“If I was going make this happen, why not make something unique?” Stuck in the Gutters’ Leo Johnson on creating a new digital comics magazine

SITG1-Finished-page-0Leo Johnson saw a gap in the market for a digital comics magazine than combined comic strips and articles. So rather than just moan about it on Twitter, he decided to create his own, and so Stuck in the Gutters was born. With a a Pay What You Want business model, the first issue is now available via Gumroad and we caught up with Leo to find out more about just what Stuck In The Gutters is all about.

"​I've always thought digital magazines were an interesting way to present writing, as it ​lends itself to a little different kind of writing than a normal comic news site would."

“​I’ve always thought digital magazines were an interesting way to present writing, as it ​lends itself to a little different kind of writing than a normal comic news site would.”

Tell us a bit about what inspired you to put together Stuck in the Gutters? Why make a magazine about digital comics?

LJ: ​To begin with, I just really like comics. ​I’ve written about comics online for a few years now and one of the first places I wrote at was Geek Syndicate. For a couple years, they did a quarterly digital magazine about all kinds of geeky stuff which I always loved being a part of. Though I eventually moved on from GS, the stuff I did for some of those issues of their digital mag is some of my favoyrite work.
​I’ve always thought digital magazines were an interesting way to present writing, as it ​lends itself to a little different kind of writing than a normal comic news site would. Things can’t be news posts that only matter for one day, but rather something with decent substance and a sense of being “evergreen”, so to speak.

One day I was thinking about all the fun I had doing ​the GS mag, and took to Twitter to ask why there ​weren’t any digital magazines that combined comics criticism with actual comics. Then I realized that, ​I wanted to and could make that magazine. So I spent the next couple months learning InDesign and figuring out how to actually make the thing. Thus, Stuck in the Gutters was born. ​

It mixes long form articles and comic strips, what made you chose that kind of mix rather thank go for all strips or all articles?

LJ: I didn’t want to just make another comics anthology, as I’m certainly no comics editor or creator and there are many more people better suited to it than I am. I didn’t want to only have articles ​because comics aren’t just about the words, so I felt it’d be an injustice to only have people write about comics. A mix of the articles and comics seemed like something that people weren’t really doing much of anymore. If I was going to spend the time making this project happen, why not make something that I thought was pretty unique, you know?
" ​I thought, maybe, that I'd get a handful of people and there'd be a couple comics and an essay or two. Instead, I ended up with 17 pieces, 9 comics and 8 essays/articles, from creators in at least 5 different countries on 3 different continents."

” ​I thought, maybe, that I’d get a handful of people and there’d be a couple comics and an essay or two. Instead, I ended up with 17 pieces, 9 comics and 8 essays/articles, from creators in at least 5 different countries on 3 different continents.”

How did you get the various writers and creators involved and how did you pick and choose who or what went in the first issue?

LJ: This was honestly the most surprising part of the whole thing. I honestly expected no one would care enough to submit. ​I thought, maybe, that I’d get a handful of people and there’d be a couple comics and an essay or two. Instead, I ended up with 17 pieces, 9 comics and 8 essays/articles, from creators in at least 5 different countries on 3 different continents.
I started out by reaching out to people who I’d written with at other sites or had gotten to know through Twitter to gauge their interest on contributing to Stuck in the Gutters. Because of the relationships there, I got a few pieces, like the essay “Superheroes” by Josh Flynn, which I was super happy with.
Beyond that, I basically just blasted Twitter with a link back to a post detailing who I was, what I was trying to do, and why people should help me do it. I had a surprising number of replies from that. There actually ended up being a few people who I was really surprised would want to submit, like Jeremy Holt and Ryan K Lindsay. Both are creators that I’ve talked to online for a couple years and reviewed/interview them about their various books, and it was just awesome that they each wanted to contribute something to this first issue.
As far as how I was able to pick and choose, it was pretty easy, haha. I wanted as wide a range as possible of content. There’s a ton of different styles of art in the first issue, and a ton of different topics get tackled in the essays. It being digital meant I had unlimited space and didn’t have to deny anyone unless I just felt like it didn’t work. For the most part, everything that was submitted got published in that first issue. I held a few things back after talking with the creator, to keep it in the hole for the next issue. And there was a thing or two that got submitted and wasn’t quite right or quite done, but I was able to talk with the writer a bit more and get a good idea of where the piece needed to go.
"Offering the magazine for free, but allowing people to pay for it if they felt it deserved it, seemed like the best way to be realistic, but also attempt to monetize the project in hopes of getting contributors some money."

“Offering the magazine for free, but allowing people to pay what they felt it deserved, seemed like the best way to be realistic, but also attempt to monetize the project in hopes of getting contributors some money.”

