Interview with Stratum Comics Mark Schmidt
Mark Schmidt of Stratum Comics was kind enough to do an e-mail interview with Comics Forge this week, and as a smaller independent comic book group, they bring about some of the more interesting ideas I have heard in the independent comic book market. This interview was edited for grammar and spelling, but otherwise no changes were made.
You are running a project on Kickstarter and are still short of funds, what made you decide to go to Kickstarter, and how you chose to fund your project?
We have been planning this comic for a long time and funding has always been an issue. We tried a few different avenues before we went with Kickstarter and nothing has really seemed to pan out for us just yet. We hoped we would do better bringing what we think is a great book to the masses for funding. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be doing all that well either.
What influence do you think Kickstarter will have on the comic book industry as a whole for artists?
Not much, I think for a few people it will get them published enough that bigger companies take notice, but for the most part I think that the only people who will be hugely successful with a Kickstarter projects are those that can attach a big name to their project. Kickstarter confuses me. I have seen some things on there get funded that I would not touch with a ten foot pole, and others go unfunded that are the big three level projects.
What can we expect from your Kickstarter project?
We plan on posting updates as they come in and have a few unlockable rewards planned, but we have to get to the first unlock level to see what those are.
What other projects are you working on with Stratum?
Currently we just have this one project, but have ideas for a whole world. We want to expand our titles out into other areas of Texas first and then grow from there. We think there are a huge number of possibilities including inviting other writers to create their own stories that fit into the world we have created.
What does your convention schedule look like this year? Where can we check out your stuff?
We are scheduled to be at Texas Comic Con in San Antonio June 22nd through the 24th. We just booked Space City Con in Houston, that one is August 10th through 12th and Wizard World in Austin, but that is in October. Beyond that, we are looking at a way to have some stuff at NYCC in October, and possibly the Fan Day Dallas con, which is also in October. We are going to be distributed through Liber Distro, which is the only place a good indie comic can get distribution without fear of being dropped. Also, we are in, or will be shortly, a few LCBS in the major Texas cities, and will be setting up a shopping cart on our site soon.
What advice would you give to new comic book artists just starting out in the industry?
Just artists? Make sure you have your stuff ready, really compare your work to others in the industry, and compare the rates you think your stuff is worth to what others are doing. I have seen artists give me a cover rate of $150 for Pencils and Inks and the art is not up to par. I can get professionals to do the same work for $200 and have a huge name attached to my project.
For writers, I really recommend just telling your story. It is hard to say with writers, you never know what is going to be popular. I think Steam Punk is huge right now and a good story based in that genre would be huge. Then we have the “Brony” fad going on right now so maybe right a “My Little Pony.” HAHA.
For colorists, Make sure that the art is not ruining your colors. Make sure your portfolio is full of good colors done on good lines. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at some ones color portfolio and been so distracted by the art in it I could not tell if the colors looked good or not.
For everyone though, I recommend doing your research. Make sure you have the facts down pat, whether that is your writing facts about a location, or the proper perspective of your artwork. I highly recommend Comixtribe.com for tips and tricks for everyone. They have been a huge resource.
How did your comic book career start? Is there one person or a group of people you look to for day-to-day inspiration?
This is a funny story, well I think it is. These characters have been around over 20 years now. We started with the old Marvel RPG and used to play them in the Marvel Universe. At some point, we decided to create our own world where the Marvel rules did not apply anymore and it just spun off from there. The comic itself has been through several revisions. The first incarnation started as “the escape” which is still in the current story arc, but just much later in it. I took that and wrote a screenplay of the current story arc a few years ago. Converted that to a comic script and broke it into the issues we have. We are still working on them. Heck, we even were editing the first issue after we got final art from Jordi.
I personally do not have anyone I look to. I do look at some people who I do not want to be inspired from though.
What would you say are the challenges to being an independent comic book person?
I think that the mid 90′s killed the comic book industry. It became such a speculators game that everyone just expected comics to soar. We know how that turned out. Today is difficult in that everyone is mixing good projects by unknown creators in with bad projects. Look at what the digital market. If you want to get into any of the major mobile apps, you have to have at least two issues and or a huge sales record of your first issue BEFORE they will let you in. Even the smaller apps that do mostly indie titles will not let us in currently. Our only option there is Graphic.ly, and they do not even do the app any longer. I like to say that it became so easy to publish comics that it became difficult again. So many bad or poorly funded projects got out there that people are now skeptical to pick up new titles because they don’t want to become invested in something that isn’t going to last. Then we have the issue of the medium we choose to tell our tales in. Take new super hero movies as an example. Had The Avengers been put out as an animated movie instead of live action, it would not have done anywhere near as well as it has. It would not have mattered if every other detail of the movies had been the same. It just would not. Comics have always had a stigma around them that they are for kids, just like cartoons in America. I see people talking about ways to increase comic sales by moving away from the super hero genre, I don’ think this is the solution. It is evident from the movies that people out there love super heroes.
