Musician, Craftsman and Mini-comics writer/publisher Brian John Mitchell answers a barrage of questions from Nightfly.
Earlier this month independent comics creator and Outhouse contributor J.M. Hunter (proprieter of S.P.A.M.) suggested I interview his mutli-talented friend and fellow comic creator Brian John Mitchell. Brian is a writer, publisher, craftsman, musician and artist who owns and operates SilberMedia.com. Throughout the month of July, Brian launched two ultimately successful Kickstarter campaigns that fascinated me enough to want to learn more about the mind of the man and to learn why he's chosen to be the unconventional trailblazer that he is. I asked BJM a few questions about his comics, music, website, Kickstarter and more. I also asked him a follow-up question or two regarding his April interview with Hunter (available here).
Nightfly: Brian, your recent Bottle Comics and Puzzle Box Kickstarter campaigns both met and exceeded their funding goals. Were these (concurrent) campaigns your first experience with Kickstarter?
Brian John Mitchell: No, my very first one was super successful and kind of shocking to me. It had a $300 goal and $2k came in. So these two weren't quite as exciting. I probably didn’t push 'em as hard as I could because I had no idea how to promote them, so I just put 'em up there & let them sell themselves & it worked.
NF: Is there a downside to running KS campaigns?
BJM: It can be stressful & you feel an urge to check it all the time & that keeps you from actually getting work done.
NF: Any plans to do any more? If so, what might they be about?
BJM: My upcoming Kickstarters might be to get some new shirts made for my band & something to try to raise money to get to a comic book convention I was invited to show at in Malta.
NF: Since all of your Kickstarter campaigns have met their goals, is it something you'd recommend others try out?
BJM: I think it is awesome, for the most part, and I personally make a point of backing projects on it. But I think what is going to happen (& is already happening to some degree) is we’re going to run into more and more people not completing projects, and, more and more lower quality projects going up. And so, as that happens, the fad of it will die off and I don’t really see it being replaced.
NF: You think sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo might actually go away?
BJM: It’s not something I want to happen, but also something I can’t see not happening. That said, I’d like to be wrong. It would be interesting if someone made something similar to Kickstarter where the funding was tax-deductible and the money was more like an artist’s grant situation. I also think a lot of people might be able to do much more compelling applications for artist grants after completing Kickstarters, because it helps people realize the type of narrative wanted for a grant. I’d really like to see local art councils giving more chunks of $2000 - $10,000 away to young struggling artists & less chunks of $40,000 - $100,000 to artists associated with academia, but that’s just me.
NF: Having read a couple interviews of yours, I saw you occasionally apply for Artist in Residency programs. What are those like?
BJM: Artist in Residency programs can be pretty stiff competitions and you're generally up against people with pretty strong backgrounds that know how to write really compelling stories about their work.
NF: Do you have any residencies coming up?
BJM: Yes. I landed an Artist in Residency thing in Pittsburgh for the month of November at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse House.
NF: I've noticed a distinct thread of what I'd describe as "bleakness" to your writing. Is that deliberate?
BJM: My art is not intentionally dark & I don’t think focusing on bleak things is necessary for art or anything like that, but it’s what naturally comes out of me. I think titles like XO and Lost Kisses have a lot of comedic content but they are kinda dark. Lost Kisses has gags in it for sure and is basically a gag comic, but when the punchlines are all built around a loved one dying the comedy can get pretty black.
NF: Perusing your line-up of titles, I noticed you don't do Superhero comics. What're your feelings towards noir detective stuff or sexy comics?
BJM: I’m not into sexy comics. I feel the noir detective stuff gets covered via XO & Marked. XO is about a former hitman trying to re-enter society but he keeps over-reacting & accidentally killing people. Marked is about a demon-hunter on the run for some murders he feels responsible for, he wanders around fighting ghosts & such.
NF: In your previous OH interview, with J.M. Hunter, you mentioned a desire to "build an industry" around some of your matchbook-sized micro-comics. Can you elaborate on what you meant by that?
BJM: Well, I'm actually planning to start publishing a line of one-offs by other creators where all I do is layouts, printing, assembly and distribution. So, we’ll see if that happens. The thing is, it’s virtually the same amount of work for me either way, so, I need to figure out exactly how to make it make sense for me. When I write a story I split the profit with the artist(s) 50-50 plus we have 50-50 co-ownership of the property. I also am working on a set of stuff where I publish comics done by kids, and that is in a limbo state now waiting for content to come in. Getting the parents to follow directions for that might be harder than getting the kids to follow the directions themselves.
NF: Speaking of kids, when I was one, I really loved the giant-sized comics that came out for Star Wars as well as the classic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali story. Would the prospect of working on an equally extreme format size as your micro-comics ever interest you?
BJM: I would actually probably be more interested in something massive than something standard - like one of those comics that is the size of a newspaper. Katherine Wirick did a comic called "No One Is Safe" that is a poster and that’s pretty brilliant to me. I like the idea of doing a comic on a series of trading cards. Standard sized comics just don’t really communicate any intimacy or personality to me at this point. I was talking the other day about trying to make a comic a half inch square with enough pages to be a half inch thick, but I’m not sure if I’m really going to do it. I’d have to figure out a story that would work & really lend itself to the format. I do think that when you are doing comics in different formats that you need to try to embrace the format & that’s not as easy as it sounds.
