June 06, 2010
I first encountered Wendy Chin-Tanner when she submitted a choice little poem for TNB. In corresponding with her I came across A Wave Blue World, the Indie Comics company she founded with her husband, Tyler. I was immediately intrigued by their approach to the practicalities—the difficult process of producing a high-quality graphic novel. I was especially intrigued by the approach the company is taking to fund their latest project, American Terrorist. Yet another area where it seems to me that independent media must be the future. Recently, of course, TNB has announced its own foray into the indie publishing business. I know that the world of comics has always been a parallel universe to that of book publishing, so I was curious about the parallel evolution of the independent branch in graphic narrative. Tyler was kind enough to offer a peek behind the scenes of a venture at the vanguard of small publishing of indie comics.
Uche Ogbuji: Let’s start in the thick of things. What is “American Terrorist,” and what are the steps you’re taking to make its creation possible?
Tyler Chin-Tanner: American Terrorist is a new graphic novel currently in production about the fear and fascination of terrorism in this country and how it can be used to manipulate and control people.
Four regular people come together by accident and get caught up in an avalanche of extraordinary events that force them to abandon their lives and go on the run. The main love story centers around Owen and Hannah, a journalist and elementary school teacher, who begin a passionate romance as they become vigilante political activists and get labeled “American Terrorists.”
What led you to kickstarter.com to help organize funding?
The implications that something like Kickstarter have on the world of independent publishing are astounding. The biggest factor in this is that they’ve come up with a safe way for people to support creative projects by having the checkout be through Amazon.com and that people will only be charged if and when the project is successful. This system legitimizes a creator’s ability to offer incentives and rewards for support.
With American Terrorist, I wanted the funding to go to something specific rather than to just support me through the creative process. This might be seen as a drawback because the graphic novel will be completed whether we reach our Kickstarter goal or not; the result of the Kickstarter project will determine whether we print a hardcover book or only do digital.
What was the approximate time-line from hatching the concept of “American Terrorist,” to deciding on the funding model, to setting up needed infrastructure, and to the actual process of production?
I actually first came up with the idea in 2006 before our daughter Maddy was born. Wendy and I hashed out the idea while walking our newborn in a stroller through the park in Putney in early 2007 (Maddy was born Feb 14, 2007). I wrote out the framework of the full story and first chapter by the end of that year and hired Andy to start drawing it at the beginning of 2008. I finished writing the script in 2008, but then rewrote the second half of it again in 2009, really just finishing it a couple of months ago. All during that time Andy’s been working away at getting the art done. He should be finished by the end of August this year. We’ll wrap up production in September and hopefully that will mean a book in December of January.
Have you found social media to offer a role in accelerating the funding? Perhaps by engaging the friends-of-friends network? Or even through the possibility of going “viral” more broadly?
I’ve found that our Kickstarter page itself is great for promotional purposes. It’s an easy site to direct people to, so that they can read more about the project, watch our video, and pledge for items they’re interested in.
As far as reaching out to people to send to the site, I’m afraid that my wife Wendy and I aren’t great at using social media. Besides having a company Facebook page on which we do occasional but regular updates, I’m not that into the social networking sites. I’m happy to provide information for people who are interested, but I’m not very good at forcing my way into their consciousness with abundant messaging.
Have the politics or presumed politics of the work affected progress in such a public funding model, as far as you’ve noticed?
I haven’t really noticed. I have no real way on knowing if the politics of the book have kept people away from supporting it or not, but I haven’t heard anything that has led me to believe people have reacted negatively to it. I’ve had the comic at a number of comic book conventions and have never had a problem. The topic may be sensitive, but it’s not partisan and the comic doesn’t have an agenda. I don’t see how anyone could really rally against it, unless of course they feel that terrorism and fear of terrorism haven’t had an effect on this country.
What are some of the incentives you’ve offered backers of the project?
While my primary goal is to get people to read the story. I’ve done my best to make the pre-order of the hardcover graphic novel as appealing as possible, offering it fully signed by the creative team and shipping it anywhere in the world for free. I also offer the digital files of each chapter as soon as they’re available to anyone who’s pledged.
And then there are the more creative incentives like allowing backers to become a character in the story or write their own lines.
Have you found yourself surprised by any motivations expressed by particular backers?
No, mostly what I’ve heard from backers is that they feel the book looks really good and they’re excited to read more. That’s really what it’s about for us: creating a story that resonates with people.
