Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare on Going IndieA comics interview article by: Keith Silva
Comic books and costumes go hand in glove. It's like that old Jimmy Buffet Pumpkin Carol, “It's Halloween Somewhere,” or something like that. Halloween Eve by artist Amy Reeder and writer Brandon Montclare is a stand-alone, self-contained, forty-page comic book spooktacular about Eve, a woman who possesses an active imagination, but lacks the Halloween spirit, not the best combination for someone who works in a place called Halloween Land. The comic is available now through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.com.
Halloween Eve is already funded and will be out in October. The project ends July 27, so act now. For $10 (or the cost of three bags of fun-size Twix) you can get your very own signed copy of the comic and a greeting card. Take that Mars Incorporated! Also, a few special incentives are still available like a script/portfolio review by Montclare and a drawing lesson with Reeder (supplies are limited, very limited).
Anybody hungry for a Twix? Yeah, me too.
Keith Silva for Comics Bulletin: How do you like to celebrate Halloween?
Brandon Montclare: I really have every angle covered. I always loved the holiday -- the neighborhood seasonal decorations and the horror movies; I try to perfect my Pandora Halloween radio station. My daughter will be 3-years-old by Halloween, so I go trick or treating. The people-watching is amazing.
Amy Reeder: I live about 10 minutes west of Brandon, in the West Village, which has a world-famous Halloween Parade. It's pretty intense and I generally try to lure friends to my place. I joined the parade the first year…I tried to be Superman but I ditched the wig and ended up looking more like Supergirl.
CB: How did the two of you come up with the idea about a costume shop that takes on a life of its own?
Montclare: I don’t know if Halloween Eve is writing-what-you-know, but I live across the street from Halloween Adventure, a costume superstore that cuts off 11th street and shares a city block with the Gothic-looking Grace Church. And if I'm walking home from Amy's, I've got to cut through the store or go around it when it's closed. As you can imagine with a cavernous space jam-packed with masks and mannequins and rubber bats, it's sensory overload and definitely puts a few ideas in your head.
Reeder: Brandon's original concept is really a great challenge for an artist… meaning both great and a challenge. In the story you have real monsters and people dressed like monsters—you have to draw those things differently. Plus, of course, you get to play with all the Halloween traditions, which are so rich in visual potential.
CB: Eve reads like the perfect 'reluctant' protagonist. What was the creative process in the development of this character?
Reeder: For me, Halloween Eve didn't become the book that it was until we had Eve (in fact, it was called something else before we had the current protagonist!). There was a lot of development and a lot of changes were introduced in talking with Brandon. But at its core, Halloween Eve is a familiar story of a girl who goes from immature to at least slightly-more-mature. That reluctance and standoffishness, that's her block. I have a personal interest in people like this; the process of shedding that exterior when you know others will notice must be a little terrifying.
Montclare: Amy designed, completely, all the characters. I would have been allowed input, but they didn't need any tweaks. My level of influence on Eve's look wasn't anything specifically visual: the sources of her attitude; the situations that would challenge her; and the costumes she and others would wear informed her a bit, I guess.
CB: Halloween Eve begins with the verve of a workplace comedy – and great visual puns like the spider on Bernardo's chest and, of course, Eve’s 'bust' earrings – does the story continue in this spirit, the comic side of Halloween as opposed to grosser or scarier aspects of the holiday?
Montclare: There's a lot of things hidden-in-plain sight in Halloween Eve. You've got to keep your eyes peeled. It gets scary. And I guess it's fair to say it gets a little gross. But hopefully a bit of humor survives throughout. In the early pages that we've previewed, you're seeing an Eve (along with her co-workers) that's cynical and shallow. I tried to have that reflected by banter that's clever, but not very deep… not very honest. I'll risk introducing a pun to this interview: this early bravado is actually the mask that she wears. By the end, she’ll have to put her heart on her sleeve.
Reeder: What's great about this story is that I get to show Eve with an incredible range of emotions; even better: some are blatant and some are vague. It’s very exciting for me, because I love facial expressions and physical gestures. It’s only a 40-page comic, but I feel it’s a very full and defined character arc.
And glad you noticed the Ghost Buster-inspired earrings! At first, I wanted something that just subconsciously told others to ''keep back''… but that red circle-and-slash makes a nice Halloween (kinda) connection.
