How Comics Can Be a Force for Truth

Today I got caught up in a hashtag going around on Twitter.


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This stemmed from a post from Boom Studios CEO Ross Richie about the need to continue the comics publishing industry in new ways and in new directions.

I get asked a lot why I chose to focus on comics first at Follow Networks. The simple answer is that comics can literally do anything. They can tell any story, they can connect with multiple groups of people in multiple ways. They can challenge us, and they can also give us the easiest, most accessible stories that we’ll ever see.

In his post about pushing #ComicsForward, Ross mentions that our focus should be on making comics for everyone, and he is absolutely right about this.

It’s important to immediately identify that not every comic book can be for every person. Our goal should be to find the topics and the concepts and the ideas that will attract the people who haven’t found what they are looking for in comics yet.

It’s amazing to think of the range of stories that exist currently. From family friendly, all-ages stories, to the darkest, scariest adult horror stories, to something like Sex Criminals that both in title and content presents itself in a way that proves that something that some won’t like can be the most exciting, original story in years.

What the Comic Industry Needs

In order to push the industry forward, to gain new readers, to re-ignite the creative passion for others, comics have to be willing to do things that other mediums can’t, or just simply won’t do. We, as writers and artists and creatives and journalists, should be chasing stories that tackle hard issues, that challenge what we know as a society, or that truly show something real. Indie comic publishers have a very specific opportunity to grow audiences and create projects that can have a deep effect on people’s lives, while also giving people what they are expecting, an entertaining artistic experience.

Real-life is an element of comics that sometimes gets forgotten, and I’m certainly guilty of this. For me, every story starts with real-life, but quickly must find it’s hook, or it’s twist. Sometimes I think that I’m afraid to tackle real-life. There are certainly elements of my life that have been hugely influential, that have tragic and sad, that have been incredibly happy. Why then, as a writer, am I not mining that material to create real-life stories? I’m committing here to you now to write a real story. Nothing supernatural, no mystic twist, just a real-life story. I’ve toyed with the idea of a Mumble-Comic for a long time, and now is the time that we must chase those stories.

Hard issues is another area where I think comics really have an opportunity to both challenge people, inspire people, and also to shine as an art-form.  Maybe now is the time that we need to start looking for high-impact places where comics can stand-out. I look at the controversy behind American Sniper and I immediately think that somewhere, there is probably a writer and an artist who could present stories of that magnitude and show all the angles. There are so many hot button topics that we could address fairly and with truthful representation that other industries will only tell in a way that serves their current audience, or in a way that only speaks a certain group of people. This is a chance for us to real and hard-hitting and brave.

We also need to both challenge and express what we know. Parenting. Marriage. Divorce. Violence. Activism. Excitement. Opportunity. The lives we’ve had. The lives others have had. The stories we’ve heard our entire lives. Grit. Dirt. Filth. Shine. Brightness. Gray. Color. Morality. Science. Challenges. There is a place for all of those stories in our industry.

Finally, diversity. We need more of it. It’s something I struggle with, but it’s something that I now think about every time I sit down to write a story. We need more diversity. In the people we work with and the people we create on the page. I want to work with more female artists. I want to create characters from every possible background and from every race. What I need is a better understanding of people to do that, and that is something that I think we should all work on. Get to know people and learn about them. Care about who people are. Work hard to incorporate real portrayals of people from any background into your story. We can do better here.

What I want to focus on is being brave and accessible. Move awards season is always an interesting time to learn about the creative industries and to see what people are connecting to. The hard part is that as award season happens, the majority of people haven’t seen the films that are nominated, and by the time people get to there ofter an already-developed sense of how this film, or story, or performance, or scene, is supposed to make you feel. If we are going to challenge people and push new ideas and really try to connect with people, we should be trying to get people into these stories and let them experience them their way, and we should encourage positive conversation around these stories. Community for us is so important,  it’s the core of our entire attitude, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t trace all the way down to the way our stories make people feel at the end of the day.  I want to be apart of those conversations. I want to feel what others feel.

What I don’t want to do is get to a place where I feel like I have to write a certain type of story just to connect with a certain person. Those stories should be written because they need to be told and because they need to be experienced, not because we think we’ll be looked at better or more respected or we’ll get put up on some pedestal for taking risks. Bravery is telling a story because it’s important that someone hears it, at any cost. Not telling a story that you think will sell really well because it’s coated in controversy.


