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In the intro I mention the expansion of Nook into the UK and other European countries, some of the lessons learned from hitting the NY Times & USA Today lists with the Deadly Dozen box-set, an update on my own writing, and I mention the brilliant LearnScrivenerFast training.
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Nathan Massengill is the author and artist for the Viscera graphic novel series. His comic credits include Wolverine, X-Men, Batman and other New York Times best-selling comics. He’s also collaborated with notable creatives, including Joss Whedon on Buffy and also with Christopher Nolan.
You can watch the video of the interview here on YouTube, or listen to the audio podcast above, or by subscribing here. You can read the full transcription below. Highlights of the conversation include:
- Nathan's background in comics and how the fans of comics really are super-fans
- Why strong female characters are so interesting (and rare) in comics, and why Nathan chose to write one in Viscera
- Why we love superheroes and action violence
- How Nathan actually creates comics
- How the distribution works with comics including Amazon's new Kindle ComicCreator tool
- Why authors should adapt their books into graphic novels
- How to find and work with graphic novelists
- On crowdfunding for graphic novels
You can find Nathan at NathanMassengill.com and Viscera comic at RingRunning.com. Nathan is also on twitter @NAMartist. You can read the full transcription below, and please leave a comment if you have experience with graphic novels or have any questions for Nathan.
Nathan Massengill Interview Transcription
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I’m here with Nathan Massengill. So, welcome to the show, Nathan!
Nathan: Thank you very much. It’s an honor.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. Now, just as an introduction, Nathan is the author and artist for the Viscera graphic novel series. His comic credits include Wolverine, X-Men, Batman and other New York Times best-selling comics. He’s also collaborated with notable creatives, including Joss Whedon on Buffy and also with Christopher Nolan. Uber-famous, Nathan – that’s an amazing list of credits!
Nathan: Oh, no, no. It’s comics.
Joanna: I know, but within the world, comics have this amazing audience, right? Fans of comics are uber-fans.
Nathan: Yeah, they really are. I’ve often said that, and I just came back from a convention in Pensacola, where they expected 3,500 people to come at the most, and around 15,000 ended up showing up. They had to turn them away, it was more people than had ever been at a convention in Pensacola before. So, this is a big change from when I started in comics, when you were very lucky to get 100, 200, 300 people. The fans are growing, the online world is expanding exponentially, and comic book fans are incredibly loyal, kind, supportive, generous: they’re the best, highest-quality fans any author could hope for.
Joanna: That’s amazing. You talked a bit there about starting:
Can you just tell us a bit more about your career and how you progressed?
Nathan: Well, since kindergarten, that’s all I’ve ever done. When I got out of high school, I went for two years to a technical school run by Joe Kubert called the Joe Kubert School of Art, that actually trains comic book artists, and I got to work with Joe Kubert there, one of the great legends in American comics. And it was a wonderful experience, and from there, as soon as I got out of school, I started doing small jobs, and, and about 1992, I worked on my first Wonder Woman comic book, who happens to be my favorite superhero character to this day, and I’ve done it ever since.
Joanna: And how about the difference between working on comics and then working on things like Buffy? I mean, you’ve got to think of me as not knowing anything. How, how does that progression work?
Nathan: Well, Joss Whedon decided a wonderful thing: since Buffy on television was canceled, and everybody wanted the series to continue, obviously, including Joss Whedon, he decided, why don’t we continue the TV show in comics? So he did Season 8 and Season 9 of Buffy as a comic book, and it’s really been amazing to see a TV show live on, in a way that otherwise it would just be a piece of history already, and still it’s going on. And I got to work on just a little bit of Season 9, and since Joss Whedon is one of my favorite creators, it was great to work on his project. And I love Buffy: I think Buffy is one of the great characters in cinema.
Joanna: That’s amazing. And you mentioned Wonder Woman there as one of your favorites, and of course in your comic, Viscera is a female protagonist, very kick-ass.
What, what is your attraction to the strong female character?
