Jesse James writes for Bleeding Cool. If we tried to stop him, we would be struck down by a pantheon of deities.
Every once in awhile you meet a creator that just has a lot of passion for their project. Wayne Gardiner has just that passion for his Knightingail series. I first meet him early last year and since then we have had numerous conversations about the comic book business. He has worked with many creators and cosplayers over the last year and has made a name for himself in the self published business. He has studied the business and has become a ambassador to how to get your comics into stores. If your looking to get your comic to print and some of the other aspects of the indy world. This article is for you. He took some time to really answer, in great detail, how his road to publishing his next project started and is coming to a store near you.
Was writing your first career choice?
Sort of. I have always liked creative writing. However, in High School I made the decision that I didn't want to write what was "commercially acceptable" to make a living at it. So I went into computer engineering and later moved into program management. It's these management skills that have given me the background I needed to set up a publishing company to produce my own projects.
Did you attend any classes or did you have any type of mentor?
My mentors in regards to comic book writing are the greats: Will Eisner, Scott McCloud, Peter David, Alan Moore, and other greats like that. To be specific, I had the idea for CrossStar in 2002 but didn't start my company, Crucidel Productions, until 2008. Between those years I bought and read every book I could find on how to write comics or graphics storytelling; went to panel discussions at conventions asking lots of questions; and did on-line research. I even wrote a term paper as part of my MBA program on "How to break into comics". I actually did my homework before jumping into it.
What was the first story you wrote? In anyway did you learn anything from it?
CrossStar #1 (in stores this Aug 2012) was the first comic script I wrote. Through CrossStar I learned I was using too many panels per page. Comics in the 50s may have had 9 panels a page, but today there's more emphasis on the art. In CrossStar, I would have pages with 7 or 8 panels. In Knightingail, I actively tried to reduce it to more 3-5 panels per page to let the art take a larger focus.
Your thoughts on self published? Did you send in your script to any publisher first?
From a business perspective, it was not my intention to self-publish. I believe in leverage. A publisher that's publishing 12 comics a month can get better price breaks and synergies than a company making 1 or 2 comics a month. So yes, I sent submissions to just about every publisher that had comics in Diamond at the time. I did end up finding a small publisher. They were great guys but passionate about their own projects. So I pulled Knightingail to promote it myself.
Tell us how CrossStar and Knightingail came to be a comic books? Did a Novel ever come in mind at anytime instead?
I'm actually more a visual writer – at least when it comes to fiction. I see and experience the situations in my head, and then describe the scene and dialogue. So scripts and screenplays are what I prefer to write over novels.
I was at SDCC in 2002 just coming out of a "How to write comics" panel when I asked myself, "If I were to create a comic book, what would it be about." I rather instantly had an idea, which became the underlying back-story behind CrossStar. This is a story that isn't readily apparent in the early issues of CrossStar but that will be slowly pealed over time until an ultimate "Oh my goodness!" moment is reached. People always say that no one has ever had an idea like theirs before. I guarantee to you, no one has ever put what I have planned for CrossStar on page before. Talk to me several years from now, and I'll say "See, I told you so."
I was actually looking for an artist for CrossStar at SDCC in 2008, when I saw an artist with an interesting anime-like female character illustration. I said to myself "That is Knightingail". I had the concept of a healing, warrior princess type of character which I had used as a MMORPG character I created. That artist's design inspired me to develop the character and concept for comics. I actually developed the world and back-story for Knightingail on the 6 hour drive home from SDCC. That back-story is basically what was shown in the vision scroll pages of shown in Knightingail issues #2-5.
I believe Knightingail would make a great animated feature from Pixar or DreamWorks. I live action movie might be cool too. I do have plans to also develop Knightingailstories for younger children as a graphic illustrated app – similar in concept to the Alice in Wonderland app. But first step is to grow the market for the comic, and then off-shoots will come from there. Knightingail is going to be around for a very long time in everything from comics, to movies, to video games to musical toothbrushes. Just you wait and see!
Do you feel Diamond helped you get your book out to a wider audience? Or was it too fast to go to a major distributor first?
Diamond's model is great. I did specifically hire professional and very talented artists for my books with the goal that they would be on par or better than anything currently listed in PREVIEWS (and I think I've achieved or surpassed that goal on both books). But the problem with Diamond is just one of sales volume. With offset printing, the more books printed, the lower the price/unit. You have to be over a certain quantity or the printing costs will be more than what Diamond pays for the book – let alone being able to pay the creators of the book itself. Yes, Diamond did get the book out to lots more people; but no, the initial sales were not high enough to recoup initial costs. That's why I'm spending most of my time with Knightingail building the audience (with activities like this interview) so that I can justify continuing to produce more comics. The story is already in my head. I just need the economics to work out right to put the story on paper and get it produced.
I came into comics as a fan in the 80s. That was the era of variant covers. I personally loved them. I thought all the foil-embossed, new artist, special editions were fun as a collector. Unfortunately, it was driven by an investment market that never should have been there and later collapsed.
Being self published you did a lot of Variant covers more than usual. Your thoughts on this?
On Knightingail, I provided multiple covers for my fans. If they like the Knightingail interior art, they can get a cover from the amazing interior artist Tina Francisco. I liked a fantasy style, which is why the cover As for all of Knightingail were from World of Warcraft and fantasy artist Genzoman (except for issue #1 where Tina did a knockout cover that became the Cover A). And then for conventions, I expanded and provided other variants – from other artists like Nei Ruffino or Daxiong Guo who really I just loved there artwork and so wanted to see what they could do with Knightingail – to the Jessica Nigri photo-covers which brought in a different set of fans and opened up Knightingail to a different audience. Yes, there have been more covers than I originally intended; but when Knightingail gets big (and it will) these limited editions of 25 or 50 issue variant exclusives are going to be in HUGE demand. Compare that with variants of other companies that have print runs in the 100s or up to 1,000. For example, I only printed 50 PCC Daxiong Guo Knightingail #1s. That's what I call a real collectible. (I still have a few left on my store at www.Knightingail.com, by the way.)
