You seem to have a large digital presence with a WordPress blog for yourself and a WordPress for Ozmatic that feature your book Charlatan for “name your own price” over formats that include pretty much any digital device.
Ian: First can you tell us what made you want to put your book into so many digital formats and second can you tell us what made you decide to do the “name your own price” format?
Gil: Posting Charlatan as a weekly webcomic has been an effort to get the story out to as many readers as possible. I think for a lot of us who are indie creators, that is the primary goal. And the “name your own price” approach has really been an experiment in both testing a pricing model and trying to make Charlatan available to readers who might want to try the book but are not willing or able to pay.
Ian: Do you expect the “name your own price” to take off and become mainstream?
Gil: For big name creators–yes. For indie creators, I have my doubts based on the limited success of this pricing model on Ozmatic.com to date. One big inspiration for trying a “pay what you want” approach at Ozmatic was Brian K. Vaughan’s Panel Syndicate site. I found it to be a really intriguing model for digital comic distribution and thought I might give it a try. I think what will end up happening is that big name creators like Brian will find the model works, but for indie creators with smaller audiences, pay what you want won’t be as successful.
Ian: When I met you at Jet City Comic Show I bought a paper copy of your book Charlatan but as we established you are doing some innovative things with digital. What made you want to reach out to different digital formats like smart phones?
Gil: The experiment at Jet City was a lot of fun. Sit on any “how to break into comics” panel at a Con and you will hear that the barrier to entry in publishing comics has never been lower with the advent of digital; but what I don’t commonly hear is that the barrier to experimentation in the delivery of digital comics has never been lower. And that’s what Ozmatic and the Jet City experiment each represent. For your readers who weren’t at Jet City, I had a set-up that allowed anyone in proximity of Artist Alley (where I shared a table with Kasey Quevedo) to get free digital downloads of our comics on their mobile devices. So while we had physical copies of our books to sell, we could also offer free downloads at the Con for mobile devices and people seemed to really dig it.
Ian: How do you feel about sites like Comixology, IndyPlanet, and DriveThruComics?
Gil: Overall, I think they are all pretty great. In a world where it is increasingly hard for independent creators to get an audience, sites like these enable distribution and can help them to get their books in front of readers on the same platform as some big name publishers.
Ian: Do you have plans to put your books on sites like these?
Gil: That’s probably my biggest internal debate right now. It’s not directly comic-related, but I have been reading a lot lately on the “lean start-up” methodology and one of the things that particular method of starting a business advocates is getting projects out in front of people early, gathering feedback, and iterating. And I think that sums up my current approach with Charlatan. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charlatan on one of those sites in the near future–but I likewise wouldn’t be surprised if things headed in a completely different direction.
Ian: What are your overall goals for Charlatan and the different digital formats?
Gil: Goal number one is to get the book out to as many readers as possible. Having people read the story and enjoy it or provide feedback if they don’t is by far the most important thing to me. Goal number two would be to get to the point where the series is self-sustaining financially and the rest of the story can be told –and it is a big story. I definitely have enough mapped out to keep the storyline moving for a few years and I would love to be able to share it with readers. If Charlatan were a book that brought in enough funding to allow its production as an ongoing series, I would be thrilled.
Ian: Let’s talk a little bit about Charlatan, Dave Baxter from Broken Frontier called it “a classic “cosmic” spandex comic” which I tend to agree a little bit but I see many different layers to this book. Can you tell us a little bit about the “spandex” and “cosmic” aspects and how they complement each other?
Gil: I have been a fan of spandex, “capes and tights”–insert any shorthand descriptor for superhero comics here–since I was in elementary school. But as an adult creator I feel that it is a genre with untapped promise that often isn’t explored. Charlatan is hopefully a comic that seems and feels like a traditional superhero origin story, but when you pull apart its pieces, it really isn’t–in that regard I intended it to be almost subversive in its approach. The first episode of the new Supergirl TV series, which I like quite a bit by the way, provides a great example of the normal approach the genre takes– 2 Kryptonian kids are shipped off to Earth by their parents where they are destined to become heroes. Charlatan does the opposite–for once the parents say “Hell no, you are not taking our kid”–and there are moral and practical repercussions stemming from that decision that echo throughout the series. The Broken Frontier review was for the self-published Charlatan: Preludes trade which compiled the first three Charlatan issues and it was definitely cosmic in nature: blue-skinned aliens, an off-world storyline, a fateful decision that puts the universe at risk. But with issue 4, we get back to Earth and introduce a whole universe of heroes and villains unleashed in the Halford’s own backyard.
Ian: Besides the superhero and sci-fi feel the story is centers on a family that are dealing with real life issues, how much of a challenge is it to balance the fanciful with real life storylines?
Gil: For indie creators I think this is probably an easier feat than if we were writing someone else’s corporate comic characters. In my mind, the Halfords and the Walters are both real and complex and as they walk around in my head it is easy to put these “real” people into difficult situations and see how they react. So in that regard, I don’t find the balance too challenging.
