What if your cat suddenly started talking? Sure, comics readers have seen it before, but no talking feline quite measures up to the depth of Jason Brubaker’s creation Victuals, a talking cat with the mind of a super-intelligent lizard from a secret underwater society.
"reMIND" follows the adventures of Victuals and his orphaned inventor owner, Sonja, as they attempt to discover where Victuals comes from and how he can get back and reclaim his proper place. Originally available as an online-only endeavor, Brubaker is bringing "reMIND" to print as a specially produced hardcover graphic novel with a little help from his fans.
In addition to winning the coveted 2010 Xeric Grant (Peter A. Laird’s foundation to offer financial assistance to committed, self-publishing comic book creators.), Brubaker’s Kickstarter project far surpassed his goal of $3,000 to reach nearly $13,000. Now, the writer/creator/animator is moving full throttle to bring "reMIND" to print and give readers a new way to experience Sonja and Victuals’ tale of adventure and intrigue.
Brubaker took some time out to speak with CBR News about "reMIND," the development of the story and how it came to be online, the transition from online to print, his immensely successful Kickstarter project and some helpful tips on self-publishing a graphic novel.
CBR News: Jason, what's the main plot behind "reMIND?"
Jason Brubaker: At its core, it’s a story about figuring out what to have faith in. What to believe in. Both of the main characters, Victuals and Sonja, are confronted with what they think is the truth. It’s very personal to me because this subject has been a battle for me as well so it’s no wonder it found it’s way into my story.
When you're not working on "reMIND," what do you do?
My real job is in Visual Development at Dreamworks Animation. I’ve been working on "Kung Fu Panda 2" for the last two years. It really is a dream job for me too. I never went to school for this and I never saw myself working on movies of this caliber, but slowly through the years everything just fell into place and I’m sitting here working at Dreamworks now.
"reMIND" started about a year and a half ago in 2009, though you've mentioned on your blog that it was meant to be an animation project and it's been in the works for nearly four years. What made you decide to publish online as a webcomic as opposed to an animated film?
Well, let me backtrack for a second. Posting "reMIND" on the Internet was a last minute decision that I made in 2009. I had been working on it as a graphic novel since 2006. Before that I wanted to make an animation which started around 1998. Making a graphic novel was NEVER my original idea. It was supposed to be a silly animation at first. After years of learning to animate while working on it in my free time I got stuck realizing I’d probably never be able to finish it because it was just too big of a project for one man to complete. A producer friend of mine convinced me to make it into a graphic novel instead and here we are now. I’m really glad I took his advice.
So to answer the second part of your question about putting it online, I’d been working on it as a graphic novel for about 3 years and nobody ever saw it. I felt stupid telling people that I was making a graphic novel because I felt like nobody really believed me. I kept plugging away at it for years until I came across a blog by Nate Simpson called Project Waldo (which is now a book called "Nonplayer.") It was a simple blog about the struggles to make a graphic novel and for the first 8 pages Nate would post his work in progress as he would finish pages. It blew my mind that he would put it all online like that but it was also so exciting to read his blog and see the progress and how he was building a following through it. It really opened my eyes to what the Internet could do for "reMIND."
I realized that I could potentially bring that same kind of emotional connection to others by posting my pages and progress online and just being open about what I was learning and going through. There is so much behind the scenes that nobody likes to talk about because they are afraid they will look unprofessional. I figured I’d just say it like it was. If I was only getting 30 hits a day then I’d say I was only getting 30 hits a day.
The story and art seem to draw inspiration from a number of different sources. What is the origin of "reMIND?" Where did you draw your inspiration from specifically?
My love for comics started in the early '90s when Todd McFarlane was drawing Spider-Man. My biggest influences were Erik Larsen, Sam Kieth, Chris Bachalo, Adam Hughes, Moebius and Jim Lee along with many others that I’m obviously missing.
Years later I moved to Los Angeles to start my career as a storyboard artist and I stopped collecting comics to focus on my career. I got into Japanese animation more so I started learning to animate, referencing Miyazaki films as well as many others. I was never into the Manga style and look but I loved how they told stories. Eventually I landed freelance jobs with motion design studios and worked on animating hundreds of commercials, all because of "reMIND" (the animated clips that I made). I started getting influenced by all the good designers I kept working with as well as how they made motion design look so slick. So when I decided to make "reMIND" into a graphic novel I had so much inspiration to pull from from all these different sources. I think I naturally gravitated towards the styles of my early favorite comic artists but I also have animation, film and design influences as well now.
Now that "reMIND" has found success online, you're bringing it to print with money from both the Xeric Grant and Kickstarter. First off, how does it feel to be one of the winners of the 2010 Xeric Grant?
It really feels great! I remember when I got the letter I jumped around the house in excitement. It’s more than just winning money too. It’s a feeling of acceptance from the comic book world. To know that my book caught the attention of the Xeric Foundation really gave me a new hope that I might actually be doing something right.
Probably one of the biggest testaments to "reMIND" are the funds raised through Kickstarter by your fans. Your goal was $3,000, but you ended up with over $12,000 to put towards your ideal graphic novel. When you launched the Kickstarter project, what kinds of expectations did you have? Did you have any idea how big the funding would get?
