By Robin Jones
Passion. Passion flows through us all. It’s in our blood, in our hearts, minds and veins. For some of us the pull of it, the overwhelming nature of it, is stronger than others, but it is there, buried in recesses of your soul. I like to think I’m a passionate man. There are many things in my life I am passionate about. Charlotte, my fiance, our children, music, comics, films, my job and such. All these things stir the Phenylethylamine in my head, give me a rush of blood, a surge of adrenaline and excitement. I get goosebumps from guitar solos, giddy from reading Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, a kiss from Charlotte makes my head spin and a cuddle from the kids makes me want to try harder to ensure they grow up to be the best they can be. Passion. It’s what the world was built on.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I am attempting to channel some of my passion into actually creating my own comics with two very good friends, Paul James (@DrPaji) and Mike Sambrook (@Rapiaghi). As such, it’s also rekindled my love of drawing which has been long suppressed! It’s daunting thinking of attempting to submit your work to someone to see if they like it/think it’s worthy of promoting/want to set fire to it/send you to a Gulag but a few weeks ago I saw a post on a Facebook page I follow which outlined the 10 steps to take before submitting your work to a potential publisher/collaborator. It was written by a gent named Brandon Rhiness, a co-founder of The Higher Universe, a collective of stories, with differing genres, which all exist in the same shared universe. The premise of the Higher Universe was a brilliant one in my opinion! What if Stormdogs and Trillium occurred in the same universe, with actions in one story having far reaching repercussions in another. It also wouldn’t be as convoluted as Marvel and DC’s universe either. It was also his frankness about submitting your work to publishers/promoters etc that struck a chord. Be enthusiastic but then also be pragmatic about things. Make things as professional as possible, and don’t expect it to be easy street! What also shone through was his passion. It was this that really caught my eye, as you could feel the passion for comics and his work pulse through the words he wrote! I contacted Brandon and he was more than happy to have a chat with me about his work, his comics and his experiences in a frank and open manner.
Me: What was it that inspired you to start creating comics?
Brandon: I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. As soon as I was able to write the letters of the alphabet I was writing stories. I used to write these Star Wars stories that were about a paragraph long. That’s as long of a story as I could write at the time. The first major turning point was in Grade 4. I created this character named Nodnard Ssenihr, which is my name spelled backwards. I wrote a story where Nodnarb gets kidnapped and held hostage in a skyscraper. Then he has to escape and get back to his family. The day after I wrote it, I asked my English teacher if I could read it to the class. She allowed me to. The response was great. All the kids loved it and were asking me to write a sequel. I ended up writing a few Nodnarb stories that were well received. After that I was thinking, “Hmm…maybe I’m onto something here.”
A lot of people say they grew up with comics or they started reading comics because their dads or older brothers did. Not for me. For me, my first exposure to comics, and my decision to create them, occurred in one moment. I’m sure some of your readers remember the Marvel trading cards from the early 90s. In Grade 5 science class some kids were looking at the cards. I asked them to show them to me.
Now, I was aware of Superman, Batman, Spiderman and all the big-name superheroes, but my knowledge of comics was pretty much non-existent. As soon as I saw those cards with all those cool characters on them I knew I was into this for life. Throughout my teen years I began creating lots of my own characters. Some of which are finally being brought to life in my comics!
I continued writing various kinds of stories. I mostly wrote screenplays. It wasn’t until the last few years, though, that I finally began writing specifically for comics. Even the first drafts of Misfits, Stargirl and Ghoul Squad were written as screenplays. I translated them into comic book scripts later on.
Me: When starting out, did you decide there and then that you wanted to create the Higher Universe collective or did that progress as you started piecing together your own comic ideas?
Brandon: It really happened more organically. At first, there was no real plan to actually have a “universe”, or even a real company. It started out with my co-creator Adam Storoschuk and I working on Misfits. While we were doing that I started writing Stargirl, which was my own project. At that point there was no intention of having them, or anything else we did, under the same umbrella.
