The following is an interview with Phillip Kelly and Lars Canty, the co-founders of the new indie publishing company Identity Comics. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Kelly and Canty about their first comic book release (Verge #1), their impetus for starting the company, and their advice to other independent creators who are looking to make their mark on the industry.
This interview was conducted on January 3, 2014.
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: As the founders of Identity Comics, a new indie comic book publishing company, what inspired you to launch the company, and what makes you stand apart from other publishers?
Phillip Kelly: Over the last five years, I’ve really dug back into the comic book world, rediscovered that passion that I had into my mid-twenties, and with it that untapped desire to create comics. That, mixed with the constant need to tell stories which aren’t necessarily pitch-able to film production companies and that won’t work on stage. Comic book readers are sophisticated and looking for new and groundbreaking things. That excites me as a writer. Because of that, we’re setting up a system in which feedback on the stories and character from readers will be listened to. Readers will have an effect on the story.
Lars Canty: I was honestly inspired by Sebastian Kadlecik and John Bring of Penguins vs. Possums fame. They were putting something out that I thought was really cool, and it kind of reinvigorated a creative spark in my brain. Sebastian and John do make it look easy, though. I believe what makes us stand apart from other publishers is to surprise ourselves. We didn’t sit down and try to create some forgetful, myopic world or city where a single individual has to battle somebody; we took a bunch of loosely tethered darts and threw them at a wall. Total control and structure don’t always make for a fun working process. I’ve always been the kid that drew outside the lines to add something to the picture, and I think developing a working environment where boundaries are challenged makes for better stories.
BD: Identity Comics recently released its first comic book, Verge #1. For our readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about this series and its creators?
PK: Well, Lars and I are the creators. I come from a stage and film background. Writing plays and film professionally. Our artists are pretty diverse, Lars is one of them. Sebastian Kadlecik is one of the guys behind Penguins vs. Possums. David R. Flores is the creator of Dead Future King. Ashley Lanni Hoye is a professional artist and just self-published a children’s book.
LC: The series is starting off as a ”shotgun anthology.” We came to the table with so many ideas that we couldn’t just settle on one, so we settled on four. If you like The Hulk or Pitt, please check us out, because we’ve got “Concrete Shoes.” If you miss The X-Files and really like cerebral sci-fi, check us out for “The Girl Made of Ice.” If you like the kind of comics that birthed The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, and Batman, check us out. There might be a diamond in there for a reader. I got turned on to magazines like Creepy, Eerie, and Heavy Metal at a very young age by my older brother, William. I remember walking to 7-11 on a Sunday morning with him and buying gum and those magazines and taking them home and soaking them in while listening to Van Halen or AC-DC in the living room. This was at about the same time that Star Wars was in full swing, so my brain was getting inundated with fantasy and amazing imagery from every angle. It definitely carried over into my professional life, but creating something of my own had eluded me until now.
BD: What has been the most challenging aspect of being a comic book publisher? The most rewarding?
PK: I don’t know if we’ve come across our greatest challenge yet. All of the typical things: getting the word out, making people interested. With so many things in the world today garnering for attention, you really have to work hard to stand out. The most rewarding thing for me has been walking into a comic book store and saying to the owner, “Look what I’ve done. I’d love to put it on your shelves.”
BD: Like many independent creators, you initiated a Kickstarter campaign for the project. Did you find the campaign process to be a positive experience, and would you recommend it to other creators?
PK: I would highly recommend it. I found people crawling out of the woodwork to help, but it’s not easy. Be prepared to work your butt off on getting the word out there. It’s really the first wave of advertising. The first time people are going to hear about what you’re up to, so spend some time and make it good. Come up with a solid plan, and it will be that much more rewarding.
LC: I think it was a very positive experience, but then again I did have a lot of faith and trust in Phillip. To collaborate with somebody blindly could set you up for a very stressful Kickstarter campaign, or a very pleasant, enthusiastic one. To have somebody there to say, “It’s all right, if we don’t make it, we’ll try something again,” when you are about to go out of your mind, because there are 5 days left, and you still need $700 is nice. You also need to be that person’s voice of reason when they are stressing out. During the process we were also working on the book. I think most of it was therapeutic. I would only recommend it to creators that are comfortable with 30 or 60 days of wondering if people think you can do it. You’ve got to have a little ego mixed with some pragmatism.
