Last summer, writer Sam Humphries got the attention of the comic book world with Our Love is Real, a satirical self-published one-shot about the timeless love between a man and a dog, and a woman and an inanimate object. The quirky tale, illustrated by Steven Sanders, ended up as one of the biggest industry success stories of 2011, with several printings selling out and Image Comics picking it up for a version released this past November.
He's got another self-published hit on his hands with the six-issue series Sacrifice, about a modern-day dude named Hector who winds up taking a harrowing trip to Mesoamerica and lands among the unforgiving Aztec Empire. The first issue has already gone back for a second printing, and on Tuesday of this week — the day before Sacrifice #2 went on sale — Humphries announced that issue also sold out at the distributor level in its limited initial run, with a second printing of the way.
Newsarama talked with the Los Angeles-based Humphries via email about the appeal of the self-publishing route, working with Sacrifice artist Dalton Rose and former Marvel editor Alejandro Arbona, the lure of Aztec culture and his upcoming Marvel miniseries, John Carter: The Gods of Mars.
Newsarama: Sam, last time we talked was back in July, right before Our Love Is Real was about to come out. Obviously that made a considerable splash on the scene, even getting picked up for a printing by Image Comics. So here's the obvious question: To what extent did the reception to OLIR defy your expectations?
Sam Humphries: Pretty much in every way possible. I mean, my expectations were quite low. The original print run of 300 copies… well, that was just about as much as I could print at a time anyway, but I thought it was going to take me months to sell out. Instead, it sold out in nine hours. And I certainly didn't expect a publisher like Image to pick it up for wide release. Those guys are respectable! Too respectable for a salacious book like OLIR! I'm sorry I dragged their name through the mud.
Nrama: And how much has OLIR influenced Sacrifice — either creatively, or proving that self-publishing was a viable route in this wacky 2011-nearly-2012 comic book market?
Humphries: By the time OLIR came out, we were already locked in on Sacrifice. Even if OLIR bombed, there was no turning back. So the success of OLIR made it much, much easier to sleep at night.
Cliff Chiang.Nrama: Speaking of self-publishing — given the reception to OLIR, it would presumably be at least a pretty good possibility that you could have gone the conventional route with Sacrifice at a publisher. Why was it important to you to once again self-publish?
Humphries: At the beginning of 2011 I decided I was going to put out OLIR and Sacrifice by the end of the year, no matter what. If a publisher wanted to be involved, great! If not, I was going to do it anyway. You can't stop the crazy train!
Previous to OLIR, I had shown Sacrifice to publishers and gotten some interest, but nothing definite. So I moved forward down the road of self-publishing. By the time OLIR came out, we were too far gone on Sacrifice for anyone to pick it up. I could have waited around to see what the response on OLIR was like, but waiting around isn't the point. Making comics is the point!
Nrama: Well, given the instant sell-out to Sacrifice #1, it obviously was a smart move. For however objective you can be with this type of question, what do you think it is about Sacrifice that provoked this type of response from retailers and readers around the country?
Humphries: The success of Our Love Is Real certainly helped. After proving something with a one-shot, it was easier to get people to consider a six issue series. It's strategic — one project sets the stage for the next phase. Sacrifice is setting the stage for the next phase too.Creatively, the story is pretty different, it's a unique proposition for the direct market. Dalton's art is irresistible, especially with Pete Toms' fantastic colors. As a package, I think it's very compelling, it draws readers in and makes them want to dive into the experience. They want to hop on board for a ride.
Design-wise, our art director Dylan Todd has taken the book to a whole other level. The book looks razor sharp! It looks like a "real" comic but it doesn't look like any other comic out there. It will slap your momma if you are not careful.
In terms of retailers, if you can provide a business proposition that makes sense for their bottom line, most comic book stores will happily take a chance on a new book. If you look at it like a partnership, and you craft your business model in a way that makes sure they're taken care of, you'll find a lot of enthusiastic supporters in the retailer community.
Our deal with Things From Another World is a great example. They are the official, exclusive online source for Sacrifice — the only place online to get the book via mail order is TFAW.com. You won't find it from any other online retailer. Every issue of Sacrifice will have a TFAW-exclusive variant cover, limited to 250 copies, called The Obsidian Edition, and they look totally badass. In return, TFAW made a huge commitment. They locked in a very sizable order for all six issues, well before there was any buzz on the book. It made such a difference to the bottom line of Sacrifice, knowing we had those huge orders from TFAW in our back pocket.TFAW gets to be a special part of the Sacrifice story; they get exclusive covers, and they get all the business of people who don't live near a participating comic book store. We get the guaranteed sales and a prestigious partner in the online space. Both sides are taken care of. When you satisfy the interests of both sides in a business deal, instead of just focusing on your own, it makes for a wonderful working relationship.
