A Graphic Novel Named Heavy Weapon: A Writer's Journey Through Self-PublicationA comics interview article by: Dylan Tano
Dylan Tano sat down with David Desjardin today to discuss his graphic novel, Heavy Weapon, a high octane blast from action movies' past, as well as the action movies that inspired it. David has been self publishing his book using out-of-pocket resources and the website Kick Starter. You can check out a 12 page preview here and contribute to his Kick Starter campaign here.
Dylan Tano: Can you give us a brief summary of what the book is about for those who haven't heard of it yet?
David Desjardin: Basically, it’s everything you’d expect from an 80's action movie plot. The hero, John Magnum, is a Vietnam vet, Army Special Forces – trained by his mentor, Colonel Deckard. Magnum left the Army after losing his entire battalion except for one of his close friends, Richter. 10 years later, Colonel Deckard tries to pull Magnum back in for a Secret Op, but he wants nothing to do with it. A few days after turning down the mission, Magnum hears from Richter that the Colonel's plane was shot down during the mission and Magnum knows he has to go save him.
Tano: Alright, I know you've based this primarily off of a love of 80's action movies, are there any other motivating factors in here? What would you say is your favorite 80's Action Flick?
Desjardin: At the time of writing it, I was deployed in Kuwait. I got to talking with a couple of buddies and we realized that nobody made any original 80's style action flicks anymore, which was upsetting. We discussed how we wanted that style of film to come back. We decided to make a laundry list of all the awesome things that happened in 80's action flicks. The hero rising out of water for a kill, explosions, straw huts, things like that. As I was writing the story I wanted to fit those kinds of scenes into an original story. It was actually originally suppose to be a sequel to Strike Commando - a series that had two movies out already but wasn't really well known. The story eventually became its own independent plot, and a sort of a sequel to ALL 80’s action movies.
As for my favorite action flick? Commando. Terrible special effects. It is the epitome of an 80's film. You could see the spring boards the actors stood on to get launched. Great stuff.
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Tano: Speaking of 80's action movies, they're nothing without their soundtrack in some instances, if you could have a band do a soundtrack for this comic who would it be?
Desjardin: Well, I actually have a soundtrack in mind for this in case it became a movie. A lot of it would be probably have to be done by Frank Stallone, for maximum 80’s corniness. In all honesty though, it would probably be more fitting to make it a “greatest hits” of soundtracks from other films:
"Far From Over" by Frank Stallone
"Someday, Somehow, Someone’s Gotta Pay" by Power Station
"Separate Ways" and "Burning Heart" by Survivor
"Heart's On Fire" by John Cafferty
Tano: Does the book have a montage?
Desjardin: Of course, you can't have an 80's movie comic without a montage.
Tano: What inspired you to do two different artists? Was it a conscious choice going into it while you were writing or was it something that came up during the process?
Desjardin: A little bit of both. Had a few false starts. My first three artists bailed, and I had a couple of other false starts which gave me the idea from seeing multiple artists’ renditions of the characters during the planning process. So, from there, I spawned the idea of presenting the book in three main styles: A realistic, gritty look, a more mainstream ‘comic’ look, and Manga/Anime. I could never find someone to do a Manga style, which actually turned out well for me in a ways.
When I found Michela Da Sacco (one of the artists on the book), I had planned for the book translation to be 55-65 pages. I had about 20 pages that I had made layouts for when I picked up Batbaatar Tsolmonbayar (the other artist on the book), and essentially doubled my costs. After I had two artists on and a better sense of where the story was going I decided to have it done in only two different artistic styles because of cost reasons.
By the time I hit page 53, I know there was no way it would be done by 65 since I was barely halfway through the plot. The way I had originally written the story wasn’t in standard comic-panel format and how it translated to panels meant that it was going to be a lot longer. Around this time was when I realized there was no way to afford a 3rd artist. So, that’s how it came down to two, and it has actually worked out for the best; I don’t know if a Manga style would have worked well with the material. On a side note, I've considered doing a MS Paint version as well, calling it Heavy WeaPUN as a joke on this whole process.
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Tano: I think you should keep the Heavy Weapun idea.
