Siike Donnelly's comic "Solestar" is about a superhero's last day on earth, a subject that comes naturally to Donnelly, who has been through a life-threatening experience himself--a brain aneurysm that nearly killed him but, ironically, left his comics memories intact. Donnelly is writing the comic, but he has over 60 artists working on it, including "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" creator Kevin Eastman, who drew a variant cover. I asked Donnelly to talk about his experience of both the aneurysm and the creation of "Solestar," as well as his Kickstarter campaign to fund it.
CBR News: Since this project is very much infused with your personal experience, could you tell us about your brain aneurysm and how it has affected your life?
Siike Donnelly: I don't remember what led to my aneurysm rupturing. My friends said I was complaining about a headache at dinner. Since I've had migraines my whole life, no one thought anything of it. We went to a movie, and I dropped. My next memory was over a week or so later, waking up in a hospital. At first I had no idea what was going on. Took me a while to talk, and even longer to walk. Memories have come back to me, but most of them not concrete. I remember things like my name and kinda what I've been through, but almost like someone would know a Trivial Pursuit answer. It's not exactly memories, as it's just knowledge, or even memories of memories. I've had some weird changes occur as well. Some of my food preferences have changed. I was once afraid of heights, now I'm afraid of water, and I can no longer picture things in my head. I don't know what something looks like unless I'm looking right at it. As you can imagine, that's made it more difficult for me to draw, which I used to do all the time. So I may not have died from the aneurysm, but large parts of me did, and after a few years of trying, it doesn't look like those parts are coming back.
Why did you feel inspired to translate your experiences into a comic?
That's the weird thing... most of my memories are of what I know about comics. I no longer remember my first kiss, but I remember that Peter Parker's true love is Gwen Stacy (Sorry, MJ!). I can't remember most of my own family, but I knew Dick Grayson's family died at the circus. Making this project into a comic book was just the most logical [thing] due to what was still rattling around in my mind. Plus, I've seen things like the Hero Initiative doing their best to give back to those creators that paved our way here, or DC with their "We Can Be Heroes" campaign to help the Horn of Africa. We need more comics that give back. The world has many problems, and the question on the tip of most tongues in this country is, "How can I help myself?" Comics are starting to reflect that. They've become too cynical because they're often written by the cynical. The message in at least some superhero comics should be "Give more to this world than what you take. Endure the bad. Embrace the good. All life is connected. All life is worth saving." It may sound dumb and naive to most, but that's the message I want in my comics. So that phrase, word for word, is in our comic book, "Solestar." It has become our motto.
We aren't preachy in any way in the book about aneurysms. We have a story where a character or two has been affected by one, but then we print the facts and info at the back of the book for those readers who want to learn more without the story being interrupted.
You have over 60 artists working on this. How will you maintain a consistent look and feel throughout the book?
It's not easy, I'll say that. We usually work with around 10-15 artists at a time, finish those pages, then move on to the next. Luckily I have two really great guys by my side. My editors Gene Hoyle (the co-host of our podcast, Nerd Nation) and Richard Caldwell (who runs a great website called The Lottery Party) keep me on track and focused, while also going out there and helping me find more artists for the book. It's not easy for us as we all have jobs, families, pets and friends that also require our attention. Still, we know the importance of this project, so in many ways, "Solestar" has been our sanity bubble when our worlds seem to crumble.
We're also lucky to have the patience, understanding, and talents of the artists involved. Kate Carleton, Renzo Ventrella, Peter Palmiotti and pretty much all of them have been so supportive. And though there are instances in the book where the costumes don't match exactly, or someone has a slightly different hair style than the page before, our focus has been giving as many details to the artist as possible, but allowing them to bring their unique style to each page. This isn't just my project; it's all of ours.
What's fun about the book is that it's consistent in tone, but each page is a whole new adventure. Each page, you get to rediscover the world of Solestar. His journey in the book is that he's dying and out to make sure the world will be taken care of once he's gone. We're seeing this world we created through the eyes of a dying man, so every moment will be different, and by having a different artist on every page, the story reflects that.
