Comics Confidential with Dave Kelly
This is the second part of my two part article previewing So What? Press. You can read about that here. You can also read a review of their book, Tales of the Night Watchman here as well. This time I got a chance to chat with Dave Kelly, the founder and writer. We talk all things comics, including the hardships of self publishing and personal hardships as well.
RAPHAEL MORAN: How’d you get started with your love of comics? What was the first comic you read?
DAVE KELLY: I really got into comics through newspaper strips and cartoon shows. My mom would read Dick Tracy, The Phantom, and Spider-Man to me. This was when I was very, very young. My first exposure to any Marvel character was probably through the Spider-Man strip, believe it or not. I also had a serious infatuation with Brenda Starr. My dad showed me Ghostbusters at an inappropriately young age, and it left a mark. I mean this all positively, of course. It started early, and it’s all my parent’s fault.
I’ve been a lifelong fan of Batman, but I can’t remember where that started. I was familiar with the character before the first Tim Burton movie, but I definitely got into the comics after that. My parents wouldn’t take me to see it in the theater because they thought I was too young, which makes me chuckle considering what I just told you, but they had reconsidered by Christmas and got me the VHS. That black box with just the bat-logo on it is still the best.
Oh, wait, you know where the Batman thing came from? Watching the old Filmation Batman cartoons on Bozo’s Circus in the ’80s. Good God, that is classic stuff! [laughs]
RM: You’re unlike most creative teams. How is it when the writer and artist happen to be dating and living together?
DK: You know, I think Lara & I have defied all logic here. I am one lucky sonofabitch. We were kinda-sorta dating around the time we started talking about doing a comic, and as one thing got more serious so did the other. Now it’s very serious. We make it work because we like each other a lot and have a vested interest in the material we create – – be it Tales of the Night Watchman, one of her minis, or the other artists we publish.
RM: How did the idea of Tales of a Night Watchman come about?
DK: It came about because of my friendship with Lara. If we had not met, I doubt I would be making comics. I worked in film production after college and really wanted to get something substantial off the ground. I did a web-series that was short-lived. And then I was diagnosed with cancer. That sidelined me for about a year and, after a full recovery, I began to reevaluate things. Coincidentally, years before, I had worked at a coffee shop with Julia Wertz and Sarah Glidden. I was totally blown away by what they were doing – – just making mini-comics and tabling and getting a serious following. My interest in their work took me to Desert Island and then Bergen Street Comics which opened my eyes to small press and self-publishing.
I’ve always loved comics, but there have been points in my life where I just wasn’t going to shops regularly. While undergoing chemo, I started reading Dark Horse’s Creepy reboot as well as Boom’s Hellraiser. For some reason during that period of my life, I was getting really jazzed about horror. I was also getting jazzed about comics again because I had a lot of time to read.
So fast-forward to 2011. One day, I offhandedly suggested to Lara we do a comic after she showed me this beautiful sketch that she had drawn of Morpheus from The Sandman. We started to talk more and more about the kind of comic we’d like to make and saw eye-to-eye on most of it. The whole process of creating Tales of the Night Watchman was very organic. It incorporates a lot things we’ve both experienced living in New York City such as, but certainly not limited to, the misery of working in the service industry while desiring to pursue your dreams. We both have extensive experience in that. [laughs]
We started self-publishing in 2011, reorganized our efforts as So What? Press in 2012, and started publishing other cartoonists’ work in 2013. This was also the year we brought on Molly Ostertag to do Tales of the Night Watchman Presents. She’s illustrated two issues for us including the upcoming “It Came from the Gowanus Canal”. I just got the books from the printer today and they look great!
RM: What are some of the major hardships in being a self publisher?
DK: Promotion and distribution are the hardest. Promotion, more so. It’s hard to get people to notice indie comics period. It’s even harder when you’re doing something that borders on being a superhero comic. You wind up in a void where you’re not mainstream enough for the superhero readers and not cool enough for the small press readers. With Tales of the Night Watchman, I’m constantly trying to find harmony and bring these people together. [laughs]
Distribution isn’t as scary as people think. So What? Press titles can be found in over forty stores right now. It takes a lot of time and willingness to walk into a shop and say, “Hello, my name is blank and I publish comics.” I have to say, I’ve been surprised by the willingness of comic shops, both big and small, mainstream and indie, to carry our stuff. I’m very grateful for that.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give, it’s never be afraid to sell your stuff. Go to festivals, go to stores, talk to people, put yourself out there. You are your best promoter, and it’s never as scary as it might seem.
RM: Do you ever think you’ll try and do a KickStarter for your next projects?
DK: We don’t have any plans to crowdfund in the foreseeable future. It we do, it would be something special, something we couldn’t accomplish otherwise. Crowdfunding is great, and I’m constantly blown away by all the cool projects I see people doing. It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to creativity since ink and paper.
RM: Are you considering other digital outlets like Drive thru comics, and Comixology?
DK: We definitely are. Expect digital releases of Tales of the Night Watchman later this year.
RM: Did you ever think about submitting the book to another publisher?
DK: Right now Tales is our baby. We are developing some other projects to pitch around, but it’s too early to comment further. We’ve also begun publishing other people’s work and putting a lot of effort into that side of things.
RM: What are some of your future projects?
DK: Lara is developing a web-comic called The Belmore Arms about a college student who lives in a haunted apartment building. We co-plotted the first story but, otherwise, it’s all her. Aside from the aforementioned pitches, I’m focusing all my efforts on Tales until we get the first story arc wrapped up. And then there’s the publishing side of things which takes up a good amount of time.
RM: Ever thought about doing a short film adaptation of Night Watchman?
DK: If we developed Tales in any other media, it would have to be much bigger. One thing that came up recently was developing a direct-to-streaming Tales of the Night Watchman TV series. This couldn’t be any more in its infancy, but it’s something both Lara & I would love to see happen.
RM: If ever given the chance to write a mainstream superhero book, which book would it be and why?
DK: Swamp Thing, hands down. 100%. No question. I love characters who’ve been torn from their bodies and forcibly changed by something out of their control. It’s rife with drama from the get-go. Batman could just give up being Batman, but Swampy’s not so lucky. Saga of Swamp Thing has had a huge influence on Tales of the Night Watchman obviously.
On a side note, I used to be office neighbors with Charles Soule, and we’ve stayed acquainted over the years. When he landed the gig on Swamp Thing I was totally inspired…and envious! [laughs] He climbed up the self-publishing ranks and is now an “overnight success”. That’s all any of us could ever hope for.
So What? Press will have three books coming out in April at MoCCA Arts Fest 2014. If you’re going, stop by and say hello to Dave and Lara at their booth. Be sure to pick up their latest books too.
Tales of the Night Watchman Presents: It Came from the Gowanus Canal
By Dave Kelly & Molly Ostertag
So What? Press
B&W, 40 pages
Something evil is lurking below Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal and it’s killing the locals. Serena thinks she’s confirmed the existence of the legendary “Gowanus Golem”, but after dragging the Night Watchman into it, their investigation turns up something unexpected – – and a lot more frightening.
Tales of the Night Watchman: Staycation
By Dave Kelly & Lara Antal
So What? Press
B&W, 8 pages
A prologue to the acclaimed series! Nora and Trish take a short trip to the beach in an effort to get away form it all, but certain problems just can’t be left behind.
By Jess Ruliffson
So What? Press
B&W, 16 pages
Nonfiction cartoonist Jess Ruliffson documents the experiences of veterans wounded in combat. Invisible Wounds tells the story of one whose injuries aren’t so easy to see and explores the trials, fears, and hope he finds in a country that is not always willing to take its heroes back.