Making Our Own Fate: What Dream Crasher Means to Me

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The first sketch of Simon and Amalie (originally named Hope), June 2010.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” – Neil Gaiman

In the summer of 2010, a conversation between my friend Reed and I quickly turned to our shared desire to make a comic book. Within a month I was sending him story ideas and characters, and he was sending me some early sketches. Before long there was a script and paneling had begun.

By the following spring, the first chapter was drawn and painted and the second chapter had been started. We still hadn’t thought about lettering, logos, or print budgets – but we had momentum. For me, the stars were lining up. I had found my voice again in writing this story, I had found a brilliant creative partner in Reed, and we were actually making it happen.

Running parallel to what Reed and I were doing, I was also very much in love for the first time in my life. Blair changed my jaded views on that four letter word. He inspired and encouraged me on this project when it was still in its earliest stages. To say everything was perfect would be a lie, but I was the happiest I had been in quite some time.

When Blair died in the summer of 2011, my whole world fell to pieces. The unexpected trauma, the weight of the grief, and the subsequent depression and healing all took their toll in various ways. I have already written about this experience extensively on this blog (here and here), so I won’t go into the thick of the months that followed. I am bringing it up here mainly for context. This tragedy permeated every aspect of my life, and the still-unnamed Dream Crasher was no exception.

Comics were put on hold for awhile. I scribbled ideas in notebooks and thought about the project from time to time, but in the end it took more than six months before I sat down and began working again. Even then the work was slow. It took another year after that before I finished the script for the third chapter. It felt like starting from scratch and learning how to write again. In hindsight, the pause was in no small part due to a fresh perspective I had on my main character, Amalie.

I was (and still am) following Kurt Vonnegut’s sixth rule to a T. I was being a sadist and making awful things happen to my main character, but I hadn’t given a second thought to how it was affecting her. I hadn’t thought about how she processed the world around her, or who she was because of it. Through my own grief, I suddenly understood her on a whole new level. In many ways, Amalie is a representation of how strong I wish I could be. She’s a survivor. She can tame a beast but she’s still human. She’s still vulnerable.

I began to think of this bleak new world less like a graveyard and more like fertile soil. I realized that it’s not a story about the world that’s been destroyed. It’s about the new world taking it’s place. It’s about the children who have an opportunity to shape it. Beyond the horror of the present, there is hope. There is a future worth fighting for.

Ultimately Reed and I made the decision to completely redo the artwork for Chapter 1. It set us even further back, but I can confidently say that we have a better comic because of it. Reed’s patience, understanding, and empathy throughout this project has been instrumental in my sticking with it. There were plenty of opportunities to give up quietly and walk away, and yet we stuck with it. I can’t thank him enough for that. We’re still pushing on, and I believe now more than ever we will see it through to the end.

In his writing, Blair had a knack for extracting beauty from the darkest places. His example inspired me to do the same with this nightmare world Reed and I had created. As devastating as his death was, it hasn’t stopped me. If anything, it has made this a better story and strengthened my resolve to see it through. Life is too short to not pursue my passions. I am less afraid of failure than I am of who I would become if I never tried.

Our Kickstarter running now until 3/31/16.

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Dream Crasher: The First Milestone

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If you’re don’t regularly back up your hard drive, let me tell you a story about an inconvenience that could have been a nightmare. My laptop hard drive was approaching 5 years old. I knew it had been getting funky and making strange sounds every now and again. It decided to completely shit the bed exactly one month before our June 2nd deadline for releasing Dream Crasher. Fortunately, I religiously backup everything with Time Machine, and that goes double for the comic book. Every page is additionally backed up in two different places. One can never back the important things up in too many places.

What you see in the picture above is my sisters old macbook that she set up for me with Adobe CS3 (for doing the final page edits) and my PC from work (for uploading/downloading the files for lettering). It took me twice as long to do everything as it would have on my own computer, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I needed to. What would have been a fun long weekend trip home turned into a lot of time spent at my makeshift desk on the dining room table.