Desjardin: That one hasn't be shelved yet. It all depends on how the funding goes. It would be full of terrible one liners and Magnum would be a bumbling idiot. I have looked at different avenues to getting that one done. A forum I frequent actually had an idea of where it would be crowd-sourced to a hundred people, each one assigned a page to draw in MS Paint and I think it would be neat to have it done in that manner. I would draw it myself but between the project and my job there isn't really enough time for me to get that done.
Tano: And what about your personal taste in comics?
Desjardin: Actually, I don't remember much of what I read when I was younger. As a teen, I started with Spawn, I do remember that. I found it in a convenience store that was close to my house. I read it up until movie, but lost interest in it around that time. Joseph Michael Linsner is an artist I really like. Dawn was amazing. I read all of Evil Ernie and Lady Death. I also really enjoy David Mack's water color style in the Kabuki series. From 2003 to 2009 I didn't have much access to American comics since I was stationed in Japan and didn’t have much time to keep up. I did spend a lot of time in Japanese arcades though.
All my knowledge of producing this comic comes from what I read when I was younger. I kind of have a sketch in my head and I'll doodle it out for the artists. If you saw what they had to work with you'd be even more impressed. It's basically one level above stick figures. I've given them a lot of free rein to kind of move some of the panels around and to depict the story in their own way. I've even gone so far as to alter a bit of the writing to fit their unique art styles. It has definitely been a collaborative effort. Both artists have been great.
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Tano: Self-publishing is a big task, what made you decide to take this road?
Desjardin: I'd like to get the book done before actually trying to go on the avenue to an actual publisher, and self-publishing gives me a sort of final product to help pitch around. I've looked at Top Cow, IDW, and Dark Horse. If that doesn’t pan-out, I’d be perfectly happy with publishing it myself, but funding is the main roadblock with that. I am actually looking at going into the final round of the Xeric Grant to see if I can help with funding through that contest. But again, I really am just focused on getting the book done right now, once that is done then I'll look into the possibility of getting it picked up.
Tano: Have you learned anything so far in this process that you'll carry forward into other projects?
Desjardin: I don't want to spoil anything, but I may have other things planned in the future for Heavy Weapon, as well as some non-Heavy Weapon ideas, that I'd like to work on.
I have this thing where sometimes I dream in movies. Full-fledged dreams that are entire movie plots. I get up in the middle of the night and write it down otherwise I'll forget it. That is where a lot of my ideas come from. So I do have other ideas, but not solely because of this process.
The main thing I’m able to take away from going through this project is that I’ve learned it is a lot more expensive than I thought and I should really have the book planned out before I get the project started. It set me back a bit once the book was fully laid out and I basically had to double my budget. It cost me more than I had in-hand. I'm actually a big gamer, and I had a lot of stuff I've had to sell to cover the added budget because it turned out to be a 140+ page book instead of a 60 page book.
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Tano: What has it been like using KickStarter?
Desjardin: Well, it is a month in to it. There was a lot of support early on, but the issue is once the project becomes older people tend to forget about it. Kickstarter recommended doing it in a 30 day period because it creates a sense of urgency. I do think I made a mistake starting it in December and making a 60 day time period. I've put myself in a corner with the advertising budget being non-existent. If your project is a low enough amount to fund, it is best to go with a 30 period because people will fund it in that month due to the urgency, and since the site doesn't sort by how close it is to expiring it gets buried underneath the new projects that have that urgency behind them.
Tano: How stressful has all this been so far? You've been working on this for the better part of 2 years correct?
Desjardin: Not that bad actually. Very stressful early on. The false starts were rough. I don't blame my first artist for jumping off; I think he was a senior in high school. It was a pretty big project. If it wasn't for Michela coming in, things would have been a lot rougher and maybe wouldn’t have ever gotten off the ground. I did have a guy from Marvel come in but I couldn't afford him, we couldn’t make a budget that was beneficial for both of us. Since I've had consistent artists now, it has been a lot smoother. Actually getting those first few pages out and seeing them helped immensely.
Tano: Have you been using any other sites to help promote your work?
Desjardin: Actually, I haven't really had the time to explore all the avenues available. I have been posting it on the forums I normally use. I don't really want to jump onto some site, and first day spam the project on websites and have the internet turn against me. Now that I have a preview out I'm a bit more prepared to do some promotion. It’s hard to get anyone to listen when you send out unprofessional press releases and have little to show for it outside of the bits of art shown on Kickstarter. Having the 12-page preview has brought some much needed attention to the quality of the book.
