Friday, June 5, 2015

Kickstart the Week(end): The Standard Ultimate Collection

By: Nicole D'Andria

Today on “Kickstart the Week” I will be showcasing The Standard Ultimate Collection and speaking with the entire creative team from the writer to the letterer. This 200 page hardcover combines all six issues of the award-winning mini-series and features bonus material. The publisher, ComixTribe, has previously published several hardcovers using Kickstarter as their platform including Oxymoron, SCAM and The Red Ten.

The story of The Standard is about two men. First there is The Standard, the world’s greatest superhero. Nowadays, instead of saving damsels in distress The Standard is a celebrity with his own reality TV show. The other man is from another era. How are the two involved? An event causes the two generation to class and The Standard to question—do superheroes still have a place in our cynical world?

If the concept is still a bit too vague and you aren’t sold on it yet, The Standard #1, 28 pages of content, is available for you to download for free. Use this link which was provided on The Standard Ultimate Collection Kickstarter page. 

The Standard was the debut series from writer John Lees (And Then Emily Was Gone). Because of his work on The Standard, Lees was awarded the Scottish Independent Comic Book Award for Best Writer.

The artist for the series is Jonathan Rector (The Hero Code, Jesop King). There is also additional artwork by Will Robson, colors by Mike Gagnon, letters by Nuttall and editing by Steven Forbes. The mini-series was originally published by ComixTribe from January 2013 to October 2014.

The project has a pledge goal of $8,500 and has already been fully funded (in 36 hours no less!). However, you will still receive perks if you pledge until the Kickstarter end on June 26, 2014 at 11:59 PM EDT. Perks start at $1 with a campaign exclusive desktop wallpaper icon plus every other campaign exclusive bonus. The next pledge amount is $10 for which the person will receive a PDF copy of The Standard Ultimate Collection

Since the project already reached its goal, additional perks have been added. For instance, every $1,000 that is raised after The Standard reaches $10,000, a selection of ComixTribe graphic novels will be sent to local public libraries. Backers can suggest which libraries they are sent to.

I spoke with the entire creative team of The Standard. Find out about superheroes, publishing, writing, drawing, lettering, coloring and much much more!

Me: You mentioned in your Kickstarter video how this story contains everything you love about comics. What are some of the things you love about comics that readers will see reflected in The Standard?

Jonathan Rector (left) and John Lees (right)

John Lees: One of the things I love about comics is how anything is possible in them, and you can throw these big, crazy ideas into them and they just work in a way they may not so easily in other mediums.  I delighted in showcasing bizarre costumed supervillains like The Frying Scotsman, The Skunk, TV Man, the Cyber-Monkeys... it became something of a running gag, waiting to see what outlandish bad guy was going to show up next!  The weird and wonderful rogues galleries were always one of my favourite aspects of superhero comics when I was a kid, so I certainly wanted to capture that in this story.  I also relished the chance to use that heightened, melodramatic Stan Lee style Silver Age narration.  It's a pastiche of an older style of comics storytelling, and it's often played for laughs, but one thing I love about comics - and it's related to my previous point - is that there are points where it's supposed to be taken seriously, and hopefully readers will buy into it and take it seriously in a way they wouldn't take that narration if it was in a different medium.

Me: The Standard is about two men. How would you describe these men and what is the significance of them being from different eras?

Lees: Gilbert Graham was the first Standard, who first donned the costume over 40 years ago.  In the world of The Standard, no superheroes had existed in the "real world" before The Standard, but superhero comics did exist in this world.  And so Gilbert, when gifted with these amazing powers, consciously patterned himself on the superhero comics that he loved as a boy.  So, in our story, the classic Gilbert Graham iteration of The Standard is quite literally a product of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.  He represents a purer ideal of heroism from a more innocent time.  The significance of the stories from his heyday being set at various points in the past are to show how drastically different his adventures were, but also at certain points to suggest that the darkness we see in the present was always there, but just perhaps a little better hidden back then. 