Does the need to be creative in order to fund the project affect the creativity needed for the project itself? Does it have an energizing or sapping effect on authorship?
The requirements of funding and distribution absolutely affect the creative process. It’s really two very different jobs and two different mind-sets. I can see why a lot of creators don’t like to handle their own promotion. I find that I have to be doing one thing or the other. Luckily, we’ve already written the script, so my creative contribution at this point is limited to overseeing the art and production as it’s coming in and can split my time between that and promotion.
Tell us about A Wave Blue World Comics
A Wave Blue World is a comic book and graphic novel publishing company that I formed with my wife Wendy in 2005. The name came from a twist on the title to Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World, the twist embodying the idea of water, rebirth, and regeneration. Our goal for the company is to publish our graphic novels ourselves, retaining rights and control of our work, and to keep the door open for independent publishing.
What is the overall history of those involved in the company, and in particular those involved on the latest project?
After working as a teacher and humanitarian aid worker for a number of years, I went back to my first love, comics, and retrained as a comic book artist and writer at the Joe Kubert School for Cartoon and Comic Arts. After graduation, my wife Wendy and I formed our own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, through which I wrote and published my first graphic novel, an adventure story called Adrenaline. That was a steep learning curve. Based in large part on that experience and what I am continuing to learn with American Terrorist, I write a column, Delusions of Grandeur: A Small Press Survival Guide, at BrokenFrontier.com.
Wendy has a background in creative writing, photography, performance, and social sciences. When we met, she developed an immediate interest in the relationship between text and image in comics and graphic novels, and in their potential as a fine arts genre. Wendy is currently focusing on her first love, poetry, while continuing to supervise undergraduate sociology at Cambridge University and editing and co-writing my comic scripts.
Andy MacDonald, the artist for American Terrorist, first broke into comics working on his co-created title, NYC Mech. He’s since worked for Marvel on Spider-man and The Punisher. He’s also worked on a new Terminator series based on the movie property for Dark Horse Comics. It was his work on these titles that made me realize he’d be the perfect artist for American Terrorist, and he has been a pleasure to work with.
What aspects of this personal history have driven you towards indie publishing?
Well, what’s driven me to indie publishing isn’t so much my personal history, but the history of the comics industry itself, and that of the art world in general. I think that an artist’s work suffers, and in turn, the overall quality of the work in the industry suffers when only the big houses have control. Independent publishers have the freedom to stretch the boundaries of what is possible and to keep the larger companies from becoming complacent.
The difficulties of indie music and book publishing are fairly well chronicled. Are there particular dynamics in the graphic books market that set apart the world of indie comics?
As you’ve said, any kind of indie publishing is tough, and with graphic novels, it’s no different. It’s tough to get orders and placement in most shops, or to get any kind of promotion going. The one advantage is that since it’s such a visual medium, if you do manage to get your work in front of people, be it a few pages online or a book in someone’s hands, it won’t take long for them to be able to evaluate a basic level of quality. A consumer’s feeling about a graphic novel is almost immediate, as opposed to a novel or a movie, or even music, which would require the right device and time to sit and listen to it.
With so much media blending these days, whether at the über-commercial level with every Marvel character ever conceived showing up in Hollywood, or with artists collaborating on-line across media, do you see such cross-media, and even cross-cultural engagements as key to the future of indie comics?
No, the future of indie comics depends on the quality of the work itself. People will gravitate to compelling and innovative work. If they want bigger media characters, they’ll go for the Marvel characters or whatnot. But who says anyone’s actually reading the comics? They could very well just like the movie and buy the comic as a souvenir.
Indie comics are for those people who like to read comics for their own sake, and the only way we can ensure our future as independent creators is to continue giving those people something worth reading.
Do you see in these forces, and in social media, and more, the seeds for possibly revolutionizing the commercial model of the comics industry?
Well, I do see it changing the commercial model of the comics industry and very much helping the indie scene. As I mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of social networking and I want people to read my work because of how they feel about the material, not because I’m one of their friends or followers or whatever. But the positive side of social media is that it opens up the ability to disseminate information to new readers, allowing smaller creators to reach larger audiences, which is something we’re not able to do with retailers and distributors who pick and choose what they stock and promote. I’m all for putting the material out there and letting the people decide. The more they have to choose from, the more discerning they’ll be, and I think that ‘s a good thing for those of us who are truly doing our best to create great new comics.