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    How the DEAD WEST Was Won

    Rick Spears burst into the comics scene with Rob G (artist) with Teenager From Mars, a monster hit (pun intended). Rick and Rob self-published the book after being left in the cold by every major publisher. The duo didn’t have that problem with their newest graphic novel, Dead West, because instead of pitching it to other companies, they decided to start their own. Rick talked with CF about Dead West and what he’s doing differently this time around.

    What did you learn in film school that’s served you in the comics field?

    Film school got me thinking visually, you know, “Show, don’t tell.” Comics and film are both visual story mediums and so you want your stories to unfold through images. Film school really drills that into you, and it’s served me well.

    What weren’t you prepared for?

    I was a Boy scout. I’m always prepared.

    How did you meet up with artist/collaborator Rob G.? How did you build that professional relationship?

    Macon (who, yes, is a real guy) was friends with Rob’s roommate, and they put us together.

    To this day, the hardest part of comics for me is finding the right collaborator. Artists can be a tricky bunch to navigate, and a lot of the ones I’ve talked to just can’t cut it, either on skill level or more frequently because of a lazy work ethic. It took a year to find Rob, but once we came together it was gold. We’ve worked together very well right from the beginning.

    What are the biggest challenges of self-publishing?

    Well, money is always the bitch. Our books sell very well for independent books, but still that doesn’t leave much after all the costs are deducted. Comics as a whole is a sort of depressed medium. Even the big guys have to deal with that, but for independent books with a smaller cut of the market it’s that much worse. So we have to be very smart with all of our choices and savvy with how we spend money.

    Press is another one. With little money for advertising you have to really work all the angles, get the reviews, get on the Internet, get in Wizard and get it all for free.

    What advice do you have for someone interested in self-publishing?

    My No. 1 bit of advice is to look clearly at your work and be honest with yourself about it. It’s hard, but you have to be your own worst critic. If there are problems, address them. Fix them. Fatigue is no excuse. You can save yourself a lot of pain and bankruptcy this way.

    Teenagers from Mars deals with subversive themes like censorship and politics. What other themes do you hope to explore?

    As I write more, I think the themes I’m most interested in exploring are the secret worlds behind the things we take for granted and then working them through genre fiction.

    What’s your thought process when you approach a project?

    I’m sure I have one, but I couldn’t really explain it. At this point, with starting Gigantic Graphic Novels, things are going, reversing, backing up to back on track so fast and crazy that I hardly have time to really think about it all. I’m just go, go, going.

    What are the differences between self-publishing and work-for-hire, which you’ve done for DC and AiT/Planet Lar?

    The AiT/Planet Lar wasn’t work for hire. It’s creator-owned, and the product of that union, the 96-page OGN titled “Filler,” which came out earlier in May. (Plug, plug, plug.) But the major difference is getting a check! With work for hire, you get a check and walk away. That has its own benefits, but in my heart I prefer self-publishing because I’m a masochist.

    What’s the one thing every aspiring writer needs to know but probably doesn’t?

    Know when to bail. Know when to quit. Everyone writes a bad story sooner or later. Don’t let it drag you down. Realize it sucks, learn from it, move on and make the next one better.

    What did you learn from your experience on “Teenager From Mars” that helped in creating “Dead West”?

    With Teenagers, we were working from obscurity and had to bring our game all the way up. Now we have a lot of contacts, we understand how to talk to the printer, we have relationships with distributors, retailers and press. With “Dead West” we had a running start so the thing is to take it that much further.

    —Interview by Tim Leong

    Dead West will be available from Gigantic Graphic Novels in June. For more information, visit their Web site at

    Posted by Tim Leong on May 23rd, 2005 filed in Story Archive |

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