Alex Thomas is the Standard of the present day.  He started his career as Fabu-Lad, The Standard's sidekick, and when Gilbert Graham retired he took over as The Standard.  He then promptly unmasked and went public, becoming a celebrity with sponsorship deals and successful reality TV shows.  And, in the present day Sky City, that's what being a superhero has become, with vigilante crime-fighters gradually being replaced by branded, manufactured corporate entities.  I guess it's a bit like the real world.  In our age of social media and facial recognition technology, I imagine it'd be very hard for a superhero to maintain a secret identity!  And when you look at the superheroes most popular with today's movie-going audience, it's The Avengers who are most popular, guys like Iron Man: rich, his identity publicly known, living the rock-star lifestyle.  That's what's aspirational for a lot of people these days, and so Alex justifies what he's done to the Standard name by saying that this is what he needs to be to inspire people the way Gilbert did back in the day.

Me: If you had a reality TV show, what do you think a typical episode would be like?

Lees: It would be very boring!  It would be a lot of me sitting in a room by myself in front of my computer, browsing Facebook when I should be writing scripts.  Occasionally I'd don the Speedos and go swimming at my local pool - which would be about as "sexy" as the show about my glamorous life would get - and every so often I'd walk my dogs.  I think my dogs would actually become the most popular characters in the show!

Me: Are there any reality TV shows you like and did any of them influence The Standard's show?

Lees: I can't say I'm a fan of reality TV at all, no!  Once in a while, I'll sneakily watch an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker when I'm sure no one's looking, but it's purely guilty pleasure!  But I imagine The Standard's reality TV show being a bit like what you hear about those Real Housewives shows and their ilk, where a lot of the conflict is stirred up and manufactured for the cameras because conflict = ratings.  The idea of there being no real villains left and the producers having to hire people to play them is something of a dig at that!

Me: Since you’re located in Glasgow, Scotland and artist Jonathan Rector is in Ontario, Canada, how did you two meet and decide to work on this comic book together?

Lees: The wonders of the internet!  It was actually editor Steven Forbes who set us up.  We'd had a couple of other artists attached to the book previously, and they'd fallen through, leaving me starting to feel a bit disenchanted with the whole process.  But then Steve spotted Jonathan Rector's work on Digital Webbing, and as soon as he showed it to me, it was like a lightbulb moment.  More than anyone else who'd been attached to the series, I looked at Jon's art and in my mind's eye I could truly imagine the world of The Standard being brought to life.  So, we started talking... and the rest is history.

Me: How did you meet the rest of your creative team?

Lees: Again, it was through Digital Webbing.  I put out ads for first a letterer then a colorist, got a fair share of replies, and chose the best for the job.  With letterer Kel Nuttall, it was more straightforward, as he was utterly dependable, the rock of the team, and lasted throughout.  But we ended up going through a few colorists, with Ray being caught up in scheduling conflicts and Gulliver being brought down with an injury that required him to go to hospital and take time out after surgery.  But Mike Gagnon, who was our flatter for issue #2, rose to the challenge and became our regular colorist.

Me: How did you connect with ComixTribe to publish The Standard?

Lees: Again, that was through Steven Forbes.  When I'd finished writing the last issue of The Standard, Steve told me that him and a friend of his, Tyler James, would be starting up a new website called ComixTribe, which would act as a resource for comic creators, with the idea that eventually they would be launching their own publishing line.  He introduced me to Tyler, who invited me to have The Standard be one of their first wave of titles.  Rather than possibly spending months upon months shopping all over, I happily accepted this deal, and I've been in a very positive partnership with those guys ever since.

Me: What is some of the bonus content fans have to look forward to in The Standard Ultimate Collection that they wouldn’t get if they just bought individual issues of the mini-series?

Lees: There'll be an original foreword and afterword, plus we'll have some cool behind-the-scenes stuff talking about the development of the series.  There's more original content lined up, but to find out what you're going to have to see what stretch goals we have coming up!

Me: After the Kickstarter is completed, when should readers expect to be able to get a copy of The Standard Ultimate Collection?

Lees: The plan is to have all the copies shipped out for October.  I'll be going to New York Comic Con in October, so I'm definitely wanting the book complete and ready by then.

Me: What other recent superhero comic stories would you recommend to people who think the superhero genre is dead?

The Standard #2 Cover

Lees: The one that instantly springs to mind is Daredevil.  Mark Waid and Chris Samnee (as well as other artists like Paulo Rivera and Marcos Martin earlier in the run) have, for years now, been putting out one of the most consistently strong, well-crafted comics on the market.   

Batman has also been fortunate to have had two runs which will in time be looked at as all-time greats unfold in its pages back-to-back.  First, there was Grant Morrison's ingenious, mind-bending run on the book that did unexpected, original things with Batman while really embracing the mythic qualities of the character in a way that really hammer home the idea of superhero as symbol, while Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are killing it on their current run.  

