Independent Spotlight: Monkeybrain Comics Interview & Giveaway
An interview for us with Monkeybrain Comics founders Chris Roberson and Allision Baker, and a giveaway for YOU to win free Monkeybrain Comics! (Okay, the interview is for you, too.)
It’s a pretty exciting time over at Portland-based Monkeybrain Comics. They have a neat little pile of hit titles now, like “Edison Rex”, “Masks & Mobsters”, “Amelia Cole and the Unknown World” and the brand new “High Crimes”. Launched in 2012 as the creator-owned digital comics line of Monkeybrain Books, Monkeybrain Comics is owned and operated by Chris Roberson and Allison Baker. They agreed to talk with me about their company, their comics and their city.
For those of you playing along at home, I’m a huge fan of Monkeybrain and everything they stand for. I’ve read all of the titles above and many of the others, all available exclusively via Comixology. In fact, I like them so much I want you guys to read them, too. We’re giving away the first issue of each of the above titles to two lucky readers. Details below, but let’s hear more about Monkeybrain Comics from Chris and Allison first.
Geek Smash: Can you talk a little bit about the decision to expand from MonkeyBrain Books to MonkeyBrain Comics?
Chris: It was kind of a natural progression, actually. We’d talked about the possibility of doing comics through Monkeybrain years and years ago, even before I broke into comics myself as a writer. But so long as doing it in print was our only option, it just remained a hypothetical, since the costs associated with printing and distribution were too much for our budget. With the rise of digital distribution, though, and in particular the ascendancy of Comixology as the market leader, we saw a way of making it work. Even then, though, it was another year or so before we’d completely figured out the model (and that was almost entirely Allison’s doing!).
Allison: It’s just stage one in the master plan to take over the world. Comics then world domination. Plain and simple.
GS: I’d love to hear more about the thinking behind producing digital-only content. There’s a really interesting niche there between print comics and web comics that you guys are playing in.
Chris: I’m an Every Wednesday Shopper and have been for more than three decades. I go to the comic shop every week (sometimes MORE than once a week) and pick up new releases, back issues, trades. But now that I’m also getting some of my comics digitally through Comixology, I find that I’m reading a lot more than I used to, and that I’m more willing to try out new stuff sight unseen if the cost is right. For us, digital is just another piece of the puzzle, another avenue through which readers can get comics. And while our titles are “digital first,” they won’t always be “digital ONLY.” The ultimate goal is to give readers the freedom of choice.
Allison: And we get to take the time and build an audience organically. People might find us when a book launches or 6 months later or a year later. The good news? They can find all the back issues easily and afford to buy all of them.
GS: One of the things I love about Monkeybrain Comics is how many all-ages-ish titles you have. I don’t exclusively read comics with my 7 1/2 year old, but it’s super exciting when we can share a story (like “Amelia Cole and the Unknown World”) that doesn’t make me want to poke my eyes out. Is that something you guys are specifically seeking out or has it developed over the past year and you’ve just run with it? Is it influenced by your own experiences as parents?
Chris: Yes to all of those, I think. Offering solid “all ages” material was something that we very much hoped we’d be able to do, but we found that we didn’t have to go out looking for it. When given the option to do whatever they wanted, many of our creative teams ended up doing all ages stuff on their own! And I also like that the kind of “all ages” stuff we’re putting out isn’t, by and large, “Kids Only,” but is stuff that could ideally be enjoyed equally by young readers AND adults.
Allison: Whitney had one thing right, the children are our future.
GS: I feel like “creator-owned” is such a buzz word at the moment (in a good way), possibly because of Comixology and the prevalence of digital. What are the incentives to you as publishers to work with writers and artists who own their content? It seems like Chris had experiences with both sides of the coin, so I’m assuming that influenced the decision. It’s just not often that we hear about the choice from the publisher’s perspective.
Chris: Contrary to the impression I’ve given a lot of people, apparently, I’m not opposed to the idea of work-for-hire in general principle. I’m opposed to unethical business practices and the poor treatment of creators. And it’s sad but true that the tag “creator-owned” isn’t always proof against either of those two things.
