I just did a review of Kelly’s comic book Starburn and have also done a review Snarl, another book from Kelly, and I decided that it would be a good Idea to pick Kelly’s brain and see what drives him to write comic books. If you enjoy this talk with Kelly Bender and are interested in some of his work you can check out my review of Starburn or check Kelly out on any of the links provided.
Ian: You have written a lot of comic books, can you describe how you got into the business and have you had any schooling or formal training?
Kelly: I got into writing comics while doing the night shift in a warehouse job. It was slow many nights and with nothing else to entertain myself I started writing. Then I started researching how to format movie scripts and comic book scripts, but quickly realized that comic book writing was the proper platform for me.
I’ve taken no formal training, but done plenty of research, asking the right questions, learning from pros and plenty of trial and error.
Ian: What is your writing process like? Do you have any silly traditions or OCD ticks you must adhere to?
Kelly: I like collaborating with artists so the initial part is just talking back and forth about what style of story we’d like to tell and that sets up the idea. Once we (the artist and I) have the initial concept/idea, the artist goes off and does the initial designs for the main characters and I go off and format the actual story outline. Then I start breaking down the story outline into actual issues, by determining what’s going to happen in each issue and in what order. Then the last process is breaking down the script into panels and adding the dialogue.
I have A.D.D. so that is an advantage when needing to meet a deadline, BUT it’s also a disadvantage when you have multiple projects going and one has your attention more than others.
I don’t have OCD tendencies I just stick to the “DO SOMETHING EVERYDAY” philosophy I picked up from reading an interview done with BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS. Basically it means if you aren’t scripting be plotting or outlining. I find myself making notes on my phone all the time. I then email myself those notes and add them into the scripts later.
Ian: I do the same thing sometimes so I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.
Ian: Do you have any specific creative influences; a person, place, or thing?
Kelly: I believe everybody and everything is a product of our environment and what we’ve been exposed to. The automobile couldn’t have been invented for example without the wheel being invented first. So movies, TV Shows, novels, songs and other comic writers all heavily inspire me. I love reading original comic stories, and I love seeing new things and wanting to grow more as a writer and as a storyteller.
As far as favorite comic writers go it’s Brian Azzarello, Ed Brubaker, Brian K Vaughn and Warren Ellis (but only their creator owned stuff).
Ian: You’re very accomplished as a writer, you have been nominated for awards like Ashcan and nearly won contests like the Top Cow Talent Hunt, can you tell us about some of the trophies you have on your mantle? Are there any that you missed out on that you really really really wanted?
Kelly: Thanks so much. This year has been VERY crazy and those accolades very unexpected. The ASHCAN award nominations and win came out of nowhere as I didn’t even know they were doing awards, and the TOP COW Talent Hunt runner-up was a huge surprise! In fact when I opened up my email that morning I read the General “Thanks for entering the winners have been chosen” email everybody got first. Then I read the email below it saying I was a runner-up and I’d be writing a published short story for them. I honestly only entered the contest as a challenge to myself and so that they (the TOP COW editors and executives) would hopefully see my name and when I went to a comic con they were at I could ask them for a critique on my script writing.
The funny thing is most of my trophies are actually SOFTBALL awards. Most people don’t know that I’m an accomplished athlete as well as a geek. It was a problem in my high school years as I was a jock and a geek but never really fit in with either group. I always wondered if I should add my softball credits to my comic book pitches as I know many publishers have company softball teams, “Hey IMAGE I can instantly improve your company softball team” Hahahaha
Truth be told I’m not really concerned with awards, I appreciate being recognized but I prefer hearing from fans at Comic Cons, in FaceBook or reading positive reviews and posts from fans and other comic pros that they enjoyed my books.
Ian: Do you aspire to write in other mediums like movies, TV, or books?
Kelly: Right now I’m really focusing on comics, but I do have a few children’s picture I’ve written which I would love to see published. I just don’t know that industry yet. I of course would LOVE to see one (if not more) of my comic stories turned into a movie or TV show but that’s all out of my hands.
Ian: You have worked on a lot of different successful projects can you tell us a little bit about some of them? What one was your favorite to work on and why?
