Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rat Bastards

Scott Kowalchuk is an interesting specimen of a man. When I first met him, it was also at the same ACAD soiree in which I had met Tanya, but Scott had a way of standing out. For one, he was the only one wearing a full suit. He had a very unique style, both in fashion and illustration, but his imagery was a strong throwback to the earlier days of comics when Alex Toth and Chester Gould were in their heyday.

The script, for what is now called Rat Bastards, was definitely one of the more strange beasts I'd written, off the beaten path of my more regular genre staples. After it was done, and I stared at the words on the screen, unable to determine if I had actually written something so bizarre, I knew the visual style had to match. As mentioned previously, I had scoured my usual stalking grounds, to no avail.

Scott loved the script and the content of what I wanted to do with the story. It was only a short time before some concepts started to surface. I knew instantly that this collaboration would be a success.

Scott was busy with freelance work, but the pages started to come together over a series of months. In retrospect, both of us agreed that the lingering pace only made Rat Bastards a stronger work because we took our time allowing it to gestate. In that time, we talked at length, in email and phone conversations, about the motivations of the villains, the heart of the story. We nailed it down to a science, so clearly that both in visual and narrative context, we know exactly where we are going and how this first season of the story will end.

With the completed proposal finished, Scott and I headed to Seattle to test our project in the editorial field. We talked with a lot of people, put our pitch in hands of creators, editors and publishers, blanketing the con with this image.

There was buzz around our submission, and the impression we got is that this little project was the talk in the editor circuit. Scott and I are hopeful that you will see Rat Bastards in your store this year. We are networking the hell out of it.

A sample you say?

This is only a peek at the madness we have created. Do enjoy.

The Imagination Factory

Let's talk about this gem, shall we?

As mentioned previously, Tanya Lam was an artist I wanted to work with when I first laid eyes on her portfolio. This moment actually stretches back before her piece in Vehicle #2, to the ACAD (Alberta College of Art and Design) graduation portfolio show. All the graduating artists put together a book of their work to display to various companies and former graduates who were invited to attend. With my connection to Blacksheep Studios, and under guise of Editor of Vehicle Magazine (and feeling extremely out of place, I might add) I was able to attend.

Let me tell you a story. This is the story of Tanya's portfolio. At first, it was the extremely colourful and eye catching characters, the fun and happy layouts and her natural knack for crafting expression and emotion. I visited for the colour, but I stayed for the cock.

That's right, at the center of this very kid friendly, family oriented portfolio was a splash page with the most brightly coloured, cutesy phallic images ever collected on paper. Children running amok with penis balloons, penis hats, and parents smiling wide eyes at the glorious events around them. Truly, it was a celebration of the cock.

So, with determination, I located my oft collaborative partner, Tyler Jenkins and demanded he look at the cock collage.

This is how Tanya Lam ended up in the pages of Vehicle.

However, her short "First Kiss" was a favourite amongst many readers and I began to see amazing sequential narrative potential in her illustration. Below is the first five pages of the project called The Imagination Factory, written, specifically, for Tanya Lam.

Yellow Brick Road

During the production and waiting game that was Beautiful Creatures, I had been formulating ideas and projects, a past time of mine that never quite seems to relent. Around the same time, I had been doing editing on Issue #2 of Vehicle magazine and had been really taking a shining to art by both Scott Kowalchuk and Tanya Lam.

At the time, I'd been constructing a story about four orphans who'd been given a new chance at life by a mysterious benefactor, empowering them where they were once powerless. The tentative title, The Intrepids, was actually where the story began. It was a name that popped into my head and suddenly characters began to form.

That same day, as I was rounding a corner in a bus (my day job), I spotted a young woman wearing a very interesting outfit. Sparing the details, her visual appearance became the basis for the first and central character. I got home and started getting ideas down, and it just flowed. The first issue script was completed in record time.

I began to search for artists in my usual spots: Deviantart, Comicspace and the Penny Arcade art forums. There were a few close matches, but nothing clicked. Then, I saw Scott Kowalchuck's piece, "Who Wants to be a Millionare" in Vehicle #2 and the email was written and sent a few minutes after.

At the same time, Tanya Lam's piece, "First Kiss", was so adorable that I felt compelled to contact her and try my hand at a type of story I'd never even contemplated before. A kid's book. The development of the story, just like the content, was a completely new adventure for me. Ordinarily, I approach the artist with project in hand, but I actually crafted the narrative around her artistic style. It's been a very rewarding experience.

Both of these talented illustrators are employed, either freelance or with a company, and it was set out from the beginning that these projects would happen when time permitted. It was a natural progression, very organic in that both Tanya and Scott had a lot of time to develop the story, which in the end has enhanced the final product.

The yellow brick road, of course, was my trip to the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle a week and a half ago. There, I planned to throw it all down. I was taking the first step towards really investing my life into writing and, hopefully, paving the road ahead towards an eventual career in this sometimes enigmatic field.

So, how was it?

The road isn't too far away, it would seem.

Moving Forward

The last few months have been a rather interesting collection of hot streaks and solid dead ends. My writing has always been sporadic, leaps and bounds of progress followed by a crippling stagnation of creativity. I've learned to accept that about myself, as frustrating and rage inducing as it may be sometimes.