CB: Brandon is there a particular sequence that you wrote that exceeded your imagination when you saw what Amy had drawn? Amy, how about you, what part of Brandon’s script inspired you the most?
Montclare: Honestly, every panel exceeds my imagination. I've got a decent visual sense… for a writer. It's Amy’s job to make Halloween Eve look awesome. I see my role as providing a script that gives her a lot of opportunities, and hopefully a good amount of inspiration. And then we both hold the storytelling all together. I hope that answer isn’t a cop-out! If you want one cool example: the eyeball carpet (which wasn’t in the script) inspired a change to a later scene which is monstrously cool.
Reeder: I have been pretty blown away by Brandon’s script. Most of the dialogue has one obvious meaning and one deeper meaning and I keep realizing it all as I'm drawing it. He has a few pages that transition from the real to the fantastic and it's unbelievably good…like it really gets the reader to experience it all in real time with Eve; such a cool sense of the moment. Considering that it's 40 pages, the whole story feels so fleshed out and it feels like it really MATTERS. Like it's not just some whimsical story—it's all about the human element, which is a big deal to me.
CB: Given the success of this Kickstarter project, are you interested in ‘kickstarting’ other comics?
Reeder: Kickstarter is GREAT and I think the recent wave of popular creator-owned work is going to change the industry in a way we've really been needing. It's opening up possibilities for me; that's for sure. Right now I'm considering whether funding an entire graphic novel is possible exclusively through Kickstarter. It might be a stretch but it's great to even be able to consider such a thing.
I'm thinking I'll return to Kickstarter in some capacity for sure. As an example I love writing/drawing short stories…a book of short stories by one author is a tough sell to publishers but Kickstarter seems like a great home for it.
Montclare: We're still in the Kickstarter process -- and so far, so good! I've definitely thought about how this experience might translate to other projects … but at the moment that doesn't specifically include more Halloween Eve. Right now it's a complete story. But if the readers love it, it could be the start of something bigger.
CB: You are making this comic available on Kickstarter, but you're also distributing/packaging it through a publisher. Does that mean that Halloween Eve will be available to purchase at retail shops?
Montclare: Yes! Halloween Eve will be available in comic shops in October. I think it'll only be available at comic shops. Since it's a one-shot, you don't have the heft of a graphic novel/collected edition/real ''book'' -- so it probably won't be on Amazon.com or in the local Barnes & Nobel, &c.
Reeder: Also want to add: I'm getting a lot of great responses to the original promo piece --where Eve is dressed in a Witch’s hat and holding the candy with the ''Take One'' sign. It looks like that image will be a variant cover, and you can only get that one in comic shops.
CB: Brandon, as a former editor at DC/Vertigo, what do you think when you hear the phrase 'heavy editorial hand' in discussions about mainstream comic book publishing nowadays?
Montclare: That term has been around in comics since before I was born. I don't think it means anything different nowadays than it did back in the day. 'Heavy handedness' always has more to do with the specific approaches of individual editors and less to do with general contemporary publishing practices. That is: regardless of the time period, some editors are always going to get very involved with the continuing process of making books while others will always try to set the creative teams and then get out of their way (and more importantly, get everyone else out of their way too). Like most editors, I claim to be the latter! Amy at the very least agrees with me, or I suppose we wouldn't be here.
Working on Halloween Eve -- a stand-alone comic with all-new characters -- is liberating. You answer to nothing save your own creative compass. But you also miss out on the good things an editor does: the experienced sounding-board; the moral support and enthusiasm; the sense of security that you have someone on the inside keeping watch as it goes through solicitation and production and printing and distribution.
CB: Brandon, is it 'fair' to say that the kind of corporate image or attitude in mainstream publishing is stoking the rise in creator-owned comics all of a sudden or is it a coincidence, both?
Montclare: It's not a coincidence that you're seeing a lot of creators leave Marvel/DC for creator-owned stuff. I wouldn't, however, attribute it solely to any dissatisfaction with the “corporate attitude” of the publishers. I think the negatives of work-for-hire are influencing the movement far less than the positives of creator-ownership. That is: creator-owned books are in themselves very attractive, and getting more attractive every day. The creative benefits are obvious. The financial part of the equation is catching up as well...