Sometimes I get lost in the idea of the business of comics. With the launch of our community forum, the upcoming limited physical release of the complete Joan of Orca and the marketing that will accompany it, and the numerous projects happening that haven’t been released yet, the amount of time I’m spending focused on creativity and writing is extremely low right now, and that is a problem. When something sparks my creativity now, it’s simply hitting an Evernote doc immediately and waiting, sometimes for months, for me to re-evaluate exactly what that thought or concept was. The #ComicsForward idea has made me step back and wonder where I should really be spending my time. As a creative and an entrepreneur, I know that these stories won’t be seen without some focus on building an audience, but by focusing on new concepts, and really pushing boundaries, making comics accessible and brave, an audience will follow. It’s a tough concept to deal with.

For me, I want to spend more time reflecting on real-life and getting those stories down. I’d love to know what the idea has caused you to think about or question in your own work. Head over to the forum to discuss.



How Writing A Comic-Book Changed my Business

I never planned to start a comic company.

Selling Comics

I never even thought about a comic. I thought about reaching people, entertainment, and giving people a great experience. Those were the things that I was most interested in and the things that I was interested in betting my future on. That’s what drove me to starting a podcast.

You probably know that already. After starting MadChat, it became clear to me that doing something creative was extremely important. I’ve always been interested in business, and specifically running my own. I’ve sold things on eBay, worked as a consultant, written books and stories, all because the drive to be myself and be in control of my life strikes me often.

For a while I thought building a Podcast Network was the way to go. Podcasting is a hot property right now, and it’s something I really enjoy. I’m a huge podcast fan. That made me dive in really hard. That was the first time that something I was doing really grabbed ahold of me. Entertainment is important to me. It’s the industry I expected to work in. It’s the world I spend the most time thinking about. The podcast network had all of those things. It was a real concept, something that made an impact and was gaining an audience. Plus it was able to produce some revenue right out of the gate. That wasn’t something that I was looking for, but it was a pleasant surprise. It was fun, there was a business model, and it seemed like something that could really become big.

But it wasn’t enough.

I immediately started looking at more ways to create. With the podcast network running, and the framework in place to create an environment where creativity was being encouraged, the idea for Horrible Prequels was born. We ran a successful Kickstarter, and from nothing we created a cartoon series. We were even able to relaunch the YouTube component of our podcast network that existed in the early stages, but was lost as we tried to grow. It was a lot of fun. It did a lot for me as a person:

It showed me how much I like to write.
It let me manage a project with multiple moving parts.
It got me WAY out of my comfort zone.
It brought me closer to the people I enjoy working with.

It also brought something to light. The idea to create a comic-book was born completely from the creation of Horrible Prequels. It was clear that we needed to do things different. Comics are pretty common. We wanted to bring in the rest of the world into our process. You can’t tell the writer of X-Men what you want to happen. We wanted to change that.

That is where the idea for community-focused comics came from.

It’s from that place that we went to Atlanta one year ago with a drawing of a cow and asked people what they thought about the idea. We asked if they had any ideas or thoughts about what a zombie cow would do. We asked them what a zombie cow comic would look like. We had conversations. People were interested. We got stacks of notes. We took most of them and put them into the basic outline.

Those notes were used to create our first indie comic release, called B0VINE. The entire process was fascinating. As a group, we had collaborated before and we knew that there was great power in it. They also formed the basis of where Follow Networks would go as a company. (note from Chad – We changed the pricing of B0VINE this week to Pay What You Want. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, go get it for free)

So here we are, 1 year later, and today we are launching a new chapter in our company. The idea of community collaboration has been expressed and talked about in our community for awhile now, but starting today, it is who we are.

We are set up to do something that no one else can do. We have the opportunity to work very fast. We have the opportunity to help each other and create something special. Those are things that we are going to focus on.

It all starts with projects. Projects are the heart and soul of what we’re going to do. Each comic starts as a project. Every project will have a different scope and scale. Some will have opportunities to develop every aspect of a story, while some will be more focused on individual details. These projects will begin, and live, in the Follow Networks forum.