Nathan: Well, you could probably answer that as well as I could, with your wonderful characters. And I think, honestly, I find female characters as leads to be much more interesting. We see a lot less of them: I think there’s a lot more you can do with them dramatically, especially in combat situations, and it just is something that we see a lot less of. I enjoy them more: I would watch – when Hercules and Xena were on at the same time, I’m a Xena guy, I was watching Lucy Lawless as Xena. And I have always felt that the female leads were strongly under-represented, and I’ve naturally always written strong female leads.
Joanna: And I suppose the impression with most of the women in comics is they have kind of large breasts and small waists and are quite, you know, the chain mail armor, is that the kind of stereotype?
Nathan: Yeah, comics, especially in the 1990s, went through this long period of extremely sexist depictions of the characters, and strangely, although the depictions were sexist, often the characters themselves, beyond the rendering and the rendition of the characters, were actually kind of unusually dominant and powerful. They weren’t weak or submissive: they were very strong. But the drawings themselves were very sexist in the way they were just portrayed.
But, then again, as many of my fellow artists have pointed out, we don’t look like Superman, either! And, you know, we’re not complaining about it. My friend, Adam Hughes, always says that. And everyone in a superhero world is extremely extreme in their physicality. Viscera is in that range, because of the particular theme that I’ve chosen, and people are supposed to expect one thing from her and get entirely the opposite. So, it’s kind of playing on that paradigm of what you see is not always what you get. And I think that it’s very interesting.
And comics are changing a lot. Usually they’re at the forefront of cultural changes, particularly related to women, and I’ll hope they continue to go forward in that, although there are some notable misses.
Joanna: Well, it’s interesting you say that, because my character, Morgan Sierra, who I kind of see as my alter ego, of course is perfectly proportioned and can fight and can do all these things, it’s kind of near a superhero. And I don’t complain when Thor takes his top off!
Nathan: No, I haven’t heard any women complaining about Chris Hemsworth! None.
Joanna: Sexism is in lots of things.
Nathan: In fact, I think the beauty standard was pretty much reversed in the Avengers movie, in that everybody, everybody was going to see the guys and, and, the Black Widow, as awesome as she is, and the actress is Scarlett Johansen, she was overshadowed by her male leads, which was something very unusual, and not unwelcome, just different.
Joanna: And just on that, with the gender balance, I’m wondering, with actual comic book artists like yourself, is it a male-dominated industry?
Nathan: Well, that was the thing when I was growing up and when I started in the business: you would go to a comic book convention, and there would be absolutely no women there. I’m not talking about maybe one or two or three: none. And if one did walk in, it was the wife or the girlfriend of the guy who was dragging her along, and she was very uncomfortable, because everybody was looking at her, and like, “What is that woman doing here?” and nobody likes to be looked at and singled out and stared at.
And particularly since, I think, women are finding a greater access to comics; anybody can now go to Amazon and, and download comics and be involved in it, and we’ve finally been able to disprove it: a lot of the things that the big bosses think about what women want is obviously completely idiotic, and usually absolutely wrong. And it turns out, women can like the Avengers and the old thinking was that women would never like the Avengers, and that you couldn’t even have female leads in comic books, because who would read them? Guys won’t want to read that, and women won’t – well, they weren’t in the audience at that time. And now, I think women make up a significant portion of the readership, and it’s growing all the time, and it’s revolutionized comics, and it’s made it really a lot more fun to be involved in comics.
Joanna: And conventions – Comicon would be the famous one, right – everyone kind of dresses up.
Joanna: All the pictures seem to be men and women now; it just seems to be a lot of fun.
Joanna: Do you dress up at these conventions?
Nathan: Oh, no, no. Nobody wants to see me in a Thor costume, it’s not going to happen. No, I leave that to the experts. The cosplayers are amazing, and they brought a lot of fun to a convention, and some of the costumes they create are better than movie quality costumes. It’s really amazing. Everybody has fun, and, and women are feeling more and more comfortable at these conventions, even though they get a lot of the same flak they get in the world outside. I hope that the comic book community and the fandom for science fiction and fantasy will continue to be more and more embracing of the cosplayers and people that just go to have fun and have a great time.
Joanna: I must say, I would really fancy dressing up in some of this stuff: it just does look really good – but just very expensive, to be fair!
