D.J. Kirkbride, Comic Book Writer, on Comics - Amelia Cole, The Bigger Bang, & The Never Ending, Collaboration, & the Importance of Independent Creators.
November 18, 2015
I’m originally from Ohio, but I’ve lived in California for the past eleven years. One of my first jobs out of college was as a PA (Production Assistant), for an Ohio-based animation studio called Character Builders. Though the work wasn’t creative, it was technically my start in the entertainment industry.
Like many jobs in entertainment, it was a friend of a friend and a right place at the right time situation.
That’s not to say that hard work doesn’t count for anything, of course, but so much of it is luck.
Knowing people in the fields in which you’re interested, and being a generally friendly person can go a long way.
When writing comics, I’m inspired by not only other comics, but a lot of television, film, books -- plus real life events, friends… everything is inspiration!
Some comic creators I look up to include Mark Waid, who is one of the best superhero writers in the business; my writing partner Adam P. Knave, whose output and creative energy is as intimidating as it is inspiring; artist Fiona Staples, because artists that good make me want to write words worth of them; and creator Michael Allred, who is perhaps my all-time favorite comic book creator.
His work is unique, and he explores his passions and beliefs through colorful tales of heroes and adventure - and if I could draw half as well as him, I’d be a terrific artist.
Also, loads of other talented people I’ll end up regretting I forgot to list here.
Why Comic Books?
The boundless imagination that can be contained in a small single-issue comic has always amazed me.
While I grew up on the standard Marvel and DC characters, having discovered comics through my love of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and my dad’s love of Marvel when he was a kid, for me creator-owned work is the most exciting now.
Seeing creators put so much of themselves in their work for independent companies like IDW, Image, and Dark Horse is inspiring, and there are creators like Michel Fiffe, who has been self-publishing his book Copra for a few years now, as well as fellow Ohioan Jeff Smith, with Bone and Rasl.
There’s something so pure about that. I wish I could draw, basically.
Improvements in Technology
The comic book industry has change considerably with technology.
If it wasn’t for that technology, the book might not have made it past that first issue.
The story arcs are collected in print by IDW Publishing, but they wouldn’t exist without that digital format. There is a lot of product out there, though, more books than readers, so it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.
That just makes independent creators like me have to work harder at getting the word out and getting our work noticed.
Processes for Creating Comic Books
Every book is different.
With Amelia Cole, my friend and fellow comic book writer Tim Simmons told me about this awesome artist he thought I’d like.
That turned out to be Nick Brokenshire, and he is indeed great! Adam and I were looking to develop new comics, so we approached him to see if he was available or interested in working with us.
Since artists spend a lot more time at the desk, physically working on a project than writers do, we always want to write something the artist would enjoy drawing.
Nick mentioned fantasy and a female lead, so we discussed that. Adam and I came up with a version of the Amelia Cole story that got Nick on board, then the three of us developed it together.
For Never Ending, a Dark Horse Comics mini-series Adam and I co-wrote, I’d had the basics of the story kicking around in my head for years.
It felt too bleak to me, and Adam came up with some ways to make the rather bleak subject matter (an immortal superhero who wants to figure out how to die after outliving his wife and son) into a surprisingly fun comic.
Another way to make the book not all gloom and doom was through the art.
Vass contacted Adam and me with a line drawing of an unnamed superhero in space and simply asked us if we’d be interested in doing a “superhero in space” comic.
Adam was busy with other projects, so I went solo on this one.
It was fun coming up with the core concept (The Big Bang created all life as we know it - The BIGGER Bang created this one super cosmic space god… and destroyed our universe!) and then creating it as we went along with Vass’s art for inspiration.
Frank Cvetkovic’s letters tied it all together under the watchful guise of editor Justin Eisinger.
It was a very challenging but organic experience.
Three comics: three totally different ways of creating and collaborating.
Connecting With Your Audience
I utilize Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, my own website, plus occasional forays into Google+ and Pinterest… and I’ll use whatever the next thing is when I find out about it.
