Comic Creator Interview
with Ken Eppstein
Name: Ken Eppstein
City: Columbus, OH
Comics: Nix Comics
Websites: www.nixcomics.com, www.theouthousers.com/index.php/columns/indie-insights.html,
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Ken – Oh man. Young. Eight maybe? I pretty much stuck with them up until I opened my own shop in the late 90s on the Ohio State campus. That lasted about a year & a half before I had to close up shop. The whole thing left me a little bitter & broken hearted, so I really didn’t pay much attention to comics again until recently.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Ken – Same as the first record I ever bought! One of those Power Records deals.... The Fantastic Four’s origin story reprinted & repackaged with a 45 that provided narration, including a little “ding” noise to let me know when to turn the pages.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Ken – 39. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Ken – I don’t know if that’s a fair question. Every decade has its ups & downs & whether or not there’s good material depends on your willingness to dig for what you like.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Ken – You know... One day I just decided I was going to start making comic books. I didn’t decide to be a writer & then pare it down. I guess this is just where my voice is.
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Ken – I don’t know. They’re same in my mind, like the way that a mom-n-pop restaurant is the same as McDonalds. Both are essentially in the same biz, but I don’t think one has (or should have) any aspirations to be the other. I want to be successful. I’d like Nix Comics to be a recognizable & respected brand, but I don’t really want to be mainstream in the gigantic corporate sense.
QRD – How many copies of your comic do you print in your first run?
Ken – For Nix Comics Quarterly, I run 2500, which seems like a lot, but it’s pretty well dictated by my business model. I pay all of the artists upfront for their work instead of on spec, so I’m already in it for a couple grand & it makes sense to do large print runs & get the printing cost per copy as low as possible.
Nice thing about indie? There are always new customers. I’m still selling as many copies of issue #1 of the quarterly as #4. I think as long as I’m persistently hustling, that investment in 2500 books will pay off.
I do much shorter runs on the other Nix Titles, where I have asked the artists to basically work on spec. 300-500 depending on what I think I can sell in a short amount of time. (They are friends, so it’s a labor of love kinda deal, but when it comes down to it, they’re working on spec.)
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Ken – $3-5 bucks for a single issue. Anything higher seems to be a turnoff to customers & anything lower is cheating the creators.
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Ken – I managed to get out four last year. This year I’m a little behind schedule, but I hope to match that. Ideally in a year or two, I want to be putting stuff out on a monthly basis.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Ken – There’s room for both on my plate. Seems like serials are in danger of going away & that’s a shame. I understand that there’s a certain gravity towards complete works nowadays, often because of the economy involved in making comics, but I love a good cliffhanger.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Ken – Oh geez. I don’t have a lot of experience with comic strips as a reader or a writer. It seems like putting out a regular strip would be a real grind. Like you’d have to constantly be on hunt for the next gag or situation. & I imagine the ups & downs of writing are magnified by that grind. When a cartoonist is riffing everything is great & happy, but when writer’s block hits baaaaad things happen.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Ken – I can crank out an anthology in just a couple of months. For longer works with single illustrators, it depends on the speed of the guy makin’ the pretty pictures. & printers can add time. My #1 chunk of advice for timely publication: find a good reliable printer.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Ken – A bit early in my career to say with any honesty. It’s a little easier for me to edit & critique the artists who are collaborating with me, I guess. I was kind of timid about that kind of thing at first.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Ken – A little different for me as a writer as opposed to an illustrator. I pretty much start writing in Google Docs. When I’m having a real issue hashing a script out, I’ll often go back to analog to storyboard it out, but if everything goes smooth from start to finish, my scripts may never see pen & paper.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Ken – I don’t have much of an opinion. I don’t like reading long comics on a screen, but I’m not against anybody else doing so. Its nice that now anybody who can afford to throw up a website can make comics.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Ken – Color! I want my books to explode with it! To me, black & white is a necessity of budget; if you can afford color printing, you should do it.
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Ken – As many as it takes to get the job done & not one person more. Comic book creation is definitely a case of where too many cooks can spoil the soup. Even putting aside aesthetic differences that can lead to friction, There’s a basic math to keeping comic book production on schedule: The more people you have involved, the more likely it is that somebody is going to flake out.
