Monday, November 6, 2017

Kickstart the Week with Alter-Life Issues 1-4

By: Nicole D’Andria

Death isn’t the end. At least not in Alter-Life. We’re exploring this mind-bending sci-fi comic book series today with the creative team.

Jake losses his family in a tragic car accident. He decides to end his own life, but then finds out he can’t die. So Jake tries again and again, and every time he comes back, the world has changed slightly. What does this mean and why does Jake have this mysterious ability? ­Find out in Alter-Life.

The series is written by Caleb Thusat (ZED, The Nook) and drawn by Katrina E. Kunstmann (ZED). Altogether, the four issues of Alter-Life contain more than 140 pages of artwork about the limits of human consciousness, multiple existences, and life after death.

The project will be funded successfully if it reaches $4,500 by November 14, 2017 at 1:00 PM EST. Readers can get the latest issue digitally for $3 or all four issues digitally for $7. Physical copies will be given at higher tiers ($10+), including variants, as well as exclusives prints ($50). To check out the project and consider backing it, see their official Kickstarter page here.

Learn more about the project in my interviews with writer Caleb Thusat and artist Katrina E. Kunstmann.

Caleb Thusat

Me: What initially inspired the idea for Alter-Life?

Caleb Thusat: The idea initially came from a random thought I had about death as I was traveling abroad when I was 18. I had a vision of dying and had the strange thought that somehow my consciousness jumped from one existence to another to avoid death. That thought lingered and has always kind of haunted me ever since. I tried to put it into writing before and never could quite get it to gel. Nothing ever clicked until I decided to write it as a comic.

Me: How would you describe Jake and his abilities?

Thusat: Jake is an everyman; a wannabe writer who has fallen on hard times. He’s really a relatable character. A man who feels stuck and even slighted by the life he is living. I think everyone can relate to the state he is in at the beginning of the series. Analyzing your past choices and how they brought you to where you are. His abilities could be seen as a blessing AND a curse. There is much more to be revealed about the source of these abilities, but he essentially cannot die. Instead, at the moment of death, he is transported to an alternate timeline.

Alter-Life #1 Cover by Kunstmann

Me: Family seems to be a very important aspect of this series. Can you tell us more about Jake's family and their importance to the story?

Thusat: Family is the heart of the story. All of the motivations of characters in the series are essentially brought on by loss. Loss of a wife and a daughter, loss of a mother and a father. Jake is dealing with the outcome of a fatal car accident and he feels guilty for the loss of his family. He will stop at nothing to find a way back to them.

Me: For people interested in starting with just Alter-Life #4, what should they know about the series before diving in?

Thusat: Basically, you need to start from the beginning. You will be doing yourself a great disservice by skipping to 4. There are many layers, twists, and turns in this story, and issue 4 takes place after some of the biggest mysteries are revealed. Our current Kickstarter allows you to catch up quite easily both digitally and in print, so do yourself a favor and don’t spoil the mystery.

Alter-Life Kickstarter-Exclusive Variant by Josh Siegel

Me: There are a lot of rewards exclusive to this Kickstarter for Alter-Life. Can you tell us a bit about them?

Thusat: We always do an exclusive variant cover by a guest artist. This variant was done by Josh Siegel of modHERO. In addition to the variant, we have multiple add-ons including ZED #1, stickers, and buttons. But we also have one-of-a-kind art pieces available from our artist Katrina Kunstman as well as from a couple guest artists.

Me: Alter-Life is one of Village Comics crowdfunding titles. How and why did you start Village Comics?

Thusat: Village Comics is my creation. It’s basically my personal publishing entity and I have many projects in the works with multiple artists. All of the projects are written and created by me and will be self-published through Village Comics. I am working with multiple artists on four different comic book series, and a children’s book.

Alter-Life #2 Cover by Kunstmann

Me: You also have a Patreon titled “Caleb Thusat and Village Comics are creating Comics”. For backers interested in Alter-Life, what else can they do to support the book on this Patreon?

Thusat: The Patreon is a fun way for fans and readers to get a glimpse behind the scenes. By donating $1.00 or more per month, you can get access to video updates, conceptual artwork, scripts, and even a Patreon-Exclusive Webcomic. It’s a great way to keep fans involved and provide a special story for excited readers.

Me: One of your rewards for backers is your other comic book, ZED. For those who didn’t read our interview about the comic, what can you tell people about that story?

Thusat: ZED is my crazy take on a zombie story. I call it a “post-post apocalyptic buddy-roadtrip-zombie-superhero comic. It’s Zombieland meets Supernatural with a Frankenstein twist. The series has been on the backburner while I finish Alter-Life, but I have issues written. Once we complete issue 5 of Alter-Life, I will be diving back in to producing more of ZED.

Me: What do you think is the number one reason people should back your Kickstarter?

Thusat: Alter-Life is different. Both the artwork and the story are unique. With so many reboots, rehashes, and sequels being made, I wanted to write something that feels familiar but takes you on a journey you won’t find anywhere else.

Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?