Jason Aaron's Thor has been a treat ever since it started, too.  I loved the Charles Soule/Javier Pulido She-Hulk run.  The Multiversity was an absolute blast, the great Grant Morrison at his best in years.  I've read and reread that Multiversity Guidebook countless times now, it puts me in nerdvana.  That right there is a document underlining superheroes as a living, vital genre brimming with invention and creativity.

Me: In your video on Kickstarter you also mentioned how many superheroes are getting changing with the times and getting darker. Can you give a couple of specific examples of this and how you think they benefited or denigrated a character?

Lees: I'll give you one very specific example, which was raw in my mind when I was writing The Standard: Barry Allen, The Flash.  Flash: Rebirth was fresh in people's minds when I was working on The Standard, and it had put my nose out of joint a bit... and not just because I was a Wally West fan and to my generation Barry Allen was little more than an important dead guy in the vein of Uncle Ben or Bruce Wayne's parents.  No, what bugged me about him was how they'd retconned him to give him a more tragic backstory.  Back in the day, Barry Allen decided to put on tights and fight crime because he... just thought it was the right thing to do. 

Batman was an orphan.  Superman was an orphan.  The Flash had two loving parents, but he was inspired by reading comic books (depicting the alternate reality adventures of the Golden Age Jay Garrick Flash) to put on a costume and become a superhero.  But after his resurrection, this was retconned so that his mother was brutally murdered, and his father died in prison after being accused of the crime, making Barry Allen another tortured soul haunted by tragedy.  Hal Jordan had similarly been given a dead father in his rejigged backstory after his resurrection.  And it struck me as this quite disturbing trend: "We'll bring back your favourite happy-go-lucky superheroes and just crush them, ruin their lives!"  It put me in mind of these bright, four-color, simple characters being birthed painfully into the darker, more textured world of modern comics and struggling to recognise how different the world around them had become.

Me: How did you feel when you found out the Kickstarter was fully funded? What do you attribute such amazing success with the platform to?

Lees: I attribute the success to Tyler James and ComixTribe.  The ComixTribe brand has become synonymous with quality Kickstarters that reliably deliver fantastic final products.  And so half the selling of the book was done for me before we even launched, from the publisher's inbuilt audience of returning customers.  It's so much easier pushing this rock uphill with their muscle behind me.

Me: What advice would you give to aspiring comic book writers?

Lees: It may be a bit of a cliché, but the best advice I can give to aspiring comic book writers is to write a comic.  Write a script, find an artist, get it drawn up.  Even if you're just self-publishing it and taking it to your local con... congratulations, you are no longer an aspiring comic book writer, you are a comic book writer.  You will learn so much more from actually telling a story in comic form yourself - making mistakes along the way - than you will from other people telling you how they made comics.  So, go out there and get writing!

Me: How would you describe your art style and is there a certain genre you prefer to draw?

Johnathan Rector: Most of the projects I've been fortunate to do, tend to have some 'action' flair to them. I really enjoy working on Superhero titles. Something about power, strength and amazing wonders that they can do, is amazing. It really lets your creative ability stretch into some highly dynamic work. That being said, I LOVE fantasy! I haven't had the opportunity to create much for publication, but personal projects this year will help me get them out to the world.

As for my style, I'm always evolving. Over the last year or two, I've been trying to make a conscious effort to get away from the heavy shadow and heavy rendering style I've been attached to for so long. My taste in comic art is always adapting, and lately the clean almost cartoonish art is where I'm trying to go.

Me: Who are some of your favorite superheroes that you are inspired by?

Rector: Made up superheroes? None that I can think of. I'm just a generic fan of the character. The Hulk is my favorite, followed up by the Ninja Turtles and Magneto. Now that I think about it, lots of villains mostly! Dr. Doom, THANOS!!! Galactus and the an awesome villain, heroes aren't as cool as you would think.

In real life, I just found someone who I can really and honestly call a 'hero'. Someone I really look up. I went Vegan a little over two years ago, and came across a man named Gary Yourofsky. What he's done in the name of animals is inspirational and amazing. To be completely honest with you, I've been on a thin line that wants to quit art and go full time activist. I'm continually trying to find way to bridge those two sides of my life. I want to bring awareness to everyone the way I can uniquely. And I hope it's through art.

