Monkeying Around with Creator-Owned Digital Comics at MONKEYBRAIN
In 2012, MonkeyBrain Comics was founded by Allison Baker and Chris Roberson. This new independent publisher was "designed to be a home for quality creator-owned comics made available in digital format," making use of the Comixology platform. In the two short years since its inception, MonkeyBrain cultivated a reputation for publishing high quality, creator-owned comics from Bandetta to Masks and Mobsters. Not surprisingly, Baker and Roberson's company is one that many up-and-coming comic creators are lining up for the opportunity to bring their projects to the masses.
Recently, Newsarama had the chance to talk to some of the writers who have recently began publishing through MonkeyBrain in order to gain some insights into writing and publishing comics and what it's like working with a publisher like MonkeyBrain.
Newsarama: First, I want to give everyone a chance to introduce themselves to readers who may not already be familiar with your work - both at MonkeyBrain as well as other projects you've published elsewhere.
Jeremy Holt: My name is Jeremy Holt and I'm currently writing two MonkeyBrain series, Art Monster and Skinned. In addition, I've written Southern Dog which debuts through Action Lab Entertainment later this summer, and a self-published one-shot entitled Pulp that is currently available as a "pay what you wish" price at https://gumroad.com/l/pulp.
Ryan Lindsay: Hi all, my name is Ryan K Lindsay. I'm the writer of Headspace through MonkeyBrain, which is a PKD-infused sci fi-crime-emotional fatherhood weepie brought to life by Eric Zawadzki, Chris Peterson, and Marissa Louise. I also wrote Ghost Town at Action Lab, the My Little Pony: Rainbow Dash issue at IDW, the Fatherhood one-shot, and some short comics and essay work in a variety of titles and places.
Ryan Ferrier: Ryan Ferrier patched in here. I am a Canadian writer and letterer, with D4VE (from myself and my uncanny partner Valentin Ramon) currently being published by the great MonkeyBrain. I am also the writer of the Tiger Lawyer and The Brothers James series, currently being published by Challenger Comics, a small boutique self-publishing imprint/collective I run with artist/collaborator Brian Level. In the last year I've written Ultranova, a one-shot with artist Chris Peterson, as well as Bloody F**king Revenge, my first anthology of shorts that allowed me to work with almost a dozen incredible artists. I'm also currently lettering comics for MonkeyBrain, BOOM! Studios, Image, and Dark Horse.
Paul Allor: My name is Paul Allor. I write Strange Nation for MonkeyBrain Comics, and have worked on some licensed stuff for IDW Publishing, as well as various other odds and ends.
Nrama: Second, why MonkeyBrain? What was the appeal to publishing in an all-digital platform?
Allor: Because they are awesome. MonkeyBrain puts out a lot of amazing books, they have a great reputation in the industry, and they're dedicated to creator-owned comics. I have tremendous respect for publishers Allison Baker and Chris Roberson, and they were immediately supportive of Strange Nation.
It was kind of a no-brainer. (You could even call it a no Monkeybraine-- No. No. Sorry).
Holt: I decided to pitch some of my projects to MonkeyBrain because of their clear passion for creator-owned comics. Honestly, I wasn't really factoring in their preferred delivery system as an exclusively digital comics publisher. I just really liked the books that they've have been putting out.
Regardless of the digital vs. print situation, their growing roster of top-tier talent showcases a level of creativity that I wanted to be a part of. I just feel lucky that Chris and Allison saw potential in my pitches.
Lindsay: Why MonkeyBrain is easy, because I've loved them from Day One. I can remember when they launched, and the titles and thunder they brought, and I was instantly in. I needed to land there one day because their work model clearly works. They let creators steer their own boats and so we get pushed horizons and new maps and lands.
As for publishing in an all-digital platform, I like the range and scope to which we can throw our works. It's truly global. I also like that we get a page turn with every page, and can also write to manipulate the Guided View technology to our best storytelling advantage. There is also the fact our books won't be interrupted with ads, and we are allowed to go any length we want. Chris and Allison are great at letting us dictate issue length, price, all that jazz. So if you want to insert an extra few pages for an issue, you totally can. We aren't beholden by how many pages fit symmetrically around a saddle staple.
I'm also digging the opportunities it opens up for back matter. I'm a process and back matter junkie and so being able to really let back matter breathe without worrying about print costs and constraints has been fun. I've brought Chris Kosek and Dan Hill in to design and generate back matter content I truly care about and what they are cooking up with me is gorgeous and so damn lean. I mean, Paul recently dropped an entire issue script into the back of one of his issues of Strange Nation, that was pretty cool.