Online is the most consistent way for me to promote, though there is always the risk of alienating people who follow you and are more interested in what your cats are up to or where you went for brunch.
It’s a balancing act, and I know I often lean too hard on the promotional aspects of social media.
Comic conventions are very helpful for promotion, and sometimes I wish I could be at one every weekend… though then I’d never get any writing done.
There’s nothing like meeting someone in person and telling them about the work.
Amelia Cole debuted three years ago, and while I’m still introducing it to the majority of people at Cons, there has been an increase in folks who have already heard about or tried the book and are looking for the latest volume.
That’s happened more slowly than I would like, but it’s also pretty encouraging.
My elevator pitch for Amelia Cole is “Buffy meets Harry Potter.”
She’s closer to Buffy’s age, and has that street level fighting monsters in a fairly real world scenario, but there’s also that magic and bit of whimsy that make Harry and his pals appealing.
Our reasons for having a female lead, which has finally caught on now but was pretty rare when we started out just a few years ago, were matters of representation.
We wanted more heroes to which different readers could relate.
That’s not to say that boys wouldn’t enjoy it, on the contrary, it’s important for boys to read stories about female heroes, too, but we just felt there was a lack.
For me, personally, my mom and grandmother were two of the biggest inspirational figures in my life, and I was happy to help create a hero that could represent them a little.
The best part of creating comics, the freedom, also goes hand-in-hand with the biggest caveat: there’s not a lot of money in the business.
That’s not to say that one can’t make a living in comics, because plenty of folks do. It’s not as potentially lucrative as film or television.
My advice would be to only get into it seriously if you truly love the medium and can’t see yourself NOT making comics.
Eisner & Harvey Awards
The Eisner was for co-editing and contributing to Popgun volume 3, and the Harvey was for Popgun volume 4. Those were our final two volumes, so nice ways to go out!
The experience was thrilling - being on those stages in front of peers and heroes.
In regard to my writing career, though, it’s had little effect. They are both great honors, but they were for a style of book I’m not really concentrating on now, and the truth is that content and sales matter more than awards.
Still, wow, great memories, and I’m so appreciative those events happened, especially so early in my burgeoning career.
Short-term & Long-term Career Processes
Dedication to the craft goes a long way.
Personally, I have to have deadlines.
Adam and I both create deadlines, even if a publisher doesn’t assign them, just so we know when things have to get done, lest we toil away and fiddle endlessly.
A lot of my free time is taken up by writing, and it’s sometimes a struggle finding the energy and the hours, but when a book comes together, it’s absolutely worth it.
The Bigger Bang
Beyond the core titular concept of “The Bigger Bang” itself creating this space superhero, it’s about living with guilt that one maybe doesn’t deserve.
My initial take was if a mother died in childbirth, and then that kid grew up with that on their shoulders.
In this case, it’s in an over-the-top cosmic scale, dealing with the death of our universe, the safety of a multi-verse, crazy aliens and epic action.
Most of my stories, no matter how silly, seem to have a core of some genuine emotion to them.
IDW put out the initial four issues and the trade. They are either at local comic shops, or available for the shops to order.
There are practical difficulties, getting pitches to the right people, then getting them accepted - and then how do I get the books to readers?
Those are on top of my day job, trying to be a good husband and friend, taking care of my cats - it sounds silly typing all that out, but it’s true.
Once you HAVE to write, suddenly it becomes difficult sometimes, a chore almost.
Still, if it’s a true passion, it’s all about finding the time, either making it by getting up extra early, or working through lunch breaks, etc.
If you want to write, you WILL write.
I think most people that know about my books know about them through social media.
My co-creators and I really do try to get the word out there. Having typed that, I don’t know how many twitter followers knowing I have, say, a new Amelia Cole trade out, really impacts the sales of the book.
I like to think all my harping helps.
Top Moments in Entertainment
My intro into comics being a book as big (page count and talent-wise) as Popgun was a highlight - especially when my favorite creator, Michael Allred, drew the cover.