Nathan: Yeah, they spend so much time on these things, they build the things from scratch, and it’s like a whole lifestyle, and I can’t imagine, I would never want to dress up as any character at all, but I admire it, I’m always stopping people who are walking by my table to run out and take a picture with them, and I admire it so much, and the enthusiasm. It’s an incredibly exciting environment to be in. And, like I say, conventions today are nothing like they were in the past.
Joanna: I wonder, I mean, it really is mainstream now, you know, Marvel and the movies we watch, a lot of these blockbuster movies are superhero movies now, you know. I think recently I watched The Man of Steel. I mean, I love explosion movies, so all these movies, I really love the Avengers. I mean, Wolverine: Wolverine was fantastic!
Nathan: Hugh Jackman, yeah. Women like Hugh Jackman for some reason: I don’t know why!
Joanna: Oh, shirt-off fight scene, I mean, that was the best. With swords. Dangerous stuff!
Nathan: It’s amazing, yeah.
Joanna: It was amazing.
Why do you think people want the superhero stuff? I mean, what is it that’s wrong with our society that we want that?
Nathan: Well, that’s a very interesting question. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, because, you know, I loved superheroes when I was a kid, and I just assumed I would do the same thing: I’d find girls and get cars, get interested in cars or sports or something and just grow out of this crazy phase. But I never really stopped liking superheroes, because they changed.
Around 1986, when I was at that 16-year-old period, where I’m like, “OK, I’m going to switch out”, Alan Moore’s comics started coming out: the Watchmen came out. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight came out. And there was a renaissance of comic books which were revisionist, in that they didn’t follow the old scripts, where people suddenly began to take it seriously, began to listen to what Will Eisner and the original generation of comic book artists were saying comic books could be. And people start burning them in piles, calling them the Devil’s literature, and all that stuff.
And they just grew up, along with me, and so I’ve constantly found something new to be interested in. You know, the reasons I was interested in Wonder Woman have changed over the years as you begin to think about what a character like this means; if you’re a feminist, or into feminist theory, and you look at Buffy, a lot of Buffy fans have a great time saying, “Is she really feminist? Is it really a feminist series?” and “Is Wonder Woman really feminist, and if not, why not, where’s the miss, where’s the disconnect?”
And so, you can really bring that kind of analysis to these power fantasies. But people love them because everybody wants to be able to do what a superhero does. You like the explosions and people making explosions; you like Morgan Sierra because what other people would only think about doing, she just goes out and does it! You know, she’s not afraid and she’s smart and she’s pretty and she shoots stuff: she’s just great. And who doesn’t want to do that? I mean, it’s a lot more fun than reading a book about politics or something. Who cares?
Joanna: I totally agree with you. And I also think that a lot of these characters have the dark side and they are complicated characters, they’re not just simple anymore, are they. They’ve all got this dark side. And also there’s a battle and overcoming and, I mean, all the great character creation is in these superheroes, really.
Nathan: It’s true. I mean, they come out of myth. Modern mythology, modern symbols of mythology have come out of comic books. Everything from Superman’s S to Batman’s bat symbol, there’s a million iconic images that have come out of these myths. Humans have always loved myths and ideas of things bigger than ourselves, beyond ourselves, to get out of our ordinary common world, and, comics came out of pulp fiction, which was really dark and, and really harsh, and they came out of that world, and it imbued all that material.
And up until the 50s in America, comic books really had a lot of roundness and depth and thought put into them, and then, of course, the government censored comics, effectively censored them and shut them down: thank you, McCarthy. And they were kind of, after that point, put in this little image of “This is a child’s literature”, and they’re only recovering, beginning to recover, from that in the past few years. And now people take them very seriously, thanks to some very pioneering creative individuals who’ve outlived that vicious censorship.
Joanna: I would agree with you. And, so, just getting to the more kind of technical side of things, what do you actually do?
Do you write stuff, type stuff, and do you then draw, with a pen and paper, or on a computer system? How do you actually work?