How did you get the idea to offer holiday gift certificates?
Honestly, it just seemed to make sense. I noticed people like giving to good causes during the holidays, but they also like to get gifts as well. I mean, who doesn't? So it was a way of combining both. I'm sure it came out of a conversation with someone. I freak out a lot if we go a few days without a donation on the Kickstarter, so I am constantly trying to think of ways to get people interested. I know the holidays are tough for us all financially, but I refuse to believe that this was a bad time of year to launch a project like ours on Kickstarter. Since posting the certificates, I noticed that great minds think alike, and that other Kickstarters have them too. I think it's a great idea and I'm glad to see we're not the only ones doing it.
How did you get Kevin Eastman to be part of this?
That credit goes to my boss at Golden Apple Comics in Hollywood, Ryan Liebowtiz. Ryan has been very supportive of me during this project and has seen me at my worst while recovering. He knows first hand the pain I go through and how much I endure, tucking the pain away to be a loyal employee. People throw the phrase "you should be on disability" at me a lot when I apply for jobs. My previous boss at 44 Blue Productions, Gina Becconsall, did not. Ryan did, but only as a concerned friend. After seeing my work ethic, he no longer says the "D" word to me. He wrote Kevin after finding out what I huge fan I was and got him on board. Kevin wrote me the nicest email ever when he accepted to help us out. He not only is drawing our retailer incentive cover (so if you can't donate, go tell your local comic book store to donate, which gets them this exclusive cover for you to buy when it releases) but he is also inking the cover that I am drawing myself. That cover will be limited to under 200, and will only be available to those that donate to that tier on our Kickstarter page.
I drew a page inside the book, which Kevin offered to ink as well, but I felt I was already getting more than enough from him. I drew the interior page and cover without looking at anything for reference. It caused a lot of pain, and even a nose bleed onto one of the pages, which I then had to redraw, so I didn't want to make Kevin wait on me either. He's very busy and it's so great to have him on board with us. Plus my friend, and one of our first online supporters, Matt Bergin is now inking my page and doing a great job.
The other covers are great too. We have a MegaCon exclusive cover by Graven and Monica Ravenwolf that's an homage to a very famous George Perez cover, a Bill Morrison cover, which looks amazing, and a cover from one of my favorite comics artists in the industry today, Sean "Cheeks" Galloway. Graven, Monica, and Sean I met at cons and became friends with them. I'm so happy to have this much talent on something so small and personal. I can't wait to share all of the covers in the coming weeks on our Kickstarter page, especially Kevin Eastman's.
Part of the money you raise will go toward producing the premiums for the Kickstarter itself. Why did you think a Kickstarter was the best way to fund this project?
Honestly, I went to Kickstarter because I have no money. At all. After medical bills, being in debt while recovering and so much more, I have only $7 in my account right now. I made sure my dog, Echo, had food and a present or two for Christmas, then bought myself about $25 worth of groceries, and now I'm down to my last $7 for the next few weeks. I have lived check to check since as far back as I can remember. I figured if nothing else, maybe Kickstarter would just be good exposure for the project. Millions visit it every single day. We have more Likes on our Kickstarter page than we do the Naive Project Facebook page. So I'm just praying exposure is enough. If we don't hit our goal, I can't fund this book. I can't get it printed. Of course I'd do whatever I could, sell things, sell my car, whatever necessary to make sure it happens, but at least with Kickstarter I maybe wouldn't have to go that far. I still believe people are good and want to help each other, especially in the face of tragedy or adversity. People donating to our Kickstarter ensure that the lives we hope to save with the book one day will be a day sooner than later. Aneurysms could happen to anyone, and simple knowledge of it and the warning signs could save millions. We just want to make some cool art, tell a good story, and help people in the process. It seemed like the perfect fit for a site like Kickstarter. Hopefully people will agree and can donate.
