logos myself. But Loris is ridiculously dope at all he does, so when I saw his samples a weight was lifted, y'all. He's a revelation.
A few rounds of all that and the comic is done. Ready to be set up for printing by, you guessed it, 133art Printing.
The important thing to realize in a venture like this is that we aren't just creators on a project, we are businesses. We are entities that run on capital and the amazing creators we employ need to be paid, period. Without them there are no comics. Also we need to generate revenue toward the continuation of our respective imprints. That's where something like Kickstarter comes in. It helps us to do all that, even before we go on the road to shows to sell the comic. 133art doesn't do the "paid on the back end" model that's used so much in comics. Personally, I've always hated it. As if creators don't need to eat WHILE they're creating. Its foolishness. I believe you get the best work from folks when they are compensated.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Man, a lot of gems there for creators looking to work with artists. What is Changa and the Jade Obelisk about?
REEVES: Changa and the Jade Obelisk is adapted from the novel Changa's Safari by Milton Davis.
In the 15th century on the East Coast of Africa begins the amazing exploits of merchant and adventurer Changa Diop. From the Swahili merchant cities of Mombasa, to the secretive kingdoms of Madagascar, Changa, the sorcerer Panya, and the mysterious swordsman the Tuareg experience adventures beyond the imagination when they pursue the malicious Bahati, keeper of the Jade Obelisk.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: This isn't the first time you've worked with Robert Jeffrey. I'm a fan of his work. He's also the writer of another one of 133art's series, RET:CON. Can you tell us a bit about that series, how it came about and working with Jeffrey on this book?
REEVES: I've been following Robert for a minute and we both like each other's comic work. Once we got to talking I knew I'd love to work with someone like him. His comic Route 3 is close to my heart and the dude is one of the most practical, temperate, hard workers I've met in the game, so we mesh well as collaborators. When I got serious about producing RET:CON, he was top of my list.
…you were too but since you're kinda whack as a person, I went with Robert [shrugs].
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: You piece of sh*t…
REEVES: …RET:CON is an Afrofuturist time travel tale. In a time when artificial intelligence governs the remains of a world ravaged by violent temporal ruptures, the RET:CON Agency is formed to stop reality from falling into entropy. Agent '4 am' is a part of RET:CON's elite unit, the Slingshotters, whose mission is to breach the time stream to repair the future.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: When can we expect issue 2? And how long will this series be going for?
REEVES: Issue #2 is coming along great! We're about 5 pages from all the artwork being done and we plan to launch the Kickstarter for it later this year, I'm thinking Fall season. We have about 5 issues planned so far. Once that's done, we may revisit the world of RET:CON in one-shots.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: I think that's a good model for indie books, actually. While you've got all these new books coming along, one concept that you're known for is OneNation. Has that been forgotten? Can you give us a refresher of that series concept and what's coming in the future concerning it?
REEVES: OneNation is my baby! It's never forgotten.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE:: Yeah, sure.
REEVES: OneNation is an interventionist superhero story. Southern boy Deacon Taylor, aka Paragon, is introduced to life as a superhero after saving his unit from ambush in the first Gulf War. He soon learns that the fanfare of it all is a bit counterproductive to the business of actually saving people and that a lot of times people aren't interested in your protection when it doesn't align with their own desires. He meets a philanthropic organization called the Tenth and their leader Sundiata whose ideas open up the world for Paragon. They all realize together that the path to utopia isn't a straight line and there are tests to their resolve on them that they could never imagine.
Coming up we have OneNation #3, capping off our first story arc written by Alverne Ball and art by me.
And also OneNation: Stronghold, a OneNation sidequest/origin story. Stronghold is about Damien Strong, aka Stronghold the Tenth's resident muscle. After becoming a big time superhero Damien comes home for the funeral of a close friend, which dredges up old memories of growing up in rural Louisiana while coming to terms with his sexuality and his racist family history. All that is heightened when he discovers that that friend may have been murdered.
Written by (whaaaat?!) Greg 'Alize' Elysee' and art by Antonello Cosentino.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Heh, not to toot my own horn, but toot toot. Now lately there's been quite some… controversy, for lack of a better term, concerning some small press publishing companies faltering with some of their products, be it fulfilling rewards and sending out products to having issues with their creative teams and their IPs. All that's been affecting the audience, supporters, and fans. I heard somewhere that Jason Reeves may be the final hope when it comes to this. How can we be sure 133art will be different than these recent small press companies?
REEVES: I hate that. I hate the fact that people have wormed their way into our corner of the industry and mishandled our supporters. It had been very hard to build the community the way we've had to and it's not a thing that I want to contribute to squandering. I love it too much. I love taking an idea from conception to physical product and the fact that 133art can control the means of production means we don't have to wait on anyone to help us fulfill this. We're not infallible, but because we create, produce, and fulfill comic projects in every stage of the game gives us a distinct advantage in being a publisher that can and will get the comics you purchase into your hands.
