GREETINGS from our new South of the Border studio!
(* this ran as the publisher's letter in the back of GUN #3)
I'm writing this from my temporary digs in Guadalajara, Mexico. Wait, what? Mexico!? It's kind of a funny story, and has direct implications on the future of GUN. Pull up a chair...
I began GUN around 7 years ago, working nights and weekends and over the occasional vacation. My day job was with one slightly prominent shoe company headquartered in Boston, then another based in Los Angeles. When I moved to LA, the first issue was nearly 75% complete and I was gearing up to leave my job to work on the comic full time.
If you're considering making a similar move here's how I did it: I figured out how long it would take to finish, print, distribute and finally start collecting checks; budgeted out how much money I would need to live on during that period of time, and once I had saved that number, I gave my notice. It took roughly a year and a half. (Note to future indie upstarts: when you make these figures for yourself write the number down, add 30 grand, ball it up, throw it in a fireproof wastepaper basket, set it on fire and watch it burn. You could dance around it. You won't want to)
Needless to say, nothing goes quite as (carefully) planned but the first issue finally came out and to my enormous relief it was well-received and I think people got what I was trying to do with GUN. (to be fair though, holding copies of GUN up next to other comics on the rack, from the paper I was printing on, the different approach to the art, even I didn't quite know what I was trying to do anymore–so it was comforting to hear reviewers praise the analog art and the sheer volume of words-to-page)
But it wasn't making pay the rent in Los Angeles money, and by the release of the second issue the writing was on the wall. I had run out of the tiny nest egg I had saved up before the first issue even got printed. I cashed in a 401K (my current retirement plan is a noose for my 66th birthday). A week after the launch of the first issue I had to return to freelancing full time or live in someone's shed. Sadly, nobody had a shed.
Look, this industry is tough. And not just for indies (although it is especially tough for indies). Scan the top 100 comics selling every month and the first 30 or so titles are all anchored to a successful movie franchise or series on AMC. The reality is it takes a while for new properties to find their footing and that means taking a lot of loss early on and weathering it out. The attrition rate is really high and it's not just bad comics that fall off the mountain. Sometimes it's your comic.
I considered quitting. To be more precise, I suppose, I made my peace with quitting. It was a depressing time. I would cry at the deli counter. I saw a therapist. If you'll permit me a brief sidebar: I really loved Josh Ritter's album So Runs the World Away. He followed that album up with a breakup album dealing with his divorce. Beautiful stuff but not really my bag. He followed THAT album up with a less sombre return to form. Except one song, 'The Stone' where he was still circling the pain and grief from his divorce. It's a beautiful song, I still get choked up when I listen to it, and at that time I was listening to it nearly on repeat. I took it to my therapist, I've known heartbreak but not really the kind I couldn't in some fashion get over. Most of my exes parted ways and that was that. Then it occurred to me, the comic. The comic was my ex... the comic was the thing I couldn't let go of and my therapist suggested that perhaps I wasn't ready to. I took quitting off the table and started pursuing options that would allow me to continue working on the comic, somehow.
Enter Mexico. My partner and I were casting around for places we could live on the cheap. Like super cheap. Detroit, deserted mining towns in central California. My partner, who is fluent in Spanish, suggested Mexico. The conversion rate would stretch the American dollars further in pesos (A whole retired expat community has sprung up on this principle). Guadalajara is called the San Francisco of Mexico (or the Mexican Silicon Valley) lots of tech jobs, lots of start-ups. We'd take a year. I'd plow through, finish as many issues of the comic as I could and hopefully grow the audience.
And Mexico is great! We live next to a haunted house. We're renting a actual artists studio and I think you can see the influence in these pages. Art is really valued here, and Mexico has had a long and rapturous love affair with color that seeps into every part of the culture.
I've started working on the next arc. It's called Slaughterball and it's going to be a blast, part Cannonball Run, part Death Race 2000. It should run about 6 issues and I hope to finish it while I'm here. We'll have to switch to digital only releases, from my site and on Comixology since the cost of shipping from Mexico is prohibitive, but I'd like to see a trade printed at the end of it. The plan for now is just to work on making as much of the comic as possible and see where the year takes us.
If you've read this far, not just with this ramble but with the comic in general, thank you for sticking around. I'd like to think each issue gets better than the one before it and if nothing else this whole experience has taught me the best way to get better at making comics is to keep making comics.
somewhere in Mexico, making comics.