Reed and I made the decision to hire a letterer rather than attempt it ourselves. This was excellent advice that came to me via the Comixology Submit panel at NYCC. We posted an add on Digital Webbing, filtered through several responses before we found Frank Cvetkovic. Here’s one thing Reed and I learned about ourselves through the process of selecting fonts: neither of us ever really notices lettering unless it’s abstract or poorly done. Much of the best comic book lettering doesn’t call attention to itself. It finds it’s own place in the narrative. It directs the readers eye around the page and works in cohesion with the artwork. Frank did a beautiful job and I could not be happier with our decision.

Through the process of finding a letterer we also found Greg Sorkin to do our logo. He was incredibly patient with our initial indecisiveness, but I’m ultimately very happy with the end result. My sister also came through for us in the eleventh hour, doing the cover graphics, internal credit and thank you pages, and the post cards we’ve been handing out for the last four months.

The last weekend of May brought us some gorgeous weather. It was the first true weekend of summer. I spent the entire time indoors working on the website. Minus some initial trouble with the download links, it all went off without a hitch on game day. It took us five years from the first sketches to the release of Chapter 1. There were many times along the way where it felt like it might never happen. Reed and I have trudged forward in the face of some major setbacks. We still have a long ways to go, but I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to take this journey with.

We will be launching our Kickstarter in late October. That’s less than one month away. We will be using it to print Chapter 1 as well as fund the lettering through Chapter 3. It will also be the first place you can order Chapter 2: The Land Vomits Ghosts. I’ve been exceptionally lazy in the last two months, making up for going all out on this. It’s time to come out of hibernation, though. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of Reed. I’m proud of how the first chapter of Dream Crasher turned out. I’m excited and mildly terrified for what comes next, but I know I am fully capable of making it happen.

Flame Con 2015

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This one only took me 3 months…

I had originally made plans to get there bright and early before the start of the convention to help set up. However, due to my not being an “official” vendor and the fact that I was still exhausted from the previous weekend at Special Edition NYC, I opted to sleep in a little bit. I got to the convention a little bit after noon. Dream Crasher won’t be printed until (hopefully) sometime in early 2016, so paying for a table when all I have are post cards and one print prototype wasn’t something I had initially planned on. However, fellow BSF Writer Donna Minkowitz offered me a split portion of her table with Roberta Degnore, and I couldn’t refuse. And so this became my first experience tabling at a convention. They’ve already expanded Flame Con into a 2-day event for next year, and I will be better prepared to make it count.

Brad Parks (founder of Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers) stopped by with some BSFW post cards. I also spoke with Kaila Hale-Stern – who wrote up a nice piece on the event for i09. I ended up being tabled right across from Justin Winslow, whom I knew through Instagram and finally got to meet in real life. I bought one of his wonderfully inappropriate Christmas cards.

I took some time walking the floor a little bit, running into a  few of the people I had seen the week before at Special Edition NYC. Steve Orlando was there again, as were the Wayward Raven crew. I love the bizarre mix of drag and Cosplay that the convention inspired. I met Eric Cooper and picked up an issue of Knightseeker, and I also bought Power – the official Flame Con anthology. Goal for next year – be an official vendor and get something submitted into this anthology. Let’s see how I do.

Toward the end of the show I met David Rondinelli, and spoke with him quite extensively.  picked up a stand alone issue of Node from him (which I quite enjoyed reading). At the very end of it all, I bought a copy of Donna’s book Growing up Golem. I do regret that I couldn’t make it to any of the panels. I’m realizing how hard that is to do when you have a table and a job to do. This time around I had no merchandise to sell. Next year I will. It was a good experience to get that perspective for the first time.

When the floor closed, I went out for some dinner with Brad (and a charged my phone). It was also nice to relax away from the crowds. We then walked back for the drag show and after party. I didn’t know what to expect from the show, but I can assure you that I would never have guessed it would involve a Nevele Longbottom striptease. That turned out to just be the beginning. What followed was equal parts wonderful and weird.