Tano: I'll post it on a few for you.
Desjardin: I do have one spot left for someone who is donating to die on page two if you're interested.
Tano: Haha, maybe.
Tano: Do you think you'll try and self publish again in the future?
Desjardin: I'm not really sure. Once I finish I'll have an idea of what it'll really cost. I don't really have a full print cost yet, since I am going to do a full color print, it has raised the cost of that part quite a bit. It really depends on how well Heavy Weapon does. If I make back what money I’ve put into this project, then I will gladly put that into another book. I would like to have full control of the book, or at least majority control. I am just worried that if I got a publisher they'd want to change the book too much. If they wouldn't take control away from me I'd be glad to go with a publisher in the future. But as for self-publishing, I wouldn't have any reservations about doing it again should I have the funds.
Tano: You must really love this project, if I remember correctly you've sold a lot of you personal treasures to fund it. I would be understating by calling this a labor of love. How supportive has everyone around you been?
Desjardin: I actually kept it extremely quiet except for the guys I was in the Military with. They have been really supportive and they liked it from the start. Financially, the wife hates it. I've been dumping all my free money from work into it. She doesn't want too much to do with it - comics and action movies are mostly a guy thing after all. I'm sure there are girls out there that love 80's action flicks, but she isn't one of them.
I just now told my parents about it, actually. My mom was excited and my dad actually offered to pay it all upfront. I didn't want him to do that though; I wanted to see what kind of interest it would generate and I didn't want my parents to be out 12 grand. I wanted to make it on my own, even if it failed miserably. The others from forums that have known about it for a little while have been very supportive as well.
Some other forums were skeptical at first, but now are a lot more supportive once I got the preview up. It is the “pics or didn't happen” mentality of the internet I suppose.
Going into the project, I planned for this to be a total failure, to be honest. I knew it was going to cost a lot of money and I was expecting it to get torn apart once I put it out there. I figured, worst case, at the least I would get a few copies made for my friends, and we’d enjoy it. I was surprised at the positive reaction it has received so far. People really seem to be enjoying it now that there’s a preview out there. I've been so ingrained in the project that it is hard to see what works and what doesn't. Some of the things I thought would be considered absolutely awful in the book have been raved over. If you like cheesy one liners I left as the cliffhanger of the preview, then you'll love the book; there are tons of excellent ones throughout.
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Tano: There aren't many modern 80's movies, but the Expendables does come to mind, what did you think about it?
Desjardin: I love and support anything that involves those guys. It gives a bit of an 80's vibe, following the formula of a standard 80's action movie, but placed in the modern setting. I mean, really, it is done by Stallone… and who knows the 80's action movie scene better than him! I'm counting the days till Expendables 2.
If I was going to do Heavy Weapon as a movie though, I'd actually like to make it in a Tarantino-style Grindhouse fashion. Kind of like a serious Tropic Thunder meets Grindhouse. Shot in that era instead of a modern setting in terms of costumes and lingo. I’d want it to basically be an 80’s movie that slipped through time and landed in a theater today. With the book, I actually did a lot research to make sure I got a lot of things right when it comes to the feel and vibe of the time period, so it would only seem natural for a film adaptation to be stylized as if it was ready to be watched from a VHS tape. You’ll see what I mean when you get to real the whole thing. Hopefully.
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Tano: David I'd like to thank you for sitting down with me and once this thing is done I'd love to review it. It seems like a great idea and so far what I've seen looks awesome. I'll definitely be keeping in touch.
Michela Da Sacco has worked in comics since 2002 for various Italian publishers. She has made illustrations for fashion catalogues and an ATV/motorcycle graphics line. In 2006, she received the "Rino Albertarelli" prize from ANAFI (the Italian National Comics Association). Now she spends time helping US indie comics publishers (like me). Her art style is gritty and dirty - a perfect match for Heavy Weapon.
Batbaatar Tsolmonbayar has been drawing since he was 3 yrs old. He pursued a professional art degree for 5 years, and graduated from The Institute of Fine Arts, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in 2010 with a Bachelor of Art degree. His primary art style is "Mongol zurag" which is the traditional Mongolian art style that has been around since 1921, and consists of horseback fighters, swords and shields drawn with fine details typically seen on murals. His crisp, clear and heavily-detailed art style lends a unique take on Heavy Weapon.