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Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare’s ‘Halloween Eve’, Kickstarter And The Major Label Syndrome [Interview]

There’s a myth in the music industry that if you get signed to a major label, all your problems are taken care of. It’s a myth that hundreds of bands would gladly dispel from behind the desks and counters of their day jobs. The comics industry has its own version, where as soon as you’re accepted by a publisher, money rains down like water and you float to success on a cloud of paid bills and unfettered creativity. The reality is that publishers outside of the big two — Marvel and DC — are often just a vehicle that carries your finished product through the hardest stages of production and distribution. This is why more and more big name creators are turning to Kickstarter to fund their books, which is the case with Image Comics’ forthcoming Halloween Eve, now entering the home stretch of an already successful campaign on Kickstarter.

Halloween Eve is a 40-page, full-color one-shot written by Brandon Montclare (Private School, Fear Itself: Fearsome Four) and drawn by Amy Reeder (Batwoman, Madame Xanadu). A kind of spooky version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the book is a tale of what happens when Eve, a Halloween grinch, has to face down a costume store full of rubber masks and empty suits that start coming to life. As drawn by Reeder, it’s a beautiful-looking book with equal amounts of humor and horror, due to arrive in stores just before Halloween from Image Comics, a publisher the duo secured before starting their campaign. We spoke with them about the project.

Montclare and Reeder originally set out to raise $10,000 to cover their production costs — paying for the time intensive duties of drawing, coloring, lettering and assembling a comic. As Image doesn’t pay upfront for creator-owned books, the money raised will bridge the huge gap that often looms between creating a book and finishing a book. Given the nod by pros like Jeff Lemire, Frank Quitely and Matt Wagner, Halloween Eve’s Kickstarter has gone $4,000 past its goal, leaving the duo looks in a comfortable spot to finish the book without resorting to dire poverty or fudged deadlines.

With a week left to go, many of the rewards have already been snagged, but there’s still some left for those eager to pledge. Higher levels offer limited edition prints and a portfolio review of your writing or art by Montclare and Reeder, but the basic $10 level will still nab you a copy of the book and a greeting card right up to the last minute.

As evidenced by the announcements at this year’s San Diego Comi-Con, creator-owned comics are, more and more, luring in bigger names and crazier ideas. Not coincidentally, it’s crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter that are quickly becoming the new way for creators to make these books happen. Empowering fans to vote with their wallets, the once crazy notion of labors of love walking hand in hand with living wages appears to be approaching reality.

ComicsAlliance spoke with Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder about creating Halloween Eve, the freedom to make the books they want to see and their new publisher.

COMICS ALLIANCE: Tell us a bit about the timeline of Halloween Eve. When did you come up with it, and how long have you been working on it?

AMY REEDER: Brandon had an idea about a Halloween story taking place in a Halloween store. At the time he didn’t have me in mind because I was working at DC!

BRANDON MONTCLARE: The concept was floating around in my head before Amy and I decided to do it together. I think the collaboration came before the content-that is, we knew we wanted to work together before we knew what we were going to work on.

AR: My DC contract was up in April, and I knew I needed something restorative — I’d been given some great opportunities like Madame Xanadu, Supergirl, and Batwoman, but the experience was starting to wear on me. Brandon’s idea to work together on a short creator-owned story sounded like the perfect thing. I could work with a great collaborator, have tons of creative control, and figure out where I stood with comics, and where I wanted to go with them.

BM: We zeroed in on Halloween Eve — and as much as we liked the story, it forced us into some interesting goals. Having a book solicited and in stores by Halloween meant we had to really be committed. That actually helped fuel the passion in a lot of ways: dive in, trust our instincts when it came to character and plot, and take no prisoners with self-imposed deadlines.

AR: It was great to jump in. I am capable now of being faster because I don’t have the distractions you get when you’re working for a big company, and I was driven by the fun of all that creative control.

CA: Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have essentially transformed the comic book publishing landscape over the past few years by giving creators a recognizable and streamlined platform for financing their work. Given your time in the industry, what made now the right time for you to try a Kickstarter campaign?

BM: I think “now” is the right time to try a lot of things in this business. With Kickstarter, it’s in large part necessity: if I want to do my own comics, I need financing; moreover, Kickstarter allows me to test the waters to see if readers are going to respond to a particular idea.

AR: I’ve found that it’s always good to follow new trends in the industry before too many people catch on. I got into comics through a contest TokyoPop was doing — at the time they were handing out three-volume book deals like candy! Now they’re out of business because of it, unfortunately, but wow, what an amazing opportunity for me as a young creator.