However, I never give up. Admittedly, I walk the line of abandoning this often painful road, but then I realize (often through the unwavering support of my wife) that there really is no other outlet that I enjoy more.

Rock Band does not qualify.

In fall of last year, my first official comic series landed. Beautiful Creatures was a mixed bag of emotions. It was satisfying to see my work in the public eye, lining the shelves with other titles that I enjoy and follow. There is something about seeing the final component to the creative process fully realized, tangible and real. Of course, in support of its release, I did a handful of local signings and enjoyed the small crowds that eventually wandered in to get their copy. Despite it was mostly friends, it was still a small victory.

There were, however, shortcomings. Despite very good reviews, the book essentially sank before it had a chance to swim. After the first issue, Beautiful Creatures seemed to simply evaporate. The second issue, being the last, received only two reviews, one good, one bad. I even had a handful of friends realize they never even bought the second issue. There were a number of factors, I am sure, but at the end of the day, it was a disappointment.

It was a month or so after where I started to feel like, perhaps, this comic world wasn't for me. Luckily, I had the support of a very special person who encouraged me through that time and propelled me toward a new goal: Emerald City Comic Con.

Oh, and the wonders I did see.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beautiful Creatures - Continued

The response I was most interested in was from Red 5 Comics. I had the chance the year previous to have a talk with co-founder, Paul Ens, at the Calgary Comic Expo at his booth and was really impressed with his vision. He was an editor and business owner actually concerned with protecting the creators who were published through him, and desired to see said creators succeed and grow in the industry rather than turning them over for a quick buck. (Of course, that's implying there is a buck to be made, which is another blog post entirely)

After a handful of emails and phone calls, Beautiful Creatures become part of the Red 5 line. A full year after I had drafted the proposal and almost giving up on the series.

It's always interesting how events turn in a direction never expected, but this was definitely a case of never stop trying.

There are other hurdles in the comic publishing world, realities that I wasn't aware of until I actually joined the circuit and had to leap over them. Along the way, we've managed to meet all goals and I'm proud to say on September 23rd, you'll hold the little engine that could in your hands.

So, what next?

If the series sells well, and Red 5 wants more, I have two more story arcs in my head featuring our lovely heroines. And who knows, with all the positive early buzz and reviews, it may do just that.

I'm always busy and I'm not far from having a couple more pitches ready, and this time I won't give up so easy.

The world has a lot more to hear from Kurtis J. Wiebe.

Beautiful Creatures

I suppose it's time I discussed material that originated in my brain. Until now, all my bragging rights have been cradled in the ownership of other people's hands. Snow Angel was the start of something much larger, I'd say, but when I approached that story, it wasn't mine from the start. It was created at the request of another.

That said, it was an amazing experience, and something I thoroughly enjoyed. Then came Vehicle, of which I am a major contributor, but again it was a product of another individual's creative investment. I am happy to be part of it, no question, but along the way I've really started to get selfish.

And I think it's about damn time.

On September 23rd, Red 5 Comics is releasing my creation: Beautiful Creatures. It's a long story in the telling, but the point is fairly clear: I'm published.

The origin of this fantasy comedy series is uninteresting, truth be told. Like most of my material, it's a smash up of various story ideas that eventually made the transition to a comic script. The interesting bits are the lead up to finally landing some interest.

In March of 2008, I emailed an artist named Ash Jackson about the script I'd written. His style was perfect for the heart of my story, a cartoony vibe with amazing characterization and an eye for dynamic camera. He replied shortly that he was interested in collaborating on a pitch. By April, he had the first five pages completed in pencil, but at that point I had yet to find a colourist. I lettered the penciled pages, had one page coloured by Hilary Jenkins, and started to submit.

Of course, as was something I was prepared for, the rejection letters came back fast and furious. Disheartened, I abandoned the project for the summer. Then, fall rolled around and I was still lamenting the lack of progress in my writing career. I decided to attack all my submissions again, revisiting, in particular, Beautiful Creatures (then titled The Reborn). I contacted Frank Zigarelli, an extremely talented artist, about coming on board to colour the pitch. Amazingly, he too agreed and our team was complete.

With six pages now, Ash having completed one more for good measure, I hit the campaign trail for our project.

A few submissions later, I had two positive responses.

(To be continued)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

And It Is Unveiled

Previously I spoke in detail about the building blocks of a new magazine that I had become part of. At the time, my contribution and involvement were still uncertain, but as of a week ago I am now a major contributor as well as Editor.

Let's discuss this magazine, shall we?

This upcoming weekend, at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, the creative team will be launching the premiere issue of Vehicle. It is a magazine dealing with narratives, whatever form they may take. Short stories, sequential art, narrative illustrations, serialized novels and more.

This issue contains three pieces of my material: two short comics and a short story.

Vehicle is the catalyst that sets forward in motion the desire of creators to tell stories that, until now, were difficult, if not impossible, to get out to the world at large. It's an exciting throwback to the pulp fiction of the 40's and 50's, taking the concept and retooling it with a modern twist. The magazine, currently a 36 page publication, will be followed by new issues every three months and will expand to greater page count as the team matures and grows in the industry. It's something we're very excited to share with the world. I truly hope you become part of it.