Frederik Hautain spent the last fifteen years writing about comics for his website Broken Frontier, but now he's transitioned to actually writing comic books - and what he's found isn't all roses.
The Kickstarter for Hautain and artist Germán Erramouspe's The Happy Few recently concluded without reaching its goal, but it isn't detering the writer from pushing on with that and other comic book projects.
There is a long history of comics commentators seguing to comics writers, from Paul Levitz to Mark Waid and even Robert Kirkman, to a degree. But Hautain, with over a decade of experience observing the industry, can provide a unique perspective on breaking into comic books.
Newsarama: Frederik, what are you working on today?
Frederik Hautain: I’m currently in the process of scripting the first volume of an offbeat, all-female team book. I can’t unveil too much about it just yet, but you can think of it as a mix between Charlie’s Angels and Tom Strong: action meets weird with a sauce of tongue-in-cheekiness on top.
It’ll be a spandex-less book about three women that are brought together to redeem themselves and save the world from evil, whatever form or shape it may take. Ideally, I see this fitting the format that Dark Horse, Mike Mignola, and John Arcudi made popular on the B.P.R.D. books: self-contained stories in interconnected mini-series of four or five issues.
Next to that, I’m also developing an all-ages graphic novel about a whiz kid who stumbles upon the power of voodoo and decides to combine science and the occult to control his surroundings. But as you would expect, that’s a recipe for disaster.
And the furthest along, of course, is The Happy Few, a 48-page one-shot I wrote which was recently on Kickstarter and for which I’ve teamed with Germán Erramouspe on art, Varga Tomi on colors and Thomas Mauer on letters.
Nrama: I reached out to talk to you based on your transition in the comics sphere from running the news site Broken Frontier to segueing into creative writing with this one-shot The Happy Few. First off, for people that don't know - can you tell us about your background working in and around comic books?
Hautain: My passion for comics stretches back to – insert cliché terminology – as far as I can remember. I was seven years old when I picked up my first Superman and Spider-Man comics. Those were the days of Dan Jurgens on Supes and Sal Buscema on Spidey. I rolled into the rest of the DC and Marvel Universes pretty quickly afterwards and gradually ditched most of the Belgian/French BDs in favor of U.S. Comics.
When college came around, my budget was too tight to buy all the comics I wanted to read. So I thought, what if I created a comics news site, ask publisher to send me comics for review? That way I don’t have to spend money on them. And that’s how at the ripe old age of 19, I founded Broken Frontier. It quickly became more than a reviews site and a few months into the game, I had a full team from across the world working covering comics with me.
And over the years, especially the last five, the site carved out its niche with a big focus on indie, small press and creator-owned material.
Nrama: And you stepped down from Broken Frontier earlier this year - so are you completely removed from the site, including ownership?
Hautain: That’s right. The day-to-day operations of the site had been in the hands of Andy Oliver for two years already, as Andy assumed the position of the Editor-In-Chief, while I became Creative Director to focus on overall strategy and our Broken Frontier Anthology. Towards the end of last year, I decided that this was it and that I really wanted to do new things, so I talked to Andy about becoming the new owner of Broken Frontier, and he accepted. Since the end of January, Broken Frontier is fully his brand to build.
Over the past two months, it’s become gradually less weird to not know what’s going on with your baby. The fact that Andy’s doing such an amazing job championing the Broken Frontier brand means that I can sleep on both ears that I made the right call. And, of course, I’m focusing on my creative writing career now, which is a big boon and the thing I really wanted to do going forward.
Nrama: And with that you ended up writing comics. How did that come about?
Hautain: The Broken Frontier Anthology came about because I really wanted to put my money where my mouth was. As I said, Broken Frontier makes a point out of covering indie and creator-owned books, as well as shining a light on up-and-coming talent that may not yet be on anybody else’s radar. I wanted to capture the spirit of that in a book, and connect that to the theme of ‘breaking frontiers’ and that’s essentially what the anthology became: established and new voices in the industry coming together to tell stories about breaking boundaries. We had everyone from Cullen Bunn, Greg Pak, and Marguerite Bennett to rising talent like Robert Sammelin, Carla Berrocal, and Jamie Coe.
Among the 27 shorts was a story of mine, and I got a tremendous kick out of not just seeing my work on print but also finally scratching the itch of creating something of my own (or our own, as the story wouldn’t have looked nearly as good without Facundo Percio, Paul Little, and Taylor Esposito as my collaborators).
Once we did the Kickstarter for the anthology and the book was published last year, all I could think about was story. During every bit of downtime I had next to the day job, my thoughts automatically drifted to new scenes and characters and to the notebooks in which I had been making notes on and off over the past several years. That was really the cue that I had to transition to writing comics instead of covering them.
The anthology provided the perfect stepping stone, as through Facundo I found Germán, and I worked with Tomi and Thomas on the book already as their editor.
Nrama: So getting to The Happy Few – the Kickstarter recently ended, unsuccessfully. As someone who's covered comics for 15 years, you have a unique perspective on this. What do you think happened?
Hautain: That’s hard to say, really, as no two Kickstarter projects are the same. I think I fell into the same trap as I did on the Broken Frontier Anthology and go for a very high launch goal. Although I clearly explained why on both occasions – the absolute insistence on paying my creative team a good rate for the work they’re doing – I think that sadly is not always a good enough selling point to get over the hump.
We were facing the same uphill battle on the anthology, but there we had the advantage that we had a huge combined social media following from the 40+ creators on board, and there was a variety of material to show because of the diversity of the stories. That made us gradually progress towards our goal and a few hours before the campaign was over we finally made it.
On The Happy Few and as a starting creator, I don’t yet have that huge following all by myself, so this particular campaign has proved to be a struggle. The bulk of the funds we want to raise goes to the creative team, and that’s really what I wanted, so I’m definitely not complaining because I’m still making comics here. And that’s a dream come true.
Nrama: So does The Happy Few happen now, even if the Kickstarter didn’t work?
Hautain: It’ll depend on Germán’s schedule really and how quickly we can come up with a publishing plan. He’s just signed a book deal at French publisher Glénat and he reserved enough time in his schedule to complete The Happy Few by this summer. He still needs to draw 43 pages of the book as the only stuff we’ve got done are the pages we have up on the Kickstarter page.
Since he likely won’t be able to start out of the gate in April, his schedule may become packed, so we’ll have to discuss and see what the options are.
Nrama: You mentioned some other projects at the onset of this interview – what are you looking forward to beyond The Happy Few?
Hautain: Well, as I said at the start of the interview, I’m already working on a few new stories and I’m actively looking for artists on those. So if you’re reading this and you’re an artist who feels like a fun action adventure or science voodoo magic is your thing, do reach out.
Beyond that I’ve got a few other concepts I want to get to over time, but it’s way too early to talk about those, so first things first. I’ll continue to pave the way forward one step at a time.