Jason Enright, Fanboy Comics Senior Contributor: You've launched your first Kickstarter, The Aggregate, and just 24 hours in, it is going really well. Congratulations! For those just hearing about it, what is the graphic novel about?
Ben Bishop: Thank you! It’s going extremely well; in fact, it just reached its $10,000 goal at hour 25! Amazing! The Aggregate is a post-apocalyptic choose-your-own-adventure-style graphic novel. The story follows a mysterious young woman named Valerius, who has spent the last 1,000 years keeping 5 genetically modified individuals, the "OTAs," away from their giant, robot-killing machine. But now, she finds herself leading one of them, the "Man," right to it.
That's the quick version. The even quicker version is something like, “Imagine if all the Power Rangers were evil, and they wanted to use their Megazord to wipe out 3/4 of the people on Earth. Oh and Mad Max is there, OH AND he's in love with the red ranger . . . " Have I hooked you guys yet? At its heart, it's the story of Valerius believing that the "Man's" humanity can outweigh his programming, and ultimately the man's choice to trust her. Since he's one of the "OTAs" who were created in a lab, made to use their powers to take the world’s population down to a manageable number, wiping the slate clean. Action adventure, giant robots ,and spider-cats.
JE: One of the coolest aspects of The Aggregate is that it is a choose-your-own-adventure-style graphic novel. What does that mean exactly? How will you explore that through the graphic novel medium?
BB: Yeah, that is something I'm really excited about. I'm calling it a "Split Decision" Comic. Essentially, the idea stemmed from a few places . . . First of all, I had always loved the "CYOA" books as a kid. I read comics because of the awesome drawings, but also because of the characters. It's all about character for me. So, when I read something that's not a comic, it has to have great characters, and I don't think you can find a more character driven book than a "CYOA" because you literally were the character! The next thing I thought about was re-readability. It has always amazed me that comics take so long to make, and people might just read a page for a few seconds. The "Split Decision" format will encourage people to re-read the book over and over, and experience it differently each time. The final thing that occurred to me, when thinking of HOW I actually wanted to do this, because I don't feel like anyone that has ever tried to do a CYOA style comic has really done it in a way I found easy to read, or in a way that enhanced the story rather than just adding to it, was video games. Video games have used a similar decision making format since forever! When you play Final Fantasy 7 or The Last Of Us, you can play that game a million different ways depending on your choices or behavior. In The Aggregate you won't be the main character like in a standard CYOA. There will be many characters, with names, and personalities, and you'll be making decisions for what they do, or how they act, and that will actually change the story, and the way other characters act towards each other.
JE: You already have a pretty extensive body of work with Nathan the Caveman, several short stories, and covers for IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How have those projects prepared you for taking on The Aggregate?
BB: Well the self-published stuff, like Nathan the Caveman, that book taught me everything I know now. It wasn't even until halfway through that 300-page book that I started drawing on an actual desk. But, aside from process and working methods, I've learned skills from everything I've ever done. Whether it's that I actually AM capable of drawing and lettering 75 pages in 3 months, or simply being realistically prepared for how much time and energy it will take to make, print, and ship a certain size book; everything, thus far, has taught me something and prepared me to go back into hermit mode and crank out The Aggregate.
JE: What are some of the rewards and stretch goals available for people who pledge?
BB: There is still a lot of really awesome stuff for rewards. My favorite is “YOUR CAT THE AGGRE-CAT" You can actually get your cat drawn into the book as a 50 foot spider-cat. It will have its own page in the book, plus you get a full color print of your adorable little beast. Every reward over $25 comes with the book, so it's a great way to simply preorder it, because now that it's funded we know its happening. Other cool rewards... You can write a "Split Decision" story branch, and be credited. You can be drawn into the book as a secondary character, and get the original page of art in which you appear. I have portfolio reviews from Bon Alimagno, former talent director from Marvel comics. Script critiques from Alex Irvine, who has written everything from Avengers to Transformers. And, last but definitely not least some hugely famous, and amazing artists have created some original Aggregate art that you can score, artists like Ben Templesmith, Mateus Santolouco, Kristian Donaldson, Chris Dibari, Ray Dillon and more.
For stretch goals . . . I REALLY want to make this book full color, if we can hit $20,000 we can do that, I think that will really make this book even better. I also have additional bookmarks which are already unlocked; those are a key element in the "Split Decision" reading because one thing people always complained about with the CYOA books was having to stick your fingers in the book in case you wanted to backtrack to your last bad decision. At the $15,000 level I’ll be printing a whole other book, a companion sketchbook, "Assembling The Aggregate," which will include a bunch of pages of behind the scenes concept sketches.
JE: Okay, pitch time! Why should readers click over to Kickstarter right now and pledge for the book?
BB: Well, aside from all the amazing stuff I mentioned above . . . I think this book is going to be huge. I'm very confident in it. I think the story is going to be fun as hell, as well as emotional. (Nathan the Caveman was a 300-page love story . . . I was 18, and I was obsessed with Blankets. Give me a break! ) I also am hopeful that the "Split Decision" format will catch on, and other people will start expanding the way we tell stories in comics. When CYOA books came out, they literally created a whole new genre called Gamebooks. I don't see any reason why we can't have more fun with the way we create and read comics, and I think The Aggregate and the "Split Decision" format is really just one of the many ways we can do that.
The Aggregate has reached its initial funding level and is now pursuing stretch goals that include a full-color version of the book. You can check it out and pledge to get yourself a copy by visiting the Kickstarter campaign.