Nathan: I do all the different aspects. I’ve always wanted to be a writer-artist, which is a kind of a rare combination, a creator, like Frank Miller, who, who writes his own material and draws it as well. But typically, comics are broken up into subcategories, like a band is broken up into subcategories. A lot of my career has been spent as a finisher or an inker, where I’m kind of a just a part of a team that’s creating a book, and other times I’ve been fortunate to write something or color it or letter it.
And all the different aspects I’ve enjoyed doing, and it’s just very interesting, but it’s broken down into a lot of little minute technical lingo and subcategories and small, little kind of very small teams to create the book, but they’re almost always created by teams of people.
Joanna: And, if people want to have a go at drawing – I’m just thinking because your, Viscera looks like it’s hand-drawn, but is that hand-drawn or is it drawn on a computer program?
Nathan: Yes, yes. Viscera is definitely hand-drawn, although there are computer elements to it. The genre right now is moving more and more digital: all of the color that you see in the mainstream books, in Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, all of it is going to be done on computer. And the lettering: there used to be people who made their living doing hand-lettering for comics; now people make their living doing digital lettering for comics. And so a lot of the process, even a hand-drawn kind of organic-looking book like Viscera, is going to have computer elements.
And so sometimes you’ll draw it on your little drawing board, and you put it on your scanner, and you put it in the computer, and then you think, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a million ways I can improve this”, and so it’s a very integrated process, and a lot of people are doing it many different ways. I can do Viscera entirely digitally and never touch paper, but I feel like, with that particular book, it was very experimental in its style, and very organic, and so I was really interested in minimalism and just going back to very simple style black and white only, no grays, nothing, and just seeing how little information I could put on a page to tell the story, to make it more immersive for the reader.
Us crazy artists, we think of all that kind of stuff. You do the same thing as a novelist, when you’re thinking, of, “Am I going to make a really flowery description on this page, or is it going to slow down the narrative pace so much?” – artists think of exactly the same thing. When I listen in to your podcast and authors are talking about things that go into novels, it’s surprising how exactly similar they are to the artistic process or the process of writing a comic.
Joanna: Because, of course, you might have one line of dialogue or maybe no dialogue, and you’ve drawn a scene with a background, a backdrop, a physical setting, and an action. So actually, you almost don’t have to say a lot, you just have to draw it!
Nathan: Right. And there’s an old saying in comics: “Show, don’t tell”, and I think it’s a great rule for novelists as well that it’s a lot better if you can suggest what your hero is doing, in a kind of parallel narrative or a parallel idea, rather than just saying, “Now John is angry”. You know, in a comic book, you show them as angry. Hulk breaks a wall down and you know he’s mad. It’s a lot more fun to see him break the wall down than to say in the caption, “Hulk angry”. Well, that’s kind of fun. But you know what I mean.
And so, with a comic book, you’re juggling these multiple narratives. There’s incredibly long sequences in Viscera where I have almost no dialogue, and I have that opportunity to move the reader through that scene much like you would with quick shots in an action movie, and so it’s a lot of fun. And when I’m getting into these intimate moments, where they’re sitting by a fireside and they’re talking, I just switch it all to text, because that’s a data dump: that’s a time when, OK, you can skip it as a reader, or, if you’re really interested in the kind of fireside chat, which I think is one of the best parts of the book, then you’ll sit down and you’ll be immersed in the dialogue itself, and not distracted by the two people sitting round talking, which is an easy thing to shoot in a movie; it’s a great thing to write in a novel; but it really, really sucks in a comic book.
Because the last thing you want Hulk to do is sit at a bar and talk with the other Avengers, and then the camera goes back–you don’t want talking heads in a comic book, and that’s one way that comics are very different than films and novels and everything else. There’s things that you can do in the medium of a comic book that you can’t do in any other medium, and it gives you all kinds of creative license, an unlimited special effects budget, and just really, if your artist is very good, and he can make your characters act and he can bring your setting in and make you feel like you’re really in China, or really on the Moon, then you, as a writer, can really cut back on what narrative you need to put in place, and really just focus your words on that one iconic idea.
