Typically, when you think of the major creative hotspots scattered across the American landscape, various locales on both coasts come to mind quickly, with New York City and Los Angeles foremost. And while it is generally acknowledged that there are some other exceptional spots situated between those two poles that are brimming with creativity, the simple truth is that the interior of this great land is quite usually passed over at best, and too often reviled as the worst kind of cultural wasteland.
But the truth of the matter is something else entirely. It’s not something that can be determined from the window of an airliner in flight, or from that of a speeding car. As with most of life, when examined carefully and closely, the reality of the situation is much richer, more nuanced and laden with rich possibilities—as well as stunning examples of personal artistic expression—than might be seen at first.
The facts are that the Midwest region in general and the environs of Michigan in particular have, over the past one hundred years or so, proven fecund ground for comics creators. This phenomenon dates all the way back to the birth of the comic strip in the late 1800s, when Winsor McCay, creator of Little Nemo in Slumberland, spent much of his formative years in the Detroit area, and it continues all the way to present day in the work of people like James O'Barr, creator of The Crow.
As conceived by veteran artist Mark Dudley, Imaginos Plus is an anthology featuring new work from the rising stars of the comics medium, with a particular focus on those based in the metropolitan Detroit area. It’s a project that Dudley’s quite passionate about, a quality that really comes through when he talks about what he hopes this book will accomplish.
What’s your elevator pitch for the anthology?
Three great and diverse stories ranging from Superhero Comedy to Urban Afrofuturistic Epic. Oh yeah, did I mention Dragon Elves and Space Ninjas?
Why do this as a Kickstarter? Why not go the more traditional route, soliciting and selling to the established comic shop marketplace, with a website store serving the mainstream audience?
We feel that doing Imaginos Plus as a Kickstarter allows us to see early on what type of demand we are looking at for the product, and it also allows us to talk directly to the people who support us. The more direct the contact, the better the product becomes.
The Kickstarter copy states that Imaginos Plus is a “comic book anthology designed to give new up and coming creators a platform” to showcase their work. Which kind of begs the question, why you?
Good question. Well I think that a lot of anthologies out there are merely what Arvell Jones once called “vanity press.” People don’t look honestly at their skill sets and how they stack up against the market.
Because I have waited 30 years until a project like Juda Fist fit my actual skill set, instead of falling to vanity and putting it out when it wasn’t ready, I think I have the patient and critical eye to choose the right creative teams for that and the stories we plan on publishing.
Well, given your own long history and deep wells of creativity, why do this kind of project rather than something more focused on your own work? After all, aren’t there a lot of opportunities for those new creators to do the same kind of thing with DC, Marvel or any of the other major American imprints, without resorting to that vanity press approach you mentioned earlier?
I think that comics in this country, like the larger entertainment medium, are creatively bankrupt. Nothing that happens in comics has any real lasting effect on the narrative. The majority of the stories we are reading these days are there to service marketing. They put out books to keep these characters—which are now valuable creative assets—in the spotlight.
I want to do something that will make a lasting impact, and won’t change for the whims of people who are only cursorily interested.
One of the other interesting aspects of the anthology is that it will largely feature work from creators based in the metro Detroit area. Is that particular focus primarily a result of your living in the vicinity of the Motor City, or might there more to that choice than might be immediately obvious?
I think location has a lot to do with it, but if you look at what we are facing regionally—I mean failing schools and the lack of a true art education in the inner city—the talent is being underserved. That’s why I not only want to focus on metro Detroit’s talent, though not to the exclusion of any other talented artist.
So, in a sense, it’s giving a little back to the community, then?
Yes. I also teach classes for free to kids to try to help them develop their talents in writing, drawing and sequential art as a whole.
Let me play the devil’s advocate for a moment, if I may, and ask if you aren’t even a little bit worried about running out of Detroit area artists to feature? After all, just how many folks can there be creating comics in the Motor City?
I will run out, it’s going to happen. As you stated earlier, because I am from southeastern Michigan it’s easier for me to communicate face to face with talented artists from this area. However, if a kid comes to me from California or, like my flatting team, from the Philippines, I am gonna start teaching them what I know to help them be better until they have reached a skill set that can compete with what’s already out there. Then, if I can give them a shot, help them show their stuff, I’ll do it.
So what’s in this first issue, who’s contributing to each piece, and what about those particular creators made them the perfect choice to showcase in this inaugural volume?
For team Candy Coated, our penciler is Dimitris Moore, a young family man from Grand Rapids. I choose Dimitris because I saw something in his style that I thought would handle the comedy in this book well. His style has that “wink-wink nudge-nudge,” fourth wall-breaking element that I think a superhero comedy like this needs.