Winning those awards, the Eisner and the Harvey, rank high on my top moments in the industry. Though they didn’t lead to a sustainable career the next day, like I kinda thought they might, they were both honors. It means a lot to have my work recognized like that.
The biggest moment might’ve been the advent of MonkeyBrain Comics.
They approached Adam to see if he had a book, and, with the blessing of Nick and me, he showed them our first issue of Amelia Cole. That got the ball rolling for the work we’ve done since.
Never Ending, though it became a true collaboration, started as a very personal story, so I’m happy Dark Horse took a chance on it.
And while I love writing with Adam, having my name as the solo writer of The Bigger Bang was a little boost to my self-confidence.
What is something about your work that people might not realize?
When I was a kid, I figured that if a person had been published, they were a comics writer. That was their job.
I’ve been actively in the industry for almost nine years now, and I still very much need a day job.
It’s not about the money for most of us - especially independent creators.
That would be great, if I could spend my entire workdays writing comics, but I’m far from there yet. That doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trying or be a failure if it never happens, but it did really change my way of looking at comics, even as a reader.
People do this work for the love of creating and a love of the medium.
My time in the industry has been very eye opening.
Current Career Goals
If I could make a nice living writing, that’d be amazing. My wife has a great job and is on her way to more and more success, and if writing comics could by my contribution to our bills and spending cash, I’d feel pretty swell.
What is something you wished you knew when you were first starting out in the Entertainment Industry?
I wish I’d started out sooner, to be honest.
It always seemed like something I’d do “someday,” but if I could go back in time, I would’ve started writing comics and pitching in earnest when I was twenty instead of pushing thirty.
Patience is something I’m still learning, too.
Time Management & Organization
I don’t use any apps, but I’m open to the idea.
Adam and I use a lot of Google calendar for deadlines and meetings. I mean, even though we’re friends, we schedule calls.
We need to to stay on top of our schedules.
I will say that something as simple as deeming your writing time more important than watching a TV show or going out on the weekend is vital. At least once in a while!
I’m not saying writers can’t have social lives, but, well, when you have a day job, too, you realize how precious time is.
I majored in Fine Arts and really found my joy in writing, though not comics back then, but plays, film scripts, and prose - it was all training for the writing I concentrate on now.
Looking at other writers’ scripts (whatever kind of script pertains to your goals) is helpful, but, in the end, it is about finding your own way. This is especially true in comics, where the formats aren’t as strict as film.
Adam has helped me out quite a bit. His generous suggestion that we co-write something way back before we were even in comics was very kind, and it opened my eyes to collaboration.
Everyone I have worked with and for has helped me in many ways. Comic creators aren’t that shy with advice, honestly.
Every day my Twitter feed is filled with wisdom that creators just put out there to be seen by eager eyes.
We’re currently on the fifth Amelia Cole story arc.
This will be issues 25 – 30 of the single digital issues (available on ComiXology - HERE ) and will be collected into a trade by IDW as soon as we’re finished.
Adam, Nick and I have another pitch we’re shopping around, and I have a project in the works that I can’t talk about yet.
My fingers are crossed for these - and for more soon!
This just in: as I was typing this answer, I saw another project with Adam P. Knave has literally just been solicited.
We co-wrote a three-part story called “Laser Joan and the Rayguns,” illustrated by an awesome artist and pal named Robert Wilson IV, colored by Jordan Boyd, edited by Jim Gibbons, and lettered by that Frank Cvetkovic fella again.
It’ll be serialized in the famed anthology series Dark Horse Presents starting with issue 19 on February 17, 2016!
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Be serious about your work, but be sure to choose work you enjoy doing.
Life is short and time is precious, so do some good!
Also, take chances, not only in your creative projects, but in the entertainment you consume.
Don’t just support the big projects and the blockbusters - dig around to find gems by folks you’ve never heard of before.
Links & Projects
I tweet too much, and my handle is, not surprisingly, @djkirkbride