). Why put it so bluntly? Because his company is doing what only a handful of companies across the world have the energy and will to do: they’re trying to compete with the big guys of comics for your hard-earned dollar. Vera asking Sequart to help him spread the word is actually part of the job.
Do-It-Yourself publishing, in any industry, is usually a hard and thankless occupation, which is what makes it all the more intriguing to talk about. Sequart’s Mike Phillips sat down with Vera to cover this aspect of the comics industry — an aspect that just doesn’t get enough attention.
PHILLIPS: Your company is the perfect example of Do-It-Yourself. I personally have little knowledge of how one goes about putting together a comic book, let alone a line of books! Explain a little about how you got this company rolling in the first place.
VERA: It certainly isn’t easy. Since 1992 I had always envisioned having my own publishing company (comics). I was rapping at the time under an independent production company I, along with three other friends, launched called CrazySkillz Productions. During that time we were looking towards the future to build a multi-media enterprise and I thought of CrazeeComics as a division of CrazySkillz entertainment.
Forward several years and we part ways but I still keep doing research to try and make my dream a reality. It was not a simple attempt, working with various artists and writers who at the end gave up because there was no immediate income. That is the biggest problem with self publishing! Most people want fast turnaround but are not willing to get dirty for it.
I decided to apply for my company TM and copyright all of my material as well as getting my license as a working business in NJ entitled CrazeeComics. I went back to school to strengthen my areas of weakness and be around other talented people to motivate my creativity. That’s when I met Jorge Medina who serves as my second in the company and is the creator of Russ5377. He understood what I was trying to accomplish and has been with me since 2000.
We went across country to conventions to gather information through one on one conversations with industry professionals and amateurs alike, sitting in on panels and just hitting the pavement for all success and horror stories. Brian Pullido was kind enough to spend some time with us and help us to understand what happened to Chaos[! Comics] and what to avoid. We also picked up tons of literature and studied the independent market. I joined Dimestore Productions (dimestoreproductions.com), a small press community full of great resources and people. Great place to exchange ideas and learn from others.
One of my biggest rules is communication. We meet weekly and converse almost daily to make certain the wheels are still turning and we all are on the same page. When I say we, I am referring to Jorge Medina (Partner / Artist) Jonathan Syphax (writer / sales) Anibal Arroyo (Artist) and myself. Mind you, we have full time jobs outside of this because there is no immediate income in comics. It is tough when you are your own business manager, public relations person, salesman, promoter, accountant, website designer, artist, writer, editor, etc. Not easy and not for the faint of heart. But we distribute responsibilities to each others’ strengths to lessen to load.
PHILLIPS: If you’re really in a groove and the writing and art are really flowing out of you, how long, in total, does an issue take to create from concept to story / art to printing press and back to your door?
VERA: If I am doing all the work on a title like CosmicWars it is a 4-5 month process from beginning to end. CosmicWars is a part 3D, part line art story. I build my worlds on computer, I print out the pages prior to the characters going in. I then illustrate the ships and characters based on my scene, scan them into Photoshop and layer them over the computer generated backgrounds. I then add color to each character in their own layers to match lighting and tone. Then I add any effects the scenes call for, flatten the file and begin lettering in Photoshop.
Once it is done we proof them (edit [for] about a week’s time) and decide on the fillers (advertisements) and placement for the books. Once that is done we import the files into Adobe InDesign and put the files into page spreads and export the book into a pdf file. We upload it into our server and the printer will pull the file from it. Approx two weeks later we get a proof (hardcopy to review before final press) and, once approved, printing begins. It takes anywhere from four to six weeks to get the product back. If we were doing this full time; meaning without work, school, etc, that time would be dramatically reduced to approx 60 days.
On a book like There’s an Alien in my Toilet, which is a simpler style of drawing, we can finish an issue in two months from beginning to end. That is also because it is all hand illustration and Jorge fills in on the colors and word balloons.
PHILLIPS: The DIY approach seems like quite a gamble monetarily. How much money goes into making, say, one thousand copies of an issue? Include in your calculations paper quality, staples, shipping the books from the comic press to your doorstep, etc.
VERA: Wow! In grayscale (B&W), for one thousand copies, you are looking to spend $2000 or more for a 32-page book. I used comiXpress but recently their prices went up and I am now using Dimestore’s printing. Take into consideration you need to spend money on the equipment: PC, extra storage (i.e. external hard drive), tabloid size flatbed scanner, printer, fax, software and supplies. This does not cover your expense for advertisements, web hosting, phone bills, postage, conventions, [and] travel. Pretty costly! If you are seriously looking to start up a small press, you need a pretty penny to get rolling with enough funds to keep your business going for at least a year or two.
On a side note, don’t just plan for what you are expecting your budget to be; make certain you have reserves for those unexpected costs. It always seems to sneak up on you. The reason I did not mention colored books is because as an independent; unless you have serious capitol, you should avoid this route. It will eat up all of your resources faster than you can blink. We had our books in color the first two years and did not spend industry rate to have them produced. In fact we paid approx $1.00 a book in full color. Why so cheap you ask? Well, we made a deal with a printer to help with advertisements and web design in exchange for the rates on the books. That also meant we had to bind and staple them ourselves. We literally spent weeks folding and stapling thousands of books. Not something I would want to do again.