Alan Moore will often write a story in his dialogue that’s absolutely separate from what you’re watching in the background, so that you have this incredibly textual and visual experience that sometimes merge and sometimes move forward, but it’s never replicated, he’s never saying in his dialogue or in his word balloons what you’re looking at, because they never need to be replicated.
Joanna: It is absolutely fascinating, it really is. And then, in terms of actually producing and distributing a comic, once you’ve made it digitally, how are things working now with print versus digital: how are you getting work out there and how are others getting work out there?
Nathan: Well, it’s again been a real revolution, a very exciting time, because there was a huge barrier before the Internet world, there was an incredible barrier, particularly to color comics, something you would have to order to get any kind really great reproduction, or really to make it cost-effective: you might have to order 20,000 copies.
Now, there’s wonderful print-on-demand publishers, particularly my friend Barry Gregory, who runs a company called Ka-Blam.com, and he will print a color book; at the same cost he will print 100, he’ll print one, and he will send them just like the other print fulfilment orders, but they’re as good as books run on an offset press. They’re beautiful, every book he takes care with, so you might run your comic book for a dollar or two, and one copy at a time. So, an author can invest in a color comic, and not have to have those classic boxes of books sitting around, and even comics can do that now.
And that, breaking the color barrier that way, has been great, and of course the digital revolution is even better, in a lot of ways. As it’s expanding, the devices are getting better and better at displaying them, and so I’m hoping that comics will get out of the boutique market they’re in, and come back into the forefront of literature, the way the movies have done for comics.
Joanna: I’ve read about Kindle Comic Creator, which is a new thing: do you know anything about that?
Nathan: I did put Viscera into the Kindle Comic Creator. It was a really interesting process, because, particularly Viscera has a very unconventional, experimental panel structure (panels are the little boxes that you read through one at a time), and so I spent a lot of time shooting the book, I would create where the panel goes, and overlap the panels so that there’s a kind of cinematic experience, almost, for the book, and I ended up, some things even worked better in the Kindle Creator than they work in the book.
But it’s awkward, because I think a lot of the things that Kindle Comic Creator is doing now, it’s difficult to say, but it’s kind of compensating for the lack of resolution and the lack of screen size that’s still there. The next generation or two of devices, or the larger devices presently, are going to really change that idea. The Kindle Comic Creator, instead of displaying the whole static page, will zoom in and give you a guided panel view, so that you’ll switch from one panel to another. It took me three days to, to set up those panel views: three working days. Very long days. And it was very interesting, but it is not a simple process, especially for a one-man shop. It’s not terribly easy. But it was satisfying to do, and very interesting, and the software is great. Anybody can do it.
Joanna: Anyone with three days and is a comic man like yourself! But I guess what it does show is that Amazon believe that comics are a market, otherwise they wouldn’t have done this.
Nathan: Comics are a huge market. The comic book print market, even, which people have been proclaiming dead since about 1996, is resurging. The comic book print market in 2012, I believe, resurged 12 %. So it’s coming back, even, and the digital market is expanding exponentially every year. We still have a lot of issues of comics being kind of segregated off in a different distribution chain than novels: one of the things that I’ve enjoyed listening to your show for is because you’re talking about how to put novels into, into the digital distribution chain, how to get noticed, how to get brought forward, but for comics creators, it’s very difficult, because we’re even in a submarket of a submarket.
So, I’ve been really interested in seeing if I could apply some of the rules and guidance that you so generously and brilliantly bring forward on your show, and apply that to a graphic novel. I haven’t achieved success at it yet, but the process is still on-going, and I’m really interested in getting out of the submarket and seeing if there’s a way to bridge novels and graphic novels. I think it’s something that novelists should really do, I’d love to see those markets integrate, and a lot more novelists do graphic novels, and a lot more graphic novelists do novels, and maybe even make hybrid editions, to really kind of supplement. I mean, there’s a lot of potential to do novel and innovative things, and expand novelists, if they would go and make graphic novels out of their novels.