Ian: When reading I felt sympathy and saw a parallel between the characters and myself, was empathy to the family and their situation something you planned with your writing or is it just a byproduct of the storyline?
Gil: I am really glad to hear that question. And the answer is absolutely yes. I firmly believe that superhero comics are at their best when they convey universal truths in a way that may be initially lost on the reader. You get so swept up in action and intrigue that it is only on reflection that you realize there was something bigger going on behind the scenes. The Halfords make a difficult decision and they become responsible for something that at times profoundly dwarfs their capabilities. In that regard, I hope it is something most readers can relate to and feel empathy for the family.
Ian: Are any of the characters in Charlatan based on real life people?
Gil: The characters are not based on any real life people, but inspiration for the book definitely stemmed from my experience as a parent and more specifically as the parent of a child with some serious health challenges when she was young. When our eldest daughter was born my wife Jen and I only had a few minutes with her before she was spirited away from us and flown by helicopter to a major metropolitan children’s hospital for heart surgery. It’s hard for me to read the sequence in Issue 2 where a captive Augie is powerless and demanding his daughter be returned to him without seeing that experience at work in those pages.
Ian: Are there any influences, comic or otherwise, that helped you to create Charlatan?
Gil: Classic superhero books are a lasting influence. Marvel comics were such a huge part of my life when I was a youth and I don’t think I will ever outgrow that love for 70’s Marvel comics. In adult life, James Robinson’s run on DC’s Starman had a profound effect on me. Such a wonderful book on so many levels. Robinson created a completely compelling and seemingly self-contained universe that had its roots in classic DC characters. Thematically, I look at the book as being about Jack, the protagonist, becoming an adult and a parent and the examination and realignment of his values on his journey to becoming an adult. It also was a rich exploration of aging, family dynamics, and what it means to be an authentic individual–all tied up in a glorious superhero wrapper.
Ian: As a creator it’s very important to find a team of like-minded people to complement your style, how did you go about finding the other creators that work with you?
Gil: Most of the people I have had the pleasure of working with are folks whose work I came across on comics-related websites. Digital Webbing has probably been the primary source for me, but there are plenty of other sites where artists, colorists, and letterers post their work.
Ian: What are some good and bad experiences you have had working with other artists?
Gil: It has been a fantastic experience working with Eliseu Gouveia on Charlatan. Zeu is not only a phenomenally talented artist, but his artwork always goes so far beyond what I anticipate. I have also had the good fortune to work recently with the amazing Carlos Trigo on two other pitches over the past couple years. Like Zeu, Carlos is not only a great talent, but is also a consummate professional and a real pleasure to work with. As you can probably tell I am one of their biggest fans! In the past two years I have also had the opportunity to work with Andrea Celestini, who colored Carlos’s art on our Old Man pitch, and L Jamal Walton, who lettered the Stray pitch, and they are both superstars in my book.
I am also excited to be able to share that my good friend Kasey Quevedo and I are now collaborating on our first project together. We’ve been talking about doing a collab for a while as we have shared tables at a few conventions and kicked around ideas. I think at Rose City we finally landed on something and without saying too much, it involves number-crunching humanoid aliens with harpoon guns. Harpoon guns–yeah! Kasey’s book Velocidad is also serialized as a weekly webcomic at velocidad-comic.com and anyone who checks out his book will see why I am so excited to get to work with him.
Ian: Do you have any plans for Charlatan outside of comics; movies or TV?
Gil: That has been a running joke in my house for a long time. I talk about the imaginary future Charlatan movie premiere and everyone rolls their eyes. I am hugely biased regarding the Charlatan storyline, of course, but I think it would make an amazing movie franchise or television series. That being said, I think the chances are really, really slim. But, hey, major movie studio or television studio executives–if you are reading this, call me!
Ian: Yes give him a call and check out the books because I feel they would be great on the gold or silver screen.
Ian: Do you have any formal training as a writer or are you just naturally talented?
Gil: As far as comic writing goes, I have been doing it for ten years and still feel like I am learning every day and have barely scratched the surface of what it takes to be a “real” writer. In fact, it’s hard to go back and read some of my early Charlatan dialogue without cringing a wee bit–I feel like my understanding of how to condense and edit dialogue has grown so much, even though I still have a ton of learning to do. I just tell myself to keep at it and focus on improving my craft every day. In terms of formal training, I have both my undergraduate degree and MA in English. And I read whenever I can–mostly fiction and comics.
Ian: Do you have a deeper meaning to your work or you more are you more interested in entertaining?