Siike is looking to raise $11,000 by January 14 to fund "Solestar," so check out his Kickstarter page to take a look.
Now here's a quick overview of a few other interesting projects.
What's the big idea? An anthology of five short stories, told in comics and prose form, that can be read independently but share a common thread, the shadowy Kraken Corporation, which somehow is a part of each story. Each of the writers contributes a story, and all four collaborate on the fifth.
Selling point: The talent. In addition to the writers, who are all experienced pros, the list of contributing artists includes Chris Samnee, Mike Norton, Ramon Perez, and Francisco Francavilla. The cover and logo were designed by Jonathan Hickman. This promises to be a very handsome book.
Premiums: A digital copy of the book is $15, a print copy is $30 (not bad for a 200-page full-color hardcover). Additional items include stickers, temporary tattoos, a set of Kraken Corporation coasters (available on their own for $5), two different t-shirts, and a screen print of one of the stories. The $200 premium looks like quite a deal: A collection of 20 graphic novels by the members of Bad Karma. For $500 you can be drawn into a story or have lunch with the creators.
This caught my eye: The $300 premium is really something special: It includes a hand-printed mini-book and a slipcased edition of the graphic novel in a special box inset with one of the zinc plates used to print the book.
Deadline: January 10
What's the big idea? A supernatural Western set in a boomtown shortly before the Civil War. The tagline says it all: "Deadwood meets Buffy." The Kickstarter will fund the first two issues of a planned four-issue story; the two issues will be combined in a single double-sized comic.
Moving force: Andres Salazar, a filmmaker, standup comedian, and writer who also worked as an art assistant to Howard Chaykin.
Selling point: This looks like it will have a lot of appeal to fans of supernatural westerns such as "The Sixth Gun." It's clear from the Kickstarter video that Salazar has done a lot of research to establish the setting, and artist Jose Pescador has a nice ink-and-watercolor style that is quite dynamic but also effectively establishes a sense of time and place.
Premiums: A digital copy of the book, plus a poker chip magnet, will set you back $10; a print copy is $15. Higher-level premiums include shot glasses, prints, and a t-shirt. For $500, Salazar and his fellow comedians will do a comedy night (Southern California only), and the cost to be drawn into the comic is $1,000. All premiums include a thank-you note, which is a nice touch.
This caught my eye: In addition to the professional-quality Kickstarter video at the head of the page, Salazar has a much more informal video that's basically a tour of his home and all his cool comics stuff. It's kind of like a video version of Robot 6's "Shelf Porn" feature.
Goal: $2,000, which has already been surpassed.
Deadline: December 29
What's the big idea? An anthology of short comics that look at the complicated gender politics of today, as exemplified by statements that double back on themselves—"I'm a feminist BUT…"
Moving force: Cartoonists Joan Reilly and Shannon O'Leary.
Selling point: This one is all about the talent: The lineup includes Gabrielle Bell ("The Voyeurs"), Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge"), Sarah Oleksyk ("Ivy"), Vanessa Davis ("Make Me a Woman"), and Barry Deutsch ("Hereville"), among others. It's a stellar lineup, and the subject matter gives them plenty of scope for creativity as well.
Premiums: A digital copy is $10, a print edition with special bookplate is $25. From $35 up, the premiums include materials from the many contributors, including drawings of the pledger, numerous signed and sketched-in books, and original art. For $60 you can get "Big Feminist BUT" panties, boxers, or a tote bag along with the book, and for $500 you can go to dinner with either one of the editors, provided you are in New York or LA.
This caught my eye: "Please note: We paid all of our contributors a fair page rate for their work. 50% of the money we’re asking for has already gone - or will go - directly into the pockets of hard-working artists and wordsmiths." This is good to know, as the best way to support independent comics creators is to pay them, something that doesn't always happen with group Kickstarter campaigns.
Deadline: December 24