Hey, you know, that’s an extra piece for your market. That’s something brand new that you can market, even though it’s the same story that you’ve already invested all that time and writing, suddenly you’ve got a new product, and everybody that loves your book is going to want to read the graphic novel, and people are going to read their graphic novel that didn’t read the novel. And there’s no other way, I think, that a novelist or graphic novelist could reach a completely different market; there’s not a lot of cross-over between the comic book market and the novel market, but the fans of both are extraordinary, and I think that the more these markets merge, and the more people consider there to be very little difference between a novel and a graphic novel, in terms of what they will buy, the better it will be for both genres.
Joanna: Yeah, I mean, when you think about, I mean, when I write, I think about it as a movie, because I love the action movies.
Joanna: It’s such a tiny percentage of people that will ever see their books as a movie, but realistically, a graphic novel is kind of the closest you can get, really, isn’t it.
Nathan: Yeah, it is the bridge, a lot of people view it as the bridge. I know a lot of directors now, major directors, who are saying, “If you want me to read your script, make it a graphic novel, then I’ll look at it”. They won’t even look at the print scripts anymore: they are pulling all their work out of graphic novels, because if you think about it, the graphic novel is a movie that’s already way down the line. I’ve done a small article on my website about this, I go into more depth on it there, but it’s like, a novel is an enormous work of imagination to translate into film, but a graphic novel is already, the sets are built, all the characters are cast, the complete world is designed, all these elements are there, the pacing is there; the storyboards, the all-important storyboards, are there.
And the differences between storyboards, which directors shoot from, and a graphic novel are really not that big. In fact, it’s usually comic book artists and illustrators who are doing those storyboards for the director, so it’s like already their movie is moved five steps forward, and they can really see it. They can see what’s wrong, they can see what’s right, they can see what they can improve, which is probably great for them, because they’re going to look forward to changing things around, so I think it’s the gateway between the two.
It’s easier to get a novel read than a screenplay, perhaps, because directors just have piles of them; it’s a lot easier to pick up a graphic novel, you can look through it in a few seconds, and know if you’re going to like it or not. You can’t do that with a screenplay. You can’t do it in any other way. It’s very, very appealing to time-strapped people in Hollywood.
Joanna: OK, so now I’m really excited, and I’m sure lots of people listening are also excited. So, if people want to work with a graphic artist like yourself – because most novelists or writers are not going to be able to do this on their own, because you need an artist.
How would people find and work with graphic artists who are up for doing this kind of thing?
Nathan: Well, the article I’ve done on my website covers a lot of this, but the basic thing you want to do, is if you know a comic book artist, ask them who’s good, who’s available. I do a lot of consulting work, people often write me and say, “I’ve got a novel, is it, is it a good graphic novel?” I have a friend of mine who’s a brilliant novelist, and he’ll often bring me his concept, and I’ll say, “Ah-ah, no, that’s not a novel, that’s a graphic novel”, and he’ll completely write his novel in that form, and I’ll say, “What you have primarily in your novel is visual, therefore it’s going to play better and quicker and be more immersive as a graphic novel”.
So you can go to a consultant and really decide whether or not your book is appropriate for a graphic novel, whether, if it’s a lot of just talking heads, then you have words, but if you have action scenes, if you have sequences, if you have a mystery that involves a lot of visual elements, if you have, a celebrity bio, a techno-thriller, all these things make fantastic graphic novels, and so you should go to a consultant, and they will recommend you to an artist.
Always go with somebody that has experience doing comic books: just a graphic artist, as you say, will not necessarily be a good comic book artist. A comic book artist is a subspecialty of a subspecialty, it’s one of the hardest and most difficult fields of all commercial art, because you have to draw so many panels, so often, you have to be able to draw everything in great volume, very quickly. And so you want to go with an expert, with somebody who’s done it, has a proven track record, and so that’s why you want to talk to people who’ve done it, and, and get linked up with somebody, but if you do that, and it’s not hard, because it’s the online world now, you can find an artist who’s excited about your work, who gets it, who has this style, and you can have this mutual admiration society of people, and you can get it funded pretty easily, you know.