I come from freelance illustration, I know just what it feels like to not get paid, I know the drill of having to go without, waiting for money you know probably is never coming because the rampant disrespect of the creators like me is, sad to say, an entertainment industry standard. And it's not something that we can always fight, if you can't pull a decent wage or even an indecent check from your work, how the hell could you take anyone to court in the first place?! When I started hiring creators I told myself I'd never do business like that. Even before I got paid, I would make sure the people I worked with did. I don't know about being anyone's last hope but I will do my absolute best to keep building the kind of industry I want to thrive in.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: And I respect you for that, man. More than you know. You're also in charge of the printing of the books you're releasing along with printing other series, like the one shots of my own Is'nana the Were-Spider. How has that journey been like?
REEVES: Fun. Obviously, super hard work, but fun. There was a time I struggled to get one comic out to the masses and today I get to have my hand in thousands of comics that get out to thousands of comic readers. That ish is CRAZY to me!
Kemi (my other half of 133art, the smart half) and I made the decision when we started this to print our own comics. The traditional channels were either out of our budget or too time restrictive for our taste. So after massive research (there are few resources one can look to to figure out the process of comic book printing. A part of me feels like that is purposeful but, I digress), we made a small investment into our own equipment. A laser printer, a saddle stitch machine (basically a stapler), and a paper cutter, and we went to the business of making comics. Every comic for the first two years was cut by Kemi [smiles] I did not know how to use that damn paper cutter [laughs]. It all worked out great. The benefit of doing your own stuff is that if I need 100 copies of OneNation the night before Black Comix Day, I can print them, cut them, and have them ready for the show. It's all on me.
Later, in 2016 we opened up 133art Printing alongside 133art Publishing. Being in the industry for a few years, I knew there were guys like me who could use the skills that we had acquired, and we had had a few years to work out the kinks in our process so we jumped in. And so far it's been dope. Project: Wildfire, Is'nana, Harriet tubman: Demon Slayer, Kubadilisha, Hunter Black, Sorghum & Spear. Through 133art Printing we've had the chance to work with and build relationships with some the best indie comics has to offer. It hasn't hurt our bottom line either, so no signs of stopping here. I love my job.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Finally, you launched a new Kickstarter! Another one by Robert Jeffrey, this time: the Crossing! What can you tell us about that? It looks amazing thus far.
REEVES: The Crossing is 133art's first Creator-Owned project and its the brainchild of Robert Jeffrey II, John Robert McGuire, and Sean Hill. The crew pitched me the series after Robert and I had done RET:CON together. Once I heard the concept and saw the art there was no way 133art wasn't gonna publish it.
So the synopsis is: It's the late 21st century and the world has changed drastically with the discovery of cross-dimensional travel dubbed 'Crossing.' This amazing and innovative breakthrough has provided our Earth with a seemingly unyielding flow of resources, through tapping into other, unpopulated Earth's raw material. While the collective wealth of mankind has seemingly reached another golden age, the desires of men have stayed relatively the same.
Fugitive Dr. James Kincaid is running for his life. Years prior he was the most accomplished physicist in the realm of Crossing, but due to his own mistakes (professional and personal) he lost everything. Now, in a last ditch effort to fix things, Dr. Kincaid runs afoul of powerful US Senator Christopher John Rice. Kincaid steals Crossing tech and escapes into the multiverse. However, Sen. Rice will stop at nothing to get what he wants, so he enlists renowned Crossing physicist Jun Patton and FBI agent Kayla Cooke in a covert mission to hunt him down.
Robert and John are on writing chores, while Sean and our colorist Sunil Ghagre are creating the spectacular art. And my favorite new collaborator Loris Ravina (RET:CON, Changa & the Jade Obelisk) is on letter art.
We have a grip of really cool rewards too! The first of tiers are geared toward Comic Book Retailers: If you're a comic store owner, your investment gives you (10) print copies of the Crossing #1. Pledge price is $25.
[Another of our tiers] is geared toward fans of Black Comix! You receive the Crossing #1 in PDF along with digital comix from some of the top Black Indie Creators of today.
RET:CON #1 PDF
Route 3 #1 PDF
Blackstarr #1 PDF
Mr. Omega #1 PDF
Chayoma #1 PDF
Project: Wildfire Street Justice PDF
Changa and the Jade Obelisk #1 PDF
Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer #1 PDF
Is'nana: The Ballads of Rawhead and John Henry PDF
Pledge price is $15.
Also we're trying a couple new rewards for us. The [Tangent Earth] Reward gets backers who are writers some quality time and a script review with the writers of the Crossing. The [Celebrity Earth] Reward let's backers hang out with Myself and Michael Young via video chat on the NerdSoul Podcast, and the [Kingdom Come] Reward gets backers a variant cover of the Crossing #1 by Sean Hill with a twist. The backer can have whatever they want depicted on the cover, themselves, a superhero creation, their pet schnauzer, whatever, and they will get 100 copies of their ultra rare variant to do what they want with! That one's kinda crazy! We really hope people will be interested in what we have to offer and come check the Kickstarter out.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Readers, be sure to check out The Crossing on Kickstarter now through the link HERE (ending Tue, March 24 2020 3:00 PM EDT)! And thank you, Jason Reeves, for this awesome and insightful interview!
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