Thursday, January 23, 2014

Paper Birds vs. Random Updates

My money’s on the paper birds:

I’m beginning to think Liz is some form of dark necromancer- every time I leave her alone with scraps of fabric and paper, creatures are staring at me when I return.

Hey, do you like stuff?  Because there’s a bunch of it down below.  We have a big grab-bag of news.  God damn the transitions, and away we go:

New Volume 3 review from a retired comic reviewer:

Said reviewer interviews Dave and Liz:

And while we‘re on the Interview Train:

The Last Mace figurine is available for sale here:

Liz just opened an etsy store featuring creatures and side-projects:

And the Prelude Collection Kickstarter has now *really* been successful, because the mail-a-thon is over.  The final update is here:

That means we’re free to start selling the Prelude Collection in our online store- the backers have been absolutely loving the quality of the final product, and they’re coming soon!

For now, I’ll close with an excerpt from our final Kickstarter update:

Crowd funding is the greatest thing since funding, period. Before, business investors would fund entertainment ventures for the purpose of getting money. Nothing evil about it, that’s simply the function of financial investing. Money is the point. That doesn't always yield the best quality in entertainment, to put it lightly. But now readers, fans, and viewers can fund entertainment ventures- for the sole purpose of generating high quality entertainment. For everyone involved, quality is the point.
 The horse is finally in front of the cart. And that’s how you get to see interesting new places. 

Now that we’re clear on the Kickstarter, it’s full speed ahead on the next graphic novel- I think we’re in for a fun year!

Vivid Side Notes: Liz, Confessions of a Lazy Birder.

Bird-er, noun-informal 1. A bird watcher 2. A person who raises birds.

I have a confession to make.  I think birds are great.  Not just great.  Awesome-great.  But there’s this thing.  I don’t like to go looking for them. (I just got in a fight with a green-cheeked conure as I typed this)  

I’m passionate about them in theory, but birders are supposed to travel around in the cold with notebooks and heavy binoculars and know the sounds and appearance of a red-winged black bird from a ga-gillion miles away and count how many they see and be perfectly happy with this.  I am not one of those people.  (According to the conure, I am not one of those people either.)

I can’t even be bothered to Google pictures of birds for amusement.  But here’s what I do like to do.  I like to make birds artsy.  Sometimes for a challenge.

Sometimes for other people.

And sometimes out of pure passion.  Our bedroom closet is very proud.  This is my reference:

I love birds, think they're awesome, and like making them.

But sometimes when the nest is crowded, it’s time to leave home.  They're clearly plotting something.

So I put together an store for any loose creations that occur during the side notes of our Dreamkeepers project with Vivid Publishing ala Vivid Side Notes.
We’ll announce new arrivals in our art accounts when they're going to be posted.
You may be surprised what shows up there.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dreamkeepers Interview with Alex Haas

Thought provoking questions regarding Dreamkeepers from reviewer Alex Haas- Dave & Liz reply:

1. For a series that has been in the works as long as Dreamkeepers, how close has the story kept to the original vision? Have there been a lot of changes along the way? 

There has been far more adaptation than I would have initially imagined.  Before starting Volume 1, I had the entire story roughly planned out, beginning to end.  I knew what I wanted, and jumped to start making it.  The biggest frustration over the years has been how much time it takes to render what I had in my head- but, in retrospect, I think it was one of our greatest assets.  I had time to get to know our characters better, let them grow and develop more, refine my understanding of the world, and develop my writing and artistic abilities.  Dozens of story choices changed.  We kept the same roots, the ones cemented into place within Volume 1- but the tree they are growing into has juggled branches and twigs, pruned itself into different forms.

I’m thrilled with the story taking shape.  It’s not that we’re creating something different from the original vision- but rather, conveying it more effectively than we initially could have conceived.

The magical thing is that progressive edits don’t feel at all like we’re making new stuff up.  It feels exactly like making a discovery, uncovering something that was there all along- like the perfect Dreamkeepers story exists independently in the ether, it always has, and the more we develop and focus our efforts, the more clearly it shows itself.

2. How did your working method change when Liz came on board towards the end of work on Volume 1 and particularly with Volume 2?