But as things progressed, and the stories grew, we started adding other characters and bigger stories. Soon we were coming up with plans for other series and I decided they should all be in one “universe”. So I came up with the name Higher Universe and I got Brittni Bromley (the colorist/designer on Stargirl) to design the HU logo. And at that moment the Higher Universe was born!
Me: What difficulties did you face in setting up the Higher Universe with Adam? Is there anything you could have done differently, or wish you knew then that you know now?
Brandon: Oh my god, yes! (laughs). It’s honestly been an uphill battle every step of the way. And it continues to be to this day. But, wow, have I ever learned a lot. It was not quite two years ago that Adam and I decided to actually start making comics. We’d been talking about it for years. Misfits and Stargirl were created seven or eight years before they actually went into production. I originally wanted to do them as an animated series. But when that didn’t work out I decided to just grab the bull by the horns and make them both as a comic book. It was really hard since I had no idea how to even make comics. Reading them was one thing, but making them was quite another. I was also completely broke at the time. And so was Adam. But we jumped in head-first and decided to learn as we went. One of my Facebook friends, Chris Johnson, was into making comics. I asked him if he knew any artists I could hire. He put me in touch with Luca Cicchitti, an artist from Italy.
I contacted Luca and he told me how much he charged per page. I almost had a heart attack. I could barely afford to take care of myself. How was I going to pay an artist? But there was almost a voice in my head telling me that this was the right thing to do. Adam and I both agreed that it was now or never.
So we hired Luca and began paying him out of our own paychecks from our jobs. I also hired Brittni Bromley to begin the artwork on Stargirl.Those were some scary times, let me tell you. It seems like it was ages ago, but it was really only a year and a half. There were many problems to deal with along the way. We began adding artists to pencil, ink, color, and letter our two main books. We also hired people to do character designs, and we even hired some writers to write other projects for us. Keep in mind, everybody was paid. And Adam and I paid them all out of our paychecks. And we weren’t rich guys either. We sank every penny we had into our comics. That’s how much dedication we had (and have) to our comics.
So for people out there who don’t want to pay their artists, because they said the artist will get “exposure” or whatever their excuse is – it’s absolute bullshit. You have to make sacrifices to make this dream of yours a reality. There’s no other way. Every part of the process was a struggle for me since I had to learn everything from scratch. We had artists from all over the world and sometimes there were language barrier issues that made it hard for me to explain what I needed done. There were also arguments with artists and writers over creative issues.
Even once we had our first comic book completed there were still problems and lots of stuff to learn. Just getting everything formatted to send to the printers, or to get it on Amazon, or Drive-thru comics or whatever was a lot of work. It took a lot of time to figure it all out. Even when that was done there was the problem of promoting and selling the comics. This takes as much, if not more, work than actually making the comic! But Adam and I learned fast. There’s so much “advice” out there on the internet about how to sell and market comic books. It seems like everybody is trying to figure it out and chase the next big lead. I just try to ignore all that, for the most part, and do things the way I feel is best. We’ve learned so much since we started and we’re still learning more. But there was a huge learning curve to overcome. I can see why so many people quit early on. They say that it’s their dream to make comics but they soon realize how much work it is so they quit. Don’t even get started unless you have a real passion for it because there will be roadblocks every step of the way that will make you want to quit.
Me: Did you find that, by creating your own comic books, Misfits, Star Girl and Ghoul Squad, it has enabled you to help others to do so?
Brandon: Oh, yeah. Now that I’ve learned so much I can help people who are just starting out. There are lots of people making comics that are way further along than I am. I can’t do much to help them. But there are people who are just starting out that can benefit from my experience. I talk to people on Facebook and even out on the street all the time about how they can start making comics. A lot of people say they’re thinking about it, but they just don’t know how to start. I always give people the same advice: “Just start doing it!” There’s no other way around it. You can’t wait until you have the money, or until your life sorts itself out, or until the planets align. Those things will never happen. Just do what I did and jump in and start doing it. Deal with problems as they come up. In a couple of years you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.