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Ken – I’ve been lucky so far, they tend to find me. One of the bonuses of being a paying publisher, I suppose. The pittance I offer makes it so I have the opposite problem... Too many potential collaborators to choose from.
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Ken – A script needs to be tight enough to make sure the artist understands the important pieces for conveying the story, but loose enough to give him or her room to play. I guess it’s another “depends on the artist” type thing. Some guys just “get it” & others need a little more coaching.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Ken – Matt Wagner. Beyond him being a terrific artist & a writer with a wicked sense of humor, Wagner’s important. More than anybody seems to give him credit for. I think that we wouldn’t even be talking about “creator owned” nowadays if he hadn’t laid the groundwork for the idea.
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Ken – When I started I got a lot of “It’s about time” type comments. I guess my friends & family knew what I should be doing before I did. They are profusely complimentary & supportive. To the point that I sometimes don’t trust their feedback.
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Ken – I love superheroes. They are my favorite kind of comic book character. I want to be a superhero when I grow up. It’s a shame that they aren’t written very well anymore as a rule. Seems like all of the “gee whiz” is gone.
QRD – Marvel or DC?
Ken – I’m not particularly loyal to one over the other. Depends who is writing & drawing.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Ken – I am DYING to write some Josie & the Pussycats comics. “All girl rock band travels the world, thwarting mad scientists & wacky dictators before they play their gigs” is only the BEST PREMISE FOR A COMIC BOOK EVER!!!!!
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Ken – Yeah. I suppose I’d be willing to sell out to a big a company as long as I was allowed to do my own thing on the side. The phone hasn’t rang yet, so it’s not an issue yet.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Ken – You know, outside of some real small fries, I’ve only done SPACE. Gotta support the local stuff! Next year I think I kinda want to make the rounds to SPX, MOCCA & TCAF. Maybe APE if I can swing the airfare. It’s time for me to get out & hobnob with my peers a little more.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Ken – To date, they’ve almost all had Kickstarters, which I’ve used more as a promotional & pre-sale tool than as an actual source of funding. That’s worked really well. Other than that, I’ve taken the approach that it’s more important to promote myself than it is to promote any single comic. I try to get into the local papers as often as possible. I write for a couple of websites. I do as many of these interview type things as I can. The theory is that if I’m a marketable commodity, my books will sell well over a period of time. I just need to stay productive & in the public eye. I’ll let you know how that works out in a couple years.
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Ken – I think they’re well suited to the comic shops I grew up with. Dirty little shops that have wall-to-wall weird for people willing to take a chance on something they may not have heard of before. The modern comic shop, even the good ones that try to support indie titles, are a little too geared towards what Diamond dictates they sell. Also, I intentionally make my comics record shop oriented. Here in Columbus twice as many record stores carry my books as comic shops & those record shops reorder more frequently. Nix also sells well in hipster gift shop type boutiques.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Ken – I wouldn’t want to do any of that just to do it. I suppose it could be cool, but it would either have to be some sort of magical situation where a TV producer wanted me & was willing to give me a huge degree of creative control OR a truly massive sell out. I have a price. I’m not holding my breath for either situation.
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Ken – Ha-ha... I got a friend of mine in trouble at SPACE by showing his wife the size of the box I keep my collection in. It’s smaller than a short box. She was like “That’s it!?” & then she turned & glared at my friend. I tried to save face for him by explaining that I have a huge record collection in lieu of a huge comic collection, but the damage was done. But yeah. I usually read the comics I buy & then give them away to friends. It has to be something special or something that I want to steal fro... er.... emulate for me to keep it.
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Ken – I think this is going to be another parallel between the comic & music industry. The big guys are going to go mostly digital & discover how little money there actually is in it while all sorts of smaller micro-distributors pop up for the indie analog stuff. The big guys will probably end up coming back around.
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Ken – I’d like to see creators start to take some strong & confident steps outside of the self-imposed rut the “comic book scene” has fallen into. Make the comics ? try to sell the comics at the local comic shop ? complain about no one buying your comics -- what a bunch of mularkey. I want comic creators to start showing up everywhere, looking for new audiences. There are receptive audiences in the bushes, they just need to be flushed out.
QRD – Anything else?
Ken – Naw. It’s been a pleasure!