Interview: Martin Brandt and Jason Stephens

We speak to Martin Brandt and Jason Stephens, who, in colaboration with graphic designer Paul Petyo, are releasing Kidthulhu upon the world. A cover of an issue – cover by artist Mike Dubisch – can be seen to the right.

IFP: How did the two of you meet?

MB: I believe it was 2008. A friend of mine, Sebastian Piccione, a comic creator as well, recommended I check out a now-defunct message board for comics based in the southern United States. I began talking to Jason there on the boards, discussing projects we were working on. It was right before Christmas that year and Jason was between books, waiting to start issue #2 of his Disconnected series. He offered to tackle a story for my upcoming graphic novel project, Grim Furry Tales: Seeds. We stayed in contact, tossing ideas around, though I think I did more tossing and he provided the witty commentary. (laughs)

JS: Yeah, that sounds about right. I AM full of wit. (laughs) Grim Furry Tales seemed like such an ambitious undertaking and when the opportunity came to work on the intro, I jumped all over it! Martin’s passion for that book helped to keep me motivated to put out comics, and we were
both learning the ins and outs of the self-publishing world at the time, so becoming friends was a natural progression. I had kind of forgotten all about those message boards, but they were really a good place to make contacts in the indie community. Thanks again, internet!

IFP: Who came up with the idea for Kidthulhu?

JS: Martin. All Martin. He really started the ball rolling on Kidthulhu.

MB: Yeah, guilty as charged.

JS: I happened to see one of his Post-It Note doodles he put up on Facebook, with the title “Kidthulhu”. I thought it was a fun idea, and was equally bored at the time, so I drew a quick upper body shot and  sent it to him as a joke. Not long after, he was asking if I’d be interested in collaborating on a Kidthulhu book and thankfully, I said, “Sure.”

MB: Yes, the doodle. I have these long conference calls I sit through, bored out of my skull, so I tend to doodle a lot. Sometimes, I’ll post  them up on Facebook or Twitter. This particular one got a lot of attention, I believe one comment called it “Internet gold”. It was then I considered doing a story based on him. Jason sent me his drawing – as a joke, he says – not long after. So, I popped the question to him.

JS: Yes, he “popped the question” and after I refused to marry him, he still wanted me to draw the book. What a stand-up guy! (laughs)

IFP: What is the creative process like? I mean, do you write the storylines together, do you bounce ideas off each other, etc.

MB: There is a lot of bouncing. I’ll cook up an overall story idea and throw it Jason’s way. He chews on it and then kicks me back something even better.

JS: ‘Better’ is a very relative term. (laughs) We both have different sensibilities when it comes to pacing, dialogue, and overall story –  yet, when we’re brainstorming on Kidthulhu, things seem to just click into place without much effort or fighting. I think it helps that we’re both kind of laid-back in our attitudes, as well. No egos here.

MB: Yeah, I agree. I may be a passionate person, but when it comes to collaborative work, I take a laid-back approach. You’re both there to create something fun and entertaining and there is no reason to let your pride or ego get in the way.

JS: I have this horrible knack for changing panel layouts on pages and  Martin has been completely cool about it – to my face. He’s probably at home screaming into a pillow every time I arbitrarily move something around…Sorry, Martin.

MB: (laughs)

IFP: Can you tell us more about Kidthulhu and his friends? What’s he like?

MB: Well Kidthulhu is a child, driven by curiosity more than common sense, and of course that appetite leads him into troubling circumstances. Though, in the back of his mind, there is that lingering thought that he was something more, which is something he is trying to figure out. Of
course, the “what” is part of the story, so I don’t want to spoil that.

JS: He’s accompanied by Shog, his pet Shoggoth, and a few other extremely odd individuals from both Lovecraft’s mythos and American history. There are also a number of characters that were made up exclusively for this story, but they fit so well into everything else that we hope people find it tough to figure out which ones they are.

Sorry for being so cryptic, but the Infinity issue throws a ton of this info out right away and I’d hate to ruin it.

IFP: Money matters. How did you fund the project? Where can people buy it?

JS: We’ve managed to fund the Kidthulhu work thus far by what we could scrape out of our, mostly empty, wallets! (laughs)

MB: Yeah, it’s a labour of love or madness. Definitely madness.

JS: We’re thankfully to the point where our fans can start pre-ordering  prints, buttons and the wicked-cool Kidthulhu shirt. Paul Petyo really knocked it out of the park with that design and all of the profits from the merchandise will be going right back into the comic.

MB: Exactly, and they can find all this stuff at our website, which will also be where they can purchase the book soon. We plan to start selling through our site and then branch out. We’ll be reaching out to our local comic shops and hitting up some conventions this year. Pretty sure our
first show is Baltimore Comic-con in Baltimore, MD this August.