Kelly: STARBURN is one of my more successful projects. It’s a 4 issue Sci-Fi miniseries from MARKOSIA ENTERPRISE. The book tells the tale of a motley crew of space scoundrels who’re in possession of the fastest most kick ass ship in the galaxy, and it’s about their adventures as people are trying to seize the ship from them.
SNARL is my other successful project, which has achieved both critical and public acclaim. It’s a 40-page stand-alone original crime comic book out right now from ALTERNA COMICS. It’s about a veteran detective who is assigned to solve a case of these gruesome murders in a Washington State National Park, the only problem is ALL the evidence points to the super-natural and werewolves. So the detective is left trying to solve a crime where all the evidence points to the unexplained.
I really like working on ALL my projects. The process and working with the artist, inker, colorist and letterer are part of my favorite parts. We’re a team and friends. I really enjoy that aspect. Since I’m the co-creator of the projects I better like them!
Ian: So far I have reviewed both Starburn and Snarl, I enjoyed both very much, and I can say for sure that the critic acclaim for Snarl is very due.
Ian: Do you ever base your characters off of real life people? If so who and why?
Kelly: I do actually. The three campers in SNARL are all friends of mine from here in Singapore. I tend to use my friends, as you always need supporting cast characters and names. I was working on a comic script (for a comic which will be completed in 2016) and needed like 12 minor characters which all have death scenes, and at the time I was getting ready to do an international softball tournament in Jakarta Indonesia. I sent an email to the entire softball team asking who’d like to be in a comic book? And no you don’t get Super Powers and you don’t get to pick how you die. Most of my teammates jumped at the opportunity, as it’s a cool thing to say that you’re actually a comic book character!
Ian: Does your writing have a message or are you more interested in just telling the story?
Kelly: I’m interested in telling thought provoking original stories. My stories are character based. So you want cool dialogue with interesting situations, then my books might be a fit for you. If my books have a message it’s that COMICS are fun!
Ian: Indeed they are!
Ian: Because you have worked on so many projects you have also worked with a lot of different artists, can you give some insight to how to successfully collaborate.
Kelly: The biggest thing for ANY partnership (be it personal or professional) is HONESTY! Be completely honest with your teams and set up individual goals for each member and team goals and do everything you can to achieve them. Before I start a project with a particular artist I ask them a couple questions 1) What are you hoping to achieve with this book? 2) What level/type of publisher would you be happy with publishing this book? 3) What type of story/genre would you like to work on?
After the artist answers those questions honestly and we build a trust, I then do those exact same questions as I hunt down people to form the rest of the team!! (Inker, Colorist and letterer.)
That’s it basically. Grow a friendship and a trust with the people and do this for THEM just as much as you. Making a comic book is a team effort.
Ian: Do you have a particular artist that you work really well with?
Kelly: I’m inspired by ALL the artists I work with. How could I not be? Seeing something I’ve written drawn by an amazing artist is truly a gift. Each artist I work with draws in his or her own unique styles and each one is amazing, so each project and relationship is unique in itself.
Ian: Any advice for someone wanting to create comics?
Kelly: JUST DO IT! If you’re a writer, write. If you’re an artist, draw. It’s really that simple. Only excuse you have is yourself. With the advent of the digital comic creating your own book has never been easier or cheaper. Plus there is also web-comics or print on demand.
Ian: What are your thoughts on print vs digital?
Kelly: I think it’s great that fans have the option now. I know many people prefer print and others who prefer digital. I like print. Problem is I live in Asia (Singapore) now and you can’t get all the books I want to read out here. So I do digital, but I always try to buy paper copies off of fellow pros at Cons.
Ian: I totally agree, it is nice to have options but digital can never beat the feel of a comic in your hands.
Ian: How do you feel about sites like Comixology?
Kelly: Digital sites like Comixology, IndiePlanet, iTunes, Amazon, ComicsFix and the others have been a blessing as it allows all these great indie books to be made available not only across the country but across the world.
Ian: What are some comic books that you like to read?