I actually wrote an article called “10 Do’s and Don’ts for submitting to comic book publishers”. I frequently do talent searches where I’ll post ads to Craigslist and Kijiji in cities all over the world looking for artists and writers. I’ll usually get hundreds of responses. And I’ve found that every time I do one of these searches there will be about 1 person out of every 75 that I end up hiring. And out of those only a couple will end up sticking around. There are so many people I have to filter out. And a lot of people were making the same mistakes. So I wrote this article about the main things people should or should not do. At first I wasn’t sure if anybody else in the comic book industry would agree with me. These were just the things that I would consider to be the do’s and don’ts. But the response I got to the article was amazing! It seemed like a lot of other publishers, and even artists felt the same way. So be sure to read that article before you submit anything to me (or to any other publisher).
Me: You’ve started to combine up and coming comics, with up and coming bands, what led you think about profiling the two together?
Brandon: Well that’s an easy answer: comics are cool, music is cool. Why not combine them in some way?!
I came up with the idea of profiling up-and-coming and indie bands in my comics to help new bands and musicians get exposure in a different market. A lot of people who read comics are also into music so it works out really well. I’ve had lots of bands writing me wanting to be a part of this. They all say what a cool idea it is.
So in each of our comics from now on we’ll have a two-page spread with a profile and interview with a different band or musician. I’m a fan of rock and heavy metal but I’m open to other styles of music. I’m also featuring previews of other people’s comics. I’m doing this free of charge, of course. There are a lot of indie projects out there that are really good and I want to help promote them. I find there are some indie creators out there that are all about themselves and they just want to promote their own projects and try to yell louder than everyone else so they can rise above all the noise out there and have people pay attention to them.
We’re all in this together so I think it’s worth helping out other people that are doing cool projects. The first comic book I’m previewing is called “Wrecking Ball”. I’m giving them 5 pages in Misfits #2 which is crazy since I’m covering the costs of that myself. But it’s worth it to help people out. But I think I will normally be giving people a one or two-page preview spot.
Me: What do you have in store in the future for us all?
Brandon: We are releasing a 2nd printing of Misfits #1 with a variant cover. The first cover was all the guys sitting around the bar. The new variant cover is the junkie gorilla injecting himself with a needle while sitting next to the dead body of a zookeeper. It’s lovely. Misfits #2 will also be out within the next few weeks.
I’m not sure if your readers know what’s happening with Stargirl, but basically issue #2 was released with a different artist than the first issue. I then decided to go back and redo the first issue with the new creative team so that it matches the 2nd issue. So #2 is already out and the new version of the first issue will be out early next year. There are only 100 printed copies of the first version of Stargirl #1 out there and there won’t be any more made. So if you have one you’re very lucky.
Ghoul Squad #1 is well on its way to completion. This is the first comic I’ve made where there’s been quite a bit of demand for it before it’s finished. It feels nice. People are contacting me all the time saying “Hey man, how’s it going? By the way…when’s that Ghoul Squad comic coming out?” We will be releasing a black & white version of the comic early in the new year. There will be a very limited print run. Probably only 50 or 100 copies. The full-color version will be out in the first half of next year. The black & white versions will sell out fast, so if you want a copy send me an email. We also have some new series launching later next year, including Skull, Brutal Jones and Kill Rabbit. All three are going to be really cool. And really violent.
I want to thank you for this interview, Rob. I want to thank all your readers for reading it. Please check out our comics and buy a digital copy. You can check out our website at www.thehigheruniverse.com
We really are the very definition of indie comics. True underdogs. Feel free to contact me. I like meeting new people with big dreams and big ideas.
I loved Brandon’s ethos, his “We’re all in this together” attitude and it that which has made me want to profile him in my column this week. Support him and the Higher Universe and lets help the underdogs get their shot!
Join me next week as I try to inject some Christmas cheer around the place!
Until next time…
For more comic views and reviews follow Robin on Twitter at @Hulksmash1985
Posted on December 15th, 2013
Category: NEWS & VIEWS, PAPERCUTS AND INKSTAINS VOL. 2, REVIEWS
Tags: Adam Storoschuk, Brandon Rhiness, Brittni Bromley, Comic Reviews, Higher Universe, Luca Cicchitti, Misfits, Robin Jones, Stargirl