[Frank] Miller & [Mark] Millar both have multiple movies based on their properties. [Robert] Kirkman's Walking Dead dominates cable. Marvel/DC properties have thoroughly dominated Hollywood for a decade. That creates a lot of opportunities -- large and small -- for all comic's creators. On the traditional print side of things, a shrinking world with stuff like social media and digital distribution and now crowd-funding has democratized publishing. Creators are closer than ever to their fans -- and the benefits are astounding. But it shouldn’t be surprising. The sentiment of ''I owe everything I have to my fans'' has become so cliché that I think we lose sight of how much sense it makes. Anything I earn writing comics is, at the end of the day, down to the financial support of the audience. Marvel/DC's greatest benefit to creators is their ability to underwrite that everyday truth. Creator-owned hasn't quite matched the financial stability and guarantees you get with WFH, but the gap is closing; moreover, you preserve the chance of hitting the lottery with the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Scott Pilgrim or whatever.
CB: How does your experience as an editor inform your work as a writer?
Montclare: It doesn't have too much influence when it comes to the actual script writing. Having worked as a project-manager with pencilers, inkers, colorists, letterers, and other editors—that experience reminds me to not become overly demonstrative with the script. As 'writer,' I'm just one part of the creative equation. Beyond that, my editorial experience informs a lot of things early in the writing process: establishing the page count and other format parameters; as well as tailoring the story to the audience, the artist, and the schedule --those kinds of considerations do ultimately affect the script.
CB: Brandon, as a former comic book store owner, are you conflicted about how on the one-hand crowd-source funding websites provide creators and fans direct exclusive access to one another while on the other hand, this approach essentially cuts out distributors and retail markets, the bread-and-butter of the industry?
Montclare: Comics specialty shops are incredibly important to the comics business. They are the partners you want -- dedicated, enthusiastic, expert, and loyal. I think publishers should repay that loyalty -- it's the moral thing to do, but it's also good business. That being said: I think retailers have taken their eye off the ball if they're overly concerned with piracy, legal digital distribution, and a direct platform like Kickstarter. These kinds of things aren't going away, and you need to think about them as positives that can grow the market as opposed to negatives that cannibalize sales. First of all, a lot of Kickstarted comics wouldn't even exist without the crowdfunding sponsorship. Womanthology raised a boatload of money -- along with a boatload of buzz -- and then the print version did quite well for direct market retailers when IDW distributed it.
Even more impressive than traditional comics, the performance of webcomics on Kickstarter is amazing. You see fans happily paying for hardcopies of online strips that were free. A comic getting any kind of exposure or hype in the world outside of comics shops is a good thing. Retailers know the money they're making with Walking Dead and Thanos-related product. For what it's worth: Amy and I are going to be very active in promoting Halloween Eve at the retail level in October. And we hope to do a lot of cool stuff with and for receptive store owners.
CB: Amy, the knee-jerk reaction to Halloween Eve is going to be that this is a direct response to your recent experience with Batwoman. Is this a valid notion? What would you say to people who pose this kind of criticism?
Reeder: Hmm, I'd say it's mostly NOT true…it's more that my experience with Batwoman was what triggered me to finally go for something creator-owned and to quit all this waiting business. I'd been wanting to for a long time. I don't really fit the mould in a lot of ways -- I have something to offer in that I can have a fresh take on something like superheroes, but it also makes sense that someone like me has ultimate goals that don't fit the mould either.
I still have a relationship with DC and have had a few generous offers from them as well as from other publishers. It's been scary to turn them down, but if I wanted to do this book with Brandon, I needed to dedicate all my time to that! And this is exactly what I want to be doing right now. There's a lot I'm figuring out with this experience and it's shaping what I'd like to do in the future.
I feel like my career so far has benefitted from working on Batwoman and with DC. It's surprising, but what little work I actually published in those two years has brought in a great following that is happy to keep up on what I do, creator-owned or no.
CB: For you, as an artist, is there a romantic (or independent) urge to produce only creator-owned work as opposed to being a sub-contractor on work-for-hire projects which (maybe) provide more stability and are perhaps less risk-averse?
Reeder: Oh, sure. I guess for me it's less about drawing/owning my own characters and more about having a lot of say on how I do it and how much of the process is mine. I've always been a selfish artist and it's tough for me to see comics as something I do for other people and for money. I see work-for-hire as good if it can be creatively fulfilling, help me get better, or help me build an audience. If it's not fulfilling, that really messes with me, more than I think it should. But I can't control that aspect of myself, so I'm very careful with the projects I choose.