I paired him with a veteran inker and co-conspirator of mine, Brandon Clark. Brandon will add that [Jack] Kirbyesque quality to the art that will make it titanic where it needs to be.
The colorist Shana Grant is well known on the anime con scene. I met her at Youmacon in Detroit about two years ago. I really love how pretty and carefree her art can be, and I think this will add an animation element to Candy Coated that is going to really make it pop.
For Requiem I wanted something a bit more realistic, but still sci fi/fantasy. I met the penciler for this book, Cassie Henry, at the recent Motorcity Con. I was taken at how well and how powerfully she handled both characters and environments. I loved her faces, and in the first issue of Requiem, faces and body language are the stars.
The guy writing it also owns the copyright. That would be Joseph Cain. Joe is a bit of a protégé of mine whom I met some years ago working at Comic City in Pontiac, MI. I was impressed with his comic book knowledge and he expressed an interest in telling stories, so I taught him what I could and pushed him to go to school to learn the rest.
The guy inking Requiem is Gary Mitchell whom I met by chance on deviantART. Gary’s entire workflow, I believe, is digital, yet his work looks like the ink is still wet. His line thicknesses are wonderfully organic and really complement Cassie’s pencils.
On colors we have veteran colorist Ylenia Di Napoli. Ylenia had done work for a number of companies in her native Italy, and here in the states she has done work for Zenoscope. I love Ylenia’s flair for color, and I think it’s going to really set off the dark sci-fi mood in Requiem.
As for Juda Fist, I will be handling the penciling duties, with veteran inker and world class photographer, Ka Xiong, handling the inks. Ka and I are half of Drunkenstyle Studios, so we have worked together for years. Ka’s inks really help to define and ground my pencils, and add that extra bit of slickness without taking anything away from the gritty look they are known for.
On colors we have SEAGE. I met this super talented guy not too long ago and saw that he had a great sense of color. I also liked that he had a background in fashion. I am looking for Juda to have a Hong Kong comics kind of look, and I think that SEAGE (aka CJ Howlett) is the guy to bring that to life.
And are those tales wholly self-contained, or do they act more as previews or even a prelude to the eventual publication of their main story arcs?
Juda Fist and Candy Coated are self-contained, Requiem is not. However, all of them are exactly that — preludes to stories that will appear in their main story arcs later on.
So what’s the timeline for the project, where can we pledge, and what premiums are you offering to those who donate? And is there any other way we can contribute to the cause in a non-monetary manner to help make this dream a reality?
Oh, we have been going strong since November 21. Our end date is 11:30 pm, December 21.
You can pledge here.
Also you guys can spread the word. We know this is a strange time for a Kickstarter, but we felt strong enough about the anthology to brave these Christmassy waters.
What do you hope readers get from supporting the project?
I hope readers see that an idea, even from people who aren’t well known, can be executed professionally and passionately. We love telling stories in all mediums and can only hope this comic inspires more of that in others.
How about the creators? What do you hope that their participation in this effort will do for them?
Actually, we plan on pitching each of these comics, teams intact, to publishers to see if they will bite.
How about you?
My grandparents, my uncle and mother-in-law, two of my biggest supporters, didn’t
get a chance to see Juda Fist: 7 Deaths
of the Yobi hit the stands. I am dedicating this to them. After that, who
knows? I am fortunate enough to have achieved a great many of the goals I have
set for myself at an early age. So maybe I set some more goals!
So, what do you get from doing this kind of project—something that, for all of its demands on your creativity, is ultimately more focused on the editorial and administrative end of things? What has doing this campaign, and the anthology, given you?
It has reinforced the fact that I can walk and chew gum at the same time. [laughs]
No, this is not a one-man show. Imaginos Workshop is with me. My primary partners—Nik, Alexa, Ara, both Joes, both Jons, Cory, Danielle, April, Atran and Mary—work hard to make sure we can add value to these projects we do. Ultimately, it reinforces that I am a good team builder and good team player.
Let’s say someone out there is still undecided about backing Imaginos Plus. What might you say to help sway them to contribute to the cause?
Remember that story you wanted to tell and decided it was too much hassle or you didn’t have what it took? Remember that thing you knew you would kick butt at, but you didn’t have the money? Yeah, we have talent—and you most likely do, too—but we are right there with you.
The difference is that we both can contribute to this to make it happen right now! You will get some cool stuff to remember that you helped us become something great. But nothing is cooler than knowing that that horse you bet on that everyone looked at you like you were crazy actually came first in the race, thanks to you.
Anything else to share before I let you get back to it?
We want to thank you for letting us tell people a little about who we are and what we are doing. I also want to thank you for being our eyes and ears in this comic book world that can sometimes obfuscate its true nature.
It’s my pleasure, Mark, really. And thanks for the kind words about my work!