Over the weekend I had the opportunity to interview the three-man band. No, not the WWE group, but the guys behind the company called Wayward Raven. I got to speak with Joshua L.A. Jones, Mark C. Frankel and Alexander Sapountzis. I met these fine fellows at Creator After Con one year during NYCC weekend. We built a nice little friendship off of an appreciation for beer and wanting to create great comics. If you see them at a Con, don’t be afraid to say hi and check out some of their awesome comics and merchandise. I will provide all of Wayward Raven’s links at the bottom. So let’s not waste any more time with intros and jump right into the interview.
So tell us a little bit about Wayward Raven and how you guys all met.
M: Josh and I have known each other for a long time. We grew up in the same town and have similar backgrounds and shared interests, but what caused us to hang out was the Steelers. We’d go watch the games at the local Steelers bar and got to talking about writing.
From there it was a short jump to collaborating together. Initially it was stage plays, but we quickly realized that our ideas were best utilized in sequentials not show halls. I have no doubt Josh has a funny story or two about some of those early collaboration (go ahead Josh, feel free to share).
J: There is a saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher/master will appear.” Mark and I being perpetual students finally found our teacher: failure-the greatest of all teachers. This was after composing a myriad of stage-plays (one-act and three-act) that, in succession, became more tethered to fantasy and parody than existed in the modern theater at the time. Our tales harkened back to ancient Greece where gods and humans interacted in ways that would be too costly for a stage production. Meaning, stage/special effects. We wrote a play called Abbadon’s Gambit that took place on a train but had preternatural characters and events. It was the axis. It was the story that had us reconsider mediums. It was too localized to be a screenplay but too dependent on visual artifice to be a stage-play. It failed to acquire the needed interest from a dramaturge. It made us change.
There were internal developments as well. The one repeating and common vexation was that we both felt as if we were holding back because we want to conform to the protocols and design element of the stage. This was parasitic to the creative impulse and so our works were drained of vitality. Even though there was a sunk-cost, we took the medicine and killed the parasite. A new and vastly wider horizon rose with blazing sun of unlimited potential after we decided to look. Where did we look? Back to our roots in our love of fantasy and science fiction. Back to our childhoods. Back to our studies in university. Back to the past to face the future. Back to comic books… though they never actually left us as we were reading them throughout our lives but never considered writing them. It was the last writing form I had not studied, and in reality, didn’t want to because I did not want to taint or possibly ruin the enjoyment they brought me. The first hand experience was there for me after getting a Lit degree and writing my first novel. I had a peek behind the looking glass and my sight was forever changed. Not for the worse. It was just different. Oddly, after Mark and I began our study and research on comic book writing, I came to a greater appreciation. Also, had a friend in the industry and he encouraged us. And so it goes…
Funny huh, Mark?
M: Agreed. Proves that we never really outgrow the things we loved as kids, just learn to understand them better.
As for Alex joining the crew, maybe it’s best I let him tell it…
A: Yeah, I’m kind of the new guy to the team. Mark and I actually met through our day job. Mark was an HR recruiter and I’m a code monkey, so he reached out to me for a developer position. We had a good rapport over the phone, and I guess I convinced him I knew what I was doing, so he invited me in for a face-to-face interview with him and the team. I walked through what seemed like just another office full of boring cubicles and corporate grey and stepped into Mark’s office, which was full of DC posters on the walls, and figures on his desk. We tried keeping the conversation focused on the actual job I was interviewing for, but we kept talking comics for about an hour. I managed to get hired for the job, and Mark and I ended up spending a lot of time talking comics and pop culture over lunch. I learned he was a writer, and he learned I was an artist, and we started riffing on ideas for comics, which ultimately lead to Damn Heroes. At this point, Josh and Mark were working together under their old banner, Aegis, and I was doing my own thing. Not sure who came up with the idea at first, but we both realized we’d be at NYCC that October and we decided to see if we could work together. The rest is history.
What got you guys into comics?
M: For me it was Spiderman. I love reading just about anything, but he was the hero I identified with first (and most closely) as a kid. He screws up and never really gets the recognition he deserves, often having people outright hate him. That narrative was perfect for a kid growing up and trying to figure out his place in this world and within various social groups.
J: A mother’s need for quiet at the grocery store. I am dating myself but so be it. They once had comic books at grocery stores where I grew up. My incessant questions caused a fray on my mother’s nerves and the stories and images of the comic books would lock me into a quiet phase as I sat on the floor and read while she shopped. Today, that would get my mother arrested for neglect but back then it was a suitable way to silence a kid. Now they use pharmacology. Back then, my mother used Thor and The Fantastic Four.