Ferrier: Aside from the fact that MonkeyBrain is publishing some of the best, unique creator-owned work right now, as well as the respect and admiration I have for Chris and Allison, it would only be honest to say that a huge part of why I approached MonkeyBrain is because as a fairly new creator, I don't necessarily have many avenues to get seen. Like, I'm pitching more folks now, sure, but at the time I pitched D4VE--which really wasn't all that long ago--having the opportunity for anyone to see my work was amazing. It still is! It will never be otherwise, I'm sure! But, having lettered a few titles for them, and believing in Valentin and myself, I brought it forward to Chris and Allison, and I'm eternally grateful that they've allowed us to tell our story.
I think it's really important--no, vital--for new creators to make comics and publish by any means necessary; self-publishing is a huge part of that, and something I've dipped my toes into the last couple of years. With the rise of digital distribution and platforms, there has never been a greater time to get your work out there. The pace of the work is also faster, with less lead time between issues, and the price points and accessibility are huge advantages for creators without a big name or a comparable body of work. And going back to MonkeyBrain specifically, the quality and extent of what they're publishing is astonishing, especially in the (relatively) little time they've been working under this model.
Nrama: Third, how does publishing through MonkeyBrain compare when looking at other digital platforms (Comixology, Self-publishing)? On the flip side, do you notice a difference as a reader?
Holt: That's a good question. I think the method of delivery can be rendered irrelevant if the creator(s) and/or publisher isn't producing a high quality book that grips potential readers. Fortunately, MonkeyBrain's founders have a long and well established reputation within the industry, and their current catalog reflects their taste in quality comics.
As a reader, MonkeyBrain's very low price point certainly makes their catalog much more accessible to the casual reader of creator-owned comics that might only buy DC and Marvel books.
Having self-published a couple of my own projects, it was certainly a perk knowing that MonkeyBrain has an exclusive partnership with Comixology that expedites publishing their tittles on the site and app. It's also smart--from a business standpoint-- to see a new comic publisher fully embracing the digital platform. By avoiding the overhead of high print costs, MonkeyBrain Comics can focus on producing quality comics with long-term sustainability.
Lindsay: There's no comparison, I've done Submit and I love it but MonkeyBrain comes with the imprint title of quality. People see MonkeyBrain on a book and they expect and demand a certain level of quality of book. It's kind of cool. They browse for and through the MB catalogue. So the exposure is through the roof.
As a reader, I dig many, many of the MB books so I know how I feel about the imprint. And to be sharing pixel shelf space with Holt/Allor/Ferrier is just the best. It makes me want to lift my game.
Ferrier: Having published work through Submit and through my own channel (Challenger), there's no question that MonkeyBrain provides a much larger reach. Their built-in audience, combined with the support of Comixology, means more readers, more exposure, and it may garner more support from other channels like reviewers and peers. Where MonkeyBrain is most similar however, is the means by which the creators are making these comics; they're all obviously passion-driven by hungry creators that are working hard and producing and learning, and just really enthusiastic about comics. I think that translates to the readers. I think we're in a time where people are making books on their own terms and banging loudly on any door that will be answered, and I think people can hear it.
Self-publishing--beyond Submit, Comixology, or MonkeyBrain --is incredibly difficult but also wildly rewarding. I highly suggest any new or aspiring creator to do that.
Allor: Well, it's still coming out through Comixology, so I'd say it's... pretty comparable. Is this a trick question?
MonkeyBrain has a much wider reach than self-publishing, obviously, but the end-experience for the user is the same as any other offering on Comixology (except maybe them fancy-schmancy guided-view-native books I've heard the kids talking about).
Nrama: Ryan L., you mentioned that "People see MonkeyBrain on a book and they expect and demand a certain level of quality of book." What sort of pressure does that create for each of you as writers working on a larger stage like this?
Lindsay: This is the biggest publisher I've ever really worked with and so I wasn't going to be happy with anything but my absolute best. I polished my scripts for many months before feeling happy with them. I wanted Headspace to really be my best thing yet - which I firmly believe it is. It certainly does create some pressure but that pressure only makes me work harder for it.
Holt: I think my biggest pressure has been with the page length. MonkeyBrain is extremely flexible regarding page length, but initially launched their first titles as shorter issues that were more appropriate for the low price point. Knowing this, I decided to tailor one of my series this way and I have to admit that it was challenging to try to pack enough story into 10-12 pages per issue that's satisfying enough for the reader. Now, many of the current titles are averaging between 15-20 pages which I'm more inclined to write, but it was a great writing exercise for me.
I'm only speaking for myself when I say this, but putting books out through MonkeyBrain feels like being part of a close knit group of friends or even a family. Producing work on this larger stage with top tier talent feels like a fun team building exercise in the sense that I want to maintain the publisher's high-level of quality with every new issue I release.