PHILLIPS: By the way, for those who don’t know, what’s grayscale?
VERA: Grayscale defined technically: a series of shades from white to black. The more shades, or levels, the more realistic an image can be recorded and displayed, especially a scanned photo. Any printer considers this B&W because all we really do is take an RGB colored image in Photoshop and hit convert to grayscale and you still maintain the same tones and effects except in shades of gray.
PHILLIPS: It seems that you’ve thrown a lot of your recent life into CrazeeComics. Many of your non-comic friends and family must have been a little skeptical at first (or even still!) about you pouring much of your own time and money into creating comic books! Did you face a lot of adversity from loved ones about what looks like, from the outside, a child’s hobby (i.e. them trying to talk you out of it or maybe speaking to you in condescending ways)?
VERA: Yes and no. On one hand, my wife is a great supporter of everything I do, but on the other hand, she is concerned and would rather I work for a major studio full time instead of working in retail during the day and trying to get CrazeeComics off the ground during the evening and weekends. At first it did put a strain on our relationship because I spent every free time on my comics. BIG mistake when you are married. I learned to balance a relationship and business without hurting either.
Co-workers have been extremely supportive, but management (because I am management where I work) feel it is just a hobby and don’t really understand it. There are also others (independent or wishful thinkers) who, without even getting to know us, have mocked us or try and bad mouth us or our style of art.
What helps us out are the side jobs. We design websites, logos, advertisements, storyboards and that money goes into running CrazeeComics.
In the beginning we were overzealous and rushed into things headstrong and spent too much [money] without taking a step back and reviewing the product, and it hurt us. We had errors, typos, etc. and thousands of books full of these errors. It was humiliating and a wake-up call. Are we error free now? No! It happens, but we continue to try and prevent them from happening.
What I find most interesting is the fan. We like to call them friends. We have a great group of loyalists who accept us and our product even when we screwed up. That is outstanding.
We do this for the love of the game and the long term vision of becoming something great. That in itself is why we continue to move forward and have fun as friends, experiencing new things and meeting great people. Come on, four guys on the road getting pulled over for speeding, meeting both fans and stalkers, getting food poisoning, having your car break down on Frank Frazetta’s property, staying in motels with pimps next door to you, losing your props at the airports, walking long distances at night from conventions to hotels, having dinner with industry professionals you admire. We have some of the best stories I would not trade for the world. We started out as friends with nothing, and, at the end, the same four guys will be toasting (whatever the outcome) to a life experience. That is worth more than gold.
PHILLIPS: Cool! That is a great attitude to have in, what seems, a tough business. Speaking of which, what advice do you have for others who are trying to break into the biz?
VERA: My advice to others looking to do the same would be this: First, ask yourself “What am I willing to do? How far am I willing to go with it? What are my limits? What will I not do? What is my short term goal and long term goal?” Once you answer those questions, you know yourself better than anyone, and your decision to move forward should be simple. Don’t do it if you are not in love with it. The stress will be too much and can make you bitter. Do it because you want to and have fun with it. The rest will eventually fall into place.
PHILLIPS: Solid advice. In fact, anyone trying to start any endeavor could use a self-assessment like that. Anyway, what does CrazeeComics have on the horizon?
VERA: 2006 is the year we step out of the shadows and the industry begins to take notice. This I promise! There are things in the works I am not at liberty to discuss now but when the time is right we will announce. You could say we have been underground, considering our books were only available at conventions and local New York stores. Our distribution will become national and, rather than attending every event we could, we have selected the types of events which has a market for our product. We will continue to tour schools and the YMCA, and our first trades will be printed this year.
2006: More Radio and TV exposure. Russ5377 goes to trade. [It's] A Sci-Fi drama of a boy who has his memory erased and is forced to live in a home for boys. There, the boys are undergoing experiments by a mad scientist trying to develop the perfect specimen. When Russ realizes he has a past and his friends start vanishing, he attempts an escape.
CosmicWars goes to trade. [It's] a Sci-Fi fantasy adventure of a universal battle over the Arthenian Star. All the forces in the universe want to gain possession of the star and the first ever female ruler has the burden of protecting the gem from getting into the wrong hands.
Forbidden #2 is released. [It's] a fantasy drama mini-series of a race once forgotten to the earth because a curse now has risen to fulfill a prophecy. A first-born son destined to destroy an evil monarch must first face his sin.
The There’s an Alien in my Toilet six-part series kicks off. [It's] a comedy series for all ages. What happens when an egocentric alien who believes he is the most intelligent life from in the Universe is sent to earth to gather Intel? Lions and tigers and bears… Oh my…
Doodie from Uranus kicks off (spin-off from TAAIMT).
Street Journal makes its debut winter 2006. [It's] an urban drama series of a boy in the hood who must fight everyday of his life just to survive and documents everything in his journal.
PHILLIPS: Hey man, looks good. Thanks for shedding some light on the world of DIY comics and good luck! One last thing: Where can check out and purchase all of these CrazeeComics products?
VERA: Midtown Comics (midtowncomics.com), Jim Hanley’s Universe (http://jsuniverse.com), Mile High (milehighcomics.com), comixPress (comixpress.com), Kitsune.com, Comic Relief, and CrazeeComics.com. Thank you for the opportunity. Catch da craze!!!