What kept me reading comics in times of adolescent development were X-Men and Frank Miller. Though, I do admit, I didn’t read any comics in college because I didn’t have time. Then, I reacquainted by diving into Gaiman’s Sandman series even though it had been published years before.
A: Oddly enough: bullies, cartoons, trading cards and toys. I was a latch-key kid, I spent a lot of time at home alone watching cartoons, since my parents weren’t too comfortable with me hanging out at the local park. I was also fairly imaginative, so I loved to draw, or just let my imagination run wild with stories I made up. My parents were cool with me going to the corner store to get stationary or the local video store, where they knew the owner, and I would rent cartoons and kids stuff. The shop actually had a wide variety of cartoons, like the old Fleischer and some of the modern stuff as well. Every day after school, I would make a beeline to the video store, but I would always pass this weird store that always had action figures in the windows set up with these epic battle scenes. Sometimes it’d be GI Joes or other times Transformers, but they always put in extra details that captured my attention. I vividly remember one scene where they used cotton balls for smoke coming out of a COBRA Tank, and red and blue yarn for the laser blasts. Being a shy kid, I’d just walk by, only stopping for a moment to take in the latest display.
I remember at some point, while walking home with a classmate who lived next to this store, he decided to drag me in with him so he could find some trading cards. He was into trading cards and wanted to pick up something called Basketball and Marvel Cards. At that point, I discovered my own addiction…comics.
What was the driving force to create Wayward Raven?
M: Steak, beer and that little guy living in my head that keeps me up at night wondering if the endless pit in my soul can ever be placated. Oh wait, that’s what drives me. Methinks I’ve shared too much…Just kidding (no really I am. I swear. Really. Seriously.).
I think it’s actually that we are all passionate about what we create. We all arrived there different ways (Josh has an abacus of allegory, whatever the hell that is), but the three of us are really good at complimenting each other while sharing a vision. I personally couldn’t be prouder to work with anyone else (feel free to jump in here guys before I really start gushing).
J: Desperation. And my need to undercut cultural expectation. Also a sort of Punk Rock/Hardcore paradigm that has always existed in all of us, I suspect. Basically, do it yourself. Don’t be beholden. Don’t be put down. If other people can do it, so can you with the necessary work of course. Don’t wait for others to give you approval. Do what you can, when you can, with whatever you got. Get to work. I call back to the painter Chuck Close quote; “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” And it is work.
A: I kept arguing with Mark on how he was mispronouncing “AEGIS” and that if I, a Greek, kept screwing up the name, think of the trouble it would give others. All jokes aside, the three of us are storytellers and ramblers. I think if we weren’t doing this together, we’d be doing it individually. However, together, we complement each other’s skills and evenly distribute our insanity.
Alex, you recently created a comic strip about unemployment. What was the inspiration for the idea and the stories?
A: Losing my day job was the biggest inspiration, I’d say. My co-workers were aware of my comics and actually fans of our work, so during my going away party, one of them joked that I should do a comic about unemployment. After laughing and dismissing the idea, I sat around thinking and came up with a few storylines before I finished my beer. Still fresh in my head the next day, I started jotting down more ideas and fleshed out the first six strips. I thought of the strip as kind of a journal to help me process and deal with the stress of the situation. Much of the stories are based on things I actually experienced during unemployment, though edited to make them more relatable for a general audience. I had a lot of fun working on it, and it helped keep me sane, but now that I’m starting a new job, I’m going to be writing an ending soon. Let’s hope I never have to revisit that series again!
One of the books and online comics you guys have worked on is Damn Heroes. What was the inspiration and creative process behind this comic?
M: In true nerd fashion, Alex and I love to discuss what is wrong and right about comics and pop culture. It started as a great outlet for us to vent, but has really taken on a life of its own. I’m actually looking forward to other artists roasting us. Alex, what keeps you working on Damn Heroes?
A: What keeps me working on Damn Heroes? Mark won’t let me quit. Whenever I talk about ending the strip, he starts sobbing and pulls out his security blanket. HA!
Actually, like the unemployment comic or some of my mash-ups, I find Damn Heroes to be somewhat therapeutic. Like Mark said, it’s a way for us to vent about what we find annoying about comics, or pop culture. For me, it takes me back to a point in my childhood where comics were bright colors, silly stories and I could thumb my nose at the real world.
Mark, you’re a beer guy. What made you want to combine beer with comics? By the way the apricot beer was great.
M: Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Nothing is better than having someone tell you they like your work and complementors of our suds or sequentials always gets me pumped.