I would say, if your book is already successful, so you published your novel, and it’s sold over 3,500 copies, then I think you should definitely begin to consider making it a graphic novel. If you’re over 5,000, yeah, you definitely should have one. Why not? And if you’re over 15,000 in sales, it’s a no-brainer; I mean, you’ve got to do it, because you should have the fan audience to easily crowdfund it, and get it done, and it’s just going to expand. The amount of difference it will make, I think, to a novelist’s audience is incredible.
It’ll get you into comic book audiences, you can merge your fanbase with an artist’s fanbase, you get these great fans that you’ve never had before, you can, all-important, add to that catalogue. You’ve talked on your show so often about getting to that magical number of books, and a graphic novel, you can put one right in there. You could make deluxe editions of your novel bound with the graphic novel in a digital world. So many possibilities.
Joanna: It really is. And, you mentioned, really, we’re talking funding, so we’re talking Kickstarter
Joanna: Things like that. And I don’t want people to think it’s easy, because I’ve always shied away from Kickstarter, because even though I’ve been online for a while now, I would doubt that I have a big enough audience. I think we all feel this sort of worry that it wouldn’t be there.
So, if people do want to do Kickstarter and get funding, what sort of funding level would we be talking about for a graphic novel?
Nathan: Well that’s a tricky think. It’s tricky because when you go with Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, or some of the others, it’s not only Kickstarter, each one has different attributes and different value, , and different accessibility levels. Particularly with Kickstarter, you have to have an Amazon account to make that contribution, so for people who are contributing to it gives them a little bit of a barrier, which reduces their ability to impulse purchase.
So, it’s very different, in terms of which crowdsource to pick, and it will depend on what incentives you’re offering, and your time frame, how quickly you think you can raise the money. But y let’s say we want to create a 64-page graphic novel – you can get a lot of novels condensed into a 64-page graphic novel – you’ve got to consider when you’re doing this that your artist is going to spend a very long time doing this book, so they need money to do it, particularly if they’re not getting a split of the creative rights.
There’s a lot of issues that come into this that hopefully that article on my website will help with. People really access this idea, but you want to look at what it would cost them per page. Novelists work on advances, where you’ll get, from a traditional publishing company, an advance for your book, and comic book artists work on page rates. So you want to figure out, “OK, what do I really need to pay my artist per page, to do this”, and then you would multiply that by the amount of pages, and you’d begin to need to figure out at that point, what you’ll need to clear to get your book done in a reasonable amount of time. That’s the way to get it, to get the book funded.
Getting it into print is relatively very simple. That’s not the difficult part. The difficult part is the patience it takes to get it done, and the page rate to get it produced. It’s a very different process to working on a novel. It usually will take the artist longer to do the graphic novel than it will take the writer to write the novel! I know novelists who can write three novels in the time I can do a 64-page graphic novel! So, you know, especially if it’s a color, if it’s in those beautiful painted colors.
Artists’ prices, their needs, will vary. But I would look at the number of pages versus what your artist will need to spend as close to full time as possible working on the book, because that’s what it’s going to take. You can’t just casually do the art on a graphic novel; it’s a big process. You can shoot a feature film in a shorter period of time than it takes to do a graphic novel.
Joanna: It is pretty major. And just a question on rights. I mean, it’s fine if, like me, you self-publish and you own all the rights, but if people have signed contracts with people, what is the subsidiary right that graphic novel would come into? If they’ve sold print rights, have they sold graphic novel rights, or does it come under multimedia, do you know about that side of it?
Nathan: Well, that’s an excellent question, and there’s a lot of legal considerations – especially if you’re negotiating with a traditional publisher, or you’re negotiating with anybody where there’s rights issues involved, I would highly recommend that you reserve to yourself the graphic novel rights or the adaptation rights, or negotiate it with your publisher, because, believe me, they’ll want to have a say in that. And it’s very important that the graphic novels and other types of media adaptations: web comic adaptations, audio book adaptations, all these things need to be spelled out, in any legal contract.
It needs to be spelled out in a legal contract between the author and the artist, because the artists are doing a lot of original designs, a lot of things, so if it’s going to be a work for hire arrangement with the artist, that needs to be spelled out; if there’s a certain percentage of creator rights that are going to switch, or change hands, that needs to be spelled out. It’s something that has to be looked at at every level and every detail, in order to avoid misunderstandings. It’s better for everybody, but it’s not that complicated. It just needs to be addressed directly.