Storm walking out to Garbage’s “Only Happy When it Rains.” Princess Leia in the gold bikini Jabba the Hutt made her wear, to the tune of Britney Spears “Slave for You” (and then ripping off her wig to Britney’s “Crazy”). She Hulk. Lana from Archer. Sigorny Weaver’s character from Aliens. Geek and Drag make for some strange bedfellows, and we all know that life is more fun with strange bedfellows.

After the show I went to TNT with my friend Matt, who introduced me to Nathan Archer. More drag shenanigans ensued. Eventually my friend Terrance met up with us, too. I stayed out much later than anticipated. Thankfully I had Sunday to recover from the inevitable hangover and several weeks worth of accumulated sleep depravity.

 

 

Special Edition NYC 2015

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It only took me 2 months to write this all up, but here goes…

Reed and I stayed up well passed midnight on Friday, cutting paper and using rubber cement to piece together our two prototype prints of Dream Crasher: Chapter 1. We listened to lots of Maria Bamford and Against Me! as we powered through it. It was labor intensive but absolutely worth it. The same can be said about the whole last five years we’ve been working on this.

Saturday

With our binders and postcards in tow, Reed and I met up with Jaime at 51st street around noon, then walked over to Pier 94 for the convention. We made a quick pass on artist alley before checking out Let’s Talk About Checks: The Business of Professional Comics, which was moderated by Alex de Campi (Writer). Also on the panel were Joseph Illidge (Editor and Writer) and Vera Greentea (Writer and Jedi Master of Kickstarter Campaigns) among others. Some of the takeaways for me: having an agent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – you can always hire a lawyer for reviewing individual contracts. Editors and Publishers are not the same thing and shouldn’t be treated as such – the Editor isn’t the one you want to write a scathing letter to when things go awry. In fact, it’s best to avoid scathing personal email rants altogether. Lastly, it is important to pay the artists for the work they’ve done. Not that I didn’t know that one, but it’s one that’s worth repeating. I particularly appreciated Vera Greentea’s story about cutting her page count down so she could afford to allocate more of her budget toward pay her artists.

After the panel I walked the floor a bit. Back at my first ever comic convention experience (NYCC 2012), I picked up the first few issues of First Law of Mad Science. So it was pretty cool to pick up Issue #5 this year. I also backed their Kickstarter for their first collected edition when I got home. It’s wonderful seeing the progress fellow independent creators have made over the years. Stopped by Steve Orlando‘s booth, who was already sold out of Midnighter #1, so I picked up a copy of the December 2014 Vertigo Quarterly.  I Also picked up Whatzit #1 by Gideon Kendall and The Calamitous Black Devils by Joseph Schmalke.

Next up was Writers Unite: Pitching Creator-Owned Comics featuring Charles Soule, Greg Pak, Marguerite Bennett and moderated by Jim Zub. There was some truly valuable tips and examples on how to pitch an idea. As a naturally long winded writer, this is something I know I need to work on. Marguerite Bennett sold me on her entire catalog of work with the example she gave (forgive my butchered paraphrasing): a “psycho-sexual fantasy” where “a nightmare falls in love with it’s dreamer.” There emphasis placed on the need to show that you can make consistent, professional quality work before anyone will pay you for it. Lastly, the host Jim Zub summed up a sentiment that really seemed to dominate my entire weekend: “most people don’t appreciate where there at.” It’s not about jumping to the top rung of the ladder. People in comics tend to move up and through it together. It’s about knowing your contemporaries, learning from and growing with them. Thinking about where I was just last year, with not even a title to show for four years worth of work Reed and I had put in, I have come along way. We have come a long way. We’re nowhere near finished but I can appreciate the progress and remind myself to enjoy the process.

