“The sci-fi backdrop helps to put all of the everyday elements into sharp relief” Ken Reynolds on mixing sci-fi and slice of life for In Trouble
We’re used to writer Ken Reynolds pushing the boundaries of small press with comics like Cognition and experimental anthology Sliced Quarterly, but his latest book In Trouble is not only a unique approach to science fiction, but his most personal story yet, as it deals with pregnancy and the end of the world. Plus, he’s taken on the art chores himself too! With a super quick Kickstarter looking for funding, we catch up with him to find out what to expect from this expectant tale.
Your new book In Trouble is about an expectant mother at the end of the world, what inspired you to mix slice of life and sci-fi?
Ken Reynolds: This story, in particular has it’s roots in a very personal place. It’s partly a way for me to process the pregnancy experience we had. And that’s on multiple levels, from medical complications to parental insecurities. I’m not much of a journal writer, but I kept the habit up quite well through those 9 months, and when I delve back in there’s a lot of things in there that I want to examine in more detail. With that in mind…. The sci-fi element is there as a partial shield. It’s to remove if from reality, just a little, and remove it from my real life experiences. But it’s calculated as well. The situation is very much a secondary player in the story. It’s a shadow that is cast over everything else. The book at it’s heart is about the characters, their relationships and their life choices. The sci-fi backdrop helps to put all of the everyday elements into sharp relief.
It feels very personal, was it inspired by your own fatherhood (or perhaps by an impending sense that the world is about to end?!)
KR: It is from a personal place, and it’s inspired from how much my life, and world has changed as a result of our pregnancy and parenthood. I’m an overly analytical person, so I needed a way to help me process it all, and I believe this story is the result.
As for the world ending… I get into the reasons behind that narrative choice a little more in the second issue. What’s going on in the world right now does seem quite apropos to it all… But I’ll be trying to take a longer view on it. I certainly won’t be dealing with specifics.
You’re drawing this book yourself, why did you choose that option rather than hire an artist? A personal challenge or the personal nature of the book?
KR: It’s not a fancy answer, but the reality is I couldn’t afford an artist. I wrote the first issue with the idea that I should attempt to draw it. So I wrote it in quite a sparing fashion with my own limitations in mind. Then as it developed I realised that I would have to draw it. Not for financial reasons, but becasue it was going into really personal territory and it would feel strange passing it over to someone else.
I adore collaboration… Especially in comics. But I will admit to a huge feeling of liberation to have complete control over a project. This is balanced by the utter dread I felt upon showing people the result of something that was created in a vacuum.
In the end it did become a challenge. 3 years ago I started lettering as a way to get into making comics. This used my professional skillset and crossed over quite well. It all snowballed, and I’ll admit I never refer to myself as an artist, and I never thought I’d get to a place where I was comfortable selling a complete book of my work. But I’m very proud of it, and very excited for people to read it.
It’s drawn on an iPad Pro is that right? What did you use and can you tell us a bit about the process and why you did it?
KR: This always comes off as a bit of an Apple advert… So let’s just refer to it as digital drawing!
If it wasn’t for going digital I wouldn’t have completed this book. It’s very simple. I didn’t realise why I was always so uncomfortable drawing in the past. But I discovered I had an unshakable fear of ‘ruining the page’. The digital process gives me an undo button. I can attempt a line a hundred times until I’m happy with it. This has built my confidence and has resulted in a slight transition back to traditional media. As part of the Kickstarter I’m offering art commissions for the very first time, and I even made a pin-up for the book with paper and ink. This was something that came right out of the blue as I never expected that to be a part of the process.
We love the Saul Bass-esque covers and the almost infographic like page about conception that you’ve inlcuded, was it fun to unleash your design skills a bit on this one?
KR: The design side of things is very much my comfort zone. It really helps with the writing and production to develop a logo or print/cover that encapsulates the ‘feel’ you’re going for. I believe I had the logo/cover very early on in the process and It’s been a bit of a touchstone since. The infographic pages are a bit of narrative fun. I wanted a removed narrator to interject here and there with information that paralleled what was going on in the story, it’s a device I hope to employ to good effect all of the way through. I guess I saw that element mirroring real life in a strange way… As soon as you’re expecting a baby, you’re bombarded with information, advice and stories from all angles. It might not all be useful, reliable or even truthful. But a lot of it is entertaining, and it’s interesting to weave together the bits and pieces you can make use of.
You’re aiming for a very short run on Kickstarter for this, is that purely for logistical reasons?
KR: I mentioned before a certain sense of freedom on this book becasue it is all on me. So becasue I didn’t have a creative team, or group of contributors relying on success, I wanted to test a few things out on the Kickstarter platform. A platform I’ve had success with and feel I know quite well.
On a personal level, when I have a campaign going, I live with it more than I should. I find it difficult to detach my mind from it. So that lasting a month isn’t always great. This is also another reason why I’m so quick at dispatching the rewards. I want it all tied up in a bow and done. I never want to feel as though I owe the people that have supported me. That’s why I never choose to do a pre-production campaign. My stuff is always ready to go once the money arrives.
With all of that in mind the timing worked out well to give this approach a go before Thought Bubble, where I’ll launching it in person. A part of me also didn’t want to ‘forget’ about the Kickstarter audience I have built up with Cognition & Sliced. I could have self-funded and hitched up to Thought Bubble with this book, but it would have felt wrong. So I’ve labelled the campaign a ‘Kickstarter exclusive pre-order’. It gives first option to the people that have helped me make comics over the last 3 years before I try and take it wider.
And finally, you’ll be at Thought Bubble and have been doing more Con appearances with Sliced Quarterly and Cognition, how has that been and what have you learnt from being behind a table instead of in front?!
KR: I’ve done two cons this year, a very small one and a very big one… But both had the same effect on me. I came away feeling totally energised and raring to make more books.
In Trouble is a direct result of MCM in May. I was picking at the art since October 2016, I’d got about 1/3 of the way with it. I didn’t know what to expect at the con so I took my iPad in case I had time to draw (I take any spare, childless moment I can get). I got chatting to the people exhibiting next to me and they asked what I was working on. They had a really great reaction to the pitch, and were encouraging about my art. I came away from that weekend with a real lift. I knew we had to take a small break form Cognition and we wouldn’t have the next issue in time for September and Thought Bubble, so I decided to commit to this book and get it done.
I’m not a huge social butterfly, but a con setting is really comfortable. In general the people you talk to are all there for similar reasons. We have the automatic ice-breaker that is comics…. I can talk about comics all day, and tend to.
I’m really looking forward to Thought Bubble… I have lots of people already coming to see me to pick up their copy of this book! I wanted to provide a way to avoid postage for a physical reward (something a bit different for Kickstarter), so you can buy through the campaign and collect from me in person at the con.