What would you like to see different about the comic book industry?
First, I would like to see a much better distribution method. Having Diamond, as the only source for nationwide coverage is just silly. If I cannot reach their monthly sales goal of $2500, and that is per title, then they drop my title, and won’t let it back into their system? That is just crazy. Then on top of that, I have heard from several other publishers that the retailers that order titles from them do not always get those books. Reorders are a pain through them. I am sure I can go on. This is not a good way to do business, but from an indie publisher perspective what else are we going to do. Liber is the best thing to come around in a while. They have the right business model to distribute books, and continue to distribute. They basically allow reorders any time, so if you order 3 copies of a title to test the market and it does well in your store, you can immediately reorder without having to wait for Diamond to do their weekly shipping. Moreover, with a few exceptions, like if they need to reprint an issue, you can get any of their titles anytime.
The next thing I think is that the larger Creator owned publishers need to loosen up a bit and really read through submissions and at least make contact with the creators and let them know why they are not accepting a project. I know this is time consuming for them. However, if we want comics be a viable medium to tell stories we have to get other stories out there. The best way to do this is to have big companies like Dark Horse and Image publish lesser known creators. I do not mean someone who has been working in the industry for years has a project and sends it to Image. I mean me and you, the “nobodies” in the comic world. I love The Threat, and think it is far superior to many, not all of them mind you, but many of the titles that are currently being published by the bigs. Of course, I am biased towards it and can understand that others might not feel the same way. I do understand that not everything is ready for prime time, but do us the favor of letting us know why you do not think it is ready. If someone sends you a pretty good submission, but you think the story needs tweaked a bit, or the art is not up to par, send us a comment and let us know.
Where do you think the comic book industry can improve on getting new readers?
I think this is covered a lot, but I also kind of think that the current discussion is not exactly right. Most people that I have heard/read are trying to say that it is Marvel/DC’s Super Hero titles that are bringing down the industry. That readers are tired of super heroes and want other genres to read. While I think this is partially true, I do not think it is entirely on point. Like I said before, look at the movies. The success of something around10 or 15 huge box office movies are based on Marvel or DC properties. There are horror movies and sci-fi movie and a list of other genres out there that people are trying to bring into the comics, yet 2 of the top five grossing movies of all times are now based on comics, 2 of the others are sci-fi, and one is a romance/drama. So, in my opinion it is not the subject matter that is hindering getting new readers, it is the medium. I am not sure how to get around that issue right now, though.
One thing I do know is that we need to stop perpetuating the idea that comics are for nerds. Look at the Kevin Smith show “Comic Book Men” this is basically a bunch of nerds sitting in a room talking about being nerds. When they do show them in the store, they just come off as cheap nerdy jerks.
I would really like to see a show based on finding new talent, or creator owned projects. It could be set up as a contest show, like The Apprentice, where several groups of creative teams come in and over several weeks, they go through a comic from script to finish book. Each group is give a grade based on each sections of the contest and the group with the highest grade at the end of the contest is given a six issue arc by some biggish publisher. (Remember you read it here first, so if someone does this I should be involved, ha-ha).
Digital comics, the best thing ever for independents, or a disaster waiting in the wings?
I think it helps. However, just a little. It helps reduce the initial cost of getting a book up and running by not having to print anything. Though I think that people who do this are missing a huge market. I cannot sell a digital book at a con, and cons are the best means for me to advertise my book right now. Also, I think Digital made it so easy to publish a comic for a while, and so many bad books were put out, or books that lacked good funding, that people do not trust new titles which in turn makes it harder for those good books to turn enough of a profit to continue on.
I also do not think people are using digital to its fullest capabilities. I think that a comic with a soundtrack and voiceover work is a complete possibility. It would be the audio book version of a comic. (Remember heard it here first…) hahah.
How could comics appeal to women better?
I think, just like everything out there. If you plan to appeal to women, more you have to have a realistic woman that is well written. Take the Brennan character from Bones. She is smart and quirky. People generally like that character. We do not need the Image characters from the 90′s with huge… Well you know. I think that also hurt the general comics market with the stigma issue. “Look at those women only nerds would want to read comics.”
Do you use Tumblr or other sites to promote your comic work? What are the links and what can people expect to find there?
Our main site is http://www.stratumcomics.com, but you can also follow us on Twitter @stratumcomics and find us on Facebook. I have not really looked into Tumblr yet. It does seem to be picking up in popularity though so I will look into it.