Nrama: On that note, it's interesting is that you're also doing multiple covers and exclusive editions for Sacrifice. Along with telling the story, it seems that collectability is an important thing to you as well. What motivated you to go that route?
Humphries: When you have a new book, with no publisher and distributor, you have to take advantage of every opportunity presented to you. Cover variants are a proven way to kindle interest in the retail and collector communities.
The collector market is alive and well, and to be real about it, a lot of fun. These collectors love their comics just as much as anyone else. If I can give them something extra to enjoy, you bet I'm going to do it.
Plus — it gives us a chance to produce some truly kick-ass covers, and work with some great artists. Cliff Chiang provided the art for the Jade Edition of issue #2 (limited to 100 copies!) and it looks so baller. We have more incredible artists confirmed for upcoming Jade covers — stay tuned for some pretty exciting announcements.
Nrama: The series is six issues long, which makes it the longest comic book story you've released yet. What kind of different challenge was it writing that type of length? Was it actually easier — not having to cram a lot into a short space?
Humphries: I wish! No, I can't say it was easier to have more space, because the story was so much bigger. It was seriously intimidating. It's about six times longer than my next longest story. But sometimes you just gotta jump and hope you learn to fly on the way down. Having a great editor in Alejandro Arbona helped a lot.
Nrama: Sacrifice is steeped in Aztec mythology, which is clearly something you're into. What is it that you like about that subject matter? And how much specific research went into the prep for the story?
Humphries: The Aztecs are endlessly fascinating to me. It's such an exotic world — a whole civilization without the influence of Europe and Asia. An alien culture that existed right here on earth. They lived their lives with such intensity — this burden of keeping all of the world, the cosmos, and reality alive, and doing it through elaborate rituals of human sacrifice. Imagine a whole culture built around that central pillar — and then imagine living in it, every day! What a mind freak.
I've been doing mad research on the Aztecs for the better part of the past decade. Everything from books of poetry to maps to cooking classes. I'm a junkie. I can never learn enough.
Nrama: A lot of folks are probably not familiar with artist Dalton Rose. What can you tell us about him, and what makes him right for the book?
Humphries: Dalton just got his graduate degree in sequential art from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the dude is a monster. I'll be lucky if I ever get to work with him again. He's got this euro-style mixed with a Charles Burns nightmare thing going on that blows me away. He can blend the brutal and bloody with the beautiful and flowery — just like the Aztec culture.
Nrama: As mentioned earlier, former Marvel editor Alejandro Arbona is editing the book — how did he get involved with the project?
Humphries: As per your question about going from a one-shot to six issues… well, it was a huge leap, and I knew I needed an editor. Kelly Sue DeConnick recommended Alejandro — they had worked together on Osborn at Marvel. He's been absolutely invaluable, and is a key ingredient to the success of the book. Sacrifice would be much poorer without his insight.
Editors are awesome! It's such an advantage to work with one, even to just have someone listen to you hem and haw your way through a 22 page script. Everyone should have one.
Nrama: A few weeks ago, news broke that you're writing John Carter: The Gods of Mars for Marvel. What can you tell us about how that came about (I'm guessing the buzz for OLIR surely played a big part)?
Humphries: Marvel approached me after OLIR came out. I was convinced they were kidding. I mean, I did not expect a book about dog sex to break me into a top five publisher. But they assured me they were quite serious, and I've had an awesome time working with them ever since.
Sana Amanat, my editor on John Carter is a sharp and incisive editor, and tons of fun to work with. Again, creators, you should work with editors! They rock. And Ramon Perez is going to rule so hard with his art. I'm really excited for this book.
Nrama: Final question: The comic promises "time travel, Aztecs and Joy Division," and Kieron Gillen's pullquote mentions Joy Division as well, and the tagline is "Blood Will Tear Us Apart" (a clear reference to "Love Will Tear Us Apart") but the song playing in the very first panel of the first issue is a New Order track. What gives?
Humphries: Just keeping you on your toes. But I guess you missed the Smiths reference… ?FACEBOOK and TWITTER!