BM: I think Kickstarter is here to stay-but whatever its future, its present is red hot. There’s already a core audience familiar with the platform, ready to back comics that look cool. I think more creators are going to be using it-with that, the competition is going to get tougher in the very near future. Not to sound cocky: I think Halloween Eve is one of the books that has already raised the bar on Kickstarter, in terms of quality and creator pedigree.

CA: Though you couldn’t announce it until it was solicited, you guys have had a publisher for this book for a while now. Can you talk a bit about what role Kickstarter plays when you have a publisher lined up?

BM: When we were first figuring out how to get Halloween Eve made, we decided that we were going to try our hand at Kickstarter. This was before Image was even in the picture.

AR: By the time that we did launch the Kickstarter, Image was pretty much on board.

BM: But it wasn’t a done deal, and it would’ve been inappropriate to name them. So we waited on Image to make the call as to when we would officially announce the partnership.

AR: We told people upfront that we had a great publisher, but our deal involved no money upfront. So Kickstarter became more a platform where we could have help financing it, and where they could preorder books. In addition to that, it’s proven a great way to get the word out about the comic!

CA: The subject of women in comics — both creators and characters — has been discussed quite a bit in the past year or so. There are still few female protagonists starring in their own books, and even fewer women of color. Was this something you were conscious of when you created Eve?

AR: Oh, definitely. I mean, I will more than likely do many more female-led stories than not; it’s just what I do best and what I like to do.

BM: More than anything else, I wanted to give Amy something she wants to draw. That goes for every character and situation in Halloween Eve-and of course the center of all that is Eve herself.

AR: So yeah, it’s what I like to do, but I think I also feel a responsibility-given the current state of comics-to create female characters that I know need to be out there, characters that female readers will want to read.

BM: I agree. When you come from a background working at Marvel and DC, there’s definitely a shortage of all minorities. There’s a creative appeal to just be doing something different. But Amy’s right: if you have an opportunity to do something a little more diverse, you should take it. It helps to bring in new fans as well as making some casual fans feel more included.

AR: And it seems to me that the female characters we do have look a lot alike-similar faces, similar body types, and a whole lot of blondes. I wanted to stray away from that, and it sounds like fans are pretty happy with the change, too.

CA: Amy, you haven’t colored a lot of your most recognizable comics work. What were some of the rewards and challenges of coloring this story?

AR: This has been one of my first experiences coloring interiors, and I’m definitely still learning the ropes! I will say, though, that a lot of the images people associate me with are ones where I had a bigger hand in it. The Batwoman covers were all inked, greytoned and colored by me, and the first two Madame Xanadu covers were all me as well. I took a long time on those, so it’s probably more patience than innate talent, but I am one of those artists who are just better at doing it all. Like my pencils aren’t much to look at, and I leave a lot to colors. I’m a finisher more than a starter, I guess.

CA: Image Comics created a lot of buzz last week at Comic-Con by announcing several high-profile projects from top creative teams. Is it exciting to be putting out a book through Image right now, as the publisher continues to market itself as a haven for creator-owned material?

AR: Even in the early process of planning the book, Brandon and I agreed Image was our first choice. We feel very lucky it worked out!

BM: I’m as excited as Amy about Image. Because she’s too shy to say so, Image was likewise jazzed to have Amy do a book with them. It’s an ideal situation at Image these days: top talents are bringing their creator-owned stuff to the imprint, and the imprint is getting these books in the hands of enthusiastic retailers and rabid fans.

AR: It’s so cool to be a part of Image right now. I’ve been wanting to do creator-owned work for a while now — I’m not sure that the usual recipe for comics (preexisting characters, work-for-hire, editor/writer/penciler/inker/colorist/letterer/cover artist) was made for someone like me. I find I have to force myself into that world. But creator-owned feels natural. Comics is such an amazing medium because it can be all you or a couple of people, creating an experience. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees this and I’ve been happy to hear about all the other creators who have decided this chance is worth taking.

CA: Halloween Eve is being created as a one-shot, standalone story, but is Eve a character you’d consider revisiting at some point?

BM: I’m of two minds. Usually, I like to think of any project as being completely self-contained. Practically speaking, this keeps me honest as a writer. Readers get their beginning, middle, and end; they get everything they need in the story that I’m telling. That being said, these are great characters with a lot more in them… and Halloween does come every year.

AR: I am generally more drawn to stories that are self-contained-that leave you wanting more. And I had also planned on this being contained, but I have to admit, drawing this, getting excited about Eve, and getting everyone else excited about her, is getting me thinking about the future possibilities. So we’ll see!

You can learn more about Halloween Eve and still make pledges for a number of rewards at the project’s Kickstarter page.

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