Kelly: I love to read original creator owned stories that are character based and thought provoking. “Copperhead”, “Saga”, “Thief of Thieves”, “Wayward” and “Nailbiter” are just a few of my favorite IMAGE COMIC books. I also really dig “Letter 44” (from ONI Press).
Ian: I absolutely love Thief of Thieves and I believe a TV series for AMC may be in the works!
Ian: Were social media friends and you’re very good at networking, can you tell us a little bit about your social media and networking technics and how they have helped you network?
Kelly: Social Media is evil; it’s time consuming and both emotional and physically draining. BUT it’s a necessary evil. Without social media and building a fan/friend base you don’t have readers. Its also one of the easiest ways to get to really get to know the publishers you want to work for, interact with the writers you admire and the editors you stalk… I mean “follow”.
The best advice I can give to ANY person who wants to be a comic pro and is on social media? BE COOL! A pro accepts your friend request? BE COOL! That friend request doesn’t mean that they want you to message them all your comic pitches or mean that you can “tag” them on your posts. It means that they noticed you had similar friends and interests. BE COOL!
Ian: What kind of projects are you currently working on and when can fans expect to see more from you?
Kelly: Presently I have a couple other books coming out. I’ve got “Death-Rattler” (a 4 issue Steampunk/Western/Fantasy revenge comic) which just got picked up by MARKOSIA; it’s co-created with artist Ryan Downing (inks by Ivan Miranda, Colors Alan Bay and letters Micah Myers). I’ve also got a bunch of comics coming out from INSANE COMICS; “Sadistic” (a 4 issue villain comic where the villain has the power where he can’t die.) it’s co-created by artist Bryant Yini (with inks by John Dixon, colors by Kari Kaiju and letters Micah Myers). “C.L.A.W.S.” (a 4 issue classic 90’s super hero comic book) with co-creator & artist Jose Mojica (colors by Chad Scott and letters Micah Myers), “Convoy of Corpses” (a 24 page stand alone Afghanistan war comic) with art by Van Choran (inks by Ivan Miranda, colors by Amitabha Naskar and letters by Nic J Shaw), and finally “Hang Low Aim High” (a 24 page stand alone classic western/cowboy comic) with art & water colors by Adrian “Crisuadi” Crasmaru (letters by Nic J Shaw).
I’m also working on a couple of projects I’m hoping to pitch to publishers at New York Comic Con in Oct. The projects are an urban gang comic called “Blood In. Blood Out.” Which is “The Wire” meets “The Sopranos” set in Brooklyn. This project is co-created with artist Nathan Kelly (the co-creator & artist on SNARL) with colors b Josh Jensen and letters by Micah Myers. The entire SNARL creative team is working on “Blood In. Blood Out.”
I’m also working on a 4 issue miniseries with co-creator and artist Elvin Ching called “The DRIF T”. It’s “Hunger Games” meets “Con Air” meets “Poseidon Adventure”. It’s about a future America which has converted over to a church state, and the prisons are so overpopulated that they’ve initiated a lottery system to help purge the sinners. If your numbers called you enter into “The DRIF T”.
I’ve also got “Yakuza 893” which is a 4 issue miniseries co-created with artist Eda Kunsis. “Yakuza 893” tells the story of a yakuza member who during a job has a moment of compassion for his victim and as a result he’s hunted by his own gang. It’s a Japanese Action movie set in a comic book.
I’m also working on other projects which as of yet can’t be announced, but things are happening and I’m still living the dream.
Ian: Boy you sure are keeping busy and living the dream! Can’t wait to check out some of these new projects!
Ian: Where can fans get a hold of your books?
Ian: Where can fans get a hold of you?
Kelly: Fans can get a hold of me on TWITTER @KellyBender17 or on Facebook at Kelly Bender (Singapore) I’ve also got a blog.
I want to thank Kelly for taking the time to answer these questions, on top of being a busy writer Kelly is also a devoted father and family man, so time is precious to him. If you liked this interview and have a request for an interview with other indie book creators, writer or artists, please feel free to contact me, either comment on here or search me on Twitter @IanDYarington or Facebook at ian.yarington. And finally, don’t forget to check out Kelly’s stuff and help support Indie Comic Creators!