It actually wasn’t a stark shift…  I was always bouncing ideas off Liz, even before Volume 1 was drawn.  Whip’s current design is thanks to her.  If it wasn’t for Liz, Bast and Mace would have been rivals with… Get ready for it…  Fire and Ice powers.  Liz was candid about elements that seemed cliché or stale.  My original partner didn’t want competing input.  The biggest change from V1 to V2 was that we no longer had to bend backwards to work around an unhealthy dynamic- we could just get to work.  From V2 and on we’ve enjoyed open critical collaboration on everything, from early story concept to polished artwork choices.

3. Is the intention of Dreamkeepers to be an ongoing series or does it have a fixed ending in your mind? How many volumes do you envision for it if the latter?

Seventeen or eighteen graphic novels, roughly.  There is definitely an end to the story.  I like stories that actually go somewhere, and arrive there without outliving their welcome.  Things that never end tend to jump the shark, and end anyways when people realize there’s no point to reading Yet More Of This.

4. There are a lot of characters and stories already present in the DK world along with historical references that are thrown out periodically. Are there any spinoff series you might attempt parallel to or after the main Dreamkeepers story arc is resolved?

I’m open to the possibility.  Anduruna history has plenty of epochs that might yield good material.  When I refer to things jumping the shark, I’m thinking mainly of stories that follow a character after the story is over- to the point where the writers just have to think of stuff to throw at their protagonist, until they run through every cliché in the book- and then they keep going.  A story without an end is like a sub sandwich that doesn’t stop- eventually you get sick of trying to consume the thing.  But an entire world can be rich enough to yield different characters, with distinct stories that can stand on their own two feet.  But before I think seriously of any other DK stories, I’ve got to finish this one.  

5. Are there any story developments that you were reluctant to draw whether out of concern for reader reaction or because you didn’t like subjecting your characters to less than savory events?

The first one that comes to mind is Paige.  It was easy to write out her fate on paper- and then I drew her for the first time, and it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.   It won’t be the last time I get that feeling.
I’m not worried for our readers, though- if there’s anything that explains why DK is being well received, I think a big part is because I don’t patronize our readers, or shield them from unpleasant truths.  They stay because they know the story will unfold in an unflinching, internally consistent reality.  That makes the danger relevant, rather than just another Saturday morning cliffhanger.
As for subjecting our characters to adversity…  That can’t be helped, for the same reasons stated above.  They aren’t stupid enough to step into true peril for petty reasons- they have to be pushed into difficult, near unacceptable situations.  It’s the most extreme circumstances that make or break characters, that show us what kinds of truths endure through life’s storms.  If our characters had it easy, there wouldn’t be a reason to read about them.

6. Is there a line you won’t cross in your writing, regardless of how well it would fit into the story?


7. KMFDM is mentioned twice: in the introduction to Volume 2 and as the background music for the club scene in Volume 3. How heavily does music play into your creative process? Is it something you use when you’re aiming for a particular mood while writing or drawing or more of an incidental? Are there bands other than KMFDM that are heavy in rotation while you work?

Liz and I both use music on a daily basis.
KMFDM is influential to me for two reasons.  First I enjoy the sound.  Second, it’s an aggressively independent band, released under its own label, held together by the will of the founding creator, which has endured through the decades to keep on kicking every ass within reach.  The band itself serves as a symbol- don’t give up, keep going, it’s possible to succeed creatively on your own terms.  It can be done.  There have been plenty of rough spots through the years, so having artificial willpower helps.
Music helps the work process, too.  When I’m color blocking or darkening pencils, I can play a movie or whatever in the background- but scripting, thumbnails, and blueline pencils require focus.  Music helps motivate and block out distractions.  In addition to KMFDM I enjoy pop, big band swing, classical, trance…  I guess ‘eclectic’ would sound better than ‘ superficially random’ to describe my taste.  Some names that come to mind are Muse, Metric, Mayhem of LapFoxTrax, Yelle, Angelspit, Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, Fitz and Tantrumz, Lady GaGa, Professor Elemental,  The Chieftains, Mika, Flogging Molly, Scissor Sisters, Brad Paisley, Britney Spears…  Listen- you can almost hear the judgement.

8. How do you rank the growth of interest in the DK comic? Is the fanbase still increasing? Is it where you hoped it would be by this point in the project’s development?