But in terms of Monkeybrain specifically and how we approach ownership issues, we are following the same philosophy that we used back when Monkeybrain Books was doing prose titles: we only license rights that we are going to use. In our days of publishing prose (novels, short story collections, anthologies, etc), we only licensed North American English rights for a set period of time, because we weren’t equipped to make good use of anything more than that. And with the comics, we have built a system designed to sell digital comics, and so we’re only licensing digital rights, again for a set period of time. Certainly, my experience as a writer myself has influenced our philosophy in a lot of ways, primarily in that we’re offering other creators the kind of contract that I myself would be happy to sign.
GS: What do you look for in a new MonkeyBrain comic? I know you’re not accepting unsolicited submissions, so don’t worry – I’m not trying to open the floodgates here. I’m interested in your process for solicitations, I guess. You have some writers and artists doing multiple books for you, so do they bring their ideas to you directly? Do you throw out suggestions for things you’d like to see to the group? I’m trying to give my readers a sense of how the process might be different in a smaller company than the way a larger commercial publisher might operate.
Chris: Our process is focused more on the people than the project, if that makes sense. We develop relationships with writers and artists, and then trust them to do good work. I’d love to reach the point where we had a more open submission process, and were able to take on new titles at a faster rate, but for the time being we’re already using all of our available free time looking after the projects we already have in the works.
Allison: I’ve actually threatened to strangle Chris if he even suggests we take on more projects right now. In addition to Monkeybrain, I have a whole other very time consuming full time job. It is possible that someday I could focus on just publishing but that all depends on that world domination thing I mentioned before.
GS: Talk to me about the decision to donate profits to the Hero Initiative. I read Chris’ letter (which gave me some more insight into your philosophy on creator-owned benefits) but is there a more personal connection to this issue that you want to share? I think that after Peter David‘s recent unfortunate medical emergency a lot of casual readers realized that very few people get rich making comic books. Organizations like the Hero Initiative are an important part of the larger comics community, and I think your support as publishers is awesome.
Chris: I think that the shameful plight of so many veteran creators is a stain on our industry, and something that we as a community—readers, creators, retailers, and publishers alike—should work together to rectify. It’s not enough simply to list a veteran creator’s name in the credits of a Hollywood blockbuster movie while they waste away in a hospice, or to wait until after they die penniless and uninsured to run a “tribute” to them in the pages of a comic they helped create. These are real men and women who were not well served by the industry that they helped build, and we owe them better than that.
Chris: I like the Bagdad quite a bit, but if I had to pick just one favorite, it would have to be the Kennedy School. I want to LIVE at that place.
Allison: I concur. Kennedy School.
GS: Favorite thing you’ve read in the past month? Past 6 months?
Chris: It’s probably a close tie between Michael Fiffe’s “Copra”, Matt Fraction and David Aja’s “Hawkeye”, and Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin’s “Bandette”
Allison: Emi Lenox’s “Emitown”, “Red Light Properties”, “Amelia Cole”, “Unfair”, “Denali”, some stuff we haven’t published yet & “High Crimes”. Love “High Crimes”. (Editor’s note: High Crimes was published January 30, 2013 and is available via Comixology.)
GS: Any teasers for upcoming books you want to throw out?
Allison: No spoilers! I like surprises!
GS: Anything else you want to share?
Chris: Thanks for all the support, everybody! Keep buying them, and we’ll keep making them!
Allison: Benevolent leaders are the best leaders!
Thanks to Chris and Allison for hanging out with us. Like I said above, Monkeybrain is putting out some mighty fine comics. “High Crimes” #1 and “Masks and Mobsters” #6 were both released January 30, 2013 through Comixology. “Edison Rex” #6 will be out in March. And you
heard it read it here first: “Amelia Cole and the Unknown World” #6 will be available February 20! (Get caught up on Amelia’s adventures here.)
It’s a great time to check out these and other Monkeybrain Comics titles, so let me make it a little easier for you. Leave a comment below telling us your favorite Monkeybrain comic or the one you are most excited to start reading. One entry per person, and comments must be in by Monday, February 4, 2013, at 9pm PST. Two winners will be chosen randomly to receive the first issue of “High Crimes”, “Masks and Mobsters”, “Amelia Cole” and “Edison Rex” via Comixology. Spread the word, and read more comics!