Real-Life Experience Fuels the Rock Drama of SPARKSHOOTER

Real-Life Experience Fuels SPARKSHOOTER

The worlds of comic books and music have collided at least since the Human Torch and the Thing headed to a Beatles concert in Strange Tales #130. The latest medium-melding endeavor is Sparkshooter, a new webcomic from writer (and long-time Newsarama contributor) Troy Brownfield and artist Sarah Vaughn.

Sparkshooter picks up in the year 2003, a heady one for indie rock — think of the rise of acts like The White Stripes, The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Set in Brownfield's home city of Indianapolis, the band Crazy Yeats ends up with a new lead singer and a new name, Sparkshooter — and the drama ensues from there.

With Sparkshooter set to debut on Feb. 29, we talked with Brownfield and Vaughn about how time spent in the world of real-life rock helped shape the story, the comic's musical and visual influences, and the unique origins of the creative team's partnership. Also, we're debuting the first "promo strip" from series, with one set to debut at a different site each week before the official launch on Sparkshooter.com.

Here's the page, and the Q&A follows:

 

 

Newsarama: Troy, it looks like Sparkshooter is a departure from your previous comic book work, definitely more "grounded" and based more directly on personal experience. Would you say this kind of story comes more natural to you? Or being a bit more personal, is it actually harder to sort of see it through to fruition because you're closer to it? 

Troy Brownfield: It's definitely based on personal experiences, but in a really fun way. Starting when I was a teenager, I got involved with bands. My best friend, Shawn Delaney, started playing guitar as a teen and over time, I got involved with what you would call the booking and management aspects. When I was in college, I started putting together festivals and ended up booking acts for the school's Union Board for a number of years. I also played in a couple of groups here and there. Later, after founding ShotgunReviews.com in 1999, we would combine everything and have the site sponsor multi-band shows that we booked in bars and clubs. All of those things feed into the story that became Sparkshooter.

As to whether it's natural or not… yeah, it is. It's a lot easier in some respects because I feel like I really know these characters and certain events are very directly drawn from things that happened. And on down the road, you'll see some actual musicians from around Indianapolis involved in certain aspects of the story. Those guys and gals have been extremely supportive.

Nrama: And Sarah, I'm interested to hear more about how this collaboration came to be — you were a student of Troy's, correct?

Sarah Vaughn: That's right. Troy was my professor when I attended Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. I created my own major, Sequential Visual Narration (combination of film, art, and creative writing), and Troy taught a fair amount of the classes that were a part of it. He's seen a lot of the work and projects I've been a part of, and thought that Sparkshooter was a really good fit for me. When he asked me to be the artist for it, it was a no brainer. I loved the story, I loved the characters. Done.

 

Nrama: Sarah, what kind of visual influences are you drawing from for the comic? This is your first serialized story, right? 

Vaughn: Yes, I've written and illustrated short stories for a couple online magazines, but this is the first realized comic I've worked on.

I can't deny I'm heavily influenced by manga and manhwa, and I've also been reading webcomics since high school. I followed Vera Brosgol, Dylan Meconis, Jen Wang, Amy Kim Ganter. So many awesome artists with web presence, and it's exciting to see a lot of them publish work in print, too.

As far as print, I've been a fan of Chynna Clugston with Blue Monday and Scooter Girl since I worked at my local comic book store in school. I heart Vanna Vinci.

I love black and white comics, textures, and stylized characters with bold line. Which is exactly Sparkshooter.

Nrama: Troy, I'm curious about your background in music — you've mentioned that you planned several festivals in college. Any memorable lineups? How directly are those experiences fueling this story?

Brownfield: Well, the thing of it is that those line-ups were populated with local and regional bands. There were folks here and there that you might know. One example was Vess Ruhtenberg, who played with The Lemonheads and Antenna. Those shows ran from five-band line-ups in 1992 to six-day-long events with 25 bands on Friday and Saturday by 1995. The organizing of something like that is both beautiful and nightmarish. It certainly leaves you with a lot of stories and bizarre experiences, such as figuring out how to clean a combination of Spam and battery acid out of a white floor.

Nrama: On the subject of music, how would you describe Sparkshooter's sound? What's their closest real-world equivalent? 



Brownfield: That's a great question. Certainly, the sound of Sparkshooter that I hear in my head is most influenced by two bands that I was involved with: Samsell, which I managed, and Mirage, for which I played bass and co-wrote songs. Those bands drew one their own influences ranging from British/shoegazer/post-punk-power-pop for Samsell to a more electronic, Curve-oriented sound from Mirage. Mirage also had a female lead singer, Chanda Guth, who served as a partial inspiration for Sondra Li. Samsell recorded a proper album, "Blue Days Lost," and I plan to post some of those songs for curious parties to hear. Mirage tracks, too. Maybe.

 

Nrama: Being a webcomic, what's the plan for the publishing schedule? And is it an open-ended story, or do you have a finish line already in mind? 

Brownfield: This month, we're starting with a series of four promo pieces that set up bits of the story before Page 1. For the first four Wednesdays in February, a different site will host one promo each. On February 29, Sparkshooter launches at www.sparkshooter.com with page one. In the beginning, we're going to post one complete page every Wednesday. Now, when I say complete page, that's making the distinction that it will be proper comic pages rather than single panels or strips. And Sarah handles every aspect of the art, top to bottom. Keeping it to one page a week in the beginning allows her to really craft some sharp, detailed pages. Page 7 in particular is a real eye-opener; she's totally nailed a particular block of Guildford Avenue in Broad Ripple on Indy's northside. That said, Sarah plans to increase the number of pages she posts as we move along. She's already eyeing complete pages a week as a goal, but that's a long way off.  I'm fine with delivering the highest quality material on a regular schedule.

As for the finish line… I have a strong idea of where the story goes, but we're not going to get there for a long, long time. I'm looking at this in a sort of volume-oriented approach. That much is informed somewhat by manga. But to really dig into the characters and see how the whole thing works, it's going to be a nice long roll-out. The first several pages cover what happens on a pivotal night; I want the readers to feel like they're checking in with a group of familiar friends each week.

Nrama: Noticed that you also have a Zazzle shop set up with merchandise — why was that an important part of the overall package? (It makes sense — bands sell merch, so why shouldn't a comic book band have merch, too?)

Brownfield: There is that element. Band shirts! But really, you need to find a variety of avenues to support a webcomic. Right now, there are only four products, and those might be joined by a few others. But it's not the focus. It's something that exists that might hopefully contribute to support of the endeavor as we go on. If someone really, really likes the comic, I think it's rather cool that they can click over and get a Sparkshooter pin for a couple of bucks. Sarah did an excellent job with the shirt design, though; my wife has the first one.

Nrama: It appears that the story at least begins in 2003, an era when the White Stripes were capturing hearts and the world was waiting with bated breath for The Return of the King. What prompted that decision?

Brownfield: There are two solid reasons for that. The first is that 2003 was a year that I was deeply, deeply involved in the music. I hadn't started teaching yet, I hadn't started writing for Newsarama yet, and my wife and I didn't have kids yet. It was sort of the last year of being involved, day in, day out, before my concerns really began to change.

The other is historical, in retrospect. MySpace launched in August of 2003, and it would completely change the way that bands were promoted and received. My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy are two acts that had their fortunes improved enormously by canny use of that platform. Prior to that, scenes were driven by alt-weekly papers and local websites like IndianapolisMusic.net. IMN, in particular, had a huge hand in our scene, and their influence will be reflected in the comic. When Sparkshooter opens, it's early spring of 2003, so you'll see some of these changes creep in as the story goes along. 

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