You’re using the ‘pay what you want’ model and releasing it via Gumroad, what are the various pros and cons for releasing it that way? Any plans to release via other avenues?

LJ: ​Pay What You Want (PWYW) using Gumroad made the most sense to me. Gumroad is pretty reliable platform, which is very easy to use, which is great because I’m not the most tech savvy guy in the world. On the pricing side, I know I’m a nobody when it comes to trying to sell writing online. As such, I didn’t feel like I could legitimately charge a set price for Stuck in the Gutters, no matter what sort of content I was offering. Offering the magazine for free, but allowing people to pay for it if they felt it deserved it, seemed like the best way to be realistic, but also attempt to monetize the project in hopes of getting contributors some money. While a lot of people download it for free, which is just fine by me, there are nearly as many who pay, with some paying up to $10. Just crazy. The PWYW model allows flexibility, but it’s also sort of a shot in the dark as to whether or not you’ll actually make money.
In addition to Gumroad, I also launched a Patreon for the magazine. For those unfamiliar with Patreon, it’s a crowdfunding platform that works best with recurring projects and people can pledge per month or per update of the project. I figured if there were people who were willing to give me a little money each and every issue, this would be a great way to get it done. Currently, I’m keeping it simple and having just one pledge level, $1, but it gets them sneak peeks at the pieces and an early copy of each issue.
I’ve considered online platforms like Issuu to host issues, but I still have more research to do into them. Honestly, I just want as many people as possible to read Stuck in the Gutters. If there’s an easier way to get it in the hands of more people, I’m all for trying it.
Stuck in the Gutters cover

“I gave [cover artist] Alberto Muriel the idea for the cover as “just take the name literally” – hence characters climbing out of the gutters between comic panels”

The cover features a variety of different characters from The Spirit to Sin City’s Marv, is there a deep significance to the characters or just your favourites?
LJ: That cover is a thing of beauty and all those characters and the general design of the cover is basically all thanks to cover artist Alberto Muriel. He seriously went above and beyond. I gave Alberto the idea for the cover as essentially, “just take the name literally. Characters climbing out of the gutters between comic panels”. Al then turned that into the piece that graces the issue. So I can take very little credit for the cover, but I have to imagine he was just going for fairly iconic characters. Like you said, there’s The Spirit and Marv, but there’s also a Red Sonja lookalike, Lone Wolf and Cub, Michonne, and a couple others.
The panels that the characters are climbing out of are actually from Al’s comic Propeller, with writer Ricardo Mo. I’m a big fan of the comic, which is on Comixology Submit, so I loved that he included that nice touch to it. ​
What’s the significance of the name Stuck in the G​utters?
 
LJ: ​The truth is, I’m terrible at coming up with names for things. Just awful. But, Stuck in the Gutters was one of my first ideas and one of my favorites. Obviously, the gutters are the area between the panels in a comic book, so it all comes back to comics. Some people say that the gutters are what separate comics into sequential art, rather than just a single image. But I also like the idea of being stuck in the gutters, stuck in the place between the story we see, which I feel is a decent metaphor for a lot of the creators in the magazine. A lot are relatively unknown, but making great things. They’re under the radar now, but I have a feeling a lot of them are going to do big things. They’ll get out of those gutters.
Stuck in the Gutters page 4

“For now, I’m just happy being able to share the work of all these awesome artists and writers with what audience I have.”

What’s the long term plan for  the magazine, how would you like it to progress and develop? Is there a space in the market now Wizard and other mags about comics are no more?!

LJ: Long term? Oh gosh. Long term, I’d just like to make the magazine a monthly occurrence, rather than every other month. It’s currently every other month as I’m the sole person putting all the awesome submissions together and I have a day job and other responsibilities. If there was enough interest and enough people reading it, I’d love to make it a monthly happening. It’s a pretty simple goal, but I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself.
As far as space in the market, someone compared Stuck in the Gutters to [Mark Millar’s] CLiNT, which was a nice compliment. I never read much CLiNT, but remember reading Wizard as a kid. Each had a lot of charisma and their own sense of style to them. I’d like to think that Stuck in the Gutters could capture even a fraction of that audience and attention, but there’s no telling. For now, I’m just happy being able to share the work of all these awesome artists and writers with what audience I have.
Finally if you could feature any writer, article or artist in your next issue, who or what would it be and why?
LJ: There are a ton of people I could list, but one of my favorite artists is Daniel Warren Johnson, who drew Dark Horse’s Ghost Fleet and does his own webcomic Space-Mullet. ​Dan is an absolutely PHENOMENAL artist and one of the nicest guys in comics. I’d love to see him do a two or three page short for the magazine. Maybe one day…
You can purchase Stuck in the Gutters from Gumroad for as much or as little as you like! And for more info and to submit an article for the next issue then visit the Stuck in the Gutters website