When I started researching Kickstarter there were very few comics or graphic novels there at the time and very few of them made more than a couple thousand dollars. So I went in kind of skeptical about how much interest people would have in pledging to "reMIND." I decided on $3,000 because it seemed like the maximum that you could get for a comic, plus at the time I didn’t have that big of a following online. I really wanted $7,000 to cover the rest of the printing but I figured that any money would be better than no money, so I set the goal lower than what I needed to get a better chance at actually getting funded. For those that don’t know, if you don’t reach your goal on Kickstarter then you don’t get any of the money so I wanted to make it possible to reach.
To my surprise I passed my goal in less than two days. It blew everyone’s mind how fast it grew and Kickstarter even posted it on their front page due to its speed. It was my first real solid clue at just how many dedicated fans "reMIND" was attracting. It’s one thing to get hits on a website. It’s a whole new thing when hundreds of people that you don’t know are pledging money toward a project that’s still almost a year away from completion.
As a creator making the transition from digital to print instead of the other way around, what do you think are the advantages of the digital format as opposed to print?
I love this conversation because everyone seems to have a different opinion. The primary advantages are cost and exposure. With a digital graphic novel you can publish the whole thing for next to nothing and you have the advantage of growing a large audience over time if you post new pages weekly. Then those same fans can end up paying for the actual production of your physical book when it’s complete. The comments on a digital comic are also invaluable. In a way it’s like the letters columns that normally appear in the back of comics but it’s a continuing conversation and a window into your fans' minds. The comments have ended up helping my book be better than it would have been if I had just gone straight to print. The other major advantage with publishing a comic online every week is your fans are constantly coming back to your world every week. It becomes part of their lives because they think about it weekly. If I would have printed "reMIND" first it would probably only hold your attention for one sitting before going on the shelf. But online, my story can be part of my fans' lives for years if they follow it weekly. Think about how much more committed those fans will be than the person who just picks up the book to read once. So in a way, I think a digital audience has a chance to be more committed to your story. Honestly, I wish my favorite artists would blog about their progress and projects and release pages of their upcoming books online. I’d actually buy some of their stuff because I’d have a constant reminder about what they are working on. Hint hint.
Conversely, what do you think is the advantage of having a printed product as opposed to a purely digital one?
In my mind, a beautifully printed book is like a collector's item. If a book can’t be a desirable object then there is no reason to make it. Plus a book can be a great source of income if it’s desirable to your fans. A book can be sold to libraries and bookstores. You can send books to reviewers and big publishers. Books still have a prestige, when done right, that a webcomic wouldn’t have to most people. But a printed book alone is missing out on a huge new audience if it’s only in printed form.
If you have something purely digital, you are missing out on a huge audience too. Everyone argues that print is dead, but I can’t tell you how many people have told me they are excited to get my book so they can finally read it. I think your best bet is to make it both digital and printed in this day and age. Both mediums play off each other. The success of one builds on the success of the other.
"reMIND's" publishing process is unique in that you're doing all of the heavy lifting yourself. What have you found to be challenging about self-publishing?
The fun and challenging part of self-publishing today is that everything in the publishing industry has been thrown up in the air. All the rules are changing fast and it doesn’t even seem like the big publishers know what to do anymore because they are so ingrained with how things used to be. There are lots of successful self-publishers in the '90s but you can’t really follow their example anymore because things are completely different. What worked then, won’t work now.
You can’t just go to the library and check out a book on how to self-publish because it’s obsolete if it’s not written this year. In this way, self-publishing a graphic novel has been all about making up my own rule book and just going for it. I have to go with my gut most of the time.
Each month has a new set of challenges. This month I’m dealing with printing my book in China and learning about proofs and cloth colors. I’ve been struggling to get a better grasp on marketing and promoting recently as well. People say that doing business and creative at the same time is too hard and I totally agree. Luckily, I usually just wear one hat at a time, and this month I’m wearing a business hat. A few months from now I’ll try out my salesman hat again. With all that said, I suppose the hardest part about self-publishing is having enough time to do everything you want to do. Eventually I’ll have to start finding people to take on roles that I don’t feel like doing anymore but I want to at least do it all once so I know what each role actually involves.
Luckily a great designer, Christopher Kosek, found my website and became a fan of the comic. He became the book designer and he’s doing an amazing job. Eventually I’ll find all the right people but it will just take time.
Do you have any advice or guidance for other self-starters that want to pursue self-publishing?
Just do it! There is no better way to learn than to jump in head first. Learn to listen to a lot of advice but be hardheaded and make your own conclusions. Most importantly, you need to love what you are doing. I mean absolutely LOVE what you’re doing. If you don’t love it then you will quit before anything comes out of it. If you just want to draw comics then go work for a publisher. Self-publishing takes a strong vision of what you want and an entrepreneurial mindset. Once again. Just do it!
Pre-orders for the "reMIND" hardcover being soon. For more information and other advice on self-publishing from Jason Brubaker, check out his reMIND blog.