NF: Of the 63+ comics you've produced so far, which would you point to as your most joyous or uplifting?
BJM: To me they are all uplifting, in a way. What they're all are about is the idea that, regardless of one's situation, none of us are uniquely alone.
NF: Have you written or published any religious themed comics?
BJM: There actually is a religious story I have been wanting to tell for a while about a man abandoning being a farmer and making his plow into a sword to go fight in the Crusades. He comes back years later to his wife who’s justifiably moved on in her life and he’s left to wonder if the voice calling him was God or his own desire for glory. I haven’t written that script yet but I did write a song based on the plot in 1999, so who knows if it will ever come to fruition. It may never happen, but, I also have a plan for a Big Two styled multi-series massive summer crossover that'd involve the prayer book written by the lead character of Just A Man. It would involve other characters seeking it out or coming across it in other series; plus an issue that is just the prayers written by a man who wants to be dead and prays to God to only kill the right people. I guess I’m fascinated by the subject of how Men of God are sometimes forced to employ violence - like when Peter cuts that one dude’s ear off. I’m way more interested in the idea of Jesus as a Revolutionary Messiah as opposed to Hippie Jesus.
NF: When you interviewed writer-editor J.M. Hunter in July for your site's webzine (read it here), you asked him assorted questions about Superheroes in comics. Are you personally a fan of superhero comics and, if so, which heroes or teams were your favorites?
BJM: I’m sure there are great superhero books out there but I’m not reading any at the moment. I really loved the run of the Thing after the Secret Wars where he’s just wandering around on the battle planet. Around that same time, the Hulk was wandering around different dimensions and I liked those stories a lot too. I definitely have a soft spot for the wandering monster/misunderstood hero that you see in The Incredible Hulk TV show and then to a lesser extent in the TV shows Werewolf or The Pretender or even The A-Team. I guess all the Clint Eastwood movies are like that in a way too. I love superheroes but I hate that all the stories now seem impossible to get into because all the books are written to sell the next book instead of as complete stories. I really enjoyed the stand-alone four-issue limited series that Marvel did in the 1980s during the summers, before the invention of the massive event crossovers every summer. For a while I was picking up all the Daredevil trades of the recent run but I stopped with the one where he got married. So, I’d rather stick with reading the Golden Age & Silver Age superhero stuff where 25 books means 20-50 stories instead of only half of one story. I’m a wait for the trade and quarter bin book guy right now in general. I did really like what Dave Sim was doing in Cerebus Archive, I’m sad it’s ending.
NF: Are there any favorite comics, TV shows or movies you routinely recommend to new friends?
BJM: My number one film, without a doubt, is Chris Marker’s La Jetee. I love it and it’s under 30 minutes long. I’ve been trying to get people who like Amelie to watch Cyborg She but that isn’t really working out terribly well, it seems no one wants to watch it. In comics, I always suggest the first Human Torch story from Marvel Comics #1 - that classic has five movies worth of plot in something like 20 pages. I love Armored Troopers VOTOMS but I don’t think it’s for everybody at all, and, I feel the same way about Trailer Park Boys and Breaking Bad. Lately, I’m kind of obsessed with the song “1916” by Motörhead. One day I may do a cover of it.
NF: Your own music has been described (and self-described) as "post-apocalytpic noise," "guitar terrorism," and "dirge punk." Which of your releases would you consider your most signature piece? And why?
BJM: Right now I sit on Remora’s "Scars Bring Hope" as the best example from a songwriting perspective. I hadn’t recorded a proper album in a long time before that one and had a lot of decent songs to put on an album. I went into a real studio and had someone else pushing me to do things properly. But, in general, all the albums are kind of like journals documenting a six month period of my life, and they keep getting better as I understand both how my mind works & how the mediums of music & recording work. I would say that I can’t really listen to any of the recordings from earlier than 2005 because I was just too lazy to fix things. Anything good recording wise before that was luck. One day I might re-record the old stuff if I have time.
NF: Please tell me a little about the following records of yours. Let's start with your most recent release with Remora, "The Heart that Kills"?
BJM: Mainly built from putting a bunch of guitars in a room & shifting their volume knobs around for cascading sheets of feedback & drone.
NF: How did "Satsop," by Small Life Form, come about?
BJM: A few years ago I was given a grant to record in an abandoned nuclear cooling tower and these cuts are the results. On parts of it I’m using a watering can as a didgeridoo.
NF: Speaking of Small Life Form, your work on "Voice in the Sky" appears particularly haunting.
BJM: A ghostly choir accompanied by static & ominous tones. A live dronescape.
NF: "Drone is in the Blood" with Andrew Weathers was highly personal for you. What's the story behind that one?
BJM: I had a son when I was in middle school but only met him a few years ago. We did an album together about our relationship, my feelings of guilt and shame and the truth that they were completely unfounded.
NF: Your solo album, "four and a half" is definitely an expansive and unique piece of work. Any tidbits you can share about it?
