Between the Panels: Writer Michael Dolce on Setting Goals, Memorable Convention Moments, and Learning What Not to Do

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

The old proverb, “From little acorns do mighty oaks grow,” is applicable when looking at Michael Dolce’s professional path. From the kid who set his mind on a particular career goal... grew the young man out of college who hustled and sold his own book… grew the writer who not only produces comics but runs his own media company, as well. He brings the seasoned perspective of someone who’s seen the industry from multiple angles and forged a role for himself as part of it.

First, the particulars…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer/artist/podcaster

Your home base: New York, NY

Website: www.sirestudiosinc.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SireStudios

Twitter: @Sire_Studios




Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What attracts you to working in, and covering, the comics form specifically?

Michael Dolce: It’s always been comics. Since I was in fourth grade folding pieces of paper together to make Legend of Zelda or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, and then in sixth grade starting to make my own, there’s never been anything else that I love as much. I grew up in the '90s, so we’re talking about some of the prime artistic and storytelling years. It was such a creative time overall: music was amazing, movies were great — there was just so much that fed into my youth.

KS: Do you remember when the “I want to try doing that” thought first came into your head?

MD: A lot of people when they’re growing up are hit with, “What do you want to do with your life?” I never had that question. The answer was always there.




KS: What were the formative comics of your childhood, the titles that really shaped you as a fan and a reader?

MD: Growing up was when you could find comics in a newsstand or stationery store or supermarket. My love of the Turtles cartoon is what got me into picking up a comic [starring them]. A friend gave me a copy of Spectacular Spider-Man, which is what got me into the modern Marvel Age. It was right around that time when the trading cards came out, too; it was a very quick entry point to learning about all these characters I never knew existed. Trading cards were your Wikipedia.

1990s comics are still the best. They just are.

KS: Can you look back and identify the moment where you first considered yourself a “real” comics creator?

MD: I was a visual arts major, creative writing minor in college — so everything I was doing was tailor-made for comics. There were goals always in mind. I essentially spent my entire senior year creating my own font, figuring out coloring, drawing, writing. It was a book called Crossfire, and it taught me everything not to do. I submitted it to publishers and to Diamond; they said no. I ended up taking it on the road, going to conventions, setting up a table, learning the art of selling.

In 2006 when I relaunched the book as The Sire — after it was redrawn by Dan Leister — we got into Diamond and did really well for an indie book. A guy came up to me with a copy at Wizard World Chicago and told me he bought it from his comic store, and that I was on his list of people to get autographs from. That’s the moment.




KS: Backtracking for a moment, you were initially thinking of yourself as a writer-artist one man show?

MD: Yeah, I thought I could cut my costs if I drew everything myself. Some of my artwork is good enough, most of my artwork is not. Also, it took me a year and a half to draw 16 pages — that kind of production is not going to cut it. But this was the 19, 21-year-old mentality: If I could spend all day writing and drawing, go to conventions, and sell 10,000 copies a month, I’d be set! That was my business plan back then.

KS: How did you go from selling your books at your own table to a publisher taking you on?

MD: I’d done some coloring work as a means to an end, but the first written work I got was based off The Sire. Through the four issues he drew for me, Dan got a gig at Zenoscope, which introduced me to [editor] Raven Gregory. He then allowed me to pitch [for Grimm’s Fairy Tales], and I got the note back that it was one of the best pitches they’d heard. That’s a good feeling.




KS: Kickstarter is a route many comics creators are exploring these days. As someone who’s successfully navigated that path, what do you feel contributed to your success?

MD: Kickstarter is the business model for making money from comics these days. It’s not a ton of money, but you can make money. You’ve got to build a following; social media shouldn’t be a pulpit, it should be a platform to get your message out. You don’t need to have Image Comics credentials, but you need to show you’re going to deliver on your promises.  

There are many ways to have success on Kickstarter. One of the ways to lose success is to not produce the book. People aren’t going to back you if they don’t believe they’re going to see anything.

KS: Let’s step away from comics momentarily to talk about the secret origin of Sire Studios. What was the original concept for the enterprise?

MD: It really started from the podcast [Secrets of the Sire]. The impetus behind that was that my Image book came out in 2009, I did a Kickstarter in 2014, but beyond those I had no real direction. My editor at Image — who was a big proponent of my work — was let go. All of a sudden, I didn’t know where to go next. I joined a radio station called Talkradio.nyc, and we did a live radio show which got turned into a podcast after. The podcast was a way to reach back out to my contacts; all of a sudden I could offer them something rather than always asking for something.

Now, we reach a wide audience every week. We’ve had guests from different media, not just comics. And audio dramas are back — which are way cheaper to produce than comics. That’s something we’re going to do next year.

KS: Aside from that convention autograph request in Chicago, what’s a special memory from your time in comics so far?

MD: My Image book came out the same year as Image United, so I was signing copies at Jim Valentino’s table. All of [the creators] were there: Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Silvestri. My dad used to wait with me for hours outside a comic store in the freezing cold to get signatures from these guys, and here in 2009 I was signing right next to them.




KS: Hypothetical time: A comics publisher is giving you a chance to write one story for a mainstream character/team. Who would you like to sink your hooks into?

MD: Give me Gambit in an X-Men role, not in a solo book. He’s like Joey on Friends; he’s amazing as a supporting character, but you put him in his own series, and it’s not going to work. I’d want my team to be Gambit, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus… and probably Havok and Strong Guy. And we’d get a Gambit the way he should be.

KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else (current or older) that you look at as an example of comics at their best?

MD: I’m going to give the cheesy answer: Watchmen. That’s my go-to. You could give that to someone who didn’t understand what comics were and they’d fully get it.

KS: Finally, can you talk a little about what you’re working on and what you’ve got coming up?

MD: Look for a bevy of new graphic novels to come to Kickstarter next year as Sire Studios moves toward becoming an active publisher of comic books and graphic novels. In March, our first graphic novel launch will be Time Trader, about a guy who can rewind time, takes his power to the stock market to cash in, discovers its run by an Illuminati of people just like him. Upcoming releases include the next volume of Sire comics, a YA book called Chasm, and a sci-fi comedy called Duke Astro with Image Comics’ artist Seth Damoose.
 
On the podcast front, we are producing a new debate podcast called HAMR with Secrets of the Sire co-host Hassan Godwin and Emmy Award-winning Robot Chicken writer Mike Fasolo, hosted by famous comic book moderator Victor Dandridge. We will also be producing a Fasolo original script as an audio drama.
 
Finally, I’m also writing for the award-winning web series, Adultish, which is being rebranded under the banner Geek A.F.
 
Busy 2020!






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