This was all the perfect segue into the last event of the evening: Creator Connection hosted by Buddy Scalera and Dirk Manning. I’ve learned a lot about effective networking over the years, and I really like the way this event is set up. In rapid fire speed dating style, I exchanged business cards and conversations with some really talented people.  Right off the bat I got placed with Stan Chu, who has a really solid portfolio of some truly beautiful artwork. I also met Steve Pertivelli, who’s first comic Sweetie should be out later this year. At the tail end of the event I met Anna Leue, who had just finished the first issue of her webcomic Half Man (you can support it on Patreon). As the floor closed up, the Creator Connection moved to the Brew House a few blocks away for the after hours event setup by Stan, Steve, and J. Jacob Barker. Reed and I went along for a drink and some fries. I met a few more people, including James B. Emmett who just put out the first issue of his comic The Committee with Wayward Raven.

Reed and I ducked out of there a little early to grab some dinner with Jaime, which was followed by some celebratory ice cream at Sixteen Handles in Chelsea. It was near midnight by the time I got home, and not all that surprising that I overslept on Sunday morning.

Sunday

After I overslept (and Reed kindly let me sleep in) we got to the upper west side and had wonderful lunch with Anna, her husband, and Half Man artist Patrick Tsao.My friend Alex also stopped by to take over Jaime’s Sunday pass. I found out that Anna and I would be crossing paths again in July at ReaderCon, and we talked a lot about process, business hurtles, and comic book finances. Fun stuff if you’re into that. We parted ways when we got back to Pier 94. I opted to not go to any of the Sunday panels, having already had a late start, and made a more decided to more thoroughly walk Artist Alley.

I picked up Nightmare World Volumes 1 & 2 by Dirk Manning, as well as The Bible 2 by Z.M. Thomas and Amelia Woo. I ended up stopping by the Hijack Press table and picking up The Cult House #1 from writer Joven Tolentino. I also had a really wonderful conversation with the colorist Kwan Wilson, and bought one of his last prints of “Winter Barbarian.”  Henchgirl creator Kristen Gudsnuk, whom I met at NYCC in the Fall, was also tabling. I snagged Issues 2-6, and am now eagerly anticipating #7.

After that I ran into Stan, from Saturday’s Creator Connection. He very graciously introduced me to a number of the other artists and writers he knew, including Soo Lee. If I had any more wall space/money to spare at that point in the day, I would have bought one of her beautiful prints. Instead I opted to spend my last $5 and picked up Fight Like a Girl #1, which Soo had drawn with writer/creator David Pickney. When my love for Power Rangers came up in the conversation, Stan quickly ushered me over to to meet writer Brian Visaggio and artist Kevin Roberts. They were unfortunately sold out of Stronghold Volume 1, but I still have every intention of getting myself a copy in the near future. I had exceeded my budget for the weekend, anyhow. Before the convention store closed, Stan gave me a copy of Carl D. Smith‘s Be Careful What You Wish For #1  – which features the short “The Courier” that Stan had done the art for.

All in all, one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write this is that WordPress deleted my first draft. The other reason is that I immediately followed this weekend with Flame Con, and then went to Reader Con with the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers a few weeks after that. It has been a wonderful, stressful, important, and inspiring two months. I have met and stayed connected with some truly talented individuals who are making some beautiful comic books. I needed to take some time to myself after it all (3 conventions in 6 weeks) to process everything, recalibrate, and remind myself that I’ve come along way and should appreciate where I’m at.

One of the more important things I learned from this weekend – always take off the Monday after a convention if you can swing it. I wish I had thought to do that.

 

East Coast Comicon 2015

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It’s been a month, but I am finally getting around to chronicling my day at East Coast Comicon. In my defense, I’ve had a lot going on behind the scenes with getting my own comic ready for release on June 2nd. The first five pages are up now on Circus Book. Regardless of good excuses, I will be posting here more frequently in the next couple of months.

April 11, 2015

I ended up getting to the convention center a bit later than anticipated, but all in all it turned out to be a great day. I met up my friend Mel at the door – his father Rudy Nebres was a featured guest at the convention. He showed me around and introduced me to several people. The convention floor was much bigger than I was expecting.

I had a great conversation with David Gallagher, writer of The Only Living Boy along with Artist Steve Ellis. He recommended I check out Tapastic and NoiseTrade Books when I release Dream Crasher. I picked up Issues 2 and 3 of Only Living Boy – I had actually had Issue 1 from NYCC a few years back. It’s a really well-written series with some excellent artwork and a fully realized world. I highly recommend it, and look forward to the release of Issue 4.