Me: Why did you decide to do artwork for both comic books and RPGs? Does your process differ?

Rector: Comic have become a great inspiration to me. They have been an awesome way to meet great people, adventure and bring balance to my life. If it wasn't for drawing in general, I would have turned to the streets, and then who knows what life would have had planned. Comics came late High School, early College. Being able to recreate Worlds, or be the creator of an entire saga, or write small emotional journeys all by yourself is liberating as well as a huge confidence builder.
Worlds in Peril (Jonathan Rector artwork)
My love of RPG's comes from video games. Another wonderful escape. My process is pretty much the exact same between the two. The main different is that the art for the RPG book (Worlds in Peril 2015) is that there's more pinups. The similiarity though is that the art and the text have to flow together. One thing can't outweigh the other. I hope I achieved that in the book.
Me: You were a part of “Worlds in Peril: Be the Hero you Want to Be!” which was also successfully funded on Kickstarter. Can you tell us a bit about this superhero RPG?

Rector: I can do my best! I've recently flipped through the .pdf file and it looks amazing! Everyone has done such a wonderful job. Here's an excerpt from the main website:

"Comic book stories and characters like you've always wanted them! Worlds in Peril combines descriptive, creative and flexible powers with a narrative structure that encourages players to take control of their stories and build worlds together. Powered by the Apocalypse World system (2d6+ modifier), Worlds in Peril is a standalone RPG that will produce compelling super hero action in any world with little-to-no preparation. Play to find out what happens, be the hero you want to be!"

Please also visit the Worlds in Peril community if you love your tabletop RPG's and Super Heroes!

Me: I read through your blog on your website and saw your article and video about “THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE”. Can you tell people who are unaware of this concept what this technique is and how it has helped you with your work?

Rector: Sure can!
In a nutshell, the technique breaks down like this:
- Set a timer (NO DISTRACTIONS!!!) for 30 minutes.
- At the buzzer, take a 10 minute break.
- Repeat this 3 times, and on your 4th break, take a 30 minute break.
I know this looks crazy, but the results have been wonderful! I highly recommend you all try it out!

Me: What artwork did you work on specifically versus the other artist on the series, Jonathan Rector?
John Lees (left) and Will Robson (right)

Will Robson: Jon was the main artist of the book, I came in at the last stretch to help ease the deadline pressure. 
Me: How would you describe your art style and are you drawn to a particular genre?  

Robson: Cartoony comic book art. I've always loved more cartoony styles than realistic. I'm more impressed when someone can show me something I've never seen rather than what I could do with my iphone camera.

Me: I went to your Facebook page and saw a lot of really nice sketches of mainstream characters from DC and Marvel. Who are some of your favorite mainstream superheroes to draw?  

Robson: Those sketches are practice for Conventions. Being a professional comic book artist means that I get to attend all the big cons in the UK. I do a lot of sketch covers at these conventions so I practice drawing the characters that get requested the most. My favourite to draw though, is anything Batman. 

Me: What advice do you have to give to aspiring comic book writers and artists? 

Robson: Write! And for those artists, draw! It's like when someone asks you how to lose weight, the simple response should be diet and exercise! Stay motivated, and do it every day for as long as you can and eventually you will be at the creative level you've always dreamed of. Making comics isn't as pretty as it sounds, it's a lot of hours for little pay. You'll find out if you actually love it along the way, luckily I do :).

Me: How do you decide what colors are right for each panel in the comic? Is it purely your decision or do you collaborate with the artists and writer?
Mike Gagnon

Mike Gagnon: Interesting question. Generally I looked over the artwork and read the script and determine what the feeling or mood of the scene was. Then I choose background flatting and colors that reflect that mood, but also create contrast between the backgrounds and characters so that the characters always stand out. The initial decision is usually mine and then in the case of The Standard I would send samples in of the pages I had colored and the rest of the creative team would offer input and opinions or revisions if they thought something wasn't working color wise in a panel. It was a very collaborative effort with me selecting the initial pallet and then the rest of the team collaborating and me refining the look of each page based on their input.
Me: Why did you decide to become a colorist for comic books?

Gagnon: I first started coloring comics because I was self-publishing my own work and couldn't afford to hire a colorist, so I learned how to do it myself. After that I was offered a coloring job with Classics Illustrated and restored a number of books for reprint for them before getting a few gigs coloring and writing with Marvel and coloring for Darkhorse as well.

