Between the Panels: Writer Madeleine Holly-Rosing on Navigating Kickstarter, Having a Thick Skin, and Falling in Love with Comics

“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.

Coming out of UCLA’s MFA program in screenwriting, Madeleine Holly-Rosing might have followed her muse into the world of film or TV. Instead, in one of life’s plot twists, she found her calling as a novelist and comics author who knows how to balance both the creative and business sides of the writing game.

First, the particulars…

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

Your home base (city/state or just state if you prefer): Los Angeles, CA


Social Media:

Instagram: mcholly1

Twitter: @mhollyrosing

Facebook: BostonMetaphysicalSocietyComic

Current project titles:    
Boston Metaphysical Society: The Spirit of Rebellion
Boston Metaphysical Society (Source Point Press, available July 31)

Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: First, the big question: Why comics? What attracts you to writing for the comics form specifically?

Madeleine Holly-Rosing: It never occurred to me that I would ever write comics when I first started to write fiction; however, I need to back up the question a bit and tell you a bit about how Boston Metaphysical Society (“BMS”) came to be. It was originally a TV pilot that I wrote at UCLA while I was in the MFA program in screenwriting. I shopped it around, got good feedback, but this was before steampunk became mainstream and no one would pick it up. A friend suggested I turn it into a graphic novel to use as ancillary marketing material. Little did I know that in the process of learning how to write a comic and about the business I would fall in love with indie comics and the community. (Note the “indie” part.)

KS: Talk a bit about your experience in the UCLA program. Asking as one alum to another, is there something you took from there that’s still useful to you today?

MHR: It gave me the tools I need to be able to create a new story over and over again in an organized and methodical manner.  UCLA also taught me to have a thick skin when it came to notes. In fact, I wish all writers spent some time in film school where you have your ass handed to you on a daily basis. You also learn to differentiate between notes that are personal and those that are constructive.

KS: On a basic level, how would you compare writing in the two formats?

MHR: Writing a comic is very similar to writing a screenplay in that both are visual writing; however, what I love about comics is that you don’t have to worry about budget in the same way you do with a film.  Yes, you must pay someone to draw, color, and letter, but it’s not the same as producing a big space battle or period piece.

KS: Since you’ve worked in multiple disciplines, how do you know when a story is more right for one format over another? What makes an obvious fit for comics instead of, say, a screenplay?

MHR: To me, it’s more of a feeling based on experience in writing and marketing. BMS made the crossover from a TV pilot to graphic novel quite well, and I even have a novel out that is a prequel [Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets]. But modifications have to be made to allow the story to evolve organically in whatever medium you chose to tell it in — otherwise known as an adaptation.

KS: What inspired the choice to use the novel format as a prequel to your comic series? 

MHR: Budget. It's expensive to produce a comic. Everything prior to the timeline of the original series will be in prose, while everything after will be a short graphic novel.

KS: Stepping back in time, what’s the first piece of “real” writing you remember creating — in any format, not just comics?

MHR: I’ve been writing creatively since I learned how to write. And I take all my projects seriously. LOL. The only thing I can think of that strikes me is a story I tell whenever I’m on the panel for “Women on the Dark Side.” I must have been in the first grade when we were asked to write a story a few paragraphs long. I vaguely remember it being about a battle and that bad men killed the good men — now you know why I’m on the panel.  Afterwards, I sat with a female TA who went over the story with me for grammar, word usage, etc.; however, she really questioned me about the word, “kill,” that I had used in my story and did I want to use it. She asked me three times if I wanted to use that word, and each time I said yes. Looking back on it now, she was trying to steer me away from that word for whatever reason. Was it because I was young? A girl? I’ll never know, but the point is that from a very young age other people will try to decide what words you should use instead of you deciding for yourself.

KS: These days, do you have a set daily or nightly work routine? Any go-to snacks/beverages for the writing process?

MHR: Yes and no. My schedule revolves around prepping for a Kickstarter and fulfillment, traveling and working at conventions, etc., so my writing schedule constantly changes with the seasons; however, when I have a project, I usually write in the afternoons with either coffee or tea and sometimes yogurt. Silence works best for me.

KS: Every writer evolves through practice. If you look back at your earlier work, what’s something that stands out as different from what you produce now?

MHR: I’m way better at writing characters. Part of it is that I’ve lived with the BMS characters for so long that I know them really well. I know now what it takes to make characters complex and believable and the mental effort is exhausting.

KS: Kickstarter is a route many comics creators are exploring these days. As someone who’s been successful on that platform — and even written a book about it [Kickstarter for the Independent Creator] — is there anything you wish you’d known earlier to make your life easier?

MHR: I failed on the first one. I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. I didn’t have a mailing list, but since we began as a webcomic and we had over 7K unique views per month I thought that even if only 5% of those folks came on board we’d be okay. Also, my goal was too high at $25K. We had three issues done in a six-issue mini-series, and we were looking for production costs to finish and go to trade. It turned out that probably less than .5% backed from the website and with no mailing list, it was a problem. But even though we failed, we still had over 200 backers and topped out at over $7K. We decided to break up the Kickstarters into funding the printing of the individual issues and then the trade.  After that, we made every goal. I’ve also spent time building an email list from the cons I attended, as well as from our first backers.

That experience is one of the reasons that I wrote the Kickstarter book. I saw that other creators were making the same mistakes I did, and there was no reason for them to.

KS: Hypothetical time: a comics publisher is giving you a chance to write one story featuring any mainstream character or team… it can be a single issue, miniseries, or graphic novel. Who would you “sink your pen” into?

MHR: Probably Daredevil or Wonder Woman.

KS: What’s a comic series or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?

MHR: There are several. Monstress by Marjorie Liu is amazing. Between the art by Sana Tanaka and the storytelling, it is a unique and rich fantasy world.

The other is Lady Killer by Joëlle Jones. Not only is the period detail spot on, but I love the complex character of Josie Schuller. Here is woman who loves being a mom and a housewife, yet she loves her job as an assassin, as well. And she’s very good at it.

KS: Finally, can you talk a little about your newest project?

MHR: Boston Metaphysical Society: The Spirit of Rebellion (art by Gwynn Tavares) is a standalone continuation of the original six issue mini-series. The story occurs contemporaneously with the first standalone story, The Scourge of the Mechanical Men.

The Spirit of Rebellion focuses on Caitlin O’Sullivan who we meet in the original series. Even after saving Boston from The Shifter, Caitlin is thrown out by her mother for working with Samuel and Granville. When she goes to Samuel for help, he takes her to the boarding house of an old friend in Philadelphia. There she discovers a ghost, the beginning of a rebellion, and perhaps her destiny.

Once the Kickstarter packages are out, then I will put it up on Amazon for sale for the print version and Drivethrucomics for the digital.

[NOTE: The original six issue series (art by Emily Hu) is being published by Source Point Press starting July 31. Find ordering information about issue #1 HERE, #2 HERE, and #3 HERE.]

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