Our reader level is healthy, and still growing- despite the fact that they’re free to read online, we sell Volume 1’s and 2’s every week.
Our readership is far below my ambitions from 2006- I was hoping by 2012 DK would be *the* premiere independent comic series of our generation, and shouldering it’s way among the lower tiers of mainstream fiction.  I hoped that, though everyone wouldn’t be a reader, most people would be passingly familiar with us.  That’s the level of achievement I worked towards.
We’ve fallen far short of that- instead of doing earth-shatteringly spectacular, we’re doing pretty damn good.  The high aim motivated me to advertise and actively promote whenever feasible, which augmented reader word-of-mouth to bring us a substantial audience- thousands of readers, with thousands of books sold.  We’re larger than most web comics- and not nearly as big as some of the daily-updating ones.  But the quality and loyalty level of our readers is unsurpassed.  Thanks to them, I can realistically expect to continue expanding- we’ve by no means filled our potential footprint yet.

9. Where would you like to see the DK universe ultimately go? Is this something you would like to see as a multimedia project? Animation? Heavily merchandised video games?

The only rock-solid certainty is a graphic novel series.  That I can guarantee, regardless of external circumstances.  I’ve loved books from childhood, and I’m immensely satisfied to be making them.  However, expanding to animation and video games sounds fun as hell.  I don’t want to sign off on something that amounts to a sad travesty.  But if I have the opportunity to bring a solid animation or game into the world, I’ll go for it.  After I get some more books under my belt, if things are stable enough, I might instigate the opportunities.      

10. Are there any other creators – whether writers, artists or musicians – who speak to and inspire you and your work, even if indirectly?

Absolutely.  How cognizant I am of them is another matter- I’m a child of the 80’s, so I inherited a rich culture of vibrant traditional animation.  Dreamkeepers is really a takeoff from that era- a cartoon-loving child growing up and deciding to take what he loves with him.  I’m indebted to more creators than I’ll ever know.  Some that I’m aware of:  Bill Watterson, Glen Keane, Jhonen Vasquez, Tracy Butler, Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira Toriyama, Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Bruce Timm, Don Bluth.

11. You mention in the introduction to Volume 1 wanting to create a comic that spoke to your interests in storytelling and bypassing comic clichés. Was there ever a doubt that your idea had the ability to do this?

Not really…  Perhaps that reflects some arrogance.  But I knew what I didn’t like about most superhero comics, and I knew what I wanted to see instead.  Even if I fall short of the vision and make mistakes, I’m still satisfied with the direction I’m striving for.

12. What advice would you give to an aspiring storyteller, whether one just coming up with the beginnings of their concept or seeing their story through to publication?

The only one that really matters is this:  Don’t quit.

Talent is vastly overrated in our society.  There are a whole lot of talented failures.  The ones who prevail are the ones who hang on the longest, the ones who care the most, the ones who never stop striving to improve.

Starting advice:  Start creating what it is you want to see.  If you’re not ‘good enough’ yet, bear in mind that I still don’t see myself as good enough.  There will never be a perfect time to start.  You’re alive now.  Get cracking.

Second, finish.  Give up on making something perfect- nothing perfect is ever done.  You don’t get bonus points for making the ultimate creation that nobody will ever know of.

Now, developing your skills, planning your story, and effectively revising it are all critical steps to take.  But just make sure those steps don’t turn into never-ending foot-dragging death spirals.  Try setting some realistic deadlines if you find yourself drifting into the doldrums- and work for them.

Practice is critical for honing a skill in pretty much any area.  I got a head start on drawing since it’s been my lifelong pastime.  I started writing without much experience- I’ve improved by sitting down and doing a lot of it.  I also did some research- these are titles I would recommend to anyone looking to craft a story.  Read this stuff, and you’ll be better equipped to craft a story than some poor soul who got blasted with literary snobbery and saddled with debt at a university.  Jim Butcher’s livejournal houses sheer gold.  Grab a copy before the internet eats it.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, Story Engineering and Story Physics by Larry Brooks, Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald.  One or two months of reading, maybe thirty bucks on Amazon, and you’ll be ahead of most aspiring creators.

No time to start like now.

Indy Comic Review- Volume 3!

Alex Haas, of the late great Indy Comic Review website, comes out of retirement to share his thoughts on Dreamkeepers Volume 3!  Special thanks to Alex for taking the time for this!  