Me: In what ways do you think your colors influence the mood in The Standard?
The Standard #5 Page 1
Gagnon: The color palette was very intentional for The Standard. Flashbacks to an earlier time when the hero of the series was a young, vibrant superhero are colored with a much brighter pallet,While modern-day scenes have very similar color sensibilities, but they have a much darker tone and pallet and in some cases a dark filter laid over entire pages or panels in order to evoke a more somber and gritty mood.
Me: What is your favorite color and what does it represent to you?

Gagnon: Orange. Represents brightness happiness, energy, sunshine, life, just warmth in general. That's why coloring the standard was so much fun as well, because I got to use orange aim every panel his costume appeared in and on the pages that didn't have a lot of shots of The Standard I was able to work those bright colors into the background and other elements of the page.

Me: What advice do you have for aspiring colorists?

Gagnon: Commitment and patience. When I got my very first professional coloring gig it literally took me days to color one page. I kept at it practiced and self-taught as well as did a couple of workshops and seminars and kept at it and kept working and now I do multiple pages a day. It's a vast difference and if you put the effort in it can be worthwhile. When it was confirmed that I got my first professional coloring gig I lock myself in a room and experimented with every function, tool and filter in Photoshop that I could. For hours upon hours a day all I did was eat, sleep and use Photoshop. I purposely made every mistake I could and digitally destroyed pages of artwork so that I can force myself to learn how to fix every mistake that I could possibly make and know how to use every effect that I wanted.

Me: A lot of people don't seem to realize lettering is an important part of creating a comic book. Can you talk a bit about the importance of lettering in comics?

The Standard #5 Page 2
Kel Nuttall: The comparison I usually use is sound design in one generally notices it all unless it's really bad. Unless you're dealing with a serious comics aficionado or someone who works within the industry, most folks don't notice what you do at all. However, everything from choosing a font style to balloon placement truly can affect the reading experience. It adds personality, tone and helps guide the eye through the page. 

Me: Why did you decide to become a comic book letterer?

Nuttall: I became a letterer to letter my own comics. As most independent comic writers will tell you, the bill for everything usually rests on their shoulders. I taught myself to letter (with the help of some mentoring) simply to save money and it grew into an actual job. 

Me: What is your process when lettering?

Nuttall: On a new book I try to look over the art and get a feel for it. Then I consider the story, whether it has a particular "vibe" or setting...funny, horror, 1920's, outer space, etc...and decide on the basic dialogue and caption fonts. I set up the script and my illustrator canvas side-by-side (thank Odin for my 24" monitor! I remember working on much smaller monitors in the early days) and copy/paste text from the script onto the comic page. I break it into its individual "chunks" and loosely place them and their balloons, as well as any sound effects that may be required. I usually do several pages of "loose letters" then go back and refine/finish. That means shaping the blocks of text so they're balanced within the balloons, resizing and repositioning the balloons, boxes, effects. All the while making sure eye flow through the page is maintained and nothing subtle but important in the art is accidentally covered up. Low resolution proofs of the pages are then sent out for proofreading, the writer (or editor or proofreader) then sends a list of tweaks or corrections. Once those are made and approved the final files for printing are exported and off to the printer. 

Me: How do you make your lettering distinctive from other letterers?

Nuttall: Honestly, I don't worry about that specifically. As letterer, 95% of the time it's not my job to stand out visually. I think the fact that I'm a writer and a little bit of an artist and have taken time to understand at least the basics of all the positions on the team and the production/printing process is what makes me valuable.

Me: What advice do you have for people who are interested in lettering comics themselves?

Nuttall: First step is to read lots of comics....BUT try to pull back and pay attention to the letters and ask questions. Why did they put that there instead of there? Or in the case of a less successful job, why did the put that there when it might look better over there? Then you need a copy of Adobe Illustrator, some folks will tell you other software will do just fine but there's a reason Illustrator is the industry standard for digital lettering. Use the books and websites of Blambot and Comicraft, both are filled with excellent fonts as well as tips, tricks, techniques and rules of the trade. Then practice and find a person or group that will give you honest, sometimes painfully honest and nitpicky feedback. (There's a pretty solid lettering forum on Then practice some more. 

Me: A big thanks to the entire creative team for taking the time to answer some questions.

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