I also stopped by the Wayward Raven booth, where I met Writers Mark Frankel and Alexander Sapountzis. Really nice guys with quite an impressive enterprise going. I picked up the first two Issues of their ongoing series, Horsemen. I also met Ramon Gil and picked up the first issue of his Scifies series, for which Rudy Nebres did the cover. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but like his concept for doing multiple serial shorts.

Finally, after backing Papa and Neneti of the Forgotten Spirits on Kickstarter over the years, I finally met Vera Greentea. She has been one of the most responsive and well-organized crowdfunding campaigners I have had the privilege of backing. I picked up the first issue of Recipes for the Dead. She’s worked with a variety of artists across these different projects, and has brought some beautiful dark fantasy to life.

I also picked up Iron Horse, and had a nice conversation with writer Gavin Spector of Soldier of Fortune Comics. I got some great insights into comiXology Submit from writer Eric Grissom. I bought the first two issues of his series, DeadHorse. I met a fellow Commander Keen fan at the Rare Earth Comics table, and picked up the first two issues of Shadow Tracers.

Toward the very end of my day, I discovered an isle I had somehow missed before. Spent my last few dollars grabbing The Magnificent Mariposa created by Alex Lowe as well as America’s Kingdom from Gnosis Comics.

It was a great day overall. Mel’s parents were really wonderful and let me keep my backpack at their table for the duration of the day. I left with it filled to the brink, with more comics than I have had time to read in the last month. I somehow managed to stay under budget. My hope is to return next year as a vendor, with printed copies of Dream Crasher in tow.

Dream Crasher: A Five Year Journey

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The roots of Dream Crasher can be traced all the way back to my sophomore year of college, when I first drafted an idea for a short film. It’s first working title was Post Human. It never made it beyond pre-production. I picked it up again in my senior year, when I wrote up a prose treatment for a Creative Writing class. I liked how it came out, but I was too distracted by my involvement with slam poetry at the time, and it slipped to the back burner.

The project wouldn’t truly come to life until Sean Gallagher convinced me to join him for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2009. Under the cringe-worthy but thankfully short-lived working title of Anno Diablo, I began the first draft of what is now Dream Crasher. I merged my original short story with a broader concept I had been kicking around, and dove in with no idea where I was really going. I made it to 14,542 words – well short of the 50,000 word goal. Yet for the first time in years I was excited about a creative undertaking. Over the next few months I began to flesh out the world and it’s characters. Through this process, I realized that my story needed to be expressed visually.

A few months later, I was hanging out and catching up with my friend Reed Olsen. Over the course of our conversation Reed mentioned that he had been wanting to make a comic book. It just so happened that I did, too. I pitched the story to Reed, and he came back with a few character sketches. Before long I was writing scripts, and Reed was experimenting with styles. I completed the first chapter. Reed settled on black and white water color.

Thanks to tagging on Tumblr, we can view some of the progress of Dream Crasher as it evolved over the last five years from NaNoWriMo to it’s current form. It has lived under many names. I was calling it Vanishing Point when Reed and I started working on it. It changed to Year Zero and then Stealing Fire before we eventually landed on Dream Crasher just one month ago.

We had our share of setbacks along the way. I stopped writing for almost a year after Blair died. When I started back up, my original plans for the third chapter had tripled in length and needed to be split in two. Reed also made the difficult decision to redo the first chapter – as it paled when compared to the completed second and third. Even though it slowed our progress down, Dream Crasher is ultimately going to be better because of it.

This month marks five years since I took the first real steps towards getting this story out of my head and onto the page. Today we have 130 pages fully painted and ready to be scanned, enhanced, and lettered. Within the next few months, the first chapter will see it’s Internet debut. “The Creature’s Keeper” still shares many similarities to that plot I dreamed up for my doomed short film, but the world and it’s characters have grown far beyond anything I was capable of at that time.