Ferrier: Obviously there's a certain extra pressure that comes with MonkeyBrain than with self-publishing because now you're aligned with all of these other great titles and creators under the imprint as well. And for me personally, Chris and Allison took a chance on us and that's very much in the forefront of my mind in making the best possible comic we can make with our story. And sure, there's a little more eyes and exposure there as well. But at the end of the day that point almost becomes moot because, like, we should always feel that pressure. It should be terrifying and exciting to create and publish anything, no matter the distribution or imprint, whether it's with Image, MonkeyBrain, or printing a book at home, stapling it, and selling it at a con. I just strive to always make the best comic I can no matter what. The day I don't feel pressure is the day I shouldn't be making comics, I think
But yeah, I absolutely think that MonkeyBrain as an entity demands and commands excellence, and it shows with everything they're doing.
Allor: Honestly, I don't really tend to feel more pressure on one project than on any other. Just the overwhelming pressure that I put on myself with everything I write. You know the scene in Casino, where Joe Pesci has the guy's head in the vise? It's kind of like that.
Nrama: Top three sources for inspiration - spill 'em!
1. Hannibal - just next level stuff with the writing and cinematography.
2. Hawkeye - I keep counting the scenes for pages, panels, balloons. The book is just so tightly wound.
3. Spotify - so much music at my fingertips and I've found some really good inspirational music.
Holt: That's a great question. Honestly, my top source of inspiration is simply making time to go out and interact with the world. As vague and hippy as that may sound, I often have intense moments of creativity when I'm out socializing with people, attending an event, and/or driving into New York City to visit friends.
Second would have to be TV shows. I think there are several recent ones that have really pushed my creative gears into overdrive. True Detective is one of those shows that has opened my mind to new ideas and stories.
Last but certainly not least is working with an editor. This is the first time that I've gotten the opportunity to develop a new series with an editor. This--as of yet unannounced project--has allowed me to receive constructive and in depth critiques from an editor that has fundamentally changed my process. Learning new ways to examine storytelling has been extremely inspirational for me, as it's given me another tool in my belt to craft quality comics. I feel fortunate that I get to apply my continuing creative education to my MonkeyBrain books.
1. The other creators I'm working with. Without a doubt, they inspire and inform the essence of what we're doing. They shape the way we're going. Nothing with my name attached has ever been solely defined by the words I put on a page.
2. Music. This wasn't always the case, but as I've learned and practiced and grown (I think), I require some form of music to at least get the ball rolling and stewing in the brain. It could be something dramatic like Ennio Morricone spaghetti western pieces, or something poppy like Duran Duran. Everything I've done in the last two years has a playlist.
3. I keep looking back at Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira for inspiration. It's just insane how profound it is. I don't mean in the sense that I want to do something like Akira, necessarily, but it's a master class of craft and perfection, in my opinion.
Allor: That's tough to answer. I don't think I can really quantify that. I've never read/watched/listened to/experienced something and gone, "THIS IS NOW MY FOURTH-BIGGEST SOURCE OF INSPIRATION!!!!" And then, you know, put on my sunglasses and high-fived an iguana, which is the traditional method of celebrating inspiration.
But inspiration is a great thing to talk about, especially because I do believe that one of the biggest problems in the comics industry right now is that so many creators are making comics that are inspired almost entirely by other comics (and the occasional '80s or '90s movie thrown in for good measure), instead of also being inspired by art and music and poetry and literature and history and, oh, you know... actual life.
So we're basically getting their take on stuff they read as a kid. Copies of copies of copies. Turtles all the way down.
Okay, inspirations. Art museums are a big one, particularly when working in a visual medium like comics. I cannot go to an even halfway-decent art museum without feeling like my brain's been set on fire with possibilities. Great photography has a similar impact.
History is a huge source of inspiration for me. I just finished a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini-series about the history of Krang's race that was very heavily influenced by Jared Diamond, and his writings on how civilizations thrive and why they collapse.
Travel is another one. When I remove myself from my normal environment, my brain goes to new places, and new storytelling ideas and possibilities tend to present themselves fairly quickly.
So anyway, that might not be a top three, but there's three sources of inspiration. Visit an art museum; study history; travel.
To me, inspiration is all about seeking out new content, new art, new music, new ideas, and new experiences. And it doesn't have to be an exotic experience that causes this to happen. It could be a particularly shitty day at work. It could be going for a walk through your neighborhood. It could be falling in love. All of these things -- everything we experience -- make our brain churn. Pay attention to that churn. Nurture it, keep it going. Follow your mental tangents wherever they may lead, and harness the storytelling potential in them.