CB: You mention in the video (on your Kickstarter site) that 'Brandon is your best friend,' how did that relationship inform how you approached working on this project?
Reeder: I am very lucky to be working with Brandon! He knows me very well and knows exactly how I feel about creating and how important certain environmental factors are to me, things that I usually avoid telling publishers and editors because I tend to think they won’t believe me. I'm not afraid to speak out with Brandon and he's the same with me, yet it's civil and our goals are simpatico. That's a rarity when you collaborate in comics, and it was something I needed.
CB: In the video you say that getting new readers 'especially women and girls' is a one of your goals as an artist. How did that attitude influence the story (especially Eve) and did this same inclusive belief lead into making Eve an African-American character as well?
Reeder: I think it influences everything I do, but it's pretty natural for me because I was a new (and of course, female) reader not long ago. So I go with what I tend to like and think about how I viewed things when I first started reading comics. There are so many habits in comics that people aren't fully aware of if they've been raised on it! A couple examples, fashion and drawing clothes seems a little uninformed, and the fantastical seems to be taken for granted and too quickly accepted by characters based in a real world.
As for Eve: My thinking in general is that, if you CAN make a lead character a race other than white, why not go for it? There is a lot of underrepresentation in comics. I suppose my being female and wanting to see more female characters gives me a little insight, but I am also just very interested in all people and don't always want to tell stories about me.
CB: Could you explain what you mean when you say that 'fashion [is] a little uninformed,' and how the fantastical seems to be taken for granted?'
Reeder: I do think there's a clothing "style" in comics that you don't find anywhere else, in art or in real life. Reaction to modern fashion seems to be delayed and there's not enough knowledge on how clothing fits...like how clothing folds work. I have this problem with men's clothing, because it's looser and I get confused how jeans fit. So I'm working on it, too.
Regarding the fantastical, superheroes are probably the easiest example...many of them get their powers and seem to accept them too early, and civilians and people they know do, also. Like there's not enough time spent on people's emotions as they come to accept something that should be crazy, and that's some prime storytelling material. And there's not enough time spent on the ins and outs of someone's "powers"--like I feel like "the force" would be the antithesis of this. It's complex and not just automatically accepted. I feel like superhero movies these days keep the attention of people who don't read comics because they DON'T take superhero powers for granted.
CB: Could you talk about how you came up with the image (conceptually and if you’re willing reveal some of your process) for the cover of Halloween Eve?
Reeder: I knew as a single issue that it had to be a pinup in some respect but I also knew Brandon prefers covers with clever concepts. Finally I came up with something that could combine the two -- that it'd look like a pinup except that the midsection would be from a mirrored reflection of a customer in costume. That way I could show what she does, showcase a bunch of the store, and the Dorothy getup actually says something about the story that I don't want to spoil. But I will say that at Eve's core, whether she wants to admit it, she really does want to dress up. So to me the image just worked on a lot of levels.
CB: Halloween Eve comes out in October … can you tease any projects that either of you will have coming out between now and then or in the not-so-distant future?
Reeder: I have an 8-page short story in a Vertigo anthology that'll be coming out in the same month. Aside from that I'm still deciding what I want my next move to be. But I am all about focus and right now, it's all about Halloween Eve! I want to show everyone what I'm capable of and I'm having a blast. I hope my fans are likewise looking forward to it.
Montclare: And I'll add to that: between now and October we're going to be sharing a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff with readers. If you like a peek at the process: we'll be sharing everything from script and layouts to letters and colors; plus some of the publishing and production and distribution stuff. We want readers to feel like they’ve been a real part of this book before it comes out.
After conducting the interview, Halloween Eve was successfully picked up by Image Comics!
Keith Silva was Batman, in preschool. It is the only known occasion that Mr. Silva cosplayed in public outside of a handful of brief walk-on roles in the late nineties for a locally-produced Vermont television program in which Mr. Silva played 'passer-by,' or 'Portuguese gentleman.' Follow him on Twitter at @keithpmsilva and for those 'interested in sophisticated fun,' there is this: http://interestedinsophisticatedfun.blogspot.com/