“Independent comics suffer a barrier to new readers, because people haven’t been introduced to the character. ” Steven Hudkins on Kickstarter funding The Warden Anthology
It’s been a bumper year for high-class pulp comics, with Brett Harris’s Adventures in Pulp getting rave reviews and now Steven Hudkins’ excellent The Warden series being collected together into one volume. With a Kickstarter launching to create a printed hardcover we caught up with the master of ‘swamp magic’ to find out more about the meaning of pulp.
Give us the elevator pitch for The Warden – how did you come up with the character, what your hopes and aims for him? Who or what was he inspired by?
SH: The Warden is an action hero with adventures inspired by myth and folklore. Honestly, I simply created the hero I’ve always wanted to read about. He has bits and pieces of Doc Savage, Indiana Jones, and Hellboy, but he’s really his own character. They say a hero is only as good as his villain, so I’ve put a lot of effort into creating the enemies and trials that The Warden faces. He often fights demons and mythological creatures, but he doesn’t always face off against evil, either. Sometimes his stories aren’t quite black and white. For instance, is it wrong for a vengeful spirit to kill its murderer?
The plan is to keep The Warden around as long as people like to read about him, but it won’t become an ongoing series in the traditional sense. I do have a few epic multi-issue stories planned but, for the most part, The Warden will be composed of one-shots. I love the idea of The Warden being in a new adventure every issue, like Conan the Barbarian. Conan’s stories didn’t always flow from one to another. They jumped around a lot as the inspiration came to Howard.
It is a publishing method you don’t really see in comics anymore. For a small fish like me, it isn’t a bad publishing model, either. Independent comics suffer a barrier to new readers, because people haven’t been introduced to the character. If each issue is self-contained, there is more incentive for new readers to jump onboard. There won’t be any need to buy the first 4 trade paperbacks to catch up!
What’s your background in comics? And how did you get involved with the various other creators who have worked on the Warden?
SH: I read a few comics as a kid, but I didn’t truly become a fan until I was in my late teens. That’s when I realized what an art form comics could be. I grew up loving movies and cinematography. It is amazing how much crossover there is between the two art forms. After that, I was hooked. I like a superhero comic as much as the next guy, but for me, the real creativity happens in the indies and creator-owned. I love what Image has been putting out lately and some of my favorite stories have come from Kickstarter projects.
I have a “watch list” of artists that I would love to work with. That’s where I found many of the collaborators on the project. I also poached a few from projects I’ve been a fan of. For example, Alex Cormack, Steven Forbes, and Jules Rivera have all done work for ComixTribe. I tried hiring Sebastián Piriz to do some work a couple years ago, but unfortunately our schedules weren’t compatible. When this project was ready to go, I reached out again to him and things worked out this time. Sean Forney, Jen Hickman, Nic J. Shaw, and Carlos Trigo, have all been involved in Kickstarter projects that I’ve been impressed by. Jack Lavy, Mat Lopes, and George Sellas were found through deviantART.
I’ve been the main driving force behind this project, but the amount of creativity of all those involved is insane. We’ve created covers for each story, along with a few pin-ups, and I’ve been blown away by the quality of the work. I won’t be surprised when I hear that a major publisher has picked up one of these guys.
You’re collecting his adventures together in a Kickstarter collection, what can you tell us about the stories and adventures that are being collected together? How many are there, are they all done by the same creative teams? Are they part of an ongoing series, or just a series of one-shots? And are they different genres?
SH: There are a total of 5 comic stories being collected in the anthology along with a short prose story. Each story has a different illustrator and colorist, which allows us to suit the artist’s style to the tone of the story. For instance, Carlos Trigo is the illustrator for the darkest storyline in the anthology, “Ashes to Ashes.” As you can tell by his cover, Carlos’ style uses very heavy inks, which fit perfectly for this shadowy tale.
Each team will also have a few common elements. All of the comic stories will be edited by Steven Forbes (ComixTribe editor-in-chief) and lettered by Nic J. Shaw. I have written all of the scripts and while each story is different thematically, at the heart of each story is a supernatural adventure. I’m introducing this new character in a very broad way, without the predictable origin story. Each story focuses on a facet of The Warden’s personality, revealing the character a piece at a time. I was inspired by the one-shots from the early Hellboy days. I felt like I got to know Hellboy as a character more from those short stories than from his origin story. That’s not to say, however, that I won’t give The Warden a proper origin story some day.
The prose story is going to be written by New Pulp author Barry Reese. Reese is established in the pulp genre and has created great characters like “Lazarus Grey” and “Gravedigger”. I’ll be involved with the basics of his story like the plot and premise, but Barry is going to be the main creative mind behind the story.
Is this your first Kickstarter and what can you tell us about the joys of crowd-funding? What are the various pros and cons that you have experienced or that you foresee for The Warden anthology?
SH: This is my first Kickstarter and this project has been in the works for over 2 years now, so I’m extremely excited. I backed my first project in 2013 and have been consistently backing on Kickstarter ever since. I’ve experienced both the good and the bad on KS. I’ve been burned once or twice, but overall I have loved the KS experience.
I’ve been planning and researching for years about how to run a successful Kickstarter. (And by successful, I’m not only talking about financially!) It is amazing how many online resources are available on running a good campaign. ComixTribe‘s Tyler James and Stonemaier Games’ Jamey Stegmaier are my two personal favorite Kickstarter gurus, but there are many others as well!
The Warden Anthology is off to a good start because we have “Swamp Magic” as a proof of concept, along with a large, amazingly talented creative team. Anthologies are proven to have better success rates on Kickstarter, partially because it is easier to get the word out. We are also doing our best to avoid “Kickstarter Inflation,” where reward prices are bloated to account for profit. Our main reward price is $19 against a M.S.R.P. of $25, so you’re saving $6 off the cover price before you even count the free shipping. I’ve also taken time off so that I’ll be available to answer questions and interact with backers. I’m truly dedicated to making this the best experience possible for everyone involved.
You’ve released one of the stories – Swamp Magic – on your website, but in a black and white version? Any plans to release more episodes that way and what has the response been like?
SH: The response has been amazing. It is great to be able to create and connect with fans before the product is even finished. People have been conditioned by web comics to only receive a few panels of story here and there, so there weren’t any real problems with releasing a page at a time. The pacing of “Swamp Magic” and George’s incredible art has really helped as well. Every page had something fun for George to draw and he kept hitting home runs, leaving them wanting more. And now, of course, “Swamp Magic” is available for free in color on our Kickstarter page.
Any plans to release it in other digital formats, such as ComiXology?
SH: I will definitely be bringing “Swamp Magic” and the rest of the anthology to ComiXology at some point down the road, but it will be a little while yet. My first priority is to the Kickstarter backers. I don’t want to devalue the product that our backers are receiving by making it widely available as soon as it is finished. Right now, if you want the anthology, our Kickstarter is the only place to get it.
What to you is the essence of a good ‘pulp’ adventure? And how do you think The Warden has lived up to that?
SH: I touch upon this subject a bit in the Kickstarter video. For me, pulp is a bit of everything. Lovecraft wrote cerebral horror stories. Howard wrote down-to-earth fantasy and westerns. Asimov wrote political science fiction. But it is all distinctively pulp. It is hard to quantify, but for me the essence of pulp comes down to the readership. Pulps were the common man’s reading material. A good pulp story had to be easily digestible and constantly entertaining. When I’m writing a script for The Warden, I do my best to make sure I’m not wasting time. I want every page to push the story forward with some fun action, over the top drama, or maybe a funny one-liner.