While I won’t be partaking in NaNoWriMo this year, I have it to thank for kickstarting the process and allowing me to take the first deep dive into this world I had created. It has grown and changed shape along with me these last five years. Reed and I have a long ways yet to go, but today I’m more excited than intimidated by what lies ahead.

New York Comic Con 2014 – Friday

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Friday – October 10

Jaime and I left bright and early on Friday so that I could get there in time for the panel Breaking Into Comics the Marvel Way. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. From all of the stories and bits of advice I keep hearing, I think it mostly boils down to two things:

  1. Finish your work and put it where people can see it.
  2. Network effectively and and get to know your community.

Sam Humphries, who garnered attention for his self-published Our Love is Real, was the second panelist at NYCC this year that I heard say “I was in the audience for this panel two years ago.” Sam now writes The Legendary Starlord for Marvel. I also enjoyed the anecdotes and stories from Kelly Sue DeConnick, who presently writes Captain Marvel as well as Pretty Deadly for Image. Also on the panel was Jeanine Schaefer (Marvel Talent Scout), Russell Dauterman (Artist of Thor), Gerry Duggan (Writer of Nova), and Charles Soule (Writer of Death of Wolverine). There was one other artist I wanted to include here, but I didn’t write down her name and it’s not on the official Comic Con listing.

I met up with Jaime after the panel and we made our way to the showroom floor. He ended up buying a few pieces of artwork from the talented and super friendly Nigel Sade. If I were not on a tight budget, I would have picked up a piece from him as well. I also found this awesome Dr. McCoy T-shirt, but they only had smalls and XXLs. This just means I will probably buy it online eventually. Finally I made my way to the Indie Creator Section  (The one that’s not Artist Ally)

I met and spoke briefly with Adam Burn, who is the artist for Telikos Protocol with writer Peter Cooper. I picked up the first issue (which I highly recommend), which is one of 9 planned 50-page issues in the series. It’s a refreshing and original Science Fiction story that’s well-written and beautifully realized. Both Adam and Peter traveled from the UK in order to be at NYCC.

Next I spoke with Bethany and Ruben Romero, whom I had seen on the comiXology Submit Panel the night before. They, along with Roger Cabrera, write The Agency. They were incredibly genuine and friendly, and their comic book is one of the best indie works I’ve seen in a long time. I picked up print copies of Issues 1 & 2, and will be getting Issue #3 on comiXology as soon as my wallet recovers from Comic Con.

I also met some nice New York City area creators. Picked up the first volume of Argent Starr by Altemus and Lyn T. Byrd (which I will start reading as soon as I finish writing this post). Also met J. G. Ballard, the creator and writer of Venus Rises, which is a web series turned comic book. I will be reading the first two issues of that over the weekend. Lastly I met Zachary Mortensen, who wrote The Gatecrashers with artist SUTU. I’ll be posting about all of these as I read them on Tumblr and Goodreads.

Next I made my way to the Creator Connection. The main presentation given at the beginning by Dirk Manning (writer or Nightmare World and Mr. Rhee) was one of the highlights of this year’s NYCC for me. It was very entertaining and insightful. I will be diving into his book Write or Wrong as soon as I’m done with all of the other comics I picked up. The main purpose of this panel was to network with artists and writers, so the second half consisted of some chaotic match making in way too small of a room. I was able to meet handful of other up and coming creators who are also just getting their feet wet in the world of comics. Among them were Lawrence ShungLuke D. BlackwoodRik Sansone, Efrain Arana III, David Baker, and Amy Lyn Jackson. I put all those names in here hoping most – if not all – might be household names in the near future. Time and hard work will tell.

Following that I met back up with Jaime, and we did a little bit more wandering the floor before deciding to head back to Brooklyn. We basically dropped off our things, played a quick game of fetch with Coeus, then trekked out to Jersey City for a wonderful dinner with friends. By the time we got back to Brooklyn for the second time, we were both pretty beat. Thankfully there were no early panels I wanted to try and make for Saturday.