That all might sound really, really, really pretentious. But it's something I believe in very strongly.
Nrama: Along those lines, what are you reading right now?
Lindsay: I'm loving Hawkeye to bits, and also cannot believe how much Sex Criminals blindsided me with its level of quality. The same happened with Deadly Class where it's amazing and I initially thought it would be trapped behind Black Science in my life. Fatale is some of the best work yet from Phillips/Brubaker. The Massive is a brilliant book. I wait for a bit then I chunk East of West down. I do the same with Rat Queens. We live in a golden age of sublime creator owned comics being made.
I also read Nic Pizzolatto's original script for True Detective and it was...interesting. And finally, I'm looking through Film Crit Hulk's book.
Allor: I just finished Nic Pizzolatto's Galveston, like 80 percent of everyone who watched True Detective. I'm reading Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans, and Jennifer Michael Hecht's Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, which I would recommend to anyone who reads that title and thinks, "that's something I might be interested in reading."
And when I have a second here and there, I've been working my way through The Big Smoke, a poetry collection by Adrian Matejka, which is made up entirely of poems about the legendary boxer Jack Johnson (most of them written in first person). It's pretty incredible.
Holt: I haven't found a consistent time each week to sit down and read, but do manage to get in an issue or two via Comixology. Other than several MonkeyBrain titles that I've been enjoying, I've actually been spending my time researching for a couple new series that I'm developing. It's a mixture of internet research and actually reading informative books at the college library in my town.
Ferrier: While I'm WAY behind on my reading, I'm very much enjoying Deadly Class, The Field, and Dead Letters. I've read Shutter #1 and it's going to be really, really something. This question is hard because I always blank...there's just so much out there that's worth the time, you know?
Nrama: For readers who haven't tried a book from MonkeyBrain, what's one book they need to start with and why ? (Aside from your own! :)
Ferrier: I'm very genuine when I say that everyone involved in this here interview is producing work that should be consumed and appreciated. I'm proud as hell to be among their ranks. I think Strange Nation doesn't get the heaps of praise it deserves. The world building and tone of that series is just phenomenal. I also think Knuckleheads from Brian Winkeler and Robert Wilson IV is outrageously entertaining, and one of the funniest books out there, and Robert's art is just so gorgeous.
Holt: What a tough question! *DEEP EXHALE* If I had to only pick one…I'd have to go with Ryan Ferrier and Valentin Ramon's D4VE. My day job is working for Apple fixing computers, iPods, and iPhones. These guys have implemented technology in the funniest of ways--both visually and dialogue-wise--and I look forward to each new issue.
Lindsay: Ugh, too hard to choose just one. High Crimes, from Ibrahim Moustafa and Christopher Sebela, is just this perfect crime story about severed hands and recovering drug addicts on Mt Everest. But then D4VE, from Valentin Ramon and Ryan Ferrier, is bombastic and funny and kind of perfect.
Allor: I'm gonna pick two. Ryan Ferrier and Valentin Ramon's D4VE, because it moved me more than any comic has in a long, long time. And Gabe Hardman'sKinski, because it's an incredibly gripping tale, and just a master-class of creating tension in comics.
Nrama: So where can comic readers find you online and what's the latest with your work at MonkeyBrain and beyond?
Ferrier: I'm most active on twitter @ryanwriter.
D4VE#4--the penultimate in the series, and craziest thing we've done to date--is out Wednesday, April 16th. There's new Tiger Lawyer back-up comics starting in Shutter #1 (April 9), and the almost mythical Tiger Lawyer #4 is out this summer.
Holt: I post updates regarding the production of my various series at www.clumpoftrees.tumblr.com. I also tweet too much at @Jeremy_Holt.
ArtMonster #1 and #2 are currently available through MonkeyBrain/Comixology. Skinned #1 is currently available for pre-order and is available on 4/16.
Lindsay: You can find me at ryanklindsay.com - and I tweet incessantly at @ryanklindsay.
Headspace #2 just launched on Wednesday the ninth of April. It's that dreaded second issue where I'm worried we won't back up on the promise of the first, even though reviewers and readers loved it. I think launching a #1 is tough but wondering if you can sustain the juice is possibly worse with #2. Issue #3 will be sometime in May.
Allor: You can follow my Twitter: @PaulAllor.
Since they [MonkeyBrain] only announce dates two weeks out, the next issue of Strange Nation is not solicited yet. Watch for it soon! And in the meantime, you can read the first five issues for 99 cents each. That's 72 pages of story for less than five bucks! And the easiest way to find it is to go towww.strangenationcomic.com, which'll take you right to the Strange Nation Comixology page.