With CrossStar, I won't do a lot of variants. It's just not that type of book. There's two covers for issue #1 (one by interior artist Ron Adrian, and the other by long-time comic artist Sergio Cariello), but the remaining issues will have only 1 cover all done by Sergio Cariello. There were some limited variant pre-release issues of CrossStar, but these were black & white sketch covers of the full-color covers. So no, there won't be a lot of variants with CrossStar.
Knightingail was intended to be an all-ages fantasy adventure book from the start. I remember reading Chronicles of Narnia, The Chronicles of Prydain (i.e., if you remember the Black Cauldron movie from Disney) series of books when I was young and then The Lord of the Rings when I was older. I think comics are missing out by not having books in this genre. Bone, ElfQuest, and Bean are all great independent comics in this genre, but they are all black and white (at least initially). I definitely saw my book to be full-color with AMAZING modern color effects. It helps bring out the fantasy aspects of the Knightingail story, and I think color makes it more accessible to mainstream readers. I also used a manga styling's to make it attractive to those readers – plus it suits the world really well.
You have a big push coming out for your comic series. Tell us about it?
There are two reasons for this push. One is to increase readership up enough to justify producing more Knightingail issues. The second is for a second opportunity to get these comics in the hands of fans across the country. For production reasons, only issues 1-3 of Knightingail were released by Diamond. I always wanted to get issues 4-6 into fans hands across the country. So when Diamond picked up CrossStar for August release, I took the opportunity to double promote both projects. I'm doing a direct mailer to stores right now letting them know they can order all issues of Knightingail from a special website (crucidel.readycomics.com) at retail prices through mid July. In particular, the cover As and Bs of Knightingail #4-6 have never been printed, so this will get the Genzoman and Tina versions of these issues printed. The issues #4-6 previously printed are technically variant issues, even though they came out first. In addition, I am able to cross-promote CrossStar at the same time with this Knightingail re-listing.
Do you find it more important to establish a relationship with an artist first before you actual use their art? Or does it matter if their art work is just amazing?
Both of my books were completed virtually. I hired the artists through an agency, Glass House Graphics. For CrossStar, Ron was in Brazil. The script and any notes I had were translated for him. For Tina, she knew English; so I could give her comments directly through email. They would email me artwork; I would review it; and email back my comments.
No, a relationship isn't required. I do a full script for my comics. The artist draws what I put in the script, and that's sufficient. Over time, the collaboration does become better and the artist is better able to interpret my expectations and then branch off in other directions I hadn't anticipated.
You pretty much wear every hat on your projects. Is this a good thing or do you feel that delegating to a staff would help you more in the future?
My standard line I tell people when I introduce myself is to say "On my books, I do everything but draw them." That is literally true. I create the world and characters, write the script, hire the artists, edit the artwork, take the final artwork and make page layouts for the printer, hire and contract with the printer, coordinate with Diamond, do marketing, do the websites/facebook, hire the Knightingail models, work with costume designers and photographers, take the pictures and videos, edit/post the pictures and videos, take and fulfill on-line orders, ship the products at the post office, do all the convention planning and appearances, and handle all the company finances. This is in addition to my full-time job that pays the bills, by the way.
It's actually a lot of fun, otherwise I wouldn't do it. But yes, this is typical for a start-up. Any entrepreneur starts up a business having to do everything, but eventually gets to the point where they can delegate out less important aspects of the business so they can focus on other areas where they provide the most strategic value. (Wow, I think I just lost the geek culture here, but my MBA professors would be proud.)
How much do conventions help you on a marketing stand point? Do the sales matter or getting the info out to the public more of a priority?
Conventions are the life-blood of a creator. When this little girl came up to me at PCC with her mom having bought and loved the first three issues of Knightingail and when her face lit up and getting the final issues …. I mean as a creator that's what this is all about. So whether you call it marketing or meeting new fans, it's definitely an essential part of the experience for me.
What convention do you have coming up?
I'll be at SDCC this year on a panel will do some signings at a borrowed booth. I won't have a booth myself, because they're pretty impossible to get at SDCC. Knightingailwill also be at SDCC for the second year in a row. After that, I will have a huge presence at Comikaze convention in September. There's going to be some huge, exclusive things coming out of that convention in September that I can't go into right now.
Where can we find you on the web?
All over. www.Knightingail.com is the key starting point for Knightingail. From there you can find links to the very active Knightingail facebook page (www.facebook.com/Knightingail
Any words of wisdom to anybody trying to get their product into Diamond? Or just self publishing in general?
First you have to have the passion. Second, you have to do the research and planning. Third just execute. And finally, don't forget to look around and realize how much fun this hard work really is.
Who would be your lead lady to play Knightingail in a movie?
Of course, I have to say Jessica Nigri. She's definitely the first and quintessential Knightingail. I wish her well as she's moving on to other projects. But who knows. When a Knightingail movie gets made, maybe she'll be the celebrity super-star to actually be cast in the role! Out of existing celebrity actresses, though, I'd pick Amy Adams. She's got the cute, girlish energy but also the serious acting skills to be able to handle the drama that is Knightingail.