As to why, I love craft beer and I love exhibiting at cons. We established a routine early on where we’d go out and find cool craft brews after a day of tabling. Soon we realized that most of our con friends were doing the same thing. Once I started homebrewing, it all just came together. What could be better than sharing our comics AND our beer with our fans?
A: Keeping the beer to ourselves would be better.
M: I’ve tried. There only so much even I can drink. Plus, I thought your wife said you weren’t allowed to bring any more home. <Whoop-ish!> And yes, that was a whip cracking SFX.
Will we be seeing a Wayward Raven Beer line in the future? (Keeping fingers crossed)
M: It is something we have discussed, but might be a bit off into the future for now. Still you never know, we’ve had a ton of folks come back and ask where they could buy it…
A: I want to work quality control for this. I’m just putting it out there.
J: Beer will factor into the comics themselves in the future, hopefully, as we have beer themed concepts to be molded. But, comics and beer go hand in hand. Especially at the after-con events. Hopefully, one day people will hold a Wayward Raven comic in one and a Wayward Raven beer in the other. We can dream. We can dream.
We all met at creative after con. How important is it to network in this industry?
M: Important. Really important. You can probably create comics without it, be we’ve found some really talented artists and creators to work with networking at events. Plus, isn’t it more fun when you can share in the experience with others? Josh, Alex, what do you think?
J: The entertainment industry lives and dies on contacts. I was told by a guy at one of the top two that it is a very close knit community and people new to the industry must compete with people’s friends. The only way to unseat a friend for a position at the majors, is to be beyond amazing at what you do. It is really about trust. The more contact you have with someone, and maintain consistent behavior, the more likely they are to trust you. The way you network is important. Be professional. Be courteous. Otherwise your networking takes you in the wrong direction. It is not about who you know. It is about who knows you… and likes you.
A: It’s the only way to get anywhere in this industry (and pretty much every industry). You can be the greatest artist/writer/illustrator/whatever, but if no one sees your work or wants to work with you, what’s the point? You don’t have to be a social butterfly or attend every after-con event, but it is important to get yourself out there just as much as it is to get your work out there. This helps people associate your face or name with your work. One thing I’ve learned in this industry is that a lot of work is done through word-of-mouth and over a beer or coffee. Even if you meet someone who isn’t looking for someone like you, they’re more than likely to pass your name onto a friend or colleague who is looking for someone like you. So keep in touch with people and keep getting your name and work out there.
What does the future have in store for Wayward Raven?
M: Fame? Fortune? We seek these things… 😉
J: The future never comes. There is only now. But right now, we are hoping to work with a few new people and put out an anthology. We are in the early planning stages of that. Oh, and Horsemen will be done and compiled into a trade. Pedro Pimentao is killing it!!
A: Hopefully, I’ll get this damn kid’s book done.
Finally, what advice do you guys have for anyone looking to break into this industry?
M: Fail early and often. Then go fail some more. Newton didn’t mean to discover gravity, but he did nonetheless. And strap in for the long haul. The journey is never quite over, there’s always another level to unlock.
J: Cast away your expectations and just work. It might not ever get seen but every creative event is an opportunity to learn and get better. That’s the deal with comic books, you can always get better. Hate to say this but know your market value and know your competition. Writing and drawing are arts. Publishing is a business.
Anticipate rejection. It is going to happen. If you can endure the pain, you might have what it takes to begin, as Mark said, the long haul.
Also, try to be at the right places, at the right times, with the right attitude.
Lastly, arrogance and pestering will get you nowhere but competence and persistence will get you everywhere.
A: If you’re trying to get into comics to get rich, you’re in the wrong place. A majority of comic professionals are lucky if they can quit their day jobs and work on comics full time. Especially in the indie scene. Don’t expect Marvel, DC or Image to pick you up at your first portfolio review, and don’t expect an indie publisher to pay you Marvel and DC page rates. Not trying to be mean, there is no “entry level” in comics or clear path to success.
Learn to take criticism and rejection. Compliments and complacency are your enemies. Always strive to learn and be better. If everyone you know is telling you that you’re the best, you need to surround yourself people who tell you that you suck. That’s how you improve.
Remember, It’s a labor of love, rife with pain and the reward is in the work. That being said, don’t lose hope, don’t be a dick, and have some fun. Now get back to work!
Thanks for chatting with us! We really appreciate it whenever someone hangs out with us to discuss comics, beer and the all the other oddities that we love so much. And don’t worry, we’ll save a cold long neck or two for you!
Anytime Mark and thank you guys again for letting us interview you. Oh and yes we most defiantly will be having some more beer and talking comics at the next event.