Thusat: The only thing holding you back is yourself. If you feel stuck or can’t seem to find the time to create, you have to just do it! I entered the comic book world without a clue of how to do any of this. Less than two years later, I am on my fourth issue of Alter-Life, second of ZED, and I have multiple other projects in the works. We are living in an amazing time for indie creators, so seize the day, and make something amazing!

Katrina E. Kunstmann

Me: How did you get involved with Alter-Life?

Kunstmann: Caleb and I connected through a freelancer website.  He posted a listing for a comic, I responded, and he picked me for the project. Not glamorous, but it was the seed that sprouted the most amazing collaborative partnership I've ever had and I am very grateful that I was up to snuff.

Me: What was your favorite page of Alter-Life to draw and why was it your favorite?

Kunstmann: Oh covers count?  If they do then the cover for issue 4, hands down. Caleb gave me free reign and I happily ran and I am really glad he liked what I concocted. I really liked a page from issue 3 where Jake is falling with DVD cases, even though drawing all of the DVD cases was meticulous and maddening. I really enjoyed coloring the funeral page in issue 3 as well.

Alter-Life pages by Kunstmann

Me: You've worked with Caleb on other projects, like Zed, as well. Does your art process differ at all on each project? If it does, what's different? If it doesn't, what is your standard art process?

Kunstmann: I think the only things that differ are subtle shifts in style (i.e. the rough brush lines in Alter-Life versus the smooth brush lines in ZED) and greyscale versus full color. 

Beyond that, the process is the same.  Caleb gives me script, which I read, ask for any clarification or points where I think a panel could be drawn one way or another.  Then I set about doing rough pencils and mainly plotting out the pacing and panels for the issue. 

Caleb will give me notes and once revisions are made, I get on with inking. Since I pencil, ink, color, and letter everything myself, I usually go with pretty rough pencils and lay down inks from that.

Once I finish inking, I add the lettering and dialogue balloons, which saves me some time later since I won't have to color the bits the balloons cover. Then I color everything, always back sampling color from previous issues and pages to make sure there is continuity color-wise. I make corrections if any are needed, which usually there are, particularly in the lettering. Then we convert the files and I send over the full size page files to Caleb.

It takes about a month or two, give or take. Pencils take about a week or less. Inking takes a week or two, lettering takes a few days, and coloring taking two to three weeks. Corrections take a day or two at most.

All in all a pretty nice turn around.

Alter-Life #3 Cover by Kunstmann

Me: Since one of the rewards for this Kickstarter includes digital commissions, I was wondering: what has been the most interesting commission you’ve ever had to do?

Kunstmann: Oooh this is a tough one. I've been commissioned for everything from erotica to furries to Plain Jane fan art, but I think the most interesting commission I ever had would be a toss-up between two. One was the first WonderCon I ever tabled, and it was a request for Superman and Donatello sitting on a sofa folding laundry. A couple requested it; it was like their nicknames for each other and it was terribly sweet. The other would be the two last minute commissions I had at Denver Comic Con this year, both an hour and a half before the floor closed, both from extremely fabulous drag queens. They wanted sketches of their fabulous selves, and I was happy to oblige.

Me: What do you think is the number one reason people should back your Kickstarter?

Kunstmann: Alter-Life is a story not only about the lengths we as humans will go to avoid feeling loss or grief, which is a very natural part of life, but it also probes the concepts of what constitute reality. It's a very thoughtful examination of the ideas of humanity, death, ethics, and how organizations will overstep their own architects in lieu of profit. I think it's a very timely piece since many of these topics are prominent, and I also feel these issues aren't likely to fade away from our minds for some time.

It's a heady and cerebral piece that couples itself with fantastic visuals and tightly crafted story telling—a fantastic ride. It's fresh, evocative, and poignant, and I've put a great deal of time and emotion into making this comic—Caleb and I both have, and it really shows.

We hope you’ll join us for issue 4!

Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book artists?

Kunstmann: This is dicey for me since I usually deal more in hard truths than inspirational words. If there was anything I would tell aspiring comic artists it would be to persevere, and persevering in the comic world is really hard! But illustrators and comic artists don't hit their stride till their mid-thirties; the Fiona Staples of the world (no disrespect at all, I adore her work) are the outliers of the norm. Achieving her level of prowess and fame at her age is abnormal. What's normal is to grind and grind and grind and network and network and network and slowly, almost imperceptibly, build your career. It's only now that I'm almost making a semi-stable living, and I'm a year shy of thirty.

And I guess that's the take away.

The people who succeed in the arts aren't the people who are the most talented or gifted or brilliant. It's the people who persevere, work the hardest, and make the best connections. There's no reason to not start making your work a reality now, to start building your career now. You don't need a degree or a proper contract with Marvel.

Just get out there and do it.

Me: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions about Alter-Life, Caleb and Katrina! If you’re reading this and curious about life after death, check out their Kickstarter here.

Do you have a Kickstarter? Want to be interviewed about it and have the project featured on "Kickstart the Week?" Let me know in the comments below or message me on my website.

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