IFP: How did you discover Lovecraft?

JS: I was hanging out in the rare book section of my local library and happened across a large tome wrapped in, what appeared to be, human skin…wait, that’s a lie. (laughs)

MB: (laughs) I think you just stole my line. Seriously, though, my first experience was in the public library next to my high school. I had just read the story “Berenice” by Poe and was asking the librarian for other stories of that nature. Luckily, she didn’t judge my taste and led me to a collection of short stories by Lovecraft, Howard and a few other authors that I can’t recall the name of currently.

JS: I think she had a thing for you.

For myself, it was through a friend I had in high school. While always reading, I generally stayed away from horror-related books, due to their cheesiness. However, this buddy of mine loaned me a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories and, after the first few, I could tell these were different.

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian character or creature, who would you be and why?

MB: I can answer this one so quickly I’m a bit disturbed: Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos. Sure, being a messenger for Azathoth might be annoying at times, but the perks would outweigh it. His tendency towards technology, it kind of speaks to me, as I’ve always been into what’s next and the history of what we have. The biggest draw for me, though, is having my own realm, a land of dreams, where even the big A can’t bother me. Of course, you still have to deal with those pesky humans, but they can be a lot of fun.

JS: I have to be honest. Regardless of who I’d like to be, I’d end up as the guy gibbering away in an asylum. I’ve just not got the instinct to be horrific; although, I am very inquisitive and, as we all know from the classic stories, that gets you locked up, killed, or worse. Yep, I’m doomed. (laughs)

IFP: How important do you think online self-promotion is nowadays? I mean, are

you advertising mainly through Twitter and Facebook, or are old-fashioned flyers at the local comic book store still good?

MB: I think online self-promotion is vital these days. It would be ignorant to not take advantage of the social and viral networking out there. I believe one has to put oneself “out there”. It’s one of the cheapest forms of marketing but, at the same time, the most expensive. Time may

cost us nothing monetarily, but you can’t make more time. I say that because, until you build enough of a network, you really and truly have to invest ample amounts of time in the relationships you are forming. Not only with your peers but also with your readers and whomever else you can get to take notice of you and your work.

The huge downside of this is breaking the single-to-noise ratio. The Internet is a free platform for promotion; as such, there is so much of it you can be drowned out easily. You have to work at building that ratio up. Unfortunately, it’s a constant thing, so even if you build it up enough and you don’t keep it going, you could lose ground easily. It happens often for me when I need to knuckle down on a project and I have less time to stay actively involved. Once I look up from what I am

doing, I realize I need to start working on gaining that ground back; it’s a constant uphill. Perhaps it’s easier once you have more work to speak towards your ability or a good agent. (laughs)

That being said, one should not ignore traditional methods; reaching out and showing support for your local markets is a good thing. More than ever, creators should reach out to their local comic shops and promote, but also support.

JS: Ditto. (laughs) With Kidthulhu, we’re trying to give people some incentives for checking out the site, while at the same time, keeping them excited for the book. Recently, we released a free download for a Kidthulhu Papercraft model that we promoted through Twitter and Facebook. Fans can print the design out at home, or work, and build their own little Kidthulhu!

IFP: What is your favourite horror comic book character?

JS: John Constantine, from Hellblazer. That grumpy old magician is ten kinds of awesome! He’s quickly followed up by the tag-team of The Goon and Abe Sapien. Their comics are always at the top of my pull list, for sure.

MB: Ouch, this is a hard one. I guess I’d pick Jack Russell, from Werewolf by Night. I have a soft spot for werewolf lore and I really enjoyed the run on it. The 2009 mini-series was one of my favorites. A family favorite is Lenore, from Lenore the Cute Little Dead Girl. Though mostly comedic and twisted, it has its roots grounded in horror and the like.

IFP: What would you say to convince readers to give Kidtulhu a try?

JS: There is nothing that will make you more popular in the eyes of the opposite sex than sitting down in public and cracking open an issue of Kidthulhu. (laughs)

MB: If you were ever a fan of Saturday mornings and daydreaming, the adventures of Kidthulhu are written for you. Kidthulhu awakes to a world he’s never known and sets out on the quest of every child: to experience, to learn and perhaps cause some havoc along the way. That and what Jason said. (laughs)

JS: To check out all things Kidthulhu-related, simply go to www.kidthulhu.com. There are also official Twitter and facebook accounts for the little guy, if you’re so inclined to add him.

MB: (laughs) Oh, right, yeah, that would be something important to pass along, too.

Vintage cover. Cover artist Jason Stephens.

IFP

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IFPInterview: Martin Brandt and Jason Stephens