Each project will get it’s own post in the forum, which will serve as a place to share ideas, work them out, interact with the rest of the community, and watch as projects take shape to become full fledged WORKS OF ART! Or comic books. Or maybe movies. Or shows. Card games? Apps? You never know. Probably comics though.

Community is at the heart of the whole concept.

I’ll comment more on community in a later post, but I want to be perfectly clear that we aren’t here to steal people’s ideas, profit off of people’s ideas, or generally bullshit our community in a way that makes this whole experience shitty for everyone involved. I’m personally staking my entire reputation on this concept. With that in mind, here is what you can expect.

We’re going to have a fun time. We’ll have different projects, different styles, and Follow Networks will do everything it can to create an environment where you want to share, give input, and be involved with what we are doing. The key to this is giving you ownership of the things we are doing.

Contributors to projects will earn an ownership stake in those projects.

When those projects profit, we will split the profits 50/50 with you. Half will go back to the company to keep the foundation strong, and the other half will go to the contributors. It’s super simple, and it’s going to be a blast. With that much at stake for you as a community member, we want to make sure we are holding up our end of the bargain. We’ll be doing as much as possible to increase your share. As we grow, we’ll be working on biz dev to get into the comic shops in your communities so you can more easily share with your friends, and we’ll also be creating a one-of-a-kind online comic shopping process, which allows easy and inexpensive access to those just looking for a quick read and a great piece of entertainment, and also rewards the most loyal fans and community members with fun extras and deeper experiences.

We’ll also be doing other cool stuff to help make you feel at home in this little community. The first 100 members are going to get something special, outside of the exclusive comic we’re working on, called The Weird Ones. We’ll have giveaways and games. All sorts of the things you’d expect from a group of fun-loving people.

Comics are something that I have always loved. I fell out of love with them for a while, but the classics have always been cemented in my mind. Writing B0VINE took me to a new place.

The opportunity here is limitless. The comic audience is an incredible one. The passion and fandom that exists in this world is extraordinary. What excites me the most is giving those people the chance to help shape stories and concepts they are excited about. The thing that makes this work is speed. We are a small company. We have the ability to quickly work through ideas, build new ideas, and get them in front of an audience in half the time it takes for the publishers you already know. As we scale up to releasing more projects, we want the ability to go from idea to fully-realized comic-book in weeks, not months.

Story is something that is also extremely important to this idea. The key thing I want to get across here is this: We will not be doing things the way others do, and, at first, we won’t be doing things the way you expect. We are in a world of short attention span, and while part of me wants to do everything I can to combat this as a creator, I know that I am fighting a losing battle. As such, we are going to focus on creating what I am calling comic seasons. Each project will result in a story that we will lay out in a way similar to a TV season. Each season of a comic will be a certain number of episodes. The goal here is to create an amazing experience that is contained in a smaller package and gives you a chance to catch your breathe, or discover new stories, or head into the forums and help form the next season of a project. Initial projects will have first season runs of 6-8 issues, or episodes. We will also have an opportunity to create graphic novel length stories that function more along the lines of films. Something to think about for the future.

The last piece of this puzzle is being seen. We’ve begun holding panel events at comic-cons, and we plan to continue to grow our presence. We’ll be doing more panels, events, exhibiting, and doing everything we can to get these projects into the hands of as many people as possible. Again, we want to make this worth your while. If you have a place you think we should be, let us know. Be everywhere. That’s the idea. That includes creating content that fits with our goals that will exist only on digital, on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, as well as special physical editions that will give those looking for special features or amazing experiences an opportunity to get something really special. It’s important to note that currently, our strategy with physical comics will be greatly focused on exclusivity and limited releases. We’ve got some big plans for future releases. I’m crazy excited to show things off.

Our community is just starting, but there are projects already underway in the forum. I’ll be in there, working right along side with you. Look for more interesting stuff here on this blog. We’ll be diving behind the scenes and showing you everything that goes into what we are doing.

One of my highest priorities is to be extremely transparent. I believe that you should be able to see as much of what we are doing, and planning to do, as possible. Now, there are going to be sometimes when we launch special projects that may have some secrecy to them, but that will just add to the fun.

So what now? I suggest heading over to the forum and joining up. We’re working on a new collaborative indie comic called The Weird Ones that is all about a cult. It should turn out pretty great. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We’ll be updating the website and all the content in realtime, so be on the lookout for changes.

See you in the forum.