BD: As you have already released Issue #1 of the series, are you already at work on the next issue, and how many total issues do you foresee for the series?
PK: Although we haven’t officially started on the second issue (All our focus has been on getting our name out and letting people know about the first issue.), we have started plotting out the next chapters to the stories. The thing about Verge is that it’s an anthology. We currently have four stories running in tandem; the more popular ones may spin off into their own series, and new stories will be integrated into Verge. It’s very much like a Dark Horse Presents kind of book. We can, ultimately, keep the book going until we die.
BD: Are there any additional series on which you are currently working that you are able to share with our readers?
PK: There are other ideas, many that we talked about that we didn’t put in the first book. Some that were just too big to stuff into 8 pages; they need a whole book to grab a reader’s attention. They are fun ideas, but having just recently released Verge #1, it’s a little too early to talk about which ones may be coming up.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite comic books and graphic novels?
PK: I’m loving Scott Snyder’s work these days. The Wake and his run on Batman have both been incredible reading experiences. Batman and Robin has also been exceptional. Between the two of them, I’ve been inspired to go back and watch Batman Beyond and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which I never saw in their initial airings. I’m pretty much digging all things X-Men again, and it’s been awhile since I’ve said that – Bendis, Aaron, and the others that have been supplying the stories have been doing great work. The art has been really great, too. I could talk all day about comics. Image, as far as I’m concerned, is the epitome of great comics right now. That’s who I want to be. I think they should have their own movie studio.
LC: I tend to be a “per issue” reader, meaning that usually individual comic book issues come to mind when I think of my favorite stories. I also tend to follow the series that nobody else on Earth is reading. I am a huge fan of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. He created an entire universe with a heroic, yet dark, yet hilarious, group of superheroes and villains. I am a huge fan of Mark Millar’s work. Those first few issues of Marvel Knights Spider-Man introduced an interesting set of characters. One of my favorite comics of all time is an issue of The Hulk where Bruce Banner is stranded on Easter Island with The Absorbing Man. It came out in the late seventies or early eighties, and I remember getting it in the mail and reading it straight through and my mind being completely blown. Frank Miller did the cover, which makes this comic book one of my all time favorites.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to comic book fans who aspire to work in the comic book industry?
PK: There’s never one. Don’t be afraid to just go for it. Lars and I said, “Let’s do it,” and we did. The only person stopping you is yourself. And, be open to feedback, in fact, look for it. People you trust creatively and on a business end. While comics are creative, you have to treat it like a business if you want to get the word out. Finally, if you’re working with someone, communication. Constant, clear communication.
LC: Do you. Do what you want to do. Time waits for no man. Go for the gold.
BD: On that same note, which creators have inspired your work?
PK: This is going to read more like a list, and I suggest everyone looks into these artists or stories if you haven’t experienced them, comic, film, and otherwise: Ingmar Bergan, Alejandro Jodorowsky (theatre, film and comics!), Hayao Miyazaki, Ridley Scott, David Cronenberg, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Die Hard, Chris Claremont, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Brian Michael Bendis, Akira, Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Lord of the Flies, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, CS Lewis, Tolkien. I know I’m missing a lot; there are so many more, but if we’re talking about direct influences, these hit the closest to home.
LC: George Perez. John Byrne. Jack Kirby. Paul Smith. Chris Claremont. Robert Crumb. Frank Frazetta. Alan Moore.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Identity Comics?
PK: I’d say follow us on Facebook. That’s kind of the center of the world right now for us. We have a blog on wordpress called Identify Yourself, where I will occasionally break down our process more specifically and sometimes go into influences and things happening out there more specifically. There will be a website soon, but Facebook right now. Twitter, we’re on twitter. Use any outlet to let us know what you think. And, Verge #1 is available through Amazon and some local comic books stores in LA, soon to be expanding to more. That info will be online, as well!
LC: We like comic books, too. We did this comic for fun. Come and talk to us on Facebook, because we’re right there and totally accessible.