BJM: This is a 4.5 hour long drone piece. For years I’ve been working to push the limit of my recording technology and this is the result. I can’t believe it’s finished.
NF: How would you describe your album "Butterfly Corpse" with Unspeakable Forces?
BJM: It's a short little EP going somewhere between doom metal & shoegaze.
NF: "Five Pointed Swords" with Panthan seems a little different from your other stuff, is there a story there?
BJM: In 2008 I had this project that was writing incidental music for films. We decided to make the music available to the public finally.
NF: Would you mind detailing, from picks to amps, which brands of gear you use?
BJM: I use the Dunlop Orange Tortex picks, I don’t remember the gauge. Twelve years ago I ordered a few hundred with my logo on them and I’m starting to run out now, so I guess I should find out. I hate those regular plastic picks because they melt if you start to play a super fast right hand chug. It’s kinda cool the first couple of times you do it and the room smells like wet paint as it melts, but, it’s just annoying to need to use multiple picks in the same song. My main guitar is a custom Schecter that was made for Mike Tempesta (Powerman 5000) & I love that guitar but after a thousand gigs and maybe 100,000 hours of play time it’s really in need of some maintenance. I’ve been doing some stuff with fake blood lately and I'm probably doing irreparable damage to it - I feel bad about it. My main amp is a Roland Jazz Chorus. Those things are tanks. A friend of mine was in a car accident where his flew out of the car and landed in a ditch - it still works! Screw tubes, I’m all about solid state equipment that can’t break. My effects setup varies. Right now my two most important pedals are probably a ProCo Rat Deucetone (distortion) and a Line 6 DL-4 (delay pedal I use mainly for loops).
NF: As an aside, I typically ask interviewees if they work with, support or donate to any charities / non-profits. Are there any you'd like to talk about here?
BJM: There are a lot of good charities out there. But I always try to do something local to help my personal community, so I don’t think where I give my money is where someone else should, if that makes sense. When something gets to be national or international, I believe, more of the money ends up in the bureaucracy. I would say that it’s good to remember that your time is perhaps more valuable than your money for impacting the world, and, trying to have the positive effect you want to have on the world using your talents is way more personally rewarding. That's why I’m trying to do the Kid Comics stuff.
NF: I found your Bottle Comics campaign very interesting. Among the promotional videos for it, I especially enjoyed Jason Young's clip. What can you share about meeting and working with Jason?
BJM: I met Jason because he was sitting next to me the first year I showed at SPACE (The Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo). I really like his book Veggie Dog Saturn and I listen to his Gutter Trash Podcast every week. Anyway, I’m always looking for collaborators 'n such and I had this split story I wanted to do that would involve two artists on the same book. I got him and his podcasting partner Eric Shonborn to do that book, titled Cops & Crooks. Then my nephew wanted to do this Star Wars fan comic and Jason Young drew two of those for him. We did a Cerebus fan fiction piece for the Cerebus Newsletter zine. I wrote a story for his Veggie Dog Saturn all-star special which was fun because it’s an auto-bio book about Jason. So, I made up a story from his childhood that seemed plausible from what I know of him & his family life. We have a story that may end up being a series based on a couple toss away lines in an issue of Cerebus about the previous dominant species of the planet Earth. He’s a really talented sequential artist and I really trust him implicitly to take a script & make it better than what I gave him. But, he’s got a bunch of stuff of his own going on between Veggie Dog Saturn, Day Off Diary, OK Panic and some other projects. He’s really inspiring to work with because he really approaches his work as a career rather than a hobby. He works hard and it shows. I think eventually he’ll gain more recognition and hopefully that will allow him the financial freedom to work on more books.
NF: You've worked with a lot of talented artists for your mini-books. Are there any you'd like to give special mention to here?
BJM: Yeah, I could mention essentially everyone, but I guess I’ll highlight two now. Andrew White (Just A Man, REH) and I have a little bit of magic going on, plus he gets the work done really fast. And I really love Kimberlee Traub’s art. Sometimes reviews talk crap about her art which confuses me and pisses me off. Does it look like Superman? - No. Would the stories she draws for Worms be interesting drawn like Superman? No.
NF: How long do your books generally take to evolve from script to final product?
BJM: Believe it or not, it sometimes takes me a year to come up with a script that is a match to an artist's art style, and then another year before the art is done. I’ve had a lot of scripts that've been written for one artist and gone on to be drawn by someone else. Marked #1 was drawn by the fifth artist who agreed to draw it. I sometimes toy with the idea of sending the same script to different people and publishing them all.
NF: You and J.M. Hunter (BAM!, Doppelganger) have, throughout this year, interviewed each other. How did you two meet?
BJM: He posted something on Facebook about doing an interview series and we got in touch from there. Theoretically we'll eventually collaborate. Theoretically I will eventually collaborate with everyone.
Nightfly: Well, let me close out this interview with a reminder that OH! Entertainment boasts a number of talented artists as members. Maybe you can network and/or work with one of us in the future?
Brian John Mitchell: I’m always looking for new artists to work with.
Although the Bottle Comics campaign has come and gone, I still recommend watching Brian talk about his micro-comics line in the video below.