* * * * *

Back in the mid “aughts” (2006 or so, if memory serves), I got caught up in the excitement of a new

series called Dreamkeepers when Dave Lillie submitted a copy its first volume for review via a relatively

new I got to cut my teeth as the newest reviewer on what turned out to be one

of the few genuinely gripping submissions we received and certainly one of the first to knock me out of

my chair. This isn’t to reinforce the trope that indie signals a bad offering, but as with most things, the

genuinely amazing material is both rare and quick to demand your attention. To stand out, a story and/

or its presentation need to offer something the reader hasn’t seen or heard before, at least not in that

configuration. That’s where Dreamkeepers shines and has done since its inception.

Last year saw the release of the third volume in the series, now being worked on by Dave and his wife,

Liz, who has been on board “full time” since Volume 2. If nothing else, it’s a cause for celebration like an

old friend coming to town unexpectedly. Yes, good times will be had.

For those who haven’t read it, I can’t say much about the prior volumes without spoiling some very

carefully and creatively built-up twists and reveals. I will say to anyone put off by the art style that it

well surpasses any other comic that plies the “humanoid animals with big eyes” trade and, in some

ways, the art style serves to strikingly offset what can be, at times, an exceedingly ugly story. This

isn’t the kind of ugly that a story relying strictly on unredeemable characters flaunts. We like these

characters and the writing works very hard to ensure that, for every rough edge they possess, they’re

still kids and likeable kids at that. Unfortunately, the world of Dreamkeepers being what it is, bad things

happen to good people… Sometimes a bit much. If there is karma in the DK universe, I suspect Mace,

Whip, Lillith and Namah were pretty awful in a past life or three (certainly Mace and Namah – but I

suspect she would embrace that).

As a sucker for art that pairs the ugly with the beautiful, I was sold from the start. In seriousness, the

comic succeeds both because of its art, which is incredibly detailed and well crafted, and because the art

is almost inappropriate to the tone of the story.

The first two installments in the series set the action rolling well enough and give us plenty of time

to attach ourselves to these characters. The writing centers on the kids and has always had a very

light touch while still managing to staple our attention to them. We want them to be ok in spite of

everything going on around them.

Riding through these opening chapters, there is a sense that we are as in the dark about what is really

happening as the children. As a result, the world around them comes across like a blur that never stops

moving long enough for us to focus in on anything.

By the time we get to Volume 3, everything that has come before seems like an appetizer. The action

is constant, but now feels more full and substantial. Events are moving forward, even if we still can’t

see what they’re building to. We know it’s big and potentially very bad. The characters we’ve been

introduced to thus far still feel familiar and now, more than ever, the concern that some of them may

not make it to the next book depending on what comes via the next page.

The world also comes into its own here in a big way. Funny enough, there’s no major change in the way

the story is being delivered. There are no extended four page monologues that could have been read

by Morgan Freeman or Laurence Fishburne. Somehow, Dave and Liz have managed to write a story

that pauses as little as possible for exposition while still giving us as readers just enough information to

nod sagely and offer the odd, “Oh, so that’s what that thing was doing there. Gotcha.” Seriously, these

two should write a how-to guide on writing stories that are as lean as they can possibly be while still

connecting with the audience. Hollywood, novelists and aspiring comic creators would do well to take


There’s still a bit too much happening to gather a complete picture of the world of the Dreamkeepers,

but now, through two prior volumes and the bits of extra “world exposition” present at the end of each

volume, it is starting to feel like it is a lived-in place. Granted, it’s lived-in by characters that are rather

insulated from the reality OUR characters have to face.

If I had a complaint in earlier books, it was the sense that the characters and the world they lived in

were two separate entities that did not connect and this book addresses that in one dismissive sweep of

the literary hand.

I can’t escape the feeling that this series is unfolding the way any great artist or musician’s career

does. When you see the early works, you see promise and a lot of raw talent, but only the outline of

it. It’s only when you advance through their material that you see that talent take shape, take aim and

ultimately take off. For as good as the series has been thus far, with a massive leap forward like that

seen in the chapters of Volume 3, I’m convinced that the best is yet to come.

Check out the series. Absorb the early installments and end up impatiently anticipating the arrival of

the next. Above all, be sure to support this project, because it stands without competition. Simply put,

nobody else is covering this territory and, even if they were, they’d be hard-pressed to do it this well.

-Alex Haas