Joanna: I just wanted to raise that, because I know some people listening to the show have sold some rights, so it’s just a question that is important.
Nathan: Yeah, and when you’re looking, if you were a novelist working with a traditional publishing house, they may be very interested if you approach them in, in adapting your novel to a graphic novel, and they may be able to provide the funding for that themselves. They may be interested in doing that. So, it’s well worth approaching them and saying, “Look, I’ve got a great artist who’s willing to do this, we’ve got to figure a certain percentage of the sales we’ve already made, we can definitely make with this graphic novel”, all the ancillary benefits; the increased benefit and likelihood of the book being translated to film.
A lot of traditional publishing houses, HarperCollins is working with Neil Gaiman and graphic novels, and those are big business. So, they’re definitely worth talking to traditional publishers about. And indie publishers, self-publishers, they still have these issues to address with whomever they’re going to subcontract or work with as a partner to do their graphic novels.
Joanna: Wow, it’s so interesting, and we could talk forever on this, I have so many questions, but we’re running out of time.
Tell people a bit more about Viscera.
Nathan: Viscera is my attempt to do an actual feminist superheroine. You know since Gloria Steinem put Wonder Woman on the cover of the first Ms. Magazine in 1972, I believe it was, people have been looking for what a feminist superheroine would be. What would she look like, what would she do? And Viscera is my attempt to create that character.
She’s in the mold of Sarah Connor from the Terminator, and also she’s got a lot of Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a lot of punk sensibilities, and she’s fighting, really, the rape culture. I figured if a feminist super superhero was going to exist, what is she going to fight, what is the frontline of the feminist struggle? And I thought, well, they’ve been the ones that have named what rape is, they defined it and began to fight for those rights, in the 60s and 70s. And I think that that’s what a feminist superheroine would do. Wonder Woman would not come to man’s world to bring hope to it: she’d come to destroy it. She’d come to say, “OK, it isn’t a man’s world, this is a world for everybody”.
And so Viscera’s a very dark story, it comes with trigger warnings, and it’s about very dark subject that is, I think, suitable to a feminist philosophy where feminists are always having to come out and say things nobody wants to hear! You know, they don’t want to hear that stuff. And it’s a not a book designed by the rules which you often discuss on your show. I broke most of them, knowing what they were! But it was a book written out of passion rather than out of some sort of desire to create a best-seller, and I know it will never be that, but other projects hopefully will come along that will, sell more.
But some people have been kind enough to say that it’s meant something to them. It’s dedicated to survivors of violence, and I think more people need to speak about it, particularly more men, and so, it’s not an activist book, it’s a paranormal thriller, it’s really dark, experimental, and hopefully people will like it.
Joanna: I really, I think ‘enjoy’ is the wrong word, I mean, it’s, it’s not a light-hearted, enjoyable kind of read, but in terms of the fact that I like women who are kind of, you know, I like writing violent women as well!
Nathan: Yeah, with a superhero, there’s a great cathartic relief, because she gets to fight this rape culture directly: she can stab it, she can stab it in the chest, and kill it, whereas people in the real world, it’s much more shadowy, it’s much more difficult to get a handle on. And so, in that sense hopefully it’s a cathartic release for people. It does have humor in it.
Nathan: And, really, the great trauma, the, the tension they build up, is really never going to happen. Viscera is always five steps ahead of everybody around her: she’s smarter, she’s 4’11”, 89 lbs, but you wouldn’t want to mess with her. She will have outwitted you long before you entered the room, and so she has that kind of thing, that’s the source of her strength, that she’s always got tricks in reserve.
Joanna: Fantastic. So, where can people find you, and also the Viscera comic online?
Nathan: Well, my website is nathanmassengill.com, that’s the site, and anyone can get in touch with me if they want to talk more about graphic novels, or how to adapt any of their work. ringrunning.com is Viscera’s website, and people can access the article that I mentioned, through both sites.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Nathan, that was amazing.
Nathan: Thank you so much for the work you do: it’s very inspiring.