Gil: As far as deeper meaning goes, I think there is a probably a spectrum to the stories I write. For Charlatan, yes, there is a deeper meaning in some of the thematic elements we discussed earlier. I view it as entertainment primarily, but I would hope it touches a chord and has meaning for anyone who can relate to the struggles of the Halford and Walters families. My pitch for the Stray series (a character introduced in Charlatan Issue 4) is young adult superhero action, but it speaks to the challenges of becoming an adult and finding your identity. Old Man, my most recent pitch, features giant mecha suits and a young woman who must confront her father before he conquers Earth. From a pure entertainment perspective, Old Man was an opportunity to write about giant robots and jaegers–which is kind of a dream come true for me–but at its core it is a cautionary tale about the dangers of technology and its ability to dehumanize. The project that Kasey and I are now working on is pretty much non-stop action: aliens, harpoon guns, car chases. But strip away those elements and you find a story about how love and human relationships must resist the tidal wave of disruption and the lack of privacy that our increasingly digital lives face.
Ian: Let’s switch gears again and talk about Ozmatic. As I have been more active talking with creators in the comic community I have realized that there is a huge difference between a publisher and production company. Can you explain which Ozmatic is?
Gil: I can share my understanding of the two concepts. As of today, Ozmatic is a digital publisher with one series–Charlatan. The possibility is that we would open up to submissions in the near future and in that regard would publish a curated set of books under that brand. If we were to do that, I would expect creators to handle all of the production elements necessary for the books and to retain all rights to their works, with the sole exception being that we would have the opportunity rights to publish them digitally for a finite period of time. My only interest would be in helping great books find their audiences at a time when there is so much content available, it can be hard to get noticed.
Ian: What are some of the good and bad experiences you have had getting Ozmatic going?
Gil: As a digital only micro-publisher, it has been all good. The only downside is that I will need to generate enough traffic and have a workable business model if I want to be able to open it up to other creators in good conscience. Every indie creator should be asking hard questions about how any publishing company will expand their audience beyond what they can do by self-publishing and if there isn’t a good answer they should just publish their own work.
Ian: Can you compare the comic industry to any other experience you have had?
Gil: In real life, I work in the field of human resources–this is something I have done for twenty plus years across a number of industries. One of the biggest differences I can see is that the number of openings at the professional level in comics is so very small compared to the number of people who want to make comics, that it is almost impossible to break-in. Almost. To make sequential art is part of our very nature as human beings, but the opportunities to do that as a vocation are very slim. If you want to explore a career in HR or software development or accounting–the odds are much, much higher that you will be able to find meaningful professional work.
Ian: Do you plan on adding other artists to the Ozmatic label?
Gil: If I can come up with a publishing model that would truly benefit other creators, I would be very happy to open up submissions. It is a distinct possibility in the near future. I just need to make sure that Ozmatic gives them a better platform than they would have being out on their own.
Ian: Who are some of your biggest influences in the world of comic book creators?
Gil: James Robinson and Stan Lee are two names that immediately come to mind as big, lasting influences. In terms of current writers who I find inspiring, Matt Kindt, Matt Fraction, Grant Morrison and Ed Brisson all come to mind.
Ian: Do you have an advice for someone wanting to create comics?
Gil: Just do it–get something made–but once you have done it, spend as much time and creativity as you put into making your book into figuring out how to connect with readers. In the span of a few short years we have seen the the trickle of digital comics turn into an ever-growing torrent of content and it doesn’t matter how great your book is, you need to be thoughtful, innovative and experimental in order to find an audience.
Ian: What are some comics you like to read?
Gil: Wow–I had better limit my answer to very recent books I am reading if that is OK. I am in mourning over the end of Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT. Other recent Dark Horse books include most of the Hellboy universe titles and Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. I just picked up Ron Randall’s latest Trekker book–I am a huge Trekker fan and having a table next to his at Jet City was so very cool. From Image, Lazarus, Copperhead and Ed Brisson’s Sheltered. Also just bought the final Prophet trade–mind blowing stuff. Afterlife with Archie and the new Sabrina horror titles are great. In terms of the big two, I was very sad to see Grant Morrison’s Multiversity end. Abnett and Culbard’s Wild’s End books from Boom! are real favorites too. On the web, I read Kasey’s Velocidad every week and always look forward to his his new pages.
Ian: Where can fans find you and how can they get Charlatan?
Gil: I can be found along with the Charlatan webcomic at www.gilbylawson.com and people can check out digital downloads of Charlatan at the Ozmatic site (www.ozmatic.com). On Twitter it’s @GilbyLawson. In terms of conventions, I am definitely planning on Jet City a year from now, but haven’t decided on any other shows yet for 2016. I will be in total fan mode at Emerald City for three days this year. And if everything works out, I hope to be able to take the tech I used at Jet City on the road for some digital download events–I am working on setting that up right now and will post updates on any potential events at both of my websites and on Twitter.
I have to extend a big thank you to Gil for taking the time and also for bearing with me as I deal with personal issues. Also, I need to extend another big thank you to my dad for lending me the laptop to get this interview up and going. If it wasn’t for amazing parents like mine I would be totally busted and not able to recover enough to bring this interview to life, so please enjoy and give Gil and Charlatan some clicks!